Author: Terror spy show a TV whitewashSibel is furious, she is in the documentary too.
An investigative journalist said his book about a Sept. 11 coverup was watered down for the TV version.
What was expected to be a controversial documentary that charges that Osama bin Laden's top spy infiltrated three U.S. security agencies has gotten even hotter, with investigative reporter Peter Lance calling the TV piece based on his book a whitewash that's ``like doing Schindler's List from Hitler's perspective.''
The documentary, Triple Cross, is scheduled to air on the National Geographic Channel Aug. 28, with Lance's book of the same name due out a few weeks later. But their accounts of how bin Laden's master spy Ali A. Mohamed outwitted the CIA, the FBI and the U.S. Army may be overshadowed by the war of words between Lance and the network.
Lance, who in early treatments of the Triple Cross script was the narrator, was so infuriated by the program's eventual direction that he refused to appear. National Geographic's producers at one point held back transcripts of interviews they were supposed to share with Lance, and still won't let him see the final documentary unless he signs what they call a ``non-disparagement agreement.''
As the dispute has grown, some sources interviewed for the Triple Cross documentary have asked National Geographic to be removed from the program.
''We went in under the impression that this documentary was based on Peter Lance's book and his findings,'' said Russ Caso, chief of staff to U.S. Rep. Curt Weldon, R-Pa., whose office investigated the Mohamed case. ``But after a while, we didn't think National Geographic was doing a 100 percent job. . . . We felt we weren't looking at an unbiased piece.''
Ford says his network stands behind the documentary, which was completed just this week. He strongly denies that it's a puff piece.
''It exposes how different parts of the U.S. national security apparatus failed to connect the dots on Ali Mohamed over a decade and a half,'' he said. ``They all had information that could have shut him down, if they'd shared it. It's like a Tom Clancy thriller, but true.''
Mohamed turned up in FBI surveillance photos as early as 1989, training radical Muslims who would go on to assassinate Jewish militant Meir Kahane and detonate a truck bomb at the World Trade Center. He not only avoided arrest, but managed to become an FBI informant while smuggling bin Laden in and out of Afghanistan, writing most of the al Qaeda terrorist manual and helping plan attacks on American troops in Somalia and U.S. embassies in Africa.
Finally arrested in 1998, Mohamed cut a deal with the Justice Department. His whereabouts remain shrouded in official secrecy.
Lance, an Emmy winner who spent nine years as a producer-reporter at ABC, was one of the first journalists on the trail of the Mohamed story. He told part of it in two earlier books, 1000 Years For Revenge and Cover Up, both harshly critical of counterterrorism efforts, especially at the FBI. He says Triple Cross will be the toughest yet.
''The FBI allowed the chief spy for al Qaeda to operate right under their noses,'' Lance said. ''They let him plan the bombings of the embassies in Africa right under their noses. Two hundred twenty-four people were killed and more than 4,000 wounded because of their negligence.'' When the FBI finally realized what was happening, he said, it buried the story to hide not just its kid-gloves treatment of Mohamed, but other misbehavior by agents in the case.
But early versions of the documentary script, Lance said, made it look just the opposite. FBI agents and Justice Department officials were interviewed sympathetically, he said. ''The overwhelming impression was that the FBI was on top of Ali Mohamed,'' Lance said. ``It was outrageous. . . . They hijacked my research and watered down key findings in order to appease some prominent feds.''
National Geographic's Ford denied that the network cozied up to the FBI: ``Peter wanted us to include accusations and conclusions . . . that we could not independently verify, and we weren't willing to do that.''
Lance called it ``reprehensible for them to suggest there was anything in my research they couldn't confirm. If there were, why didn't they just call me up and ask?''
I can't wait for Lance's book.