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Context of 'May 28, 1998: Bin Laden Wants to Use Missiles against US Aircraft; Possibly Given Doctored Phone Battery'

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A young Indonesian nicknamed Hambali forms a front company that ties al-Qaeda figures to the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), an early version of the 9/11 plot. Hambali had fought in Afghanistan in the late 1980’s, repeatedly met with bin Laden there, and allied himself to bin Laden’s cause. In 1994, Hambali, living in a village north of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, began frequently receiving visitors. According to his landlord, “Some looked Arab and others white.” There has been no explanation who these “white” visitors may have been. Hambali had been very poor prior to this time, but he is suddenly “flush with newfound cash” brought by the visitors. In June 1994, he founds a front company called Konsonjaya with Wali Khan Amin Shah, a key Bojinka plotter, and both their names are listed on the eight-person board of directors. Shah fought with bin Laden in Afghanistan, and bin Laden will even admit knowing him and praise him in an 1998 interview (see May 28, 1998). Philippine police phone taps show that frequent calls are made from the Konsonjaya offices in Malaysia to the Philippines offices of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law who is also believed to be part of the Bojinka plot (see 1994). [Time, 4/1/2002] A Malaysian official will later say that Hambali spends time in the Philippines with Shah and bomber Ramzi Yousef in 1994 as they plan the Bojinka plot. [Washington Post, 2/3/2002] Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, another Konsonjaya director, makes frequent trips from Malaysia to the Philippines while planning for the Bojinka plot is under way, and he is later believed to play a key role in financing the plot. In early 1995, after the Bojinka plot is broken up, one of the arrested Bojinka plotters will confess to Konsonjaya’s role in the plot (see February-Early May 1995) and a Philippine investigator’s flow chart of the Bojinka plotters and their connections will prominently include Konsonjaya (see Spring 1995). However, neither the Philippine nor US government appears interested in capturing Hambali, al-Ghafari, or the others involved in Konsonjaya before 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 6/24/2002; Contemporary Southeast Asia, 12/1/2002] Hambali will continue to live openly in Malaysia, even throwing a party every year for hundreds of people (see April 1991-Late 2000). He will go on to plan other al-Qaeda attacks and will attend a key planning meeting for the 9/11 plot in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). [Time, 4/1/2002] Al-Ghafari will finally be deported in 2002 after years of police protection (see October 8-November 8, 2002).

Entity Tags: Wali Khan Amin Shah, Ramzi Yousef, Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, Konsonjaya, Hambali, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Operation Bojinka

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

June 1996: Informant’s Clues Point to KSM

Wali Khan Amin Shah.Wali Khan Amin Shah. [Source: Peter Lance]While al-Qaeda operative Jamal al-Fadl gives a treasure trove of useful information on al-Qaeda to US intelligence (see June 1996-April 1997), one person he describes in detail is Wali Khan Amin Shah. Shah was one of the plotters of the Operation Bojinka plot (see February 7, 1995). Al-Fadl reveals that Shah has al-Qaeda ties. Author Peter Lance notes that US intelligence should have concluded that Shah’s fellow Operation Bojinka plotter, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), also has al-Qaeda ties. However, there is no new effort to find KSM, and he later goes on to mastermind the 9/11 attacks. [Lance, 2003, pp. 330-31]

