Accuracy in Media

A journalist who has uncovered evidence of al-Qaeda involvement in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 has been threatened with a lawsuit by powerful U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald.

Government officials blamed the crash of TWA Flight 800, which killed 230 people, on a mysterious mechanical malfunction, while the Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168, was quickly labeled the work of domestic “right-wing” terrorists.

Accuracy in Media has long maintained that Clinton Administration officials concealed the truth about both incidents. 

But at a news conference at the National Press Club, investigative reporter Peter Lance said that “the greatest mass murder in U.S. history,” the attack on 9/11 which occurred during the administration of President George W. Bush that killed nearly 3,000 Americans, has still not been thoroughly investigated. 

A five-time Emmy Award winner formerly with ABC News, Lance is one of the few journalists with mainstream press credentials still raising the hard questions about how al-Qaeda agents were able to prepare terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, even while some of them were under surveillance here and abroad by various U.S. government agencies.

Rather than fire anybody over this massive intelligence failure, President Bush gave George Tenet, CIA director at the time of 9/11, a presidential Medal of Freedom, we noted in a 2006 column that praised the work of Lance and others for continuing to raise questions about the attack.

The 9/11 attack was foreseeable and preventable, Lance said at the Tuesday press conference, and there has been a spectacular “failure of accountability” for those who could and should have stopped them. Lance said the 9/11 commission, officially known as the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, was a whitewash and that commission members had political agendas designed to protect people and agencies from scrutiny.

The Lance book, Triple Cross, originally published in 2006 and now issued in paperback, includes a timeline, also on his website, tracing the history of some of the perpetrators of these terrorist acts going back to 1981. His book goes into substantial detail about the TWA 800 and Oklahoma City bombing cases and how government officials covered up the nature of these crimes.

Offering support to Lance at the press club event was Lt. Colonel Anthony Shaffer, a member of the Able Danger military intelligence unit that identified al-Qaeda terrorist cells in America before the 9/11 attack. This project used a process known as “data mining” to develop information on potential terrorists and establish a data base for government use. Shaffer blew the whistle on the fact that the information wasn’t shared with other agencies or used effectively. 

Also appearing in support of Lance was Jan Schlichtmann, the attorney whose lawsuit over polluted and poisoned water was the subject of the film “A Civil Action,” starring John Travolta. He said Lance had a “right to write” and that Fitzgerald’s attempt to control “what we say and write about his conduct in office” should not stand. 

Lance argues that one of the biggest intelligence failures involved the handling of al-Qaeda agent and former Egyptian Army commando Ali Mohamed, whose face appears on the cover of the book and who worked for the CIA, the Army Green Berets, and the FBI, even while he was helping al Qaeda prepare terrorist acts against Americans. He was eventually arrested on terrorism charges, convicted and sentenced to prison.

Lance’s previous books include 1000 Years for Revenge and Cover Up.  

However, it wasn’t until Fitzgerald threatened Lance over Triple Cross and demanded that the paperback edition be killed that the specter of government censorship had emerged. Before he became U.S. Attorney in Chicago, Fitzgerald ran anti-terrorism efforts as an Assistant U.S. Attorney out of the Southern District of New York. 

Lance argues in his book that Fitzgerald and other senior Department of Justice and FBI officials failed to properly follow up on hard evidence about al-Qaeda activities on U.S. soil and that information was discounted and suppressed about the planning and nature of some of the terrorist attacks.

Another former prosecutor, Andrew McCarthy, has taken issue with Lance’s version of some of the facts. But Fitzgerald, who cites McCarthy’s book, Willful Blindness, in disputing some of Lance’s contentions, is threatening Lance and publisher HarperCollins with legal action and even mocking the journalist as a “heroic” figure because he had broken with the rest of the press on the TWA 800 matter. Fitzgerald calls the idea of a government cover-up of a terrorist attack on TWA 800 “fantastically paranoid.”

But Lance reminds people that Fitzgerald’s record, which now includes indicting former Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich on corruption charges, has not been without controversy.

Fitzgerald functioned as Special Prosecutor in the case involving whether Valerie Plame’s CIA affiliation being revealed in a Robert Novak column somehow violated the law. In an attempt to find the source of the disclosure, Fitzgerald grilled many reporters over their sources and put one of them, Judith Miller of the New York Times, in jail, even though the original source of the leak, State Department official Richard Armitage, was known and never charged. Fitzgerald ended up prosecuting and convicting Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the former top aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, for a side issue-allegedly lying about what he told a reporter about the case. Libby’s prison sentence was commuted by President Bush.

Lance finds the CIA leak case to be another example of how Fitzgerald escapes accountability for his questionable prosecutorial conduct. 

The Fitzgerald threats consist of 32 pages of letters. While some of the letters were sent from Patrick J. Fitzgerald as a private citizen, with a Post Office Box for an address, one was faxed from the office of the “U.S. Attorney Chicago.”

In response, Lance has filed a complaint with the Office of Professional Responsibility in the Department of Justice, saying, “I ask that the Office of Professional Responsibility investigate to determine whether…Mr. Fitzgerald crossed the line from public official charged with protecting the Constitution to thin-skinned prosecutor who used the authority of his office to undermine it.”

In a curious revelation, one of the letters from Fitzgerald refers to HarperCollins, a subsidiary of News Corporation, having once offered Fitzgerald a “seven figure” sum for the rights to his biography. Fitzgerald calls this an “estimate of the market value of my personal reputation.”

While such a statement may be a reference to a monetary figure that Fitzgerald thinks he can sue to recover because of a book that he thinks damages his reputation, a blogger at the Able Danger site commented, “So, he’s suing Harper Collins after being offered ‘seven figures’ by Harper Collins which he obviously never got, or did I miss the story about a Fitzgerald book deal?”

Lance said the American people should demand a “truth commission” to examine the history of government intelligence failures in the war on terrorism.

While the threats from Fitzgerald have attracted some media interest and attention, Lance had harsh words for the mainstream media and their lack of curiosity regarding the ultimate truth about 9/11 and other terrorist acts on American soil. He said the New York Times won’t touch the controversy over his book.

Lance said that he had no information about the post 9/11 anthrax attacks, which the FBI had falsely blamed on former government scientist Steven Hatfill. AIM had always maintained that Hatfill was being unfairly targeted and that the attacks were probably the work of al Qaeda. Last year the government paid Hatfill millions of dollars in a settlement.

Lance said that while reform of the FBI was absolutely essential if the terrorist networks are to be exposed and stopped from attacking America again, a proposed new FBI computer system called Sentinel that is supposed to analyze cases and potential threats is over-budget and behind schedule.

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