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Lingering OKBOMB Questions

November 17, 2014

One of the more curious aspects of our postmodern information age is how stories that are actually known — meaning they have already been reported and can easily be found online — nevertheless fail to develop traction in the public consciousness, until sometimes they do, without apparent warning.

A classic case is the recent blow-up of Bill Cosby’s public reputation. Although allegations of rape against the actor-comedian, by more than a dozen women, have been reported for over a decade, including a 2006 out-of-court settlement, it was only recently — specifically last month, when comedian Hannibal Burress stated matter-of-factly of “America’s Dad”: “Yeah, but you’re a rapist” — that the story finally got legs. Suddenly, it has become a sensation, not helped by Cosby’s ham-handed efforts at online reputation management and his bizarre on-air silence about the allegations. It’s difficult to see how Cosby’s reputation can recover from this, but it’s worthwhile to ask why all the fuss now?

It’s perhaps even more worthwhile to ask why certain sensational stories never seem to develop public traction at all, despite the existence of important evidence indicating there’s something we should be talking about.

A classic case in point is the 19 April 1995 bombing of the Federal building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168, including nineteen children, and injured almost 700 more people, making it a true spectacular in the annals of domestic terrorism. One of the perpetrators, Timothy McVeigh, the man who rented the truck used in the attack, was in police custody just ninety minutes after the bombing, pulled over while driving a car without a license plate, leading to suspicions that he wanted to get caught. Within days his partner, Terry Nichols, was in police hands too.

McVeigh was executed by lethal injection in 2001, as he wished, while Nichols is in maximum security Federal prison for life without possibility of parole, and a couple that assisted the bombers in small ways, Michael and Lori Fortier, cooperated with authorities, leading to a reduced sentence for him (he was released from prison in 2006) and no jail-time for her.

Although the official investigation, termed OKBOMB by the authorities, was vast, with FBI agents conducting 28,000 interviews, as well as collecting over three tons of evidence, plus nearly one billion pieces of information, almost from the outset there have been nagging concerns about whether the full extent of the McVeigh-Nichols conspiracy was uncovered. Despite the expenditure of millions of man-hours on OKBOMB, questions have lingered for nearly two decades about how two hard-right ne’er-do-wells, neither of whom possessed bomb-making skills worth mentioning, managed to pull off such a spectacular attack on their first try — doubts that have lingered after 9/11, with many cases of failed bomb-making by self-starting jihadists across Europe and the United States.

Then there’s the troubling issue of “John Doe #2,” a mystery man who was seen at the bombing site with McVeigh, among other places, by some two dozen witnesses, yet was never identified by OKBOMB. Finding him never got very far — it’s perhaps significant that the account of the case authored by McVeigh’s attorney was titled Others Unknown — since the unrepentant McVeigh was happy to take the blame (and fame), while Federal authorities have never shown much interest in a parley with Terry Nichols, who has to know more than he’s said to date.

It was obvious to many who have examined the case with open eyes that, for reasons that can only be guessed at, the FBI and their masters in Washington, DC, never displayed much ardor for unraveling OKBOMB’s full dimensions. McVeigh and Nichols were in custody almost immediately, and were easily linked to the attack, and that seemed to be enough to satisfy politicians and the public. Just last week, a Federal judge scolded the FBI for being unable to find crucial videotapes of the 1995 attack, which mysteriously went missing and that the Bureau never seemed too eager to find. This was thanks to the case of Kenneth Trentadue, who died under mysterious circumstances in Oklahoma City in August 1995, while in Federal custody. The sad Trentadue affair is one of the many unsolved mysteries surrounding OKBOMB, with his family ardently believing that he was tortured to death by the FBI, which mistakenly took him for John Doe #2.

Serious inquiry into OKBOMB has not been helped by a glut of fantasy-cum-conspiracy theorizing by people who do not know much about terrorism and intelligence. The Oklahoma City atrocity has attracted more than its share of charlatans and self-styled experts, some of whom are eager to pin the bombing on Arabs, Masons, Jews, and perhaps space aliens.

