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Context of 'July 18, 2001: FBI, FAA, and State Department Issue Warnings'

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While Bojinka plotter Abdul Hakim Murad is being interrogated by Philippine Colonel Rodolfo Mendoza (see February-Early May 1995), he mentions that he had pilot training in the US and ten other operatives are being trained to fly in the US. The second wave of the Bojinka plot required many suicide pilots. Mendoza will later recall that Murad said, “There is really formal training [going on] of suicide bombers. He said that there were other Middle Eastern pilots training and he discussed with me the names and flight training schools they went to.” Murad also mentioned some of their targets had already been picked and included CIA headquarters, the Pentagon, and an unidentified nuclear facility. (Lance 2003, pp. 279) The ten other men who met him at US flight schools or were getting similar training came from Sudan, United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan. The names of these men have never been publicly released, but apparently none of them match the names of any of the 9/11 hijackers. The Associated Press will later report, “The FBI interviewed people at the flight schools highlighted by Filipino police but did not develop evidence that any of the other Middle Easterners other than Murad were directly plotting terrorism. With no other evidence of a threat, they took no further action…” (Gomez and Solomon 3/5/2002) Murad also revealed that between November 1991 and July 1992, he had trained at four different flight schools in the US. His friend Nasir Ali Mubarak and another man named Abdullah Nasser Yousef were roommates with Murad as they trained at the same schools at the same time. Mubarak appears to be one of Murad’s ten pilots, because he had served in the United Arab Emirates air force and the Associated Press mentioned one of the ten was “a former soldier in the United Arab Emirates.” (Gomez and Solomon 3/5/2002; Rosenfeld 6/16/2002; Rosenfeld 1/12/2003) Richard Kaylor, the manager of Richmor Aviation in Albany, New York, later says that FBI agents interviewed him in 1996 about the three men who studied at his school. He says he was told that the FBI was first alerted to his flight school after a Richmor business card was found in the Philippines apartment where Murad, Ramzi Yousef, and KSM had lived. But that is the only time the FBI interviewed him on these matters before 9/11. (Goldstein 9/30/2001) An assistant manager at Richmor will later say of Murad and his roommates, “Supposedly they didn’t know each other before, they just happened to show up here at the same time. But they all obviously knew each other.” (Gomez and Solomon 3/5/2002) The FBI investigates Mubarak in 1995 and does not find that he has any ties to terrorism. Mubarak will continue to openly live and work in the US, marrying an American woman. He will claim the FBI never interviewed him until hours after the 9/11 attacks, so apparently the ten named by Murad may not have been interviewed in 1995 after all. He will be deported in 2002, apparently solely because of his association with Murad ten years earlier. Nothing more is publicly known about Abdullah Nasser Yousef. (Rosenfeld 1/12/2003) Murad will also mention to the FBI a few months later that future 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) had a valid US visa and has been thinking about learning to fly in the US. Murad says he had recommended Richmor Aviation to KSM (see April-May 1995). There appears to have been little knowledge of Murad’s ten pilot claim inside US intelligence before 9/11; for instance FBI agent Ken Williams will not mention it in his July 2001 memo about suspected militants training in US flight schools (see July 10, 2001).

Jack Cloonan.Jack Cloonan. [Source: PBS]The Justice Department directs an existing unit called Squad I-49 to begin building a legal case against bin Laden. This unit is unusual because it combines prosecutors from the Southern District of New York, who have been working on bin Laden related cases, with the FBI’s New York office, which was the FBI branch office that dealt the most with bin Laden -related intelligence. Patrick Fitzgerald effectively directs I-49 as the lead prosecutor. FBI agent Dan Coleman becomes a key member while simultaneously representing the FBI at Alec Station, the CIA’s new bin Laden unit (February 1996) where he has access to the CIA’s vast informational database. (Lance 2006, pp. 218-219) The other initial members of I-49 are: Louis Napoli, John Anticev, Mike Anticev, Richard Karniewicz, Jack Cloonan, Carl Summerlin, Kevin Cruise, Mary Deborah Doran, and supervisor Tom Lang. All are FBI agents except for Napoli and Summerlin, a New York police detective and a New York state trooper, respectively. The unit will end up working closely with FBI agent John O’Neill, who heads the New York FBI office. Unlike the CIA’s Alec Station, which is focused solely on bin Laden, I-49 has to work on other Middle East -related issues. For much of the next year or so, most members will work on the July 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800, because it crashed near New York and is suspected to have been carried out by Middle Eastern militants (July 17, 1996-September 1996). However, in years to come, I-49 will grow considerably and focus more on bin Laden. (Wright 2006, pp. 240-241) After 9/11, the “wall” between intelligence collection and criminal prosecution will often be cited for the failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. But as author Peter Lance will later note, “Little more than ten months after the issuance of Jamie Gorelick’s ‘wall memo,’ Fitzgerald and company were apparently disregarding her mandate that criminal investigation should be segregated from intelligence threat prevention. Squad I-49… was actively working both jobs.” Thanks to Coleman’s involvement in both I-49 and the CIA’s Alec Station, I-49 effectively avoids the so-called “wall” problem. (Lance 2006, pp. 220)

Harry Ellen.Harry Ellen. [Source: Associated Press]Harry Ellen, a businessman who converted to Islam, has high credibility with Muslims in Arizona because of his work on behalf of the Palestinian cause. He has had important meetings with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. In 1994, he began working as an FBI informant. Ken Williams, the Phoenix FBI agent who will later write the July 2001 “Phoenix memo”(see July 10, 2001), is his handler. In October 1996, Ellen tells Williams that he has suspicions about an Algerian pilot who is training other Middle Eastern men to fly. He later recalls, “My comment to Williams was that it would be pitiful if the bad guys were able to gain this kind of access to airplanes, flight training and crop dusters. I said, ‘You really ought to look at this, it’s an interesting mix of people.’” Ellen had previously begun spying on a man known as Abu Sief, which apparently is his alias. Sief had come to Arizona from New Jersey in 1993, and bragged about having close ties with al-Qaeda figures Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman and Ramzi Yousef (when Yousef’s computer is seized in the Philippines in 1995, there is a mention of a contact in Tucson, Arizona, but it is unknown if this is a reference to Sief or someone else (see January 7-11, 1995)). Sief attended a New Jersey mosque that many of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers also attended. Ellen soon sees the unnamed Algerian pilot meeting with Abu Sief. He tells this to Williams and later will claim, “I told him to be very concerned about air schools.” However, Ellen will claim that Williams responds by telling him to “leave it alone.” So he does. Ellen later believes that Williams should have sent the gist of his Phoenix memo at this time, instead of four and a half years later. Hani Hanjour is living in Phoenix by this time and taking flight training nearby (see October 1996-Late April 1999). Ellen later will say he did not know Hanjour directly, but he knew some of his friends and relatives. Ellen and Williams will have a falling out in late 1998 on an unrelated manner, and Ellen’s flow of information will stop. (Priest and Leiby 5/24/2002; Thomas 5/24/2002; Lance 2003, pp. 211, 352-355, inset 21)

On several occasion between 1996 and 1999, future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour attends flight schools in Arizona (see October 1996-December 1997 and 1998). The 9/11 Commission will later note, “It is clear that when Hanjour lived in Arizona in the 1990s, he associated with several individuals who have been the subject of counterterrorism investigations.” Some of the time, he is accompanied by two friends, Bandar Al Hazmi and Rayed Abdullah. Al Hazmi and Abdullah have been friends with each other in high school in Saudi Arabia, but it is not known if either knew Hanjour before moving to the US. Al Hazmi and Hanjour are roommates for a time. Al Hazmi will finish his training and leave the US for the last time in January 2000 (he apparently will be interviewed overseas in 2004). Abdullah becomes a leader of a Phoenix mosque where he reportedly gives extremist speeches. He will continue to train with Hanjour occasionally through the summer of 2001. The FBI apparently will investigate him in May 2001. He will repeatedly be questioned by authorities after 9/11, then move to Qatar. In 2004, the 9/11 Commission will report that the FBI remains suspicious of Al Hazmi and Abdullah, but neither man is charged with any crime. The 9/11 Commission will also imply that another of Hanjour’s Arizona associates is al-Qaeda operative Ghassan al Sharbi. Al Sharbi will be arrested in Pakistan in March 2002 with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). He apparently is a target of Ken Williams’s “Phoenix memo”(see July 10, 2001). Another associate of Hanjour’s, Hamed al Sulami, is in telephone contact with a radical Saudi imam who is said to be the spiritual advisor to al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. This imam may have a role in recruiting some of the 9/11 hijackers. Abdulaziz Alomari, for instance, was a student of this imam. It seems that al Sulami is also a target of Williams’s memo. (Fainaru and Ibrahim 9/10/2002; US Congress 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 233, 520-521, 529)

Future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour begins associating with an unnamed individual who is later mentioned in FBI agent Ken Williams’s famous “Phoenix memo” (see July 10, 2001). Hanjour and this individual train at flight schools in Arizona (see October 1996-December 1997 and 1998). Several flight instructors will later note that the two were associates and may have carpooled together. They are known to share the same airplane on one occasion in 1999, and are at the school together on other occasions. The unnamed individual leaves the US in April 2000. In May 2001, the FBI attempts to investigate this person, but after finding out that he has left the US, it declines to open a formal investigation. The person’s name is not placed on a watch list, so the FBI is unaware that he returns in June and stays in the US for another month. By this time, he is an experienced flight instructor who is certified to fly Boeing 737s. The FBI speculates he may return to evaluate Hanjour’s flying skills or provide final training before 9/11. There is considerable circumstantial evidence placing this person near Hanjour in July 2001. (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file) This unnamed individual may be Lofti Raissi, as several details match him perfectly. For instance, Raissi is a flight instructor who left the US in April 2000, is later accused of having shared an airplane with Hanjour in 1999, and is accused of being with Hanjour in July 2001. (Gillan 1/31/2002) In addition, according to FBI investigators, Raissi engages in a number of suspicious activities during this period that will justify scrutiny after 9/11. For example, in June 2000, while training at a British flight school, he reportedly asks, “if a plane flies into a building, whether it is the responsibility of the airline or the pilot,” and warns that “America will get theirs.” (9/11 Commission 1/5/2004) Raissi will be arrested in Britain after 9/11 and accused of training Hanjour and other hijackers how to fly, but the case against him will collapse in April 2002. He will be released, and many of the allegations against him will be withdrawn (see September 21, 2001). No media accounts will report that Raissi was mentioned in the Phoenix memo or wanted for an FBI investigation before 9/11.

