In this episode of "Intelligence Matters DECLASSIFIED: Spy Stories from the Officers Who Were There," host Michael Morell interviews former FBI agent Bradley Garrett, who recounts one of the most high-profile homicide cases he worked over the course of his career at FBI. He describes the global manhunt for Mir Aimal Kansi, who was put to death for killing two CIA officers outside Langley headquarters in 1993. Garrett tells Morell how he forged a relationship with Kansi to extract his confession — and wound up being, at Kansi's request, one of few people present at his execution in 2002. "Intelligence Matters DECLASSIFIED" is new series dedicated to featuring first-hand accounts from former intelligence officers.
On finding Kansi: "[I]t wasn't until the spring of 1997 – which is now four years and a few months after the shooting – where a local clerk in Quetta called a local Pakistani clerk at the U.S. consulate in Karachi and they had a conversation, I think, in Urdu, where he basically said, 'Look, we know that the U.S. wants this guy. We know where he is. We can place him at a particular location at a particular time. And but that's going to probably cost you some money.'"
Confronting Kansi in Pakistan: "We go in, we get into a fairly big fight with him, eventually. Get him down, get a light on. I'm not convinced 100 percent he's the right guy, but I think he is. We have him handcuffed behind his back. I say, 'Flip him over, lay him on the bed.' And so I got on. I straddled him, took an ink pad, inked his thumb, rolled his print. Got on the ground with a flashlight, a magnifying glass and his prints. And in about two minutes, because I had studied his fingerprints extensively: it's the right guy. So we get him up, take him outside. The military's outside waiting for us. We basically drive from there to a small airport outside DG Khan, get aboard an ISID general's plane. Fly to Rawalpindi, which is where the military has a primary focus, not far from Islamabad. And then we run into trouble. Political trouble. ISID says we can't leave the country, and so for basically two days we're stalled."
Kansi's execution: "[H]e goes through the appeals, he loses the appeal, and they set an execution date. So they move him or are about to move him from one prison to the other where they carry out the executions. And he asked me if I would come to his execution. Probably not many folks in my position get invited to executions, but I, out of respect for him and because he had been straightforward with me, I said yes."
INTELLIGENCE MATTERS – BRADLEY GARRETT
PRODUCER: OLIVIA GAZIS
MICHAEL MORELL: Brad, thank you for joining us. It's great to have you on the show, especially as part of our series of new episodes on real stories that happen to real people. Just a little background before we get into the case we're going to talk about, itself. Brad, you were a career FBI agent. How did you end up at the Bureau? How did that happen?
BRADLEY GARRETT: So I was in the Marine Corps at the end of Vietnam. I ended up not going just because of timing. So when I was released from active duty in '74, I really wanted to try to get in the Bureau then, but they weren't hiring at all. So I went to graduate school for the first time. After I finished that, I became a federal probation and parole officer in Indiana, which basically covers all the probationers out of federal court in middle and southern Indiana, all the parolees released from federal prison and also all the military folks that are paroled. I did that for 10 years, got a Ph.D. while I was doing that, and then came in the FBI in the mid 80s.
MICHAEL MORELL: So you focused on homicides for most of your career, correct?
BRADLEY GARRETT: Yeah. It's an interesting – it's all about timing. I could not replicate my career today because obviously priorities have changed, like they do regularly. But I had worked almost all violent stuff when I was in Nashville, Tennessee – bank robberies, kidnappings, extortions, child pornography. And then when I came to Washington, I was placed on a squad that handles all of the sort of violent stuff that the Feds work.
And it was during that assignment that the homicide rate inside the District of Columbia, statistically, was one of the highest in the country – mainly attributed to a crack cocaine epidemic. So we formed what they called a cold case squad of FBI agents and D.C. homicide detectives and literally worked cold cases in the District of Columbia because the backlog was so high. And so from that, I then went on to work a number of homicides, including the one we're going to talk about overseas, when Americans were harmed or killed overseas.
MICHAEL MORELL: OK, so let's dive into the case itself. So, Brad, where were you working in January of 1993? Were you in this particular unit you just talked about?
