PW: How did you and your two coauthors get together on The Cell? How did it originate?
JM: Before this book, we were all friends. Michael Stone and I were old friends from his New York magazine days, and Chris Mitchell and I were old friends because he was the coauthor of Jack Maples's book The Crime Fighter, and Jack was my best friend. What I loved was how Chris managed to get a very complicated story straight and capture Jack's voice. It was Michael's idea to do a post-September 11 book, and when I walked him through the story, there was a lot he didn't know that was old hat to me. He said, "You know, nobody knows this stuff, and it all kind of jumps off the page." And you've got to put this in the context of the moment—on September 11 everyone wanted to do a story about September 11, and I kept saying, the story isn't about 9/11. The story is marching back 10 years, tracing it up to the September 11 events.
PW: How did you all work together on reporting and writing the book?
JM: I introduced Michael to contacts and interview subjects, and he would develop more contacts and interview subjects—for example, cops who worked on the original cases. I would tell him the history, and as he would start to ask me questions about the details, I said I'd hand him off to [Joint Terrorist Task Force member] Neil [Herman], who passed him to Tommy [Corrigan]. I gave him the road map, and he would report it out.
Meantime, I was writing the parts I was present for—the interview with bin Laden, the Cole bombing, the embassy bombings: I would write those chapters. And then we were getting buried in reporting. We went out seeking the story we knew, and as we started to get closer to it, we started to uncover the story even we didn't know. We brought in Chris for two aspects of that: to take large swaths of reporting—the fieldwork in Germany, the fieldwork across the U.S. tracing the hijackers' steps, he refined that so you could have a tick-tock of Mohammed Atta and company, follow them day by day in the years up to September 11. And then we would all get together and beat the chapters into shape as a team.
PW: How did you get the inside story? Did your years as a crime reporter help?
JM: It was my background as a crime reporter, then my background as a reporter who wasn't new to the terrorist beat. Then there was the advantage of having worked in the [New York] police department on the inside [as deputy police commissioner for public information]. I was always one phone call away from finding out what I needed to know.
The other odd thing about it was, I never quite got over the fact that one of the central characters in the book, the FBI's man on the bin Laden case, John O'Neill, should perish the way he did. [Two weeks before September 11, O'Neill became chief of security of the World Trade Center and died in the attack.] Had you written it into a movie script, they would have said it was a bad script.
PW: In the book, you draw a straight line from the 1993 World Trade Center bombing back to the murder of Rabbi Meir Kahane by El Sayyid Nosair. Can you draw a straight line forward from 1993 to September 11, 2001?
JM: You can draw a line from Nosair through 1993 back to bin Laden and from there to 9/11. In the first World Trade Center bombing, they were recruiting Arabs who were U.S. residents. By 9/11, they were infiltrating the U.S. with terrorists who were coming from other countries.