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An open letter to Eric Margolis

Len Colby

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Mr. Margolis,

I have discovered various discrepancies between:

- claims you made in your recent column about 9/11 AND claims you made earlier

- claims you made in the column, other articles or TV interviews AND the historic record.

Unfortunately the only conclusion I can reach is that you, to put it euphemistically, have been less than truthful.


“In 1993, I was hijacked over Germany on a Lufthansa flight bound for Cairo. The Ethiopian hijacker took us all the way back to New York City. The hijacker was threatening to crash our A310 jumbo jet into Wall Street.”


In 2000 you wrote

“I was on a Lufthansa flight out of Frankfurt bound to Cairo when a lone Ethiopian gunman seized the A310 aircraft by threatening to kill the cabin crew, then the passengers. We turned around, flew to Hanover, in North Germany, and sat on the ground for some hours. German GSG-9 commandos couldn’t get there in time before we took off on a marathon flight to New York, of all places. We were convinced the hijacker, who faced an automatic 20 years in prison under US law, intended to crash the plane into Manhattan.”

So did you and some of the other passengers become convinced “the hijacker…intended to crash the plane into Manhattan” due to the “automatic 20 years in prison under US law” or did he actually ‘threaten’ to do so?

[NOTE: I have to give credit to JREF forum member AJM8125 for pointing out this discrepancy.]

This does not even make sense the pilot by all accounts was at the controls the whole time and the hijacker made no attempts to fly the plane himself. The strange thing is that none of the other articles I read about the incident mention him making such a threat or people onboard fearing he would do so. For example in 2000 a reporter from the Guardian interviewed “the Reverend Timothy Kinahan” who was on the flight. Describing the refueling stop in Hannover and then the flight to NYC the reverand said: "Rumours were running wild as to who it was, we just didn't know the truth. But once we were in the air, we were all able to relax a bit. We were playing cards and scrabble... We were told that if we stayed calm and did as we were told, nothing would happen. The crew were superb - extremely reassuring”

Now that doesn’t sound like an account of someone on a flight where the hijacker was threatening to crash the plane and the “nothing would happen” part directly contradicts this. Kinahan even said “The beginning, the first few hours, until we were happily out of Hanover and on our way to America, were the most anxious. We didn't know if we were going to Cuba or Moscow.” Hmmm so the passengers were “most anxious” BEFORE they though the hijacker was intent on crashing the plane? Kinahan was paraphrased as indicating the storming of the plane by a SWAT team “was possibly the most terrifying time of the whole ordeal”.

Likewise the NYT reported that “passengers and crew members last night told of fearful hours at the mercy of a man who menaced them with his pistol and often seemed irrational, displaying flashes of anger, lapsing into brooding silences and threatening to kill hostages unless he was taken to the West” but made no mention of a threat to crash the plane or a fear among the crew and passengers the hijacker might do so.

I looked at several articles about the hijacking. They all told pretty much the same story; the passengers were most nervous at the beginning and then calmed down once the plane was en route to NY, "the most traumatic part was when the SWAT team came on” etc. None of the articles linked below, not even the first one which quoted you, said anything about a threat to crash the plane or a perception by the passengers the hijacker wanted to do so.

Toronto Sun columnist Eric Margolis said he was sleeping when the hijacking began.

"A lot of the passengers thought they were going to die. We were dealing with a madman here. He was a lunatic," Margolis said in a TV interview.

"It was either New York or he would kill everybody on board," he reported.

[Note: The 1st and last articles require purchase, the rest are free]











"A day after 9/11, I was asked on CNN if Osama bin Laden was behind the attack. `We have yet to see the evidence,’ I replied. I maintain this position today."


I found no traces on the internet of you being interviewed by CNN on Sept 12, 2001 or ever using the phrase “We have yet to see the evidence”. The complete programming of CNN and 5 other networks from 8:48 AM on 9/11 till 9:15 PM* on 9/13 are preserved on the “September 11 Television Archive”. Could you tell us what time you were interviewed on 9/12 so as to verify your claim?

*[the beginning and ending times for the 6 network varies]

Nor have I found any cases of you ever expressing doubt OBL was responsible till a few days ago. To the contrary on more than one occasion you accepted his guilt. For example last Jan. 11 you wrote:

Bin Laden proclaimed his grand strategy in the 1990’s. He would oust the modern `Crusaders’ by luring the US and its allies into a series of small, debilitating, hugely expensive wars to bleed and slowly bankrupt the US economy, which he called America’s Achilles’ heel.

