Two names have been censored after threats of federal prosecution by CIA in an unprecedented use of the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. Where censorship occurs, the names are listed in brackets [].


Given that the 9/11 attack was attributed to Osama Bin Laden and his Al Qaeda organization, one might argue that the buck stopped at the CIA’s Bin Laden Station – responsible for all matters Al Qaeda-related – and the manager responsible for it, Richard Blee. Yet his first name appears only a handful of times in the various government investigation reports that have followed, and often in ways so obscure that it’s difficult to understand who he was and what he did. His full name never appeared in the mainstream media until one month ago when we released our interview with Richard Clarke to the press and forced the first public statement ever from this man. We’ve titled this investigative podcast “Who Is Rich Blee?” For a decade now, that is a question that hasn’t been so much as asked, much less answered. During the next hour, we’ll get as close as any one has gotten to answering it. It’s a story of secrecy taken to an absurd extreme and the repeated tragic consequences.

It was July 2004. The 9/11 Commission had completed its work. The families of the victims filled a cramped hearing room in downtown D.C., about to be the first to read their definitively titled Final Report. Kristen Breitweiser, one of the “Jersey Widows” who has been instrumental in the push to create this blue-ribbon independent investigation, surreptitiously opened her copy directly to a page containing an explosive footnote.

“Well, Kristen was the one who turned to footnote 44.” — Lorie Van Auken

The moment is captured in an iconic New York Times photo. The two women, eyes wide, mouths agape. Kristen later devoted a full chapter of her memoir out of the damning information buried here in the fine print below Chapter Six. Reading that chapter later started us on this investigation.

“So basically something was goin’ on besides just honest mistakes. Ya know, there was something else goin’ on here. And the footnote 44 is just the little window into some of this story which as you crack it open further and further more heinousness comes pouring in.” — Lorie Van Auken

“Activities of Bin Laden Associate Khalid Revealed.” January 4th, 2000. His Saudi passport — which contained a visa for travel to the United States – was photocopied and forwarded to CIA headquarters. This information was not shared with FBI headquarters until August 2001.

An FBI agent detailed to the Bin Laden Unit at CIA attempted to share this information with colleagues at FBI headquarters. A CIA desk officer instructed him not to send the cable with this information. Several hours later, this same desk officer drafted a cable distributed solely within CIA alleging that the visa documents had been shared with the FBI.

She admits she did not personally share the information and cannot identify who told her they had been shared. We were unable to locate anyone who claimed to have shared the information. Contemporaneous documents contradict the claim that they were shared.

Now, let’s jump forward a couple years, back into that small Commission hearing room. Kristen and Lorie stared transfixed at footnote 44 to Chapter Six, revealing two shocking new pieces of information.

The first new piece: it wasn’t just a failure to pass the information. It was an order by a CIA desk officer not to tell FBI.

The second new piece: that same CIA desk officer misled her own Agency into believing the info had been shared with FBI.

Reading this, the women immediately grasped the significance.

The redhead’s job was – she was just a very senior, senior analyst that Scheuer had brought over, that had been a loyalist to Scheuer for many years. She was like the go-to person for all things analytical, writing reports, etc. But she was Michelle’s boss. On paper. But it wouldn’t be unusual for Michelle to go directly to Wilshere. No, not at all.

The attendees had two drivers to take them around Kuala Lumpur, and they used them. They ate at restaurants, spent hours at Internet cafes, and some stayed at hotels. They used cell phones and a pay phone located just in front of the condominium complex. Two of them took separate flights out of the country and returned before the summit was over – a golden opportunity to find their full names from flight manifests and immigration stops that apparently was missed.

They were videotaped on the first day of the summit, but only the first day. It has never been explained why the video surveillance stopped. Rossini has said the photos taken outside must have been taken from only a few feet away – certainly close enough to record voices – yet apparently the one day of video did not record any audio. In 2003, the US Treasury Department mentioned in a press release about Hambali that the summit video included footage of hijackers Hazmi and Mihdhar standing next to Hambali. A FBI report from 1999 shows the FBI knew by this time that Hambali was involved in Bojinka, a 1995 plot masterminded by KSM that nearly killed 4,000 people. Malaysian intelligence later claimed they recognized Hambali during the summit since he was a long-time Malaysian resident.

