The No-Fly List: Americas Maginot Line Part II – How The CIA Lets Terrorist Fly

The USS Cole after the October 12, 2000 attack.
The USS Cole after the October 12, 2000 attack.
Had President Obama been aware of what the CIA did to the government of New Zealand in 2006 he might have been even more angry at his national security team. John Brennan, his counterterrorism advisor, conducted an investigation that failed to connect some old CIA dots that would have gone a long way in explaining why the CIA does not like to share information, even with the President of the United States.

When Brennan expressed surprise that Yemeni Al Qaeda operatives had advanced to the point of being capable of attacking the US homeland, it seemed inexplicable since they had orchestrated the attack on the USS Cole on October 12, 2000. Yemen, a known hotbed of Al Qaeda activity, has a long history of hosting the terrorist organization. Maybe Brennan was surprised because the last time the CIA let a known Yemeni Al Qaeda operative fly, it only resulted in political embarrassment.

New Zealand got caught up in the CIA’s Al Qaeda game years before Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to detonate a bomb on Flight 253 Christmas Day. Raed Mohammed Abdullah Ali is the real name of a young man with a Yemeni passport, which he used when he arrived in Auckland, New Zealand, in February 2006. The name appeared on his passport as Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali. Both names were well known to those who follow terrorism.    Ali took flight training and roomed with Dulles hijacker Hani Hanjour and was on the no-fly list when he flew into New Zealand aboard a commercial airline, using an alias known to the CIA and one that was included on the no-fly list.

Ali appeared on the no-fly list in February 2006 as:

Raed Mohammed Abdullah Ali 24-Sep-77

Raid Muhammad Abdalla Ali 24-Sep-77

Rami Muhammad Ali 24-Feb-76

Rayed Mohammed Abdullah Ali 24-Sep-77

In The 9/11 Commission Report, Ali rated thirteen citations. The report said he socialized with Saudi Hani Hanjour, who flew American Airlines Flight 77 into the Pentagon. It further noted that the two men had mutual friends, shared the same religious views, met occasionally, and had trained to fly large passenger jets at the same flying school in Phoenix.

For observers of intelligence matters there was some surprise that Ali was not detained after the 9/11 attacks. FBI agents interviewed him again and again, administering five different polygraph exams. Ali had no outstanding warrants and was not known to have committed any crime, but hundreds of other Saudis were detained who had not committed any crimes. So why was he allowed to leave the country and to fly even though he could take over a jetliner at any time? According to FBI agents and a CIA officer who is familiar with the case, the United States released Ali so that he could be used to spy on Al Qaeda for the Saudi GID.

Remarkably, in early 2006, no one in the vast counterintelligence network of the post-9/11 world raised a serious objection to the idea that a close associate of the original 9/11 hijackers was on the move. In February 2006 Ali was permitted to fly unchallenged into Auckland. Ali told officials in New Zealand that his occupation was “decorator,” and that he was born to a Yemeni father and Saudi mother on September 24, 1977, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.

He told Auckland immigration officials he wanted to study English when, apparently, he was already fluent. Instead, he traveled 335 miles south of Auckland to take more flight training in Palmerston North, where he signed up at the Manawatu Districts Aero Club. Ali already held a US pilot’s license and had seventy nine hours of flying time on his logbook before arriving in New Zealand. New Zealand, Australian, and US intelligence agencies worked on the operation in New Zealand. Only after top New Zealand government officials learned that Ali had lied to get into flight schools in New Zealand did the government shut down the joint intelligence operation. As a face-saving device, the government told the press that Ali got into the country by using a variation of his name that was not on the no-fly list. That was false. Ali was permitted to travel because US authorities made specific arrangements with the airlines to ignore his name.

