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Context of 'February 22, 2009: Justice Department Investigation Finds OLC Opinions Unacceptably Deficient'

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A group of Abu Sayyaf militants photographed on July 16, 2000.A group of Abu Sayyaf militants photographed on July 16, 2000. [Source: Associated Press]In the book “Dollars for Terror” published this year, investigative journalist Richard Labeviere claims that the Philippine drug trade is worth billions of dollars a year and that Muslim militants connected to al-Qaeda have a role in it. “Admittedly, the Islamists do not control all of these flows, but the Abu Sayyaf group plays a big part. Its mercenaries look after the protection of transport and the shipping of cargoes via jungle airports in the [southern Philippines.] By the same air channels, and also by sea, weapons are delivered for the group’s combat unit. This supply chain is managed by Pakistani intermediaries who are trained directly in the Afghan camps around Peshawar” in Pakistan. He does not give his source for this information. (Labeviere 1999, pp. 365) Perhaps not coincidentally, a Pakistani believed to be connected to the drug trade is suspected of helping to fund the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), which was planned in the Philippines with the help of the Abu Sayyaf (see December 1994-April 1995). Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer, is said to use his network to ship weaponry to the Abu Sayyaf, though details have not been reported. Bout’s network also delivers weapons to the Taliban (see Mid-1996-October 2001). (McNeil 2/27/2002; Abuza 9/1/2005 pdf file) There are many reports on the Abu Sayyaf’s involvement with illegal drugs. For instance, in 2002 a Philippine newspaper will note that the region dominated by Abu Sayyaf has become such a notorious drug center that it is sometimes nicknamed “Little Colombia.” (Sicat 3/13/2002)

A classified Philippine military report claims bin Laden is funding Muslim militants in the Philippines through known charity fronts. Some of the charities include World Alliance of Muslim Youth (WAMY), the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), and the Islamic Wisdom Worldwide Mission (IWWM). WAMY has been under investigation for ties militant groups in a number of countries, including the US (see February-September 11, 1996). The other two organizations are said to be connected to Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law. All the charities are accused of passing money on to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a militant group in the southern Philippines. (New Straits Times 2/15/1999) Between this time and 9/11, the leader of the Abu Sayyaf militant group will say in an interview that “the primary purpose of the IIRO is to help groups like us.” (Vitug 10/22/2001) Also in February 1999, the head of the MILF admits to getting funds from bin Laden, but says they are for humanitarian purposes only (see February 1999). The charities remain open after the report. In 2002, Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, the head of the IWWM, will be arrested and deported. It will come out that he was arrested and then let go in 1995 after being strongly suspected of involvement in the Bojinka plot (see June 1994). He also had protectors in the police and military who are IWWM directors. In 2002, one of them will admit to having helped prevent his deportation (see October 8-November 8, 2002). The US will not officially accuse the IIRO’s Philippine branch of funding al-Qaeda until 2006 (see August 3, 2006).

President Clinton orders the US Air Force to participate in a NATO bombing campaign in Kosovo. The campaign lasts for 79 days, and constitutes the first time since the War Powers Resolution became law in 1974 that any president has deployed US forces into overseas combat for over 60 days without Congressional authorization. Clinton’s legal advisers argue that Clinton has all the authority he needs to continue the air war because on May 22 Congress passes an emergency spending bill to fund the Kosovo war, just days before the 60-day clock runs out. The War Powers Resolution explicitly forbids appropriations to count as authorization, so Clinton’s legal ground is shaky. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will note the unusual role reversal in Washington—Democrats, who had insisted that Republican presidents obey the War Powers Resolution, now stand by Clinton (or at least offer no overt criticism), and Republicans, who had argued that Congress had no right to challenge a president’s authority to conduct a war as he sees fit, now challenge Clinton’s authority under the selfsame War Powers Resolution they have previously criticized. The Congressional debate ends inconclusively when the air campaign ends. (Savage 2007, pp. 65-66)

Nabil al-Marabh will claim in a 2002 statement that in May 1999, the FBI approaches him in Boston, looking for Raed Hijazi. Al-Marabh will say he lied and said he did not know Hijazi, even though he knew him well. Hijazi apparently has not been involved in any violent crime yet, but will participate in a failed attempt to bomb a hotel in Jordan (see November 30, 1999) and will help plan the USS Cole bombing in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). (Fainaru 9/4/2002) In August 1999 FBI agents again visit al-Marabh’s Boston apartment to ask him about another man. Al-Marabh’s wife will later recall that the first name of this man is Ahmed. (Zernike 10/14/2001) He is from Jordan and had lived in their apartment for two months. (Wilgoren and Miller 9/21/2001) Around the same time, the Boston FBI is looking for another associate of al-Marabh’s, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi (see 1997 and 1999). They work at the same taxi company and fought together in Afghanistan.

Sarbarz Mohammed / Sam Malkandi.Sarbarz Mohammed / Sam Malkandi. [Source: Public domain via Seattle Post-Intelligencer]Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash unsuccessfully applies for a US visa in Sana’a, Yemen. His application, which is made under the alias Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, is denied because he fails to submit sufficient documentation in support of it. Three actual hijackers obtain US visas in Saudi Arabia on the same day and shortly after (see April 3-7, 1999). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 492)
Already Known to US Intelligence - Bin Attash is already known to the US intelligence community at this point (see Summer 1999), at least partly because he briefed Mohamed al-Owhali, one of the 1998 African embassy bombers who was captured after the attack, and helped him make a martyrdom video in Pakistan. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/9/1998 pdf file) The US will begin to associate this alias with terrorist activity no later than early 2000, when bin Attash uses it to take a flight with Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, who are under US and allied surveillance at that point (see January 8, 2000). However, the alias will not be watchlisted by the US until August 2001 (see August 23, 2001). Apparently, when the US learns the alias is associated with terrorism there is no check of visa application records, and this application and the fact it was made by an al-Qaeda leader will not be discovered until after 9/11 (see After January 8, 2000, After December 16, 2000, and After August 23, 2001).
US Contact - On the application, bin Attash gives his reason for going to the US as getting a new prosthesis for his missing leg, and he says Bothell, Washington State, is his final destination. Bin Attash’s contact in Bothell is a man named Sarbarz Mohammed. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 155-6, 492) Mohammed contacts a clinic in the area and speaks to bin Attash once on the phone, but bin Attash says the new leg would cost too much and hangs up. Mohammed, who will later change his name to Sam Malkandi, will deny knowing bin Attash was a terrorist and say that he thought he was just helping a friend of a friend. However, he will later admit lying on his green card application and be arrested in 2005. (Skolnik 10/17/2005)

9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi leave Saudi Arabia after obtaining new passports and US visas there (see March 21, 1999, April 4, 1999, April 6, 1999, and April 3-7, 1999). According to the 9/11 Commission, their passports contain an “indicator of extremism” that is “associated with al-Qaeda.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 9, 33 pdf file) According to author James Bamford, the indicator is a “secret coded indicator, placed there by the Saudi government, warning of a possible terrorist affiliation.” (Bamford 2008, pp. 58-59) The Saudi government reportedly uses this indicator to track some of the Saudi hijackers before 9/11 “with precision” (see November 2, 2007). Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi apparently return to Afghanistan to discuss an attack on the US. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 155) Salem Alhazmi’s destination is unknown. He will be reported to be in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and Afghanistan (see Summer 2000) the next year. Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are placed on the Saudi terrorist watch list later this year (see Late 1999).

A photocopy of Hani Hanjour’s 1999 pilot license.A photocopy of Hani Hanjour’s 1999 pilot license. [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)When Hani Hanjour attended flight schools between 1996 and 1998 he was found to be a “weak student” who “was wasting our resources” (see October 1996-December 1997), and when he tried using a flight simulator, “He had only the barest understanding what the instruments were there to do.” (see 1998) Yet, on this day, he is certified as a multi-engine commercial pilot by Daryl Strong in Tempe, Arizona. Strong is one of many private examiners independently contracted with the FAA. A spokesperson for the FAA’s workers union will later complain that contractors like Strong “receive between $200 and $300 for each flight check. If they get a reputation for being tough, they won’t get any business.” Hanjour’s new license allows him to begin passenger jet training at other flight schools, despite having limited flying skills and an extremely poor grasp of English. (Federal Aviation Administration 4/25/2002; Lunney 6/13/2002; Associated Press 6/13/2002) At the next flight school Hanjour will attend in early 2001, the staff will be so appalled at his lack of skills that they will repeatedly contact the FAA and ask them to investigate how he got a pilot’s license (see January-February 2001). After 9/11, the FBI will appear to investigate how Hanjour got his license and question and polygraph the instructor who signed off on his flying skills. The Washington Post will note that, since Hanjour’s pilot skills were so bad, the issue of how he was able to get a license “remains a lingering question that FAA officials refuse to discuss.” (Goldstein, Sun, and Lardner 10/15/2001; CBS News 5/10/2002) After gaining the license, Hanjour apparently returns to the Middle East. He will arrive back in the US in December 2000 (see (Early 2000-November 2000) and December 8, 2000).

Ihab Ali Nawawi.Ihab Ali Nawawi. [Source: FBI]Ihab Ali Nawawi is arrested in Orlando, Florida. He is considered an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa. Nawawi’s family moved from Egypt to the US in the late 1970’s and he graduated from an Orlando high school. He fought in Afghanistan in the 1980’s and helped bin Laden move to Sudan in 1991. Nawawi received a commercial pilot’s license from Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1993. He crashed an airplane owned by bin Laden in 1995 on a runway in Khartoum, Sudan (see Early 1993). He lived in Sudan until 1996 when he moved back to Orlando. Nawawi’s role in al-Qaeda is revealed days after the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa when Ali Mohamed’s residence in California is raided. A letter from Nawawi is discovered asking Mohamed to give his “best regards to your friend Osama”(see August 24, 1998). Nawawi’s connection to the embassy bombings were possibly discovered months earlier, because there were a series of phone calls in 1997 between an Orlando telephone owned by Nawawi’s sister and an al-Qaeda safe house in Nairobi, Kenya. Many telephone numbers connected to that house were being monitored by US intelligence at the time. Given his obvious al-Qaeda ties, it is not clear why agents waited until May 1999 before arresting Nawawi. He is questioned in front of a grand jury, but prosecutors say he is lying and he refuses to talk anymore. FBI agents will visit the Airman Flight School in September 1999 to enquire about his attendance there (see September 1999). He will remain jailed and in September 2000 is finally charged for contempt and perjury. In October 2001, the St. Petersburg Times will report, “There are signs that Ali’s resolve might now be weakening. Court records indicate that Ali’s lawyers seemed to reach an understanding with the government in March [2001]. Since that time, all documents in the case have been filed under seal.” (Murphy 10/28/2001) In May 2002, three full years after his arrest, the New York Times will report that “Nawawi remains in federal custody even now, although he has not been charged with conspiring in the embassy bombing.” (Shenon 5/18/2002) As of the end of 2005, there appears to be no further news on what has happened to Nawawi, and no sign of any trial. When Nawawi is arrested, he is working as a taxi driver. At this time Al-Qaeda operative Nabil al-Marabh is working as a taxi driver about 80 miles away in Tampa, Florida, and while the similarity is intriguing, there is no known reported connection between the two men (see February 1999-February 2000). (Murphy 10/28/2001)

It has been widely assumed in media reports that US intelligence did not connect al-Qaeda leader Hambali to the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995) before 9/11. However, the 9/11 Commission will mention in a footnote, “Hambali also was one of the founders of Konsonjaya, a Malaysian company run by close associate of Wali Khan [Amin Shah]. FBI report, Manila air investigation, May 23, 1999.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 489) The Christian Science Monitor will later note, “Konsonjaya was not just supplying money. It also coordinating the Bojinka plotters” (see June 1994). (Murphy 2/14/2002) In the spring of 1995, Philippine Colonel Rodolfo Mendoza gave the US a chart he made of the Bojinka plotters, and Konsonjaya was centrally featured in it (see Spring 1995). He later said, “It was sort of their nerve center.” (Murphy 2/14/2002) Shortly after Ramzi Yousef’s Manila apartment was broken into, documents found there connected Konsonjaya with the “Ladin International” company in Sudan, an obvious bin Laden front. An FBI memo at the time noted the connection. (Lance 2003, pp. 303) Hambali’s photograph was also found on Yousef’s computer. (Pereira 2/2/2002) In 1996, the company’s records were introduced as evidence in a public trial of some Bojinka plotters, and in 1998, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was nearly caught in Brazil while using Konsonjaya as his business cover (see June 1998). So it’s not clear why it took the FBI four years to learn about Hambali, but that still means they were aware of who he was prior to the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia attended by Hambali and two 9/11 hijackers (see January 5-8, 2000). But apparently the connection will not be made.

Michael Scheuer.
Michael Scheuer. [Source: Publicity photo]CIA Director George Tenet removes Michael Scheuer as head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Scheuer had headed the unit since its inception in 1996 (see February 1996), and was known as a strong advocate for more government action against bin Laden. The full name of the new head of the unit has not been released and little is known about his performance. (Zeman et al. 11/2004) Deputy Director of Operations Jack Downing tells Scheuer he is being fired because he is “mentally burned out” and because of a recent disagreement with the FBI over whether the deputy chief of Alex Station, who was detailed to the CIA from the FBI, could release information to the FBI without Scheuer’s approval. Downing tells Scheuer he was in the right, but that the criticism of his subordinate “should not have been put on paper”, and the FBI’s management is angry with him. Downing says he will get a medal and a monetary award, but should tell his subordinates he has resigned. Scheuer refuses to lie to his officers, signs a memo saying he will not accept a monetary award, and tells Downing “where he should store the medal.” (Scheuer 2005, pp. 263-4; Wright 2006, pp. 313) According to author Steve Coll, Scheuer’s CIA colleagues “could not be sure exactly [why Scheuer left] but among at least a few of them a believe settled in that [he] had been exiled, in effect, for becoming too passionate about the bin Laden threat…” In particular, he was angry about two recent missed opportunities (see 1997-May 29, 1998 and February 11, 1999) to assassinate bin Laden. (Coll 2004, pp. 449-450) Scheuer will write in 2004 that, “On moving to a new position, I forwarded a long memorandum to the Agency’s senior-most officers—some are still serving—describing an array of fixable problems that were plaguing America’s attack on bin Laden, ones that the bin Laden unit had encountered but failed to remedy between and among [US intelligence agencies]… The problems outlined in the memorandum stood in the way of attacking bin Laden to the most effective extent possible; many remain today.” Problems include poor cooperation between agencies and a lack of experienced staff working on the bin Laden issue. Scheuer never receives a response to his memo. (Atlantic Monthly 12/2004)

CIA Director George Tenet tells a closed session of Congress, “We have seen numerous reports that bin Laden and his associates are planning terrorist attacks against US officials and facilities in a variety of locations, including in the US.” (Coll 2004, pp. 454) However, six months later and after a well-publicized attempted al-Qaeda attack on the Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999), he will not mention in an open session that bin Laden has the capability to stage attacks inside the US (see February 2, 2000).

A large group of Islamic Jihad operatives are sentenced in Cairo in what becomes known as the “Trial of the Albanian Returnees.” Various disclosures are made at the trial about the way Islamic Jihad operated and how it provided support to al-Qaeda by forging travel documents, transferring money, and arranging communications. One of the revelations is that al-Qaeda has a key communication hub in Yemen. Despite this revelation (see Late 1998-Early 2002), al-Qaeda will continue to use it through 2001 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). The defendants were arrested not only in Egypt, but also in Albania, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, and the United Arab Emirates. In 1995, the CIA arranged a deal with Egypt to capture Islamic Jihad operatives around the world and send them to Egypt to be tortured and prosecuted (see Summer 1995). Eighty-seven of the defendants are convicted and ten are sentenced to death, including al-Zawahiri, who is tried in absentia. (Sachs 11/21/2001) One of the convicted is Khaled Abu el-Dahab, who was operating a sleeper cell in California with double agent Ali Mohamed throughout the 1990’s (see 1987-1998). El-Dahab is sentenced to fifteen years in prison (see September 10, 1998). There are credible reports that many of the defendants confessed after being tortured in Egypt and Albania. (Sachs 11/21/2001; Wright 2006, pp. 269) The trial nearly eradicates the remnants of Islamic Jihad in Egypt and, according to some of the defendants, leaves only about forty members outside of Egypt. Al-Zawahiri and the other remaining members end up allying even closer to al-Qaeda. The two organizations will formally merge in early 2001 (see June 2001). (Wright 2006, pp. 336)

In 2008, the website Intelwire.com will obtain a declassified FBI document from this date. The content is heavily redacted, including the title, but the full title appears to be, “Summary of information obtained from the United Arab Emirates with regard to Manila Air fugitive Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.” The document appears to detail a briefing by United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials from the General Department of State Security to FBI officials visiting the UAE. It mentions that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) “who was reported to be in _____ during mid-1998, is still currently living in Sharjah, UAE, with his family.” The report also mentions that “in July 1998, authorities from ______ based on information probably obtained from Qatar, located KSM living and working in ____. After questioning him about his activities with the [Muslim Brotherhood], he was deported to Bahrain.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 7/8/1999 pdf file) The 9/11 Commission will later mention this document a single time, and reveal that one of the redacted sections discusses KSM’s links to the Abu Sayyaf militant group in the Philippines. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 488) Sharjah is a major hub of al-Qaeda activity at this time (see Mid-1996-October 2001), and one of the 9/11 hijackers, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, is from the emirate of Sharjah (see 1980s and 1990s). 9/11 plot facilitator Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi will be based in Sharjah in the months before the 9/11 attacks, and some of the 9/11 hijackers will pass through there and visit him (see Early-Late June, 2001). It is not known what action US intelligence takes in response to this briefing.