Ken Williams.Ken Williams. [Source: FBI]The FBI field office in Phoenix, Arizona, investigates a possible Middle Eastern extremist taking flight lessons at a Phoenix airport. FBI agent Ken Williams initiates an investigation into the possibility of Islamic militants learning to fly aircraft, but he has no easy way to query a central FBI database about similar cases. Because of this and other FBI communication problems, he remains unaware of most US intelligence reports about the potential use of airplanes as weapons, as well as other, specific FBI warnings issued in 1998 and 1999 concerning Islamic militants training at US flight schools (see May 15, 1998; September 1999). Williams will write the “Phoenix memo” in July 2001 (see July 10, 2001). He had been alerted about some suspicious flight school students in 1996, but it is not clear if this person was mentioned in that previous alert or not (see October 1996). (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file)

Bin Laden sends a fax from Afghanistan to Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, a London-based Muslim imam who dubs himself the “mouth, eyes, and ears of Osama bin Laden.” Bakri publicly releases what he calls bin Laden’s four specific objectives for a holy war against the US. The instruction reads, “Bring down their airliners. Prevent the safe passage of their ships. Occupy their embassies. Force the closure of their companies and banks.” Noting this, the Los Angeles Times will wryly comment that “Bin Laden hasn’t been shy about sharing his game plan.” (Braun et al. 10/14/2001) In 2001, FBI agent Ken Williams will grow concerned about some Middle Eastern students training in Arizona flight schools. He will link several of them to Al-Muhajiroun, an extremist group founded by Bakri. Williams will quote several fatwas (calls to action) from Bakri in his later-famous July 2001 memo (see July 10, 2001). However, he apparently will not be aware of this particular call to action. These students linked to Bakri’s group apparently have no connection to any of the 9/11 hijackers. In another interview before 9/11, Bakri will boast of recruiting “kamikaze bombers ready to die for Palestine.” (see Early September 2001) (Solomon 5/23/2002)

The FBI receives reports that a militant organization is planning to send students to the US for aviation training. The organization’s name remains classified, but apparently it is a different organization than one mentioned in a very similar warning the year before (see After May 15, 1998). The purpose of this training is unknown, but the organization viewed the plan as “particularly important” and it approved open-ended funding for it. The Counterterrorism Section at FBI headquarters issues a notice instructing 24 field offices to pay close attention to Islamic students from the target country engaged in aviation training. Ken Williams’s squad at the Phoenix FBI office receives this notice, although Williams does not recall reading it. Williams will later write his “Phoenix memo” on this very topic in July 2001 (see July 10, 2001). The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry later will conclude, “There is no indication that field offices conducted any investigation after receiving the communication.” (US Congress 7/24/2003) However, an analyst at FBI headquarters conducts a study and determines that each year there are about 600 Middle Eastern students attending the slightly over 1,000 US flight schools. (Risen 5/4/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003) In November 2000, a notice will be issued to the field offices, stating that it has uncovered no indication that the militant group is recruiting students. Apparently, Williams will not see this notice either. (US Congress 7/24/2003)

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)

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)

Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi intelligence minister until shortly before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001), will later claim that around this time its external intelligence agency tells the CIA that hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar have been put on a Saudi terror watch list. The Saudis have been tracking the two men, as well as Nawaf’s brother Salem, for some time (see March 21, 1999, April 4, 1999, April 6, 1999, and After Early April 1999). Saeed Badeeb, Turki’s chief analyst, and Nawaf Obaid, a security consultant to the Saudi government, support Turki’s account though Turki himself will later back away from it after becoming Saudi ambassador to the US (see August 21, 2005). In 2003, Prince Turki will say, “What we told [the CIA] was these people were on our watch list from previous activities of al-Qaeda, in both the [1998] embassy bombings and attempts to smuggle arms into the kingdom in 1997,” (see 1997 and October 4, 2001). However, the CIA strongly denies any such warning, although it begins following Almihdhar and Alhazmi around this time (see January 2-5, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000). (Solomon 10/16/2003; Follman 10/18/2003; Wright 2006, pp. 310-311, 448) The US will not put Almihdhar and Alhazmi on its watch list until August 2001 (see August 23, 2001).

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).

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)

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)

Acting on a tipoff by the CIA, Thai intelligence puts 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi on its watch list. In addition, it puts an alias al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash is using (Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf) on the watch list (see January 20, 2000). The CIA is aware that the three men arrived in Bangkok on January 8 (see January 8, 2000), but seems to be unable to locate them in Thailand (see January 13, 2000). The Thai authorities will note their departure from Bangkok on January 15, but will not stop them and apparently will not inform the CIA of this for some time (see January 15, 2000 and March 5, 2000). (Bamford 2004, pp. 230; 9/11 Commission 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file) The CIA is apparently unaware of Alhazmi’s full name at this point (see January 8-9, 2000), but this does not prevent the watchlisting. The CIA will not add the three to the US watch list until late August 2001 (see August 23, 2001).

Following a request by the CIA, the NSA puts hijacker 9/11 Khalid Almihdhar on its watch list. This means that the NSA should pass details of any new monitored communications involving him to the CIA. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file) The CIA is looking for Almihdhar and knows he has a US visa (see January 13, 2000), but fails to add him to the State Department’s watch list until 19 months later (see August 23, 2001). The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later state: “In mid-January 2000, NSA queried its databases for information concerning Khaled [redacted]. These queries remained active until May 2000, but did not uncover any information.” In fact, the NSA intercepts eight of Almihdhar’s calls from San Diego to Yemen during this time and even gives some details about some of the calls to the FBI (see Spring-Summer 2000). However, they do not tell the CIA everything about them, despite the watch list requirement to provide the information. It is not clear why the NSA failed to share this with the CIA. It is also not known if or when Almihdhar was removed from the NSA watch list before 9/11. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file)

Fifty to sixty CIA officers read cables reporting on travel by 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. The cables are generated in connection with al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, which Almihdhar and Alhazmi attend and the CIA monitors (see January 5-8, 2000). Even though some of the cables state that Almihdhar has a US visa and Alhazmi has arrived in the US, the FBI is not informed of this (see, for example, January 6, 2000 and March 5, 2000), and the two men are not watchlisted until the summer of 2001 (see August 23, 2001). The cables are drafted at four field offices and at headquarters and are read by overseas officers, headquarters personnel, operations officers, analysts, managers, junior employees, CIA staff, and officers on attachment from the NSA and FBI. The CIA’s inspector general will comment: “Over an 18-month period, some of these officers had opportunities to review the information on multiple occasions, when they might have recognized its significance and shared it appropriately with other components and agencies.” (Central Intelligence Agency 6/2005, pp. xiv pdf file)

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)

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)

TIPOFF is a US no-fly list of individuals who should be detained if they attempt to leave or enter the US. There are about 60,000 names on this list by 9/11 (see December 11, 1999). Apparently there had been no prohibition of travel inside the US, but on this day an FAA security directive puts six names on a newly created domestic no-fly list. All six are said to be associates of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, including his uncle, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). On August 28, 2001, six more names will be added to this list. Apparently all 12 names are associated with al-Qaeda or other Islamic extremist groups. 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey will later note the discrepancy of the 60,000-name list with the 12-name list and comment, “seems to me, particularly with what was going on at the time, that some effort would have been made to make—to produce a larger list than [only 12 names].” (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004) The FAA’s chief of security in 2001, Cathal Flynn, will later say that he was “unaware of the TIPOFF list” until after the September 11 attacks. 9/11 Commissioner Slade Gorton will say that this admission is “stunning, just unbeleivable,” and an “example of absolute incompetence” at the FAA. Other FAA officials will say they are aware of the larger list, but do not make much use of it. (Shenon 2008, pp. 115) On the day of 9/11, two of the 9/11 hijackers will be on the 60,000-name TIPOFF list but not the 12-name domestic list, so airport security does not know to stop them from boarding the planes they hijack that day (see August 23, 2001).

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)

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.

The FAA gives 15 warnings to domestic airlines between January and August 2001, but about one general security warning a month had been common for a long time. (Lewandowski and Davis 5/17/2002) Even a government official later calls the content of these 15 warnings “standard fare.” (Cordle and Weaver 5/17/2002) As one newspaper later reports, “there were so many [warnings] that airline officials grew numb to them.” (Adair 9/23/2002) In May 2002, in response to recent revelations about what was known before 9/11, the major airlines will hold a press conference claiming they were never warned of a specific hijacking threat, and were not told to tighten security. For instance, an American Airlines spokesman states that the airline “received no specific information from the US government advising the carrier of a potential terrorist hijacking in the United States in the months prior to September 11, 2001. American receives FAA security information bulletins periodically, but the bulletins were extremely general in nature and did not identify a specific threat or recommend any specific security enhancements.” (Cordle and Weaver 5/17/2002) Bush administration officials later state that the terror information they are receiving is so vague that tighter security does not seem required. (Salant 5/18/2002) However, it seems that even these general warnings are never passed on to airline employees. Rosemary Dillard, a supervisor for American Airlines, states, “My job was supervision over all the flight attendants who flew out of National, Baltimore, or Dulles. In the summer of 2001, we had absolutely no warnings about any threats of hijackings or terrorism, from the airline or from the FAA.” (Sheehy 6/20/2004) The content of these seemingly harmless warnings remain classified after 9/11. They are said to be exempted from public disclosure by a federal statute that covers “information that would be detrimental to the security of transportation if disclosed.” (Sheehy 6/20/2004)

After an informant identifies a photo of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash for the CIA, indicating that he was at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 4, 2001), the CIA fails to place him on the US watch list. The identification links bin Attash, who was involved in the attack on the USS Cole, to 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. The CIA has already been informed that Alhazmi entered the US in March 2000, yet once again they fail to watchlist either Alhazmi or Almihdhar. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will point out, “In January 2001, Khalid Almihdhar was abroad, his visa had expired, and he would have to clear a watch list check before obtaining a new visa to re-enter the United States.” (Meyer 9/22/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 148-150 pdf file) CNN later notes that at this point the CIA, at the very least, “could have put Alhazmi and Almihdhar and all others who attended the [summit] in Malaysia on a watch list to be kept out of this country. It was not done.” (Ensor 6/4/2002) One of bin Attash’s aliases, Salah Saeed Muhammed bin Yousaf, will be placed on the US watch list on August 23, at the same time as Alhazmi and Almihdhar (see August 23, 2001), but US authorities apparently will not be aware that this is actually one of his aliases at that point. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 152 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 538; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 302 pdf file)

After entering the US, Zacarias Moussaoui engages in activities that appear to mirror those of the 9/11 hijackers. Both Moussaoui and the hijackers do the following:
bullet Take flight training (see February 23-June 2001 and July 6-December 19, 2000);
bullet Physically import large amounts of cash (see October 2000-February 2001 and January 15, 2000-August 2001);
bullet Purchase knives with short blades that can be carried onto airliners (see August 16, 2001 and July 8-August 30, 2001);
bullet Take fitness training (see August 16, 2001 and May 6-September 6, 2001);
bullet Obtain several identification documents (see April 12-September 7, 2001 and August 1-2, 2001); and
bullet Purchase flight deck videos from the same shop (see November 5, 2000-June 20, 2001).
In addition, Moussaoui is supported by some of the same al-Qaeda operatives as the 9/11 hijackers: Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see July 29, 2001-August 3, 2001 and June 13-September 25, 2000) and Yazid Sufaat (see September-October 2000 and January 5-8, 2000). At Moussaoui’s trial, the prosecution will cite these parallel activities in its argument that Moussaoui was connected to 9/11, rather than some follow-up plot. There is also one reported meeting between Moussaoui and two of the lead hijackers before 9/11 (see August 1, 2001), but this will not be mentioned at the trial (see March 6-May 4, 2006). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006)

In 2005 (see February 10, 2005), it will be revealed that of the FAA’s 105 daily intelligence summaries between these dates, 52 mention bin Laden, al-Qaeda, or both. Most of the mentions are “in regard to overseas threats.” None of the warnings specifically predict something similar to the 9/11 attacks, but five of them mention al-Qaeda’s training for hijackings and two reports concern suicide operations unconnected to aviation. (Associated Press 2/11/2005) One of the warnings mentions air defense measures being taken in Genoa, Italy, for the July 2001 G-8 summit to protect from a possible air attack by terrorists (see July 20-22, 2001). However, the New Jersey Star-Ledger is virtually the only newspaper in the US to report this fact. (Cohen 2/11/2005) Despite all these warnings, the FAA fails to take any extra security measures. They do not expand the use of in-flight air marshals or tighten airport screening for weapons. A proposed rule to improve passenger screening and other security measures ordered by Congress in 1996 has held up and is still not in effect by 9/11. The 9/11 Commission’s report on these FAA warnings released in 2005 (see February 10, 2005) will conclude that FAA officials were more concerned with reducing airline congestion, lessening delays, and easing air carriers’ financial problems than preventing a hijacking. (Associated Press 2/11/2005) The FAA also makes no effort to expand its list of terror suspects, which includes only a dozen names by 9/11 (see April 24, 2000). The former head of the FAA’s civil aviation security branch later says he wasn’t even aware of TIPOFF, the government’s main watch list, which included the names of two 9/11 hijackers before 9/11. Nor is there any evidence that a senior FAA working group responsible for security ever meets in 2001 to discuss “the high threat period that summer.” (Lichtblau 2/10/2005)

The FAA sends a warning to US airlines that Middle Eastern militants could try to hijack or blow up a US plane and that carriers should “demonstrate a high degree of alertness.” The warning stems from the April 6, 2001, conviction of Ahmed Ressam over a failed plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport during the millennium celebrations. This warning expires on July 31, 2001. (Salant 5/18/2002) This is one of 15 general warnings issued to airlines in 2001 before 9/11 (see January-August 2001), but it is more specific than usual. (CNN 3/2002; Lewandowski and Davis 5/17/2002)