Ali was arrested on May 29, 2006, in Palmerston North, New Zealand, where he was quietly adding to his flying hours. The New Zealand Herald reported, “Mr. Ali’s ability to enter the country under his real name raises questions about whether there was a hole in our border security — or whether he was deliberately let in and then kept under strict surveillance.” The Herald continued, “Shortly after Mr. Ali entered the country, New Zealand intelligence officials began watching him. The level of manpower used was large and the surveillance went on for two months . . . New Zealand intelligence operatives were joined by their United States counterparts. It is believed a decision was made to allow Mr. Ali to stay here for months — apparently prompted by United States intelligence desires to monitor and follow the 29-year-old. The paper has been told that his presence became too much for New Zealand officials. His connection to a 9/11 hijacker and the time he was spending at the controls of a plane were behind the decision to deport Mr. Ali, possibly against US wishes.” “When you have someone who clearly has been a close associate of a terrorist who took a plane into the Pentagon, it’s clearly not useful to be providing them with pilot training in New Zealand,” Prime Minister Helen Clark told the local media.

David Cunliffe
David Cunliffe
New Zealand immigration minister David Cunliffe said the Yemeni man was expelled because of his “direct association with people involved in the 9/11 bombing, the nature of his . . . activities in the United States, [and] the general nature of his activities in New Zealand.” Prime Minister Clark dissembled when she at first dismissed as “sheer speculation” reports that Raed Mohammed Abdullah Ali had been allowed to enter the country deliberately so security services could monitor his activities. She said he used an alias to enter the country. “Clearly the man set out to deceive,” Clark told the NewstalkZB radio network.

According to a veteran FBI official who urged the detention of Ali, “The amazing thing is the CIA convinced itself that by getting Ali tossed out of New Zealand, he would then be trusted and acceptable to Saudi intelligence and useful in Al Qaeda operations.  For this tiny chance of success they put passengers at risk to enter into a partnership with Saudi intelligence. That is the same intelligence service that supplied two of the fifteen Saudi hijackers on 9/11.”

A CIA official who supported the operation says, “We are very aware Saudi GID is probably still penetrated by Al Qaeda. Hell, most of the insurgents in Iraq are being paid by GID. But we know if Raed was part of the original plot, someone in Al Qaeda will reach out for him, and we have a chance of making that connection.”

The prime minister’s faulty excuse for Ali getting into New Zealand does illustrate a real problem with the no-fly list: aliases. Often government agencies do not give all the aliases that terrorists are known to use to the agency compiling the no-fly list. Remarkably, the US government has made public many of the additional names used by terrorists but not shared them with the TSA. The lack of communication among government agencies over the accuracy of the list seems to be a still-festering problem.

Commercial companies now offer airlines software services to speed the process and avoid mistaken identities by taking the government watch lists and adding other passenger information that might differentiate —say — a five-year-old from a forty-year-old Al Qaeda terrorist with the same name. Under such a system, an airline is given a security code by the TSA. The commercial services then set up an interface that allows the airline to run name checks using its security code. For the airlines, the government watch lists have been a public relations nightmare. The airlines had run private watch lists of their own years prior to the TSA. At the beginning, the first TSA no-fly list had only sixteen names on it. But according to government security experts, the biggest problem is the quality of the intelligence that makes up the list. One former FBI official says the bureau’s contribution to the list “had not been properly vetted and policed for years. Getting an accurate list is manpower-intensive, and the budget wasn’t there to do it.” The net effect has not been lost on those mistakenly on the list.

Robert Johnson has trouble flying, even today. He is on the no-fly list but he is not a terrorist. Robert Johnson, once a TSA spokesman, ironically, later became a Bush appointee at the Department of Transportation. “Robert Fitz Clarence Johnson/Bobby Johnson” is on the no-fly list. Both names seem to be aliases of a convicted Trinidadian Islamic terrorist named Robert Junior Wesley. As shown on the government list, all three names share the common birthdates of “13-Jan-44” and “4-Apr-54.” According to an article written in The Trinidad Guardian, Wesley/Johnson also uses the alias Wali Muhammad. The name Abdoul Walid Mohammad appears on the the no-fly list with both the January 1944 and April 1954 birthdates.

