HISTORY and WNYC Studios Present “Blindspot: The Road to 9/11”
Eight part narrative podcast series brings together the voices of U.S. government and intelligence officials, national security experts, reporters, informants, and associates of the terrorists to tell the little-known story of the lead up to 9/11
Hosted by WNYC’s Jim O’Grady
Debuts Wednesday, September 9
Audio trailer available here
(New York, NY — August 17, 2020) — HISTORY and WNYC Studios today announce a new co-production, “Blindspot: The Road to 9/11,” an eight part podcast series that tells the little-known story of the lead-up to 9/11, launching Wednesday, September 9.
While the devastating images of the 9/11 attacks are seared into our national collective memory, most of the events that led up to that day took place out of public view. “Blindspot: The Road to 9/11” brings to light the decade-long “shadow struggle” that preceded the attacks. It is a story of monarchs and imams, agents and infiltrators, of petty vendettas and proxy wars with global implications. The series reveals the existential threat at stake in every turn, the human drama of political motives and personal ambitions, and the glaring mistakes and unfortunate blind spots that led to the modern world’s single most devastating act of terrorism.
Hosted by WNYC reporter Jim O’Grady (who covered 9/11 and the aftermath for The New York Times) and based on HISTORY’s television documentary Road to 9/11, the podcast series “Blindspot: The Road to 9/11” draws on interviews with more than 60 people — including FBI agents, high level bureaucrats, journalists, experts, and people who knew the terrorists personally — and weaves them together with original reporting to create a gripping, serialized narrative audio experience.
“Blindspot: The Road to 9/11” begins with the 1990 assassination of Rabbi Meir Kahane in Manhattan, an event widely considered al-Qaeda’s first violent act on American soil. Over the course of eight episodes, listeners follow investigators as they crisscross the globe and struggle to understand an emerging threat. Their search takes them deep inside a Brooklyn-based al-Qaeda cell, where terrorists plot to destroy half a dozen landmarks across New York City; to a small apartment in the Philippines where a plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II was foiled and another to blow up 11 airplanes was conceived; and to a falcon hunt in Afghanistan, where Osama bin Laden narrowly escapes capture. We hear how U.S. officials tried and often failed to work together, and how sometimes a single decision was the difference between safety and tragedy.
Voices in the series include:
- Leon Panetta, former CIA director and former Chief of Staff for President Bill Clinton
- Richard Clarke, former National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure Protection, and Counter-terrorism
- Zak Ebrahim, who was seven years old when his father, El-Sayyid Nosair, assassinated Rabbi Meir Kahane
- Abdullah Anas, former fighter with the mujahideen in Afghanistan who knew the Islamist preacher Abdullah Azzam (also known as “the father of global jihad”), the man who mentored a young Osama bin Laden.
- Arturo Munoz, CIA senior intelligence officer who tracked Ayman Al-Zawahiri — the current leader of al-Qaeda — in the 1990s
- John Miller, former reporter for NBC New York who covered the first WTC attack in 1993, and is now the Deputy Commissioner of Intelligence & Counterterrorism of the NYPD
- NYPD detective Louis Napoli and FBI special agent John Anticev, who investigated the Kahane case; the first WTC attack; and the Landmarks Plot, an al-Qaeda linked plot to bomb major landmarks in New York City
- Emad Salem, the Egyptian-born FBI informant who took down a major U.S. based terrorist cell behind the Landmarks Plot
- Peter Bergen, CNN reporter who conducted the first U.S. television interview with Osama bin Laden in 1997
- Steve Coll, staff writer at The New Yorker, Dean of Columbia Journalism School, and author of Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, from the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001
- Mary Jo White, U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York who oversaw the investigation that took down the cell behind the Landmarks Plot
- Brad Garrett, FBI agent sent to Islamabad to track down Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind of the first WTC attack, the Bojinka Plot to blow up 11 airliners, and a plot to assassinate Pope John Paul II
- Lewis Schiliro, FBI assistant director who was dispatched to the scene of the first WTC attack to coordinate evidence collection
