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Context of 'June 13, 2001: 9/11 Hijacker Almihdhar Obtains US Visa despite Incorrect Passport and Lies on Application; US Intelligence Knows He Is an Al-Qaeda Operative'

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Radical Muslim leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman obtains his first US visa via the CIA. A State Department official will later discover this was the first of six US visas given to him between 1986 and 1990. All are approved by CIA agents acting as consular officers at US embassies in Sudan and Egypt. “The CIA officers claimed they didn’t know the sheikh was one of the most notorious political figures in the Middle East and a militant on the State Department’s list of undesirables.” But one top New York investigator will later say, “Left with the choice between pleading stupidity or else admitting deceit, the CIA went with stupidity.” [Boston Globe, 2/3/1995; New York Magazine, 3/17/1995] Abdul-Rahman uses the visas to attend conferences of Islamic students in the US. Then he visits Pakistan, where he preaches at Peshawar, visits the Saudi embassy in Islamabad, and is “lionized at receptions heavily attended by Americans.” He plays a prominent role in recruiting mujaheddin fighters to fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan. [Kepel, 2002, pp. 300] In 1989, Abdul-Rahman is arrested in Egypt and held under very closely guarded house arrest, but he manages to escape one year later, possibly by being smuggled out of his house in a washing machine. The CIA gives him another US visa and he moves to the US (see July 1990). [New York Times, 1/8/1995] Journalist Simon Reeve will claim in his 1999 book The New Jackals that, “The CIA, it is now clear, arranged the visa[s] to try and befriend the Sheikh in advance of a possible armed fundamentalist revolution in Egypt.” According to a retired CIA official, the CIA recalled mistakes made with the Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran and were trying to win Abdul-Rahman’s trust. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 60]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Simon Reeve

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Michael Springmann.Michael Springmann. [Source: Michael Springmann]Michael Springmann, head US consular official in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, later claims that during this period he is “repeatedly ordered… to issue [more than 100] visas to unqualified applicants.” He turns them down, but is repeatedly overruled by superiors. [BBC, 11/6/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 11/25/2001] In one case, two Pakistanis apply for visas to attend a trade show in the US, but they are unable to name the trade show or city in which it will be held. When Springmann denies them a visa, he gets “an almost immediate call from a CIA case officer, hidden in the commercial section [of the consulate], that I should reverse myself and grant these guys a visa.” Springmann refuses, but the decision is reversed by the chief of the consular section. Springmann realizes that even the ambassador, Walter Cutler, is aware of the situation, which becomes “more brazen and blatant” as time goes on. On one occasion Springmann is even told, “If you want a job in the State Department in future, you will change your mind.” [CBC Radio One, 7/3/2002; Trento, 2005, pp. 344-6] Springmann loudly complains to numerous government offices, but no action is taken. He is fired and his files on these applicants are destroyed. He later learns that recruits from many countries fighting for bin Laden against Russia in Afghanistan were funneled through the Jeddah office to get visas to come to the US, where the recruits would travel to train for the Afghan war. According to Springmann, the Jeddah consulate was run by the CIA and staffed almost entirely by intelligence agents. This visa system may have continued at least through 9/11, and 11 of the 19 9/11 hijackers received their visas through Jeddah (see November 2, 1997-June 20, 2001), possibly as part of this program (see October 9, 2002 and October 21, 2002). [BBC, 11/6/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 11/25/2001; CBC Radio One, 7/3/2002; Associated Press, 7/17/2002 pdf file; Fox News, 7/18/2002]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, Michael Springmann

