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Context of 'January 5, 2001 and After: CIA Does Not Tell FBI about Identification of Al-Qaeda Leader by Informer, but Allegedly Thinks It Has Done So'

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Khallad bin Attash.Khallad bin Attash. [Source: FBI]After talks that last some time, Yemeni authorities agree to provide the FBI team investigating the USS Cole bombing with passport photos of suspects in the attack, including al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. The photos are provided to lead investigators John O’Neill and Ali Soufan, and Soufan immediately sends bin Attash’s photo to the CIA and to an FBI colleague in Islamabad, Pakistan. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 192; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] The FBI colleague is Michael Dorris. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 117] The CIA agent is known only as “Chris.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 537] Chris shows the photo to a source, and the source, known only as “Omar,” confirms that the man in the photo is bin Attash. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “This suggested strongly that al-Qaeda was behind the Cole attack.” However, this does not motivate the US to retaliate against al-Qaeda (see Shortly After October 12, 2000). Around this time, the FBI also learns that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, another al-Qaeda operative involved in the embassy bombings, had a hand in the Cole attack as well (see November-December 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 192; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, John O’Neill, Ali Soufan, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Chris”, “Omar”, Michael Dorris

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Yemeni authorities receive photographs of operatives who attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. The exact number of photographs they receive is not known, but they include three photos, of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a man who looks like one of their associates, Fahad al-Quso, that are later shown to the FBI (see June 11, 2001). It is unclear who provides the photos to the Yemenis, but the CIA has them and is interested in the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), so presumably they come from the CIA. The photos are highly relevant to the FBI, as they connect extremists known to be involved in the Cole attack to Almihdhar and Alhazmi, but even though the FBI is in charge of the Cole investigation, the CIA continues to withhold the information from the FBI for months (see January 5, 2001 and After, February 1, 2001, Late May, 2001 and August 30, 2001). The Yemenis’ response to the photographs is unknown. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 293 pdf file] The CIA is aware by June 2001 that Almihdhar is the son-in-law of Ahmed al-Hada, a Yemeni extremist who runs a communications hub for Osama bin Laden (see Late August 1998), but it is not known whether they obtain this information now or at some other time. [Wright, 2006, pp. 343]

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Central Intelligence Agency, Fahad al-Quso, Khalid Almihdhar, Yemen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Nawaf Alhazmi (left) and Khallad bin Attash (right) are said to have been confused by an informer.
Nawaf Alhazmi (left) and Khallad bin Attash (right) are said to have been confused by an informer. [Source: FBI]A CIA officer in Islamabad, Pakistan, known only as “Chris” shows a source known as “Omar,” who provides information on al-Qaeda, photographs of future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi taken at the al-Qaeda Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 537; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 268-271 pdf file] Omar has previously identified a photo of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see November 22-December 16, 2000) and Chris has been told that bin Attash and Almihdhar might be the same person (see Mid-Late December 2000). Omar says that the photo of Alhazmi, who the CIA apparently does not recognize at this time, actually shows bin Attash. As Omar cannot identify Almihdhar, but says he can identify bin Attash, this indicates Almihdhar and bin Attash are not the same person. The identification causes the CIA to believe that bin Attash attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. Although this belief is based on a mistaken identification, it is actually correct, as bin Attash was present at the summit—the CIA has photos of bin Attash there, but fails to show them to Omar. This identification is important because bin Attash is a known bin Laden operative connected to the USS Cole attack and East African embassy bombings. The CIA also knows that Almihdhar and Alhazmi were at the summit, so this could connect them to the Cole attack. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 268-271 pdf file] An FBI official named Michael Dorris is also at the meeting. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 272 pdf file; Soufan, 2011] However, Dorris does not learn of the identification of bin Attash by “Omar.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 270-274 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Michael Dorris, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khallad bin Attash, Central Intelligence Agency, CIA Islamabad Station, Khalid Almihdhar, “Chris”, “Omar”, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After an informer later referred to as “Omar” tells the CIA that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash was at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 4, 2001), the CIA fails to communicate this information to the FBI, even though it is important for the FBI’s investigation of the USS Cole bombing and connects future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to the Cole bombers. Omar is a joint FBI/CIA source, but the FBI assistant legal attaché responsible for him, Michael Dorris, will later say he does not know of this identification, and documentation he drafts at this time indicates he is unaware of it. It is unclear why Dorris is unaware of the identification, although he does not speak Omar’s language and may have been out of the room making photocopies when Omar identified bin Attash in a photo of the Malaysia summit for his CIA counterpart. That officer, known only as “Chris,” will later say he has no independent recollection of any particular meeting with Omar.
Comparison with Previous Meeting - However, when Omar previously identified a photo of bin Attash provided by Yemeni authorities on December 16, 2000 (see November 22-December 16, 2000), Chris had him repeat the identification specifically for the benefit of Dorris, and the cable he drafted about the meeting said this clearly. In addition, Dorris will later say that he recalls the specific circumstances of the previous debriefing and would be able to recount them, including the identification of bin Attash in the photograph provided by the Yemenis.
Three Cables Drafted - Chris drafts three cables about the January 4 meeting; one internal cable provides little detail about it, but says bin Attash was identified in one of the photos, a cable to the general US intelligence community fails to mention the identification of bin Attash, as does a third cable, which is sent to the CIA.
CIA Later Makes False Claims - However, according to statements made by CIA officials after 9/11, at this time the CIA thinks that the FBI knows that bin Attash has been identified in the photos. For example, Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center Cofer Black will tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, “[O]ur records establish that the special agents from the FBI’s New York Field Office who were investigating the USS Cole attack reviewed the information about the Kuala Lumpur photo in late January 2001.” However, there is no documentary record of information about the second identification placing bin Attash in Kuala Lumpur with the two hijackers being passed to the FBI at this time. In addition, in July 2001 CIA manager Tom Wilshire will suggest passing this information to the FBI (see July 13, 2001), possibly meaning he thinks it is not passed at this time. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 264-278 pdf file] The CIA will not notify the FBI that Omar identified bin Attash in the photo until August 30, 2001, less than two weeks before 9/11 (see August 30, 2001).

