But the C.I.A.’s antipathy for the F.B.I. as an explanation has never fully satisfied observers, and that is where Mr. Shakir plays into the story. Telling the F.B.I. about Mr. Mihdhar would have blown the lid on the Shakir gambit—and recruitments are the most sensitive operations in the spook world. The C.I.A., as one source put it, “did not want the bureau messing up the operation.” He added, “The bureau might have demanded everything: ‘Who is this guy? Let’s target him!’”
Philip Zelikow, the former executive director of the 9/11 Commission, said he couldn’t rule out the Shakir story and would like to hear more. “We looked at the issue very hard and with some care,” he told The Observer, “including the documentary record, but I would be glad to evaluate any new evidence that might surface.”
Mr. Kean, the commission co-chair, said, “It’s a great story.” But he pointed out that no one raised Mr. Shakir during the investigation. “I can’t say it is not true, but it would have been unusual if they withheld that information from the 9/11 Commission. I just have no way of knowing whether it is true, whether part of it is true or whether none of it is true.”
The C.I.A. declined to comment.
In any case, it appears the recruitment of Mr. Shakir failed. Shortly after the Malaysian summit disbanded, he fled the country, which further raised the C.I.A.’s suspicions about him. The C.I.A. later explained in internal records that his “travel and past contacts linked him to a worldwide network of Sunni extremist groups and personalities,” including “senior al-Qaeda associates.” Weeks before the 9/11 attacks, the C.I.A. added him to its watch list, along with Messrs. Mihdhar and Hazmi. They also finally got around to briefing the F.B.I.
RECENTLY, THERE WAS A strange twist in the story. Years after 9/11, and after the Bush administration sought to link Saddam Hussein to the attacks, Mr. Shakir briefly grew quite famous in neoconservative circles.
The C.I.A.’s attempt to recruit him in Malaysia was never disclosed, nor was his alleged homosexuality. But word did leak out among intelligence officials that he was tied to the Kuala Lumpur summit, and neocons were intrigued by the fact that he was an Iraqi. Hawks eager to retroactively justify the Iraq invasion thought he might be the one to do it since he had met Mr. Mihdhar. And there seemed to be an Iraqi fedayeen officer with a name similar to Mr. Shakir’s.
In 2004, the story broke on the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal, positing that Mr. Shakir could constitute “a direct link between Iraq and the al Qaeda operatives who planned 9/11.” Such a link was the Holy Grail for neoconservatives, especially after it became clear that Iraq had no WMD.
It was a desperate push to tie the Iraqi dictator to 9/11 and it failed, notably because whatever Mr. Shakir was, he was no Iraqi agent and he was no fedayeen officer.
The last anyone saw of Mr. Shakir was right after the 9/11 attacks. Briefly in 2001, he was picked up in the Middle East, first by the Qatari authorities, and then in Amman, Jordan. But he was quickly released. No public pictures of him exist. Today, his whereabouts are unknown.
Aram Roston is an Emmy Award–winning investigative reporter and author of The Man Who Pushed America to War, a biography of Ahmad Chalabi.
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