Nevertheless, the American mainstream media has long shown a stunning lack of interest in the unanswered questions surrounding the attack. Over at INTELWIRE, terrorism expert J.M. Berger has published a raft of well-researched stories about various aspects of the case, based on declassified Federal records, including PATCON, the FBI’s failed effort in the early 1990s to detect and deter violent right-wing nut-balls just like McVeigh and Nichols. Similarly, the publication two years ago of a serious book looking into all this, by two respected experts on the case, got a few positive reviews but generated none of the public attention that OKBOMB’s continuing mysteries actually merit. The FBI’s lead agent on OKBOMB  has long advocated reopening the case, on the basis of considerable evidence that his investigation never saw, but that, too, has fallen on deaf ears.

Even members of Congress asking questions about who really bombed Oklahoma City have encountered stonewalling from the FBI and the Department of Justice, under multiple White Houses. The most significant Congressional look at OKBOMB came in 2005, when Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) sponsored an investigation of possible foreign connections to the attack, which followed numerous leads that the FBI had deemed dead-ends. Rohrabacher’s official report makes interesting and depressing reading.

It bears noting up-front that this Congressional inquiry got embarrassingly little cooperation from people who should want to know the truth. Frank Keating, who was Oklahoma’s governor in 1995, refused to cooperate with Rohrabacher’s investigators and asked that the inquiry be halted. Neither were the FBI and DoJ much more helpful, and this Congressional inquiry met with more obstruction than assistance from Federal authorities. It should be stated that the White House in 2005 was occupied by a member of Rohrabacher’s own party, and Keating is a Republican too. Not wanting to know the full OKBOMB story seems to transcend normal politics in Washington, DC.

The Rohrabacher investigation followed two avenues of inquiry well-trodden by others before: possible connections between McVeigh/Nichols and the Middle East, and the possible role in the bombing played by the white supremacist compound at Elohim City, Oklahoma.

While the notion of Iraqis having a direct hand in the attack was always fanciful, the issue of trips by McVeigh and Nichols to the Islamist-infested southern Philippines lingers, not least because they seem to have honed their bomb-making skills there. Nichols had in-laws there and it is a curious fact that they were in Cebu City at the same time as Ramzi Yousef, the Al-Qa’ida-linked bomber of the World Trade Center in 1993. No “smoking gun” has ever emerged to establish a firm link, but the Rohrabacher inquiry identifies important questions that need to be answered. Some of them look highly suspicious to any seasoned counterintelligence hand.

More troubling still are ties between McVeigh/Nichols and the white supremacist compound at Elohim City, really an armed trailer park, which had up to a hundred residents, adherents of Christian Identity, a strange ideology that justifies race-war. The compound was well known to authorities and the media, and multiple sources have established a connection between Elohim City and the bombers, McVeigh especially, as Rohrabacher’s inquiry demonstrated.

"Andy the German"

“Andy the German”

The most troubling angle is the role of Andreas Strassmeir, a German national who had lived at Elohim City, on-and-off, beginning in 1992. He had come to America in 1989, as an ardent fan of Civil War reenacting — as a Confederate, naturally. He became close with McVeigh, the two having met at a gun show in the spring of 1993, and the latter spoke warmly of “Andy the German,” whom he phoned at Elohim City, where “Andy” was head of security, several times. Strassmeir is by any accounts an odd character. The son of a politically well connected family in Germany, Strassmair served in the German military as a junior officer, including in some intelligence capacity, before becoming immersed in far-right politics. In a pattern seldom encountered in extreme right circles, in Germany or America, Strassmeir was an ardent Zionist who spoke fluent Hebrew and, he admitted, had lived on a kibbutz in Israel.

Although Strassmeir’s connection to McVeigh was known to Federal investigators, the FBI showed a bizarre lack of interest in him or his possible ties to terrorism. As Rohrabacher’s report notes:

For nearly a year after the bombing, the FBI did not interview Strassmeir. Only when he had fled the country was he queried briefly on the phone by the FBI. The agents apparently accepted his denial of any relationship with McVeigh, and there is no evidence of any further investigation into this possible link.

Strassmeir returned to Germany in 1996, uninhibited by anyone in Washington, DC, then gave a couple interviews to the local media in which he denied being involved in the Oklahoma City bombing, and resumed a quiet life; at last report, he was selling military figurines. As Rohrabacher’s investigation uncovered, Elohim City was also mixed up with the Aryan Republican Army, a gang of far-right bank robbers that pulled off more than twenty heists across the Midwest in the early-to-mid 1990’s. There were more than hints that the ARA may have helped fund McVeigh’s terrorism — but that, too, was an angle that the FBI showed a puzzling lack of interest in pursuing with vigor.