Bloody attacks would enrage the US and lure it into one quagmire after another

Bin Laden was dismissed by western intelligence as a crackpot and “enragé.”

But both the dim-witted President Gorge W. Bush and the intelligent President Barack Obama fell right into
Osama’s carefully-laid trap

So what exactly was “Osama’s carefully-laid trap” if not 9/11? And in 2006 the following appeared on a Canadian news site after the videotape of OBL meeting with Atta and other hijackers was made public:

Bin Laden is also seen with his former lieutenant Mohammed Atef and one of the suspected 9/11 masterminds: Mohammed Atef and Ramzi Binalshibh.

Eric Margolis, a foreign affairs consultant, told CTV Newsnet that
bin Laden may not have wanted the video's release, because it seemingly shows his involvement in plotting the 9/11 attacks

"Bin Laden has steadfastly denied being directly involved (in 9/11).
I think we know that he knew about it
, but he's denied being involved in the planning," said Margolis.

In a column about the "smoking gun tape" in the December 17, 2001 Toronto Sun you referred to "the fanatical Osama bin Laden" and wrote:

But regardless of whether the tape is real or a fake,
there remains little doubt that al-Qaida was behind the attacks on the U.S
. But, as Prince Nayef, head of Saudi security observed last week, Osama bin Laden is largely a figurehead. Its real leaders, said the prince, echoing this column's view, remain as yet unknown and are likely outside Afghanistan.

Two of al-Qaida's leaders are in Afghanistan: its Egyptian CEO Ayman al-Zawahiri - known to all as "the doctor" - and his No. 2, Abu Zubaydah. They are still believed alive and in hiding with bin Laden…


…it's likely the operation was planned in Egypt by members of two militant groups, Egyptian Jihad and Gamma al-Islamia, with
Osama bin Laden serving as a symbolic spiritual guide

In this sense, bin Laden was re-enacting the role of the dreaded medieval head of the cult of the Hashishins, Hassan al-Sabbah, known as Sheik al-Jebel, or Old Man of the Mountain. From his lair in the Syrian mountains, the sheik's suicide assassins, crazed on hashish and armed with poisoned daggers, terrorized much of the Muslim world and the Crusader states of the Levant..


On the fifth anniversary of the attacks you wrote: “Interestingly, many Americans – one poll says 33% – believe their government is covering up facts about the September 11 attacks, or was even somehow even involved in them, though there is no evidence of this to date.”

Hmmm so its been your “position” since day two that “we have yet to see the evidence” “Osama bin Laden was behind the attack” but 5 years later said “there is no evidence” the government which blamed OBL “is covering up facts about” 9/11?

You were interviewed and wrote about OBL and AQ several other times in the days, months and years after 9/11 and though in the essays and transcripts I found you never stated as directly as above that you blamed him or them for the attacks you never showed any signs of doubting it, it seems implicit. For brevity’s sake I will provide a link to a forum post where I quoted several rather than go over them here.


"Tapes that appeared to confirm bin Laden’s guilt were clumsy fakes. They were supposedly “found” in Afghanistan by the anti-Taliban Afghan Northern Alliance, which was created and funded by Russian intelligence."


That is of course very debatable and you, of all people, should know that the Northern Alliance was NOT “created…by Russian intelligence” but was the remnant of the government formed by the Mujahedeen after they kicked the Soviets out and which held the country’s seat at the UN*. Also the US said its forces rather than its Afghan allies found the tape. You notably omitted to tell your readers that you accepted the authenticity of the tape (located by Al-Jazeera) released in 2006 of bin-Laden with the hijackers [see below].


“I had met Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and told CNN viewers that he was not the man in the tapes.”


Interesting that you brought this up, though you were indeed interviewed by CNN about the tape on December 19, 2001 but the transcript is not online, perhaps you can post a copy? In the previously mentioned December 17, 2001 column for the Toronto Sun you accepted that bin Laden WAS “the man in the tapes” but indicated the audio MAY have been altered:

“Cynics suggest the tape was a forgery made by Russian intelligence or the U.S. government, with incriminating statements spliced into an otherwise boring exchange of pleasantries between bin Laden and a visiting admirer. This is possible. In 1990, the U.S. used retouched satellite photos to convince the Saudis that Iraq was about to invade - which it was not.”

As for your claim that you “met Osama bin Laden” on September 19, 2001 you told CNN the same thing

I met Osama bin Laden in 1992 inside of Afghanistan. And this was at a time when he was an American ally. He was considered a freedom fighter. He had been helping bring thousands of Arabs from across the Middle East to fight in Afghanistan…I met him before he became a terrorist. And he become a terrorist when he announced that after throwing the Soviets out of Afghanistan, he was next going to quote, "liberate," unquote his homeland, Saudi Arabia, from American domination.”