President Clinton signs the National Missile Defense Act of 1999 (NMDA), which states in its entirety, “It is the policy of the United States to deploy as soon as is technologically possible an effective National Missile Defense system capable of defending the territory of the United States against limited ballistic missile attack (whether accidental, unauthorized, or deliberate).” The NMDA mandates that the US will deploy some sort of missile defense system (see March 23, 1983 and January 29, 1991), but Clinton will refuse to order the system’s deployment in 2000, in part because it has failed its tests and in part because to deploy the system would require the US to withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see May 26, 1972), a move Clinton is unwilling to make. Clinton will acknowledge that the US makes its own national security decision, but will add, “We can never afford to overlook the fact that the actions and reactions of others in this increasingly interdependent world do bear on our security.” (US Senate 7/22/1999; White House 7/22/1999; Scoblic 2008, pp. 173-174)

The CIA drafts a new plan to combat al-Qaeda. The document, entitled “The Plan,” has several elements:
bullet Continue with the CIA’s rendition program, which had begun some time previously (see Summer 1995);
bullet Continue with disruption operations against al-Qaeda;
bullet Hire and train better officers with counterterrorism skills;
bullet Recruit more assets and try to penetrate al-Qaeda’s ranks;
bullet Close gaps in the collection of signals and imagery intelligence;
bullet Increase contacts with the Northern Alliance (see Summer 1999). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 142)

A CIA officer whose first name is “Albert” drafts a series of incorrect cables about a plan by Islamist militants to carry out attacks in Jordan around the millennium (see December 15-31, 1999). One cable alleges that the group of terrorists, some of whom are al-Qaeda operatives, is backed by Iran. Ali Soufan, an FBI agent working against the plotters in Jordan, sends a series of parallel cables back to Washington, and his and Albert’s superiors notice the discrepancies. An investigation into who is correct ensues, and Soufan is proved right. In all, 12 cables drafted by Albert have to be withdrawn. Soufan will say that Albert’s problem was that he had a “tendency to jump to conclusions without facts.” The link to Iran was because some of the plotters had trained in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, an area controlled by Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran. (Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file; Soufan 2011, pp. 138-139) After 9/11, Albert will be involved in the rendition of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi to Egypt, where he falsely confesses to a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq (see January 2002 and After).

The government of Yemen says that it has executed Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the al-Qaeda affiliate group the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), for his part in a kidnapping and murder plot (see December 28-29, 1998). However, the execution is not public and his body is not returned to his family. This leads Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading supporter of the IAA, to speculate that Almihdhar is still alive in prison. Yemeni journalist Bashraheel Bashraheel will also comment: “The execution would have sparked a civil war.… The tribal leaders know [Almihdhar] is still alive and have been bribed to persuade their followers not to rebel.” (Quin 2005, pp. 126, 157-8, 187) It will later be suggested that Almihdhar is a distant relative of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. (Risen and Bonner 12/7/2001)

Two Saudis, Hamdan al Shalawi and Mohammed al-Qudhaeein, are detained for trying twice to get into the cockpit on a passenger airplane flying from Phoenix, Arizona, to Washington, D.C. They claim they thought the cockpit was the bathroom, and sue the FBI for racism. After 9/11, the FBI will consider the possibility that this was a “dry run” for the 9/11 attacks, but apparently does not come to a definite conclusion. In late 1999, it is discovered that the two were traveling to Washington to attend a party at the Saudi embassy and their ticket had been paid by the Saudi government. Apparently influenced by their government ties, the FBI decides not to prosecute or investigate the men. Al-Qudhaeein leaves the US. In 2000, intelligence information will be received indicating al-Qudhaeein had received explosives and car bomb training in Afghanistan. As a result, his name is added to a no-fly watch list. In April 2000, FBI agent Ken Williams is investigating Zacaria Soubra, a suspected radical militant attending a flight school in Phoenix, and discovers that the car Soubra is driving is actually owned by al-Qudhaeein. Soubra is friends with al Shalawi and al-Qudhaeein. This and other evidence will influence Williams to write his later-famous July 2001 memo warning about potential terrorists training in Arizona flight schools (see July 10, 2001). In August 2001, al-Qudhaeein applies for a visa to reenter the US, but is denied entry. It has not been revealed why al-Qudhaeein wanted to reenter the US, or if Williams or anyone else in US intelligence knew about his attempted reentry, or if anyone took action as a result of it. (Graham and Nussbaum 2004, pp. 43-44; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 521; Sherman 11/2004) Al Shalawi, the other Saudi involved in the cockpit incident, also has a radical militant background. In November 2000, US intelligence discovers he is training in a camp in Afghanistan, learning how to conduct a car bomb attack. One of his friends in Arizona is Ghassan al Sharbi, an al-Qaeda operative who will be captured in Pakistan with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. Al Sharbi is one of the targets of Williams’ July 2001 memo. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 521)

Abu Bara al-Taizi.Abu Bara al-Taizi. [Source: Defense Department]A group of al-Qaeda operatives receives advanced training at the Mes Aynak camp in Afghanistan. The large group includes 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see November/December 1999), al-Qaeda commander Khallad bin Attash, would-be 9/11 hijacker Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said), USS Cole bomber Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras), an operative who leads a series of suicide bombings in Riyadh in 2003, and another who is involved against the 2002 attack against a ship called the Limburg (see October 6, 2002). According to statements by detainees, the course focuses on physical fitness, firearms, close quarters combat, shooting from a motorcycle, and night operations. Osama bin Laden and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) apparently visit the camp during the course. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 157; Office of the Director of National Intelligence 9/6/2006, pp. 12 pdf file) Candidate hijacker Abderraouf Jdey, a Canadian passport holder, may also be present at this training course. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 527) Also, in early December, KSM gives special hijacking training to Alhazmi, bin Attash, and al-Taizi (see Early December 1999).

On December 5, 1999, a Jordanian raid discovers 71 vats of bomb making chemicals in this residence.On December 5, 1999, a Jordanian raid discovers 71 vats of bomb making chemicals in this residence. [Source: Judith Miller]Jordanian officials successfully uncover an al-Qaeda plot to blow up the Radisson Hotel in Amman, Jordan, and other sites on January 1, 2000. (PBS Frontline 10/3/2002) The Jordanian government intercepts a call between al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida and a suspected Jordanian terrorist named Abu Hoshar. Zubaida says, “The training is over.” (Miller 1/15/2001) Zubaida also says, “The grooms are ready for the big wedding.” (Bernton et al. 6/23/2002) This call reflects an extremely poor code system, because the FBI had already determined in the wake of the 1998 US embassy bombings that “wedding” was the al-Qaeda code word for bomb. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 214) Furthermore, it appears al-Qaeda fails to later change the system, because the code-name for the 9/11 attack is also “The Big Wedding.” (Crewdson and Simpson 9/5/2002) Jordan arrests Hoshar while he’s still on the phone talking to Zubaida. In the next few days, 27 other suspects are charged. A Jordanian military court will initially convict 22 of them for participating in planned attacks, sentencing six of them to death, although there will be numerous appeals (see April 2000 and After). In addition to bombing the Radisson Hotel around the start of the millennium, the plan calls for suicide bombings on two border crossings with Israel and a Christian baptism site. Further attacks in Jordan are planned for later. The plotters had already stockpiled the equivalent of 16 tons of TNT, enough to flatten “entire neighborhoods.” (Miller 1/15/2001) Key alleged plotters include:
bullet Raed Hijazi, a US citizen who is part of a Boston al-Qaeda cell (see June 1995-Early 1999). He will be arrested and convicted in late 2000 (see September 2000 and October 2000). (Miller 1/15/2001)
bullet Khalid Deek, who is also a US citizen and part of an Anaheim, California al-Qaeda cell. He will be arrested in Pakistan and deported to Jordan, but strangely he will released without going to trial.
bullet Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He will later be a notorious figure in the Iraq war starting in 2003. (Whitlock 10/3/2004)
bullet Luai Sakra. The Washington Post will later say he “played a role” in the plot, though he is never charged for it. Sakra apparently is a CIA informant before 9/11, perhaps starting in 2000 (see 2000). (Vick 2/20/2006)
The Jordanian government will also later claim that the Al Taqwa Bank in Switzerland helped finance the network of operatives who planned the attack. The bank will be shut down shortly after 9/11 (see November 7, 2001). (Isikoff and Hosenball 4/12/2004)

Ahmed Ressam.Ahmed Ressam. [Source: Public domain]The CIA learns from the Jordanian government about an al-Qaeda millennium bombing plot in that country (see November 30, 1999). Further, the CIA concludes more attacks are likely soon, including some inside the US (see December 8, 1999). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told of this, and he implements a plan to neutralize the threat. (Clarke 2004, pp. 205, 211) The plan, approved by President Clinton, focuses on harassing and disrupting al-Qaeda members throughout the world. The FBI is put on heightened alert, counterterrorism teams are dispatched overseas, a formal ultimatum is given to the Taliban to keep al-Qaeda under control, and friendly intelligence agencies are asked to help. There are Cabinet-level meetings nearly every day dealing with terrorism (Dobbs 4/2/2000; Bridis 6/28/2002) All US embassies, military bases, police departments, and other agencies are given a warning to be on the lookout for signs of an al-Qaeda millennium attack. One alert border agent responds by arresting terrorist Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), which leads to the unraveling of several bombing plots (see December 15-31, 1999). No terror attacks occur. However, Clarke claims the FBI generally remains unhelpful. For example, around this time the FBI says there are no websites in the US soliciting volunteers for training in Afghanistan or money for terrorist front groups. Clarke has a private citizen check to see if this is true, and within days, he is given a long list of such websites. The FBI and Justice Department apparently fail to do anything with the information. (Wingert 3/31/2004)

The CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center concludes in a classified report that bin Laden wants to inflict maximum casualties, cause massive panic, and score a psychological victory. He may be seeking to attack between five and 15 targets on the Millennium. “Because the US is bin Laden’s ultimate goal… we must assume that several of these targets will be in the US.” (Elliott 8/12/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003) CIA Director George Tenet delivers this warning to President Clinton. Author Steve Coll later comments that Tenet also “grabbed the National Security Council’s attention with that prediction.” (Coll 2004, pp. 482) The US takes action in a variety of ways (see Early December 1999). It will turn out that bin Laden did plan many attacks to be timed for the millennium celebrations, including ones inside the US, but all failed (see December 31, 1999-January 1, 2000).

Khalil Deek.Khalil Deek. [Source: Tawfiq Deek]Khalil Deek is arrested by police in Peshawar, Pakistan, and immediately extradited to Jordan. The Jordanian government requested the arrest after tying Deek to a millennium plot to blow up hotels in Jordan that had been broken up a few days ago (see November 30, 1999). (Schou 6/15/2006) Deek is a naturalized US citizen who has been part of a California al-Qaeda sleeper cell for most of the 1990s. He had been investigated by US authorities since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s, March 1993-1996, and December 14-25, 1999) but was never arrested. Deek’s computer is confiscated when he is arrested, and computer files reveal the targets of the Jordanian plot. (Cooley 2002, pp. 33) According to contemporary press accounts, Deek, who was running a computer repair shop in Peshawar, Pakistan, had helped encrypt al-Qaeda’s Internet communications and smuggled recruits to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Some reports identify him as a former mujaheddin fighter, a US Army veteran, and a close associate of Osama bin Laden. Articles also claim he worked closely with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida on the Jordanian plot and other things (see May 2000, Late 1980s, and 1998-December 11, 1999). (Schou 6/15/2006) CNN says Deek “is believed to be the mastermind” of the Jordanian plot. (CNN 12/17/1999) But, unlike the rest of the defendants in the Jordanian case, Deek is transferred from a maximum-security prison to a minimum-security one. He alone is not charged. He will be released in May 2001 (see May 2001). (Schou 6/15/2006) It will later be alleged that Deek was a Jordanian intelligence mole (see Shortly After December 11, 1999).

Diana Dean.Diana Dean. [Source: Seattle Times]Al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam is arrested in Port Angeles, Washington, attempting to enter the US with components of explosive devices. One hundred and thirty pounds of bomb-making chemicals and detonator components are found inside his rental car. He subsequently admits he planned to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on December 31, 1999. (Miller, Gerth, and van Natta 12/30/2001) Alert border patrol agent Diana Dean stops him; she and other agents nationwide had been warned recently to look for suspicious activity. Ressam’s bombing would have been part of a wave of attacks against US targets over the New Year’s weekend (see December 15-31, 1999). He is later connected to al-Qaeda and convicted. (US Congress 9/18/2002; Gilmore and Wiser 10/3/2002)

From left to right: Mokhtar Haouari, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, Abdel Ghani Meskini. The picture of Meskini is from an ATM camera.From left to right: Mokhtar Haouari, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, Abdel Ghani Meskini. The picture of Meskini is from an ATM camera. [Source: Public domain, public domain, and Seattle Times]In the wake of the arrest of Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), FBI investigators work frantically to uncover more millennium plots before the end of the year. US authorities also make a number of arrests.
bullet A telephone number found in Ressam’s pocket leads to Abdel Ghani Meskini, an Algerian living in New York City who had gone to Seattle to meet Ressam. Meskini is monitored and arrested in New York on December 30.
bullet One of Ressam’s credit cards leads to the arrest of Mokhtar Haouari, an Algerian living in Montreal, Canada. Meskini later cooperates with US investigators and is never charged, while Haouari will be sentenced to 24 years in prison. (Calabresi 2/7/2000; Hirschkorn and Feyerick 1/16/2002; Wright 2006, pp. 298)
bullet Another Algerian associate of Ressam’s, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, escapes to Afghanistan, but will eventually be caught by the Algerian government and convicted in Algeria. (PBS Frontline 10/25/2001)
bullet Investigators believe that Mohamedou Ould Slahi, an al-Qaeda operative whose cousin is a top al-Qaeda leader, went to Canada to give the go-ahead for Ressam’s attack. Slahi is arrested several times overseas, but never charged (see January-April 2000). (CNN 3/6/2002)
bullet Khalid Deek, a US citizen, is arrested around this time for masterminding another al-Qaeda millennnium plot (see December 11, 1999). But counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later say Deek was a suspected mastermind of Ressam’s Los Angeles airport plot, too. (Campbell and Brown 9/12/2005) Deek’s name and phone number is found in Ressam’s telephone book. Ressam knew Deek from bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan. Both of them, like most of Ressam’s group, have links to the GIA, an Algerian militant group associated with al-Qaeda. (Newsweek (International) 3/13/2000)
Others escape the US after hearing media reports of Ressam’s arrest. However, enough people are caught to stop additional millennium attacks. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says, “I think a lot of the FBI leadership for the first time realized that… there probably were al-Qaeda people in the United States. They realized that only after they looked at the results of the investigation of the millennium bombing plot.” (Gilmore and Wiser 10/3/2002) Yet Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger later claims that the FBI will still repeatedly assure the Clinton White House until Clinton leaves office that al-Qaeda lacks the ability to launch a domestic strike (see 2000).

Some attendees of the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), arrive early. Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had lost a leg while fighting in Afghanistan in 1997. In early December 1999, he was in Afghanistan with Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said) and others, attending a hijacking training course (see Late 1999 and Early December 1999). Bin Attash and al-Taizi have been selected by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to be hijackers for a planned Asian portion of the 9/11 plot (which will later be cancelled).
Surgery for Bin Attash's Leg - Bin Attash goes early to an al-Qaeda summit where hijacking plans will be discussed, in order to have prosthetic surgery for his leg. Al-Taizi goes with him. Malaysian security is said to be lax for Islamist militants, and Malaysia does not require a visa for citizens of many Middle Eastern countries. There is a clinic in Kuala Lumpur called Endolite, and other wounded militants have said they successfully concealed the origins of their combat wounds when receiving treatment there. Bin Attash got a prosthetic leg in Malaysia not long after losing his leg in 1997, but he is coming back to get a better one. He apparently gets the money for the prosthesis from his father, Osama bin Laden, and another al-Qaeda figure.
Link with Hambali - When bin Attash and al-Taizi arrive in Kuala Lumpur, they contact Hambali, the top al-Qaeda leader in Southeast Asia. Hambali picks them up at the airport and takes them to his home. Then he takes them to the Endolite clinic. Bin Attash and al-Taizi stay at or near the clinic for about 10 to 14 days. Bin Attash then takes about four flights in Southeast Asia to learn about security for the hijacking plan (see December 31, 1999-January 2, 2000), while al-Taizi apparently stays in Kuala Lumpur. According to Hambali’s later Guantanamo prison file, bin Attash and al-Taizi also investigate the security of US aircraft carriers in the region.
Others Arrive - On January 3, with bin Attash back from his flights, the two of them move to Yazid Sufaat’s condominium where the al-Qaeda summit will be held. Future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi arrives there the next day. 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar arrives the day after that, and other attendees are arriving as well, allowing the summit to begin (see January 5-8, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 158-159; US Department of Defense 12/6/2006; US Department of Defense 10/25/2008; US Department of Defense 10/30/2008) Note that this information is based on prisoner interrogations, which can be highly unreliable. However, it should be noted that the accounts of bin Attash, Hambali, and al-Taizi appear to largely match.