Entity Tags: Peter Lance, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Al-Qaeda, Jamal al-Fadl, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An Inmarsat Compact M satellite phone, the type used by bin Laden.An Inmarsat Compact M satellite phone, the type used by bin Laden. [Source: Inmarsat]During this period, Osama bin Laden uses a satellite phone to direct al-Qaeda’s operations. The phone—a Compact M satellite phone, about the size of a laptop computer—was purchased by a student in Virginia named Ziyad Khaleel for $7,500 using the credit card of a British man named Saad al-Fagih. After purchasing the phone, Khaleel sent it to Khalid al-Fawwaz, al-Qaeda’s unofficial press secretary in London (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). Al-Fawwaz then shipped it to bin Laden in Afghanistan. [CNN, 4/16/2001] It appears US intelligence actually tracks the purchase as it occurs (see November 1996-Late December 1999), probably because an older model satellite phone bin Laden has is already being monitored (see Early 1990s). Bin Laden’s phone (873682505331) is believed to be used by other top al-Qaeda leaders as well, including Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammad Atef. Al-Fawwaz also buys satellite phones for other top al-Qaeda leaders around the same time. Though the calls made on these phones are encrypted, the NSA is able to intercept and decrypt them. As one US official will put it in early 2001, “codes were broken.” [United Press International, 2/13/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The Los Angeles Times will report that the monitoring of these phones “produced tens of thousands of pages of transcripts over two years.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] Bin Laden’s satellite phone replaces an older model he used in Sudan that apparently was also monitored by the NSA (see Early 1990s). Billing records for his new phone are eventually released to the media in early 2002. Newsweek will note, “A country-by-country analysis of the bills provided US authorities with a virtual road map to important al-Qaeda cells around the world.” [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] The countries called are:
bullet Britain (238 or 260). Twenty-seven different phone numbers are called in Britain. Accounts differ on the exact number of calls. Khalid al-Fawwaz, who helps publish statements by bin Laden, receives 143 of the calls, including the very first one bin Laden makes with this phone. Apparently most of the remaining calls are made to pay phones near him or to his associates. He also frequently calls Ibrahim Eidarous, who works with al-Fawwaz and lives near him. [CNN, 4/16/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 111]
bullet Yemen (221). Dozens of calls go to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, which is run by the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see Late August 1998). [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Bamford, 2008, pp. 8]
bullet Sudan (131). Bin Laden lived in Sudan until 1996 (see May 18, 1996), and some important al-Qaeda operatives remained there after he left (see February 5, 1998). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Iran (106). Newsweek will later report: “US officials had little explanation for the calls to Iran. A Bush administration official said that US intelligence has believed for years that hard-line anti-American factions inside Iran helped bin Laden’s organization operate an ‘underground railroad’ smuggling Islamic militants to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.” [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Azerbaijan (67). An important al-Qaeda operative appears to be based in Baku, Azerbaijan. [Washington Post, 5/2/2001] This is most likely Ahmad Salama Mabruk, who is very close to al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri and is said to be the head of the al-Qaeda cell there. He kidnapped by the CIA in Baku in late August 1998 (see Late August 1998).
bullet Kenya (at least 56). In the embassy bombings trial, prosecutors introduce evidence showing 16 calls are made on this phone to some of the embassy bombers in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), apparently all before a raid in August 1997 (see August 21, 1997). The defense introduces evidence showing at least 40 more calls are made after that time (see Late 1996-August 1998). [CNN, 4/16/2001]
bullet Pakistan (59).
bullet Saudi Arabia (57).
bullet A ship in the Indian Ocean (13).
bullet The US (6).
bullet Italy (6).
bullet Malaysia (4).
bullet Senegal (2). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Egypt (unknown). Newsweek reports that calls are made to Egypt but doesn’t say how many. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002]
bullet Iraq (0). Press reports note that the records indicate zero calls were made to Iraq. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] 1,100 total calls are made on this phone. Adding up the above numbers means that the destination of over 100 calls is still unaccounted for. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The use of this phone stops two months after the August 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. However, it appears bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders continue to use other satellite phones occasionally after this time. Shortly after 9/11, James Bamford, an expert authority on the agency, says “About a year or so ago the NSA lost all track of him.… He may still use [satellite phones] occasionally to talk about something mundane, but he discovered that the transmitters can be used for honing.” [CNN, 9/21/2001] According to a different account, bin Laden will attempt to use a different phone communication method, but US intelligence will soon discover it and continue monitoring his calls (see Late 1998 and After).

Entity Tags: Ziyad Khaleel, Saad al-Fagih, Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim Eidarous, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Mohammed Atef, Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Ahmad Salama Mabruk