Entity Tags: Michael Dorris, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency, Cofer Black, “Chris”, “Omar”, CIA Islamabad Station, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Two FBI agents investigating the bombing of the USS Cole interview a source, referred to later as “Omar,” who previously identified a photo of one of the bombers as al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see November 22-December 16, 2000). However, a CIA officer present at the interview, known only as “Chris,” fails to add a crucial detail. The interview, which apparently takes place in Pakistan, is held to document the previous identification by Omar of bin Attash, who led the attack on the Cole, based on a photograph provided by Yemeni authorities. Chris is also aware that Omar has identified bin Attash in a surveillance photo taken of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 4, 2001). The identification of bin Attash in the photo taken at the summit is important because it connects bin Attash to future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, who were also at the summit, and because it casts light on bin Attash’s interaction with the other Cole bombers. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later say it believes “that had the FBI known about the identification of [bin Attash] in the Kuala Lumpur photographs, they would likely have sought information about the other participants in the meeting, including Almihdhar and Alhazmi, which could have increased the FBI’s chances of locating them before the September 11 attacks.” Chris had previously failed to notify the FBI of the identification of bin Attash in the Malaysia summit photo (see January 5, 2001 and After), as had the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see Shortly Before February 1, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 275-8 pdf file] Omar is usually handled by Cole case agents Ali Soufan and Steve Bongardt. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 120] Presumably, one of them is the lead FBI agent at this interview, although it is not clear which.

