On the tenth anniversary of 9/11, just as he has done in years past, a top military intelligence analyst identified by the US government only as "Iron Man" will hunker down in front of his television and watch a particularly gruesome scene of the carnage left behind on that fateful day.
"Although I try to avoid it, I glimpse a film clip, a scene, of people throwing themselves from a burning tower, people who deserved better protection from their country, from me and the men I worked with, and I hear the sounds of the lobby in the [World Trade Center] on tape," said the man, whose alter ego chosen by the government appears to be paying homage to the flawed Marvel Comics superhero. "To me, the sights and sounds, the smoke of that day are not yet history. They are a knot, a silence, a facial tick, a missing friend in Iraq. They are not history yet."
For many Americans, the emotional reaction to President Barack Obama's announcement that a Navy Seal team had killed Osama bin Laden during a raid at his compound in Pakistan was celebratory. But for others, like the mysterious Iron Man, who has spent his career lurking in the shadows, the death of the al-Qaeda leader is a painful reminder of how close he and his colleagues in the intelligence community came to capturing Bin Laden before 9/11.
The "intelligence failures" leading up to the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon are an issue the media - and lawmakers - put to bed years ago, despite the fact that new information continues to trickle out, undercutting the integrity of the official investigations into who knew what and when.
It was an exclusive story Truthout published May 23 in the wake of Bin Laden's death, focusing on a little-known intelligence unit ordered to stop tracking his movements prior to 9/11, that led Iron Man to contact Truthout to share previously undisclosed documents he recently obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), which appear to cast further doubt on the official narrative and suggests high-level military and intelligence officials withheld key evidence from Congressional lawmakers probing the attacks.
The materials Iron Man provided to Truthout stand as the most revealing information to surface in years regarding Bin Laden and al-Qaeda's plans to attack the United States.
This is the first page of "Iron Man's" complaint to the Department of Defense Office of Inspector General related to intelligence work he did on Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. [Click here to download and read the documents.]
Five years ago, Iron Man, who requested Truthout conceal his true identity out of concern for his family's privacy, lodged a formal complaint with the Department of Defense's Office of Inspector General after he was accused of improperly handling classified material.
Iron Man filed a FOIA request in September 2006, seeking a declassified copy of the six-page complaint he filed with the inspector general's office. He finally received a copy on April 8, just a few weeks prior to the raid on Bin Laden's compound.
What he revealed in that letter, portions of which were redacted by the government because the information is classified, is the inner workings of an elite intelligence unit he headed at one point: the Asymmetric Threats Division, formed in 1999, and "charged with reporting on asymmetric threats, especially terrorism."
The unit worked with Joint Task Force-Civil Support (JTF-CS), also set up in 1999. According to the Defense Department (DoD), JTF-CS was charged with supporting "terrorist response operations in the continental US" and providing "military assistance to civil authorities."
The Asymmetric Threats Division is referred to as DO5, a branch of the Joint Forces Intelligence Command (JFIC), whose responsibilities included, among other things, vetting human intelligence sources on behalf of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA). From 1998 to 2001, Iron Man was working as a counterterrorism/counterintelligence analyst for the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), assigned to JFIC.
JFIC falls under the authority of the United States Joint Forces Command (USJFCOM) and "had a direct and assigned purview on international terrorism against the US, to include the operations of al-Qa'ida and the 9/11 attackers."
In 2005, it was renamed the Joint Intelligence Command for Intelligence. Last month, JFCOM was shuttered, reportedly due to Pentagon budget cuts, and as a subcommand, JFIC was believed to have been disbanded along with it.
Much of JFIC's work on al-Qaeda and Bin Laden remains shrouded in secrecy and has not been cited in media reports revolving around pre-9/11 intelligence, which has focused heavily over the past decade on CIA and FBI "intelligence failures." Only a few details about the military intelligence unit have surfaced since then, notably in reports published by Truthout.
JFIC was responsible for, among other things, monitoring Bin Laden and other suspected terrorists who resided in Afghanistan between 1998 and 2000 and was charged with constructing likely scenarios that could be carried out by terrorists and possible government responses.
"JFIC's role" and the DoD's "role, in the pursuit of al-Qa'ida before 9/11 and timely analysis of the targets actually struck by the 9/11 attackers have remained unknown even to senior DoD officials," Iron Man's complaint letter says.