BRADLEY GARRETT: I was, because I spent actually my entire career on a violent crime squad and/or a cold case homicide squad. And so in January of '93, January 25th of '93, I was on the Violent Crime Squad and we received a call in the neighborhood of eight o'clock in the morning. And all I knew at that point is that there had been a shooting at the CIA or near the CIA, and that there were people deceased – but it was unclear at that point whether it occurred actually on CIA property or outside because that depended on who would actually work the case: inside would be crime on a government reservation; outside would be something that my squad worked. And I, you know, obviously quickly realized once I walked up on the scene that it was going to be probably assigned to my squad.
MICHAEL MORELL: So, Brad, before we actually dive into what happened when you got there that day, can you give us a little background on Mir Aimal Kansi, say, from his birth, I think, sometime in the mid 1960s to January 1993. What's his background?
BRADLEY GARRETT: OK, so Kansi is from Quetta, Pakistan, which is 800 miles from the Afghanistan border. So you're really talking, like, northwestern Pakistan. It's very remote, like most of Pakistan, tribally driven. In other words, tribes controlled sections of the country, as they basically still do today. And he was from a family of which his father had more than one wife. But Kansi was the only child of one particular wife. So he had basically – our term would be half brothers, half sisters. Had difficulty in the family based on my interviews with family members a month or so after this shooting that he basically wouldn't work. And they said he was – they even used the word, 'lazy' – and that he decided to come to the United States to see if he could sort of start over. So he left the family roughly 90 days to maybe four months before the shooting actually occurred. So he was in the United States for a period of time before this actually happened.
MICHAEL MORELL: OK, so you get you get this call at 8:00 in the morning and you go to the scene and what what do you find there?
BRADLEY GARRETT: Well, when you come off the George Washington Parkway, going north and cut over and on 123 – you know, I've been to a lot of homicide scenes, but I've never been to one quite like this, because as you drive closer to where you would turn off to go to the front gate of the CIA, it looked like they were making a movie. And I only say that because you have vehicles with deceased people inside them, glass all over the place, the cars are like frozen in place. At that point, the Fairfax County police had blocked off the area and they had their mobile crime truck there. And so it's kind of like, 'What is really going on here?' Obviously, something horrible has gone on, but it was totally unclear at that point exactly what had happened.
MICHAEL MORELL: So, Brad, you're doing a crime scene investigation. Meanwhile, where is Kansi?
BRADLEY GARRETT: So obviously, I don't know this until four and a half years later. But apparently – these are his words – that when he committed this act, like so many people who commit mass shootings, they believe they're not going to survive the shooting. And he realized that when he finished and walked back to his truck and drove off eastbound on 123, that he was alive and apparently no one was following him.
So he drove down roughly a mile and turned right by an Exxon station and drove up that winding road up to a community park, pulled his truck into the parking lot, walked into the woods. Took his AK-47 that he used in the shooting and he literally stayed in the woods for about two-and-a-half hours thinking that the police would show up and he ultimately get into a shootout with them. That didn't occur. He walks back to his vehicle – again, him describing this to me – and he drove to a McDonald's, got some food, then drove home in Herndon, Virginia, and then started planning what he should do next, which, I will also tell you is common in mass shooters. They may plan the event, acquire the weapon, determine where and how and who they're going to shoot. But then they don't think beyond that. And that's clearly fits his profile.
MICHAEL MORELL: So how long did it take you to link Kansi to the crime?
BRADLEY GARRETT: So it occurred on January 25th. We actually figured out who he was the first of February. And, you know, it was, I guess, partly luck, but partly just good investigative work. One thing that we did was look at all of the AK-47s that were purchased about a year before the shooting. Now, you would ask me, 'Why a year?' And I would tell you that typically mass shooters acquire their weapons a reasonably short period of time prior to the shooting. You can't buy weapons in D.C., so that only left us Maryland and Virginia. And I'm talking about contiguous to the District of Columbia, not spread out throughout Virginia and Maryland.
So when we had the the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms pull all of the legal purchases. And I emphasize that because obviously you can pick up weapons on the black market or off the street. There were 1,300 AK-47s sold between January of '92 and January of '93 in Maryland and Virginia. And it was weeding through those that we came up with this lead that we thought had viability of a AR-15 that was exchanged for an AK-47 on Friday, the 22nd of January before the shooting on Monday the 25th.
MICHAEL MORELL: So you go to his apartment in Reston, I believe. And what did you what did you find there?