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Steve Bongardt, Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), Federal Bureau of Investigation, “Omar”, CIA Islamabad Station, “Chris”, Ali Soufan, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager assigned to the FBI who expressed interest two months earlier in surveillance photos from the al-Qaeda Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), now finds a cable he had been looking for regarding that summit. The cable, from January 2001, discusses al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash’s presence at the summit. Wilshire explains later that bin Attash’s presence there had been troubling him. He writes an e-mail to the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC), stating, “[Khallad] is a major league killer, who orchestrated the Cole attack (see October 12, 2000) and possibly the Africa bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).” Yet Khallad is still not put on a terrorist watch list. Wilshire asks that the FBI be passed this information, but the FBI will not actually be given the information until August 30, a week after it learns future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298 pdf file] Although the CIA managers that receive this e-mail are not named, Richard Blee, in charge of the CIA’s bin Laden unit and Wilshire’s former boss, appears to be one of the recipients: On the same day Wilshire sends this e-mail, Blee writes his own e-mail entitled “Identification of Khallad,” which is sent to another CIA officer. [Central Intelligence Agency, 7/13/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 537] An FBI analyst assigned to the CTC is given the task of reviewing all other CIA cables about the Malaysian summit. It takes this analyst until August 21—over five weeks later—to put together that Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa and that Nawaf Alhazmi had traveled to the US. Yet other CIA agents are already well aware of these facts but are not sharing the information (see August 22, 2001). Working with immigration officials, this analyst then learns that Almihdhar entered and left the US in 2000, and entered again on July 4, 2001, and that Alhazmi appears to still be in the US. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Tom Wilshire, Richard Blee, Nawaf Alhazmi, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alec Station, Khallad bin Attash, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A CIA manager says that an additional intelligence officer, Doug Miller, will be assigned to help an ongoing low-key review of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit when Miller returns from holiday (see January 5-8, 2000 and Mid-May 2001). The statement is made in response to an e-mail by CIA manager Tom Wilshire, who pointed out that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash attended the summit, meaning it was important (see January 4, 2001). Presumably, the manager that sends this e-mail is Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Blee appears to have received the e-mail to which this is a response (see July 13, 2001). The review is currently only being conducted by one intelligence officer, Margaret Gillespie, who is only told to do it in her spare time and whom it takes over three months to find CIA cables indicating two of the future 9/11 hijackers have entered the US (see August 21-22, 2001). Miller’s help would certainly benefit the review, as he is already aware one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa, but a cable he drafted to notify the FBI about this was blocked by Wilshire (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). However, there is no mention of Miller actually being given the assignment on his return and no sign he does any work on this. Wilshire also asked that the FBI be officially told bin Attash attended the summit in Malaysia, but this information is again withheld (see January 5, 2001 and After). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298-9 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Tom Wilshire, Doug Miller, Margaret Gillespie, Counterterrorist Center, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The CIA finally tells the FBI that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash attended an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 with future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 5-8, 2000). The CIA monitored the meeting and has known that bin Attash attended it for at least eight months (see January 4, 2001), but repeatedly failed to tell the FBI of this (see Shortly Before February 1, 2001, February 1, 2001, Mid-May 2001, and June 11, 2001). The CIA will later say that it thought the FBI knew of the identification in January 2001 (see January 5, 2001 and After), but a CIA manager asked for permission to pass the information to the FBI in July 2001, implying he knew the FBI did not have the information (see July 13, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298, 305, 310 pdf file] In addition, the text of the notifiction states, “We wish to advise you that, during a previously scheduled meeting with our joint source,” bin Attash was identified in a surveillance photo. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 150 pdf file] The cable containing the information is for Rodney Middleton, acting head of the FBI’s bin Laden unit, and also says that, if the FBI thinks it does not have all the photographs it needs of the Malaysia summit, it should ask the CIA for them. Middleton is aware that the FBI is investigating Almihdhar (see August 29, 2001), but there is no record of him or anyone else providing this information to either the agent investigating Almihdhar or the main investigation of the USS Cole bombing, which bin Attash commanded. The information was requested by FBI agent Dina Corsi and was passed through a CIA Counterterrorist Center representative to the FBI, presumably Tom Wilshire. Although one of bin Attash’s aliases was watchlisted one week ago (see August 23, 2001), he is not watchlisted under his real name even at this point, meaning the commander of the USS Cole attack can enter the US under his own name as he pleases. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298, 305, 310 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Tom Wilshire, Rod Middleton, Usama bin Laden Unit (FBI), Nawaf Alhazmi, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Dina Corsi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khallad bin Attash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In an interview, a key 9/11 Commission staffer, Doug MacEachin, reportedly agrees with an important witness, FBI agent Ali Soufan, that the CIA deliberately withheld from the bureau the knowledge that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit and was therefore linked to 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 301-302] However, the Commission’s final report will call the non-passage of this intelligence “an example of how day-to-day gaps in intelligence sharing can emerge even when there is mutual goodwill.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 267] This interview appears to be the second time the Commission talks to Soufan, which is on September 15, 2003. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 507; Soufan, 2011, pp. 297-302] Soufan discusses the case of “Omar,” a joint FBI-CIA source inside al-Qaeda. At an interview of Omar in January 2001 the CIA learned that bin Attash had attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in early 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 4, 2001). However, it then failed to share this with the FBI (see January 5, 2001 and After). Soufan tells the Commission’s staff: “This shows that the CIA knew the significance of Malaysia, Khallad, and Almihdhar but actively went out of their way to withhold the information from us. It’s not a case of just not passing on information. This is information the FBI representative working with the source should have been told about. It was a legal requirement. Instead we were deliberately kept out of the loop.” A staffer responds that the CIA claims it shared the information, and Soufan asks whether the Commission checked the “regular cables” between the field and CIA headquarters. After the staffer says they have, Soufan asks whether the Commission has checked the “operational traffic,” and MacEachin responds, “That must be it.” Other staffers are initially puzzled by McEachin’s comment, but he explains it to them. Soufan will comment: “Operational traffic refers to cables sent during an operation. The officer will list procedures, leaving a record in case something goes wrong or something needs to be referred to. Because these cables are strictly procedural and not related to intelligence, they would not be sent to the FBI. If someone wanted to hide something from the FBI, that’s where he would put it. Because Doug had worked for the CIA, he knew what operational cables were, while other members of the team might not have.” The Commission later finds that the information about bin Attash was in an operational cable. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 301-302] The reason for the discrepancy between MacEachin’s attitude in the interview of Soufan and the Commission’s final report is unknown.

Entity Tags: Doug MacEachin, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11 Commission, Ali Soufan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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