Iron Man noted that the "motivation for this complaint is multi-faceted." He said the "purpose" of the letter "is to formally complain" to the inspector general that "JFIC, when instructed in or before May 2002 to provide all original material it might have relevant to al-Qa'ida and the 9/11 attacks for a Congressional inquiry, intentionally misinformed the Department of Defense that it had no purview on such matters and no such material."
Moreover, there has never been a public accounting of the work conducted by DO5. But Iron Man's letter provides deep insight into the secret military intelligence group's highly classified activities.
DO5 was "a fore-runner of current all-source fusion centers," the letter Iron Man wrote says. Individuals assigned to the unit had "a wide mix of skills" in intelligence disciplines, including human and open-source intelligence, signals intelligence and imagery and signature intelligence.
DO5 drafted "numerous original reports ... identifying probable and possible movements and locations of Usama bin Ladin and Mullah Omar," including likely identification of the house where Khalid Sheikh Mohammed allegedly planned the 9/11 attacks.
From 1999 to 2001, the intelligence unit also "conducted imagery analysis of Jalalabad and Qandahar" and other parts of Afghanistan as they were "pulled into a community-wide initiative on al-Qa'ida."
The letter further states, "DO5 was able to 'scoop' [the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency]," an agency which played a crucial role in identifying the compound in Pakistan where Bin Laden had been hiding.
According to US government officials, it was one of Bin Laden's most trusted couriers, whom intelligence operatives identified about five years ago, that led the CIA to pinpoint Bin Laden's Abbottabad compound.
But Iron Man's 2006 letter states that DO5 worked closely with DIA and was instrumental in identifying "a likely financial courier" for al-Qaeda, one who may have led intelligence officials directly to Bin Laden before 9/11.
Early Intelligence Pointed to the World Trade Center, Pentagon
In 2002, following his departure to DIA, Iron Man returned to JFIC to teach two classes on asymmetric warfare, and he kept "numerous" slides related to DO5's work on "pre-9/11 briefings."
As Iron Man explained in his letter of complaint to DoD's inspector general, "upon my arrival at DIA, I had these documents e-mailed from JFIC to my DIA account, so that I could use them as references for the asymmetric warfare course I was drafting for DIA, and as references for any future counter-terrorism work I might pursue at DIA."
It appears that the allegation Iron Man mishandled classified material stems from a decision he made to email the briefing slides to his DIA account. Iron Man declined to elaborate about the circumstances of the allegations leveled against him. Still, what he reveals in his carefully worded letter in response to those charges is explosive.
"I kept the original classifications on the slides, as historical documents, although the fact that al-Qa'ida was likely to attack the World Trade Center and the Pentagon was clearly no longer classified." (Emphasis added.)
Iron Man further elaborated on this point by stating that high-level DoD officials held discussions about DO5's intelligence activities between the summer of 2000 and June 2001 revolving around al-Qaeda's interest in striking the Pentagon, the World Trade Center (WTC), and other targets.
In other words, the Bush administration was fully aware the terrorist organization had set its sights on those structures prior to 9/11 and, apparently, government officials failed to act on those warnings.
For example, Iron Man states in his letter that in the summer of 2000, DO5 briefed USJFCOM senior intelligence officials and staffers, including the deputy commander in chief, on the "WMD Threat to the U.S."
Iron Man describes a "sensitive," "oral briefing" that took place that summer "indicating that the World Trade Centers #1 and #2 were the most likely buildings to be attacked [by al-Qaeda], followed closely by the Pentagon. The briefer indicated that the worst case scenario would be one tower collapsed onto another."
Furthermore, as he states in his letter, Iron Man was certain that such a scenario was part of a "red cell analysis" discussion that took place prior to the intelligence briefing and included a finding that the buildings "could be struck by a jetliner." He wrote that there was a suggestion about alerting WTC security and engineering or architectural staff, "but the idea was not further explored because of a command climate discouraging contact with the civilian community."
One official who attended the DO5 briefing was Vice Adm. Martin J. Meyer, the deputy commander in chief (DCINC), USJFCOM (Iron Man's complaint does not identify Meyer by name, but notes the presence of the "DCINC" for USJFCOM). But despite the red flags raised during the briefing, Meyer reportedly told Maj. Gen. Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), and other high-level CONR staffers two weeks before the 9/11 attacks that "their concern about Osama bin Laden as a possible threat to America was unfounded and that, to repeat, 'If everyone would just turn off CNN, there wouldn't be a threat from Osama bin Laden.'"