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman.Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. [Source: FBI]Despite being on a US terrorist watch list for three years, radical Muslim leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman enters the US on a “much-disputed” tourist visa issued by an undercover CIA agent. [Village Voice, 3/30/1993; Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996; Lance, 2003, pp. 42] Abdul-Rahman was heavily involved with the CIA and Pakistani ISI efforts to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan, and became famous traveling all over the world for five years recruiting new fighters for the Afghan war. The CIA gave him visas to come to the US starting in 1986 (see December 15, 1986-1989) . However, he never hid his prime goals to overthrow the governments of the US and Egypt. [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996] FBI agent Tommy Corrigan will later say that prior to Abdul-Rahman’s arrival, “terrorism for all intents and purposes didn’t exist in the United States. But [his] arrival in 1990 really stoke the flames of terrorism in this country. This was a major-league ballplayer in what at the time was a minor-league ballpark. He was… looked up to worldwide. A mentor to bin Laden, he was involved with the MAK over in Pakistan.” The charity front Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) is also known as Al-Kifah, and it has a branch in Brooklyn known as the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. The head of that branch, Mustafa Shalabi, picks up Abdul-Rahman at the airport when he first arrives and finds an apartment for him. Abdul-Rahman soon begins preaching at Al Farouq mosque, which is in the same building as the Al-Kifah office, plus two other locals mosques, Abu Bakr and Al Salaam. [Lance, 2006, pp. 53] He quickly turns Al-Kifah into his “de facto headquarters.” [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996] He is “infamous throughout the Arab world for his alleged role in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.” Abdul-Rahman immediately begins setting up a militant Islamic network in the US. [Village Voice, 3/30/1993] He is believed to have befriended bin Laden while in Afghanistan, and bin Laden secretly pays Abdul-Rahman’s US living expenses. [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996; ABC News, 8/16/2002] For the next two years, Abdul-Rahman will continue to exit and reenter the US without being stopped or deported, even though he is still on the watch list (see Late October 1990-October 1992).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Osama bin Laden, Meir Kahane, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, US Department of State, Abu Bakr Mosque, Al Farouq Mosque, Al Salaam Mosque, Anwar Sadat, World Trade Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission, relying on a CIA report, will later say that three of the men involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing travel on Saudi passports containing an indicator of possible Islamist extremism. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 46-47, 61 pdf file] Author James Bamford will say that it is a “secret coded indicator, placed there by the Saudi government, warning of a possible terrorist affiliation.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 58-59] It is unclear what the indicator looks like precisely and who the men are. However, Ahmad Ajaj, an associate of lead bomber Ramzi Yousef, does have a Saudi passport. Some of the 9/11 hijackers will later use Saudi passports with the same indicator (see October 28, 2000, June 1, 2001, and June 13, 2001, and November 2, 2007). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 46-47, 61 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Ahmad Ajaj

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi intelligence minister until shortly before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001), will later claim that al-Qaeda attempts to smuggle weapons into Saudi Arabia to mount attacks on police stations. The plot is uncovered and prevented by Saudi intelligence, and two of the unsuccessful gunrunners, future hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, are watchlisted. [Salon, 10/18/2003; Wright, 2006, pp. 266, 310-311, 448] However, Almihdhar and Alhazmi continue to move in and out of Saudi Arabia unchecked and will obtain US visas there in April 1999 (see 1993-1999 and April 3-7, 1999). The US is supposedly informed of Almihdhar and Alhazmi’s al-Qaeda connection by the end of 1999 (see Late 1999). Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, an associate of Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see January 5-8, 2000), is implicated in a plot to smuggle four Russian antitank missiles into Saudi Arabia around the same time, although it is unclear whether this is the same plot or a different one. The Saudi authorities uncover this plot and the US is apparently informed of the missile seizure in June 1998. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3, 491]

Entity Tags: Saudi General Intelligence Presidency, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Nawaf Alhazmi, Turki al-Faisal, Khalid Almihdhar, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar’s US visas.Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar’s US visas. [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi, and Khalid Almihdhar obtain US visas through the US Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are already “al-Qaeda veterans” and battle-hardened killers. Almihdhar’s visa is issued on April 7, and he can thereafter leave and return to the US multiple times until April 6, 2000. [Stern, 8/13/2003] Nawaf Alhazmi gets the same kind of visa; details about Salem are unknown. All three men have indicators in their passports marking them as Islamist radicals (see March 21, 1999, April 4, 1999, and April 6, 1999). These indicators are used to track them by the Saudi authorities, but are apparently not noticed by US officials. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 9, 33 pdf file] The CIA claims the hijackers then travel to Afghanistan to participate in “special training” with at least one other suicide bomber on a different mission. The training is led by Khallad bin Attash, who applies for a US visa on April 3 from Yemen, but fails to get one (see April 3, 1999). The CIA will learn about Almihdhar’s visa in January 2000 (see January 2-5, 2000). The Jeddah Consulate records the fact that Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi obtain US visas a couple of days before Almihdhar, but apparently these records are never searched before 9/11. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] The CIA will track Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to the Malaysia summit (see January 2-5, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000).