While Rohrabacher’s investigation into foreign connections to OKBOMB was ultimately “inconclusive,” by its own admission, thanks to a lack of cooperation from the FBI and DoJ, it asked the right things and defined several important questions that need additional inquiry. The investigative path to be taken is there, should anyone in Washington, DC, ever wish to do so.

After 9/11, as a National Security Agency counterintelligence officer, I was involved in an Intelligence Community re-look at recent acts of terrorism, searching for possible links to foreigners. Oklahoma City was one of these. I quickly discovered, as Rohrabacher’s investigators did a few years later, that the FBI and DoJ had no interest in anyone peeking into the case, which they considered closed, indeed tightly shut. Even in Top Secret channels, avenues were blocked. Since that investigation remains highly classified, I will not divulge its contents, though I will make two general comments.

First, the visits by McVeigh and Nichols to the southern Philippines remain mysterious, and perhaps will in perpetuity. Their connections to Ramzi Yousef are weak but visible, while the hand of a Middle East intelligence service, one known for its support to international terrorism, was detectable in outline, if not in detail.

Second, Strassmeir — who seems to be the key to much of the remaining mystery surrounding OKBOMB — appeared to be an intelligence source, and possible agent provocateur, for as many as three different intelligence services, all of which are known to watch neo-Nazi activities in the United States with interest.

The investigation will have to remain there, unsatisfactorily, until somebody decides to resume it. The twentieth anniversary of the Oklahoma City atrocity will soon be upon us. It would be good if a serious re-look at OKBOMB’s many unanswered questions were established for the event. With every passing year, the chances of clearing up the case grow more difficult; eventually it will be impossible. The public deserves to know the full story of this terrible crime.

 

37 Comments
  1. Reblogged this on Public Secrets and commented:
    The 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing is coming up next year, and Mr. Schindler takes a look at some interesting unanswered questions, including wondering why the FBI and the DoJ seemingly stonewall any attempt at further investigation?

  2. Reblogged this on mrmeangenes and commented:
    Conspiracy stuff —-but compelling !
    What a strange cast of characters !!

  3. Reading this, I can’t help but feel that it’s possible a US govt agency may have been involved in tracking and possibly influencing some of the activities leading up to the bombing. They never intended the bombing to actually happen, but perhaps intended to catch higher level perps “in the act”, or right before it. Unfortunately, the operation went wrong and many innocent Americans died. I know this makes me sound like a conspiracy nut, but that’s what I sense from what you’ve written. But you’re right about one thing, it was massive for the time, but in retrospect, it doesn’t seem to have gotten the attention it deserves.

    • Thanks for your feedback. There’s more than a little evidence that BATF in particular (see: Carol Howe, who is cited in the Rohrabacher report) had some foreshadowing of the attack. What the FBI may have known in advance, if anything, is a very important question that merits serious examination.

      • TSB permalink

        It’s worth noting that the White Supremacist movement in Canada in the late 1980s and early 1990s was pretty much created and organised by a CSIS agent.

  4. strangepup permalink

    I read the Andrew Gumbel book Oklahoma City earlier this year and he discussed some issues with investigation that were new to me including illegal weapons (i believe AT4) found on scene in wreckage that had been borrowed from military base in Alabama that apparently had been used for undercover sting against group that wanted to attack Murrah Building in 1980s. Rescue operations were halted at least once so Feds could secure the illegally stored weapons and then the items, as well as others, were never listed on evidence sheet. The stoppage I believe was attributed to a “additional bombs” but it was really just a way to get people far enough away to get the contraband offsite. Doctors had to suspend rescue of woman requiring amputation because of evacuation order. The Carol Howe angle is interesting as well as the numerous reports that point to involvement of more individuals than just McVeigh and Nichols in the minutes, hours, and days prior to the attack.

  5. Hello, Mr. Schindler. It is I, Ellie of Twitter B)

    I found this long-winded but period era account in the Phoenix New Times, “ARE THESE FOLKS REALLY A THREAT TO NATIONAL SECURITY?” 06-Jun-1995. You’re right, in your post, that the incident was a tangled skein of typically unrelated causes, personalities, milieus and conspiracy arcana. Even the (lengthy, lurid) New Times article is unusual for that typically Dan Gilmore-praising, leftward-leaning publication. BATF, former President Bill Clinton and militia iconography all make an appearance.

