The Untold Story of al-Qaeda's Plot to Attack the Subway

In an exclusive excerpt of The One Percent Doctrine, author Ron Suskind reveals how officials learned about an al-Qaeda cell that came within weeks of striking the New York City subway system with poison gas

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Public Eye: Signs on the New York City subway urge riders to report any suspicious activity

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But in the urgent days of May, the CIA let on to the Saudis that al-Ayeri might know about the mubtakkar cell — and that he might be the only one. In postmortems that roiled through Langley, that last part was seen, maybe, as a misstep. 9/11, with 15 of the 19 hijackers from the kingdom, created the greatest fissure in the long, dime-a-dance waltz between Saudi Arabia and America. The effect of a second disaster — with chemical weapons and a clear link to Saudi Arabia — would be unfathomable.

"It was a bad day. We wondered, Was it an accident that they killed him, or not? The Saudis just shrugged. They said their people got a little overzealous," said one of the top CIA operatives who was fixated on al-Ayeri, hoping he might lead investigators along a Saudi trail to the WMD attack cell in America. "The bottom line: the missing link was dead, and his personal effects, which can be pretty important, were gone. Like so much else when you're dealing with these countries, you're never sure — Was it an issue of will or capability? Just try to sort those two things out."

Tenet brought the bad news to Bush and Cheney at the next morning briefing. Bush was angry. At the very least, he told Tenet, tersely, someone should be sent to Riyadh to get the Saudis to rearrest the trio that had recently been released. A few days later, Mowatt-Larssen entered the chambers of Prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, at the Royal Palace in Riyadh. He knew not to expect much. Meetings with Nayef were often short and nonproductive.

Mowatt-Larssen dispensed with pleasantries. "With al-Ayeri dead, we want you to rearrest the others and hold them for as long as possible," he said, referring to the other trio.

Nayef nodded. "Fine."

"But," he added, "we cannot hold people indefinitely when there is no hard evidence against them and no charges." After a few more minutes of the lecture — about how important due process and civil rights are to the Saudis — Nayef said they would hold the men for only a few more months. "We're doing this because you are asking us. But if you have any evidence against them, you better show it."

The meeting lasted five minutes. Mowatt-Larssen smiled, a tight, tense smile, then thanked the Prince for his extremely valuable time and cooperation.

From The One Percent Doctrine. Copyright © 2006 by Ron Suskind. To be published by Simon & Schuster.

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