Mayer retired from the Navy in 2003 and was hired by defense contractor Lockheed Martin.
Intelligence Withheld From Congress
Even worse, according to Iron Man's letter, the information DO5 had collected about Bin Laden, al-Qaeda and the lead up to 9/11 was withheld from Congress after the House and Senate Intelligence Committees launched an investigation into the attacks.
"When the Justice Department requested all documents relating to 9/11 from DoD in May 2002, I notified [redacted] in the DIA Congressional Affairs office that I retained these documents," Iron Man's letter states. "I spoke to [redacted] JFIC DI1 [an individual who works in the command administrative staff], who informed me that JFIC had already submitted a response without any documents. I was surprised and disappointed when my successor at DO5 [redacted] notified me of the full JFIC non-response. I notified [redacted] in the Congressional Affairs office, and was told to submit the documents as DIA documents, with an explanatory e-mail. I did so on 29 May 2002, presuming (probably correctly) that the documents might be overlooked, since they originated at JFIC. I forwarded copies to [redacted] (who was departing JFIC that week), (his subordinate), and [redacted] (who was also departing JFIC that week)."
A DoD spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment. Spokespeople for the House and Senate Intelligence Committees also did not respond to calls for comment.
After raising his concerns, Iron Man, who from late 2000 to June 2001 was acting head of DO5, was told by his former boss that JFIC's formal response to Congress' inquiries was that "al-Qaida and the 9/11 attacks had been outside JFIC's purview and that JFIC consequently held no material on those issues," which was a lie.
Iron Man's boss said, "He insisted [to officials who responded to the Congressional inquiries] that such was not the case, but was told this was JFIC's response."
Iron Man wrote that "many people" working at government agencies were knowledgeable about JFIC's "role in preparing original analysis" on al-Qaeda, including officials at the CIA, NCIS, USJFCOM, DIA and NSA, whose names were redacted in the letter he sent to DoD's inspector general.
However, after conducting at least 300 interviews and reviewing hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, the final report issued by the House and Senate Intelligence Committees in December 2002, into "Intelligence Community Activities Before And After The Terrorist Attacks Of September 11, 2001" did not cite any of DO5's work on al-Qaeda or Bin Laden or the fact that the intelligence unit was able to identify the terrorist group's top two targets in the US. The later 2004 9/11 Commission Report did not mention DO5 or JFIC.
Flawed DoD Investigation
Although the inspector general acted on Iron Man's complaint and launched an investigation, the findings of the probe, outlined in a report, declassified last year, previously reported by Truthout, was highly flawed and failed to address Iron Man's charges that intelligence was withheld from Congress.
Indeed, it appears the author of the inspector general's report confused Congress' investigation into the 9/11 attacks with the independent National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, otherwise known as the 9/11 Commission, created in late 2002 by legislation passed by Congress. The inspector general's report insisted it did not find any "evidence that the Joint Forces Intelligence Command misled Congress by withholding operational information in response to the 9/11 Commission."
But Iron Man's complaint specifically addressed intelligence withheld from Congress' inquiries into the 9/11 attacks, not the independent panel's probe, thereby dismissing an allegation Iron Man had never made.
Iron Man told Truthout the inspector general's final report "was, shall we say, very incorrect, and intentionally did not address the full scope of the [his] complaint. "
The watchdog did not tackle another of Iron Man's explosive claims about DO5 briefings that centered on "numerous examples and suggestions of how [Osama bin Laden] was being hunted by JFIC and could be hunted by the [intelligence community]."
One such briefing held for a "DIA senior intelligence officer on counterterrorism" was entitled "The Search (for Osama bin Laden) - A [commander in chief] Level View," which included "a compendium of imagery of [a] suspected [Bin Laden] house dating from 23 August 1999 until 11 April 2000."
At the briefing, intelligence officials were informed that "eleven special reports" by DO5 had been disseminated in the "Daily Intelligence Summary on [Bin Laden], Taliban leadership, Afghan military movements, UN locations, and the economic status of Afghanistan."
Another briefing for the counterintelligence/counterterrorism chief at NCIS, and about 30 NCIS agents, "clearly stated the JFIC's Asymmetric Threat Division monitored 'worldwide [counterterrorism/counterintelligence] traffic' and routinely prepared 'analytic reports' and 'supplements national agencies with original intelligence on [Bin Laden] and Afghanistan.'"
