The 911 that Wasn’t
How the Greatest Terrorist Strike Against America was foiled in LA
Although the US – Iran relationship had somewhat settled down after the 1979 Hostage Crisis, the relative “quiet” didn’t last for long. The U.S. began to assist Saddam Hussein in the Iran – Iraq War. It placed an arms embargo against Iran (Operation Staunch) and denied Saddam’s persistent use of chemical weapons against Iran, many of which the US had sold to Iraq. Khomeini became furious and was determined to get even. In 1983 his proxies bombed the US Embassy and Marine Barracks in Beirut, Lebanon. Then they decided to really punish the “Great Satan” by humiliating America while the eyes of entire world were fixed on the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles. His plan was simple but dramatic: to crash an airplane loaded with explosives into the Coliseum at the opening ceremonies. The object being to kill President Reagan and countless thousands of innocent people.
The story behind the headlines, that fortunately were never written, is how two LAPD Officers and two Iranian expatriates prevented Khomeini’s Islamist “Terrorist Gang” from achieving their intentions—a catastrophe that might have dwarfed 911. As told by one of the main participants, here is what happened:
“My name is ‘Frank.’ I am an American citizen originally from Iran. In my youth, having had a strong desire to see Iran become a democracy like the US, I found myself twice the “guest” of the late Shah–in his political torture chamber. Not seeing any likelihood of Iran’s ever becoming democratic, I immigrated to the US in 1964. It is for the sake of our next generation’s future that I am telling what I know of this little bit of history.
In the first week of June 1984, I received a call from my friend of some 5 years, ‘Ray,’ also an Iranian expatriate. As usual he asked to stop by for a visit. I said, “sure c’mon over.” Little did I know at that moment what lay ahead. Ray had ties to the anti-Khomeini underground in Iran, and he and I often met with opposition leaders at my house. Both of us absolutely opposed Khomeini’s Shi’s Islamist government. At the same time we hated Saddam “Hitler” Hussein’s invasion of our birthplace and anxious about the safety of our relatives and friends. It was just a mess. Besides, Saddam’s war only served to strengthen Khomeini’s grip on power in Iran—not good.
When Ray arrived he looked anxious, so we got right to it. He said that he had heard that Khomeini was planning some kind of huge disruption for the Olympics’ opening ceremony in Los Angeles scheduled for the end of July—less that 8 weeks. Ray, stressed, however, that “there [were] no specifics yet known of Khomeini’s plan.” I was stunned. But then I remembered that in 1978 Khomeini had instigated the murderous fire at the Rex theater in Abadan that killed 400 people—all from his “house arrest” in Najaf, Iraq. I also recalled the two 1983 bombings in Beirut–the marine barracks and particularly the US Embassy–and how Khomeini had gotten away with that too. Something, by the way, that Bin Laden later cited as giving him confidence to go ahead and airplane-bomb the twin towers.
Ray’s information was alarming to be sure. Shi’a Islamists consider such acts of terrorism to be the heroic calling of martyrdom–a significant symbolic component of Shi’a Islamist political culture and the ultimate sacrifice for a religious cause—and, we were fully aware that lunatic Khomeini had an established history of this crap. The whole thing sent chills down my spine.
I told Ray that he must make absolutely certain the information he provided was not just a rumor dished out by some Iranians who didn’t like Khomeini’s regime. Such rumors were not uncommon during those days. We had to be certain the information was accurate before we could even discuss it with anyone else in the U.S. Passing on such information could have been extremely dangerous for our families, because Khomeini’s agents had infiltrated the over 500,000 exiled Iranian community in Southern California. Had it leaked out that we passed information about Khomeini’s Islamist gang, there would be no safe heaven anywhere for either of us, our families in the US, or our relatives back in Iran from the wrath of those murders.
Ray asked me, “Since you have lived in US longer than me and know some political and business people with good connections, why don’t you talk to them.”
I said, “Before I might possibly be make a fool out of myself, let’s first find out if the information you just told me is absolutely true and accurate. We also need to be very careful about it because potentially it could be very dangerous to even talk or discuss something like this with anyone, for neither of us are yet American citizens and we have no protection. I also told Ray, “let’s both think it over very carefully before we meet again.” Ray agreed.
