Last Wednesday, in a front page LA Times Calendar piece “Clinton and the missing DVD,” reporter Martin Miller gave voice to the latest series of charges from the mini-series’ neo-con writer/producer Cyrus Nowrasteh who now claims that out of deference to Hillary Clinton, ABC is shelving the five hour mini-series which was hyper-critical of her husband’s counter-terrorism record.
Nowrasteh, an Iranian-American who wrote the much criticized Showtime docudrama The Day Reagan Was Shot, has enjoyed a second career over the last year, working the right-wing lecture circuit and giving interviews to conservative webmags like FrontPageMag.com charging that ABC had watered down his original vision and that he’s received “death threats” for speaking out.
In his latest FrontPage booking, Nowrasteh whines, “Last year at this time it was a coordinated effort from the Clintons, Sandy Berger, the DNC, and the far-left loony blogosphere to swamp ABC with emails and phone calls and threats to get them to block the broadcast, or recut the movie. Since then it’s been more subtle. I know there have been phone calls to top execs at Disney from President Clinton himself, and friends of the Clintons, of which there are many in Hollywood.”
Seemingly without challenge, the LA Times’ Miller reported that “The $40 million… ABC miniseries, which recently received seven Emmy nominations…” is listed as “currently unavailable” on Amazon.com. “With no date for the release, questions are being raised about whether political pressure is behind its current status as a stalled or discarded DVD project.”
Miller seemed so taken with Nowrasteh that he elevated him to the status of First Amendment gladiator: “Whatever anybody may think about me or this movie,” he quotes Cyrus, “This is a dangerous precedent, to allow a movie to be buried… I think the town needs to stand up.”
The other side of The Path to 9/11 story
As the author of one of the three books on which The Path was based, I’m now weighing in — despite a gag order – to suggest that ABC may have other reasons for shelving Nowrasteh’s Clinton bash; a mini-series that virtually blames 9/11 on the ex-President’s failures to get bin Laden, yet gives a pass to Bush 41 for failing to stop the first World Trade Center bombing and Bush 43 for “The Day Of;” arguably the greatest defense failure in US history.
How do I know this? First because my book 1000 Years For Revenge, was one of the three works on which ABC based the mini. They acquired it for a quarter of a million dollars in 2005 under threat of litigation, after they’d lost the book in a bidding war with NBC.
Nowrasteh then proceeded to launder most of my critical findings on negligence by the FBI and the two Bush administrations and give Path a twisted pro-Bureau slant through the eyes of ex-ABC News correspondent John Miller, who now works as Assistant Director of Public Affairs for the FBI.
Like Miller I was a former correspondent for ABC News. In the mid 1980’s, I won two Emmys for my investigative reporting on 20/20 and multiple awards for reporting on Nightline and World News Tonight. After almost a decade as a screenwriter, I returned to investigative reporting full time after Sept. 11.
I’ve published three investigative books for HarperCollins on the failures of the FBI and Justice Department on the “path” to 9/11 including Cover Up: What The Government is Still Hiding about the War on Terror (2004) and Triple Cross: How bin Laden’s Master Spy Penetrated the CIA, the FBI and the Green Berets (2006).
1000 Years, which ABC bought, was read by 9/11 Commission Chairman Tom Kean, who arranged for me to testify in March of 2004. Kean became an advisor to ABC for The Path and in early 2005, ABC’s Touchstone Television division entered into a competition with NBC to acquire the book.
The bidding war
Nowrasteh begged me to let him “convince” me that he would be the best interpreter of my work, which was hypercritical of the FBI’s New York Office (NYO) and the Office of The U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York (SDNY), the two bin Laden “offices of origin.”
At the end of January, 2005, he met me and proffered a copy of 1000 Years, which he had dog-eared and underlined throughout. He said that he was interested in telling all three of the untold intersecting stories from the book:
- the saga of how Ramzi Yousef, the original WTC bomber, had set the 9/11 plot in motion in Manila in 1994, concocting the “planes as missile” scenario later executed by his uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM);
- the story of FBI special agent Nancy Floyd who’d almost stopped Yousef as he built the first WTC bomb in 1992 only to have her career tanked by superiors in the NYO; and
- the Ronnie Bucca tragedy. An ex-Green Beret and firefighter with the FDNY’s elite Rescue One, Bucca later became a fire marshal and had top secret security clearance via an Army Reserve M.P. unit where he was posted at The Defense Intelligence Analysis Center at Bolling AFB in D.C.
There, he saw the raw intelligence on how the FBI had burned Floyd and blown multiple opportunities to stop bin Laden’s juggernaut on Bush 41’s watch. More important, he uncovered probative evidence of an al Qaeda “mole” in the FDNY in 1999 only to have the intel rejected by Det. Lou Napoli, an NYPD cop assigned to the NYO’s Joint Terrorist Task Force.