The FAA conducts 27 briefings for airline companies in this time period. However, each briefing only addresses hijacking threats overseas. This is despite the fact that from March to May, the FAA conducted briefings for US airports that raised concerns about hijackings in the domestic US, and even told airports that if hijackers wanted to end a hijacking with a suicidal “spectacular explosion” it would make more sense to do it in the domestic US (see March-May 2001). Also during roughly the same May to September time period, about half of the FAA’s daily intelligence briefings mention bin Laden or al-Qaeda, and one of those specifically referred to an al-Qaeda plot using planes as weapons. Even though some of these mentions are connected to domestic threats, airlines are only briefed about the overseas threats (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). (Cohen 2/11/2005; Adcock and Berry 2/11/2005)

During a regularly scheduled weekly meeting between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet, CIA official Richard Blee describes a “truly frightening” list of warning signs of an upcoming terrorist attack. He says that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is working on attack plans. CIA leaders John McLaughlin and Cofer Black are also present at this meeting, as is counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and Mary McCarthy, a CIA officer serving as National Security Council senior director. (Tenet 2007, pp. 145) Just the day before, Clarke suggested that Tenet and Rice discuss what could be done to stop Zubaida from launching “a series of major terrorist attacks,” so presumably this discussion is in response to that (see May 29, 2001). Tenet will later recall: “Some intelligence suggested that [Zubaida’s] plans were ready to be executed; others suggested they would not be ready for six months. The primary target appeared to be in Israel, but other US assets around the world were at risk.” Rice asks about taking the offensive against al-Qaeda and asks how bad the threat is. Black estimates it to be a seven on a one-to-10 scale, with the millennium threat at the start of 2000 ranking an eight in comparison. Clarke tells her that adequate warning notices have been issued to the appropriate US entities. (Tenet 2007, pp. 145-146)

The FBI shares information on terrorist threats with state and local law enforcement entities through National Law Enforcement Threat System (NLETS) reports. However, at this time, the heightened state of alert for an attack in the US is not reflected at all in these NLETS reports. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry notes, “In a May 2001 NLETS report, for example, the FBI assessed the risk of terrorism as ‘low,’ and, in a July 2, 2001 NLETS report, stated that the FBI had no information indicating a credible threat of terrorist attack in the United States, although the possibility of such an attack could not be discounted.” Further reports focus only on the potential of attacks against US interests overseas. (US Congress 7/24/2003) On July 5 and 6, 2001, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke specifically warns FBI officials that al-Qaeda is planning “something spectacular,” and says, “They may try to hit us at home. You have to assume that is what they are going to do.” Yet apparently the FBI doesn’t pass any of Clarke’s warnings or sense of urgent emergency to the state and local emergency responders (see July 5, 2001) (see July 6, 2001).

9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi flies from Newark to Miami and presumably meets the other hijackers there. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 243) Earlier in the month the CIA showed the FBI a photo of Alhazmi taken at a meeting in Malaysia with other al-Qaeda members, but refused to identify him in the photo (see June 11, 2001). The CIA will watchlist Alhazmi in August (see August 23, 2001), but his Florida trip apparently fails to lead US intelligence to the other hijackers. He obtains a Florida driver’s license on June 25 (see April 12-September 7, 2001), giving the same address as two of the other Florida-based hijackers, but this will not be noticed before 9/11 either. (Bousquet and Ulferts 9/16/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 26 pdf file) Alhazmi purchased his ticket for the outward journey at Apollo Travel in Paterson, New Jersey, which was also used by Mohamed Atta (see March 2001-September 1, 2001), and perhaps some of the other hijackers (see July 2001). (CNN 10/29/2001)

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke writes an e-mail to National Security Adviser Rice saying that the pattern of al-Qaeda activity indicating attack planning has “reached a crescendo.” He adds, “A series of new reports continue to convince me and analysts at State, CIA, DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], and NSA that a major terrorist attack or series of attacks is likely in July.” For instance, one report from an al-Qaeda source in late June warned that something “very, very, very, very” big is about to happen, and that most of bin Laden’s network is anticipating the attack. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256; US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 1 pdf file) CIA Director Tenet sends Rice a very similar warning on the same day (see June 28, 2001). The 9/11 Commission does not record Rice taking any action in response to these warnings. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256)

At the request of National Security Adviser Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke leads a meeting of the Counterterrorism Security Group, attended by officials from a dozen federal agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the FAA, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, Customs, the CIA, and the FBI. The CIA and FBI give briefings on the growing al-Qaeda threat. (Gellman 5/17/2002; Elliott 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 258) Then Clarke later recalls saying, “You’ve just heard that CIA thinks al-Qaeda is planning a major attack on us. So do I. You heard CIA say it would probably be in Israel or Saudi Arabia. Maybe. But maybe it will be here. Just because there is no evidence that says that it will be here, does not mean it will be overseas. They may try to hit us at home. You have to assume that is what they are going to do.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 236) Two attendees later recall Clarke stating that “something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon.” One who attended the meeting later calls the evidence that “something spectacular” is being planned by al-Qaeda “very gripping.” (Gellman 5/17/2002; Elliott 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256) Clarke directs every counterterrorist office to cancel vacations, defer non-vital travel, put off scheduled exercises, and place domestic rapid-response teams on much shorter alert. However, there is very poor follow up to the meeting and the attendees don’t share the warnings with their home agencies (see Shortly After July 5, 2001). By early August, all of these emergency measures are no longer in effect. (CNN 3/2002; Gellman 5/17/2002)

On July 5, 2001, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gave a dramatic briefing to representatives from several domestic agencies on the urgent al-Qaeda threat (see July 5, 2001). However, the warnings given generally are not passed on by the attendees back to their respective agencies. The domestic agencies were not questioned about how they planned to address the threat and were not told what was expected of them. According to the 9/11 Commission, attendees later “report that they were told not to disseminate the threat information they received at the meeting. They interpreted this direction to mean that although they could brief their superiors, they could not send out advisories to the field.” One National Security Council official has a different recollection of what happened, recalling that attendees were asked to take the information back to their agencies and “do what you can” with it, subject to classification and distribution restrictions. But, for whatever reason, none of the involved agencies post internal warnings based on the meeting, except for Customs which puts out a general warning based entirely on publicly known historical facts. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 264) The FAA issues general and routine threat advisories that don’t reflect the level of urgency expressed by Clarke and others (see January-August 2001). FAA Administrator Jane Garvey later claims she was unaware of a heightened threat level, but in 2005 it will be revealed that about half of the FAA’s daily briefings during this time period referred to bin Laden or al-Qaeda (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). (Johnston and Dwyer 4/18/2004) Clarke said rhetorically in the meeting that he wants to know if a sparrow has fallen from a tree. A senior FBI official attended the meeting and promised a redoubling of the FBI’s efforts. However, just five days after Clarke’s meeting, FBI agent Ken Williams sends off his memo speculating that al-Qaeda may be training operatives as pilots in the US (see July 10, 2001), yet the FBI fails to share this information with Clarke or any other agency. (Gellman 5/17/2002; Clarke 2004, pp. 236-37) The FBI will also fail to tell Clarke about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), or what they know about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see August 23, 2001).

Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab promises some “very big news” to his fighters and this statement is communicated to the CIA. The CIA then forwards the warning to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice together with several similar pieces of intelligence, saying it is evidence that an al-Qaeda attack is imminent (see July 10, 2001). (Tenet 2007, pp. 151) The FBI is already aware that Ibn Khattab and Osama bin Laden, who have a long relationship (see 1986-March 19, 2002), may be planning a joint attack against US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). One of the operatives, Zacarias Moussaoui, will be arrested a month later (see August 16, 2001), but a search warrant for his belongings will not be granted (see August 16, 2001, August 22, 2001 and August 28, 2001).

FBI agent Ken Williams.FBI agent Ken Williams. [Source: FBI]Phoenix, Arizona, FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum warning about suspicious activities involving a group of Middle Eastern men taking flight training lessons in Arizona. The memo is titled: “Zakaria Mustapha Soubra; IT-OTHER (Islamic Army of the Caucasus),” because it focuses on Zakaria Soubra, a Lebanese flight student in Prescott, Arizona, and his connection with a terror group in Chechnya that has ties to al-Qaeda. It is subtitled: “Osama bin Laden and Al-Muhjiroun supporters attending civil aviation universities/colleges in Arizona.” (Behar 5/22/2002; House 7/24/2003) Williams’ memo is based on an investigation of Sorba that Williams had begun in 2000 (see April 2000), but he had trouble pursuing because of the low priority the Arizona FBI office gave terror investigations (see April 2000-June 2001). Additionally, Williams had been alerted to suspicions about radical militants and aircraft at least three other times (see October 1996; 1998; November 1999-August 2001). In the memo, Williams does the following:
bullet Names nine other suspect students from Pakistan, India, Kenya, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. (Schrom 10/1/2002) Hijacker Hani Hanjour, attending flight school in Arizona in early 2001 and probably continuing into the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), is not one of the students, but, as explained below, it seems two of the students know him. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; Smith 7/25/2003)
bullet Notes that he interviewed some of these students, and heard some of them make hostile comments about the US. Additionally, he noticed that they were suspiciously well informed about security measures at US airports. (Schrom 10/1/2002)
bullet Notes an increasing, “inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” taking flight lessons in Arizona. (Schrom 10/1/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file)
bullet Suspects that some of the ten people he has investigated are connected to al-Qaeda. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file) One person on the list, Ghassan al Sharbi, will be arrested in Pakistan in March 2002 with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Al Sharbi attended a flight school in Prescott, Arizona. He also apparently attended the training camps in Afghanistan and swore loyalty to bin Laden in the summer of 2001. He apparently knows Hani Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). He also is the roommate of Soubra, the main target of the memo. (Krikorian 1/24/2003; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 521)
bullet Discovers that one of them was communicating through an intermediary with Abu Zubaida. This apparently is a reference to Hamed al Sulami, who had been telephoning a Saudi imam known to be Zubaida’s spiritual advisor. Al Sulami is an acquaintance of Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). (Mercury News (San Jose) 5/23/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 520-521, 529)
bullet Discusses connections between several of the students and a radical group called Al-Muhajiroun. (Mercury News (San Jose) 5/23/2002) This group supported bin Laden, and issued a fatwa, or call to arms, that included airports on a list of acceptable terror targets. (Solomon 5/22/2002) Soubra, the main focus of the memo, is a member of Al-Muhajiroun and an outspoken radical. He met with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of Al-Muhajiroun in Britain, and started an Arizona chapter of the organization. After 9/11, some US officials will suspect that Soubra has ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. He will be held two years, then deported to Lebanon in 2004. (Connell 10/28/2001; Krikorian 1/24/2003; Wagner 5/2/2004; Sherman 11/2004) Though Williams doesn’t include it in his memo, in the summer of 1998, Bakri publicized a fax sent by bin Laden to him that listed al-Qaeda’s four objectives in fighting the US. The first objective was “bring down their airliners.” (see Summer 1998). (Connell 10/28/2001)
bullet Warns of a possible “effort by Osama bin Laden to send students to the US to attend civil aviation universities and colleges” (Behar 5/22/2002) , so they can later hijack aircraft. (Schrom 10/1/2002)
bullet Recommends that the “FBI should accumulate a listing of civil aviation universities and colleges around the country. FBI field offices with these types of schools in their area should establish appropriate liaison. FBI [headquarters] should discuss this matter with other elements of the US intelligence community and task the community for any information that supports Phoenix’s suspicions.” (House 7/24/2003) (The FBI has already done this, but because of poor FBI communications, Williams is not aware of the report.)
bullet Recommends that the FBI ask the State Department to provide visa data on flight school students from Middle Eastern countries, which will facilitate FBI tracking efforts. (Risen 5/4/2002)
The memo is addressed to the following FBI Agents:
bullet Dave Frasca, chief of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters;
bullet Elizabeth Harvey Matson, Mark Connor and Fred Stremmel, Intelligence Operations Specialists in the RFU;
bullet Rod Middleton, acting chief of the Usama bin Laden Unit (UBLU);
bullet Jennifer Maitner, an Intelligence Operations Specialist in the UBLU;
bullet Jack Cloonan, an agent on the New York FBI’s bin Laden unit, the I-49 squad; (see January 1996 and Spring 2000).
bullet Michael S. Butsch, an agent on another New York FBI squad dealing with other Sunni terrorists. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 7/10/2001 pdf file; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file)
However, the memo is not uploaded into the FBI’s information system until the end of the month and is apparently not received by all these people (see July 27, 2001 and after). Williams also shares some concerns with the CIA (see (July 27, 2001)). (Mercury News (San Jose) 5/23/2002) One anonymous government official who has seen the memo says, “This was as actionable a memo as could have been written by anyone.” (Insight 5/27/2002) However, the memo is merely marked “routine,” rather than “urgent.” It is generally ignored, not shared with other FBI offices, and the recommendations are not taken. One colleague in New York replies at the time that the memo is “speculative and not very significant.” (Schrom 10/1/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file) Williams is unaware of many FBI investigations and leads that could have given weight to his memo. Authorities later claim that Williams was only pursuing a hunch, but one familiar with classified information says, “This was not a vague hunch. He was doing a case on these guys.” (Mercury News (San Jose) 5/23/2002)