A few days later, Ray called and asked me for an urgent meeting. This time we met at a public place in West LA. Ray seemed quite nervous as he told me, “The information I conveyed to you is accurate and I have learned that a couple of Khomeini’s people are already here for the job. They definitely want to disrupt the opening ceremonies of the Olympic games.”
I said, “Please, don’t discuss this with anyone, for it is extremely dangerous and I need to think about it before I proceed further. I really need to sort this out and think it through. I’ll call you as soon as I make up my mind.”
As I went home my mind was racing. But who should I contact? While looking for a source to fund a construction project, I had recently met a man named “Dr. Bruce Foley.” He had told me he was an advisor to president Reagan. Although not completely certain, I drove out to his Malibu beach house, complete with helicopter landing pad. His house was elaborately decorated with real full-size stuffed animals, hunting trophies. The walls in the hallway to Foley’s office displayed citations to him from Presidents Kennedy to Reagan. Foley claimed he was in regular contact with Reagan and had traveled on Air Force one with him.
All that seemed a bit much, somehow, so I decided to consult a well-connected friend, Lt. Gen. Otto Lessing. Thirty years in the oil business, Gen. Lessing had island hopped with Gen. MacArthur in WW2, liberating the Marshall Islands. Gen. Lessing had been an invaluable source of knowledge for my research on Middle East oil, especially the Iranian oil industry and refineries during Iran-Iraq war. He was sort of a father figure to me and a stalwart individual.
Gen. Lessing came to my house, and I asked him about this “Dr. Foley.” Lessing didn’t know, but said we should ask Gen. Elliott Roosevelt (FDR’s son) to check Foley’s credentials. I called Gen. Roosevelt who took the information about Foley and told me he would check it out and get back to me soon. Two days later Gen. Roosevelt called and informed me that this “Dr. Foley” was unknown at the Reagan White House. He also reminded me that it was very unlikely that one individual would receive that many presidential citations from both democratic as well as republican presidents. He advised me to be very cautious in dealing with Foley. So that was the end of that trail.
After thinking it over, I decided to contact John St. John whom I had known since 1978 when we met after the funeral of my gym instructor who was an officer killed in the line of duty while on a narcotics raid.
John was a 25 year veteran of the LAPD’s Organized Crime Intelligence Division, headed by Capt. Stuart Fink. John had an impeccable record while serving with valor at that department. He was well known for this integrity, and his current assignment was to find any developing crime faction within the half-million-strong Iranian community in southern California.
As total outsiders the LAPD leads have thus far been miniscule, so John was interested because he knew that I devoted much of my free time to organizing protests against Khomeini’s regime and demonstrations against the Iran/Iraq war. Also, with the Olympic games approaching, the LAPD was focused on security, and wanted to know if anyone knew of any potential terrorist activities.
I started by asking St. John about this “Dr. Foley,” a Rolls, a limo, a toilet seat with the Presidential Seal, and the White House didn’t know him. Just didn’t seem kosher. I told St. John what Gen. Roosevelt had told me, and asked him if he would be interested in checking out Foley. Within a couple of days he got back to me. Sure enough, Foley was a con artist, had been in prison, and should not be trusted.
Needless to say, St. John was very curious why I wanted to talk to Foley? Crunch time. Before answering I told him I wanted a commitment from him that any information I shared with him would stay confidential. Knowing how dangerous it would be to talk, I needed a guarantee to protect me, Ray and our families. He assured me that he would never reveal either my or Ray’s identity and said, “Frank I will take a bath for you before I ever mention your names as a source of the information you would share with me.”
So, I told him what Ray had found out. Khomeini was planning a major disruption of the Olympics, and had agents already in place, probably in San Bernardino County. St. John was visibly surprised by this information, and assured me that he would check out the story and get back to me soon.
While I was waiting for St. John to call back, my friend Nick called me. Nick owned a restaurant in West Hollywood and was complaining that his former girlfriend, an actress, was being extorted by some guy he thought was an ATF Agent. What caught my attention was that this Agent was involved in security for the Olympics.