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

During his interview with John Miller, bin Laden is positioned in front of East Africa on a map, and US embassies will be bombed in East Africa several months later. Bin Laden has considered it his religious duty to give warning before attacks and thus has left clues like this.During his interview with John Miller, bin Laden is positioned in front of East Africa on a map, and US embassies will be bombed in East Africa several months later. Bin Laden has considered it his religious duty to give warning before attacks and thus has left clues like this. [Source: CNN]In an interview with ABC News reporter John Miller, Osama bin Laden indicates he may attack a US military passenger aircraft using antiaircraft missiles. Bin Laden says: “We are sure of our victory. Our battle with the Americans is larger than our battle with the Russians.… We predict a black day for America and the end of the United States as United States, and will be separate states, and will retreat from our land and collect the bodies of its sons back to America.” In the subsequent media coverage, Miller will repeatedly refer to bin Laden as “the world’s most dangerous terrorist,” and “the most dangerous man in the world.” [ABC News, 5/28/1998; ABC News, 6/12/1998; Esquire, 2/1999; US Congress, 7/24/2003] The book The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright will later note, “Looming behind his head was a large map of Africa, an unremarked clue.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 264] Bin Laden admits to knowing Wali Khan Amin Shah, one of the Bojinka plotters (see June 1996), but denies having met Bojinka plotter Ramzi Yousef or knowing about the plot itself. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] A Virginia man named Tarik Hamdi (see March 20, 2002) helped set up Miller’s interview. He goes with Miller to Afghanistan and gives bin Laden a new battery for his satellite phone (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will later claim that this battery was somehow bugged to help the US monitor bin Laden. [Newsweek, 8/10/2005] In 2005, Miller will become the FBI’s assistant director of the Office of Public Affairs. [All Headline News, 8/24/2005]

Entity Tags: John Miller, Operation Bojinka, Osama bin Laden, Vincent Cannistraro, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Tarik Hamdi, Ramzi Yousef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A US surface ship firing a missile. The date and time is unknown.A US surface ship firing a missile. The date and time is unknown. [Source: PBS]Hours before the US missile strike meant to assassinate bin Laden, he is warned that his satellite phone is being used to track his location and he turns it off. A former CIA official later alleges the warning came from supporters working for Pakistani intelligence, the ISI. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 201-202] It has been claimed that a tracking beacon was placed in bin Laden’s phone when a replacement battery was brought to him in May 1998 (see May 28, 1998). The US military only gave Pakistan about ten minutes’ advance notice that cruise missiles were entering their air space on their way to Afghanistan. This was done to make sure the missiles wouldn’t be misidentified and shot down. [New Yorker, 1/24/2000] But Pakistan was apparently aware several hours earlier, as soon as the missiles were launched. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later claims he was promised by the Navy that it would fire their missiles from below the ocean surface. However, in fact, many destroyers fired their missiles from the surface. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 188-89] He adds, “not only did they use surface ships—they brought additional ones in, because every captain wants to be able to say he fired the cruise missile.” [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] As a result, the ISI had many hours to alert bin Laden. Furthermore, Clarke later says, “I have reason to believe that a retired head of the ISI was able to pass information along to al-Qaeda that an attack was coming.” This is a likely reference to Hamid Gul, director of the ISI in the early 1990’s. [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] In 1999 the US will intercept communications suggesting that Gul played a role in forewarning the Taliban about the missile strike which may even had predated the firing of the cruise missiles (see July 1999). Clarke says he believes that “if the [ISI] wanted to capture bin Laden or tell us where he was, they could have done so with little effort. They did not cooperate with us because ISI saw al-Qaeda as helpful in pressuring India, particularly in Kashmir.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 188-89] Furthermore, bin Laden cancels a meeting with other al-Qaeda leaders after finding out that 180 US diplomats were being immediately withdrawn from Pakistan on a chartered plane. Thanks to these warnings, he is hundreds of miles away from his training camps when the missiles hit some hours later (see August 20, 1998). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 202]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Hamid Gul, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden’s satellite phone is being monitored by US intelligence at the time of the US embassy bombings in early August 1998 (see November 1996-Late August 1998 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
Washington Times Article Falsely Blamed - On August 21, 1998, an article in the Washington Times says of bin Laden, “He keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones…” The Washington Post will later note, “The information in the article does not appear to be based on any government leak and made no reference to government surveillance of bin Laden’s phone.” Other articles published on the same day make similar claims. However, it will become widely believed that this article causes bin Laden to stop using his satellite phone, which is being secretly monitored by the US (see November 1996-Late August 1998). [Washington Post, 12/20/2005] For instance, the 9/11 Commission will later blame this article and President Bush will repeat the story in late 2005. However, bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone was already widely publicized. For instance, in December 1996, Time magazine noted that bin Laden “uses satellite phones to contact fellow Islamic militants in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.” In 1997, bin Laden actually talked in a CNN interview about his use of satellite phones.
First Mention that US Was Monitoring His Calls in September - It is only on September 7, 1998, after bin Laden apparently stopped using his phone, that the Los Angeles Times is the first newspaper to mention that the US is monitoring his calls. The article says that US authorities “used their communications intercept capacity to pick up calls placed by bin Laden on his Inmarsat satellite phone, despite his apparent use of electronic ‘scramblers.’” [Washington Post, 12/22/2005]
Bin Laden Tipped Off by Missile Strike? - One possible explanation is that bin Laden stops using his phone after the August 1998 missile strike aimed at him (see August 20, 1998) for fear that the phone was used as a homing device for the missiles. The phone was in fact used as a homing device, and Defense Secretary William Cohen publicly acknowledged this by early 2001. The missile strike took place just one day before the Washington Times article. [United Press International, 2/21/2001] In 1998, a US man named Tarik Hamdi delivered a new battery for bin Laden’s phone. A former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center has stated that the battery was somehow bugged to improve US monitoring of bin Laden (see May 28, 1998).
Bin Laden Tipped Off before the Strike? - Another possibility is that bin Laden stopped using his phone just before the missile strike. Sunday Times reporter Simon Reeve claims the Pakistani ISI warned him about the strike hours before it happened, and told him that his phone use was being monitored by the US (see August 20, 1998). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 201-202]