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

The FBI issues another warning to domestic law enforcement agencies about threats stemming from the convictions in the millennium bomb plot trial. The FAA also issues a warning to the airlines, telling them to “use the highest level of caution.” (CNN 3/2002) This is another one of 15 general warnings issued to airlines in 2001 before 9/11 (see January-August 2001), but it is more specific than usual. (CNN 3/2002; Lewandowski and Davis 5/17/2002) Also on this day, the State Department issues a public warning of a possible terrorist threat in the Saudi Arabia region. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 259, 534)

Anti-aircraft stationed around the G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy.Anti-aircraft stationed around the G8 Summit in Genoa, Italy. [Source: BBC]The G8 summit is held in Genoa, Italy. Acting on previous warnings that al-Qaeda would attempt to kill President Bush and other leaders, Italian authorities surround the summit with anti-aircraft guns. They keep fighter jets in the air and close off local airspace to all planes. (Los Angeles Times 9/27/2001) The warnings are taken so seriously that Bush stays overnight on an aircraft carrier offshore, and other world leaders stay on a luxury ship. (CNN 7/18/2001) No attack occurs. US officials state that the warnings were “unsubstantiated,” but after 9/11, they will claim success in preventing an attack. (Los Angeles Times 9/27/2001) According to author Philip Shenon, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is involved in discussions about the precautions, and this is the only time she focuses on al-Qaeda threats in the summer of 2001. Shenon will add: “There is no record to show that Rice made any special effort to discuss terrorist threats with Bush. The record suggested, instead, that it was not a matter of special interest to either of them that summer.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 154)

Due to a lack of response to a previous request that information about the Cole bombing and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit be passed to the FBI (see July 13, 2001), CIA officer Tom Wilshire e-mails another CIA manager asking about the request’s status. The manager’s identity is unknown, but the previous request was received by Richard Blee, a close associate of Wilshire’s who is responsible for the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see June 1999 and Between Mid-January and July 2000), so presumably he receives this request as well. Wilshire writes: “When the next big op is carried out by [Osama bin Laden’s] hardcore cadre, [Khallad bin Attash] will be at or near the top of the command food chain—and probably nowhere near either the attack site or Afghanistan. That makes people who are available and who have direct access to him of very high interest. Khalid [Almihdhar] should be very high interest anyway, given his connection to the [redacted].” The name of the redacted event or entity is unclear. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file) However, it could be a mention of Almihdhar’s role in the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa, since the CIA was aware of that from at least January 2000 (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). Or, more likely, it could be a mention of Almihdhar’s role in the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), since Wilshire mentioned earlier in the month that Almihdhar could be linked to the Cole bombers (see July 5, 2001).

Djamel Beghal.
Djamel Beghal. [Source: Public domain]High-level al-Qaeda operative Djamel Beghal is arrested in Dubai on his way back from Afghanistan. Earlier in the month the CIA sent friendly intelligence agencies a list of al-Qaeda agents they wanted to be immediately apprehended, and Beghal was on the list (see July 3, 2001).
Information Obtained - Beghal quickly starts to talk, and tells French investigators about a plot to attack the American embassy in Paris. Crucially, he provides new details about the international-operations role of top al-Qaeda deputy Abu Zubaida, whom he had been with a short time before. (Erlanger and Hedges 12/28/2001; Elliott 8/12/2002) One European official says Beghal talks about “very important figures in the al-Qaeda structure, right up to bin Laden’s inner circle. [He] mention[s] names, responsibilities and functions—people we weren’t even aware of before. This is important stuff.” (Elliott 11/12/2001) One French official says of Beghal’s interrogations, “We shared everything we knew with the Americans.” (Elliott 5/19/2002)
Link to 9/11 - The New York Times later will report, “Enough time and work could have led investigators from Mr. Beghal to an address in Hamburg where Mohamed Atta and his cohorts had developed and planned the Sept. 11 attacks.” Beghal had frequently associated with Zacarias Moussaoui. However, although Moussaoui is arrested (see August 16, 2001) around the same time that Beghal is revealing the names and details of all his fellow operatives, Beghal is apparently not asked about Moussaoui. (Erlanger and Hedges 12/28/2001; Elliott 8/12/2002)
Timing of Arrest - Most media accounts place the arrest on July 28. However, in a 2007 book CIA Director George Tenet will say he received a briefing about the arrest on July 24. (Tenet 2007, pp. 156-157)

FBI headquarters.FBI headquarters. [Source: GlobeXplorer]FBI headquarters receives the Phoenix Memo, but does not act on it. The memo was drafted by Arizona FBI agent Ken Williams and warns that a large number of Islamic extremists are learning to fly in the US. It is dated 17 days earlier, but is not uploaded until this date (see July 10, 2001). Although the memo is addressed to eight specific agents, it is apparently not received by all of them. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later say that the memo was not delivered directly to the addressees, but uploaded to a central dispatching point, from where it was assigned to Radical Fundamentalist Unit agent Elizabeth Matson on July 30. Before sending the memo, Williams called both Matson and her colleague Fred Stremmel to talk to them about it. Matson pulls up the memo, which has “routine” precedence, and prints and reads it. However, she thinks it should go to the bin Laden unit. A week later she discusses the matter with bin Laden unit agent Jennifer Maitner and they agree that Maitner will do some research and then they will talk again. Matson will later tell the Office of Inspector General she may have mentioned the memo to her superior, but is not sure. Her superior will say he was not consulted. Maitner discusses the memo with bin Laden unit chief Rod Middleton and also sends it to the FBI’s Portland, Oregon, field office, which was previously interested in one of the men named in the memo. However, she does not do anything else with it before 9/11, apparently due to her high workload. The FBI will later acknowledge the memo did not receive the sufficient or timely analysis that it deserved. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 65-77, 80 pdf file) The memo is also seen by the FBI’s New York field office (see July 27, 2001 or Shortly After), another RFU agent researching the Moussaoui case (see August 22, 2001) and possibly the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see (July 27, 2001)).

The FBI’s New York field office, which specializes in international terrorism, receives Ken Williams’ Phoenix Memo, but only briefly checks the named radicals and does not respond to Williams. In the memo, Williams noted that there is a suspiciously large number of Islamic extremists learning to fly in Arizona. Some of them will turn out to be connected to 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour (see July 10, 2001). Williams sent the memo to FBI headquarters (see July 27, 2001 and after) and the I-49 squad in the New York FBI field office. In New York, the memo is read by FBI agent Jack Cloonan, a member of the I-49 squad. Cloonan believes that the memo has a “glaring deficiency,” as he thinks bin Laden does not have a support operation in Arizona any more. He forms the opinion that William’s theory and conclusions are “faulty.” However, two of the hijackers were in Arizona in early 2001 (see December 12, 2000-March 2001) and some of the people named in the memo will later be linked to bin Laden (see October 1996-Late April 1999). In August 2001, Cloonan will ask, “Who’s going to conduct the thirty thousand interviews? When the f_ck do we have time for this?” Nonetheless, he checks out the eight names mentioned in the memo. He will apparently find nothing, although several individuals associated with the Phoenix cell are Sunni extremists (see November 1999-August 2001). The memo is also read by an analyst and an auditor in New York while they are researching other matters, and Cloonan will tell the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) he may have discussed the memo with some of his colleagues. The OIG’s report will say Cloonan told investigators that “he did not contact Williams or anyone else in Phoenix to discuss the [memo].” However, in a 2006 book author Lawrence Wright, citing an interview with Cloonan, will say that Cloonan spoke to Williams’ supervisor in Phoenix about it. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 77-9 pdf file; Wright 2006, pp. 350, 426) The I-49 squad possibly forwards the memo to the Alec Station bin Laden unit at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (see (July 27, 2001)).

CIA Director George Tenet will recall in his 2007 book that “during one of my updates in late July when, as we speculated about the kind of [al-Qaeda] attacks we could face, Rich B. suddenly said, with complete conviction, ‘They’re coming here.’ I’ll never forget the silence that followed.” Rich B. is the alias Tenet uses for Richard Blee, the official who oversees Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, at this time (see June 1999 and Between Mid-January and July 2000). It is not known who else is at the meeting. (Tenet 2007, pp. 158)

At some time in August 2001, Zacarias Moussaoui calls Naamen Meziche, who is an apparent member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, with a few of the future 9/11 hijackers. Moussaoui is in the US and will be arrested and imprisoned on August 16 (see August 16, 2001). Although it is not specified in news reports, presumably Moussaoui makes the call before his arrest, while he still is able to make calls. Meziche’s phone number is written on a piece of paper among Moussaoui’s belongings. FBI officials will not be allowed to search Moussaoui’s possessions until after 9/11. Presumably, if they had been able to, the call and phone number could have helped point investigators to the Hamburg cell and hijackers. Meziche is the son-in-law of Mohammed Fazazi, the radical imam of the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, Germany, regularly attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers (see 1993-Late 2001). He is also said to be a friend of hijacker Mohamed Atta. Meziche’s role in the Hamburg cell will only emerge after he is killed in a US drone strike in Pakistan in 2010 (see October 5, 2010). (Crawford 10/16/2010) Before 9/11, German investigators are monitoring some members of the Hamburg cell (see for instance November 1, 1998-February 2001). Had that investigation widened to include Meziche, the call from Moussaoui could have been detected and changed the investigation of Moussaoui in the US.

The CIA officers who draft a presidential daily briefing (PDB) item given to George Bush on August 6 (see August 6, 2001) ask an FBI agent for additional information and also to review a draft of the memo, but she does not provide all the additional information she could. The 9/11 Commission will refer to the FBI agent as “Jen M,” so she is presumably Jennifer Maitner, an agent with the Osama bin Laden unit at FBI headquarters. The purpose of the memo is to communicate to the president the intelligence community’s view that the threat of attacks by bin Laden is both current and serious. But Maitner fails to add some important information that she has: around the end of July, she was informed of the Phoenix memo, which suggests that an inordinate number of bin Laden-related Arabs are taking flying lessons in the US (see July 10, 2001). She does not link this to the portion of the memo discussing aircraft hijackings. Responsibility for dealing with the Phoenix memo is formally transferred to her on August 7, when she reads the full text. The finished PDB item discusses the possibility bin Laden operatives may hijack an airliner and says that there are “patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings.” It is unclear whether the draft PDB item Maitner reviews contains this information. However, if it does, it apparently does not inspire her to take any significant action on the memo before 9/11, such as contacting the agents in Phoenix to notify them of the preparations for hijackings (see July 27, 2001 and after). The PDB will contain an error, saying that the FBI was conducting 70 full field investigations of bin Laden-related individuals (see August 6, 2001), but this error is added after Maitner reviews the draft, so she does not have the opportunity to remove it. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260-2, 535; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 69-77 pdf file)

