Ali Soufan

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Person.png Ali Soufan   History Commons WebsiteRdf-entity.pngRdf-icon.png
Ali Soufan (2018).jpg
NationalityLebanese, American
Alma materMansfield University of Pennsylvania, Villanova University
Arab-speaking FBI agent who was involved in a number of high-profile anti-terrorism cases

Ali H. Soufan is a Lebanese-American former FBI agent who was involved in a number of high-profile anti-terrorism cases both in the United States and around the world. A 2006 New Yorker article described Soufan as coming closer than anyone to preventing the September 11 attacks and implied that he would have succeeded had the CIA been willing to share information with him. He resigned from the FBI in 2005 after publicly chastising the CIA for not sharing intelligence with him which could have prevented the attacks.

In 2011, Soufan published a memoir which includes some historical background on al-Qaeda: The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against al-Qaeda.[1] In 2017, he published Anatomy of Terror: From the Death of Bin Laden to the Rise of the Islamic State. He is the CEO of The Soufan Group and founder of The Soufan Center, "a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving as a resource and forum for research, analysis, and strategic dialogue related to global security issues and emergent threats."

Early years

Soufan was born in Beirut, Lebanon in 1971. He comes from a Sunni Muslim family. He graduated from Mansfield University of Pennsylvania in 1995, receiving his B.A. in political science.

FBI career

In 1999, Soufan was called to Jordan to investigate the Jordan Millennium Bombing plot. Here he discovered a box of documents delivered by Jordanian intelligence officials prior to the investigation, sitting on the floor of the CIA station, which contained maps showing the bomb sites. His find "embarrassed the CIA", according to a 2006 New Yorker profile of him.[2]

Soufan in Afghanistan (2001)

In 2000, he was made the lead investigator of the USS Cole bombing.[3][4][5] When given a transcript of the interrogations of Fahd al-Quso, he noticed a reference to a one-legged Afghan named "Khallad", whom he remembered as a source identified years earlier as Walid bin 'Attash; this helped the FBI to track down Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri.[6]

Following the September 11th attacks, Soufan was one of only eight FBI agents in the entire country who spoke Arabic, and the only one in New York City. Colleagues reported that he would sit on the floor with suspects, offer them tea, and argue over religion and politics in fluent Arabic, while drawing out information. Soufan has been described as having had a close working relationship with FBI counter-terrorism agent John P. O'Neill, who was killed on September 11.[7]

While in Yemen investigating the September 11th attacks, Soufan received intelligence that the CIA had been withholding for months. According to The New Yorker, "Soufan received the fourth photograph of the Malaysia meeting—the picture of Khallad, the mastermind of the Cole operation. The two plots, Soufan instantly realized, were linked, and if the CIA had not withheld information from him he likely would have drawn the connection months before September 11th."[8] He was tasked with the "intensive interrogation" of Abu Jandal over the course of five days in Yemen, during which time Jandal gave up the names of a number of members of al-Qaeda.[9] It was his questioning of Mohammed al-Qahtani that led to the terrorism charges against Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri in Chicago, whom al-Qahtani had mentioned as being a relative.[10]

In 2005, Soufan approached a Florida doctor, Rafiq Abdus Sabir, pretending to be an Islamist militant, and asked him whether he would provide medical treatment to wounded al-Qaeda fighters in the Iraq War.[11] When Sabir agreed to provide medical treatment, he was arrested and sentenced to 25 years' imprisonment for supporting terrorism.[12]

Role in Guantanamo military commissions

Soufan obtained a confession from Salim Hamdan, accused of being a driver and bodyguard for Osama bin Laden. Soufan testified before his military tribunal that Hamdan was a hardened terrorist who had had advance knowledge of the September 11th attacks.[13][14] He also obtained a confession from Ali al-Bahlul, an al-Qaeda propagandist and bin Laden media secretary accused of making a video celebrating the Cole attacks, and testified at his military tribunal as well.[15]

Post-FBI career

Soufan resigned from the FBI in 2005 and founded the Soufan Group.[16] He continues to be frequently called upon to serve as an expert commentator. Soufan is a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council.[17]


  9. Wright, Lawrence (2006). The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11. p. 364.
  10. Mayer, Jane (2008). The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals. p. 191.