Entity Tags: William S. Cohen, Tarik Hamdi, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

John Miller.John Miller. [Source: FBI]ABC News reporter John Miller gives a speech in which he discusses the growing indications that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has plans to carry out an attack in the United States. Miller gives his speech at the annual conference of the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 286-287] The conference, held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from June 24 to June 30, is attended by around 700 law enforcement officers from around the world. [Sandia LabNews, 6/15/2001] Miller will later explain some of the thinking behind his claim that bin Laden could be planning an attack in the US. “At that time,” he will write, “US authorities were divided over where bin Laden would strike next. Most officials believed that he was aiming at ‘soft’ US targets overseas, based on his past actions and electronic phone intercepts of al-Qaeda members around the world.” Other officials, though, taking into account al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam’s failed plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on December 31, 1999 (see December 14, 1999), believe his next attack will take place on US soil. Miller will write that a “spike in phone traffic among suspected al-Qaeda members in the early part of the summer, as well as debriefings of Ressam,” have convinced investigators that bin Laden is planning “a significant operation” and he is “planning it soon.” Furthermore, he will comment, “[N]o one working on the problem seemed to doubt bin Laden’s intentions to target Americans.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 287] Miller has been a correspondent for ABC News, with a primary focus on terrorism, since 1995. Notably, he interviewed bin Laden in Afghanistan in May 1998 (see May 28, 1998). Before joining ABC News, he spent many years as a television crime reporter in New York, and between 1994 and 1995 served as deputy police commissioner of New York City. [ABC News, 5/28/1998; Cincinnati Enquirer, 1/16/2002; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 8/23/2005; Hollywood Reporter, 10/17/2011]

