The Pentagon's top lawyers and the executive director of controversial Muslim group Council of American Islamic Relations were invited to lunch with radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki on Feb. 5, 2002, as part of the Defense Department's outreach to moderate Muslims, according to new documents obtained exclusively by the Fox News Specials Unit.
For the first time, Fox News is making the document available online.
After the Fort Hood massacre in November 2009, a Defense Department employee came forward to tell FBI investigators that the cleric, the first American on the CIA's “kill-or-capture” list, was a guest speaker at the Pentagon five months after 9/11.
The internal Defense Department email, obtained by Fox through the Freedom of Information Act, shows that more than 70 people were copied on the luncheon invitation at one of the Pentagon's executive dining rooms. While most of the names were redacted by the defense department, citing the privacy exemption, the names that remain include Deputy General Counsel Charles Allen, former Deputy General Counsel Whit Cobb, former principal Deputy General Counsel Dan Dell'Orto, former General Counsel William Haynes, Deputy General Counsel Paul Koffsky and former deputy General Counsel Douglas Larsen.
Koffsky, Allen and Dell'Orto responded through a Defense Department spokesman who said they did not go to the lunch. In the case of Mr. Koffsky and Mr. Allen, the spokesman added "Nor do they have any recollection or specific information of who may have vouched for or recommended the cleric."
Cobb said that he did not attend the lunch. Separately, Fox News learned that Haynes believes he did not go either. There was no immediate response from Larsen, who could not be reached through a Washington, D.C., area listing. Cobb, Haynes, Dell'Orto are now attorneys in private practice.
According to the email, there was at least one civilian on the guest list. The email invitation reads: "Mr. Nihad Awad, President of the Counsel on American-Islamic Relations has also expressed interest in attending."
Fox News sent questions to Awad though a spokesman at CAIR, including whether he had provided positive recommendations for Awlaki to either the FBI or the Defense Department immediately after 9/11.
Fox News also asked whether Awad attended a fundraiser at UC Irvine on Sept. 9, 2001, for the defense of Jamil al-Amin who was later conficted of killing a sheriff's deputy in Atlanta Georgia. Documents show Awad provided a video message for the fundraising event and al-Awlaki went to the fundraiser. On Sept. 10 of that year, al-Awlaki, who has documented ties to three of the five Sept. 11 hijackers, flew back to Washington, landing on the morning of Sept. 11.
Fox News contacted CAIR multiple times over a 10 day period and there was no response after the initial contact when a spokesman asked for questions to be submitted.
Separately, the email invitation suggests that Awlaki was trying to pad his resume for the Defense Department employee who vetted him for the lunch. The email invitation reads: "(Awlaki) is currently working on his PhD in Human Resource Development at George Washington University, received a Master of Education Leadership from San Diego State University..."
But Fox News confirmed the cleric did not receive either degree. And while some embraced the cleric as a moderate in 2002, the FBI had interviewed him four times in the first eight days after 9/11 because of his contacts with the hijackers. His rap sheet also included arrests for soliciting prostitutes and loitering around a school.
Though pork is forbidden for Muslims, the proposed menu of sandwiches included smoked ham and bacon. The email reads:
"Assuming that sandwiches will be the easiest thing to get consensus on, here are the selections:
East side West side (beef, turkey and bacon on marbled rye)
Within days of the lunch, Awlaki left the U.S. Eight months later, after he had been out of the country for months, the cleric mysteriously returned. He was stopped and detained by Customs officers at JFK International Airport because of an outstanding warrant for his arrest, until an FBI agent ordered Awlaki's release, even though the warrant was still active.
That same month, October 2002, Awlaki appeared in a major FBI investigation with a government witness. Based on Fox NEWS' reporting, Republican Congressman Frank Wolfe wrote to the FBI and Justice Department over a year ago demanding more information about the cleric's mysterious return and his contact with the FBI in October 2002. The congressman said he still has not received a satisfactory answer.
National Correspondent Catherine Herridge's first book, "The Next Wave: On the Hunt for al Qaeda's American Recruits" will be published by the Crown Publishing Group on June 21. It draws on her reporting for FOX News into al-Awlaki, his new generation of recruits, and it explores why information about the cleric was withheld from government investigators.
Catherine Herridge is an award-winning Chief Intelligence correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC) based in Washington, D.C. She covers intelligence, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Herridge joined FNC in 1996 as a London-based correspondent.