The FBI misses a chance to learn about Zacarias Moussaoui after a raid in Dublin, Ireland. On December 14, 1999, Ahmed Ressam was arrested trying to smuggle explosives into the US (see December 14, 1999). On December 21, Irish police arrest Hamid Aich and several other North African immigrants living in Dublin. (Rashbaum 1/22/2000) During the arrests, police seize a large amount of documents relating to citizenship applications, identities, credit cards, and airplane tickets. A diagram of an electrical switch that could be used for a bomb is found that is identical to a diagram found in Ressam’s apartment in Vancouver, Canada. (Cusack 7/31/2002) The suspects are released about a day later, but, “Within days, authorities in Ireland and the United States began to realize that they might have missed a chance to learn more about a terrorist network.” (Rashbaum 1/22/2000) It is discovered that Aich lived with Ressam in Montreal, and then later lived with him in Vancouver. Investigators conclude there has been an al-Qaeda cell in Dublin since the early 1990s, when the charity Mercy International opened an office there (this charity has several known al-Qaeda connections by this time (see 1988-Spring 1995 and Late 1996-August 20, 1998) and also an alleged CIA connection (see 1989 and After)). The cell is mainly involved in providing travel and identity documents for other cells committing violent acts. Investigators also connect Aich to the Islamic Jihad. But the US and Canada do not seek Aich’s extradition, and instead have the Irish police keep him under surveillance. He will escape from Ireland shortly before 9/11 (see June 3, 2001-July 24, 2001). (Rashbaum 1/22/2000; Cusack 7/31/2002) Apparently, many of the documents seized in the raid will only be closely examined after 9/11. Documents will show that in 1999 and 2000, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a top al-Qaeda financier, worked with the Dublin cell to finance Moussaoui’s international travel. Aich made travel arrangements and possibly provided fake identification for Moussaoui. (Cameron 7/30/2002; Cusack 7/31/2002) Presumably, had these links been discovered after the 1999 raid instead of after 9/11, events could have gone very differently when Moussaoui was arrested in the US in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001).

Hijackers threaten the Indian Airlines plane, under Taliban supervision.Hijackers threaten the Indian Airlines plane, under Taliban supervision. [Source: Agence France-Presse/ Getty Images]Indian Airlines Flight 814 is hijacked and flown to Afghanistan where 155 passengers are held hostage for eight days. They are freed in return for the release of three militants held in Indian prisons. One of the hostages is killed. One of the men freed in the exchange is Saeed Sheikh, who will later allegedly wire money to the 9/11 hijackers (see Early August 2001). (BBC 12/31/1999) Another freed militant is Maulana Masood Azhar. Azhar emerges in Pakistan a few days later, and tells a crowd of 10,000, “I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed America and India.” (Hussain 1/5/2000) He then tours Pakistan for weeks under the protection of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. (Anson 8/2002) The ISI and Saeed help Azhar form a new Islamic militant group called Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Azhar is soon plotting attacks again. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 3/3/2002; McCarthy 7/16/2002; Lancaster and Khan 2/8/2003) The hijacking plot is blamed on Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (also known as Harkat ul-Ansar), a Pakistani militant group originally formed and developed in large part due to Pervez Musharraf in the early 1990s, and led by Azhar and Sheikh before their arrests in India (see Early 1993). Musharraf has just taken power in Pakistan in a coup two months earlier (see October 12, 1999). The Indian government publicly blames the ISI for backing the hijacking. Such claims are not surprising given the longstanding animosity between Pakistan and India; however, US officials also privately say the ISI backed the hijacking and may even have helped carry it out. The US and Britain demand that Pakistan ban Harkat ul-Mujahedeen and other similar groups, but Pakistan takes no action. (Rashid 2008, pp. 48) The five hijackers, all Pakistanis and members of Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, are released and return to Pakistan. They are never arrested. One of them will later be revealed to be Amjad Farooqi, a leader of both al-Qaeda and Pakistani militant groups who will be killed in mysterious circumstances in 2004 (see September 27, 2004). India is furious with the US for refusing to condemn Pakistan or pressure it to take action against the hijackers. According to some sources, al-Qaeda planned the hijacking in conjunction with Harkat ul-Mujahedeen. (Khan 9/27/2004; Rashid 2008, pp. 112-113) In 2001, the flight’s captain, Devi Sharan, will say that the hijackers of his plane used techniques similar to the 9/11 hijackers, suggesting a common modus operandi. The hijackers praised Osama bin Laden, had knives and slit the throat of a passenger, herded the passengers to the back of the plane where some of them used cell phones to call relatives, and one hijacker said he had trained on a simulator. (CNN 9/26/2001)

The NSA, monitoring a telephone in an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002), has listened in on phone calls revealing that hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi are to attend an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 (see Shortly Before December 29, 1999). Almihdhar’s full name was mentioned, as well as the first names of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi. On this day, the NSA shares this information with the CIA’s Alec Station bin Laden unit. Other US intelligence agencies, including FBI headquarters and the FBI’s New York field office, are told as well. Although Khalid Almihdhar’s full name was mentioned in one call, the NSA only passes on his first name. Also, the NSA has already learned from monitoring the Yemen hub that Nawaf’s last name is Alhazmi and that he is long-time friends with Almihdhar (see Early 1999). However, they either don’t look this up in their records or don’t pass it on to any other agency. (9/11 Commission 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 239 pdf file; Wright 2006, pp. 310) An NSA analyst makes a comment that is shared between US intelligence agencies, “Salem may be Nawaf’s younger brother.” This turns out to be correct. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file) A CIA officer will later tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that information from the Africa embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) was reviewed in late 1999 during a worldwide effort to disrupt millennium attack plots (see December 15-31, 1999) and “a kind of tuning fork… buzzed when two [of the hijackers] reportedly planning a trip to [Malaysia] were linked indirectly to what appeared to be a support element… involved with the Africa bombers.” (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file) The fact that they are connected to the Yemen communication hub already indicates some importance within al-Qaeda. It is learned they are connected to the embassy bombings in some way (see October 4, 2001 and Late 1999). (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file) The NSA report about them on this day is entitled, “Activities of Bin Laden Associates,” showing the clear knowledge of their ties to bin Laden. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 502; Zeman et al. 11/2004) The CIA will track Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to the Malaysia summit (see January 2-5, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000).

Earlier in December, the CIA estimated that al-Qaeda would launch between five and 15 attacks against American targets around the world over the New Year’s weekend, and that several targets would likely be inside the US (see December 8, 1999). Since late 1999, there has been intelligence that targets in Washington and New York would be attacked at this time. (US Congress 9/18/2002) There in fact are a number of planned attacks, including bomb attacks on the Boston and Los Angeles airports (see December 14, 1999 and December 15-31, 1999), a hotel in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), and a naval ship in Yemen (see January 3, 2000). However, all of the attacks are foiled, thanks to alerts and luck. (Gellman 1/20/2002)

In the wake of disrupting Ahmed Ressam’s millennium bomb plot at the end of 1999 and arresting his cohorts (see December 14, 1999) (see December 15-31, 1999), US intelligence remains concerned that al-Qaeda sleeper cells remain in the US (see March 10, 2000). However, Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger later claims that the FBI still repeatedly assures the Clinton White House that al-Qaeda lacks the ability to launch a domestic strike. (Risen 9/22/2002) He says, “Until the very end of our time in office, the view we received from the [FBI] was that al-Qaeda had limited capacity to operate in the US and any presence here was under surveillance.” No analysis is done before 9/11 to investigate just how big that presence might be. (Priest and Eggen 9/20/2002)

US intelligence is aware from monitored phone calls that Nawaf Alhazmi is travelling to an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Alhazmi is known to be in Karachi, Pakistan, with a ticket to Malaysia for January 2, 2000. CIA and Pakistani officials plan to have his passport scrutinized as he passes through the airport, but he changes his ticket departure date twice. Officials get confused and are not there when he leaves the country, so they still don’t learn his last name. (Laabs 8/13/2003) The 9/11 Commission later notes that “officials could have worked on logical flight itineraries and perhaps realized that Nawaf could and probably did keep to his original plan.” But not only is this not done at the time, apparently the flight manifests are not checked after the fact to see in anyone with the name Nawaf had boarded. (9/11 Commission 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file) Even after being monitored for several days in Malaysia, US intelligence supposedly still will not learn his last name (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After).

The USS The Sullivans.The USS The Sullivans. [Source: US Navy]An al-Qaeda attack on USS The Sullivans in Yemen’s Aden harbor fails when their boat filled with explosives sinks. This is one of a series of failed al-Qaeda attacks planned to take place around the turn of the millennium (see December 31, 1999-January 1, 2000). But the attack remains undiscovered, and a duplication of the attack by the same people will successfully hit the USS Cole in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). (PBS Frontline 10/3/2002) The US will first learn of the planned The Sullivans attack when interrogating a suspect in the Cole bombing in early November 2000. (Myers 11/10/200)

According to the 2008 Guantanamo file of al-Qaeda leader Hambali, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) spends a week with 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in the condominium where the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit is held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Hambali’s file states that “KU-10024 [KSM’s identification number at Guantanamo] spent a week at an apartment [Hambali] arranged for him the Song Gai Long district of Kuala Lumpur, MY. At this apartment, KU-10024 stayed with 11 September hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdar.” (US Department of Defense 10/30/2008) Hambali’s file does not state when this occurs, but by far the most likely time is during the al-Qaeda summit in January 2000, since this is the only time Alhazmi is known to stay in Malaysia, and the only other times Almihdhar is known to visit Malaysia (see October 2000 and June 2001), Alhazmi is living in the US, since he never leaves the US from when he arrives in mid-January 2000 until 9/11 (see January 15, 2000). Furthermore, the summit meetings are held in Yazid Sufaat’s condominium, which is in a golf course-centered complex on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur called Bandar Sungai Long - Hambali’s mention of “Song Gai Long” is obviously a reference to this. (Flood 9/11/2010) After 9/11, there will be some controversy as to whether KSM attended the Malaysian summit or not (see January 5-8, 2000), but Hambali’s account suggests KSM was staying at the condominium all four days of the summit, and a few more days as well. The 9/11 Commission will not mention KSM staying at Sufaat’s condominium, but they will mention that Alhazmi, Almihdhar, al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, and al-Qaeda operative Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said) stay there during the summit. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 159)

Attendees of the Malaysian summit. Top row, from left: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Middle row, from left: Khallad bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hambali. Bottom row, from left: Yazid Sufaat, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abu Bara al-Taizi. Attendees of the Malaysian summit. Top row, from left: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Middle row, from left: Khallad bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hambali. Bottom row, from left: Yazid Sufaat, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abu Bara al-Taizi. [Source: FBI]About a dozen of Osama bin Laden’s trusted followers hold a secret, “top-level al-Qaeda summit” in the city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Ressa 8/30/2002; Eckert 9/27/2002) According to an unnamed senior CIA official, before the summit started, the CIA learned that “11 young guys” were going to attend, and “young guys” is slang for operatives traveling. (Bamford 2008, pp. 18) Plans for the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the 9/11 attacks are discussed. (Kelley 2/12/2002; Ressa 8/30/2002) At the request of the CIA, the Malaysian Secret Service monitors the summit and then passes the information on to the US (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). Attendees of the summit are said to include:
Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar - The CIA and FBI will later miss many opportunities to foil the 9/11 plot through Alhazmi and Almihdhar and the knowledge of their presence at this summit. The CIA already knows many details about these two by the time the summit begins (see January 2-4, 2000), and tracked Almihdhar as he traveled to it (see January 2-5, 2000).
Yazid Sufaat - Sufaat is a Malaysian who owns the condominium where the summit is held. He is also a trained biologist and is said to be a leading figure in al-Qaeda’s attempts to get a biological or chemical weapon. (Shenon and Johnston 1/31/2002; Isikoff and Klaidman 6/2/2002) Malaysian officials also recognize Sufaat from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). (Pereira 2/10/2002) A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through Sufaat’s presence at this summit will later be missed in September 2000 (see September-October 2000). Sufaat will travel to Afghanistan in June 2001 and be arrested by Malaysian authorities when he returns to Malaysia in late 2001 (see December 19, 2001). (Abuza 12/24/2002) He will be released in 2008 (see December 4, 2008).
Hambali - An Indonesian militant known as Hambali, or Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin (BBC 8/15/2003) , was heavily involved in the Bojinka plot, an early version of the 9/11 plot (see January 6, 1995 and June 1994). (Ressa 3/14/2002; Ressa 8/30/2002) The FBI was aware of who he was and his connections to the Bojinka plot at least by 1999 and identified a photograph of him by that time (see May 23, 1999). He will be arrested by Thai authorities in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003). (CNN 8/14/2003; CBS News 8/15/2003) Malaysian officials recognize Hambali from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident. But the US does not tell them of his Bojinka connections, so they will not know to arrest him after the summit is over (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). (Pereira 2/10/2002)
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - Mohammed is sometimes referred to as “KSM,” an al-Qaeda leader and the alleged “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks. The US has known KSM is an Islamic militant since the exposure of Operation Bojinka in January 1995 (see January 6, 1995), and knows what he looks like. US officials will state that they only realized the summit was important in 2001, but the presence of KSM should have proved its importance. (Fineman and Drogin 2/2/2002) Although the possible presence of KSM at this summit will be disputed by US officials, one counterterrorism expert will testify before the 9/11 Commission in 2003 that he has access to transcripts of KSM’s interrogations since his capture, and that KSM has admitted leading this summit and telling the attendees about a planes-as-weapons plot targeting the US (see July 9, 2003). (Isikoff and Hosenball 7/9/2003; Blomquist 7/10/2003) Many other media reports will identify him as being there. (Gumbel 6/6/2002; Ressa 8/30/2002; Ressa 11/7/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 10/29/2003) For instance, according to Newsweek: “Mohammed’s presence would make the intelligence failure of the CIA even greater. It would mean the agency literally watched as the 9/11 scheme was hatched—and had photographs of the attack’s mastermind… doing the plotting.” (Isikoff and Hosenball 7/9/2003) In Hambali’s 2008 Guantanamo file, it will be mentioned that KSM stays a week at Sufaat’s condominium with Alhazmi and Almihdhar, which would seem to make clear that KSM is there for the entire duration of the summit (see Early January 2000). (US Department of Defense 10/30/2008)
Khallad bin Attash - Khallad bin Attash, a “trusted member of bin Laden’s inner circle,” is in charge of bin Laden’s bodyguards, and serves as bin Laden’s personal intermediary at least for the USS Cole bombing. (Klaidman, Isikoff, and Hosenball 9/20/2001 pdf file) He is also thought to be a “mastermind” of that attack. Attash is reportedly planning to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but will be unable to get a US visa. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004, pp. 8) US intelligence had been aware of his identity as early as 1995. (US Congress 9/18/2002) A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through bin Attash’s presence at this summit will be missed in January 2001 (see January 4, 2001). Bin Attash had been previously arrested in Yemen for suspected terror ties, but was let go (see Summer 1999). (Abuza 12/1/2002) He will be captured in Pakistan by the US in April 2003 (see April 29, 2003). In 2008, Newsweek will report that bin Attash confessed during interrogation that, while staying at Sufaat’s condominium, he and Alhazmi talked “about the possibility of hijacking planes and crashing them or holding passengers as hostages.” (Hosenball 12/16/2008)
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri - Al-Nashiri is one of al-Qaeda’s top field commanders and operates out of Malaysia while 9/11 is being prepared. (Los Angeles Times 10/10/2001; Gunaratna 2003, pp. 188; Graham and Nussbaum 2004, pp. 59) He was involved in an arms smuggling plot (see 1997) and the East African embassy bombings (see August 22-25 1998), in which his cousin was martyred (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He also organized the attack against the USS The Sullivans (see January 3, 2000), and will be involved in the attacks against the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the Limburg (see October 6, 2002). He will be arrested in the United Arab Emirates in November 2002 (see Early October 2002). An al-Qaeda operative identified a photo of al-Nashiri for the FBI in late 1998 (see August 22-25 1998). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3) (Note: in the sources, al-Nashiri is referred to by two of his aliases: Muhammad Omar al-Harazi and Al Safani.) (CNN 12/11/2000; Central Intelligence Agency 9/6/2006)
Ramzi bin al-Shibh - Investigators believe he wants to be the 20th 9/11 hijacker. His presence at the summit may not be realized until after 9/11, despite the fact that US intelligence has a picture of him next to bin Attash, and has video footage of him. (Thomas 11/26/2001; Finn 7/14/2002; Elliott 9/15/2002; Schrom 10/1/2002; Ressa 11/7/2002) German police will have credit card receipts indicating bin al-Shibh is in Malaysia at this time. (McDermott 9/1/2002) Ulrich Kersten, director of Germany’s federal anticrime agency, the Bundeskriminalamt, will later say, “There are indications that Ramzi bin al-Shibh was in Kuala Lumpur for the meeting.” (Frantz and Butler 8/24/2002) Another account noting he was photographed at the summit will further note that he enters and leaves Thailand three times in the first three weeks of January 2000. (Drogin and Meyer 10/17/2001) Anonymous Malaysian officials will later claim he is at the summit, but US officials will deny it. Two local militants who serve as drivers for the attendees will later be arrested in Malaysia. They will be shown photos of the attendees, and confirm that bin al-Shibh was at the summit. (Sullivan 9/20/2002) One account will say he is recognized at the time of the summit, which makes it hard to understand why he is not tracked back to Germany and the Hamburg cell with Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers. (Gebauer 10/1/2002) Another opportunity to expose the 9/11 plot through bin al-Shibh’s presence at this summit will be missed in June. It appears bin al-Shibh and Almihdhar are directly involved in the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 (see October 10-21, 2000). (Whitaker 10/15/2001; Finn 7/14/2002; Hosenball 9/4/2002)
Salem Alhazmi - Alhazmi, a 9/11 hijacker and brother of Nawaf Alhazmi, is possibly at the summit, although very few accounts will mention it. (Abuza 12/24/2002) US intelligence intercepts from before the summit indicate that he at least had plans to attend. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 51 pdf file)
Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said) - A Yemeni al-Qaeda operative, al-Taizi is reportedly meant to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but will be unable to enter the US due to greater scrutiny for Yemenis. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004, pp. 8) Al-Taizi will be captured in Pakistan in February 2002, and then sent to the US prison in Guantanamo a few months later (see February 7, 2002). According to his 2008 Guantanamo file, he traveled from Afghanistan to Malaysia with bin Attash about two weeks before the summit. Bin Attash was missing a leg, and he had a prosthetic leg fitted and then stayed in the hospital to recover from the surgery. Bin Attash and al-Taizi stay at Sufaat’s house for the duration of the summit. Al-Taizi then flies to Yemen to visit his family there. (US Department of Defense 10/25/2008)
Others - Unnamed members of the Egyptian-based Islamic Jihad are also said to be at the summit. (King and Bhatt 10/21/2001) Islamic Jihad merged with al-Qaeda in February 1998. (James 11/17/2001) However, according to the Wall Street Journal, bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso are suspected of being Islamic Jihad members at one point, so this may just be a reference to them. (Cloud, Wartzman, and Tkacik 10/8/2001) Note that there are a total of 10 names mentioned above, and it will be reported that the CIA learned that 11 operatives were to attend, so either not all of them make it, or some names of attendees will remain unknown.
Summit Associates - The following individuals are probably not at the summit meetings, but are in the region and assisting or linked with the attendees at this time:
Fahad Al-Quso - Al-Quso is a top al-Qaeda operative who is involved in the bombing of the USS Cole. Some sources will indicate al-Quso is present in Malaysia, and a person who looks like him will later be seen in a photograph of the meeting (see June 11, 2001). (Klaidman, Isikoff, and Hosenball 9/20/2001 pdf file) However, other sources will say al-Quso did not reach Kuala Lumpur, but met with bin Attash around this time in Bangkok, Thailand (see January 5-6, 2000 and January 8-15, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 159; Wright 2006, pp. 330) Although al-Quso apparently is not at the summit, there are a series of phone calls during the time of the summit between his hotel in Bangkok, a phone booth near the condominium where the summit is held, and his family home in Yemen (see (January 5-8, 2000)). Al-Quso will be arrested by Yemeni authorities in the fall of 2000 (see Late October-Late November 2000), but the FBI will not be given a chance to fully interrogate him before 9/11. He will escape from prison in 2003. (CNN 5/15/2003)
Ahmad Sajuli Abdul Rahman - An operative of Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, Sajuli takes the visiting Arabs around Kuala Lumpur, but apparently does not attend the summit meetings. (US Congress 10/17/2002) According to the later Guantanamo file of summit attendee al-Taizi, one of the attendees Sajuli escorts around town is future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Sajuli also helps arrange al-Taizi’s transportation at the end of the summit. (US Department of Defense 10/25/2008) Sajuli will be arrested in Malaysia in December 2001 (see December 29, 2001).
Ahmad Hikmat Shakir - A suspected al-Qaeda agent of Iraqi nationality, Shakir is a greeter at Kuala Lumpur airport. He meets Almihdhar there and travels with him to the apartment where the summit is held, but he probably does not attend the summit meetings. (Associated Press 10/2/2002; Isikoff and Klaidman 10/7/2002; Abuza 12/24/2002; Landay 6/12/2004) After 9/11, he will be linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Bojinka plot. Jordan will arrest him and let him go after the US says it doesn’t want to take custody of him (see September 17, 2001).
Dhiren Barot - Dhiren Barot (a.k.a. Abu Eissa al-Hindi) is a British citizen of Indian descent. According to a 2006 Observer article, Barot “is not believed to have been present” at the summit meetings. However, he does go to Kuala Lumpur during the time of the summit with summit attendee bin Attash. And shortly after the summit, Barot holds meetings with Hambali. It will later be reported that Barot is sent by KSM to New York City in early 2001 to case potential targets there, although whether this is part of the 9/11 plot or some other plot is unclear (see May 30, 2001). Barot will be arrested in 2004 in Britain for plotting attacks there, and sentenced to 30 years in prison (see August 3, 2004). (Doward 12/12/2006)
Another Unnamed Local Militant - Malaysian officials will say that two local Jemaah Islamiyah act as drivers for the attendees. These drivers apparently have no idea who the attendees are or what they are doing; they are just tasked to drive them around. In a 2002 Associated Press article, officials will not name these drivers, but will say that they are among the dozens of alleged Jemaah Islamiyah militants arrested in December 2001 and January 2002. Since Sajuli mentioned above is arrested at that time, he presumably is one of these drivers. It is not known who the other driver is. (Sufaat will be arrested at that time as well, but the Associated Press article will make clear Sufaat is not one of the drivers.) (Sullivan 9/20/2002)
Probably Not Involved: Mohamed al-Khatani - A Saudi, he allegedly will confess to attending the summit while being held in the US Guantanamo prison (see July 2002). He apparently will unsuccessfully attempt to enter the US in August 2001 to join the 9/11 plot (see August 4, 2001). However, al-Khatani will later recant his testimony and say he lied to avoid torture (see October 26, 2006). Furthermore, his 2008 Guantanamo file, leaked to the public in 2011, contains no hint of him even possibly attending the summit. The contents of the file must be treated with extreme caution, especially since he is repeatedly and brutally tortured (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and January 14, 2009). But according to the general narrative of the file, al-Khatani had no involvement with Islamist militancy in early 2000, only starts to get involved with militants in mid-2000, and first attends a militant training camp in Afghanistan in late 2000. (US Department of Defense 10/30/2008)