Press reports of Wesley/Johnson’s arrest in December 1993 gave his age as forty-nine, consistent with a January 1944 date of birth. The media said Robert Junior Wesley (aka Robert Fitz Clarence Johnson, aka Bobby Johnson, aka Wali Muhammad) was arrested in October 1991 for plotting terrorist attacks in Canada as part of Jamaat Al-Fuqra, a Muslim sect with a history of terrorism in North America. Wesley and three other Al-Fuqra members planned to set off bombs simultaneously in a local Hindu temple and at a Toronto movie house. The plotters were arrested when Canadian border police went through their vehicle and discovered documents and maps detailing the bombing plot. The Canadians deported Wesley in April 2006 after he completed a twelve-year jail sentence. That has not helped US citizen Robert Johnson. He is not the only government official who can be confused on the list. John E. Lewis is the FBI special agent in charge in Phoenix — not a suspected terrorist — but he is repeatedly stopped because his name appears on the no-fly list.

Sometimes the entire government effort to produce an accurate list gets it wrong by missing a major event in a subject’s life, such as his death. Take Francois Genoud, who is listed on the  2006 no-fly list as “Francois Georges Albert Genoud 26-Oct-15.” Francois Genoud, a Nazi sympathizer who was also a banker to Middle Eastern extremists and defender of Islamic terrorists, killed himself by taking poison with the help of a Swiss pro-euthanasia group at the age of eighty-one. Unfortunately our intelligence services seemed to have missed the fact that Mr. Genoud’s suicide took place a decade earlier.

Even more disturbing are the people who have been left off the list. A.Q. Khan, the brains behind Pakistan’s nuclear proliferation network, is not on the list. The only two individuals of his farflung network who made it are Bashiruddin Mehmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed. These are the two Pakistani nuclear scientists who were arrested on suspicion of having met with the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

Here is how Bashiruddin Mehmood is listed:

Mahmood Sultan Bashiruddin 2-Jan-40

Mahmood Sultan Bashiruddin 1-Feb-40

The problem is that two government lists cannot get the date of birth right for Bashiruddin. The public Justice Department Excluded Parties List System (EPLS) gives the following dates of birth for Bashiruddin: DOB 1937; alt. DOB 1938; alt. DOB 1939; alt. DOB 1940; alt. DOB 1941; alt. DOB 1942; alt. DOB 1943; alt. DOB 1944; alt. DOB 1945.12

His fellow Pakistani Al Qaeda collaborator is listed as:

Sultan Bashir Uddin Mahmood 2-Jan-40

Sultan Bashir Uddin Mahmood 1-Feb-40

Not on the list are dozens of nuclear smuggling collaborators, who remain at large and have suspected ties to Al Qaeda. Perhaps the most outrageous oversight on the no-fly list is American David Theodore Belfield. Belfield converted to Islam as a young man and joined a group of Muslims devoted to the Iranian Revolution in the late 1970s. By 1980 he carried out an assassinationin Washington. After changing his name to Dawud Salahuddin, Belfield carried out a fatwa by borrowing a scenario he had seen in the Robert Redford film Three Days of the Condor. Salahuddin dressed as a mailman, bribed a postal worker to use his mail truck, and pretended to deliver a package that required the signature of the addressee, the former spokesman for the shah of Iran in Washington, Ali Akbar Tabatai’e. At 11:45 am on July 22, 1980, when Tabatai’e came to the front door, Salahuddin shot him at point-blank range three times. With that act Salahuddin became the first American Islamic terrorist. He successfully escaped to Tehran, where he carried out additional operations for Iran, including fighting with the mujahideen in Afghanistan as well as a special mission to Tripoli to warn Libya not to undertake any terrorist attacks without first coordinating with Tehran. Belfield is not on the list either by his true name or by any of his known aliases.

Another threat not on the no-fly list is one of the most mysterious Americans ever to become involved with Islam. Cleven Holt,  a former marine who took the name

Issa Abdullah Ali was featured ing the documentary "American Mujahideen." Provided by CLICK THE PHOTO to watch the trailer.
Issa Abdullah Ali was featured ing the documentary "American Mujahideen." Provided by CLICK THE PHOTO to watch the trailer.
and the alias Abu Abdullah, spent time with Salahuddin both in Washington and overseas fighting for Islam. During the 1970s he was arrested for trying to break into Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base. He fought with Amal hijacker Fawaz Younis in Beirut. Younis was with Issa Abdullah when he received an injury that resulted in a facial scar during a battle at Beirut International Airport. Younis describes his war buddy as a fierce fighter. The large African American man easily blended in with US Marines when the Reagan administration deployed them to Lebanon. Younis says that his former colleague “played a role” in the bombing that destroyed the marine barracks at the Beirut Airport that killed hundreds of Americans.