Hugh Sims (left) and Tim Nelson (right).Hugh Sims (left) and Tim Nelson (right). [Source: Flysouth and Andy King / Associated Press]Flight engineer Tim Nelson and pilot Hugh Sims, who work at the Pan Am International Flight School where Zacarias Moussaoui trains to fly a Boeing 747-400, are immediately suspicious of Moussaoui, and their suspicions continue to grow after his arrival because:
bullet He sends unusual emails that are signed “zuluman tangotango” and laced with grammatical errors, even though he says he is a British businessman; (CNN 3/2/2006) His e-mails also include abnormal comments such as, “E[mail] is not secure;” (Hosenball 10/1/2001)
bullet He pays most of his $8,300 fee in hundred dollar bills. This makes Nelson suspicious, because he thinks cash is hard to track; (Yardley 2/8/2002; Gordon 4/24/2005; CNN 3/2/2006)
bullet He is alone, whereas most trainees arrive in groups; (Gordon 4/24/2005)
bullet He says he wants to fly a 747 not because he plans to be a pilot, but as an “ego boosting thing.” However, within hours of his arrival, it is clear he is “not some affluent joyrider,” as he is shabbily dressed; (Yardley 2/8/2002; Shenon 10/18/2002; Gordon 4/24/2005)
bullet In addition, it is unusual that he has no aviation background, very little experience, and no pilot’s license. All other pilots at the center, even “vanity pilots”—wealthy individuals who just want the thrill of flying a large jet—have many times more flying hours than Moussaoui and are all licensed; (US Congress 10/17/2002; Gordon 4/24/2005; Rake 5/2005)
bullet He has flown for 57 hours at flight school in Oklahoma, but not yet flown solo, which is unusual. The school’s manager of pilot training, Alan McHale, will later comment, “My worst student was a grandma, and I got her to solo after 21 hours;” (Gordon 4/24/2005)
bullet He is not just buying a one-period joyride, but a whole course; (Gordon 4/24/2005)
bullet He seems determined to pack a large amount of training in a short period for no apparent reason; (Yardley 2/8/2002)
bullet He is “extremely” interested in the operation of the plane’s doors and control panel. (US Congress 10/17/2002) He also is very keen to learn the protocol for communicating with the flight tower, despite claiming to have no plans to become an actual pilot; (Yardley 2/8/2002)
bullet He talks to some Syrian airline pilots training at the facility, and the pilots tell Nelson that Moussaoui is fluent in Arabic. Nelson, who is already worried Moussaoui might be up to no good, thinks, “One more red flag;” (Gordon 4/24/2005; CNN 3/2/2006)
bullet The school’s accountant complains that Moussaoui’s payment is a couple of hundred dollars short, but that he does not have a credit card with him, even though he says he is an international businessman; (Gordon 4/24/2005) and
Nelson thinks back to an incident in Japan when the captain was stabbed to death and the killer then flew the plane for 45 minutes before the co-captain regained control. He is concerned Moussaoui might perform a suicide hijacking, “Here’s the problem: You’ve got an aircraft that weighs upwards of 900,000 pounds fully loaded and carries between 50,000 and 57,000 gallons of jet fuel. If you fly it at 350 knots [about 400 miles per hour] into a heavily populated area, you’re going to kill a boatload of people.” After talking to instructor Clancy Prevost, who is also suspicious of Moussaoui (see August 13-15, 2001), both Sims and Nelson independently decide to call the FBI and Moussaoui is arrested soon after the calls are made (see August 16, 2001). (Gordon 4/24/2005)

Pan Am International Flight School.Pan Am International Flight School. [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)Although some staff at the Pan Am International Flight School became a little suspicious of Zacarias Moussaoui before he arrived (see August 11-15, 2001), within two days of his arrival at the school, Moussaoui’s behaviour makes his assigned instructor Clancy Prevost highly suspicious. This is because:
bullet Moussaoui has only flown for under 60 hours, whereas the second least experienced student Prevost ever had had 10 times as many hours. This lack of experience means Moussaoui does not really understand the instruction; (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006)
bullet When Moussaoui is asked what his goal is, he tells Prevost he wants to fly a 747 from London to New York, the same goal he gave in his original e-mail to the flight school. (Rake 5/2005) This raises fears he has plans to hijack such a flight; (US Congress 10/17/2002)
bullet When Prevost relates a story about a charter flight in the Middle East where getting the doors open was a problem, the story causes Prevost to ask Moussaoui whether he is a Muslim and Moussaoui replies in a strange tone, “I am nothing.” This makes Prevost worry so much that he ends the session, goes back to his motel, and calls the flight school to express his reservations about Moussaoui. He talks to his manager in the morning and says, “We’ll care [about having trained Moussaoui] when there’s a hijacking and he knows how to throw the switches and put them in the right position and all the lawsuits start coming in when they figure out we taught him how to do this”;
bullet Prevost then goes into a supervisors’ meeting and recommends calling the FBI, but becomes even more upset when he is told Moussaoui paid for his training in $100 bills.
As Moussaoui does not learn much during the day, Prevost invites him to observe a simulator session that evening, which Moussaoui does with interest. The following day Prevost meets the FBI, which has now been alerted by the school, and shares his feeling it would be a good idea to do a background check on Moussaoui. The FBI subsequently arrests Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006) Some claims later made about Moussaoui in the media may be inaccurate:
bullet He is said to mostly practice flying in the air, not taking off or landing. (Gordon 12/21/2001; Yardley 2/8/2002; Taylor 5/21/2002; Wald 5/22/2002) However, he is arrested after ground instruction and never flies the simulator, so it is unclear how this could happen. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006) 9/11 Congressional Inquiry staff director Eleanor Hill will also later say that the reports saying he only wanted to pilot a plane in the air are untrue. (US Congress 9/24/2002) In addition, the 9/11 Commission will comment, “Contrary to popular belief, Moussaoui did not say he was not interested in learning how to take off or land”; (9/11 Commission 4/13/2004)
bullet It will be reported that he appears not to understand French, despite being from France, and does not specify the Middle Eastern country he says he comes from. (Gordon 12/21/2001; Eggen 1/2/2002) However, at the trial Prevost will recall that Moussaoui spoke good French and that Moussaoui told him he had both French and Moroccan passports. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006)
Prevost will later receive a controversial $5 million reward from the US Department of State’s Reward for Justice program. (Isikoff and Hosenball 1/30/2008)

Two apparent associates of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, Ismail Bin Murabit (a.k.a. Ismail Ben Mrabete) and Labed Ahmed (a.k.a. Ahmed Taleb), purchase tickets to fly to Pakistan on September 3, 2001. They will be joined on that flight by cell member Said Bahaji (see September 3-5, 2001). All three will disappear into Afghanistan thereafter. It is later discovered that Ahmed had been in e-mail contact with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. (Crewdson, Swanson, and Simpson 2/25/2003) Note that these purchases occur one day before Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest in Minnesota, suggesting the date for the 9/11 attacks was set before his arrest (see August 16, 2001).

After Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested (see August 16, 2001), the FBI’s Minneapolis field office becomes very concerned that he may be part of a larger operation involving hijacked aircraft and that he represents a real threat to US national security. One of the agents, Harry Samit, will later say that he and his colleagues are “obsessed” with Moussaoui. Samit sends over 70 communications warning about Moussaoui to the following:
bullet The Hezbollah, bin Laden, and Radical Fundamentalist Units at FBI headquarters (see August 20-September 11, 2001);
bullet Another FBI field office (see August 23, 2001);
bullet The CIA (see August 24, 2001);
bullet The FBI’s offices in Paris and London;
bullet The FAA;
bullet The Secret Service;
bullet The Immigration and Naturalization Service; and
bullet Another intelligence agency (possibly the National Security Agency).
While some of these bodies are responsive (see August 22, 2001 and August 24, 2001), Samit and his colleagues in Minnesota are forced to engage in a running battle with the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters, which obstructs their attempts to obtain a warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings. Samit will later accuse the RFU of “criminal negligence” because they were trying to “run out the clock” to deport Moussaoui, instead of prosecuting him. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 101-221 pdf file; Johnson 3/9/2006; Markon and Dwyer 3/21/2006)

Zacarias Moussaoui after his arrest.Zacarias Moussaoui after his arrest. [Source: FBI]After being warned that Zacarias Moussaoui has raised suspicions at flight school (see August 11-15, 2001 and August 13-15, 2001), the FBI learns they can arrest him because he is in the US illegally. Four agents, Harry Samit, John Weess, Dave Rapp (all FBI) and Steve Nordmann (INS), drive to the Residence Inn, where Moussaoui and his associate Hussein al-Attas are staying. At the hotel Samit speaks on the phone to Joe Manarang from FBI headquarters; Manarang appeals for them to take the “cautious route” and not arrest Moussaoui. However, Samit refuses, as he has already notified the hotel clerk of their interest. Moussaoui is arrested around 4:00 p.m. on an immigration violation. At first Moussaoui shows the agents some documents, but then he becomes upset at missing his flight training. The FBI confiscates his belongings, including a computer laptop, but Moussaoui refuses permission for the belongings to be searched. A search of Moussaoui’s person yields a dagger with a two-inch blade, and another knife with a three-inch blade belonging to Moussoaui is found in the car. He also has boxing gloves and shin guards, and the arresting agents note he has prepared “through physical training for violent confrontation.” Al-Attas allows the agents to search his belongings and they believe al-Attas is in the US legally, so he is not arrested. However, al-Attas tells the FBI that Moussaoui is a radical religious Muslim and later makes several statements indicating Moussaoui may be a terrorist (see August 16, 2001). (MSNBC 12/11/2001; US Congress 10/17/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006; Gordon 6/4/2006) Al-Attas is arrested the next day (see August 17, 2001).

Zacarias Moussaoui’s roommate, Hussein Al-Attas, reports to the Immigration and Naturalization Service and is arrested when he admits he has worked despite only having a student visa. Al-Attas was with Moussaoui when he was arrested and was questioned the previous day (see August 10-11, 2001, August 16, 2001, and August 16, 2001). Al-Attas also says that Moussaoui follows the teachings of a sheikh, but that Moussaoui has not told him which sheikh because he does not think al-Attas would approve. When asked if the sheikh is Osama bin Laden, al-Attas says he does not think so and only remembers Moussaoui making one reference to bin Laden, when he appeared on television. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 77-9 pdf file)

The FBI Minneapolis field office wishes to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings, which will later be found to contain enough information to potentially stop 9/11 (see August 16, 2001). To do so it must get the approval of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters. However, the RFU throws obstacles in the warrant request’s path:
bullet RFU chief Dave Frasca stops the Minneapolis office from pursuing a criminal warrant (see August 21, 2001);
bullet When French authorities say that Moussaoui is connected to the Chechen rebels, RFU agent Mike Maltbie insists that the FBI representative in Paris go through all telephone directories in France to see how many Zacarias Moussaouis live there (see August 22, 2001);
bullet Maltbie stops Minneapolis from informing the Justice Department’s Criminal Division about the case (see August 22, 2001);
bullet When RFU agent Rita Flack, who is working on the Moussaoui case, reads the Phoenix memo suggesting that bin Laden is sending pilots to the US for training, she apparently does not tell her colleagues about it, even though it was addressed to several of them, including Frasca (see July 10, 2001 and August 22, 2001);
bullet The RFU does not provide the relevant documentation to attorneys consulted about the request. In particular, Flack does not tell them about the Phoenix Memo, even though one of the attorneys will later say she asked Flack if anyone is sending radical Islamists to the US to learn to fly (see August 22-28, 2001);
bullet When Minneapolis learns Moussaoui apparently wants to go on jihad, Frasca is not concerned and says jihad does not necessarily mean holy war. However, a top Justice Department attorney will later say “he would have tied bells and whistles” to this comment in a request for a search warrant had he known this (see August 17, 2001 and August 29, 2001);
bullet Maltbie tells the Minneapolis office that getting a warrant will “take a few months” (see August 24, 2001). He also tells Minneapolis, “We know what’s going on. You will not question us.” (see August 27, 2001);
bullet Maltbie weakens the warrant request by editing it and removing a statement by a CIA officer that Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab was closely connected to Osama bin Laden, despite there being intelligence linking that leader to bin Laden (see August 28, 2001);
bullet In a key meeting with an attorney about the request, Maltbie and Flack, who are submitting the warrant, are adamant that it is not sufficiently supported (see August 28, 2001);
bullet Frasca opposes a plan to put an undercover officer in the jail cell with Moussaoui to find out more information about his connections to Islamic militants (August 29, 2001 and Shortly After);
bullet The RFU does not want a Minneapolis agent to accompany Moussaoui when he is deported (see (August 30-September 10, 2001));
bullet The RFU does not re-consider getting a criminal search warrant after a decision is taken not to seek a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see After August 28, 2001);
bullet Frasca and Maltbie are said to oppose a search warrant after 9/11 (see September 11, 2001).
It is unclear why the RFU opposes the warrant so strongly. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later criticize the RFU staff, but will conclude that they did not intentionally sabotage the warrant application. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 101-222 pdf file) A 2004 book by independent researcher Mike Ruppert will speculate that Frasca is actually a CIA agent. Ruppert suggests that the CIA placed Frasca in the FBI to prevent CIA operations from being compromised by FBI investigations. But he does not provide any direct evidence of ties between Frasca and the CIA (see October 1, 2004). The Minneapolis agents will offer a different interpretation of RFU actions. Coleen Rowley will say, “I feel that certain facts… have, up to now, been omitted, downplayed, glossed over and/or mischaracterized in an effort to avoid or minimize personal and/or institutional embarrassment on the part of the FBI and/or perhaps even for improper political reasons.” She asks, “Why would an FBI agent deliberately sabotage a case? The superiors acted so strangely that some agents in the Minneapolis office openly joked that these higher-ups ‘had to be spies or moles… working for Osama bin Laden.’… Our best real guess, however, is that, in most cases avoidance of all ‘unnecessary’ actions/decisions by FBI [headquarters] managers… has, in recent years, been seen as the safest FBI career course. Numerous high-ranking FBI officials who have made decisions or have taken actions which, in hindsight, turned out to be mistaken or just turned out badly… have seen their careers plummet and end. This has in turn resulted in a climate of fear which has chilled aggressive FBI law enforcement action/decisions.” (Time 5/21/2002) Minneapolis FBI agent Harry Samit will agree with explanation, telling the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General that the RFU is guilty of “obstructionism, criminal negligence, and careerism.” (Sniffen 3/20/2006) Samit will also say that Maltbie even told him he was acting this way to “preserve the existence of his advancement potential” in the FBI. (Riley 3/21/2006)