Victims’ family members Lorie Van Auken (right) and Kristen Breitweiser (left) are shocked to learn Tom Wilshire blocked a cable to the FBI about Khalid Almihdhar’s visa. Victims’ family members Lorie Van Auken (right) and Kristen Breitweiser (left) are shocked to learn Tom Wilshire blocked a cable to the FBI about Khalid Almihdhar’s visa. [Source: Banded Artists]Doug Miller, an FBI agent assigned to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, reads CIA cables reporting that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa and drafts a cable to the FBI to inform it of this. The CIA obtained the information through a tap on Almihdhar’s phone in Yemen (see December 29, 1999) and by monitoring him as he passed through Dubai (see January 2-5, 2000) on his way to an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000).
Draft Cable - Miller writes that Almihdhar has a US visa (see April 3-7, 1999) and that the visa application states his destination is New York and he intends to stay for three months. The draft cable mentions the tap on Almihdhar’s phone, his planned travel to Malaysia, and the links between his phone and the 1998 East African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and October 4, 2001). It also says that the CIA has obtained photographs of Almihdhar and these will be sent separately. Miller asks the FBI for feedback resulting from an FBI investigation.
Blocked - Another CIA officer named Michael Anne Casey accesses Miller’s draft about an hour after he writes it. The cable is then blocked on the orders of the station’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire, as a few hours after Miller drafts the cable Casey attaches a message to it saying, “pls hold off on [cable] for now per [Tom Wilshire].” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 502; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 240 pdf file) Miller is also told, “This is not a matter for the FBI.” (Wright 2006, pp. 311)
'No Reason to Kill the Message' - Author James Bamford will later comment: “A potential terrorist and member of al-Qaeda was heading for the US, the FBI’s jurisdiction—its turf—and he [Miller] was putting the FBI on notice so it could take action. There was no reason to kill the message.” (Bamford 2008, pp. 19) Miller will later say he has no “rational answer” as to why the cable was blocked, but will speculate that Alec Station officers were annoyed he had encroached on their territory. (Stein 10/1/2008) Casey drafts a cable falsely saying that the information about Almihdhar’s visa has been shared with the FBI (see Around 7:00 p.m. January 5, 2000) and there will be a discussion the next day about whether the cable should be sent (see January 6, 2000). The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later call the failure to pass the information to the FBI a “significant failure” but will be unable to determine why the information was not passed on. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 250 pdf file) The 9/11 Commission will know of the incident, but will relegate it to an endnote in its final report, omitting Wilshire’s role entirely. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 502) The CIA inspector general will falsely claim that the cable is not sent, “[a]pparently because it was in the wrong format or needed editing.” (Central Intelligence Agency 6/2005, pp. xv pdf file)

FBI Director Louis Freeh and other top FBI officials are briefed about the ongoing al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) as part of their regular daily update. They are told the CIA is in the lead and that the CIA promises to let the FBI know if an FBI angle to the case develops. But they are not told that the CIA has just found out that one of the participants, Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa. (9/11 Commission 1/26/2004) It is unclear who the other top FBI officials that are briefed are. However, Dale Watson, the assistant director of the counterterrorism division, and Thomas Pickard, the FBI’s deputy director at this time and its acting director in the summer of 2001, will also learn of the summit by July 2001, although it is unclear exactly when they are informed (see July 12, 2001). (Pickard 6/24/2004) According to Vanity Fair, Richard Blee, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, “provided surveillance updates for [the CIA’s] top officers, the FBI, and the White House” while the summit is in progress. (Zeman et al. 11/2004) One FBI official familiar with the case will later complain: “[The CIA] purposely hid [Almihdhar] from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau.… The thing was, they didn’t want John O’Neill and the FBI running over their case. And that’s why September 11 happened.… They have blood on their hands.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 224) Jack Cloonan, an FBI agent in the I-49 squad that focuses on al-Qaeda, will later say: “If that information [got] disseminated, would it have had an impact on the events of 9/11? I’m telling you that it would have.” (Thomas 5/10/2004)

While in Thailand, 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi associate with three of the operatives who will later be involved in the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). The two hijackers arrive with Khallad bin Attash, who will command the Cole operation. The three of them come from Malaysia, where they were under surveillance by the CIA (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 8, 2000). While in Bangkok, bin Attash meets Cole bombers Fahad al-Quso and Ibrahim al-Thawar, who give bin Attash some money, possibly $36,000. Some of this may be passed to Alhazmi and Almihdhar. Under interrogation after 9/11, bin Attash will claim that, even though they all stay in the same hotel for part of the time (see (January 5-8, 2000)) the two groups do not meet. However, such statements are thought to be unreliable because of the methods used to extract them (see June 16, 2004). (9/11 Commission 1/26/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 159; Wright 2006, pp. 312) Shown photographs of Alhazmi and Almihdhar after 9/11 by the FBI, al-Quso will say that he recognizes the two, but indicate that this may be because he met them at camps in Afghanistan. (Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) However, he is apparently photographed by Malaysian authorities standing next to Almihdhar in Kuala Lumpur (see (January 5-8, 2000)).

The US knows that Hambali has ties to the 1995 Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995) but apparently fails to share this information with Malaysian authorities, who therefore miss a chance to arrest him. By 1999, the US determined that Hambali was one of the founders of Konsonjaya, a front company central to funding the Bojinka plot (see May 23, 1999). US investigators also found a photograph of him on Ramzi Yousef’s computer in 1995, further tying him to the Bojinka plot. (Pereira 2/2/2002) In January 2000, Malaysian intelligence monitors an al-Qaeda summit meeting at the request of the CIA (see January 5-8, 2000). Malaysian intelligence recognize Hambali and Yazid Sufaat from photos of the meeting; both are long-time residents in Malaysia. However, because the US does not share the information about Hambali, the Malaysians decide not to arrest or question Hambali and Sufaat since they are not aware either man has any criminal ties. (Pereira 2/10/2002) As a result, Malaysian authorities fail to learn more about this summit meeting, which was attended by two 9/11 hijackers. The US also fails to follow up with Hambali, despite their knowledge of him.

The CIA sends the NSA some information about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, including information about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), which Almihdhar attended, as well as the name of a person who helped him in Kuala Lumpur, where the summit was held. The NSA is also told Almihdhar’s primary purpose for coming to Malaysia was to meet with other people. The CIA knows Almihdhar has a US visa (see January 2-5, 2000), but it is unclear whether the NSA is informed of this. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 156 pdf file) At this time, the NSA has some information about Almihdhar, whose calls it has been intercepting for at least a year (see Early 1999, Summer 1999, Late Summer 1999, and Shortly Before December 29, 1999), that has not been disseminated. In particular, the NSA seems to have overheard something in early 1999 that should have been disseminated, but was not. This new information from the CIA does not cause the NSA to re-examine its material on Almihdhar or disseminate any important information to other US agencies. However, Almihdhar is subsequently put on the NSA watchlist (see Mid-January 2000) and the NSA intercepts calls between his home in Yemen and him in the US (see Spring-Summer 2000), but fails to alert the FBI to his presence in the US (see (Spring 2000)).

Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, an Iraqi who met 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, around the time of an al-Qaeda summit there, leaves the country (see January 5-8, 2000). The connection between Shakir and Almihdhar is unclear, as Shakir met Almihdhar while working as a greeter of Arab visitors at the airport, but then accompanied Almihdhar to the place he was staying and was videotaped with him there by the Malaysian authorities (see January 5, 2000). Shakir is said to have got the job at the airport with the help of an Iraqi intelligence officer, raising concerns of Iraqi involvement in 9/11. However, although Shakir is watchlisted before 9/11 (see August 23, 2001) and arrested and released twice afterwards (see September 17, 2001), his connection to Saddam Hussein’s regime is found to be not as strong as alleged (see Before June 21, 2004). (Landay 6/12/2004; Pincus and Eggen 6/22/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 502)

The CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, sends a cable to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, saying that it is unable to locate 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and two companions, who turn out to be 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, in Bangkok. The three had been under surveillance in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), but the CIA’s Bangkok station had been unable to pick them up at the airport when they flew to Thailand on January 8 (see January 8, 2000 and January 8, 2000). According to an official, this was because “when they arrived we were unable to mobilize what we needed to mobilize.” Despite the high priority allocated to the search by CIA headquarters (see January 9, 2000) and the fact bin Attash was under surveillance in Malaysia when he called the hotel where the three are staying in Bangkok (see (January 5-8, 2000)), they cannot be found. The precise steps taken to locate them are unknown. (9/11 Commission 1/26/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 502; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 247 pdf file)

Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, again wrongly informs his CIA superiors about surveillance of al-Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia. Repeating a claim made in a briefing two days previously (see January 12, 2000), he says that Malaysian authorities and the CIA are continuing to monitor al-Qaeda operatives who gathered for a summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). In actual fact, three of the summit’s attendees, 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, have already left Kuala Lumpur for Bangkok, Thailand (see January 8, 2000). Alec Station is well aware of the departure of the three men, as it was notified of their departure and sent a follow-up cable on January 9 telling the CIA station in Bangkok to find them there (see January 9, 2000). In addition, one day before this briefing the CIA station in Bangkok sent Alec Station a cable saying it was unable to locate the men in Thailand (see January 13, 2000). The 9/11 Commission will also point out that “there is no evidence of any tracking efforts actually being undertaken by anyone after the Arabs disappeared into Bangkok.” It is unclear why Blee gives such an inaccurate briefing. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 354)

A week after attending the al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar fly together from Bangkok, Thailand, to Los Angeles, California. (MSNBC 12/11/2001) The passports of both men have indicators of their terrorist affiliation placed there by Saudi authorities to track them (see March 21, 1999 and April 6, 1999), but the indicators are apparently not noticed by US immigration officials, as they have not been informed of their significance (see Around February 1993). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 10 pdf file) The CIA will later claim that it lost track of them when they arrived in Bangkok and that it did not receive notification from the Thai government that Almihdhar and Alhazmi entered the US until March 2000 (see March 5, 2000). However, Almihdhar will later tell 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed that he and Alhazmi think they were watched and followed from Bangkok to Los Angeles by unknown individuals (see Mid-July 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 215) One San Diego friend of the two hijackers, Mohdar Abdullah, will later allegedly claim that he was told in advance they were coming to Los Angeles to carry out an attack in the US (see Early 2000).