Entity Tags: Salem Alhazmi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI New York Field Office, Khalid Almihdhar, FBI Headquarters, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed al-Hada, National Security Agency, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A blurry photograph of a 2005 reconstruction of the pre-9/11 Able Danger chart showing Mohamed Atta and others.A blurry photograph of a 2005 reconstruction of the pre-9/11 Able Danger chart showing Mohamed Atta and others. [Source: C-SPAN]A US Army intelligence program called Able Danger identifies five al-Qaeda terrorist cells; one of them has connections to Brooklyn, New York and will become informally known as the “Brooklyn” cell by the Able Danger team. This cell includes 9/11 hijacker leader Mohamed Atta, and three other 9/11 hijackers: Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi. According to a former intelligence officer who claims he worked closely with Able Danger, the link to Brooklyn is not based upon any firm evidence, but computer analysis that established patterns in links between the four men. “[T]he software put them all together in Brooklyn.” [New York Times, 8/9/2005; Washington Times, 8/22/2005; Fox News, 8/23/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] However, that does not necessarily imply them being physically present in Brooklyn. A lawyer later representing members of Able Danger states, “At no time did Able Danger identify Mohamed Atta as being physically present in the United States.” Furthermore, “No information obtained at the time would have led anyone to believe criminal activity had taken place or that any specific terrorist activities were being planned.” [CNN, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005] James D. Smith, a contractor working with the unit, discovers Mohamed Atta’s link to al-Qaeda. [WTOP Radio 103.5 (Washington), 9/1/2005] Smith has been using advanced computer software and analysing individuals who are going between mosques. He has made a link between Mohamed Atta and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, ringleader of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. [Fox News, 8/28/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] Atta is said to have some unspecified connection to the Al Farouq mosque in Brooklyn, a hotbed of anti-American sentiment once frequented by Abdul-Rahman, which also contained the notorious Al-Kifah Refugee Center. [Times Herald (Norristown), 9/22/2005] Smith obtained Atta’s name and photograph through a private researcher in California who was paid to gather the information from contacts in the Middle East. [New York Times, 8/22/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer claims the photo is not the well-known menacing Florida driver’s license photo of Atta. “This is an older, more grainy photo we had of him. It was not the best picture in the world.” It is said to contain several names or aliases for Atta underneath it. [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005; Chicago Tribune, 9/28/2005] LIWA analysts supporting Able Danger make a chart, which Shaffer describes in a radio interview as, “A chart probably about a 2x3 which had essentially five clusters around the center point which was bin Laden and his leadership.” [Savage Nation, 9/16/2005] The 9/11 Commission later claims that Atta only enters the United States for the first time several months later, in June 2000 (see June 3, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 224] However, investigations in the months after 9/11 find that Mohamed Atta and another of the hijackers rented rooms in Brooklyn around this time (see Spring 2000). Other newspaper accounts have the CIA monitoring Atta starting in January 2000, while he is living in Germany (see January-May 2000). Atta, Alshehhi, Almihdhar, Alhazmi and other hijackers have connections to associates of Sheikh Abdul-Rahman (see Early 2000-September 10, 2001).

Entity Tags: Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Al-Qaeda, El Farouq, Khalid Almihdhar, Mohamed Atta, Able Danger, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Nawaf Alhazmi, Marwan Alshehhi, Al Farouq Mosque

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A photocopy of Nawaf Alhazmi’s passport. No image of Khalid Almihdhar’s passport has been released, but it would have looked similar to this one.A photocopy of Nawaf Alhazmi’s passport. No image of Khalid Almihdhar’s passport has been released, but it would have looked similar to this one. [Source: FBI]The CIA is aware that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is staying at a highly monitored al-Qaeda communication hub (see Late 1998-Early 2002) and is planning to travel to an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia. He is closely watched as leaves the hub and flies from Sana’a, Yemen, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on his way to Malaysia. Agents from eight CIA offices and six friendly foreign intelligence services are all asked to help track him, in the hopes he will lead them to bigger al-Qaeda figures. [Stern, 8/13/2003; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file] The CIA and local authorities are running an operation to track militants transiting Dubai airport (see 1999), and United Arab Emirates officials secretly make copies of his passport as he is passing through it, immediately reporting this to the CIA. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224] Another account suggests CIA agents break into Almihdhar’s Dubai hotel room and photocopy the passport there. Either way, the information is immediately faxed to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. [Wright, 2006, pp. 311] The CIA not only learns his full name, but also discovers the vital fact that he has a multiple entry visa to the US that is valid from April 1999 to April 2000. But even though the CIA now knows about this US visa which indicates he plans to go to New York City, they do not place him on a terror watch list and they fail to tell the FBI about the visa. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file]