Abdullah left Amal and joined Hezbollah to fight in Afghanistan against the Soviets. Despite being a suspect in the marine barracks bombing, he was able to travel back and forth to the United States at will. In the 1990s Issa Abdullah returned to the Islamic fight in Bosnia at the age of forty-eight. According to terrorism expert Joseph Bodansky, “In ’93 he and about a dozen of his compatriots settled in Zagreb where, under the cover of a ‘charity,’ they set up the stream of Afghan raiders. He has had contact with Iranian Pasadaran units . . .” According to Bodansky, Abdullah lived in Sarajevo under an assumed name with his funding “covered in part by Osama bin Laden.”

By late 1995 Abdullah spent time in Tuzla “planning for attacks against US forces,” Dawud Salahuddin says. In Tuzla, Abdullah gathered an “American force” of more than two dozen Islamist fighters. Here he prepared for strikes against I-FOR, the international force trying to bring stability to Bosnia. Abdullah became a major issue for the US government during a planned trip by President Clinton to Bosnia in January 1996. Salahuddin warned from Tehran that Abdullah was preparing an attack on American troops during Clinton’s visit. After a series of calls to the Joint Task Force on Terrorism, the secretary of defense issued a videotaped warning to all American troops in Bosnia, and Clinton’s visit was shortened to less than a day.

Suspicions that Abdullah had become a CIA asset were increased when he suddenly appeared in Washington in the fall of 2009. He refused to speak to when asked why he was in town. Calls to the FBI about Abdullah were not returned.

The American government has been especially forgiving to some known terrorists. Anti-Castro Cubans who engaged in the worse kinds of violence are not on the no-fly list. Orlando Bosch, a onetime pediatrician, is an honored citizen of Miami. He even enjoyed Orlando Bosch Day in 1983. Bosch is an air terrorist and killer. In 1976 he planned with fellow terrorist Luis Posada Carriles the bombing of an Air Cubana flight that killed seventy-three passengers near Barbados. Bosch gave a justification for his violence to a television interviewer for Miami’s Channel 41 that sounds chillingly similar to the same justifications Al Qaeda: “In such a war such as us Cubans who love liberty wage against the tyrant, you have to down planes, you have to sink ships, you have to be prepared to attack anything that is within your reach.”

After working for the CIA and Chilean dictator General Augusto Pinochet, Bosch returned to Florida, where he was arrested for using a bazooka against a Polish freighter. President George H. W. Bush pardoned him on July 18, 1990. Curiously, Bosch can fly anytime and is nowhere to be found on the no-fly list.

Many of Bosch’s murderous colleagues can also fly freely. Juan Manuel Contreras Sepulveda, for example, who ran Chilean intelligence and conducted torture at home and murders around the world, is not on the no-fly list. Armando Fernandez Larios — who has been living under witness protection in Miami but was indicted in Chile — is not on the list.

Then there are the plotters and murderers of the Thunderbolt Conspiracy — the Cuban nationalists who plotted and carried out the September 1976 Washington, DC, car bombing of Chilean ambassador and defense minister Orlando Letelier and American Ronni Kapen Moffit. The plotters were suspects in dozens of other assassinations and crimes. American Michael Townley — still living under witness protection — was convicted and later released from prison during the Reagan administration. He is not on the no-fly list. Guillermo Novo Sampol — released from a Panamanian prison — is not on the no-fly list. Alvin Ross Diaz, also convicted in the Letelier case, is not on the no-fly list. Also absent are fellow conspirators Virgilio Pablo Paz Romero and José Dionisio Suarez Esquivel as well as Ignacio Novo Sampol.