The FBI’s most senior representative at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, develops cancer and is forced to resign, meaning no FBI agent assigned to Alec Station has the power to release information from the CIA for months. A key cable informing the FBI that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa will fail to be released to the FBI around this time (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). The representative, who is referred to in documents as “Eric”, is deputy chief of Alec Station. He has the power to release information to the FBI having acquired this power in a row with former Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer (see June 1999). The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will say Eric left the unit in mid-January, which would have given him over a week to give the FBI information about Almihdhar discovered during the surveillance of an al-Qaeda summit held from January 5-8 (see January 5-8, 2000). It is known Eric accessed a cable related to the Malaysia summit on January 5 and discussed surveillance photos taken of the summit with CIA officer Tom Wilshire (see (Mid-January 2000)). Author Lawrence Wright will comment: “None of the… FBI agents remaining in Alec had the seniority to release information, and consequently had to rely on the agency to give them permission for any transfer of classified cable traffic.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 241, 320 pdf file; Wright 2006, pp. 313)

While the 9/11 hijackers are in the US, the NSA intercepts several calls between them and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by Ahmed al-Hada, who is hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father-in-law (see August 4-25, 1998).
Summary of Calls -
bullet The first calls are made by Almihdhar and are intercepted during the spring and summer of 2000 (see Spring-Summer 2000).
bullet More calls are made by hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi after the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000 (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001).
bullet The final call from the US is intercepted just a few weeks before 9/11 (see (August 2001)).
The NSA intercepted the hijackers’ calls outside the US before this (see Early 1999 and December 29, 1999) and continues to do so in 2000 (see Summer 2000) after Almihdhar returns to Yemen (see June 10, 2000 and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)).
Calls' Content - Some of the calls may only contain non-operational information, as they are reportedly between Almihdhar and his wife. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind 2006, pp. 94; Wright 2006, pp. 343) However, the calls are also used to relay messages to the 9/11 hijackers. (Embassy of Yemen (Washington) 2/13/2002; MSNBC 2/14/2002; Windrem 5/2005)
Agencies' Roles - The CIA is the lead agency monitoring the communications hub. It has planted bugs inside it and is wiretapping all calls (see Late August 1998). Intercepts of calls to and from the hub are a major plank of the US intelligence community’s effort to fight al-Qaeda. Also involved is the FBI, which is using phone records to plot these calls on a map (see Late 1998-Early 2002). Some of the calls intercepted by US intelligence come from Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone in Afghanistan (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late August 1998). After 9/11, counterterrorism officials will say that the number was one of the hottest targets being monitored by the NSA and was an “intelligence bonanza.” (Meyer 12/21/2005; Wright 2006, pp. 343)
Importance of Failure - Also after 9/11, counterterrorism officials will agree that the failure to follow leads to the US from this number was a huge missed opportunity to stop the 9/11 plot. For instance, FBI agent Kenneth Maxwell will say: “Two al-Qaeda guys living in California—are you kidding me? We would have been on them like white on snow: physical surveillance, electronic surveillance, a special unit devoted entirely to them.” (Myers 7/21/2004; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file)
Discussed after 9/11 - The failure to roll up the plot based on these communications intercepts will be discussed following 9/11 (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004 and March 15, 2004 and After).

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke leads a meeting of the interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) devoted largely to the possibility of an airline hijacking by al-Qaeda. The meeting is said to come during a period of low threat, after the millennium alerts had ended (see December 15-31, 1999). Clarke later will recall that the possibility of a suicide hijacking would have been only one of many speculative possibilities considered. The apparent suicide hijacking of EgyptAir Flight 990 off the coast of Massachusetts in late 1999 appears to have been a concern of the CSG around this time (see October 31, 1999). Also, one month earlier, a militant group connected to al-Qaeda successfully hijacked an airplane in India, won their demands, and escaped (see December 24-31, 1999). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 345, 561)

Judy Palya Loether.Judy Palya Loether. [Source: SecrecyFilm (.com)]Judy Palya Loether, the daughter of a civilian engineer killed in a 1948 plane crash while on a secret government mission (see October 6, 1948), reads over the voluminous reports of the accident that claimed her father’s life. The reports, now declassified (see January 1996), had been at the heart of a landmark lawsuit that gave judicial recognition to the government’s “state secrets” privilege (see March 9, 1953). Loether is shocked to find that the reports contain nothing that could be construed as military or tactical secrets of any kind, though for decades the government has insisted that they could not be revealed, even to a judge (see October 18, 1948, July 26, 1950, August 7-8, 1950, September 21, 1950, and October 19, 1951). What they do contain is a compendium of witness statements and expert findings that indicate a number of mistakes and errors led to the crash. Loether begins contacting the families of the widows who had filed the original lawsuit against the government (seeJune 21, 1949) to share her findings. (Siegel 2008, pp. 210-211) Loether is confused and angered over the contents of the reports, and the government’s response to the lawsuit. She cannot understand why the government pressed so hard to keep the reports classified, knowing that they contained no sensitive information about the secret missile program, and is particularly troubled by the fact that at least two senior government officials signed affidavits affirming the reports’ inclusion of such information while knowing that the reports contained nothing of the sort. She wonders if government officials had perhaps decided to lie about the reports in order to establish some sort of state secrets privilege. In September 2002, lawyers Wilson Brown and Jeff Almeida, retained by Loether and others who lost family members in the crash, come to the same conclusion. As Almeida will say to Brown: “I’ve read this report. There’s nothing in there.” (Siegel 2008, pp. 219) As time goes on, Loether and her colleagues files a second lawsuit seeking to overturn the first Supreme Court verdict (see February 26, 2003).

CIA Director George Tenet tells a Senate committee in open session that bin Laden “wants to strike further blows against America.” He points out the close links between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad and says this is part of an “intricate web of alliances among Sunni extremists worldwide, including North Africans, radical Palestinians, Pakistanis, and Central Asians.” He points out ties between drug traffickers and the Taliban and says, “There is ample evidence that Islamic extremists such as Osama bin Laden use profits from the drug trade to support their terror campaign.” But there is no mention of Pakistan’s support for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, despite CIA knowledge of this (see Autumn 1998). Instead, he claims Iran is “the most active state sponsor” of terrorism. Additionally, he does not mention that bin Laden is capable of planning attacks inside the US, even though he told that to Congress in a closed session six months earlier (see June 24, 1999). (Senate 2/2/2000)

The CIA station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, asks the CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, what is happening with surveillance of future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. The CIA station in Kuala Lumpur had monitored the three when they were in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and passed the surveillance over to Bangkok when they flew there in early January (see January 8, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 502; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 247 pdf file) Although, according to the 9/11 Commission, Bangkok station probably already knows that Alhazmi has departed for the US, it fails to respond for two weeks, when it claims it does not know what has happened (see (February 25, 2000)).

9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta returns to Germany from Pakistan using the same monitored route as he traveled on the outward journey (see Late November-Early December 1999). He flies from Karachi to Istanbul, Turkey, where he changes planes for Hamburg. Turkish intelligence discovered that militants use this route to travel between Europe and training camps in Afghanistan in the mid-1990s and alerted Germany to it at that time, causing Germany to launch an investigation into one of Atta’s associates (see 1996). However, it is not known whether the intelligence agencies register Atta’s travel at this time. (Laabs 8/13/2003) Fellow alleged 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah appears to be noticed on his way back to Germany from Afghanistan (see January 30, 2000) and another member of the cell, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, may be monitored in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, at this time (see January 5-8, 2000).

The CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, replies to a request from the CIA station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for information about future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash by saying that there will be a delay with the response due to difficulties obtaining the information. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 247-8 pdf file) The relevant information that should be passed to Kuala Lumpur station concerns the departure of Alhazmi and Almihdhar to the US (see January 15, 2000 and January 15, 2000). Kuala Lumpur station coordinated surveillance of the three men in Malaysia in early January (see January 5-8, 2000). When the trio flew to Bangkok, the surveillance was passed on to Bangkok station (see January 8, 2000). According to the 9/11 Commission: “Presumably the departure information was obtained back in January, on the days that these individuals made their departures. Because the names were watchlisted by the Thai authorities we cannot yet explain the delay in reporting the news.” It is therefore unclear why the CIA’s Bangkok station says it is having difficulty obtaining information it already apparently has in its possession. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 502) The information will be reported about a week later, but will be incomplete, as Bangkok station will only report that Alhazmi has flown to the US, failing to name his companion as Almihdhar (see March 5, 2000).

Mike Frost.Mike Frost. [Source: NineMSN]One of the few commercial media reports about Echelon, the NSA’s global surveillance network (see April 4, 2001), appears on CBS’s 60 Minutes. The report is disturbing in its portrayal of Echelon as a surveillance system capable of, in host Steve Kroft’s words, capturing “virtually every electronic conversation around the world.” Kroft continues, “[V]irtually every signal radiated across the electromagnetic spectrum is being collected and analyzed,” including land line and cell phone signals, ATM transactions, fax machines,public and private radio broadcasts, even baby monitors. Mike Frost, a former intelligence officer for the CSE, the Canadian equivalent of the National Security Agency which often works closely with the NSA, says, “The entire world, the whole planet” is being surveilled. “Echelon covers everything that’s radiated worldwide at any given instant.… Every square inch is covered.” Listening stations around the world transmit their data to the NSA’s headquarters at Fort Meade, Maryland, where, as Kroft says, “acres of supercomputers scan millions of transmissions word by word, looking for key phrases and, some say, specific voices that may be of major significance.” Frost adds, “Everything is looked at. The entire take is looked at. And the computer sorts out what it is told to sort out, be it, say, by key words such as ‘bomb’ or ‘terrorist’ or ‘blow up,’ to telephone numbers or—or a person’s name. And people are getting caught, and—and that’s great.” Echelon is so secret that even its successes are not publicly documented, though it is believed that, among other successes, it helped capture international terrorist “Carlos the Jackal,” and helped identify two Libyans accused of planting a bomb on PanAm Flight 103 (Kroft 2/27/2000) which exploded over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988, killing 270 people. (Cody 12/22/1988) “I say, never over-exaggerate the capacity of a system such as Echelon,” Frost noted in a 1999 interview with the Australian press. “Never ever over-exaggerate the power that these organizations have to abuse a system such as Echelon. Don’t think it can’t happen in Australia. Don’t think it can’t happen in Canada, because it does.” (Coulthart 5/23/1999)
Monitoring Legal Conversations - As successful as Echelon has been in capturing terrorists, international drug dealers, and various criminals, it has raised serious concerns for its capability of monitoring ordinary, innocent civilians. Frost says that such monitoring happens every day: “Not only possible, not only probable, but factual. While I was at CSE, a classic example: A lady had been to a school play the night before, and her son was in the school play and she thought he did a—a lousy job. Next morning, she was talking on the telephone to her friend, and she said to her friend something like this, ‘Oh, Danny really bombed last night,’ just like that. The computer spit that conversation out. The analyst that was looking at it was not too sure about what the conversation w—was referring to, so erring on the side of caution, he listed that lady and her phone number in the database as a possible terrorist.” Though the NSA has a long and checkered history of spying on American citizens, including extensive monitoring of antiwar and civil rights protesters during the 1970s, the agency refuses to provide any information about its activities—not to the public and not even to Congress. Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) has for years pressed for more information about the program, which he recently said “engages in the interception of literally millions of communications involving United States citizens.” Even the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (R-FL) had trouble getting information when he requested it last year. At the time, Goss said, “[T]here was some information about procedures in how the NSA people would employ some safeguards, and I wanted to see all the correspondence on that to make sure that those safeguards were being completely honored. At that point, one of the counsels of the NSA said, ‘Well, we don’t think we need to share this information with the Oversight Committee.’ And we said, ‘Well, we’re sorry about that. We do have the oversight, and you will share the information with us,’ and they did.” Goss had to threaten to cut the NSA’s budget before the agency would share even limited information with him. When asked how he can be sure the NSA isn’t listening in on ordinary citizens’ communications, Goss merely says, “We do have methods for that, and I am relatively sure that those procedures are working very well.”
Princess Diana, Human Rights Organizations Monitored - Evidence presented in the broadcast also suggests the NSA was monitoring Princess Diana (see November 30, 1998), as well as Amnesty International, Greenpeace, and other groups (see February 27, 2000). (Kroft 2/27/2000)
British Ministers Monitored - Frost cites an instance where then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher monitored two of her own ministers (see 1983).
Americans Monitored - Former NSA contractor Margaret Newsham recalls hearing a monitored conversation featuring then-Senator Strom Thurmond (see April, 1988). Frost is not surprised. “Oh, of course it goes on,” he says. “Been going on for years. Of course it goes on.” Kroft asks, “You mean the National Security Agency spying on politicians in… in the United States?” Frost replies, “Sounds ludicrous, doesn’t it? Sounds like the world of fiction. It’s not; not the world of fiction. That’s the way it works. I’ve been there. I was trained by you guys” (see 1980s). Goss seems less concerned. He says that it is “[c]ertainly possible that something like that could happen. The question is: What happened next?… It is certainly possible that somebody overheard me in a conversation. I have just been in Europe. I have been talking to people on a telephone and elsewhere. So it’s very possible somebody could have heard me. But the question is: What do they do about it? I mean, I cannot stop the dust in the ether; it’s there. But what I can make sure is that it’s not abused—the capability’s not abused, and that’s what we do.”
Used for Corporate Advantage - In 2001, the European Parliament released a report listing many of Echelon’s surveillance stations around the world and detailing their capabilities (see July 11, 2001). Kroft notes, “The report says Echelon is not just being used to track spies and terrorists. It claims the United States is using it for corporate and industrial espionage as well, gathering sensitive information on European corporations, then turning it over to American competitors so they can gain an economic advantage.”
Encryption Effective? - European governments and corporations are encrypting more and more of their phone, fax, and e-mail transmissions to keep Echelon from listening in. In response, the US government is pressuring the Europeans to give US law enforcement and intelligence agencies software keys so that they can unlock the code in matters of national security. Parliament member Glyn Ford is not opposed to the idea in principle: “[I]f we are not assured that that is n—not going to be abused, then I’m afraid we may well take the view, ‘Sorry, no.’ In [Britain], it’s traditional for people to leave a key under the doormat if they want the neighbors to come in and—and do something in their house. Well, we’re neighbors, and we’re not going to leave the electronic key under the doormat if you’re going to come in and steal the family silver.” The NSA, CSE, and even Echelon are necessary evils, Ford acknowledges, but, “My concern is no accountability and nothing—no safety net in place for the innocent people that fall through the cracks. That’s my concern.” (Kroft 2/27/2000)

FBI agent Jack Cloonan, a member of the FBI’s I-49 bin Laden squad, will tell author Peter Lance after 9/11 that another FBI agent belonging to I-49 named Frank Pellegrino saw some of the surveillance photos taken of the al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia several months earlier (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). Cloonan will say, “Pellegrino was in Kuala Lumpur,” the capital of Malaysia. “And the CIA chief of station said, ‘I’m not supposed to show these photographs, but here. Take a look at these photographs. Know any of these guys?’” But Pellegrino does not recognize them, as he is working to catch Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and apparently is not involved in other cases. However, there have been numerous reports that KSM was at the summit (see January 5-8, 2000). Further, Lance will note that if Pellegrino could not identify KSM, he could have recognized Hambali, another attendee of the summit. Pellegrino was in the Philippines in 1995 and worked with local officials there as they interrogated Abdul Hakim Murad, one of the Bojinka bombers (see February-Early May 1995). During this time, Murad’s interrogators learned about Hambali’s involvement in a front company called Konsonjaya and passed the information on to US officials (see Spring 1995). Further, an FBI report from 1999 shows the FBI was aware of Hambali’s ties to Konsonjaya by that time (see May 23, 1999). (Lance 2006, pp. 340-341)

After being prompted by CIA colleagues in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to provide information about what happened to future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash after they flew from Malaysia to Thailand on January 8, 2000 (see January 8, 2000 and (February 25, 2000)), the CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, sends out a cable saying that Alhazmi arrived in the US from Thailand with an apparently unnamed companion on January 15 (see January 15, 2000). This information was received from Thai intelligence, which watchlisted Almihdhar and Alhazmi after being asked to do so by the CIA (see January 13, 2000 and January 15, 2000). (New York Times 10/17/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 502)
Companion - The companion to whom the cable refers is presumably Almihdhar. According to later testimony of a senior FBI official, the CIA learns the companion is Almihdhar at this time: “In March 2000, the CIA received information concerning the entry of Almihdhar and Alhazmi into the United States.” (US Congress 9/20/2002) The CIA disputes this, however. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file) If the companion the cable refers to is Almihdhar, then it is unclear why he would not be named, as the NSA has been intercepting his calls for at least a year (see Early 1999), he was under CIA surveillance earlier in January (see January 5-8, 2000), he is known to have a US visa (see January 2-5, 2000), he is associated with Alhazmi (see January 8-9, 2000), and this cable is prompted by another cable specifically asking where Almihdhar is (see February 11, 2000).
Missed Opportunity - Later, CIA officials, including CIA Director George Tenet and Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black, will admit that this was one of the missed opportunities to watchlist the hijackers. Black will say: “I think that month we watchlisted about 150 people. [The watchlisting] should have been done. It wasn’t.” Almihdhar and Alhazmi will not be added to the US watchlist until August 2001 (see August 23, 2001). (New York Times 10/17/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file)
Unclear Who Reads Cable - Although Tenet will tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that nobody at CIA headquarters reads this cable at this time (see October 17, 2002), the CIA’s inspector general will conclude that “numerous” officers access this cable and others about Almihdhar. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria District 3/28/2006 pdf file) These officers are not named, but Tom Wilshire, the CIA’s deputy unit chief in charge of monitoring the two men at this time, will access it in May 2001 at the same time as he accesses other cables about Almihdhar from early 2000 (see May 15, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will say that the cables are “reexamined” at this time, suggesting that Wilshire may have read them before. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 267, 537) Wilshire certainly did access at least two of the cables in January 2000, indicating he may read the cable about the arrival of Alhazmi and the unnamed companion in the US in March 2000. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 240, 282 pdf file)
FBI Not Informed - The knowledge that Alhazmi has entered the US will be disseminated throughout the CIA, but not to the FBI or other US intelligence agencies (see March 6, 2000 and After). When asked about the failure by the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Wilshire will be unable to explain it, saying: “It’s very difficult to understand what happened with that cable when it came in. I do not know exactly why it was missed. It would appear that it was missed completely.” (US Congress 9/20/2002)