Dave Frasca of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) denies a request from the Minneapolis FBI field office to seek a criminal warrant to search the belongings of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was arrested on August 15 as part of an intelligence investigation (see August 16, 2001 and August 16, 2001). Minneapolis agents believe they had uncovered sufficient evidence that Moussaoui is involved in a criminal conspiracy, and want to obtain a criminal search warrant instead of a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). But because they originally opened an intelligence investigation, they cannot go directly to the local US attorney’s office for the warrant. In order to begin a parallel criminal investigation, they must first obtain permission from the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) so they can pass the information over the “wall.” (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006) Harry Samit, a Minneapolis FBI agent on the Moussaoui case, calls Dave Frasca, the head of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters, to discuss the request. Samit tells Frasca that they have already completed the paperwork for a criminal investigation, but, according to Samit, Frasca says, “You will not open it, you will not open a criminal case.” Frasca says that argument for probable cause in seeking a criminal warrant is “shaky” and notes that if they fail to obtain a criminal warrant, they will be unable to obtain a warrant under FISA. Samit, who has only been with the FBI since 1999, defers to his superior, and writes on the paperwork, “Not opened per instructions of Dave Frasca.” Samit then tells his Chief Division Counsel, Coleen Rowley, about the conversation, and she also advises him that it would be better to apply for a warrant under FISA. When the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) interviews Frasca after 9/11, he will claim he never spoke to Samit about this matter, and that the conversation was with Chris Briese, one of Samit’s superiors. However, Briese will deny this and the OIG will conclude that the conversation was between Samit and Frasca. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 128-132 pdf file; US Department of Justice 3/1/2006 pdf file) To get a FISA search warrant for Moussaoui’s belongings the FBI must now show there is probable cause to believe Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006) A criminal warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings will be granted only after the 9/11 attacks (see September 11, 2001).

An FBI agent detailed to the CIA’s bin Laden unit locates CIA cables saying that future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi entered the US in early 2000. The agent, Margaret Gillespie, then checks with the US Customs Service and discovers that another future 9/11 hijacker, Khalid Almihdhar, entered the US on July 4, 2001, and there is no record he has left the country. As there is “an imperative to find anyone affiliated with al-Qaeda if they [are] believed to be in the US,” Gillespie immediately contacts Dina Corsi, an FBI agent in its bin Laden unit. Gillespie, who has been examining the USS Cole bombing and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit for some time, will later say that when she learns of their arrival in the US, “it all clicks for me.” The Justice Department’s office of inspector general will find that Gillespie’s “actions on receipt of the information clearly indicate that she understood the significance of this information when she received it. She took immediate steps to open an intelligence investigation.” Gillespie and Corsi meet with Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer involved in the investigation (see August 22, 2001), and Almihdhar and Alhazmi are soon watchlisted (see August 23, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 300-301, 313 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file)

Khalid Almihdhar.Khalid Almihdhar. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]It is unclear if Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, briefs CIA leaders on information that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US. Margaret Gillespie, an FBI analyst detailed to the station, discovers that Almihdhar is in the US on August 21, immediately informs the FBI (see August 21-22, 2001), and places Almihdhar, hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, and two more associates on the TIPOFF watch list the next day (see August 23, 2001). The CIA also forwards information about al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash to the FBI on August 30 (see August 30, 2001).
No Information on Briefings - There is no indication that Richard Blee, the CIA manager responsible for Alec Station, or anyone at Alec Station informs the CIA’s leadership, the White House, or Richard Clarke’s Counterterrorism Security Group (see August 23, 2001) of Almihdhar’s presence in the US and the clear implications of this presence. For example, no such briefing will be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report, although the report will mention that CIA Director George Tenet is briefed about Zacarias Moussaoui around the same time, and it does discuss the circulation of the information about Almihdhar at the FBI in detail. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 268-277) The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will not mention any such briefing, although it will discuss how the FBI handles the information. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 151-4 pdf file) No such briefing will be mentioned in a 2007 book by Tenet, although the book will mention a briefing Tenet receives about Moussaoui. (Tenet 2007, pp. 158-160, 200) The Justice Department inspector general’s report will discuss the FBI’s handling of the information in detail. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 297-313 pdf file) However, the full CIA inspector general’s report about 9/11 will not be made public, and its executive summary will not mention any such briefing. (Central Intelligence Agency 6/2005, pp. 15-16 pdf file)
Alec Station Aware of Threat and Almihdhar - Alec Station, the CIA, and the US intelligence community in general are highly aware that preparations for a large al-Qaeda attack are in the final stages (see Shortly After July 5, 2001, June 28, 2001, and June 28, 2001). Blee is, in fact, the lead briefer within the government about the threats, and has briefed not only his superiors at the CIA, but also National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see May 30, 2001 and June 28, 2001). He has also recently expressed the belief that the attack will be in the US (see Late July 2001) and has apparently received a series of e-mails in which his former deputy told him Almihdhar may well be involved in the forthcoming attack (see July 5, 2001, July 13, 2001, and July 23, 2001). The information that Almihdhar is in the US therefore confirms Blee’s belief that the attack will be in the US, but it appears Alec Station fails to pass this information on.

The CIA cable watchlisting Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and two others (the sections mentioning Shakir and bin Attash are blacked out).The CIA cable watchlisting Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and two others (the sections mentioning Shakir and bin Attash are blacked out). [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)Thanks to the request of Margaret Gillespie, an FBI analyst assigned to the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, the CIA sends a cable to the State Department, INS, Customs Service, and FBI requesting that “bin Laden-related individuals” Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, and Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf (an alias for Khallad bin Attash) be put on the terrorism watch list. All four individuals had attended the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). The cable mostly focuses on Almihdhar, briefly outlining his attendance at the Malaysia summit and his subsequent travel to the US in January 2000 and July 2001. Since March 2000, if not earlier, the CIA has had good reason to believe Alhazmi and Almihdhar were al-Qaeda operatives living in the US, but apparently did nothing and told no other agency about it until now. The hijackers are not located in time, and both die in the 9/11 attacks. FBI agents later state that if they been told about Alhazmi and Almihdhar sooner, “There’s no question we could have tied all 19 hijackers together” given the frequent contact between these two and the other hijackers. (Isikoff and Klaidman 6/2/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 538; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 32-36, 302) However, in what the Washington Post calls a “critical omission,” the FAA, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and the FBI’s Financial Review Group are not notified. The two latter organizations have the power to tap into private credit card and bank data, and claim they could have readily found Alhazmi and Almihdhar, given the frequency the two used credit cards. (Smith 7/25/2003) Furthermore, counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke and his Counterterrorism Security Group are not told about these two operatives before 9/11 either. (Isikoff and Hosenball 3/24/2004) The CIA later claims the request was labeled “immediate,” the second most urgent category (the highest is reserved for things like declarations of war). (Drogin, Lichtblua, and Krikorian 10/28/2001) The FBI denies that it was marked “immediate” and other agencies treated the request as a routine matter. (Drogin, Lichtblau, and Krikorian 10/18/2001; US Congress 9/20/2002) The State Department places all four men on the watch list the next day. (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file) However, this watch list, named TIPOFF, checks their names only if they use international flights. There is another watch list barring suspected terrorists from flying domestically. On 9/11, it contains only 12 names, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures, and some names are added as late as August 28, 2001. But none of these four men are added to this domestic list before 9/11.(see April 24, 2000). (9/11 Commission 1/26/2004)

When the US intelligence community watchlists the alias Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, which is used by al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see August 23, 2001), it fails to realize that “bin Yousaf” is really bin Attash, who is known to be one of the masterminds of the USS Cole bombing (see Late October-Late November 2000 and November 22-December 16, 2000). The CIA knows that both bin Attash and “Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf” were in Malaysia with 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000, January 8, 2000, and January 4, 2001). Furthermore, the CIA has a photo of bin Attash provided by the Yemeni government, and surveillance photos and video of bin Attash with Alhazmi and Almihdhar at an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After and January 5, 2000). And when bin Attash applied for a US visa, he used the “bin Yousaf” alias (see April 3, 1999), so presumably a comparison of his photo from that application with other photos would reveal that “bin Yousaf” and bin Attash are one and the same person. However, apparently no check is made for any US visa of “bin Yousaf,” even after he is watchlisted to prevent him from coming into the US, which would require a visa. Had a check been made, it would have been discovered that he applied for a visa at the same time as both Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see April 3-7, 1999), the very people who have been watchlisted together with him. Presumably, discovering that Alhazmi and Almihdhar had applied for US visas with one of the Cole masterminds would have greatly increased the urgency of finding them. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 538; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 248, 300-3 pdf file) The US missed other opportunities to learn more about this alias (see After January 8, 2000 and After December 16, 2000).

Hijacker Khalid Almihdhar buys his 9/11 plane ticket on-line using a credit card; hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi does the same two days later, and also buys a ticket for his brother Salem (see August 25-September 5, 2001). Both men were put on a terrorist watch list on August 23 (see August 23, 2001), but the watch list only means they will be stopped if trying to enter or leave the US. There is another watch list that applies to domestic flights that some of their associates are on, but they are only placed on the international watch list (see April 24, 2000). Procedures are in place for law enforcement agencies to share watch list information with airlines and airports and such sharing is common, but the FAA and the airlines are not notified about this case, so the purchases raise no red flags. (Lichtblau 9/20/2001; US Congress 9/26/2002) An official later states that had the FAA been properly warned, “they should have been picked up in the reservation process.” (Washington Post 10/2/2002) On September 4 and 5, 2001, an FBI agent will attempt to find Alhazmi and Almihdhar in the US, but will fail to conduct a simple credit card check that should have revealed these purchases (see September 4-5, 2001).

Dave Frasca, head of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalism Unit (RFU), and Michael Rolince, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section (ITOS), have at least two brief conversations about the Zacarias Moussaoui case. Moussaoui, suspected of having ties to Islamic militants, was arrested in mid-August (see August 16, 2001). Though it is not known what Frasca and Rolince talk about, it is possible their discussions concern complaints from the Minneapolis field office about how RFU is handling the case (see August 27, 2001). According to the 9/11 Commission, there is no evidence that this discussion ever reaches Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Dale Watson or Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard. If this is true, the FBI’s handling of the case is remarkably different than the approach taken in the CIA, where Director George Tenet is briefed repeatedly on the matter (see August 23, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 275; Sniffen 3/21/2006) A warning that Osama bin Laden and Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab were planning a joint operation against the US was sent to Rolince earlier in the year (see Before April 13, 2001) and the FBI is aware that Moussaoui had recruited for the Chechen rebels (see August 22, 2001). Rolince will be involved in preparations for Moussaoui’s deportation to France shortly before 9/11 (see (August 30-September 10, 2001)).