Entity Tags: United Arab Emirates, Nawaf Alhazmi, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A CIA officer known only as “James,” who knows that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa, twice briefs FBI officials about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, but fails to mention the visa.
First Briefing - On the night of January 5, 2000, James, who has been assigned to the FBI’s Strategic Information Operations Center (SIOC) to deal with problems “in communicating between the CIA and the FBI,” briefs an FBI agent who works in the FBI’s bin Laden unit, which is part of the SIOC at that time, about a number of cables he has received regarding the al-Qaeda summit that is just starting in Malaysia and one of the people attending it, Almihdhar. The FBI agent will later say he does not know why James chooses to brief him, as he is not a designated contact point for the CIA.
Documented by E-mail - James will later write an e-mail to several other CIA officers and detail “exactly” what he briefed this person on. Although the CIA should inform the FBI of a terrorist like Almihdhar having a US visa, he does not mention discussing the visa with the FBI agent, even though he had just seen several CIA cables talking about it.
Second Briefing - Overnight, another CIA cable comes in to him providing new details about Almihdhar and the Malaysia summit. An FBI agent then asks another CIA officer detailed to the FBI for an update on Almihdhar. This second CIA officer asks James for the update, so he can pass it on. James’s response to this request is to brief a third FBI agent in the SIOC about the new information. Again, records will indicate he fails to mention anything about Almihdhar’s US visa. This FBI agent will also say he does not know why he was briefed on the matter, as he is not a designated contact point for the CIA. James then tells his CIA colleague he has already provided the FBI with an update, so this second officer does not have to do so.
Informing Other Agents - James also sends an e-mail to other CIA agents describing “exactly” what he told both of the FBI agents. One section of his e-mail reads: “Thus far, a lot of suspicious activity has been observed [in Malaysia] but nothing that would indicate evidence of an impending attack or criminal enterprise. [I told the first FBI agent] that as soon as something concrete is developed leading us to the criminal arena or to known FBI cases, we will immediately bring FBI into the loop. Like [the first FBI agent] yesterday, [the second FBI agent] stated that this was a fine approach and thanked me for keeping him in the loop.”
Refuses to Be Interviewed - After 9/11, James will refuse to talk to the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, but will tell the CIA’s inspector general that he has no recollection of these events. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 241-247 pdf file; Tenet, 2007, pp. 195]

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, CIA officer known as “James”, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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. [Congressional Quarterly, 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]

Entity Tags: Michael Anne Casey, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Almihdhar, Doug Miller, 9/11 Commission, Alec Station, Tom Wilshire, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Inspector General (CIA)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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).

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Mohdar Abdullah, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Jeddah consular officer Shayna Steinger (center) and eight of the 10 hijackers she issued visas to. Clockwise from top left: Wail Alshehri, Hani Hanjour, Ahmed Alnami, Salem Alhazmi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alghamdi, and Khalid Almihdhar.Jeddah consular officer Shayna Steinger (center) and eight of the 10 hijackers she issued visas to. Clockwise from top left: Wail Alshehri, Hani Hanjour, Ahmed Alnami, Salem Alhazmi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alghamdi, and Khalid Almihdhar. [Source: FBI / Facebook]Shayna Steinger, a consular official who issues the future 9/11 hijackers with 12 US visas, arrives at the US consulate in Jeddah to start her first Foreign Service assignment. [Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Steinger will issue visas to future 9/11 hijackers Ahmed Alghamdi (see September 3, 2000), Saeed Alghamdi (see September 4, 2000), Hani Hanjour (see September 10, 2000 and September 25, 2000), Wail and Waleed Alshehri (see October 24, 2000), Ahmed Alnami (see October 28, 2000), Ahmed Alhaznawi (see November 12, 2000), Alnami again (see April 23, 2001), Saeed Alghamdi again (see June 12, 2001), Abdulaziz Alomari (see June 18, 2001), Khalid Almihdhar (see June 13, 2001), and Salem Alhazmi (see June 20, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2] The 9/11 Commission will not refer to Steinger in its main report, but will say that a single official issued multiple visas to the hijackers in Jeddah in its Terrorist Travel monograph. The Commission gives the number of visas issued as 11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 33 pdf file] However, a list found in the Commission’s records will give 12 visas as being issued by Steinger. [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2] That list appears to be accurate as there is no information indicating one of these 12 visas was issued by another consular officer. The Commission makes another apparent error with the hijackers’ visas, claiming that Salem Alhazmi did not receive a US visa in April 1999, when other sources indicate he did (see April 3-7, 1999).