National Security Adviser Sandy Berger chairs a Cabinet-level meeting to review the wave of attempted terror attacks around the millennium. There are counterterrorism reports that disruption efforts “have not put too much of a dent” into bin Laden’s overseas network, and that it is feared “sleeper cells” of al-Qaeda operatives have taken root in the US. It is recommended that the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service should begin “high tempo, ongoing operations to arrest, detain, and deport potential sleeper cells in the United States.” Some ideas, like expanding the number of Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the US, are adopted. Others, like a centralized translation unit for domestic intercepts, are not. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) In July 2004, it is revealed that the Justice Department is investigating Berger for taking classified documents relating to this review effort out of a secure reading room in 2003. Most of the documents are returned, but a few apparently are lost. (Solomon 7/20/2004; Harris and Schmidt 7/22/2004)

Zacaria Soubra.
Zacaria Soubra. [Source: Public domain]In early April 2000, Arizona FBI agent Ken Williams gets a tip that makes him suspicious that some flight students might be Islamic militants. Williams will begin an investigation based on this tip that will lead to his “Phoenix memo” warning about suspect Middle Easterners training in Arizona flight schools (see July 10, 2001) (Yardley and Thomas 6/19/2002) It appears that Lebanese flight school student Zacaria Soubra has been seen at a shooting range with Abu Mujahid, a white American Muslim who had fought in the Balkans and the Middle East. (Connell 10/28/2001; Sherman 11/2004) Abu Mujahid appears to match Aukai Collins, a white American Muslim who had fought in the Balkans and the Middle East, who also goes by the name Abu Mujahid, and is an FBI informant spying on the Muslim community in the area at the time (see 1998). Collins also claims to have been the informant referred to in the Phoenix memo, which again suggests that Collins was the one at the shooting range with Soubra. (Lempinen 10/17/2002) On April 7, Williams appears at Soubra’s apartment and interviews him. Soubra acts defiant, and tells Williams that he considers the US government and military legitimate targets of Islam. He has photographs of bin Laden on the walls. Williams runs a check on the license plate of Soubra’s car and discovers the car is actually owned by a suspected militant with explosives and car bomb training in Afghanistan who had been held for attempting to enter an airplane cockpit the year before (see November 1999-August 2001). (Graham and Nussbaum 2004, pp. 43-44) On April 17, Williams starts a formal investigation into Soubra. (House 7/24/2003) Williams will be reassigned to work on an arson case and will not be able to get back to work on the Soubra investigation until June 2001 (see April 2000-June 2001). He will release the Phoenix memo one month later. After 9/11, some US officials will suspect Soubra had ties to terrorism. For instance, in 2003, an unnamed official will claim, “Soubra was involved in terrorist-supporting activities, facilitating shelter and employment for people… involved with al-Qaeda.” For a time, he and hijacker Hani Hanjour attend the same mosque, though there is no evidence they ever meet. Soubra’s roommate at the time of Williams’ interview is Ghassan al-Sharbi. In 2002, al-Sharbi will be arrested in Pakistan with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. While Williams will focus on Soubra, al-Sharbi will also be a target of his memo. (Krikorian 1/24/2003) In 2004, Soubra will be deported to Lebanon after being held for two years. He will deny any connection to Hanjour or terrorism. (Wagner 5/2/2004) Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of the British militant group Al-Muhajiroun, will later admit that Soubra was the leader of Al-Muhajiroun’s branch in Arizona. (Elliott 5/27/2002)

Mohammed al-Zawahiri, brother of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, is arrested at Dubai airport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While much less known than his brother, Mohammed quietly served an important role as Ayman’s deputy in Islamic Jihad, and as the group’s military commander (see 1993). He apparently disagreed with the increasing unification between Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda, and quit in 1998 over that issue. (Jacquard 2002, pp. 108) He is arrested in the UAE and then flown to Egypt as a part of the CIA’s rendition program (see Summer 1995). A senior former CIA officer will later confirm US involvement in the operation. (Grey 2007, pp. 246, 299) Mohammed had been sentenced to death in absentia in Egypt the year before. (Wright 9/9/2002) But his execution is not carried out, and he is said to reveal what he knows about Islamic Jihad. In 2007 it will be reported that his sentence is likely to be lessened in return for agreeing to renounce violence. (Jacquard 2002, pp. 108; Associated Press 4/20/2007) Note: there is a dispute about when he was arrested. Some sources indicate it was in the spring of 1999. (Grey 2007, pp. 246; Associated Press 4/20/2007) Others indicate it was a year later. (Jacquard 2002, pp. 108; Wright 9/9/2002)

Ramzi bin al-Shibh.Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [Source: FBI]During these months, Hamburg al-Qaeda cell member Ramzi bin al-Shibh tries several times to get a US visa, but all his attempts fail, some possibly due to a link to the USS Cole bombing. In 2000, he tries to a get a visa three times from Germany, and once from Yemen, but all these attempts fail. He may also make a fifth attempt in May 2001, although the 9/11 Commission will not include that in their final report. One of the applications says he will be visiting Agus Budiman, a Hamburg associate, in Washington (see October-November 2000). (Lichtblau and Williams 10/24/2001; Abuza 12/24/2002; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 11-15 pdf file; McDermott 2005, pp. 209) Most accounts claim that bin al-Shibh is refused a visa on economic grounds based on fears that he will overstay his visa and work in the US. One official later suggests it was “only by luck” that he was turned down. (CBS News 6/6/2002; Finn 7/14/2002) However, Bin al-Shibh is in Yemen during the two months before the bombing of the Cole in that country, and investigators later conclude that he may have been involved in that attack (see October 10-21, 2000 and October 12, 2000). Possibly for this reason other accounts note that, as the London Times will put it, he was “turned down on security grounds.” (Kennedy 9/9/2002) Newsweek will later report, “One senior law-enforcement official told Newsweek that bin al-Shibh’s efforts to obtain a US visa were rebuffed because of suspicions that he was tied to the bombing of the USS Cole.” (Lichtblau and Williams 10/21/2001; Thomas 11/26/2001; BBC 9/14/2002) In addition, Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda will say that according to his US intelligence sources, bin al-Shibh’s visas were “turned down because he was implicated in the USS Cole attack.” (TBS Journal 10/2002) But no journalist will ever question why this information didn’t lead to the unraveling of the 9/11 plot. Not only is there the obvious visa connection to Ziad Jarrah while he is training at a US flight school, but also during this same time period bin al-Shibh wires money to Marwan Alshehhi, Zacarias Moussaoui, and others, sometimes using his own name. (CBS News 6/6/2002) It is unclear how the US would know about his ties to the bombing at this time, though it’s possible that the consular official who reviews his fourth attempt in Berlin in October/November 2000 sees that al-Shibh entered Yemen one day before the attack and leaves shortly after it (see October 10-21, 2000). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 15 pdf file)

Kie Fallis, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) terrorism intelligence analyst, has been gathering evidence of an upcoming al-Qaeda attack or attacks. In 2002, he will describe to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry a research process similar to what Able Danger is using at the same time: “I began to notice there was a voluminous amount of information, as others have testified, regarding al-Qaeda. Most of it appeared to be unrelated to other pieces of information. It appeared to be almost chat. By using a piece of [commercial software called ‘Analyst’s Notebook’] I was able to put these small snippets of information into, and graphically represent them as well, I was able to, over a course of many months, to determine certain linkages between these items—linkages that would never be apparent without the use of this tool. It would be lost in the weeds. And there were a lot of weeds to look through.” (Gertz 8/26/2002; US Congress 10/8/2002) In his research, he claims to find links between al-Qaeda and Iranian intelligence. By May 2000, he writes a classified report on his conclusion that “terrorists were planning two or three major attacks against the United States. The only gaps were where and when.” Apparently, he envisions at least one of these attacks will use a small boat to blow up a US warship. However, the DIA has already issued a report concluding that such a method of attack would be impossible to carry out successfully, and the agency sticks by this assessment. A video message put out by bin Laden in mid-September convinces Fallis that an al-Qaeda attack will happen in the next month or two.(see Mid-September 2000). Shortly after learning about this message, Fallis reaches “the ‘eureka point‘… in determining an impending terrorist attack.” This comes “from a still-classified intelligence report in September 2000, which he will not discuss.” (Gertz 8/26/2002) This may be a reference to a lead by the Able Danger team on increased al-Qaeda activity in Yemen at this time (see Late September 2000), and/or it may refer to other intelligence leads. Fallis goes to his supervisor and asks that at least a general warning of an attack in the Middle East be issued. He hopes such a warning will at least put US military forces in the region on a higher alert. His superior turns him down, and other superiors fail to even learn of his suggested warning. The USS Cole will be successfully attacked in the port of Aden, Yemen, by a small boat of terrorists on October 12, 2000 (see October 12, 2000) . (Gertz 8/26/2002) One day after the Cole attack, Fallis will resign in protest. According to Senator John Warner (R-VA),“What [Fallis] felt is that his assessment was not given that proper level of consideration by his superiors and, as such, was not incorporated in the final intelligence reports provided to military commanders in the [Middle East region].” (CNN 10/25/2000)

President Clinton considers building a radar facility as part of a proposed national missile defense system. Clinton’s legal advisers have told him that he could “interpret” the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972) to allow such a facility, even though the treaty clearly prohibits any moves towards a missile defense system. Clinton later authorizes the construction of a radar facility in Alaska, but leaves the bulk of the decision-making to the next administration. (Agence France-Presse 6/21/2000; Savage 2007, pp. 67) Clinton’s successor, George W. Bush, will withdraw from the treaty entirely (see December 13, 2001).

The King Fahd Mosque in Culver City.The King Fahd Mosque in Culver City. [Source: Damian Dovarganes]Hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi travel to Los Angeles with an associate, Mohdar Abdullah, before Almihdhar leaves the US the next day (see June 10, 2000). When they visit the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, Abdullah is surprised that Alhazmi and Almihdhar already know several people at the mosque. Abdullah will later say, “I was surprised that anybody at the mosque knew them, because as far as I knew Alhazmi and Almihdhar hadn’t visited Los Angeles since they arrived in the US.” They meet one of the hijackers’ Los Angeles acquaintances, known as Khallam, again later that night at their motel. According to the 9/11 Commission, Khallam asks Abdullah to leave the motel room, so he can talk to Alhazmi and Almihdhar in private. However, Abdullah will later dispute this, saying he is not asked leave the room, but that Alhazmi leaves to make an international phone call from a pay phone. The identity of the person he calls is unknown, but it is possible that he talks to Ahmed al-Hada, an al-Qaeda operative whose safe house is monitored by the US and who Alhazmi sometimes calls from the US (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Khallam will apparently never be found after 9/11. The FBI will consider the possibility that he is Khallad bin Attash, as there are some reports that bin Attash is in the US at this time and met the mosque’s imam, Fahad al Thumairy. However, this theory will never be confirmed. (Krikorian and Reza 7/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 216, 514) The next day, Alhazmi, Abdullah and an unknown man make a casing video at Los Angeles Airport (see June 10, 2000). It is possible that the third man is Khallam.

Hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and one of his associates, Mohdar Abdullah, go to Los Angeles airport with hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who is returning to the Middle East via Germany (see June 10, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 222) Together with a third man, Alhazmi and Abdullah shoot videocamera footage there. They appear to be scouting out the airport and record secretly near the security area. The identity of the third man is not known, but he may be Khallam, an associate of Alhazmi and Almihdhar’s who they met the day before (see June 9, 2000). Al-Qaeda had plotted to bomb Los Angeles Airport not long before (see December 14, 1999). The tapes, which are not found until Abdullah is deported, will cause the FBI to re-start their investigation of him in 2006. (US District Court, Southern District of California 10/29/2004 pdf file; Myers 9/8/2006)

FISA court judge Royce Lamberth was angry with the FBI over misleading statements made in FISA wiretap applications.FISA court judge Royce Lamberth was angry with the FBI over misleading statements made in FISA wiretap applications. [Source: Public domain]While monitoring foreign terrorists in the US, the FBI listens to calls made by suspects as a part of an operation called Catcher’s Mitt, which is curtailed at this time due to misleading statements by FBI agents. It is never revealed who the targets of the FBI’s surveillance are under this operation, but below are some of the terrorism suspects under investigation in the US at the time:
bullet Imran Mandhai, Shuyeb Mossa Jokhan and Adnan El Shukrijumah in Florida. They are plotting a series of attacks there, but Mandhai and Jokhan are brought in for questioning by the FBI and surveillance of them stops in late spring (see November 2000-Spring 2002 and May 2, 2001);
bullet Another Florida cell connected to Blind Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The FBI has been investigating it since 1993 (see (October 1993-November 2001));
bullet Al-Qaeda operatives in Denver (see March 2000);
bullet A Boston-based al-Qaeda cell involving Nabil al-Marabh and Raed Hijazi. Cell members provide funding to terrorists, fight abroad, and are involved in document forging (see January 2001, Spring 2001, and Early September 2001);
bullet Fourteen of the hijackers’ associates the FBI investigates before 9/11. The FBI is still investigating four of these people while the hijackers associate with them; (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 169 pdf file)
bullet Hamas operatives such as Mohammed Salah in Chicago. Salah invests money in the US and sends it to the occupied territories to fund attacks (see June 9, 1998).
When problems are found with the applications for the wiretap warrants, an investigation is launched (see Summer-October 2000), and new requirements for warrant applications are put in place (see October 2000). From this time well into 2001, the FBI is forced to shut down wiretaps of al-Qaeda-related suspects connected to the 1998 US embassy bombings and Hamas (see March 2001 and April 2001). One source familiar with the case says that about 10 to 20 al-Qaeda related wiretaps have to be shut down and it becomes more difficult to get permission for new FISA wiretaps. Newsweek notes, “The effect [is] to stymie terror surveillance at exactly the moment it was needed most: requests from both Phoenix [with the Ken Williams memo (see July 10, 2001)] and Minneapolis [with Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest] for wiretaps [will be] turned down [by FBI superiors],” (see August 21, 2001 and August 28, 2001). (Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002) Robert Wright is an FBI agent who led the Vulgar Betrayal investigation looking into allegations that Saudi businessman Yassin al-Qadi helped finance the embassy bombings, and other matters. In late 2002, he will claim to discover evidence that some of the FBI intelligence agents who stalled and obstructed his investigation were the same FBI agents who misrepresented the FISA petitions. (Judicial Watch 9/11/2002)

When 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar leaves the US in June (see June 10, 2000), he flies to Frankfurt, Germany, and then to Oman in the Middle East. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file) From there he returns to his family’s home in Sana’a, Yemen. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 237) His wife and children live at an al-Qaeda communications hub that is run by his father in law, Ahmed al-Hada. The hub is being monitored by the NSA and CIA. Phone calls to and from the hub, including ones made by Almihdhar and other hijackers, are intercepted, rooms in the building are bugged, and spy satellites record visitors (see Late August 1998, Late 1998-Early 2002, and Early 2000-Summer 2001). Based on information gained from monitoring this house, the CIA and local intelligence services mounted a major operation against Almihdhar, other hijackers, and several more al-Qaeda operatives in December 1999 and January 2000, when they were followed around the Middle East and South Asia and monitored during an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see December 29, 1999, January 2-5, 2000, and January 5-8, 2000). So presumably US intelligence should have been aware of this visit to the hub and who Almihdhar was, but what exactly was known and who may have known it has not been made public. He will return to the hub in February 2001 and stay an unknown length of time (see February 2001).

The 9/11 hijackers living in Florida receive money from abroad via wire and bank transfers. After 9/11 the FBI and the 9/11 Commission will focus on just two sets of wire transfers, one totaling approximately $10,000 from hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see June 13-September 25, 2000) and another totaling about $110,000 from a plot facilitator later identified as Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (see June 29, 2000-September 18, 2000). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 134-5 pdf file) Some reports indicate that these are not the only wire transfers and that the hijackers receive extra money that is not subsequently mentioned by the 9/11 Commission (see (July-August 2000), May 2001, Early August-August 22, 2001, Summer 2001 and before, and Late August-Early September 2001). The hijackers also receive money by other means (see January 15, 2000-August 2001).

After 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar returns to the Middle East (see June 10, 2000 and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)), the NSA continues to intercept his telephone calls to and from an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, where his wife and children live. US intelligence understands that this is one of the most important al-Qaeda hot spots, and has been closely monitoring it since at least late 1998 (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). It also intercepts calls between hijacker Salem Alhazmi and the hub, as well as conversations between his brother, hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, in the US and the hub (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001). (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Wright 2006, pp. 343) The NSA had previously intercepted calls made by the hijackers to and from the communications hub, both when they were in the US and outside it (see Early 2000-Summer 2001).