BRADLEY GARRETT: OK, so, yes, the apartment section in Herndon, which is the next city, but very close, very close to Reston. So we go – initially a detective and an agent went there and then what they believed, what they really thought was a viable lead, myself, and the lead homicide detective, Fred Fife (PH), went to the location. And so we meet an individual by the name of Zahed Mir who didn't want to talk to us, didn't want to tell us the truth. And, you know, this is where, sort of, culture kicks in. You have to really think when you talk to people, 'Where are they from? What has been their experience with the police and what is it going to take maybe to get them to talk to me?' This case was a huge learning curve because I hadn't dealt with the Pakistanis or Afghans prior to this.
So I started I started figuring out – and, you know, I talked to a number of people that also helped me. But the short answer is it doesn't do you much good if you live in Pakistan to talk to the police. Corruption level's high, they don't make much money. They may arrest you for something that wouldn't even be considered a crime here. So eventually we break through that. It took six hours initially. And he started telling us that he had this roommate that he knew as Mir Aimal Kansi and that Kansi had lived in this one bedroom apartment at times with four other Pakistanis. At the current time, it was only Zahed Mir and Kansi.
And that on January 22nd, Kansi had mentioned to to Zahed Mir that he wanted to go to the mosque and pray that he'd said, 'Great idea.' So they hop in a vehicle and Kansi ends up driving to a gun shop in Chantilly, Virginia. Goes inside – this is in Mir's words – goes inside, exchanges an AR-15 for an AK-47. He thought that was odd, but he didn't ask any questions. They went to the mosque and prayed. They went back home. Zahed went to work. And that's the last time he saw Kansi – until there's a shooting, obviously, on the morning of January 25th. He has no link, and I believe him on this, that Kansi was the one who did that. He didn't know where he was and he hadn't heard from him. But at that point, it was only about a week into it that he started figuring out maybe something was wrong.
MICHAEL MORELL: So, Brad, when did you realize that he had left the country?
BRADLEY GARRETT: So as we start doing a deep dive into his movements, after we figured out, who he was, where he lived, et cetera, and doing interviews with people, we we realized that he had purchased a one-way ticket to Pakistan on the afternoon of January 25th, again fitting the profile that he didn't plan in advance.
So he contacts a market in Herndon, Virginia, which is actually on the first floor where the mosque is on the second floor, where they went to pray. And the manager of the market also has a connection to a travel agency. Kansi went to him, said, 'I need a one-way ticket back to Pakistan.' He said, 'No problem.' I think he paid him in cash. He said, 'But the ticket won't be available until the next day.'
So Kansi leaves, goes back home, apparently contemplates that maybe it's not a wise thing to stay at his own residence. So he goes to the Days Inn in Herndon, which is next to the access road that goes on out to the airport. And he stayed at the Days Inn that day, the second day into the morning, and then traveled to Reagan Airport and flew to JFK and then flew to Karachi.
MICHAEL MORELL: So, Brad, now Kansi is a is an international fugitive and it takes some period of time to track him down and find him and bring him back to the United States. Can you walk us through how that happened? How did you ultimately find him and how did you bring him back?
BRADLEY GARRETT: So, you know, four-and-a-half years of basically leads that did not lead us to Kansi's door. And some of them were quite elaborate, in remote parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan. I traveled virtually all over the world to interview people who claimed they knew where he was and how we could catch him. But it wasn't until the spring of 1997 – which is now four years and a few months after the shooting – where a local clerk in Quetta called a local Pakistani clerk at the U.S. consulate in Karachi and they had a conversation, I think, in Urdu, where he basically said, 'Look, we know that the U.S. wants this guy. We know where he is. We can place him at a particular location at a particular time. And but that's going to probably cost you some money.'
So eventually that information gets to the CIA, which then ultimately gets to the FBI Legat, and then to me. And so over a series of meetings with these sources, because once the clerk is out of the picture, we're now dealing with tribal chieftains in Afghanistan and they sort of tell us the following: 'Look, we can place him at a location if you can pick him up there.'