Entity Tags: Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A portion of Salem Alhazmi’s New Jersey identification card. 
A portion of Salem Alhazmi’s New Jersey identification card. [Source: 9/11 Commission] (click image to enlarge)The US introduces the “Visa Express” program in Saudi Arabia, which allows any Saudi Arabian to obtain a visa through his or her travel agent instead of appearing at a consulate in person. An official later states, “The issuing officer has no idea whether the person applying for the visa is actually the person in the documents and application.” [US News and World Report, 12/12/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002] At the time, warnings of an attack against the US led by the Saudi Osama bin Laden are higher than they had ever been before— “off the charts” as one senator later puts it. [Los Angeles Times, 5/18/2002; US Congress, 9/18/2002] A terrorism conference had recently concluded that Saudi Arabia was one of four top nationalities in al-Qaeda. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 5/19/2002]
Suspect Travel Agency - Ten Saudi travel agency companies are allowed to issue US visas as part of the program. One company, Fursan Travel and Tourism, is a subsidiary of Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., a multibillion Saudi banking conglomerate. Fursan is also the only one out of the ten deputized to handle the collection and initial processing of US visas. After 9/11, the CIA will suggest taking action against Al Rajhi for its suspected support of Islamist militancy, but the Bush Administration will decide not to do anything (see Mid-2003 and Mid-2003). It is believed that al-Qaeda and other militant groups advised their operatives to use Al Rajhi for their banking needs (see Before September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]
Used by 9/11 Plotters - Five hijackers—Khalid Almihdhar, Abdulaziz Alomari, Salem Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi, and Fayez Ahmed Banihammad—use Visa Express over the next month to enter the US. [US Congress, 9/20/2002] Alomari has a bank account with Al Rajhi, but it is unknown if he or any of the other hijackers use Fursan, the Al Rajhi subsidiary, since the names of travel agencies do not appear on copies of the hijackers’ visa applications that are later made public. [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003] Even 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will successfully get a US Visa through the “Visa Express” program in July (using a false name but real photograph), despite a posted $2 million reward for his capture. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2004]
Saudi Visas Almost Never Rejected - Only three percent of Saudi visa applicants are turned down by US consular officers in fiscal 2000 and 2001. In contrast, about 25 percent of US visa seekers worldwide are rejected. Acceptance is even more difficult for applicants from countries alleged to have ties to terrorism such as Iraq or Iran. [Washington Post, 10/31/2001] The widely criticized program is finally canceled in July 2002, after a public outcry. [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khalid Almihdhar, Fursan Travel and Tourism, Saudi Arabia, Abdulaziz Alomari, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Salem Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar obtains a new passport in Saudi Arabia, despite being on the terrorist watch list there due to his part in a failed gunrunning plot (see 1997). The passport contains an indicator of possible terrorist affiliation used by the Saudi authorities to track terrorist suspects (see November 2, 2007) and lacks an expiry date. Although the nature of the indicator is not clear, one of the other hijackers, Ziad Jarrah, has an overlay of the Koran in his passport and immigration officials in the United Arab Emirates are said to find this suspicious, so the indicator in Almihdhar’s passport may be similar. Nevertheless, Almihdhar uses it to obtain a US visa (see June 13, 2001) and travels to the US on it (see July 4, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 496; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24, 27 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Saudi General Intelligence Presidency, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Margaret Gillespie.Margaret Gillespie. [Source: Doug Dreyer / Associated Press]The FBI and the CIA hold a meeting to discuss the investigation into the USS Cole bombing and a possible connection between it and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). However, the CIA and FBI headquarters refuse to share all they know, and agents investigating the Cole bombing become angry over this.