- Matthew Besheer, detective for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey who worked with the FBI and law enforcement in the Philippines in the search for Ramzi Yousef
- Bernard Haykel, professor of Near East studies, Princeton University
- Albert Ferro, deputy chief of the Philippine police national firearms and explosives office and part of the team that investigated the Bojinka Plot
- Steve Simon, former U.S. National Security Council senior director for the Middle East and North Africa, who was also called to Manila to discuss the Bojinka Plot with Philippine authorities
- Colonel Rodolfo “Boogie” Mendoza, former chief of the Philippine National Police intelligence unit who interrogated a close associate of Ramzi Yousef
“Back when I was reporting on 9/11 and its aftermath, there was deep confusion about what had happened to us and why,” said Jim O’Grady, Host and WNYC reporter. “It took officials a long time to sort out even the basic facts. And then, of course, over time, the story became known. But not all of it — not nearly. ‘Blindspot: The Road to 9/11’ tells the backstory of the life-or-death maneuverings, many forgotten or overlooked, that lead us to the day that didn’t have to happen. It ranges from a meeting on the deck of a Navy destroyer between a president and a king, to a sweaty undercover agent gripping a briefcase that holds a tape recorder with a battery fixing to die at the critical moment. I would tell you what happened next but I gotta go. Give a listen!”
“We’re extremely proud of ‘Blindspot: The Road to 9/11’ which builds upon the best of the original HISTORY documentary — and all of its revelatory first-hand accounts — to broaden our collective understanding of the attacks through new details and fresh perspective,” said Jessie Katz, Director of Audio Programming & Podcasting, A+E Networks. “History informs and gives context to our present, and through Jim’s masterful storytelling and reporting, listeners are invited to reexamine both the big and seemingly small moments that set the course of that day’s tragic events.”
Episode 1: The Bullet
The story begins in 1990 in a Midtown Manhattan hotel ballroom where extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane lies mortally wounded. His assassin, El-Sayyid Nosair, is connected to members of a Brooklyn mosque who had been training to fight with Islamic freedom fighters in Afghanistan. NYPD Detective Louis Napoli and FBI Special Agent John Anticev catch the case and start unraveling a lethal conspiracy taking shape in plain sight, along with an emerging ideology: radical jihadism.
Episode 2: The Mole
In 1991, Emad Salem is a retired Egyptian army soldier living in New York when NYPD Detective Louis Napoli and FBI Special Agent John Anticev ask him if he would be willing to infiltrate a terrorist cell in Brooklyn, led by the radical cleric Omar Abdel-Rahman (also known as the Blind Sheikh). With Salem’s military background and understanding of extremist culture, he becomes a trusted member of the cell, and is on the brink of uncovering a major plot when an FBI supervisor makes a disastrous decision.
Episode 3: The Bomb
On February 26, 1993, the cell strikes by setting off a bomb in the basement of the World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring more than a thousand. The mastermind, Ramzi Yousef — the most dangerous terrorist in the world — escapes overseas. Meanwhile, FBI informant Emad Salem — still working with the Blind Sheikh — begins communicating by fax with a Saudi financier named Osama bin Laden. Salem eventually learns that the cell is planning an attack designed to topple city landmarks and kill thousands.
Episode 4: The Sheikh
FBI informant Emad Salem becomes close with an ambitious terrorist named Siddig Ibrahim Siddig-Ali and learns of the Landmarks Plot: a plan to cause mass casualties by attacking heavily trafficked bridges, tunnels, and tourist sites around New York City. Law enforcement begins to understand that the threat of terror against America is ongoing and international.
Episode 5: The Idea
On January 6th, 1995, police in Manila respond to an apartment fire and uncover a plot to assassinate the Pope. A suspect gives up his boss in the scheme: Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center attack who has been on the run for two years and who manages to disappear again. Port Authority Detective Matthew Besheer and FBI Special Agent Frank Pellegrino learn that Yousef is planning horrifying attacks involving 11 airplanes rigged with bombs set to explode simultaneously. President Bill Clinton grounds all U.S. flights over the Pacific as the era of enhanced airline security dawns.
