The FBI had a source in direct contact with Osama bin Laden in 1993, who knew that the al-Qaida leader was planning to finance terrorist attacks within the U.S. borders, according to court testimony from a low-profile employment lawsuit in 2010.
The testimony came from Edward Curran, a Los Angeles-based FBI official, while testifying on behalf of former agent Bassem Youssef, who had brought the discrimination lawsuit against the federal agency, The Washington Times
"It was the only source I know in the bureau where we had a source right in al-Qaida, directly involved," Curran said.
The testimony contradicts the findings in the 9/11 Commission, which said bin Laden was making efforts to expand the terrorist network globally in the early 1990s, including "building alliances extended into the United States," but did not say that the terrorist leader was looking to finance specific attacks as early as 1993.
Those involved with the 9/11 Commission, lawmakers who serve on intelligence committees, and terrorist experts are outraged by the news, and they are asking if there's anything else that has yet to be revealed about the terrorist attacks, according to the Times.
"I think it raises a lot of questions about why that information didn't become public and why the 9/11 Commission or the congressional intelligence committees weren't told about it," said former Republican Rep. Peter Hoekstra of Michigan, who served as chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence from 2004 to 2007, when the 9/11 Commission report was published.
"This is just one more of these examples that will go into the conspiracy theorists' notebooks, who say the authorities are not telling us everything," Hoekstra told the Times. "That's bad for the intelligence community. It's bad for law enforcement, and it's bad for government."
Former Democratic Rep. Lee Hamilton of Indiana, who served as co-chairman of the 9/11 Commission with former Republican Gov. Thomas Kean of New Jersey, was also surprised by the revelation.
"I do not recall the FBI advising us of a direct contact with Osama bin Laden," Hamilton said.
Those involved with the 9/11 report said that they don't know if the information was intentionally withheld or if it was simply overlooked during the investigation, as staff had thousands of pages of documents to review to establish al-Qaida's history.
Phillip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, said that it could be that the information was overlooked because "we did not delve as deeply in this period because it was so distant from the plotting that led directly to the 9/11 attack."
FBI officials could not recall if the fact was disclosed to the 9/11 Commission, but said they gave the commission access to all of its relevant records.
"The FBI made all relevant information available to the 9/11 Commission and the joint intelligence community inquiry," said Michael Kortan, FBI assistant director.
However, attorney Stephen Kohn, who represented Youssef and called Curran as a witness, said that the information was kept from him by both the FBI and his own client until it was made known at the hearing.
"I was shocked when it came out, and I was frustrated because the FBI had censored that information clearly to hide it from the public," Kohn said. "There was absolutely no reason for that to be kept secret."
Kohn alleges that the reason the FBI kept the information secret was "so they wouldn't have to give credit to [Youssef] for the work he had done."
Youssef had brought the lawsuit because he believed he was being discriminated against by his superiors who assumed he was an Arab Muslim, when he was a Coptic Christian.
The purpose of Curran's testimony was to show what an asset Youssef had been to the federal agency. Youssef's confidential source that was "very in tight, close" to al-Qaida was information he cited in Youssef's favor.
Two documents support Curran's testimony — Youssef's performance review the he had conducted and an inspection report published in 1995 of the Los Angeles office, which mentions Youssef's source and the role he played in helping to uncover a plot to attack a Masonic lodge in Los Angeles, another bin Laden plot.
Zelikow concluded that if Youssef's source "had remained close to al-Qaida leadership into the Afghan period, I am pretty sure we would have known about that."
Hoekstra disagrees, adding that "if one of the agencies wants to hide something from you, it's pretty hard for someone else to find it."
"My bias would be that if the FBI knew about this and wanted to hide it, they could, absolutely," he added.
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