And so there was – two things: I've been up this road before where people say they can deliver. So you're going to have to prove to me that you have the product. And so through these negotiations, they provided what would appear to be a recent picture of Kansi. He's heavier, but it was clear to me that was probably him. They then also gave us a glass that they claim his fingerprints were on. I bagged the glass, brought it back to the US, took it to the lab, and it was, in fact, his fingerprint. And so this this is like potentially now going together.
And so what happens next is that sort of working with, obviously, the CIA station chief and the RSO, the regional security officer for the embassy, a State Department agent, the FBI legat and myself, they started laying the groundwork with the Pakistani government if they'd be willing to allow us to basically arrest Kansi in Pakistan. And so working with the ISID, which is sort of military intelligence, or is military intelligence in Pakistan, we worked closely with them. But we didn't give them a whole lot of detail. We needed them, obviously, from a legal standpoint and a logistical standpoint, because they had the ability, through helicopters and planes, to move us around the country. So because of the station chief's relationship with ISID, and the legat's relationship with other parts of the Pakistani government, this went together.
So basically what happened is, on the day before we captured him, we got on helicopters and flew up to a city not far from where we ultimately arrested him, which was in DG Khan, Pakistan. We staged with the military. We actually sent an agent and some of the ISID people down in a in a blacked out vehicle to do a surveillance of the hotel he was supposed to be in.
Now we have a source telling us that the source is with him and that the source knows what room he's in and so forth and so on. So after we have decided that it's probably the right place, we've got the Pakistani military basically being our backup, myself, and three other FBI agents. One was the legat and the other two were from the FBI's super SWAT hostage rescue team at Quantico. So with me, that's four of us, get in a vehicle along with the military, obviously in plainclothes, in unmarked vehicles behind us.
We drive down to DG Khan. We stage outside the town. The source comes to our vehicle, said, 'Look. He he's in he's in room 317, the third floor of the Shalimar Hotel.' So one of the reasons you're playing raids early in the morning is the obvious, either no one or few people are up, and it's more safety for you and maybe even the person you're about to arrest, hopefully. The problem is – and this always happens when you plan these things - it's very hot in this town in June. And so they start to work at four o'clock in the morning. So there are hundreds of people on the street as we're driving through this main road to get to the front of this hotel, the Shalimar Hotel.
So, you know, at this point, we're committed, we step out of the vehicle, we got on shalwar-kameezes, but underneath it we've got body armor and weapons and extra magazines and handcuffs and shotguns, et cetera. So the source had told us that there is no security guard in the hotel and the front door would be unlocked. So we get out of the vehicle and line up and immediately there's people now looking at us because obviously we don't look Pakistani and we can't get in. And so the source starts knocking on the door.
Eventually, who comes to the door but a security guard? He unlocks the door before he looks at us, so when he opens that, we just pull the door open. And so as we walk by him, I'm the last person in the door, I mean, his his eyes are about as big as they could get, because this is like out of a movie for him, I'm sure.
So we go through; it's so dark in this hotel. We have to turn flashlights because you can't see. And so we we stack up, walk up to the third floor, the legat steps into the hallway with a shotgun, racks it, for security, and then we have the source knock on the door as the three of us are stacked outside the door. Light comes on, the doors unlock. We tell the source to disappear and we kick the door at that point.
We go in, we get into a fairly big fight with him, eventually. Get him down, get a light on. I'm not convinced 100 percent he's the right guy, but I think he is. We have him handcuffed behind his back. I say, 'Flip him over, lay him on the bed.' And so I got on. I straddled him, took an ink pad, inked his thumb, rolled his print. Got on the ground with a flashlight, a magnifying glass and his prints. And in about two minutes, because I had studied his fingerprints extensively: it's the right guy. So we get him up, take him outside. The military's outside waiting for us. We basically drive from there to a small airport outside DG Khan, get aboard an ISID general's plane. Fly to Rawalpindi, which is where the military has a primary focus, not far from Islamabad. And then we run into trouble. Political trouble. ISID says we can't leave the country, and so for basically two days we're stalled.
And so I had said to the ISID general, I said, 'Well, that may well be accurate, but you allowed us to arrest him. And so I've got to stay with him or an agent's got to stay with him to make sure nobody questions him, harms him, etc..' Well, they agreed to that. So for the next two days, every five hours, four of us switched out sitting outside his cell to make sure nobody bothered him. Talked to him, make sure he was fed. He got scratched up a little bit during the tussle to get handcuffs on him. You know, I had to treat a couple of minor wounds.