Oops. Another wrinkle. So I called St. John and briefly discussed the ATF agent with him. The next day he showed up at my house with his colleague, detective Herman Kaskowitz. I told them what Nick had told me, particularly the part about Olympic security, and they immediately relayed this to St. John’s boss, Capt. Stuart Finck. An immediate investigation—purportedly by the FBI–caused the ATF agent to be removed or dismissed from his job at the Olympics. The catch to this that later proved problematic for St. John and Kaskowitz was their refusal—as they had promised–to identify me as the source of information about the ATF Agent.
Meanwhile, not enough detail about Khomeini’s plans was coming through to Ray as expected. So, I decided personally to make a trip to Washington DC to visit the Iranian interest section at the Algerian Embassy on the pretext of renewing my Iranian passport. I wanted to fish-out any information or reaction about what was officially going in the minds of Iranian officials at that office. When I got there, I was surprised to find out that the security at that office was being handled by “Black Muslims.” When I saw this, I remembered a heinous crime one of these guys who had worked at the same place committed almost four yeas earlier.
On July 22, 1980, an American “Black Muslim,” Dawud Salahuddind on the order of Khomeini’s regime murdered one of his “critics” Ali Akbar Tabatabaei at his home in Bethesda Maryland. Dawud (also known as David Theodore Belfield, Hassan Abdulrahman or Hassan Tantai) then fled to Iran and took refuge there.
I met the man in charge, Mr. Ali Zabzalian, who apparently was an architect—coincidently, my major at the British Universities I had attended. Through this I found some common ground to discuss Iran. He knew something about my anti-Shah activities, but seemingly nothing about my position against Khomeini’s “Terrorist Gang.”
Zabzalian’s position on the Iran/Iraq war was like most other Iranians. Yet, his position towards US support for Saddam was expressed with violent anger. He told me, ‘There is not a damn thing America can do to our Imam Khomeini, he is protected by the will of Allah. The Great Satan hasn’t learned a lesson it should know that we have no fear of sacrificing our lives for our cause. If you don’t believe me, just look at our youth (the human wave), our young martyrs at the battlefield, sacrificing their lives to destroy Saddam’s minefields.’
So I told him, “But they are kids. We can’t sacrifice them; they are the future of Iran.”
To which Zabzalian responded, “then you don’t understand what martyrdom means in our Shi’a culture.”
I thought, holy shit, I had to get my ass out of there. I was so sick of hearing that rubbish I headed back to Los Angeles the next day. At a stopover in Denver I noticed someone was openly taking pictures of me in the airport. So I turned right at him and took his picture. At LAX I saw another man waiting for me with camera in hand. I alerted security and the man was detained. When security discovered that he was FBI, they released him immediately.
Alright, they had my picture, but did they have my identity?
The day after I got back to LA, Ray had some additional information about the two Khomeini agents in San Bernardino County. With the clock ticking toward the Olympics, I decided to take a trip alone to the address in San Bernardino Ray was given and found that Iranians were living there.
The next day I met with St. John and Kaskowitz and told them about my experience in Washington, the Denver “photographer,” the FBI agent at LAX, and my visit to San Bernardino. The officers again reminded me that they have not disclosed my name to anyone, and advised me Frank that the Feds most likely, “were listening to the conversation you had with the Iranian diplomat because they wanted to know who you were.” I also receive a rather severe rebuke from St. John for my reckless behavior in going to San Bernardino–without informing him and asking them for protection.
I responded to him that there was something I knew about these people that they were not considering. That the minute the Iranians saw any strange American faces around their neighborhood, they would have known that they were being watched. Still, St. John’s criticism was well taken, and I promised to keep them informed next time.
At that point all we could tell St. John and his partner was that something was brewing, that time was running out, and the only thing they know was that the disruption was intended to exact a massive human toll. However, in the first week in July as I was coming home, I noticed someone was tailing me. I didn’t know who it was—FBI, Khomeini agents, what? As I entered my house, I noticed something unusual in the house; it looked like someone had just been there—things had been moved. I called St. John.
Shortly, St. John and Kaskowitz arrived at my house carrying a bunch of equipment. They told me they had just swept the Mayor’s office that morning, and they were going to sweep mine to check for any electronic eavesdropping devices. They found nothing, but advised me for my own safety to stay somewhere else for a while. Although I decided to stay in my house, I immediately broke off my relationship with my girlfriend in order to protect her, without telling her the real reason. I also decided to disconnect from family members, particularly my child.