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

Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed.Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed. [Source: Matt Dunham/ Reuters]According to a senior Defense Department source quoted in the book “Intelligence Failure” by David Bossie, Defense Department personnel become aware of a Milan newspaper interview with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, a self-designated spokesman for al-Qaeda. In the interview, he brags about al-Qaeda recruiting “kamikaze bombers ready to die for Palestine.” Mohammed boasts of training them in Afghanistan. According to this source, the Defense Department seeks “to present its information [to the FBI], given the increased ‘chatter,’ of a possible attack in the United States just days before [9/11]. The earliest the FBI would see the [Defense Department] people who had the information was on September 12, 2001.” (Bossie 5/2004) In 1998, Bakri had publicized a fax bin Laden sent him that listed the four objectives al-Qaeda had in their war with the US. First on the list was: “Bring down their airliners.” (see Summer 1998) The main focus of FBI agent Ken Williams’s July 2001 memo, warning about Middle Eastern students training in Arizona flight schools, was a member of Bakri’s organization (see July 10, 2001). In 2004, the US will charge Bakri with 11 terrorism-related crimes, including attempting to set up a terror training camp in Oregon and assisting in the kidnapping of two Americans and others in Yemen. (MSNBC 5/27/2004)

Khalid Almihdhar and Majed Moqed, two of the men who will allegedly hijack Flight 77, check in at the American Airlines ticket counter at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 2-3; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 27) They are recorded by one of the airport’s security cameras approaching the ticket counter, with Moqed pulling a large, dark, roller-type suitcase and Almihdhar pulling a smaller, dark, roller-type suitcase. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/19/2001) They are checked in by a female ticketing agent for American Airlines whose name is unstated. The ticketing agent will later recall Moqed giving her a small, old, leather suitcase to check in. Almihdhar, meanwhile, has a carry-on bag with him, she will say in one interview with the FBI. However, a week later she will tell the FBI he had no bags with him.
One Hijacker Seems Unable to Understand the Agent's Questions - Almihdhar and Moqed appear to be in a very good mood and are polite as they are checked in. They provide Virginia identification. One of them seems to be in charge and answers all of the ticketing agent’s questions. He hesitates, though, before responding to the question, “Has anyone given you anything to carry on the flight?” The other man appears unable to understand the security questions he is asked. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/12/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/19/2001) After being checked in, the two men proceed to a security screening checkpoint (see 7:18 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 27) Almihdhar is pulling along his suitcase but Moqed does not have his suitcase with him at this point. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/19/2001) As they leave the ticket counter, they wave and smile at the ticketing agent. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/19/2001)
Hijackers Are Flagged by a Computerized Prescreening System - Almihdhar and Moqed are both flagged by CAPPS (the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System) when they check in. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 3) CAPPS is an FAA-approved automated system administered by commercial airlines that aims to identify passengers whose profile suggests they may pose more than a minimal risk to aircraft. Passengers selected by CAPPS have their baggage screened for explosives or held off the plane until they have boarded. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 84; Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 12) Almihdar’s name was recently added to a terrorism watch list (see August 23, 2001). (Associated Press 7/22/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 270) Almihdhar was recorded on video in a terminal at Dulles Airport at some time the previous evening, possibly accompanied by Salem Alhazmi, another one of the alleged Flight 77 hijackers (see September 10, 2001). (9/11 Commission 9/29/2003 pdf file; Federal Bureau of Investigation 11/14/2003 pdf file)

Vaughn Allex.Vaughn Allex. [Source: USA Today]Brothers Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi, two of the men who will allegedly hijack Flight 77, check in at the American Airlines ticket counter at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 3, 452; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 27) They are running late. They “come running in the front door, looking around, and didn’t know which way to go,” Vaughn Allex, an employee at the ticket counter, will later describe. (CNN 9/8/2012; Hughes 9/10/2016) They are captured on security video pulling large, dark, roller-type suitcases as they approach the counter. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/19/2001) They are allowed to check in despite having missed the official deadline for doing so by a few minutes. (CNN 9/8/2012; Hughes 9/10/2016)
Trainee Checks in the Hijackers - Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi are checked in by Inga Hill, a trainee who is overseen by Allex. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/19/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/25/2001) Today is only her second day working at Dulles Airport. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/12/2001) Allex looks on while she confirms the brothers’ tickets. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/25/2001) The Alhazmis check in two dark-colored bags, one of them a hard plastic suitcase, the other a soft bag, Hill will recall. One of the brothers has a carry-on bag, she will say. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/12/2001) Allex will recall the brothers having only one bag, which he considers to be “totally inappropriate for a trip to Los Angeles.” The bag is “almost like a satchel” with straps across the top but which doesn’t seal, he will say. (CNN 9/8/2012)
Hijackers Have Difficulty Answering Questions - Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi show passports for their photo identification but are unable to recall the country from which these were issued. They also have trouble answering the security questions that all passengers must answer. Allex therefore has to get involved and take over the task of questioning them, Hill will recall. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/12/2001) However, Allex will say he takes on the task of checking them in from the outset because they are running late. (CNN 9/8/2012) Nawaf Alhazmi is the only one of the brothers who speaks during the check-in, but his English is poor. Salem Alhazmi, meanwhile, acts “very anxious or excited,” according to Allex. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/12/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/25/2001) “He was grinning, he was smiling, and he was dancing back and forth,” Allex will say. (CNN 9/8/2012)
Hijackers Are Selected for Extra Scrutiny - Allex selects the two brothers for extra security scrutiny. He does this because he finds them suspicious, and one of them—probably Salem Alhazmi, according to the 9/11 Commission—has no photo identification and cannot understand English. However, the only consequence of the extra scrutiny will be that their bags are held off Flight 77 until it is confirmed that they have boarded it.
Employee Is Suspicious and Follows the Hijackers - After being checked in, Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi proceed to a security screening checkpoint (see 7:36 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 3; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 27-28; Leshan 9/12/2016) They no longer have their suitcases with them when they leave the ticket counter. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/19/2001) Allex is still uncomfortable with the two men and follows them for a few steps. He stops himself, though, as he is concerned that his suspicion may be racially motivated. (CNN 9/8/2012) The name of Nawaf Alhazmi was recently added to a terrorism watch list (see August 23, 2001). (Associated Press 7/22/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 270) An employee at Dulles Airport will recall encountering him and four other Middle Eastern men as they tried to get to a secure area of the airport the previous evening (see (Between 8:00 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.) September 10, 2001). (9/11 Commission 1/19/2004 pdf file; Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 2-6, 43-44)

Lofti Raissi.Lofti Raissi. [Source: Amnesty International]Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian pilot living in Britain, is arrested and accused of helping to train four of the hijackers. An FBI source says, “We believe he is by far the biggest find we have had so far. He is of crucial importance to us.” (Las Vegas Review-Journal 9/29/2001) However, in April 2002, a judge dismisses all charges against him, calling the charges “tenuous.” US officials originally said, “They had video of him with Hani Hanjour, who allegedly piloted the plane that crashed into the Pentagon; records of phone conversations between the two men; evidence that they had flown a training plane together; and evidence that Raissi had met several of the hijackers in Las Vegas. It turned out, the British court found, that the video showed Raissi with his cousin, not Mr. Hanjour, that Raissi had mistakenly filled in his air training logbook and had never flown with Hanjour, and that Raissi and the hijackers were not in Las Vegas at the same time. The US authorities never presented any phone records showing conversations between Raissi and Hanjour. It appears that in this case the US authorities handed over all the information they had…” (Ford 3/27/2002; Guardian 9/26/2005) Raissi later says he will sue the British and American governments unless he is given a “widely publicized apology” for his months in prison and the assumption of “guilty until proven innocent.” (Reuters 8/14/2002) In September 2003, he does sue both governments for $20 million. He also wins a undisclosed sum from the British tabloid Mail on Sunday for printing false charges against him. (Gillan 9/16/2003; BBC 10/7/2003; Wagner 10/14/2003) Declassified documents will later reveal that the British arrested Raissi only days after the FBI requested that the British discretely monitor and investigate him, not arrest him. (Guardian 9/26/2005) Raissi perfectly matches the description of an individual mentioned in FBI agent Ken Williams’ “Phoenix memo” (see July 10, 2001), whom the FBI had attempted to investigate in May 2001 (see 1997-July 2001).

The house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where Abu Zubaida is arrested.The house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where Abu Zubaida is arrested. [Source: New York Times]Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan. He is the first al-Qaeda leader considered highly important to be captured or killed after 9/11.
Zubaida Injured during Raid - A joint team from the FBI, the CIA, and the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, raids the house where Zubaida is staying. Around 3 a.m., the team breaks into the house. Zubaida and three others wake up and rush to the rooftop. Zubaida and the others jump to a neighbor’s roof where they are grabbed by local police who are providing back-up for the capture operation. One of Zubaida’s associates manages to grab a gun from one of the police and starts firing it. A shoot-out ensues. The associate is killed, several police are wounded, and Zubaida is shot three times, in the leg, stomach, and groin. He survives. About a dozen other suspected al-Qaeda operatives are captured in the house, and more are captured in other raids that take place nearby at the same time. (Burns 4/14/2002; Suskind 2006, pp. 84-89) US intelligence had slowly been closing in on Zubaida’s location for weeks, but accounts differ as to exactly how he was found (see February-March 28, 2002). He had surgically altered his appearance and was using an alias, so it takes a few days to completely confirm his identity. (Johnston 9/10/2006)
Link to Pakistani Militant Group - A later US State Department report will mention that the building Zubaida is captured in is actually a Lashkar-e-Toiba safehouse. Lashkar-e-Toiba is a Pakistani militant group with many links to al-Qaeda, and it appears to have played a key role in helping al-Qaeda operatives escape US forces in Afghanistan and find refuge in Pakistan (see Late 2001-Early 2002). (US Department of State 4/30/2008)
Rendition - Not long after his arrest, Zubaida is interrogated by a CIA agent while he is recovering in a local hospital (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). He then is rendered to a secret CIA prison, where he is interrogated and tortured (see Mid-May 2002 and After). Throughout his detention, members of the National Security Council and other senior Bush administration officials are briefed about Zubaida’s captivity and treatment. (Senate Intelligence Committee 4/22/2009 pdf file)
Is Zubaida a High-Ranking Al-Qaeda Leader? - Shortly after the arrest, the New York Times reports that “Zubaida is believed by American intelligence to be the operations director for al-Qaeda and the highest-ranking figure of that group to be captured since the Sept. 11 attacks.” (Burns 4/14/2002) But it will later come out that while Zubaida was an important radical Islamist, his importance was probably overstated (see Shortly After March 28, 2002).
Tortured While in US Custody - Once Zubaida has sufficiently recovered from his injuries, he is taken to a secret CIA prison in Thailand for more interrogation. (Burke 6/13/2004; Danner 3/15/2009) One unnamed CIA official will later say: “He received the finest medical attention on the planet. We got him in very good health, so we could start to torture him.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 94-96, 100) Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld publicly vows that Zubaida will not be tortured, but it will later come out that he was (see Mid-May 2002 and After and April - June 2002). (Burns 4/14/2002)

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) turns down the Justice Department’s bid for sweeping new powers to monitor and wiretap US citizens. FISC judges rule that the government has misused the law and misled the court dozens of times. The court finds that Justice Department and FBI officials supplied false or misleading information to the court in over 75 applications for search warrants and wiretaps, including one signed by then-FBI director Louis Freeh. While the court does not find that the misrepresentations were deliberate, it does rule that not only were erroneous statements made, but important information was omitted from some FISA applications. The judges found so many inaccuracies and errors in FBI agent Michael Resnick’s affidavits that they bar him from ever appearing before the court again. The court cites “the troubling number of inaccurate FBI affidavits in so many FISA applications,” and says, “In virtually every instance, the government’s misstatements and omissions in FISA applications and violations of the Court’s orders involved information sharing and unauthorized disseminations to criminal investigators and prosecutors.” The court is also unhappy with the Justice Department’s failure to answer for these errors and omissions, writing, “How these misrepresentations occurred remains unexplained to the court.” The court finds that in light of such impropriety, the new procedures proposed by Attorney General John Ashcroft in March would give prosecutors too much control over counterintelligence investigations, and would allow the government to misuse intelligence information for criminal cases. The ruling is a severe blow to Ashcroft’s attempts since the 9/11 attacks to allow investigators working in terrorism and espionage to share more information with criminal investigators. (These limitations were put in place after the Church Commission’s findings of massive fraud and misuse of domestic surveillance programs during the 1950s, 60s, and 70s. See April, 1976, January 29, 1976, and December 21, 1974). The Justice Department says of the decision, “We believe the court’s action unnecessarily narrowed the Patriot Act and limited our ability to fully utilize the authority Congress gave us.” Interestingly, the Justice Department also opposed the public release of FISC’s decision not to grant the requested powers. Stewart Baker, former general counsel of the NSA, calls the opinion “a public rebuke. The message is you need better quality control. The judges want to ensure they have information they can rely on implicitly.” Bush officials have complained since the 9/11 attacks that FISA requirements hamper the ability of law enforcement and intelligence agents to track terrorist suspects, including alleged hijacking conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001). Those requirements mandate that agents must show probable cause that the subject of a search or wiretap is an agent of a foreign government or terrorist group, and, because FISA standards for obtaining warrants is far lower than for ordinary criminal warrants, mandate strict limits on the distribution of information secured from such investigations. The FBI searched Moussaoui’s laptop computer and other belongings without a FISA warrant because some officials did not believe they could adequately show the court that Moussaoui had any connections to a foreign government or terrorist group. In its ruling, FISC suggests that if the Justice Department finds FISA too restrictive, they should ask Congress to update the law. Many senators on the Judiciary Committee say they are willing to enact such reforms, but have complained of resistance from Ashcroft and a lack of cooperation from the Bush administration. (Eggen and Schmidt 8/23/2002) In November 2002, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court of Review will overturn the FISC decision and give the Justice Department what it asked for (see November 18, 2002).