Entity Tags: John Miller, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

March 20, 2002: SAAR Network Is Raided

US Customs Agents carry out boxes of evidence from SAAR network businesses on March 20, 2002.US Customs Agents carry out boxes of evidence from SAAR network businesses on March 20, 2002. [Source: Mike Theiler/ Getty Images]Scores of federal agents raid 14 entities in a cluster of more than 100 homes, charities, think tanks, and businesses in Herndon, Virginia, a town just outside of Washington with a large Muslim population. No arrests are made and no organizations are shut down, but over 500 boxes of files and computer files are confiscated, filling seven trucks. This group of interlocking entities is widely known as the SAAR network (it is also sometimes called the Safa Group). SAAR stands for Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, a Saudi banker and billionaire who largely funded the group beginning in the early 1980s (see July 29, 1983). He is said to be close to the Saudi ruling family and is on the Golden Chain, a list of early al-Qaeda supporters (see 1988-1989). [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Farah, 2004, pp. 152; Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004] The name and address of Salah al-Rajhi, Suleiman’s brother, was discovered in 1998 in the telephone book of Wadih El-Hage (see September 15, 1998). El-Hage was bin Laden’s personal secretary and was convicted of a role in the 1998 US embassy bombings. [New York Times, 3/25/2002] The raids are said to be primarily led by David Kane, a Customs agent working with a Customs investigation started just after 9/11 code-named Operation Greenquest. Many of the organizations are located at an office building at 555 Grove Street in Herndon. Kane writes in an affidavit for the raid that many organizations based there are “paper organizations” which “dissolve and are replaced by other organizations under the control of the same group of individuals.” [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004] Investigators appear to be primarily interested in the connections between the SAAR network and the Al Taqwa Bank, a Swiss bank closed after 9/11 on suspicions of funding al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups (see November 7, 2001). They are also interested in connections between both SAAR and Al Taqwa and the Muslim Brotherhood (see December 1982). According to author Douglas Farah, “US officials [later say] they had tracked about $20 million from [SAAR] entities flowing through Nada’s Bank al Taqwa, but said the total could be much higher. The ties between Nada and [SAAR] leaders were many and long-standing, as were their ties to other [Muslim] Brotherhood leaders.… For a time, Suleiman Abdel Aziz al-Rajhi, the SAAR Foundation founder, worked for Nada” at Al Taqwa’s Liechtenstein branch. [New York Times, 3/25/2002; Farah, 2004, pp. 154-155] Organizations and individuals targeted by the raid include:
bullet Yaqub Mirza. He is the director of virtually all of the organizations targeted in the raid. The Wall Street Journal claims, “US officials privately say Mr. Mirza and his associates also have connections to al-Qaeda and to other entities officially listed by the US as sponsors of terrorism.” [Wall Street Journal, 4/18/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2002]
bullet The SAAR Foundation or the Safa Trust, an umbrella group for the SAAR network. The SAAR Foundation had recently disbanded and reformed as the Safa Trust. [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002; Washington Post, 10/7/2002]
bullet Hisham Al-Talib, who served as an officer of the SAAR Foundation and Safa Trust, had previously been an officer of firms run by Youssef Nada. Nada is one of the main owners of the Al Taqwa Bank. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002]
bullet Mar-Jac Poultry Inc., an Islamic chicken processor with operations in rural Georgia. [Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004]
bullet Jamal Barzinji. An officer of Mar-Jac and other organizations targeted in the raid, he had previously been involved with Nada’s companies. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002]
bullet The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet The Muslim World League. It is considered to be a parent organization for the IIRO. [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIRT). The IIRT had been under investigation since at least 1998. [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet Tarik Hamdi, an employee at IIRT. His home is also raided. He carried a battery for a satellite phone to Afghanistan in early 1998, and the battery was used for Osama bin Laden’s phone (see May 28, 1998). [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet Abdurahman Alamoudi, a top Muslim lobbyist who formerly worked for one of the SAAR organizations. His nearby home is raided. The search yields a memo on large transactions involving Hamas, operations against the Israelis, and the notation “Met Mousa Abu Marzouk in Jordan.” Marzouk is a Hamas leader believed to be involved in fundraising for Hamas in the US for many years (see July 5, 1995-May 1997). Alamoudi is alleged to be a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. [Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004]
bullet Samir Salah, an Egyptian-born president of the Piedmont Trading Corporation, which is part of the SAAR network. He is also a former director and treasurer of the Al Taqwa Bank’s important Bahamas branch. Additionally, he was a founder of a Bosnian charity reportedly connected to a plot to blow up the US embassy in Bosnia. [New York Times, 3/25/2002]
bullet Ibrahim Hassabella. He is a shareholder of the SAAR Foundation and also a former secretary of the Al Taqwa Bank. [New York Times, 3/25/2002] Investigators will later find that much of SAAR’s money seemed to disappear into offshore bank accounts. For instance, in 1998, SAAR claimed to have moved $9 million to a charity based in the tax haven of the Isle of Man, but investigators will find no evidence the charity existed. One US official involved in the probe will say of SAAR, “Looking at their finances is like looking into a black hole.” [Washington Post, 10/7/2002] In 2003, it will be reported that US investigators are looking into reports that the director of the SAAR foundation for most of the 1990s stayed in the same hotel as three of the 9/11 hijackers the night before the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Some US investigators had looked into the SAAR network in the mid-1990s, but the FBI blocked the investigation’s progress (see 1995-1998).