  6. Alex permalink

    I am interested to know why the writings and claims of Jayna Davis are not taken as serious sources in the author’s consideration. I read her book and found it to be credible, but I am just a well-read civilian so I’d like to know where I might be too trusting here (?). Thanks in advance.

    • She is uninformed about important matters relating to intelligence and terrorism that are central to her claims.

      • Alex permalink

        I don’t accept her claims absolutely (what do I know?) but other intelligence professionals have plugged her book (Richard Clarke, James Woolsey). I don’t understand the conflict between her and Rep Rohrabacher, though he seems to have paralleled some of her claims at different times. I was once a serious researcher (academia, not media or intel world), and as shocking as her claims are, I still find Davis’ work credible.

        I did not know of the German/Israeli angle that you cited. I Googled it and found references to it only on fringe-right websites, although I am willing to believe that countries with an interest in Neo-nazis abroad, like Israel and Germany, do spy on those groups. The only countries that I am willing to believe actually would sponsor such an attack do not include those two US allies, though.

      • 1. Davis has made quite a few claims for which there’s no hard evidence at all.

        2. The nature of agents provocateurs is that things can, and sometimes do, go off the rails and badly wrong. We should all want to know why an oddball like Strassmeir in the middle of OKBOMB didn’t get more attention from the FBI.

  7. I find it disturbing that investigators who hypothesize possible conspiracies are characterized as “nuts.” Granted there exist some wild eyed “nuts” who make bizarre claims. But responsible investigators will come up with false positives on the way to uncovering a real plot. Hypothesizing about possible plots is what investigators do, that’s the job.

  8. Very interesting ! I linked to it on my blog.

  9. uwe permalink

    No German neo-Nazi would take Strassmeir for one of their own. Wrong background, no credentials. No Wiking-Jugend, no ANS/NA , no convictions, not even BHJ or NPD membership. To use someone like him as an agent or even a provocateur against Nazis looks a bit far fetched to me. There would have been much better candidates.

    • Not with Andy’s connections.

      • uwe permalink

        Hm. Dad surely could have found him a job in Pullach or Cologne if he wanted to play secret agent. But in Nazi circles in Germany his family would damage his credibility. But of course there are some things about him that look suspicous. There has been a parliamentary inquiry about him and the Federal Government denied all knowledge about him or that he has ever worked for a federal agency. And then they stated that they could not comment on actvities under the responsibilty of a state (Ländersachen). Odd.

        BTW: His miniatures shop seems to be out of business although it was still online a few months ago, IIRC. But you can order his books through amazon.de

      • The entire case is very odd, all around. Thanks for the update on Andy!

    • califax permalink

      East german Neo-Nazis had a lot of strange folks. Children of polish immigrants, former fanatic communists from the FDJ, stuff like that. West german Neo-Nazis had openly gay leaders that got killed by AIDS. And there’s a growing vividly anti-muslim branch of right-wings that hails Zionism for it’s hard stance against muslim radicalism.
      So, he is strange, but not entirely out of frame.
      The hole picture looks like a shared V-Mann between some Landesverfassungsschutz, BND and some israeli agency. The USA ist out of area for VS and partly for BND, but not for Israel.

      We had some serious right-wing terrorism in the 90ies. I still remember the NPD’s camapign to build a covert paramilitary fighting force, the Nationale Einsatzkommandos NEK. These nutjobs were conceived as a real threat and went to war in former yugoslavia, joining right-wing militias in the bosnien and croatian theaters. After the end of the NATO-Balkan wars the whole story went silent, though I believe there was a criminal investigation against a couple of busted NEK guys in the 90ies.

      Short after the NEK story the NSU story must have begun.

      That whole militant right-wing scene in Germany is woven through with german intelligence and counter-terrorism police (Staatsschutz). And I do remember there was some public talk about international right-wing cooperation and terrorism in the 90ies.

      So, given this landscape, one possible story is:
      Some Landesverfassungsschutz lends an agent to the BND,
      who cooperate with Israel,
      to get some information on american right-wing nut-jobs
      which might possibly cooperate with german nut-jobs on terror, destabilization and decentralized guerrilla warfare.

