The CIA is having trouble keeping its secret agents off the internet. First, it allowed the White House to publish a photograph of the man behind the operation to kill Osama bin Laden. And now the identity of the woman who runs its "Global Jihad Unit"—and who has a long (if pseudonymous) history of being associated with some of the agency's most disastrous boondoggles—has been published online by two documentary filmmakers who sussed it out with the help of some "savvy internet research."
Her name is Alfreda Frances Bikowsky and, according to independent reporters Ray Nowosielski and John Duffy, she is a CIA analyst who is partially responsible for intelligence lapses that led to 9/11. The two reporters recently released a "documentary podcast" called "Who Is Richard Blee?" about the chief of the agency's bin Laden unit in the immediate run-up to the 9/11 attacks and featuring interviews with former counterterrorism official Richard Clarke, former CIA agent Bob Baer, Looming Tower author Lawrence Wright, 9/11 Commission co-chairman Tom Keane, and others. In it, Nowosielski and Duffy make the case that Bikowsky and another CIA agent named Michael Anne Casey deliberately declined to tell the White House and the FBI that Khalid al-Mihdhar, an Al Qaida affiliate they were tracking, had obtained a visa to enter the U.S. in the summer of 2001. Al-Mihdhar was one of the hijackers on American Airlines Flight 77. The CIA lost track of him after he entered the U.S.
Bikowsky was also, according to Nowosielski and Duffy, instrumentally involved in one of the CIA's most notorious fuck-ups—the kidnapping, drugging, sodomizing, and torture of Khalid El-Masri in 2003 (El-Masri turned out to be the wrong guy, and had nothing to do with terrorism). As the Associated Press' Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo reported earlier this year, an analyst they described only by her middle name—"Frances"—pressed for El-Masri to be abducted even though some in the agency weren't convinced he was the terrorist that Frances suspected he was. Instead of being punished or fired for the error, "Frances" was eventually promoted to running the Global Jihad Unit by then-CIA director Michael Hayden. According to Goldman and Apuzzo's story, "Hayden told colleagues that he gave Frances a pass because he didn't want to deter initiative within the counterterrorism ranks."
Nowosielski and Duffy also contend that Bikowsky is the unnamed "particularly overzealous female officer" described in Jane Mayer's The Dark Side who traveled to personally view Khalid Sheikh Muhammed's interrogation despite having "no legitimate reason" to be there. Mayer reported that she attended the sessions because "she thought it would be cool"; her supervisors later reprimanded her with the admonition, "It's not supposed to be entertainment."
Michael Anne Casey, according Nowosielski and Duffy, is the name of the CIA analyst who sat on information about Al-Mihdhar obtaining a visa in 2001, at one point telling an FBI agent detailed to the agency, "Listen, it's not an FBI case. It's not an FBI matter. When we want the FBI to know, we'll let them know. And you're not going to say anything."
The disclosures appear to have been inadvertent. In the "Who Is Rich Blee?" podcast, as well as a transcript of it available online, both Bikowsky and Casey are referred to exclusively as "[Frances]" and "[Michael]." But at some point this week, Nowosielski and Duffy posted on their web site a cache of email correspondence with the CIA's public affairs office generated while pursuing the story. Among them was an email Nowosielski wrote to an unnamed CIA official last month laying out their argument for revealing Bikowsky and Casey's names—and revealing that they were able to identify them not through a whistleblower or anonymous leak but "through internet research." Here it is in full:
From: FF4 Films
Date: Thu, Aug 8, 2011 at 10:00 AM
Subject: CIA Public Affairs
To: (CIA Email Form)
To CIA Public Affairs Media Relations:
We wish to make you aware that we plan to release an investigative podcast on iTunes on Sunday, September 11, and a written piece in Truthout shortly thereafter which will name two of your employees, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky and Michael Anne Casey. Please take appropriate steps to ensure their safety, though our sources tell us both are currently working from CIA headquarters in Langley.
Evidence we have uncovered demonstrates that each failed to follow standard operating procedure on multiple instances with regard to an operation that surveilled two future 9/11 hijackers, one that many we interviewed feel was the single best opportunity to stop those attacks. Some of those failures appear to have been deliberate choices. Both women then failed to tell the full story to and/or ensure the full story was known by subsequent investigations.
Both were analysts, not operatives, before Sept 11th, so the CIA could have chosen to allow them to be named and held to account by subsequent government investigations. Instead, the Agency put them in the cover status, retroactively protecting their identities and allowing them to continue in important terror-related assignments in the field. We understand that Ms. Casey has multiple family members also working in the Agency.
Regarding Ms. Bikowsky specifically, we have learned that she may have misinformed the Congressional investigation on certain details. We have also confirmed that she is the CIA employee described in Jane Mayer's The Dark Side as having been reprimanded for making herself involved in the waterboarding of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed without officially being assigned to do so. And another source who has read the CIA OIG Report into the Camp Chapman attack says she was named for accountability in that incident as well.