The date is questionable because according to most accounts bin Laden returned to Saudi Arabia from Afghanistan in 1989 after Soviets pulled out and moved to Sudan in 1991 however some sourcesincluding Lawrence Wright indicate he returned there or at least to Pakistan in 1991, 1992 or 1991 – 2. Your description however better fits the late 80’s than 1992. By the latter date OBL had not helped “bring…Arabs...to fight in Afghanistan” for three years and had not been “an American ally” since the end of the Gulf War (February 1991) when he was angered by the continuing presence of US troops in his homeland.

The problem is that mentioned OBL on four pages your 2000 book War at the Top of the World The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir and Tibet and not only made no mention of this supposed meeting and even specifically denied having met him. In chapter 5 of you wrote about the period when the Taliban seized control of Afghanistan:

Further complicating this already murky situation, the militantly anti-American agitator Osama bin Ladeen had sought refuge in southern Afghanistan where he had served during the 1980s as a volunteer in the International Islamic Brigade.
I had not met bin Ladeen
, but knew some of his men, and the camps where they served.*

*[page 51 of the hardcover and 49 of the paperback (2001). You mentioned “the fanatical Osama bin Laden” on three other pages 37, 90, 91 of the hardcover and 36, 50 and 90 of the paperback but made no mention of ever having met bin Laden.]

The Taliban seized control of Afghanistan in 1996 and OBL moved there the same year and settled in the south of the country in 1997. To make a long story short in 2000 you wrote that as of 1996/7 you “had not met bin Ladeen” but in 2001 told CNN you’d met the man in 1992, will the real Eric Margolis please stand up?

So did you meet bin-Laden when he was bringing Arab fighters to Afghanistan and still a US (i.e. until 1989) or in 1992 or sometime after he moved to southern Afghanistan (1997) or as I suspect NEVER? Besides your contradictory accounts I think the latter is most likely because AFAIK you have never gone into the details of the supposed meeting. This would of course have been a very pertinent story after the embassy attacks and then after the USS Cole incident and especially after 9/11 but you seemingly have never elaborated on it, why not fill us in on the details?

If you can show that I am wrong I will gladly issue a retraction and apologize but if I here back from you at all I’ll expect excuses and equivocation.


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I e-mailed Margolis but got no response. So I joined Twiter just to touch base with him

Margolis: "Abuse pours in re my 9/11 article(www.ericmargolis.com). One angry emailer calls me a `media whore Mossad pussy' Very creative.

12:04 PM Sep 20th via web"

ME: "The problem is you lied it that essay. E.G. You said you met OBL but in your book you said you hadn't http://tiny.cc/af8y5"

Margolis: "My first editor wanted the mention deleted. I didn't think it important at the time."

ME: "So when did you meet him? You told CNN it was in '92 but in your book you said reffering to 1996-7 "I had not met bin Ladeen" "

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More on Margolis and flight 592.

As I pointed out Tuesday not only has Margolis made contradictory claims about the passengers on Lufthansa flight 592 believing the hijacker was going to crash the plane into Manhattan, seemingly no other media account of the incident said anything about this and that include an article which quoted him.

Not only was I unable to find such an account but the very thorough folks at the “Complete 9/11 Timeline” who have a complete section on “The Warning Signs” were unable to as well. Though their entry on the hijacking included Margolis’ account it did not cite anyone else saying the hijacker threatened to crash plane or the passengers and crew thought he would. It did however include this “While giving television commentary on the morning of 9/11, Larry Johnson—currently the deputy director of the State Department’s Office of Counter Terrorism—will say it was feared when the plane [Lufthansa 592] was flown to New York “that it might be crashed into something.” [NBC, 9/11/2001]” and indeed the clip can be viewed on Mr. Johnson’s blog and Youtube. But national security types thinking this and the passengers thinking it let alone the hijacker threatening to do so are not the same so I contacted Mr. Johnson and asked him if he made the comment (I not seen the video clip yet):

LJ: That's not what I said. I said that when the plane was hijacked one of the concerns we had was the possibility that the hijacker might fly the plane into a building in New York.

Me: What was that concern based on? Did the hijacker say anything like that to the people on the plane?

LJ: No, we were simply looking at possibilities based on the threat. That's in part the reason that fighter aircraft accompanied the plane to the US.

Me: Is it OK if I quote you? Do you have any idea how Margolis got wind of this? My guess is that he found out intel folks though this was a possibility and claimed the hijacker said this to "sex up" the story.