Episode 6: The Choice
Osama bin Laden began his life as the son of a wealthy contractor made fabulously rich by the Saudi Arabian oil boom. A devout Muslim, bin Laden forges a close relationship with the radical preacher Abdullah Azzam, who he joins as a Mujahideen fighter in the Afghan War against the Soviet Union. Once the invading Soviets leave Afghanistan in defeat, bin Laden calls for holy war against the United States. While his longtime mentor Azzam advises caution, a new advisor named Ayman Al-Zawahiri gains his trust. Bin Laden’s shifting alliance between the two men will determine the path of the newly formed al-Qaeda.
Episode 7: The Falcon Hunt
It’s the late 1990s and policy makers at the highest levels of the U.S. government are grappling with how to respond to al-Qaeda, a relatively scattered group that is pulling off small but bloody attacks on U.S. foreign installations and soldiers. Osama bin Laden, its leader, has issued a fatwa justifying violence against the US. The CIA zeroes in on bin Laden during a falcon hunt in Afghanistan, and awaits White House clearance to kill him.
Episode 8: The Ghost
“The Ghost” is the nickname that Port Authority Detective Matthew Besheer and FBI Special Agent Frank Pellegrino give to the man they’ve been hunting for years but can’t quite catch: Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, also known as KSM. He’s the uncle of Ramzi Yousef, mastermind of the World Trade Center bombing of 1993. Besheer and Pellegrino are acutely aware of the danger KSM presents, and they’re finally able to track him to the country of Oman. A plane is idling and special forces are on standby to capture him, but the White House decides that permission must first be obtained from the Omani government. A spy tips off KSM, who once again fades into the ether. Soon he’ll meet with Osama bin Laden and lay out the framework for what will become known as the 9/11 attacks..
Bonus Episode: Interview with Emad Salem
Emad Salem has been called one of the most successful undercover informants in the history of the FBI. It’s been nearly 20 years since Salem testified against members of al-Qaeda in open court, and he’s been in hiding ever since. In a rare new interview O’Grady conducted with Salem this spring, he describes what it took to win the confidence of terrorists who — if they’d found him out — would’ve killed him on the spot; the personal price he paid for foiling the Landmarks Plot and bringing down a terrorist cell; and the strains borne by his wife and two children in the two decades since he agreed to become a mole.
“Blindspot: The Road to 9/11”can be heard on WNYCStudios.org/blindspot911podcast and all other platforms where podcasts are available. Episodes will be released every Wednesday through October 28. The series is based on the television documentary Road to 9/11, produced by Left/Right for HISTORY.
ABOUT WNYC STUDIOS
WNYC Studios is the premier producer of on-demand and broadcast audio, and home to some of the industry’s most critically acclaimed and popular podcasts, including Radiolab, On The Media, Trump, Inc., The New Yorker Radio Hour, Death, Sex & Money, and The United States of Anxiety. WNYC Studios is leading the new golden age in audio with podcasts and national radio programs that inform, inspire, and delight millions of intellectually curious and highly engaged listeners across digital, mobile, and broadcast platforms. Programs include personal narratives, deep journalism, revealing interviews, and smart entertainment as varied and intimate as the human voice itself. For more information, visit wnycstudios.org.
HISTORY, a division of A+E Networks, is the premier destination for historical storytelling. From best-in-class documentary events, to a signature slate of industry leading nonfiction series and premium fact-based scripted programming, HISTORY serves as the most trustworthy source of informational entertainment in media. HISTORY has been named the #1 U.S. TV network in buzz for seven consecutive years by YouGov BrandIndex, and a top favorite TV network by Beta Research Corporation. For a deeper dive, visit history.com or follow @history on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. For additional press materials visit the A+E Networks Press Center at http://press.aenetworks.com.
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