Still needing more specific information, we caught a break the second week of July. There was a knock at my door. There stood Ray, unannounced. I knew instantly that something was up. Ray came in, grabbed my hand, and without saying a word led me outside into the backyard. He was so shaken that he whispered the news in my ear. Khomeini was planning to crash a suicide airplane loaded with explosives into the Coliseum during the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games, exactly when President Reagan was to open them.
I started shaking too as Ray looked at me in shock. We sat there for several minutes hanging onto each other, scared shitless. Both of us were astonished at the degree to which the supreme leader of Iran’s Shi’a Islamist government was prepared to commit such a heinous crime against humanity. But, we were happy that we finally knew what Khomeini’s secret plan was. Now there is something that could be done to prevent it. I immediately called St. John. He and Kaskowitz got to my house quickly, and I relayed all of Ray’s information to them.
To make a long story short, apparently Allah didn’t think much of the Supreme Leader’s plans for mass murder. On Saturday, July 28, with the sun setting over the edge of the Coliseum, the Olympic flame was rekindled. President Reagan declared, “I proclaim open the Olympic Games of Los Angeles, celebrating the XXIII Olympiad of the modern era.” The Olympics went off without a hitch—other than Edwin Moses forgetting his lines. Even the weather was mild, and the traffic in LA light.
Later, I learned from the two officers that they had reported the details of Khomeini’s plot to Capitan Stewart Fink, their commanding officer in the Organized Crime and Intelligence Division (OCID), who in turn reported it up the chain of command to LAPD chief Daryl F. Gates. However, since LAPD did not have the manpower, intelligence reach, and jurisdiction needed to thwart such a complex scheme, the FBI took over the investigation, and subsequently arrested more than 20 pro-Khomeini terrorist suspects.
That’s the good part. There is, however, a crazy part. The terrorists that the FBI arrested were never booked, anywhere. They just disappeared back into the Middle East. Of course, this action saved a potentially embarrassing trial, out of which might have come a pile of dirty laundry. Ironically, Iran-Contra later outed some this type nonsense, anyway. Of course, at that time there was the ever-present Soviet nuclear threat. And, National Security interests vis-à-vis the Soviet Union were deemed paramount, with acts of terrorism then a distant second behind the Soviet missile menace.
And the craziness didn’t stop there. St. John was forced into “retirement,” and Kaskowitz was transferred. The two officers had always kept their promise to the two Iranians who had risked their lives, but the Feds never liked that level of integrity when the politics of “National Security” was at stake. More importantly, St. John was investigating MCA mogul Lew Wasserman, a good friend of President Reagan. Wasserman’s daughter’s boyfriend had been murdered, and St. John believed that Wasserman may have ordered the hit.
According to Dennis McDougal’s 1998 book, The last mogul: Lew Wasserman, MCA, and the hidden history of Hollywood, St. John’s division, the OCID at LAPD:
“…was keeping a tab on [Wasserman’s] every move.” (P 438).
“…could Lew Wasserman actually have contracted for the murder of his daughter’s boyfriend, and could such an execution have gone undetected and unreported?” (Ibid PP 447-448).
Then LAPD Chief, Daryl F. Gates, recalled Wasserman’s reaction to the LAPD’s surveillance on him: “We knew every time you boarded a plane for Las Vegas,” said Gates.Lew was stunned. “But why?” he asked.“You‘re a major figure in Los Angeles and you’re in a business that’s highly attractive to organize crime.…we tried to make sure important people, good people like yourself, were protected and not preyed upon by the Mafia. We wanted to know who was running with whom,” replied Gates. (Ibid P 439)
Gates later wrote an autobiography, Chief. Although very concerned about “good people” such as Wasserman, he makes no mention of the attempted terrorist plot to kill (President Reagan and) thousands of other presumably “good people” in the Coliseum. One gets the feeling that certain “good people” are more important than other “good people.”
