Terrific: Jihadi all-star Anwar al-Awlaki had lunch at Pentagon shortly after 9/11

How nice that he got to see Bin Laden’s handiwork close up.

Anwar Al-Awlaki may be the first American on the CIA’s kill or capture list, but he was also a lunch guest of military brass at the Pentagon within months of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Fox News has learned…

The incident was flagged by a current Defense Department employee who came forward and told investigators she helped arrange the meeting after she saw Awlaki speak in Alexandria, Va.

The employee “attended this talk and while she arrived late she recalls being impressed by this imam. He condemned Al Qaeda and the terrorist attacks. During his talk he was ‘harassed’ by members of the audience and suffered it well,” reads one document…

In addition, Awlaki “was considered to be an ‘up and coming’ member of the Islamic community. After her vetting, Aulaqi (Awlaki) was invited to and attended a luncheon at the Pentagon in the secretary of the Army’s Office of Government Counsel.”

It was part of a Defense Department outreach exercise to Muslims. Two all-important questions here. First, was Awlaki a jihadi sympathizer — or even a jihadi facilitator — by September 2001 (or shortly thereafter)? And second, if he was and the feds had reason to know it, why the hell did the Pentagon invite him to lunch? For answers, a choice selection from the Times’s extensive profile of Awlaki back in May:

One day in August 2001, Mr. Awlaki knocked at the door of Mr. Higgie, his neighbor, to say goodbye. He had moved the previous year to Virginia, becoming imam at the far bigger Dar al-Hijrah mosque, and he had returned to pick up a few things he had left behind.

As Mr. Higgie tells it, he told the imam to stop by if he was ever in the area — and got a strange response. “He said, ‘I don’t think you’ll be seeing me. I won’t be coming back to San Diego again. Later on you’ll find out why,’” Mr. Higgie said…

The F.B.I., whose agents interviewed Mr. Awlaki four times in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, concluded that his contacts with the hijackers and other radicals were random, the inevitable consequence of living in the small world of Islam in America. But records of the 9/11 commission at the National Archives make clear that not all investigators agreed.

One detective, whose name has been redacted, told the commission he believed Mr. Awlaki “was at the center of the 9/11 story.” An F.B.I. agent, also unidentified, said that “if anyone had knowledge of the plot, it would have been” the cleric, since “someone had to be in the U.S. and keep the hijackers spiritually focused.”

The 9/11 commission staff members themselves had sharp arguments about him. “Do I think he played a role in helping the hijackers here, knowing they were up to something?” said one staff member, who would speak only on condition of anonymity. “Yes. Do I think he was sent here for that purpose? I have no evidence for it.”

According to some sources who spoke to the Times, it wasn’t until March 2002, after FBI raids on Islamic institutions in Virginia, that Awlaki begin screeching publicly about a “war on Muslims.” However, two of the hijackers attended his mosque in San Diego and it turned out the FBI had been watching him since 1999 because of “concern” about his “brushes” with militants. Which is to say, there was plenty of reason to conclude that this guy might not be the guy to invite if you were interested in outreach to moderate Muslims. But that reason evidently was never communicated to the Pentagon. Why? Back to Fox:

A former high-ranking FBI agent told Fox News that at the time Awlaki went to lunch at the Pentagon, there was tremendous “arrogance” about the vetting process at the Pentagon.

“They vetted people politically and showed indifference toward security and intelligence advice of others,” the former agent said.

It’s bad enough that the Pentagon wasn’t coordinating with the FBI on intel in the months after 9/11, when the anthrax attack had already happened and fears of a new terror strike were sky high. But as recently as four months ago, they were still chiding themselves for not doing a better job of hooking up with the Bureau to detect jihadis in their midst: One of the recommendations in the Pentagon’s own report on the Fort Hood massacre was to work more closely with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force to better vet troops who might sympathize with terrorists. Consider Awlaki’s lunch a benign bookend, then, to Hassan’s murders. Nine years later, there still isn’t enough intel coordination.