And so eventually, after two days and, I was told, conversations by then President Clinton and Secretary of State Albright with their counterparts in Pakistan, they let us go. So at five o'clock on Tuesday after the arrest on Sunday, we go and get on an unmarked military plane and fly back and do midair refueling and eventually land at Dulles.
MICHAEL MORELL: So, Brad, on the flight back to the United States, I understand that he made a full confession. Is that right? And how did he talk about what he did?
BRADLEY GARRETT: So one of the keys in interrogating somebody is to figure out a way to develop a relationship with them, as odd as that may sound to your audience. And how I do that is, I don't have judgments about what people have done. And I've you know, I've seen a lot. I've done a lot. And so nothing sort of affects me as far as that. You know, I prejudged this guy. I just treated him with respect, like I do everybody else. And during those two days that he was being held in an ISID location where one of us was with him, he got to see how we treated him and in particular, me. Respect.
I said, 'I'll tell you exactly how things are going to happen as we move along.' So I had some respect with him. So by the time we got him on a plane and settled in, he was just super comfortable with us and, you know, he was resolved that he was going back to the United States and he could well face the death penalty. And so for about an hour, I just small talk with him and have not Mirandized him yet because I'm not talking about anything that would incriminate him. If he had started talking about, let's say, running drugs or something else, I would have had to stop him. But so we have that chat.
I eventually say, 'Look, I'd like to talk to you about the shooting.' He said, 'Fine.' I Mirandized him. He signed the form. And he basically said that, look, that he opposed the CIA's involvement in Muslim countries and that they go in and they manipulate the government to whatever ends and means that the United States would like out of that particular country or government. And he said that's not right. And he says, 'I just felt like somebody needed to make a statement.' You know, it's obviously totally illogical, but in his mind, it was logical in that maybe it would change things.
So, you know, he describes how he picked the location, where he got the weapon that I've already described and decides to pick that Monday morning to commit the act and goes and commits the act, goes to the park, stays in the park, eventually gets the plane ticket, flies home. And then once he gets back to Quetta, he then realizes that we know who he is because it was on CNN and that he'd better move.
So at that point, he said he went into Afghanistan and basically stayed at various locations in Pakistan, which is interesting because some of the intel I'm getting place him potentially in some of the cities he stated he stayed for a period of time. He wouldn't give me any details about the following, but I said, did somebody protect you? And he said, basically, yes. I think it was probably the Taliban because they had, you know, they were really getting up to speed at that point. So he seldom came back into Pakistan, but he did because he needed to go home to do something with the family. And that's when he got caught.
MICHAEL MORELL: So, Brad, he gets tried in Fairfax County, Virginia court. He's found guilty, I think, of capital murder, first degree murder and three counts of malicious wounding. And he is sentenced to death. You spent some time with him between the sentencing and the execution, I understand. What was the purpose of that? And I'm wondering if, during any of that time, he showed any remorse for what he did.
BRADLEY GARRETT: So, you know, what was interesting is that during the trial, when I testified, he basically was not far from me with his defense attorneys. And I always make it a habit when I testify to look at the person I'm talking about. And so I looked at him basically the whole time I testified, and he wouldn't look at me. He looked down, which I found interesting.
Later, after he gets into the state Virginia prison system, I go to visit him and I said, 'Why is it you didn't look at me during the trial?'
'Because,' he says, 'I was embarrassed that you had to get on the stand and talk about what happened.' Odd thing, you would think, from a shooter to say that. But yeah. So I knew at that point, as I knew before, that he still wanted to have a relationship with me. So as he goes on death row, about every six months, I would go visit him and, you know, clearly trying to figure out if he'll fill in some of those gaps in Afghanistan, because, you know, obviously at this point, we need as much information as we can as to what the Taliban and other extremist groups might be doing there.
He wouldn't come off the dime on that at all. And, you know, I think I get that. But what's interesting is that he really felt bad for the families of the people that were either killed or harmed. And I think he was sincere about that. But if you ask him, 'Well, then would you go do it again?' He'd say, 'Yes, I would go do it again.' So it's sort of that flipside of, he has some sympathy for the victims families, but not really at the at the end of the day.