Some international figures are on the no-fly list as threats to airline security. One is Nabih Berri, the current Speaker of theLebanese Parliament,. As head of the Amal Militia and a political partner to Hezbollah, he allowed the hijackings of several airliners. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with Berri on February 23, 2006, during a visit to Lebanon, according to Beirut’s Daily Star newspaper. The Daily Star reported that when “Rice met with Berri and told him how much she liked the weather in Lebanon and that skiing was one of her hobbies, Berri replied, ‘The best place for skiing in Lebanon is the Shebaa Farms. We hope to receive you there one day.’” The Shebaa Farms region of south Lebanon has been fought over for years since Israel occupied the area to prevent attacks from Hezbollah.

Here is how Berri is listed:

Nabih Berri 28-Jan-28

Nabih Berry 28-Jan-28

Nabih Berry 28-Jan-39

Nabih Moustapha Berry 28-Jan-28

Nabih Moustapha Berry 28-Jan-39

His actual birth date is January 28, 1938.

Evo Morales. Photo: Marcello Casal Jr./ABr
Evo Morales. Photo: Marcello Casal Jr./ABr
There are politicians who are not known terrorists on the no-fly list. One is the controversial and leftist president of Bolivia, Evo Morales. As a young man Morales was a llama herder and played the trumpet in a band. His popularity in Bolivia was fueled by his willingness to oppose US drug eradication programs. He was expelled from a previous government after three policemen were killed when farmers fought to prevent the closure of a coca market. But a lack of evidence and rumors that the US embassy was behind his removal reinforced popular opinion that he was not part of what some considered the “corrupt” political elite.

In the 2002 elections his campaign received a boost when the US ambassador in Bolivia, Manuel Rocha, warned that Washington could cut off aid if Bolivians chose candidates “like Mr. Morales.” Morales, a former coca farmer himself, nationalized all fossil fuel in Bolivia. He also made a mockery of hundreds of millions of dollars in US anti-drug aid to his predecessor’s administrations.

Morales is listed as follows:

Evo Morales 26-Oct-59

Juan Evo Morales Aima 26-Oct-59

Evo Morales Ayma 26-Oct-59

To understand why the lists are filled with inaccuracies and have missed people who should be on them, you need to understand that the lists are a combination of secret, public, and corporate information. Each airline security department protects its own planes by keeping its own database of troublemakers and threats. For example, Southwest Airlines has a reputation for intercepting peace activists. Yet those same passengers do not get delayed when they fly Delta or United. The reason is not a supersecret government blacklist; instead, each airline’s security staff makes decisions that it thinks are in the best interest of the airline. If you’re hearing a familiar ring to all this — the mixing of government and private databases to blacklist people — then you’ve either lived through or studied the age of Senator Joseph McCarthy. The threat then was domestic Communists. Self appointed patriotic pressure groups worked with US Army Intelligence, the FBI, local law enforcement, and the military to create and circulate lists of suspected Communists to pressure people into incriminating others or publicly confessing. Much has been made about peace demonstrators or opponents of President George W. Bush’s policies getting onto some selectee or no-fly lists. Just as in the 1950s, you can get on a list when a local police department, the FBI, or the security department of a commercial company decides to turn your name over to a friend at Homeland Security or any of the government agencies that supply DHS information for the TSA lists. The cases of mistaken identity range from the late Senator Edward Kennedy being repeatedly hassled to a one-year-old child being refused a trip.