It was Napoli and his hapless partner FBI Special Agent John Anticev, whom, I reported, had failed to track members of Yousef’s bombing cell in the fall of 1992 after Floyd got a tip from undercover asset Emad Salem. It was a lead that could have led straight to Yousef’s Jersey City bomb factory and interdicted the plot which killer six and injured 1000 a month into Clinton’s presidency.
Napoli and Anticev were Salem’s control agents, but rarely available to debrief him, so Floyd (working Russian counter-intelligence) had to do all the heavy lifting.
For an overview of my findings in all three books click here.
During Cyrus’s pitch to me he brought up John Miller’s Hyperion/Disney book The Cell which covered much of the same ground. “This guy didn’t even mention Nancy Floyd,” Nowrasteh snapped, disparaging Miller. It was a glaring sin of omission. Like telling the story of John Dillinger’s takedown without mentioning FBI agent Melvin Purvis.
The “only book” ABC wants
Later when NBC upped the ante in the bidding war, Cyrus sent me this e-mail bad mouthing the competition:
NBC is out “mopping up” every book they can get their hands on… acquiring nearly a dozen properties. The impression I get Peter, is that your book is pretty low on the totem-pole of NBC priorities.
ABC asked last week if there are any books I’m interested in and I told them one: “1000 Years For Revenge” by Peter Lance! That’s it. That’s all. The only book I’ve asked them to go after. You’re it. On our project you’ll be working directly with me. Period. On their project you’ll just be another participant in the gang-bang. – Cyrus
Ultimately, I decided to sell the book to Kevin Reilly, then President of NBC, who had acquired it earlier when he was at FX. The deal was for a $50,000 up front option against another $200,00.00 when the mini-series aired.
For the next three months I worked as a consultant to NBC’s exec producer Graham Yost (“Band of Brothers”; “Speed”). NBC paid me $65,000 of the anticipated $250K, but in June of 2005, due to a ratings slump, the project was shelved.
Now, in July as the cameras began rolling on what ABC first called “the History Project,” something told me that I should get a look at Cyrus’s script. When I turned to the first page of “Night One,” I saw that Nowrasteh had lifted much of my book, scene by scene, dialogue for dialogue. He’d even titled the first two hours, “The Mozart of Terror,” the name I’d coined for Yousef.
But beyond the hijacking of 1000 Years, what was most galling, was how Cyrus, hungry for some book on which to hang his story, had now embraced The Cell, the very book he’d bad-mouthed to me and elevated John Miller, who was about to take a job as chief FBI flak, to a lead character.
Worse, he’d taken the hapless Det. Lou Napoli — who had ignored Ronnie Bucca’s warnings and failed to follow the WTC bombers — and turned him into a lead member of the FBI posse out to stop bin Laden, a bullpen of real and fictional characters now led by John O’Neill.
Unable to legally acquire my book, Nowrasteh had simply appropriated it and used what he wanted from it and then set up The Cell with its pro-FBI slant as the “based on” underlying work for his re-telling of “History.”
It was such a wholesale lift that I convinced L. Stanton Larry Stein, one of LA’s top entertainment litigators, to represent me against my former network. In October, 2005 he wrote this letter to ABC:
“It is particularly insidious that in much of his script Mr. Nowrasteh mirrors Mr. Lance’s accurate portrayal of FBI failures — then, by utilizing the character of Mr. Miller as a narrative device, he ends up turning FBI failures into successes.
“One of the most glaring examples is a long sequence at the end of the two-hour script (encompassing 45 of 238 scenes and 22 of 96 script pages) in which Mr. Nowrasteh — per John Miller’s point of view — recounts the capture of Ramzi Yousef, the original World Trade Center bomber and architect of the 9/11 attacks on whom Mr. Lance reported uniquely in his Book.
“The incident, Mr. Lance accurately reported, was directed entirely by agents of the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Services (“DSS”) and agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (“DEA”) with minimal FBI involvement. Yet Mr. Nowrasteh, per Mr. Miller, has John O’Neill, the FBI official elevated to the role of central hero in the mini-series, directing the Yousef takedown operation — when, in fact, as Mr. Lance reported, the FBI had no up-front involvement in the apprehension of Yousef.
“The distorted pro-FBI slant in the script is particularly troubling in light of the fact that Mr. Miller recently took a job as chief spokesman for the FBI in Washington, D.C.”
It would have been bad enough if ABC had emphasized the “drama” and minimized the “documentary” aspects of the mini, but network brass claimed that it was strictly fact-based, with “The 9/11 Commission Report” as its primary source.
In a July 2005 Variety piece announcing that Gov. Kean had been signed on as an advisor, ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson” compared Path to its “seminal ABC pic” The Day After. Variety quoted Path exec producer Marc Platt as promising that “his miniseries will not be a Hollywood-style overdramatization of the events leading to 9/11.”