A CIA informant reveals that a militant group based in Sidon, Lebanon that is affiliated with bin Laden is planning to attack a US naval ship somewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean, probably off the coast of Lebanon. (Miniter 2003, pp. 215) This is a probable reference to Asbat al-Ansar, the only group that fits such a profile. (US Department of State 5/21/2002) The CIA and Defense Department discount the threat, pointing out the US is not deploying ships near Lebanon. However, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later say he was alarmed by the warning because it showed increased ambitions for al-Qaeda in going after hardened military targets. (Miniter 2003, pp. 215) Al-Qaeda will successfully bomb the USS Cole several months later in Yemen (see October 12, 2000).

John Yoo, an associate law professor at the University of California at Berkeley, makes a presentation at a Cato Institute seminar on executive power. Yoo, who will go on to become one of the Bush administration’s primary advocates of unchecked executive power (see March 1996), accuses the Clinton administration of upending the Constitution to give the executive branch unwarranted authority (see March 24 - Mid-June, 1999). “[T]he Clinton administration has undermined the balance of powers that exist in foreign affairs, and [they] have undermined principles of democratic accountability that executive branches have agreed upon well to the Nixon administration,” he says. Regarding the Clinton administration’s stretched interpretation of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (see June 2000), Yoo says that the Clinton “legal arguments are so outrageous, they’re so incredible, that they actually show, I think, a disrespect for the idea of law, by showing how utterly manipulatible it is.” (Savage 2007, pp. 67)

The US intelligence community has been monitoring al-Qaeda telephone communications to and from a communications hub in Yemen since the late 1990s (see Late August 1998). The CIA intercepts an al-Qaeda operative say in a monitored phone call that bin Laden is planning a “Hiroshima-type event” against the US. Failed millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam, who is arrested in late 1999 (see December 14, 1999), confirms at the time that al-Qaeda is preparing such an attack. (Risen and Engelberg 10/14/2001; PBS 10/3/2002) This sets off an immediate but unsuccessful search for further evidence. Shortly after 9/11, the New York Times will report that “intelligence officials now acknowledge that they never imagined that Mr. bin Laden’s organization had the ability to kill thousands of people in coordinated attacks on the American homeland. Looking back through the prism of Sept. 11, officials now say that the intercepted message was a telling sign of a drastic shift in the ambitions and global reach of al-Qaeda during the last three years.” (Risen and Engelberg 10/14/2001) There apparently is another intercepted message talking about a “Hiroshima” event in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001).

Texas Governor George W. Bush, the Republican candidate for president, accepts his party’s nomination for president during the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia. During his speech, he declares his intent to move the United States away from observing “outdated” treaties such as the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty with Russia (see May 26, 1972). “Now is the time,” he says, “not to defend outdated treaties, but to defend the American people.” Less than a year after taking office, Bush will unilaterally withdraw the US from the treaty (see December 13, 2001). (Savage 2007, pp. 140)

A former member of the militant group Abu Sayyaf claims that the group is still being funded by a Saudi charity tied to bin Laden’s brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa. The Philippine branch of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) was founded in 1991 by Khalifa. This former member, who uses the alias “Abu Anzar,” says the IIRO continues to fund the Abu Sayyaf after Khalifa’s arrest in the US in late 1994 (see December 16, 1994-May 1995). Anzar says, “Only 10 to 30 percent of the foreign funding goes to the legitimate relief and livelihood projects and the rest go to terrorist operations.” Anzar is said to be recruited by Edwin Angeles and his right hand man; since Angeles has been revealed as a deep undercover operative (see 1991-Early February 1995), it is speculated Anzar may have been working undercover too. (Herrera 8/9/2000) A 1994 Philippine intelligence report listed a Gemma Cruz as the treasurer and board member of the IIRO. In 1998, Gemma Cruz-Araneta became the tourism secretary in the cabinet of new president Joseph Estrada. Anzar claims that in 1993 and 1994 he toured IIRO projects with Khalifa and Cruz-Araneta and identifies her as the same person who is now tourism secretary. Cruz-Araneta denies all the charges as a case of mistaken identity and retains her position in the cabinet. (Herrera 8/11/2000; Herrera 8/12/2000) In 2006, the US government will officially list the Philippine IIRO branch as a terrorism financier and state that it is still being run by one of Khalifa’s associates (see August 3, 2006).

The FBI and other US intelligence agencies have been monitoring an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, since the attacks on US embassies in East Africa, and have used it to map al-Qaeda’s global network (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). In the run-up to the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, the FBI notices that there is increased telephone activity to and from the Sana’a hub. One of the messages says that bin Laden is planning a “Hiroshima-type event” (see (August 2000)). (PBS 10/3/2002)

According to PBS, an Egyptian informant warns US intelligence that al-Qaeda will attack an American warship. (PBS 10/3/2002) The FBI also notices increased telephone activity by al-Qaeda in Yemen around the same time (see August-Early October 2000). The USS Cole is attacked in the autumn of this year (see October 12, 2000).

At the trial of al-Qaeda operatives accused of participating in the 1998 US African embassy bombings, it is disclosed that an unnamed al-Qaeda operative had requested information about air traffic control procedures. This information is provided to the FBI by a co-operating witness, L’Houssaine Kherchtou (see Summer 2000), and is mentioned by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who says that Kherchtou “observed an Egyptian person who was not a pilot debriefing a friend of his, Ihab Ali [Nawawi], about how air traffic control works and what people say over the air traffic control system, and it was his belief that there might have been a plan to send a pilot to Saudi Arabia or someone familiar with that to monitor the air traffic communications so they could possibly attack an airplane.” Nawawi is a Florida-based al-Qaeda operative and pilot who is arrested in 1999 (see May 18, 1999). The identity of the Egyptian is not disclosed, although both Kherchtou and Nawawi are associates of former Egyptian army officer Ali Mohamed, who used Kherchtou’s apartment to plot the Nairobi embassy bombing (see Late 1993-Late 1994 and January 1998). (United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 8 2/21/2001) Mohamed also conducted surveillance of airports in the early 1980s with a view to hijacking an airliner, and subsequently worked as a security adviser to Egyptair, where he had access to the latest anti-hijacking measures. (Lance 2006, pp. 11-12) Jack Cloonan, one of the FBI agents who debriefed Kherchtou, will later receive the Phoenix Memo (see July 27, 2001 or Shortly After), which states that an inordinate amount of bin Laden-related individuals are learning to fly in the US (see July 10, 2001). (Vest 6/19/2005) However, he will not apparently make the connection between the memo’s premise and the information from Kherchtou.

A videotape message featuring bin Laden calling for more attacks on the US is aired on Al Jazeera. The video ends with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri saying, “Enough of words, it is time to take action against this iniquitous and faithless force [the United States], which has spread troops through Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.” (CNN 10/20/2000; Gertz 8/26/2002) Further, bin Laden is wearing a distinctive, curved Yemeni dagger. Lawrence Wright will later mention in the book The Looming Tower that this was a “teasing clue” similar to other clues he had left before other attacks. (Wright 2006, pp. 318) DIA analyst Kie Fallis later recalls, “Every time he put out one of these videotapes, it was a signal that action was coming.” He claims that after hearing of the video, he “knew then it would be within a month or two.” But nonetheless, his suggestion to put out a general attack warning will go unheeded (see May 2000-Late September 2000). An al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole follows less than a month later (see October 12, 2000). (Gertz 8/26/2002)

Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer will later claim that Captain Scott Phillpott, leader of the Able Danger program, briefs General Peter Schoomaker, head of Special Operations Command (SOCOM), that Able Danger has uncovered information of increased al-Qaeda “activity” in Aden harbor, Yemen. Shaffer, plus two other officials familiar with Able Danger later tell the New York Post that this warning was gleaned through a search of bin Laden’s business ties. Shaffer later recalls, “Yemen was elevated by Able Danger to be one of the top three hot spots for al-Qaeda in the entire world.” This warning, plus another possibly connected warning from Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst Kie Fallis (see May 2000-Late September 2000), go unheeded and no official warning is issued. The USS Cole is attacked by al-Qaeda terrorists in Aden harbor in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). Shaffer later claims that Phillpott tells the 9/11 Commission about this warning in 2004 to show that Able Danger could have had a significant impact, but the Commission’s findings fail to mention the warning, or in fact anything else about Able Danger (see July 12, 2004). (Lathem 9/17/2005; Shaffer 9/20/2005) Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) will similarly tell Fox News: “[T]wo weeks before the attack on the Cole, in fact, two days before the attack on the Cole, [Able Danger] saw an increase of activity that led them to say to the senior leadership in the Pentagon at that time, in the Clinton administration, there’s something going to happen in Yemen and we better be on high alert, but it was discounted. That story has yet to be told to the American people.” (Fox News 10/8/2005)

Faiz abu Baker Bafana, an operative of al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, receives an Arab visitor and they discuss attacks on US interests in Singapore. Bafana knows the Arab as “Bandar,” but this is not his real name and it appears that “Bandar” is an alias for 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Almihdhar again stays in Yazid Sufaat’s apartment and travels to Afghanistan after the meeting. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/8/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/8/2006) The apartment is also used by Zacarias Moussaoui at around the same time (see September-October 2000), and Almihdhar and several other al-Qaeda commanders had used it for a summit at the start of the year (see January 5-8, 2000). Malaysian intelligence had been monitoring the apartment and passing the results on to the US, but the CIA did not ask for the surveillance to continue and it ended, apparently before this visit. Malaysian Legal Affairs minister Rais Yatim will express puzzlement over the CIA’s lack of interest in the apartment: “We couldn’t fathom it, really. There was no show of concern.” (Isikoff and Klaidman 6/2/2002) Almihdhar will return to Malaysia to continue the planning for the Singapore attack in the middle of 2001 (see June 2001).

During the first presidential debate between George W. Bush (R-TX) and Al Gore (D-TN), Bush accuses Gore of advocating a policy of aggressive foreign interventionism, a policy Gore does not support, but which Bush does (see December 2, 1999 and Spring 2000). “The vice president and I have a disagreement about the use of troops,” Bush says. “He believes in nation-building. I would be very careful about using our troops as nation builders” (see March 19, 2003). (Apparently, Bush is conflating the idea of foreign interventionism with the concept of nation building, two somewhat different concepts.) (Unger 2007, pp. 175-176) Bush will reiterate the claim in the next presidential debate (see October 11, 2000).

Before the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, Ramzi bin al-Shibh makes two trips to Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, and will later be said to play a role in the attack. Although bin al-Shibh is never named as a certain participant in the operation, he flies from Frankfurt, Germany, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), on October 10, 2000. The next day, he flies from Dubai to Sana’a, putting him there one day before the bombing (see October 12, 2000). He flies from Sana’a to Dubai on October 21, and where he goes from there is not certain. (Lichtblau and Williams 10/24/2001; Khan 8/11/2002 pdf file; Abuza 12/24/2002; McDermott 2005, pp. 209) Bin al-Shibh was also in Yemen for about four weeks up until a month before the bombing (see August-September 2000). Note also that the CIA is working with the Dubai airport to track all suspected militants passing through it, although it is not known if bin al-Shibh is suspected at this time (see 1999). He apparently attended an al-Qaeda summit with the other commanders of the ship-bombing operation in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000) and some media reports indicate an application for a US visa he makes after the attack is rejected due to concerns about his involvement in the bombing. For example, the Los Angeles Times, based on conversations with law enforcement officials, will report that bin al-Shibh is “linked to the terrorist attack in Yemen on the US Navy destroyer Cole.” (Lichtblau and Williams 10/21/2001) Newsweek, the BBC, and Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda will also report similar statements by law enforcement officials (see May 17, 2000-May 2001). (Thomas 11/26/2001; BBC 9/14/2002; TBS Journal 10/2002) One of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, may also be involved in the bombing (see Around October 12, 2000).

Damage to the USS Cole.Damage to the USS Cole. [Source: Department of Defense]The USS Cole is bombed in the Aden, Yemen harbor by two al-Qaeda militants, Hassan al-Khamri and Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras). Seventeen US soldiers are killed and 30 are wounded. The CIA will later conclude that with just slightly more skilled execution, the attack would have killed 300 and sunk the ship. (ABC News 10/13/2000; Coll 2004, pp. 532; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 191) The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) immediately takes credit for the attack. This is a Yemen-based Muslim militant group widely believed to have close ties to al-Qaeda (see 1996-1997 and After). (Whitaker 10/14/2000) The IAA statement is released by its spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997, (June 1998), and December 28, 1998 and After). Abu Hamza says that the attack was timed to mark the anniversary of the execution of the IAA’s former commander (see October 17, 1999). (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 184) The prime minister of Yemen at the time of the bombing will say shortly after 9/11, “The Islamic Army was part of al-Qaeda.” (Whitaker 10/13/2001) The US soon learns the names of some al-Qaeda operatives involved in the attack, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Tawfiq bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso (see Early December 2000), and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000). 9/11 hijackers Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see October 10-21, 2000) and Khalid Almihdhar (see Around October 12, 2000) may also have been involved. This is a repeat of a previously attempted attack, against the USS The Sullivans, which failed and was apparently undetected (see January 3, 2000). (McDermott, Meyer, and McDonnell 12/22/2002) The 9/11 Commission will later say the Cole bombing “was a full-fledged al-Qaeda operation, supervised directly by bin Laden. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives and equipment.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 190)

Hours after the USS Cole bombing in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), President Clinton says regarding the bombing: “If, as it now appears, this was an act of terrorism, it was a despicable and cowardly act. We will find out who was responsible and hold them accountable.” (ABC News 10/12/2000) But the US will not quickly retaliate against al-Qaeda, as it did with missile strikes after the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa (see August 20, 1998), despite convincing evidence that al-Qaeda was behind the Cole bombing (see Shortly After October 12, 2000, November 2000 or After, and November 7, 2000).

In the months after the USS Cole is bombed in autumn 2000 (see October 12, 2000), the NSA intercepts about half a dozen communications between hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father in law, Ahmed al-Hada. (Myers 7/21/2004; Meyer 12/21/2005; US President 12/26/2005 pdf file) The hub and people associated with it are thought to have played a support role in the Cole bombing (see also October 14-Late November, 2000 and October 4, 2001). (CNN 2/14/2002; Myers 7/21/2004) It was also involved in the bombing of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya (see August 4-25, 1998). The NSA has been monitoring the number for at least two years (see Late August 1998) and the FBI has used it to map al-Qaeda’s global organisation (see Late 1998-Early 2002). The NSA had previously intercepted calls between hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in the US and the hub (see Spring-Summer 2000 and Early 2000-Summer 2001) and also intercepts a call between Alhazmi and the hub a few weeks before 9/11 (see (August 2001)).

Barbara Bodine at a press conference days after the bombing of the USS Cole.Barbara Bodine at a press conference days after the bombing of the USS Cole. [Source: Reuters]The first FBI agents enter Yemen two days after the bombing of the USS Cole in an attempt to discover who was responsible. However, the main part of the team initially gets stuck in Germany because they do not have permission to enter Yemen and they are then unable to accomplish much due to restrictions placed on them and tensions between lead investigator John O’Neill and US Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine. All but about 50 investigators are forced to leave by the end of October. O’Neill’s boss Barry Mawn visits to assess the situation. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 237; Wright 1/14/2002; Sunday Times (London) 2/3/2002; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) Mawn will later comment, “It became clear [Bodine] simply hated his guts.” After a ten day investigation, he concludes O’Neill is doing a fine job, tells Bodine that she is O’Neill’s “only detractor,” and refuses her request to recall him. (Wright 2006, pp. 32) But O’Neill and much of his team are pressured to leave by late November and Bodine will not give him permission to return any time after that. The investigation stalls without his personal relationships to top Yemeni officials. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 237; Wright 1/14/2002; Sunday Times (London) 2/3/2002) Increased security threats force the reduced FBI team still in Yemen to withdraw altogether in June 2001. (PBS Frontline 10/3/2002) The prime minister of Yemen at the time later claims (see Early October 2001) that hijacker “Khalid Almihdhar was one of the Cole perpetrators, involved in preparations. He was in Yemen at the time and stayed after the Cole bombing for a while, then he left.” The Sunday Times later notes, “The failure in Yemen may have blocked off lines of investigation that could have led directly to the terrorists preparing for September 11.” (Sunday Times (London) 2/3/2002)

Fahad al-Quso, a Yemeni and known associate of Osama bin Laden, turns himself in to the Yemeni government after some of his relatives are questioned in the wake of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). (Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) He admits that he and one of the two Cole suicide bombers went to Bangkok, Thailand, and gave several thousand dollars to a man known as Khallad, who is identified as one of the masterminds of the Cole bombing. He says the money is to buy a new artificial leg for the one-legged Khallad. The transcript of the interrogation is given to the FBI a month later. FBI agent Ali Soufan sees the transcript and remembers a source he recruited in Afghanistan who spoke of a one-legged man named Khallad who is close to bin Laden. Khallad is his nickname; his real name is Tawfiq bin Attash. A mug shot of bin Attash is sent to this source, who makes a positive identification. Soufan wonders why money was being sent away from the Cole plotters and away from Yemen prior to a major planned attack and speculates that it may mean another al-Qaeda operation is being planned elsewhere. Soufan asks the CIA for information about Khallad and this other attack, which turns out to be 9/11, but the CIA withholds the information (see Late November 2000). Al-Quso will later reveal more to the FBI, leading to more missed opportunities (see Early December 2000). (Wright 2006, pp. 328-329)

Rahim al-NashiriRahim al-Nashiri [Source: AP]After several weeks of investigation, US authorities learn that al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was involved in the plot to attack the USS Cole. Investigators find a second safe house used by the bombing team, and learn it was registered to al-Nashiri under a name variant. Al-Nashiri’s name is dimly familiar to FBI agent Ali Soufan, who remembers that a source said al-Nashiri was planning a seaborne attack against a US vessel in Aden (see After August 7, 1998). The FBI then finds that al-Nashiri rented a car in Aden before the bombing. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “It was another strong link between al-Qaeda and the Cole attack.” (Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) In addition, one of the bombers detained by Yemeni authorities, Jamal al-Badawi, identifies al-Nashiri as a person who gave instructions for the attack. Al-Badawi also says he thought al-Nashiri was working for bin Laden, but al-Nashiri did not tell al-Badawi this directly. (CNN 12/13/2000) Although al-Nashiri was the operational manager, he was actually in Afghanistan for a meeting with Osama bin Laden when the opportunity to attack arose and was not physically present at the bombing. Investigators are aware that he is the cousin of one of the bombers of the US embassy in Nairobi, which he facilitated, and a captured embassy bomber identified a photo of him for the FBI two years earlier (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and August 22-25 1998). Al-Nashiri has been known to various intelligence agencies since 1998, at least, and was monitored at the Malaysia summit of top al-Qaeda leaders at the start of the year (see January 5-8, 2000). (CNN 12/11/2000; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3; Wright 2006, pp. 318) US investigators also identify another leading suspect in the case, Khallad bin Attash, at around the same time (see January 4, 2001).