Yet, for all that, the CIA has never said they were able to get the full names of any of the summit attendees at the time. For instance, they say they still didn’t know what Nawaf al-Hazmi’s last name was by the time the summit was over, even though al-Hazmi was traveling using his real name. It is known US intelligence already had photographs of KSM, Hambali, and al-Nashiri before the summit, but supposedly the CIA never recognized any of them.

It wasn’t just that Malaysian intelligence wasn’t able to get audio inside the condominium: either the surveillance was a total disaster, or the CIA hasn’t been honest about what was learned. The summit was considered so important as it was happening that Rich Blee was giving daily updates to cabinet-level officials like the CIA director, FBI director, and the National Security Adviser. But Malaysian officials later claimed they were never given clear instructions, so their agents focused their efforts on monitoring the local hosts instead of the summit attendees. And even though the Malaysians updated the CIA daily, this apparently was never rectified in the four days the summit took place. Author James Bamford has called Alec Station’s handling of the summit surveillance a “train wreck in slow motion.”

What was their operational plan in withholding Mihdhar’s planned travel to the US from FBI? And two. On whose orders?

The 9/11 Commission has gone over all of my e-mails, all of my files… and asked the CIA. The CIA admits they never told us. The CIA admits they never told the FBI, until August of 2001, when they knew about it over twelve months earlier. And it’s not as I originally thought, which is that one lowly CIA analyst got this information and somehow didn’t recognize the significance of it. No, 50 — 5-0 — CIA personnel knew about this. — Richard A. Clarke

I was aware of the Kuala Lumpur meeting immediately after it happened. I was never informed that anyone at it had come to the United States. You have to understand, the way they update us at the White House is every morning I come in, I turn on my computer, and I get a hundred, a hundred fifty CIA reports. I’m not relying on somebody calling me and telling me things. I get a flood of CIA reports. And I never got a report to that effect. — Richard Clark

What happens is when a CIA source reports in to a CIA case officer, the case officer then turns that into a temporary, preliminary report. The preliminary report is then sent into CIA headquarters where a reports officer converts it into English. And then it is automatically disseminated to a list of people. And it comes automatically to me in the White House, to people in the Defense Department, to people in the FBI. You have to intentionally stop it.

“They were stopped from getting to you and stopped from getting to the White House then?” — Duffy

And stopped from getting to the FBI and the Defense Department… If there was a decision made to stop normal distribution with regard to this case, then people like Tom Wilshere would have known that. — Richard Clark

“He reads it multiple times over the course of the next year… On these subsequent times, if he shook something loose, he had the full range of opportunity to alert you?” — Duffy

He did, but he wouldn’t have to, because unless someone intervened to stop the normal automatic distribution, I would automatically get it. — Richard Clark

In addition, we had about every other day, a threat committee, where CIA and NSA and FBI and everybody else — DOD — would brief on the latest intelligence. They never briefed us. We must have had dozens, scores of threat committee meetings over the period of time when they knew these guys had entered the country, and they never mentioned it. — Richard Clark

George Tenet followed all of the information about Al Qaeda in microscopic detail. He read raw intelligence reports before analysts in the CounterTerror Center did. And he would pick up the phone and call me at 7:30 in the morning to talk about them. There was no barrier between George Tenet and the CIA information machine when it came to Al Qaeda. — Richard Clarke

You gotta understand, my relationship with him — we were close friends. He called me several times a day. We shared the most trivial of information with each other. He would regularly call me with raw intelligence and say, “You gotta look at this. This is important.” And then I would call his analysts, five layers down, the people who knew the details, and say, “What do you think about it?” … He was giving me — as was the CIA CounterTerrorism Center — giving me a flood of information all the time… There was not a lack of information sharing between the CIA and me and my stuff… They told us everything accept this. — Richard Clarke

That means one thing to me: There was an intentional and very high level decision in the CIA not to let the White House know. I would think it would have to be made by the Director. — Richard Clarke