There's one very brief, interesting conversation. I went to see him after 9/11. And I said, 'What do you think about 9/11?' And he was angry about the World Trade Center; you know, 'That wasn't right. They should never should have attacked those buildings, there were Pakistanis in there working' – which there were, I think, there were over 100 killed. And then I said, 'Well, what about the Pentagon? He goes, well, that's OK, it's totally fine to attack the Pentagon.' And I said, 'Well, why is that?' And he says, 'Because it's the military. The military carry out U.S. policy overseas.' So, again, I'm giving you some logic as to his mindset.
So, anyway, the long and the short is he goes through the appeals, he loses the appeal, and they set an execution date. So they move him or are about to move him from one prison to the other where they carry out the executions. And he asked me if I would come to his execution. Probably not many folks in my position get invited to executions, but I, out of respect for him and because he had been straightforward with me, I said yes.
MICHAEL MORELL: Why do you think he wanted you there?
BRADLEY GARRETT: I think the idea that, really, I'm sort of the only person in his life anymore. I mean, he's on death row. All of his family's in Pakistan. At the very end, two of his brothers do come from Pakistan to briefly say good-bye to him. And so they went to the prison briefly and then they weren't allowed to go back to the prison because nobody from the subject's family are allowed to have anything to do with the execution – unlike the victim's families, the police, the prosecutor, cetera, can actually attend the execution. No family members did, but some police officers and prosecutors did attend the execution.
So I think that's the reason that I'm sort of the person that was straightforward, was respectful. You know, he said a number of times, he says, 'I hold nothing against you. You're just doing your job. And you were polite and respectful.' He used the word 'respectful' a lot, which for those of us who have worked in South Asian cultures, that's a big deal. It's when you burn respect that you're not going to get any place. And so I stood next to him while they gave him lethal injection. I had talked to him a couple of hours earlier in the day, like around noontime. And then the execution was at nine o'clock at night. And then at that point, obviously, he was gone.
MICHAEL MORELL: Brad, you've been terrific with your time. Just ask you one more question. I don't think I don't think his crime at the time was considered terrorism. I'm wondering in retrospect if it was. What are your thoughts on that?
BRADLEY GARRETT: Well, because I'd had all this experience with homicide cases that it was sort of a natural fit for me to work on this, and because, as we and, in particular, the CIA initially thought this was probably some sort of organized or state-sponsored hit – and, you know, that's their world, not mine. I said, 'Well, that may well be, I don't see anything that fits that, looking at it from a homicide perspective.' And things that you would look for in the background of somebody that was driven, you know, or sent by a state-sponsored government someplace.
So, as we go through it, the reason I actually kept the case – if that crime would have happened after 9/11, I would have worked the crime scene, worked with Fairfax police on the homicide part of it, and probably never worked on any more the case because it would have gone to a terrorism squad. Now, is that a good idea? Is that a bad idea? There would be nobody on a terrorism squad that would have had my homicide experience.
And I take these things personal, not toward the person, but towards solving it. And so this is something we just stuck with. I mean, this basically from beginning to end, it almost took up 10 years of my life, off and on obviously. I worked on other things, but it's important to bring things to an end, in my view.
MICHAEL MORELL: And then just one more question. So you had not you had not spent a lot of time working with CIA prior to this case. And I'm just wondering how you found that, particularly on a case that had so inflamed passions at the agency?
BRADLEY GARRETT: Well, it's, on some levels, obviously a very serious subject. But it was amusing because the CIA was never, they never dealt with an FBI agent like me because they were used to intelligence agents. And I'm asking straightforward questions. I need to see employment records, I need the backgrounds of the people that were killed or shot. And I need it today. I mean, they were like, 'Well, you can't have any of that.'
And so we had to do this back and forth. Eventually we get agents to go inside the agency who had clearances and they started going through files. But after we cleared the dust with that, they totally accepted me, I totally accepted them. It was a phenomenal relationship, basically, for the next four and a half years. They traveled with me to do certain interviews. You know, I can't say any – it was just a wonderful experience from that regard.
MICHAEL MORELL: Brad, thank you so much for joining us. And thanks so much for the terrific work you did on this particular case and for everything else you've done in your career and for your country. Thanks for joining us.
BRADLEY GARRETT: You're welcome. Take care.