Attendees - The meeting, which lasts between two and four hours, is attended by CIA officer Clark Shannon, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA named Margaret Gillespie, FBI agent Steve Bongardt, FBI agent Russell Fincher, and Assistant US Attorney David Kelley.
Purpose - Although there is no agenda for the meeting and Corsi will later say it is a brainstorming session, author Lawrence Wright will say that one of the reasons for the meeting is that CIA officer Tom Wilshire, an associate of Shannon’s, “want[ed] to know… what the FBI knew” about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 pdf file; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] FBI agent Ali Soufan will also say that he later learned that Wilshire “was fishing to see if the FBI knew anything about the men in the photos.” [Soufan, 2011, pp. 243]
Photos Shown - Initially, Bongardt and Fincher brief Shannon on progress in the Cole investigation. Corsi then shows the two Cole investigators three photographs taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), showing future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and another man, and Shannon asks if the agents recognize Fahad al-Quso, who is thought to have attended the Malaysia summit and has been interviewed by the FBI. However, one of the photos shows Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a tree, and the CIA has already recognized Almihdhar and Alhazmi, so it is unclear how the Cole investigators are supposed to recognize al-Quso in the photo. Corsi received the photographs from Wilshire, but Wilshire did not provide her with all the relevant information about them (see Late May, 2001).
Questions Asked - Bongardt and Fincher ask who is in the pictures, why were taken, and whether there are other photos of the meeting. Shannon refuses to say, but Corsi eventually admits one of the men is named Khalid Almihdhar. As a name alone is not sufficient reason to start an investigation, Bongardt asks for a date of birth or other details that will allow him to know which Khalid Almihdhar in the world is being discussed, but Shannon refuses to provide them. Shannon admits that Almihdhar was traveling on a Saudi passport and then leaves the meeting. Lawrence Wright will say that providing a date of birth is “standard procedure—the first thing most investigators would do.” Realizing that the photos pertain to the Cole investigation, Bongardt and Fincher become angry at the lack of information being provided and the meeting descends into a “shouting match.” [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 pdf file; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file]
What Shannon Knew - Shannon will later admit that at this time he knew Almihdhar had a US visa, that Alhazmi had traveled to the US in 2000, that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had been recognized in one of the photos, and that Alhazmi was known to be an experienced operative. However, he does not tell any of this to any FBI agents, as he apparently thinks he does not have the authority. He does not let them keep copies of the photos either and will give conflicting accounts of the meeting after 9/11 (see Between September 12, 2001 and October 17, 2002). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-292 pdf file]
Corsi Withholds Information - Corsi has NSA information saying Almihdhar and Alhazmi attended the Malaysia meeting, but apparently believes that the Cole agents cannot be told more because of restrictions on sharing intelligence with criminal agents (see July 19, 1995). However, one of the Cole agents present is an intelligence agent, so the information can be communicated to him immediately without Corsi obtaining permission from the NSA and/or Justice Department. In addition, the NSA sent the information to the FBI’s New York field office, where the Cole investigators are based, in 1999 (see December 1999-January 2000). Furthermore, when she asks the NSA’s permission to share the information 10 weeks later, the NSA approves the request on the same day (see August 27-28, 2001). She does not share the information at this time, but promises Bongardt and Fincher to try to do so later. The Cole agents will not receive more information for months. [US Congress, 9/20/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 269, 537]
Almihdhar Gets New Visa - Two days after this meeting, Almihdhar has no trouble getting a new, multiple reentry US visa (see May 2001 and June 13, 2001). [US News and World Report, 12/12/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Dina Corsi, Khalid Almihdhar, David Kelley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Clark Shannon, Margaret Gillespie, Ali Soufan, Steve Bongardt, Central Intelligence Agency, Russell Fincher, Khallad bin Attash, Nawaf Alhazmi, Lawrence Wright

