The Gay Terrorist Who Could Have Foiled 9/11

A year and a half before September 11, 2001, the C.I.A. tried to recruit an Iraqi terrorist thought to be secretly gay, The New York Observer reports. If the agency had been successful, the terrorist attack perhaps could have been prevented. The C.I.A. hoped Ahmad Hikmat Shakir could be an “access agent”—someone without high-level knowledge but who could arrange contacts with people who do. Short, fat and jolly, he perhaps could have been flipped by threats to reveal his sexuality. In January 2000, al Qaeda was meeting in Kuala Lumpur, and Shakir picked up an eventual 9/11 hijacker, Khalid al-Mihdhar, at the airport. Al Mihdar had a multiple-entry visa to the U.S., but the C.I.A. didn’t inform the F.B.I., who could have put him on a watch list or questioned him. An F.B.I. agent was drafting a memo to alert bosses about Mihdar’s likely visit to the U.S., but the C.I.A. told him to hold off. The F.B.I. wasn’t alerted to his presence stateside until August 2001. The C.I.A.’s actions are one of the biggest mysteries of the attacks, but the Observer speculates that proceeding with the alert could have exposed the agency’s attempts to convert Shakir.