Apparently investigating Wasserman was another affront to the politics of “National Security.” As St. John told me, suddenly one day the FBI appeared, confronted him, and gave him 5 minutes to decide whether he would “retire” from the LAPD or face “corruption” and/or “obstruction of justice” charges. In other words, “thanks for saving our country and the President’s life, but we can’t let you do anything that might embarrass him or any of his important friends. Your fired.”
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St. John disconnected and Kaskowitz became a slim thread of semi-communication. However, some fifteen years into this “retirement,” I was able to meet with St. John and Kaskowitz. That was a very bittersweet reunion. Tears flowed as we all realized that we probably would never meet again. The former officers’ safety and that of their families being just too important. During the conversation that day, I asked St. John, “what do you think caused your downfall?” He responded, “two things: First, I never disclosed your name, even though they knew who you were, and second, because I was involved in the investigation of MCA chief, Lew Wasserman… and his connections to high places.” When I asked if I could write about the story, St. John said, “Frank, no one gave damn about it then, and no one gives a shit about it today; you would be wasting your time.”
Well, friends, I give a shit, and I hope some of you do too. These guys may suffered in silence these many years, but enough is enough. As we approach the tenth anniversary of 911, I believe this 1984 episode can inform our understanding of the “War on Terrorism.”
One such issue is the shock and surprise of 911. Our highest-ranking authorities have told us that no one could possibly have imagined that anyone would use an airplane as a weapon, flying it into a building.
President George W Bush:
“…nobody in our government at least, and I don’t the think the prior government, could envisage flying air planes into buildings”
National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice:
no-one “could have predicted that they would try to use an airplane as a missile”.
An Air Force general called the attack:
“something we had never seen before, something we had never even thought of”
FBI Director Robert Mueller:
“there were no warning signs that I’m aware of that would indicate this type of operation in the country.”
Well, that certainly begs the question, doesn’t it? In 1984, the FBI arrested (and let go) over 20 Iranians who had operative plans to fly a plane loaded with explosives into the LA Coliseum to kill the President of the United States. How is it that the same people who apprehended those 20-some terrorists practically in the act of flying a plane into a building full of people (i.e. the Coliseum) in 1984 could never have imagined that another 20 terrorists would launch the sequel some 17 years later??? If the FBI’s memory is so short that Director Mueller has to make a fool of himself with statements such as the above, then he and the whole damn leadership need to turn in their badges and guns. Or, if the alternative is true that they withheld or ignored this information…well, you figure it out.
It’s not just me. Even the Chicago Sun-Times reported:
The FBI had advance indications of plans to hijack U.S. airliners and use them as weapons, but neither acted on them nor distributed the intelligence to local police agencies.
From the moment of the September 11 attacks, high-ranking federal officials insisted that:
“the terrorists’ method of operation surprised them. Many stick to that story. Actually, elements of the hijacking plane were known to the FBI as early as 1995 and, if coupled with current information, might have uncovered the plot.”
Now, friends, I know what you’re thinking. “That’s all very interesting, but that was then. What about today? How is this important now?
That’s a great question.
You may recall that we spent decades fighting the old Soviet Union. It’s no secret that in that fight we consistently practiced the policy, “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” It’s a long list of ne’er-do-wells, and Iran was right up there at or near the top. As it turns out, there are some shenanigans afoot today whereby the US is being asked to fall in with and officially support still another group of disreputables. This time it’s the wacko, Jim Jones-like religious cult, Mujahedeen Khalq (MEK or MKO–take your pick). We are being told by some prominent Americans that this State Department listed Terrorist Organization is now our best hope for a democratic alternative to the crazies building bombs in Iran; that these “democratic Islamists” are a desirable replacement for those “theocratic Islamists.”
“Democratic Islamist?” What the hell is that? Military intelligence, jumbo shrimp, Microsoft Works, “democratic Islamists.” How ridiculous do the oxymorons have to get? There are some big American names getting well-paid to promote this Shi’a Islamist cult. Is there no low to which we will not stoop to make a dime?
In an upcoming blog, we are going to take a look at this bizarre phenomenon to see what’s going on. Who these people really are; their history; their mission; their “supporters;” and what would be the consequences of jumping in bed with these loonies.
Stay tuned, it gets better…Fara