To make matters more confusing, in the early days of the TSA a match on the selectee or no-fly list meant the airline had to call in law enforcement. The most famous case that ended up in court was brought by the American Civil Liberties Union in San Francisco. Rebecca Gordon and Janet Adams told the court how they went to San Francisco International Airport to board a flight to Boston to visit Gordon’s eighty-year-old father. That’s when an airline employee followed TSA procedures and called the authorities to report that someone on the no-fly list had checked in for a flight. “She came back and said, ‘You turned up on the FBI no-fly list. We have called the San Francisco police.’ We were shocked, really shocked,” Adams told a local CBS television reporter in San Francisco. “We were detained. We were definitely detained. I couldn’t even get a drink of water,” Gordon remembered. Gordon and Adams were peace activists and had never been criminally prosecuted. The first thing the ACLU lawyers discovered was that the TSA refused to tell them if their clients were on any watch lists. The pair’s lawsuit is further evidence of how closed the TSA and watch-list system is to American citizens. Government lawyers tried to redact all information off hundreds of pages of documents on national security grounds. “The government has blacked out the information about what criteria they use to place people on these lists. So we don’t know how someone gets on the list. How they can get off the list if they’re on it incorrectly, we don’t know. If the government monitors the list, we don’t know if any of this makes us any safer. What we do know is hundreds, maybe thousands, of passengers are being routinely hassled, innocent passengers, because of these lists,” ACLU attorney Jayashri Srikantiah told CBS. In Gordon and Adams’s case, the ACLU believes the couple may have been targeted for their work on a newspaper called War Times that opposed the Bush administration’s policies. Perhaps most disturbing about the no-fly list is the reaction of an experienced intelligence officer to it. After reviewing several portions, he concludes that the CIA and FBI were using the list for their own purposes. “It was as if 9/11 never happened,” this former bin Laden task force agent says. “It is clear by the names that are not on the list that the CIA is allowing terrorists it uses to travel freely by not listing current aliases or true names of known terrorists.”

In June 2006 Canadian and US citizens were shocked by the arrest in Canada of seventeen Islamic fundamentalists. The young men had plotted to bomb Canadian intelligence, storm Parliament, cut off the prime minister’s head, take over the BBC, and execute those who did not meet their demands. The imam to nine of these men was Aly Ibrahiem Mohamed Omar Hindy. Working out of a strip-mall mosque in suburban Toronto, Aly Hindy railed against the United States, claiming the American government was responsible for the 9/11 attacks. But Aly Hindy did not become extreme in his Islamic faith until after he moved to Canada to start his engineering career designing systems to protect nuclear facilities in Canada and the United States. Three years ago Aly Hindy was arrested in Egypt and held for just two days. Considering that Al Hindy ran a mosque that served as ground zero for extreme Islamic activities in Canada and had knowledge of nuclear facilities, you might think he’d turn up on the no-fly list. As of spring 2006 he hadn’t, although five of his aspiring jihadists are listed:

Fahim Ahmad, 21, of Robinstone Drive, Toronto

Zakaria Amara, 20, of Periwinkle Crescent, Mississauga

Mohammed Dirie, 22, Kingston

Yasim Abdi Mohamed, 24, Kingston

Jahmaal James, 23, of Trudelle Street, Toronto

How could Aly Hindy have been missed for the list? A former top CIA case officer looked at the dossier on Aly Hindy and said, “The US recruited him through Canada. He’s ours.” The CIA officer was certain about what had happened. An FBI official reviewing the same dossier came to the same conclusion.In the aftermath of the Toronto arrests of Aly Hindy’s followers, ABC News investigative correspondent Brian Ross met with Aly Hindy, who told Ross that he is a “bit of an agent” for Canadian intelligence. He confirmed he knew nine of the suspects “pretty well” and had performed the marriage ceremonies of two of them. Aly Hindy told Ross that he had turned in to detectives from Canada’s intelligence branch Ahmad, the one who had rented a car, had organized the guns, and was the most fiery of the group. The fact that Aly Hindy was trusted enough to leave off the no-fly list indicates that he has been recruited at least since his arrest in Egypt. Ross said that Aly Hindy “by his own admission has a close relationship with government agencies.” The idea that Western intelligence services are protecting some Muslim extremists and some Al Qaeda associates and sympathizers at the potential risk of the flying public brings back chilling memories of the events proceeding 9/11.

What does it all mean? For one thing it means that the CIA can put you on the no-fly list if it is useful to them and keep you off if it is not. Because the CIA lost track of the Saudi GID agents who were really working for Al Qaeda in 2001, it is probably time for President Obama to take away this special CIA get-out-of-jail-free card.

Security officials will tell you that during an act of air terrorism our government is relying on the fact that the passengers — not the government — will act as the last line of defense. So far passenger courage and terrorist incompetence have saved two airliners filled with people.