New York Post, February 26, 2023
Thirty years ago Sunday, the largest terrorist attack then in American history occurred when a 1,200-pound bomb exploded beneath the World Trade Center in New York City.
It was sheer luck that the explosion did not topple the entire skyscraper and kill thousands of people.
Politicians solemnly marked the anniversary, but dignitaries made no mention of the FBI’s role in that disaster.
On Nov. 5, 1990, Rabbi Meir Kahane was assassinated at a New York hotel. Kahane advocated banishing all Arabs from Israel and the territories, and his political party was banned from the Knesset for “inciting racism” and “endangering security.”
Kahane was shot by 36-year-old Egyptian immigrant El Sayyid Nosair, part of an anti-Israeli cabal of New York-area Muslims. When police searched Nosair’s residence, they carried off 47 boxes of documents, paramilitary manuals, maps and diagrams of buildings (including the World Trade Center).
No one in the New York FBI office could read Arabic, so those documents — later labeled “a road map” to the 1993 bombing — were left in storage for more than two years.
A 2002 congressional report noted the NYPD “resisted attempts to label the Kahane assassination a ‘conspiracy’ despite the apparent links to a broader network of radicals” because it “wanted the appearance of speedy justice and a quick resolution to a volatile situation.” Osama bin Laden reportedly financed Nosair’s legal defense.
The trial, which began in late 1991, included riots outside the courthouse, death threats and chants of “Death to the Jews.” The FBI placed an informant named Emad Salem, a 43-year-old former Egyptian military officer, in the midst of the Muslim protesters.
Salem insinuated himself and became the bodyguard for Sheik Abdel Rahman, a radical Muslim cleric. Despite stark evidence, a New York jury bizarrely found Nosair not guilty of murder.
In mid-1992, Salem repeatedly warned the FBI that radical Muslims were planning to carry off a catastrophic bombing in New York City. FBI supervisors were convinced he was concocting tall tales and ended payments.
On Feb. 26, 1993, a massive bomb in a van exploded in the parking garage beneath the World Trade Center, killing six people, injuring more than a thousand and causing half a billion dollars in damage. If the vehicle had been parked a few feet closer to one of the pillars, an entire tower could have collapsed.
The FBI “cracked the case” when a knucklehead plotter demanded a refund for his $400 deposit for the Ryder rental van used for the bombing.
Time observed the FBI “looked supremely capable in speedily rounding up suspects in the World Trade Center bombing.” FBI Director William Sessions declared, “Based on what was known to us at the time, we have no reason to believe we could have prevented the bombing of the World Trade Center.”
After the bombing, the FBI quickly rehired Salem and promised him $1 million to develop evidence of additional terrorist plots. Salem didn’t trust the feds to pay so he secretly recorded his conversations with FBI agents.
In August 1993, as the case was heading for trial, news leaked that Salem had made tapes of more than 100 hours of his conversations with FBI agents and handlers. Those tapes portrayed the FBI as co-conspirator with the terrorist plotters.
In a call to an FBI agent shortly after the bombing, Salem complained, “We was start already building the bomb . . . by supervising, supervision from the bureau [FBI] and the DA [district attorney], and we was all informed about it. And we know that the bomb start to be built. By who? By your confidential informant. What a wonderful great case. And then” the FBI supervisor “put his head in the sand and said, ‘Oh no, no, that’s not true, he is a son of a bitch.’”
In another taped call, Salem anguished to one FBI agent, “You were informed. Everything is ready. The day and the time. Boom. Lock them up and that’s that. That’s why I feel so bad.”
On another, Salem asked an FBI agent, “Do you deny your supervisor is the main reason of bombing the World Trade Center?” The agent did not deny Salem’s charge. FBI agent Nancy Floyd confided to Salem that her supervisors had botched the case: “I felt that the people on the squad, that they didn’t have a clue. . . . That the supervisors didn’t know what was going on. That they hadn’t taken the time to learn the history.”
Before the bombing, Salem offered to substitute harmless powder for the deadly explosives, thereby preventing any catastrophe. The FBI spurned his offer.
Salem griped to one FBI agent that an FBI supervisor “requested to make me to testify [in public] and if he didn’t push for that, we’ll be going building the bomb with a phony powder and grabbing the people who was involved in it. But . . . we didn’t do that.”
The feds considered Salem credible enough to pay him that $1 million for his 1995 testimony to convict Muslim conspirators before they carried out further attacks on New York City landmarks.
In 1997, FBI Director Louis Freeh promised Congress that he would “double the ‘shoe leather’” for counterterrorism investigations. But walking was no substitute for thinking. Before the 9/11 attacks, the FBI again dismally failed to connect the dots of terrorist plotters inside America.An FBI agent groused in 2002 that the bureau’s ethos was that “real men don’t type. The only thing a real agent needs is a notebook, a pen and gun, and with those three things you can conquer the world. . . . The computer revolution just passed us by.”
The FBI’s gross negligence “contributed to the United States becoming, in effect, a sanctuary for radical terrorists,” a 2002 congressional investigation found.
The 1993 World Trade Center bombing is a reminder that Americans are unlikely to hear about FBI fiascos until long after the damage is done, if ever.
Neither Congress nor federal courts have put the FBI on a leash, and the media continue kowtowing to G-men who serve up juicy leaks.
James Bovard is the author of 10 books and a member of the USA Today Board of Contributors.