LJ: You may quote me. Who is Eric Margolis?

Me: I'm surprised you had not heard of him before he has appeared as a "terrorism expert" on many of the same TV programs you have. The guy has told a few lies since 2000, I mentioned a few in my blog, I imagine there are many more I did not catch see here for more:

LJ: I googled the asshole. There was absolutely no information at the time corroborating Margolis' claim that the hijacker threatened to crash the plane into a building. That scenario simply came up as one possibility we (the folks in the operations centers who were managing the response to this event) considered as the plane was inbound. The Hijacker made no demands and, when the event ended, he only had a starters pistol.// I should point out that I have firsthand knowledge about this. I was alerted by the State Department Operations Center and then spent the next several hours in the task force area.*

So Margolis gave two contradictory versions and as I suspected neither were true.

* I cobbled together 2 e-mails for simplicity’s sake they are separated by 2 slashes //.

Version of the above with links - http://lies-of-the-truth-movement.blogspot.com/2010_09_01_archive.html

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I discovered yet another version about Margolis’s supposed “meeting” with OBL:

“I encountered bin Laden towards the end of the war near Jalalabad in the walled residence of a Pushtun warlord. We were
a score of men
in a large empty room
Bin Laden sat at the far end
of the room from me. I noticed him I noticed him because of his stature. He was dressed as a simple fighter and
spoke softly to the men around him
. There was nothing else exceptionable about the man. In fact, I forgot about the encounter until the late 1990's when bin Laden burst upon the scene as the world's leading Islamic menace...Bin Laden survived the war and returned in late 1989 to Saudi Arabia.”

Margolis, Eric S.War at the Top of the World: The Struggle for Afghanistan, Kashmir and Tibet, Revised Edition [Paperback] Routledge; March 2002 pg. 84 http://www.amazon.com/War-Top-World-Struggle-Afghanistan/dp/0415934680/ref=sr_1_1?s=gateway&ie=UTF8&qid=1285536435&sr=8-1

Now that encounter, if it really happened, certainly did not qualify as a “meeting”, they were at opposite ends of a big room with lots of other people, seemingly the two did not even speak. Not to split hairs over semantics but Margolis has been a writer for about 40 years and “holds degrees from the International School of Geneva, the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, the University of Geneva, and New York University” he was raised by his mother a foreign born but Harvard and Columbia educated writer. So I think he understands the difference between a) being in the same room as someone along with many other people and B) “meeting” them the fact that he stated in the 1st edition that he “had not bin Ladeen” shows this is the case. If he met bin Laden then the people who hung out in front of the theaters where the Oscars were held can claim to have 'met' all the stars they saw walking by.

There is also the case of the discrepancy between telling CNN the meeting/sighting happened in 1992 and indication in his book it happened in 1989 (or 1988). That could have been a simple error but he might have gotten confused because the ‘encounter’ never happened.

Edited by Len Colby
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I found no traces on the internet of you being interviewed by CNN on Sept 12, 2001 or ever using the phrase We have yet to see the evidence. The complete programming of CNN and 5 other networks from 8:48 AM on 9/11 till 9:15 PM* on 9/13 are preserved on the September 11 Television Archive. Could you tell us what time you were interviewed on 9/12 so as to verify your claim?


Fears of Plane Being Crashed - Journalist Eric Margolis, who is on the plane, will later say that he and the other passengers are convinced the hijacker… intended to crash the plane into Manhattan. [Eric Margolis (.com), 2/13/2000] While giving television commentary on the morning of 9/11, Larry Johnsoncurrently the deputy director of the State Departments Office of Counter Terrorismwill say it was feared when the plane was flown to New York that it might be crashed into something. [NBC, 9/11/2001]

This "[NBC, 9/11/2001]" is a transcript that needs to be ordered from NBC. SG

Edited by Steven Gaal
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  • 4 months later...
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I forgot to say that though Margolis didn’t make clear who would be responsible for the “Eruption on the Nile” after Mubarak he seemed to indicate it would be Islamists rather than secularists:

Egypt’s secular political opposition barely exists. The regime’s real opponent remains the relatively moderate, popular, Islamic Brotherhood, which predates World War II. It would win a free election hands down. But the Brotherhood’s leadership is old and tired. Younger, more dynamic leaders have all been jailed or bought off. Half of Egyptians are under 20.

What a confused paragraph! The first three sentences clearly indicated he thought the Islamic Brotherhood would be at the forefront of the ‘eruption’ but the next (and last) two portrayed them as emasculated.

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