An Associated Press investigation into the 1973 murder of former fighter pilot and co-founder of the Israel Air Force Col. Yosef Alon, revealed the CIA had a lead regarding the identity of his killer and the method used to carry out the assassination.
On July 1, 1973, Alon was gunned down in his suburban Maryland driveway. The case is still unsolved.
Many suspected that the 43-year-old diplomat was the target of Arab terrorists, but no evidence to support that theory surfaced. The FBI case was officially closed in 1976.
However, a six-month investigation by The Associated Press has revealed a lead did actually exist. Recently declassified CIA documents, Alon's voluminous FBI case file and interviews reveal that years after the shooting, the agency received a tantalizing tip about who likely pulled off the assassination and how the deadly plot was carried out.
Now, partly as a result of the AP's findings, former FBI agents who have never spoken publicly about the long-dormant murder believe the case should be reopened.
Beginning in 1970, Alon was assigned for three years to the Israeli Embassy in Washington as the assistant air and naval attache. He worked vigorously to procure sophisticated American F-4 Phantoms and other weaponry for the Israeli Air Force as his country battled Egypt.
"Alon was by far the most persistent and aggressive individual who represented a foreign government," a retired U.S. Air Force officer told the FBI.
Egypt, though, was not the only threat facing Israel. In 1972 an offshoot of Fatah named Black September killed 11 Israeli athletes at the Olympic games in Munich. It was a tense and dangerous time, but Alon betrayed no fear. Though his job was critical to Israel's national security, he didn't feel that he would be singled out for attack.
He also was fatalistic: If Black September wanted him dead, they'd get him.
Newspaper reports on Alon's murder provide a rough sketch of what happened the night he was killed - but the more than 7,000-page FBI file, obtained by the AP through the Freedom of Information Act after a three-year wait, provides the first authoritative version of what happened and previously unknown details about the investigation.
Alon and his wife, Dvora, were heading to their Chevy Chase home after a dinner party. Alon parked the car at about 1 A.M. His wife got out first.
When Dvora reached the porch, about 20 to 30 feet away, she heard gunshots. She unlocked the door and ran inside the brick home. She saw a light-colored car with its headlights on, driving slowly away. Rushing outside, she discovered her badly wounded husband on the front lawn.
She and her eldest daughter, Dalia, 18, tried to stanch the bleeding with bathroom towels as they awaited the rescue squad. Yosef Alon died in the hospital at 1:27 A.M.
An autopsy revealed Alon had been hit five times. Four bullets caused superficial damage, and a fatal one struck his heart.
The same day, monitors from the State Department heard this Palestine Liberation Organization radio broadcast from Cairo: "Colonel Yosef Alon ... was executed," the Voice of Palestine radio announced. "His is the first execution operation carried out against a Zionist official in the U.S."
The FBI made the case a priority. Apparently, said the Washington Post in an editorial, it was the "capital's first political murder of a foreign diplomat."
The FBI launched a massive investigation dubbed "MURDA," or the "Murder of Assistant Air Attache Col. Joseph Alon," according to the partially redacted FBI file.
Evidence was scarce. After dismissing robbery and romantic-entanglement scenarios, FBI agents focused on the most logical one: an act of Arab terrorism. The FBI began working off a list of approximately 90 people classified as "Arab terrorists" or members of "Arab extremist organizations," but no luck.
The puzzling investigation was still getting "preferential treatment" in 1974, according to FBI documents. But in 1975, the case started to wind down. By the next year, it had run its course.
Then, a potential break came. In February 1977, FBI Director Clarence Kelly fired off an internal memo based on a promising CIA tip.
According to portions of the FBI file that remain secret, "A sensitive source advised that the Black September Organization was responsible for the crime." The CIA had learned from a "Fedayeen senior official" that two students had entered the U.S. via Canada, traveling on either Lebanese or Cypriot passports.
In Washington they stayed with other students and made contact with a local professor. The professor rented a car for the students and placed the weapons inside it. After the students had shot Alon, they ditched the rental car with the weapons still inside.
The students got into another car they had rented and drove to Dulles International Airport, then took a domestic flight to the West Coast and ultimately ended up in the Middle East via the Far East.
That set off a flurry of FBI activity.
The FBI director told agents to scour passenger manifests for all names on certain flights leaving the morning Alon died. But too many flight records had already been destroyed. Efforts to determine the identity of the mysterious professor also failed. The investigation was closed later that year, and in 1978 the FBI's Baltimore office destroyed all "evidentiary items."
The CIA apparently never learned anything more about the case. In August 1978, secret briefings were held at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, according to recently declassified memos.
"It was noted that information that came to our attention years after the assassination indicated that Fatah/Black September was 'probably' responsible for the murder, and that a two-man hit team had entered the U.S. specifically to carry it out and had left immediately afterward. The FBI has been unable to confirm any of the information," the memo states.
However, former intelligence and government officials think this internal CIA document was based on solid information.
Mohammed Oudeh, the mastermind of the Munich massacre, told the AP that as far as he knew, Black September never carried out operations in the States.
But the CIA's tip - if true - leaves several lingering questions. What happened to the rental cars and the weapons? Why wasn't the source debriefed by FBI agents? Who was this "Fedayeen senior official"? Could this case finally be closed after more than three decades?
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