We wish to make clear that no source provided us with these names. We were given descriptions and various background details by multiple sources about two officers inside Alec Station in 1999-2001, one a red-headed thirtysomething supervisor later promoted to Deputy Chief and the other a young staff operations officer. We were then able through internet research to identify likely candidates for the names of these people. During interviews with those who might know, we would describe what Ms. Bikowsky did in this instance or Ms. Casey did in that and ask a question about it. The failure to correct us provided confirmation.
We are officially requesting to interview Ms. Bikowsky and Ms. Casey so that they might set the record straight in detail if we have been given bad information or misinterpreted the often murky facts surrounding these incidents. We are willing to move back our release date in order to include their interviews, though we would need to know that within twenty-four hours.
When you reply, we will send you a transcript of the podcast so that CIA may choose to respond. This response will be included on our web site, mentioned at the end of the podcast, and referenced in the Truthout piece. If you provide new details or explanations that are significant enough, we will re-work the podcast and Truthout write-up to reflect these revelations before release. We can be reached by reply email or at 317-698-xxxx.
The reporters also posted the CIA's reply, which seemed to confirm the identities: "We strongly believe it is irresponsible and a potential violation of criminal law to print the names of two reported undercover CIA officers whom you claim have been involved in the hunt against al Qa'ida." Nowosielski and Duffy interpreted this as a threat and an attempt to censor their reporting, writing: "The federal law in question was later stated: the Intelligence Identities Protection Act. The law has never before been applied to journalists who find information in open-source materials. This possible expansion of precedent fits an ongoing pattern of intimidation and redefining precedent regarding leaks and whistleblowers from the White House."
Last night the former FBI linguist and whistleblower Sibel Edmonds caught wind of the correspondence and posted Bikowsky's name on her blog: "Boiling Frogs Post has now confirmed the identity of the CIA analyst at the heart of a notorious failure in the run-up to the September 11th tragedy." Cryptome's John Young also published Nowosielski's letter in full. At this point, Bikowsky and Casey's identities as CIA analysts are fully disseminated across the internet. A Google search for either name immediately turns up web sites reporting their CIA affiliations. Likewise, a search for "Who is the director of the CIA's Global Jihad Unit?" returns Bikowsky's name in the first result.
(Their digital trails are, as one might expect, scant. A "Michael Anne Casey" turns up on LinkedIn as an "Independent Think Tanks Professional" in the Washington, D.C. area. In 2003, someone by that name was nominated as a foreign service officer for the State Department. In 2004, she was listed as a consular officer in Rome by the U.N.'s Committee on World Food Security, of which she was a member. Bikowsky was nominated to the foreign service in 2008.)
Unfortunately for Nowosielski and Duffy, they never intended to post the email containing Bikowsky and Casey's names. Though they had hoped to publish the identities, the CIA's threats had successfully intimidated them. Nowosielski wrote to Cryptome's John Young at some point last night or this morning explaining that the email was posted in error and asking that he remove his copy; Young complied.
Nowosielski told Gawker via email, "We chose to censor the name at the request of CIA. Sibel chose to run the name for her story. We've asked that she remove any reference to our web site, where we did in fact censor the names for both the podcast and transcript. The post of the correspondence was an accident, a miscommunication with our webmaster that was quickly corrected. We frankly were scared of the CIA repercussions (regardless of the ethical issues involved here) and decided to censor. Simple as that."
We contacted the CIA seeking comment about the disclosures, Nowosielki and Duffy's reporting, and to ask if the agency did in fact threaten them with criminal prosecution if they published the names. Spokesman Preston Golson responded in a statement:
The CIA does not as a rule comment on the names of reported undercover officers.
The Central Intelligence Agency has a very different assessment, as you might expect, on these events, as did the 9/11 Commission. The CIA's counterterrorism efforts have significantly degraded al Qaeda and produced valuable and timely intelligence, which has allowed the United States and others to take action countless times to save lives and disrupt plots.
Any suggestion that the CIA purposely refused to share critical lead information on the 9/11 plots with FBI is baseless.
Speculation and allegations such as these diminish the hard work and dedication of countless CIA officers who have worked tirelessly against al Qaeda both before and after 9/11-hard work that culminated in the operation that found Bin Ladin.
Golson did not ask us not to publish Bikowsky and Casey's names.
The Associated Press' Goldman, when asked if the "Frances" he referred to in his February story with Matt Apuzzo was indeed Bikowsky, referred us to AP spokesman Paul Colford. Colford declined to comment. It's notable that Goldman, who presumably knows Frances' identity, posted on Twitter a link to the correspondence while it was up on Nowosielski and Duffy's site: "Web site reveals names CIA officers involved in 9/11 intelligence failure." UPDATE: After we published this story, Goldman wrote on Twitter that "Retweeting is not a confirmation of anything."
We asked Jane Mayer if Bikowsky was the woman she described as having crashed Khalis Sheikh Muhammed's interrogation. She replied, "I identified everyone I felt was appropriate in my book, and am sorry not to be of more help but need to leave it at that."
[Image via Getty]