Popular Science magazine carries a rare interview with Tom Owen, a voice analyst who has worked on identifying Osama bin Laden in recordings allegedly released by the al-Qaeda leader. Owen worked for US media on the identification of bin Laden’s voice in a November 2002 recording (see November 12, 2002), assisted by a captain of the Saudi Interior Ministry’s forensics department he had apparently been teaching at the time. Owen, one of only eight forensic voice analysts certified by the American Board of Recorded Evidence, and other US experts identified the voice as bin Laden’s, although a Swiss facility disagreed (see November 29, 2002). The interview describes Owen’s lab and how he works, pivoting off the November recording. Owen criticizes the Swiss analysis, saying that the advanced biometrics software the Swiss used cannot work with the noise on the tape, as it is “designed to work with perfect samples.” Cleaning up the tape would not help, as this would remove the high and low frequencies a biometric system needs to make its identification.
Voice Identification Methodology - To identify voices, Owen uses a spectrograph, which produces spectrograms—“a kind of graphic speech rendering that has changed little since the 1940s”—that are then compared. His favorite tool for analyses is a “piece of vintage equipment—a reel-to-reel Voice Identification 700 spectrograph built in 1973,” which “differs little from the analog machines US Army intelligence officers built to identify and track German radio operators during World War II.” When analyzing a new recording thought to be from bin Laden, Owen compares the spectrograms it produces with spectrograms from a known bin Laden interview, such as one he granted to ABC in 1998 (see May 28, 1998). According to the magazine, there are “only a half-dozen words in common between the November tape and the ABC interview,” although the standards of the American Board of Recorded Evidence demand 20 identical words, preferably spoken in the same order.
Listening for 'Quirky Mannerisms' - However, Owen also listens for “the multitude of quirky mannerisms and pronunciation foibles peculiar to each voice,” because a trained ear can detect “the subtle whistle caused by a missing tooth, a person’s tendency to swallow in the middle of a sentence, even the way someone sets his or her jaw when speaking.” Owen plays the reporter what he calls a short-term memory tape, apparently a crucial tool in aural voice identifications. The spliced tape toggles between 2.5-second segments of bin Laden’s ABC interview and the November tape; Owen uses the tape to listen for peculiarities in a voice, especially when vowels are spoken. According to Owen, who says bin Laden’s voice is what the magazine calls “plenty peculiar,” the tape proves it is the “same guy” on the November tape and in the 1998 interview. However, the reporter comments: “To my untrained ear, it could be Darth Vader behind the static.… This is the sort of gray area that tends to make legal observers worry about the state of forensic science.”
Comments on NSA - According to the magazine, Owen’s technology is similar to that which the NSA probably uses to analyze voices, although Owen thinks the NSA has samples of bin Laden’s voice he does not. However, he does not think it has made biometric breakthroughs in analysis despite its advanced technology, which is “mostly devoted to listening.” [Popular Science, 2/24/2003]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Tom Owen, National Security Agency, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey uses an anecdote about a cell phone battery to argue that the current legal system is poorly equipped to fight Islamic terrorism. The anecdote is told during his confirmation hearings, but he previously used it in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in August. Mukasey says that during Ramzi Yousef’s trial for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing: “[S]omebody testified to somebody having delivered a cell phone battery to someone else. That piece of testimony disclosed to al-Qaeda that a line of communication of theirs had been compromised and, in fact, was one of communication that our government was monitoring and from which it had gotten enormously valuable intelligence. That line of communication shut down within days of that testimony and I don’t know what we lost. Nobody knows what we lost. But we probably lost something enormously valuable.” Mukasey does not say which of Yousef’s two trials the testimony was at. [Wall Street Journal, 8/22/2007; CQ Transcripts Wire, 10/18/2007] This incident is not known and is not confirmed by other sources. It is unclear who the two militants were, and why the militant who received the cell phone battery would be unable to purchase it himself. Osama bin Laden is said to have received a doctored battery for his satellite (not cell) phone in Afghanistan, and this is said to have helped the US track him (see May 28, 1998). However, this apparently happened after Yousef was sentenced in the last of the two cases to come to trial, so it is unclear how this could have been mentioned at the trial (see January 8, 1998). A rumor later circulated that bin Laden had stopped using the satellite phone with the allegedly doctored battery based on a leak of intelligence to the press, but that appears to be an urban myth (see Late August 1998).

Entity Tags: Michael Mukasey

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline


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