Congress was kept in the dark about those discussions and was not shown the documents distributed to intelligence officials at the briefings. The inspector general never bothered to find out why. Remarkably, the watchdog stated in its report, "JFIC did not have the mission to track Usama Bin Ladin or predict imminent US targets."
Iron Man told Truthout it was key intelligence withheld from Congress about al-Qaeda and Bin Laden's pre-9/11 activities that also played a part in his decision to file a complaint with the inspector general.
"My concern was not only that the 9/11 commission had not been informed, but the larger Congress, in its larger oversight responsibilities, had also not been informed," he said.
A Heavy Burden
What remains unclear is exactly what took place back in May 2006 that prompted Iron Man's complaint to the inspector general, given that the issues he had raised centered on events that unfolded four years earlier.
The answer to that question can be found in these passages of Iron Man's letter, particularly the last few sentences:
"I do believe that knowledge of the work done by DO5 would add to DoD's understanding of its role in the events leading up to 9/11, and how to avoid future attacks," Iron Man wrote. "I have been falsely accused of revealing classified information on DO5's work, when I am certain that information is not and has not been classified since 9/11, and I do want to see myself cleared of that false accusation.
"In addition, I and the deputy of that team, [redacted], especially carried the burden of knowledge of how close DoD came to bin Ladin and perhaps being able to reduce the number of lives lost on 9/11 ..."
The deputy whose name the government redacted from Iron Man's letter, is believed to be Kirk von Ackermann, a former Air Force captain and intelligence analyst, who was working for the US Army as a contractor in Iraq and disappeared in October 2003 while traveling between Tikrit and Kirkuk. A computer, a briefcase containing $40,000, and other materials were found in von Ackerman's vehicle after he went missing.
Because von Ackerman's name was classified in the complaint Iron Man filed with the inspector general, he could not confirm whether von Ackerman is the individual he was referring to.
Just three months after Iron Man filed his complaint with DoD's inspector general, in August 2006, the Army Criminal Investigative Service concluded that von Ackerman had been kidnapped and killed. His remains have never been found nor has anyone claimed responsibility for his death.
Von Ackerman's tragic story has been previously reported by journalist-blogger Susie Dow on the web site e Pluribus Media, but has largely remained under the radar. In a May 6 article she published on her personal blog, Dow identified von Ackermann as a member of JFIC's Asymmetric Threats Division. Iron Man's complaint suggests he ultimately became deputy chief of DO5.
In October 2006, Dow wrote that von Ackermann was "assigned to a counterterrorism team."
"You'll find no mention of either Kirk von Ackermann or his team in the 9-11 Commission report.... Well before 9-11, Kirk von Ackermann predicted aircraft could be hijacked and used as weapons against the United States. He also predicted potential targets."
Von Ackerman's wife, Megan von Ackerman, has maintained a blog called "Missing in Iraq," dedicated to her missing husband. In March 2006, she wrote that her husband had planned for such a catastrophic event, but his warnings were ignored:
"... When 9/11 happened everyone around us reacted as normal, civilians would - shock, horror, fear ... but Kirk, isolated from the intelligence and military community of people who knew what he knew, felt what he felt, was essentially alone," Megan von Ackerman wrote. "For a year he had spent his days imagining just this sort of scenario. He had come up with countless plans, evaluated targets, totaled up casualties and estimated political value. He had thought like a terrorist so he could stop them. Now he had to watch it made horribly real - the nightmare he had worked so hard to avoid ... Kirk had tried to make the warning, he had worked endless hours to stop this very thing happening. He knew he had no guilt that he had been ignored. But he retained an enormous sense of responsibility - not only for what happened, but for dealing with the new world that 9/11 ushered in."
Knowing exactly how close he, von Ackerman and DO5 came to capturing Bin Laden and possibly thwarting the attacks on 9/11 is a "burden" Iron Man said he "no longer wants to carry."
"[Redacted] and I discussed this issue the last time we spoke," Iron Man wrote in the final paragraph of his letter to the inspector general, likely referring to von Ackerman. "He remains the longest missing man in Iraq in this war, and I want, one day, to be able to explain to his children what their father foresaw."
A slightly different version of this report was originally published on June 13, 2011.