The conviction of American terrorists, Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols, symbolizes the FBI's crown jewel of criminal prosecutions. So why do questions linger? Does the official account of what transpired on April 19, 1995 reveal all that certain federal investigators know? In the wake of the 1995 bombing, national polls showed 80 percent of Americans believed additional conspirators evaded capture. Today, as the 16th anniversary approaches, the prospect of shadowy terrorists walking free still pervades the country's psyche. This time, however, the FBI itself is fueling the flames of public distrust.
Last week the vault of top-secret bombing evidence cracked open. The Department of Justice, responding to Freedom of Information Act requests, released a declassified report detailing the May 26, 2005 interrogation of Terry Nichols. According to the record, Nichols broke his decade-long silence, acknowledging his hands-on role in constructing the massive truck bomb that demolished the Oklahoma City Murrah Building. While this revelation was all but academic, what Nichols said next threatens to rewrite history.
During the interview, the convicted bomber unleashed a startling admission: John Doe 2 exists. The FBI report states, "Nichols advised that John Doe 2's name had not been mentioned during the (FBI) investigation, and therefore, he feared for his life and his family's well-being should it become public."
One seemingly innocuous statement in this recently declassified FBI memo effectively shatters the government myth that two angry white males singlehandedly pulled off the crime of the 20th century. To begin, Nichols clearly implied that he knew the identity of John Doe 2 when asserting that his co-conspirator's name "had not been mentioned" during the prodigious FBI investigation. Keep in mind, the bomber had direct access to sealed court files and classified discovery materials that federal prosecutors were legally required to disclose to his defense lawyers during the state and federal trials. As a result, Nichols was informed about every suspect that surfaced on law enforcement's radar screen.
More significantly, Nichols expressed fear that John Doe 2 posed a grave threat to his family and him personally should the suspect's name be publicly disclosed. One can reasonably conclude that the Oklahoma City terrorist did not trust federal authorities would investigate or arrest John Doe 2 if he divulged his identity. And finally, the obvious bears repeating. The man who helped execute the deadliest attack on U.S. soil prior to 9-11 perceives the formidable John Doe 2 as omnipotent, with the ability to kill his family, and even him, in a maximum security lockup. Why?
And what did the FBI do in response to the Oklahoma City bomber's unnerving confession that John Doe 2 exists? Nothing.
A month after Nichols told the FBI that a third man participated in the bombing, he repeated this same daunting revelation to a U.S. congressman. An FBI agent was present during the June 2005 Colorado prison cell interview with California Representative Dana Rohrabacher, scribbling handwritten notes of what was discussed. But Bureau policy strictly forbids the recording of suspect interrogations; therefore, the most trustworthy account of Nichols' earthshaking testimony rests with the congressman.
Upon exiting the meeting, Rohrabacher phoned me and candidly recounted the details of Nichols' stunning disclosures. To insure accuracy, I taped the conversation. Rohrabacher described the prisoner as apprehensive and hesitant to name the infamous third terrorist, but he offered not-so-subtle hints of foreign complicity in a crime that the government has classified as domestically inspired. When Rohrabacher bluntly asked Nichols to assess the plausibility of the multiple eyewitness sightings placing Timothy McVeigh in the presence of Iraqi soldiers in Oklahoma City, Nichols shockingly conceded that the central theory presented in my 2004 book, The Third Terrorist: The Middle East Connection to the Oklahoma City Bombing, "could be correct."
Dispelling the image of Timothy McVeigh as the bombing mastermind, Nichols resolutely confirmed that the decorated Gulf War veteran had numerous liaisons with men of Arab extraction, boldly proclaiming, "McVeigh talked about Middle Easterners on a number of occasions, and quite frequently," but Nichols claimed that he "could not remember the context of those discussions." Once again, Nichols refused to reveal the third terrorist, terrified of retribution.
This incriminating declaration from the country's most notorious mass murderer should have been the FBI's top investigative priority. After all, the implications were enormous. This was the first time the FBI learned directly from the Oklahoma City bomber that John Doe 2 exists. While Nichols declined to name the mystery accomplice, he dropped an unmistakable clue as to his identity when implying to the congressman that the premise of my book, The Third Terrorist, could be accurate.
Now, we connect the dots further. If McVeigh did, indeed, collaborate with Saddam Hussein's former soldiers, then John Doe 2 has escaped justice for slaughtering 171 innocent Americans. But, not surprisingly, the FBI's final summary of the prison interview, which was declassified and published last week, redacted Nichols' damning statements that McVeigh associated with Middle Easterners in the very city where the terrorist bombing took place.
For 16 years, the FBI has brazenly refused to speak to two dozen Oklahomans who encountered Timothy McVeigh colluding with Iraqi ex-enemy combatants in an act of terror that murdered more civilians within our borders than all the U.S. soldiers who perished on the sands of the Persian Gulf War. Now their sworn testimonies, identifying eight specific Middle Eastern collaborators, have been validated as "correct," ironically, through the unwitting confession of McVeigh's partner in crime, Terry Nichols.
Despite the Justice Department's herculean effort to airbrush John Doe 2 from the American landscape, history has appointed Dana Rohrabacher the star witness to Terry Nichols' affirmation that the third terrorist lives. It seems the government's monolithic wall of resistance has fractured, but the crushing injustice still stands. That is, until our elected officials exercise their constitutional authority to "correct" the historical record. The American people expect it. The truth demands it.
Jayna Davis is the author of The Third Terrorist: The Middle East connection to the Oklahoma City Bombing.