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Saeed Algahdmi, in a video apparently made in December 2000.Saeed Algahdmi, in a video apparently made in December 2000. [Source: As-Sahab]Future 9/11 hijacker Saeed Alghamdi obtains a US visa from the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The application is made through the Visa Express program (see May 2001), using a passport issued two days earlier. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24 pdf file] The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003]
Lies on Application - Alghamdi lies on his application form, claiming that he has never before applied for a US visa, when in fact he obtained one the previous year, also from Steinger (see September 4, 2000). Fellow hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Ahmed Alnami make similar false statements on their visa applications around this time (see April 23, 2001 and June 13, 2001), although Alnami corrects his application. The information about his previous visa is available at the consulate, but is not accessed, as consular workers do not usually examine previous visa issunces, only refusals. The 9/11 Commission will speculate that he lied on purpose to conceal the previous application. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24 pdf file]
Fraudulent Features - The Commission will also suggest that one or more of Alghamdi’s passports may contain fraudulent features, but will claim that this is not certain, as Alghamdi’s passport was not recovered after 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 42 pdf file] This is an error by the Commission, as Alghamdi’s passport will actually be found after 9/11 and the Commission will be aware of this (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).
KSM's Travel Agent - The travel agency used for the Visa Express application is Minhal Travel, which will also later be used by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to obtain a US visa (see July 23, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24, 29 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, Minhal Travel, Saeed Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar obtains a second US visa from the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24-25 pdf file] The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the future 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Almihdhar’s passport, which was issued two weeks previously (see June 1, 2001), lacks an expiry date, but contains an indicator of possible terrorist affiliation used by the Saudi authorities to track suspected radicals (see November 2, 2007). His application form is incomplete, as it lists his occupation as “businessman,” but does not give his employer’s name and address.
Lies on Application Form - The form, which is submitted through the Visa Express program (see May 2001), meaning Almihdhar is not interviewed, contains two lies: Almihdhar says he has never received an American visa or traveled to the US, whereas he received a visa in 1999 (see April 3-7, 1999) and traveled to the US on it in 2000 (see January 15, 2000). As Almihdhar’s first visa was also issued by the Jeddah consulate, through which the CIA sent radical Arabs to the US for training during the Soviet-Afghan war (see September 1987-March 1989), consular officials could discover he is lying, but information about prior visas issuances is not automatically displayed to them.
Known Terrorist - By this time, several intelligence agencies are aware that Almihdhar is an al-Qaeda operative; for example, the CIA (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), NSA (see December 29, 1999), FBI (see January 5-6, 2000), a US Army intelligence program (see January-February 2000), the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency (see 1997), Malaysian Special Branch (see January 5-8, 2000), and an intelligence service in the United Arab Emirates (see January 2-5, 2000)).
Parallels to Case of Blind Sheikh - Almihdhar will re-enter the US on the visa three weeks later (see July 4, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will find that the series of missteps preceding the issuance of visas to Almihdhar and the other future 9/11 hijackers has some “eerie parallels” to the “series of exceptional failures” that led to US visas being issued to the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see December 15, 1986-1989 and July 1990). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24-27, 33, 49 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Salem Alhazmi obtains a US visa from the American consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. There are some problems with his visa application, which is submitted through the Visa Express program (see May 2001):
bullet The application is incomplete;
bullet Alhazmi gives his occupation as “unemployed” (this does not concern consular staff because Saudi Arabia is a rich country);
bullet His passport is only four days old;
bullet The passport contains a suspicious indicator of Islamic extremism placed their by Saudi intelligence in order to track him (see June 16, 2001 and November 2, 2007). Some of the radicals who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 also had Saudi passports with the same indicator (see Around February 1993); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 25-6 pdf file]
bullet Some of the other future hijackers who apply for visas around this time lie on their applications, claiming never to have received a US visa before, although the opposite is true (see April 23, 2001, June 12, 2001, and June 13, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will not discuss whether Alhazmi claims on this application to have received a US visa before or not, as the Commission will appear to be unaware of any such previous application by him. However, according to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Alhazmi did previously obtain a US visa, in 1999 (see April 3-7, 1999); [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004 pdf file]
bullet The NSA has been intercepting calls between Alhazmi and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen for at least two years (see Early 1999, Shortly Before December 29, 1999, and Summer 2000);
bullet The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the future 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003]