      One of their revolutionary (and thus valuable) american contacts blows up a building. Everyone switches to panic mode and the FBI gets ordered to, uhm, strictly focus on the killer himself.

      • uwe permalink

        And the only one they can find as an agent provocateur is the son of the former Federal Deputy Secretary for Berlin? Not even in Thuringia. And as I said before, Andy is lacking all the credentials he would have needed in the 90s, esp. no convictions for Volksverhetzung or Verwendung verfassungsfeindlicher Kennzeichen. Althans and Kühnen (if you are talking about them) had all that. Highly unlikely that any German service would have hired him to infiltrate right wing groups. And also unlikely that they would try something like that in the US.

        Having said that, I think it is not entirely impossible that he had contacts to Verfassungsschutz or Police at the local or state level as a walk in (Selbstanbieter). And maybe someone handed this contact off to an US Agency (bit like Curveball). Or that he (and possibly Howe) had contact
        to a one or more agencies and that they tried to cook something up to increase their value and things got out of hand. Maybe a Verloc without a Wladimir.

      • Wise words. However, given the bad state of cooperation between BKA & BfV back in the 1990s on exactly this sort of issue — with cops believing (rightly) that the spies were systematically concealing some of their messy operations — I think there are many possibilities, particularly if “Andy” were run jointly with, ahem, another service.

      • califax permalink

        I don’t think he was agent provocateur. I think he was an informer.

  10. Blackshoe permalink

    “In a pattern seldom encountered in extreme right circles, in Germany or America, Strassmeir was an ardent Zionist who spoke fluent Hebrew and, he admitted, had lived on a kibbutz in Israel.”

    So, he’s the 1/1, huh?

  11. Steve permalink

    Might I ask if you have a publicly disclosed opinion on General Partin’s assessment of the bang?

  12. AIM9 permalink

    Seemed to experience a speck of trouble getting the comment to take – perhaps it’d be best leaving the FBI link off (but if wondering my search term on their site archives was identical to the first link I’ll retry).
    _____________

    Noted with interest XXCommittee, the mention of Elohim City, knowing you likely have my IP I expect my linking some curious items (aroused my curiosity at any rate – but, as you imply, lots of water under the bridge). Very short and none too detailed summary here;

    http://www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=4031

    http://www.mshp.dps.missouri.gov/MSHPWeb/UltimateSacrifice/OfficerPages/trooperJimmieLinegar.html

    “I was involved in an Intelligence Community re-look at recent acts of terrorism, … Since that investigation remains highly classified, I will not divulge its contents, though I will make two general comments.”

    Noted Sir, but I’ve wondered as the years’ve ticked by – should I, respectful of your expertise – stop wondering?

    • I’ve said what I have to say publicly for now.

      • AIM9 permalink

        For the best Sir, minefields are unpleasant walking trails.

        Thanks.

  13. Reblogged this on My Blog and commented:
    The OKBOMB Right Wing nutjob terrorists.
    20 years ago, did a sting operation go wrong?

    The XX Committee asks some lingering questions

  14. Guns permalink

    Also in connection with the massacre at Utøya in Norway on July 22nd 2011 there were indications of more than one man shooting. According to independent witness statements there could have been to or three persons shooting.

    One Sweedish truck driver heard the sound of more than one gun across the water, and two young boys who were at the island also thinks there were more than one shooter, maybe two or three.

  15. tip: look into ‘Christian Dominionism’ and “The Family” (title by Jeff Sharlet)

    Meanwhile:

    http://ronaldthomaswest.com/2014/04/23/sociopaths-democracy/

    ^ Tip of the iceberg relating to Christian Zionism which appears to be in an unholy alliance with Jewish Zionism

    Sorry to put this here, but I didn’t see an email contact at your ‘about’

  16. ABC1 permalink

    I enjoy this site and its insights. For what it’s worth, though, I think you are wrong in your assessment that McVeigh did not “…possess bomb-making skills worth mentioning”. He was a graduate of the Army Engineer Corps’ Sapper School, which would have, regrettably, provided him with all of the knowledge and skills he needed to construct and employ the OKBOMB. I know because I too graduated from this school and the curriculum was changed following this tragedy.

    • Interesting, thanks. That is something I have never seen mentioned. Why did a 1-term infantry soldier (Bradley crewman) attend Sapper School?

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