On the morning of september 11, 2001, Sater was still working at Bayrock and making his normal morning commute into Manhattan.
But when he neared the Midtown Tunnel, he saw it: The twin towers of the World Trade Center had been hit by planes, one after the other.
Sater doesn't remember exactly when he realized bin Laden was responsible for the carnage.
But once he did, he says, his mind raced back to his time in Moscow,
when he was funneling information to the U.S. government.
One bizarre episode stood out, he claims:
In the spring of 1998, he, E and about 15 or 20 ex–Soviet special forces fighters went to Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan,
a former Soviet republic that borders Afghanistan.
They had information from Hamid's sources in the Northern Alliance about bin Laden's location—a camp in the mountain range called Tora Bora.
Hamid had proved his bona fides,
so "we had no reason to doubt what he was telling us," Sater claims.
And E and his men were going to try to take out bin Laden—for a price.
They drove from Dushanbe across the border to Mazar-i-Sharif,
where they rendezvoused with Northern Alliance fighters.
Sater claims he called Langley,
saying he had real intelligence about bin Laden's whereabouts and soldiers who were willing to move on the camp.
What he needed to know was how much the agency would pay.
"Greed was always my go-to weapon," Sater says.
Getting E into potentially lucrative telecom deals,
as well as Sater's background as a Russian-speaking former Wall Street guy,
had cemented his relationship with the former military intelligence officer.
The CIA, Sater says, told him the bounty on bin Laden was $5 million.
He claims he told the agency that wasn't going to cut it:
"These guys were walking into a potential bloodbath.
There were about 50 of (them) total.
They needed at least a million dollars each."
The CIA balked, Sater claims, and the group retreated to Dushanbe, then back to Moscow.
(Three former CIA officials declined to either confirm or deny this account.
Hamid couldn't be reached for comment.)
As bin Laden's face became a permanent fixture in the papers and on the news,
Sater couldn't shake the thought out of his mind:
"Could we have had him? Was that a possibility? I'll never know."
Not long after the 9/11 attacks, the FBI again reached out to Sater.
Only this time the bureau wanted him to get in touch with Hamid—and help with counterterrorism—not the mob.
The American informant did what the bureau asked, and he knew what to expect from the Afghan.
"What's in it for me?" Hamid asked.
He "didn't give a damn about Americans," Sater says.
But Al-Qaeda had recently assassinated Ahmad Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance,
so the Afghan said he would help if the money was right.
Sater had already given this some thought.
He claims he told Hamid—accurately, as it turned out, but not because he knew anything—that the Americans would soon invade the country.
The Afghan needed more than that.
So Sater claims he assured him the U.S. would depose the Taliban and set up a central bank in Kabul.
The Afghan, he says, could help run it.
This was a complete lie,
but Sater says he sold it by putting together a packet of official-looking legal documents, allegedly from the U.S. government,
authorizing the creation of the bank.
He shipped them and a satellite phone to Hamid, who believed the story, according to Sater.
Soon, the American asset says, before the first CIA paramilitary operators entered Afghanistan, the information started to flow.
It was detailed and specific,
and even included locations of Al- Qaeda fighters, weapons
and information about how the 9/11 attackers had financed their operation.
The way Sater recalls it, a relative of his Afghan informant was married to Taliban leader Mullah Omar's personal secretary,
and they traveled everywhere together, including to the caves of Tora Bora,
where he and bin Laden retreated after the United States invaded.
For Sater, the work was surreal and often gratifying.
"FBI agents would come to my house each night and stay there until 2 or 3 in the morning,"
he says, "drinking my wife's coffee, poring over this stuff."
(An FBI official who knew Sater at the time said the general outline of this story is accurate but declined to go into specifics.)
Sater says he has never been paid by any U.S. government agency for his assistance,
and current and former FBI officials confirm that.
"All this was going on," Sater says,
"I just remember thinking how crazy it all was.
How did I get involved in all this?"