Entity Tags: Salem Alhazmi, Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar reenters the US. The CIA and FBI have recently been showing interest in him, but have still failed to place him on a watch list of US-designated terrorists. Had he been placed on a watch list by this date, he would have been stopped and possibly detained as he tried to enter the US. He enters on a new US visa obtained in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on June 13, 2001. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 169 pdf file]
Invalid Passport, Indicator of Terrorist Affiliation - His passport is invalid, as it lacks an expiry date. However, his passport does contain an indicator that he is a terrorist, an indicator used by the Saudi authorities to track his movements (see June 1, 2001 and July 4, 2001), but this indicator is not recognized by US officials. The precise state of US knowledge about the indicator at this time is not known (see Around February 1993). The CIA will learn of it no later than 2003, but will still not inform immigration officials then (see February 14, 2003). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 27 pdf file] His visa application said that he had not previously been to the US, which is not true (see January 15, 2000), so his entry is illegal. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 351 pdf file]
'Muscle' Have Already Arrived - The FBI will note that he returns just days after the last of the hijacker “muscle” has entered the US, and will speculate that he returns because his job in bringing them over is finished. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 169 pdf file]
Source: Lists WTC as Destination - According to a stipulation introduced at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, he lists the Marriot Hotel in the World Trade Center complex as his destination, but does not stay there that night. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 52 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Saudi Arabia’s national security adviser Prince Bandar bin Sultan says that before 9/11 the Saudi government was “actively following” most of the 19 hijackers “with precision.” Prince Bandar, formerly Saudi ambassador to the US, also says that the information Saudi Arabia had may have been sufficient to prevent 9/11: “If US security authorities had engaged their Saudi counterparts in a serious and credible manner, in my opinion, we would have avoided what happened.” A US official says that the statement made by Prince Bandar should be taken with a grain of salt. [CNN, 11/2/2007] Saudi officials had previously said that they watchlisted two of the Saudi hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, in the late 1990s (see 1997 and Late 1999) and their interest in Nawaf Alhazmi may have led them to his brother, Salem. All three of these hijackers were also tracked by the US before 9/11 (see Early 1999, January 5-8, 2000, Early 2000-Summer 2001 and 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).
Saudi Tracking - Almost a year after Prince Bandar makes this claim, author James Bamford will offer information corroborating it. Bamford will write that Saudi officials placed an indicator in some of the hijackers’ passports and then used the indicator to track them. The Saudis did this because they thought the hijackers were Islamist radicals and wanted to keep an eye on their movements. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 58-59] Details of the tracking by the Saudis are sketchy and there is no full list of the hijackers tracked in this manner. According to the 9/11 Commission, Almihdhar and the Alhazmi brothers had indicators of Islamist extremism in their passports. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 33 pdf file] Two other hijackers may also have had the same indicator. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 564]
The three who had the indicator are: -
bullet Nawaf Alhazmi, who obtained a passport containing an indicator in the spring of 1999 (see March 21, 1999), and then left Saudi Arabia (see After Early April 1999).
bullet Khalid Almihdhar, who obtained passports containing an indicator in the spring of 1999 and June 2001 (see April 6, 1999 and June 1, 2001), and then repeatedly entered and left Saudi Arabia (see After Early April 1999, Late 2000-February 2001, May 26, 2001, and July 4, 2001).
bullet Salem Alhazmi, who obtained passports containing an indicator in the spring of 1999 and June 2001 (see April 4, 1999 and June 16, 2001), and then repeatedly entered and left Saudi Arabia (see After Early April 1999, November 2000, June 13, 2001, and (Between June 20 and June 29, 2001)).
The two who may also have had the indicator are: -
bullet Ahmed Alhaznawi, who obtained a passport possibly containing an indicator before mid-November 2000 (see Before November 12, 2000) and then repeatedly entered and left Saudi Arabia (see After November 12, 2000, (Between May 7 and June 1, 2001), and June 1, 2001).
bullet Ahmed Alnami, who obtained passports possibly containing an indicator in late 2000 and spring 2001 (see November 6, 1999 and April 21, 2001) and then repeatedly entered and left Saudi Arabia (see Mid-November, 2000 and May 13, 2001).
What the indicator actually looks like in the passports is not known.

Entity Tags: Bandar bin Sultan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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