“If you read the (Commission) report, sadly, it reads like fiction,” he said. “It’s riveting and compelling just based on the facts. One need not bring anything more to it. The events speak for themselves.”
The settlement and the gag order
Finally, after months of negotiating with ABC, Larry Stein called me in December of 2005 to say that my former network had agreed to pay a settlement of $250,000.00 to acquire the mini-series rights to 1000 Years For Revenge.
But the deal contained a “non-disparagement” clause and gag order. In order to keep me from telling the real truth behind their distortion of my work, ABC would hold off paying me the final $50K until a month after The Path to 9/11 aired.
Though imdb.com properly credits my book as one of the three source works for the mini-series, ABC’s website mentions only The Cell and Sam Katz’s book Relentless Pursuit which ABC was to forced to buy after I informed Katz that Cyrus had lifted “Relentless” for his coverage of the Yousef arrest.
Until now I’ve been silent about all of this, but given Nowrasteh’s allegations, it’s time the full truth came out.
For me the conflict with ABC was never solely about the theft of a book. It was a matter of principle. It represented the utter distortion of an investigative reporter’s work by a network’s entertainment division.
In 1000 Years, I was equally critical of the FBI’s failures across three administrations, yet Nowrasteh chose to put virtually all of the blood on Bill Clinton’s hands.
In his fifth script draft, just days before production began, he utilized every possible opportunity to slam Clinton, National Security Advisor Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeline Albright, but in the last two hours, on the day of 9/11, he left George W. Bush virtually unscathed.
The script never even included the “deer in the headlights” performance by Dubya, the Commander in Chief who stayed in a Florida schoolroom for almost 10 minutes after he’d been told by his Chief of Staff that “America is under attack.”
The missing war games and the F-16’s
Cyrus dramatized multiple scenes with Lt. Col Dawn Deskins, the mission crew chief at NEADS — The Northeast Air Defense Sector of NORAD — who was monitoring the hijackings of AA and UA flights that fateful morning. But he never mentioned the fact that at least three war games were in progress and that Deskins became confused.
Though he referenced “F-15 Eagles” which “streak across the sky” to establish a “combat air patrol of Manhattan,” Cyrus failed to underscore the significance of the two fighters being scrambled out of Otis Air National Guard (ANG) base on Cape Cod, 188 miles from Ground Zero; arriving too late to interdict UA #175 which had hit the South Tower.
By the time he’d written the script, Nowrasteh had read my second 9/11 book Cover Up and he knew — per a Dec. 5, 2003 Bergent Record story quoting his advisor Gov. Tom Kean – that there were two F-16’s from an identical ANG base in Atlantic City which could have reached Manhattan in under eight minutes that day.
But they were never scrambled by NEADS or NORAD; a glaring omission left out of Kean’s 9/11 Commission Report that any desk assistant for ABC News could have uncovered with a simple search on Google.
Predictably, the script ended with actual video of Bush addressing a joint session of Congress of Sept. 20th 2001: “I will not forget this wound to our country and those who inflicted it. I will not yield; I will not rest; I will not relent in waging this struggle for freedom and security for the American people.”
Per Cyrus’s stage direction: “As CONGRESS stands; applauds…” he FADES TO BLACK.
Asking ABC to set the record straight
Five years after the greatest mass murder in US history, the network that I served proudly as a correspondent used my investigative work to whitewash the true story and spun it in a way that favored the current administration.
As part of my settlement, I demanded a meeting with ABC’s mini-series vice president Quinn Taylor. He agreed to see me in his office in Burbank on the Disney lot in late February of 2006, six months before “The Path” aired. I warned him that ABC might look foolish using my book which was highly critical of the Bureau and then fronting the docu-drama with John Miller, the FBI’s chief PR man.
I urged Taylor to fix the wholesale distortions in Nowrasteh’s script and warned that history would judge the network harshly — given its celebrated news division — if it put out what amounted to a valentine to the very Bureau that blew multiple chances to prevent the attacks.
Taylor smiled and assured me that “we had lawyers in my office each night before we shot to insure that this script was factually bulletproof. I’ve been over every line of dialogue and stage direction with a fine tooth comb.”
I suspect now, in the cold light of day — that ABC has come to its senses. Surely someone in the news division, which boasts savvy correspondents like Brian Ross, has filtered word of the script’s factual holes up to the Disney brass.
If the Path to 9/11 was released on DVD in the form that it was telecast, the Clintons wouldn’t be the only losers. ABC’s well-earned reputation for news excellence could be irreparably harmed as well. After all, the average viewer doesn’t easily separate fact from fiction when the ABC logo appears on the lower third of the screen.
On the sixth anniversary of 9/11, it’s time for ABC to own up to the great disservice it did to this country in rewriting “history” for its project. And Cyrus Nowrasteh, ought to come clean about how he turned ABC’s most important mini-series since The Day After, into a work worthy of Leni Riefenstahl.