In London, Lord Justice Laws and Justice Gibbs rule that the US and Britain’s forced removal of some 1,800 people from the Chagos Islands (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) was illegal, thereby granting the islands’ former inhabitants the right to resettle the archipelago. (BBC 11/3/2000; MacAskill 11/4/2000; Miller 11/4/2000; BBC 10/31/2002; Madeley 1/7/2005) The court also awards the Chagossians with the costs of resettling (MacAskill 11/4/2000) but does not order the government to provide them with compensation. (MacAskill and Evans 12/13/2000) The judges also find that the two governments deliberately misled the United Nations and their own legislative bodies when they claimed that the displaced population consisted entirely of seasonal contract workers from Mauritius and the Seychelles and had no right to remain there (see April 21, 1969). Additionally, the ruling criticizes the two governments for not seeing to the welfare of the islanders after they were evicted. (Lobe 1/28/2002) Within hours of the ruling, the British Foreign Office accepts the judgment but says that the islanders will only be permitted to resettle on the islands of Penhos Banhos and Salomon. No one will be permitted to return to Diego Garcia, the largest of the islands, where most of the Chagossians once lived. The US is leasing the island until 2016 (see December 30, 1966) and is operating a very large naval base there (see March 1971). (MacAskill 11/4/2000; Miller 11/4/2000) Commenting on the case, an unnamed US Defense Department official tells the Los Angeles Times: “The United States does have a strategic interest on Diego Garcia. But this is a matter between the British authorities and the individuals who brought the case. We have no comment on the merits of the case.” The official adds that Diego Garcia “has played a primary role in the support of naval and Air Force units operating in the Indian Ocean and the Persian Gulf.” (Miller 11/4/2000)

The US puts out an international arrest warrant for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). The warrant seeks KSM in connection with the 1995 Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995). (Hall 3/13/2003) It is not clear why the US waited so long to issue this warrant, considering that the US connected him to a major terrorist act back in 1993 (see March 20, 1993), learned he was a major figure in the Bojinka plot in 1995 (see After February 7, 1995-January 1996), secretly indicted him in January 1996, and placed a $2 million reward on his head in January 1998 (see January 8, 1998).

Based on information obtained during the investigation of the USS Cole bombing (see Late October-Late November 2000), the FBI asks the CIA for information about al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash and a possible al-Qaeda meeting in Southeast Asia in early 2000, but the CIA withholds the information. The request is sent by FBI Director Louis Freeh on behalf of agent Ali Soufan, who is working on the Cole investigation. Soufan began to suspect such a meeting may have taken place when he learned that two of the operatives involved in the bombing had taken money out of Yemen to give to bin Attash in Thailand before the attack (see January 13, 2000), making him think the money may have been intended for a bigger plot. The CIA is highly aware of the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), which was considered so important that CIA Director George Tenet and other CIA leaders were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000). The CIA has photos of bin Attash and al-Quso attending the meeting (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After), which took place only a few days before al-Quso’s meeting with bin Attash in Thailand. Yet the CIA does not respond to Soufan’s clearly stated request. Author Lawrence Wright will later comment, “The fact that the CIA withheld information about the mastermind of the Cole bombing and the meeting in Malaysia, when directly asked by the FBI, amount[s] to obstruction of justice in the death of seventeen American sailors [who were killed in the Cole bombing].” Although he was not told one of the 9/11 hijackers had a US visa, Freeh was briefed on the Malaysia summit when it took place (see January 6, 2000), but apparently he does not tell Soufan what he knows, and Soufan remains unaware that any kind of al-Qaeda meeting in Southeast Asia even occurred. (Wright 2006, pp. 328-9; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file)

The NSA completes a report for the incoming Bush administration entitled “Transition 2000” that tells how the NSA is planning to improve its intelligence gathering. More importantly, it tells incoming White House officials that in the process of improving its intelligence gathering, some US citizens will inevitably be targeted for surveillance, though, according to a former NSA official, analysts were supposed to “delete the name of the” citizen being surveilled. Such inadvertent surveillance of US citizens took place even during the Clinton administration, says that former official, but the citizens’ names were always deleted from the transcripts of the communications intercepts. The law expressly prohibits the NSA from spying on US citizens, US corporations, or even permanent US residents. (With the permission of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the NSA can spy on diplomats and foreigners inside US borders.) An NSA official will tell the Boston Globe in October 2001, “If, in the course of surveillance, NSA analysts learn that it involves a US citizen or company, they are dumping that information right then and there.” However, once President Bush takes office in January 2001, that practice will undergo a radical change (see Spring 2001). (Leopold 1/17/2006) In the same transition report, agency officials say that the NSA must become a “powerful, permanent presence” on the commercial communications networks, a goal they admit will raise legal and privacy issues. (Lichtblau, Risen, and Shane 12/16/2007)

9/11 hijackers Hani Hanjour and Nawaf Alhazmi move together from San Diego to Mesa, Arizona, just outside Phoenix. (US News and World Report 6/20/2004) While there, Hanjour spends time training at Arizona Aviation flight school, which he previously attended in January 1998 (see 1998). According to the 9/11 Commission, “He wanted to train on multi-engine planes, but had difficulties because his English was not good enough. The instructor advised him to discontinue but Hanjour said he could not go home without completing the training.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 226) He also attends the JetTech flight school in Phoenix (see January-February 2001). In March 2001, Hanjour moves to Paterson, New Jersey, where he rents an apartment with Salem Alhazmi (see March 2001-September 1, 2001).

The CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, writes a cable noting that further connections have been made between 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and al-Qaeda. This CIA station is already aware that Almihdhar attended an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). Due to these additional connections, the CIA believes that there may be a connection between Almihdhar and the USS Cole bombers and that Almihdhar may have met Fahad al-Quso and Khallad bin Attash, two of the operatives involved in the bombing, in Southeast Asia in January 2000 (see January 13, 2000 and Early December 2000). The station realizes this is important because bin Attash is linked to Osama bin Laden, but also speculates that bin Attash and Almihdhar may be the same person. The reason given for this speculation is that both bin Attash and Almihdhar are in Bangkok, Thailand, at the same time, in the second week of January 2000 (see Mid-Late December 2000). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 269-270 pdf file)

Damaged cars from the Christmas Eve bombings.Damaged cars from the Christmas Eve bombings. [Source: SBS Dateline]Al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) sets off two series of bombs, first in Indonesia, then in the Philippines. The Christmas Eve attacks in Indonesia comprise a series of 38 bombings in 11 cities and are directed against churches. Nineteen people are killed and over a hundred injured. (LaMoshi 10/8/2004) The attacks in the Philippines kill 22 and injure 120 in the country’s capital, Manila. The operation, involving attacks on a train, a bus, an abandoned petrol station, an airport car park, and a park, is apparently carried out by Indonesian JI operative Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi. (BBC 2/27/2002) Many militants are arrested after the attacks. The investigation leads to JI and al-Qaeda leader Hambali, a veteran Islamic fighter who was involved in the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), is tied to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see June 1994), and attended an al-Qaeda Malaysia summit in 2000, which was monitored by Malaysia intelligence and the CIA (see January 5-8, 2000). Although Hambali, an Indonesian, has lived in Malaysia since the mid-1990s, the authorities cannot find him and say that he has fled to Saudi Arabia (see January 2001 and after). (Jakarta Post 2/7/2001) JI’s spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, is also arrested, but then released. (CNN 2/26/2004) Hambali will finally be captured in August 2003 in Thailand (see August 12, 2003). In February 2001, evidence will come out suggesting links between some of the bombers and the Indonesian military (see February 20, 2001).

Documents obtained by Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Salem Alhazmi indicate that they are in the New Jersey / New York area at this time, although the cards may be later fakes. All three hijackers obtain USA ID cards whose expiry date is December 30, 2006. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 191-2 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006) USAID Systems, the Florida firm that manufactured the system through which the cards were issued, will later tell Time magazine that Almihdhar’s card was issued exactly six years before its expiration date. (Burger and Bennett 8/29/2005) However, according to the FBI and the 9/11 Commission, Nawaf Alhazmi is in Arizona (see December 12, 2000-March 2001), and Salem Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar are in the Middle East at this time (see June 10, 2000, Late October 2000-July 4, 2001, and April 23-June 29, 2001). Almihdhar’s card later proves to be a forgery, and may therefore not have been issued on this date. The Alhazmi brothers’ cards may also be forgeries (see (July-August 2001))

Hani Hanjour, from a 2000 US visa application.
Hani Hanjour, from a 2000 US visa application. [Source: 9/11 Commission]In January 2001, the Arizona flight school JetTech alerts the FAA about hijacker Hani Hanjour. No one at the school suspects Hanjour of terrorist intent, but they tell the FAA he lacks both the English and flying skills necessary for the commercial pilot’s license he has already obtained. For instance, he had taken classes at the University of Arizona but failed his English classes with a 0.26 grade point average. A JetTech flight school manager “couldn’t believe he had a commercial license of any kind with the skills that he had.” A former employee says, “I’m still to this day amazed that he could have flown into the Pentagon. He could not fly at all.” They also note he is an exceptionally poor student who does not seem to care about passing his courses. (Yardley 5/4/2002; CBS News 5/10/2002) An FAA official named John Anthony actually sits next to Hanjour in class and observes his skills. He suggests the use of a translator to help Hanjour pass, but the flight school points out that goes “against the rules that require a pilot to be able to write and speak English fluently before they even get their license.” (Associated Press 5/10/2002) The FAA verifies that Hanjour’s 1999 pilot’s license is legitimate (see April 15, 1999), but takes no other action. However, his license should have been rejected because it had already expired in late 1999 when he failed to take a manadatory medical test. (Kelley 9/15/2001; CBS News 5/10/2002) An Arizona FAA inspector later says, “There should have been a stop right then and there.” He will claim that federal law would have required Hanjour to be re-examined. (Associated Press 6/13/2002) In February, Hanjour begins advanced simulator training, “a far more complicated task than he had faced in earning a commercial license.” (Yardley and Thomas 6/19/2002) The flight school again alerts the FAA about this and gives a total of five alerts about Hanjour, but no further action on him is taken. The FBI is not told about Hanjour. (CBS News 5/10/2002) Ironically, in July 2001, Arizona FBI agent Ken Williams will recommend in a memo that the FBI liaison with local flight schools and keep track of suspicious activity by Middle Eastern students (see July 10, 2001).

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)

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)

Atta’s immigration record for his arrival on January 10, 2001, after alteration in early May.Atta’s immigration record for his arrival on January 10, 2001, after alteration in early May. [Source: 9/11 Commission]The Miami Herald will report: “INS documents, matched against an FBI alert given to German police, show two men named Mohamed Atta [arrive] in Miami on January 10, each offering different destination addresses to INS agents, one in Nokomis, near Venice, the other at a Coral Springs condo. He (they?) is admitted, despite having overstayed his previous visa by a month. The double entry could be a paperwork error, or confusion over a visa extension. It could be Atta arrived in Miami, flew to another country like the Bahamas, and returned the same day. Or it could be that two men somehow cleared immigration with the same name using the same passport number.” (Morgan, Kidwell, and Corral 9/22/2001) Officials will later call this a bureaucratic snafu, and insist that only one Atta entered the US on this date. (Corte 10/28/2001) In addition, while Atta arrives on a tourist visa, he tells immigration inspectors that he is taking flying lessons in the US, which requires an M-1 student visa. (Lardner 10/28/2001) The fact that he had overstayed his visa by over a month on a previous visit also does not cause a problem. (Williams, Dahlburg, and Reza 9/27/2001) The INS will later defend its decision, but “immigration experts outside the agency dispute the INS position vigorously.” For instance, Stephen Yale-Loehr, co-author of a 20-volume treatise on immigration law, will assert: “They just don’t want to tell you they blew it. They should just admit they made a mistake.” (Lardner 10/28/2001)

Marwan Alshehhi.Marwan Alshehhi. [Source: FBI]Future 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi is able to reenter the US without trouble, after a brief, mysterious trip to Morocco (see January 11-18, 2001), despite having overstayed his previous visa by about five weeks. (Los Angeles Times 9/27/2001; US Department of Justice 5/20/2002)

According to reporter and author Charlie Savage, the White House staff quickly coalesces into two camps: “Bush People[,] mostly personal friends of the new president who shared his inexperience in Washington,” which includes President Bush’s top legal counsels, Alberto Gonzales and Harriet Miers, both corporate lawyers in Texas before joining Bush in Washington. The second group is “Cheney People—allies from [Vice-President Dick] Cheney’s earlier stints in the federal government (see May 25, 1975, November 18, 1980, 1981-1992, 1989, and June 1996) who were deeply versed in Washington-level issues, a familiarity that would allow their views to dominate internal meetings. These included [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld and other cabinet secretaries, key deputies throughout the administration, and David Addington, Cheney’s longtime aide who would become a chief architect of the administration’s legal strategy in the war on terrorism” (see July 1, 1992 and (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Savage will observe, “Given the stark contrast in experience between Cheney and Bush, it was immediately clear to observers of all political stripes that Cheney would possess far more power than had any prior vice president.”
'Unprecedented' Influence - Cheney will certainly have “unprecedented” influence, according to neoconservative publisher William Kristol, who himself had served as former Vice President Dan Quayle’s chief of staff. “The question to ask about Cheney,” Kristol will write, is “will he be happy to be a very trusted executor of Bush’s policies—a confidant and counselor who suggests personnel and perhaps works on legislative strategy, but who really doesn’t try to change Bush’s mind about anything? Or will he actually, substantively try to shape administration policy in a few areas, in a way that it wouldn’t otherwise be going?”
Expanding the Power of the Presidency - Cheney will quickly answer that question, Savage will write, by attempting to “expand the power of the presidency.” Savage will continue: “He wanted to reduce the authority of Congress and the courts and to expand the ability of the commander in chief and his top advisers to govern with maximum flexibility and minimum oversight. He hoped to enlarge a zone of secrecy around the executive branch, to reduce the power of Congress to restrict presidential action, to undermine limits imposed by international treaties, to nominate judges who favored a stronger presidency, and to impose greater White House control over the permanent workings of government. And Cheney’s vision of expanded executive power was not limited to his and Bush’s own tenure in office. Rather, Cheney wanted to permanently alter the constitutional balance of American government, establishing powers that future presidents would be able to wield as well.” (Savage 2007, pp. 7-9) Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, will say after leaving the administration: “We used to say about both [Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s office] and the vice president’s office that they were going to win nine out of 10 battles, because they were ruthless, because they have a strategy, because they never, never deviate from that strategy. They make a decision, and they make it in secret, and they make it in a different way than the rest of the bureaucracy makes it, and then suddenly, foist it on the government—and the rest of the government is all confused.” (Unger 2007, pp. 299)
Signing Statements to Reshape Legislation, Expand Presidential Power - To that end, Cheney ensures that all legislation is routed through his office for review before it reaches Bush’s desk. Addington goes through every bill for any new provisions that conceivably might infringe on the president’s power as Addington interprets it, and drafts signing statements for Bush to sign. In 2006, White House counsel Bradford Berenson will reflect: “Signing statements unite two of Addington’s passions. One is executive power. And the other is the inner alleyways of bureaucratic combat. It’s a way to advance executive power through those inner alleyways.… So he’s a vigorous advocate of signing statements and including important objections in signing statements. Most lawyers in the White House regard the bill review process as a tedious but necessary bureaucratic aspect of the job. Addington regarded it with relish. He would dive into a 200-page bill like it was a four-course meal.” It will not be long before White House and Justice Department lawyers begin vetting legislation themselves, with Addington’s views in mind. “You didn’t want to miss something,” says a then-lawyer in the White House. (Savage 2007, pp. 236)

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