Barbara Grewe.Barbara Grewe. [Source: Barbara Grewe]Barbara Grewe, a key investigator on the Justice Department inspector general’s investigation of the FBI’s failures before 9/11, moves to the 9/11 Commission. (University of Michigan Law School 3/7/2005) She was recommended to the Commission by a former colleague who worked at the office of inspector general at the Justice Department. (Wadley 3/14/2005) As special investigative counsel at the Justice Department’s office of the inspector general between July and December 2002 she had investigated and reported on the FBI’s handling of intelligence prior to 9/11, and directed part of the investigation into information sharing between the FBI and CIA, missed opportunities to locate the hijackers before 9/11, and earlier warnings about terrorists using airplanes as weapons. This is similar to the work she does on the 9/11 Commission. According to a press release for a lecture she will give in 2005, Grewe also “drafted and edited” the “relevant sections” of the Justice Department’s final report. (University of Michigan Law School 3/7/2005; Center for American Progress Action Fund 4/16/2008) However, it is unclear how she could have done this, as she left the Justice Department’s investigation in 2003. Although December 2002 is early on in the Justice Department inspector general’s probe, the following important interviews have been conducted by this time:
bullet Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer later detailed to the FBI who was involved in many pre-9/11 intelligence failures (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, March 5, 2000, May 15, 2001, Mid-May 2001, Late May, 2001, July 23, 2001, August 22, 2001, and August 24, 2001); (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 502)
bullet “Michael,” a female CIA officer who had blocked notification to the FBI saying that one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, had a US visa (see Around 7:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and January 6, 2000); (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 502)
bullet Dina Corsi, an FBI official who withheld intelligence information from criminal investigators in the summer of 2001 (see June 12-September 11, 2001, Before August 22, 2001, August 27-28, 2001, August 28, 2001, and August 28-29, 2001); (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 474)
bullet Clark Shannon, a CIA officer who withheld information about Almihdhar from the FBI (see June 11, 2001); (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 537)
bullet Margaret Gillespie, an FBI agent detailed to the FBI involved in information sharing problems (see (Late May-Early June) and August 21-22, 2001); (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 538)
bullet Robert Fuller, an FBI agent who searched for Almihdhar in the US just before the 9/11 attacks, but failed to find him (see September 4, 2001, September 4-5, 2001, and September 4-5, 2001); (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 539)
bullet Russell Fincher and Steve Bongardt, FBI agents from whom the CIA withheld information (see June 11, 2001, June 12-September 11, 2001, and August 29, 2001); (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 537)
bullet Sherry Sabol, an attorney involved in errors in the Moussaoui and Almihdhar cases (see August 22-28, 2001 and August 28-29, 2001); (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 538)
bullet An FBI official who handled an al-Qaeda informer in Pakistan (see January 4, 2001); (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 537)
bullet Harry Samit (see August 15-20, 2001), Greg Jones (see August 27, 2001), John Weess (see August 16, 2001), and Coleen Rowley (see May 21, 2002), FBI officials who worked on the Moussaoui case; (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 531, 540)
bullet Rodney Middleton, acting head of the FBI’s bin Laden unit before 9/11 (see July 27, 2001 and after); and (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 538)
bullet Jennifer Maitner, an FBI official involved in the Phoenix memo and President Bush’s August 6 presidential daily briefing (see July 10, 2001, July 27, 2001 and after, and (August 4-5, 2001)). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 536)

FBI Director Robert Mueller personally awards Marion (Spike) Bowman with a presidential citation and cash bonus of approximately 25 percent of his salary. (Tapper 3/3/2003) Bowman, head of the FBI’s national security law unit and the person who refused to seek a special warrant for a search of Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings before the 9/11 attacks (see August 28, 2001), is among nine recipients of bureau awards for “exceptional performance.” The award comes shortly after a 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report saying Bowman’s unit gave Minneapolis FBI agents “inexcusably confused and inaccurate information” that was “patently false.” (Grow 12/22/2002) Bowman’s unit was also involved in the failure to locate 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi after their names were put on a watch list (see August 28-29, 2001). In early 2000, the FBI acknowledged serious blunders in surveillance Bowman’s unit conducted during sensitive terrorism and espionage investigations, including agents who illegally videotaped suspects, intercepted e-mails without court permission, and recorded the wrong phone conversations. (Bridis 1/10/2003) As Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and others have pointed out, not only has no one in government been fired or punished for 9/11, but several others have been promoted: (Tapper 3/3/2003)
bullet Richard Blee, chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, was made chief of the CIA’s new Kabul station in December 2001 (see December 9, 2001), where he aggressively expanded the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). Blee was the government’s main briefer on al-Qaeda threats in the summer of 2001, but failed to mention that one of the 9/11 hijackers was in the US (see August 22-September 10, 2001).
bullet In addition to Blee, the CIA also promoted his former director for operations at Alec Station, a woman who took the unit’s number two position. This was despite the fact that the unit failed to put the two suspected terrorists on the watch list (see August 23, 2001). “The leaders were promoted even though some people in the intelligence community and in Congress say the counterterrorism unit they ran bore some responsibility for waiting until August 2001 to put the suspect pair on the interagency watch list.” CIA Director George Tenet has failed to fulfill a promise given to Congress in late 2002 that he would name the CIA officials responsible for 9/11 failures. (Gerth 5/15/2003)
bullet Pasquale D’Amuro, the FBI’s counterterrorism chief in New York City before 9/11, was promoted to the bureau’s top counterterrorism post. (Ratnesar and Burger 12/30/2002)
bullet FBI Supervisory Special Agent Michael Maltbie, who removed information from the Minnesota FBI’s application to get the search warrant for Moussaoui, was promoted to field supervisor and goes on to head the Joint Terrorism Task Force at the FBI’s Cleveland office. (Tapper 3/3/2003; Riley 3/21/2006)
bullet David Frasca, head of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit, is “still at headquarters,” Grassley notes. (Tapper 3/3/2003) The Phoenix memo, which was addressed to Frasca, was received by his unit and warned that al-Qaeda terrorists could be using flight schools inside the US (see July 10, 2001 and July 27, 2001 and after). Two weeks later Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested while training to fly a 747, but Frasca’s unit was unhelpful when local FBI agents wanted to search his belongings—a step that could have prevented 9/11 (see August 16, 2001 and August 20-September 11, 2001). “The Phoenix memo was buried; the Moussaoui warrant request was denied.” (Ratnesar and Weisskopf 5/27/2002) Even after 9/11, Frasca continued to “[throw] up roadblocks” in the Moussaoui case. (Lewis 5/27/2002)
bullet Dina Corsi, an intelligence operations specialist in the FBI’s bin Laden unit in the run-up to 9/11, later became a supervisory intelligence analyst. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 279-280 pdf file; CNN 7/22/2005) Corsi repeatedly hampered the investigation of Almihdhar and Alhazmi in the summer of 2001 (see June 11, 2001, June 12-September 11, 2001, Before August 22, 2001, August 27-28, 2001, August 28, 2001, August 28-29, 2001, and (September 5, 2001)).
bullet President Bush later names Barbara Bodine the director of Central Iraq shortly after the US conquest of Iraq. Many in government are upset about the appointment because of her blocking of the USS Cole investigation, which some say could have uncovered the 9/11 plot (see October 14-Late November, 2000). She did not apologize or admit she was wrong. (Sepe 4/10/2003) However, she is fired after about a month, apparently for doing a poor job.
bullet An FBI official who tolerates penetration of the translation department by Turkish spies and encourages slow translations just after 9/11 was promoted (see March 22, 2002). (CBS News 10/25/2002)

The first details of the interrogation of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) are leaked to the press and appear in the Washington Post. At least some of the information appears to come from a report on KSM’s interrogation drafted four days ago. According to the Post article, KSM claims that Zacarias Moussaoui, an al-Qaeda operative arrested in the US in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001), was not part of the 9/11 plot and was scheduled for a follow-up attack. He also says that Moussaoui was helped by Jemaah Islamiyah leader Hambali and Yazid Sufaat, one of Hambali’s associates. KSM reportedly says Sufaat attempted to develop biological weapons for al-Qaeda, but failed because he could not obtain a strain of anthrax that could be dispersed as a weapon. This information appears to be based on a CIA report of KSM’s interrogation drafted on March 24, which discussed KSM’s knowledge of Moussaoui’s stay in Malaysia, where he met both Hambali and Sufaat (see March 24, 2003). The Post notes that if KSM’s claim about Moussaoui were true, this could complicate the prosecution of Moussaoui. For example, it quotes former prosecutor Andrew McBride saying that “on the death penalty, it is quite helpful to Moussaoui.” (Eggen 3/28/2003) During the Moussaoui trial, the statement about Moussaoui’s non-involvement in the 9/11 operation will be submitted to the jury as a part of a substitution for testimony by KSM. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia 7/31/2006 pdf file) Moussaoui will escape the death penalty by one vote (see May 3, 2006). During this month, KSM is in CIA custody and is waterboarded 183 times over five days (see After March 7, 2003 and April 18, 2009). The claim about Moussaoui is not the full truth, as a communications intercept between KSM and his associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh in July 2001 showed that KSM was considering Moussaoui for the 9/11 plot (see July 20, 2001).

The CIA drafts a report containing statements reportedly made by alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) under interrogation at a black site. According to the report, KSM claims that Zacarias Moussaoui was not handled by al-Qaeda for the 9/11 attacks, but for a second wave of attacks. KSM will reportedly repeat this claim in a later interrogation (see September 11, 2003). The claim appears not to be entirely true, as in an intercepted conversation from July 2001 KSM and his associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh discussed possibly using Moussaoui for 9/11 (see July 20, 2001). In addition, the report says KSM claims he did not hear about Moussaoui’s arrest, which occurred on August 16, 2001 (see August 16, 2001), until after the 9/11 attacks. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 247, 531)

Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will claim in a 2008 book that in early 2004, the 9/11 Commissioners indicate that they intend to name a junior CIA officer as the only official to be identified for a pre-9/11 failure. However, Scheuer writes: “A group of senior CIA officers… let it be known that if that officer was named, information about the pre-9/11 negligence of several very senior US officials would find its way into the media. The commissioners dropped the issue.” (Scheuer 2008, pp. 273) The name of the junior officer is not known, but some possibilities include:
bullet Tom Wilshire (referred to as “John” in the final 9/11 Commission report), who withheld information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, May 15, 2001, Mid-May 2001, Mid-May 2001, Late May, 2001, August 22, 2001, and August 24, 2001);
bullet Clark Shannon (“Dave”), one of his associates who also failed to inform the FBI about Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see June 11, 2001);
bullet Richard Blee (“Richard”), Wilshire’s boss, who apparently failed to pass on information about Almihdhar to his superiors (see August 22-September 10, 2001).
The names of the CIA officers who threaten the Commission are not known, nor are the details of the alleged negligence by the senior officials.

The Congressional Record reports that Richard Blee, the manager in charge of the CIA’s bin Laden unit on 9/11 (see August 22-September 10, 2001), has been nominated to a State Department rank. In a list of State Department nominations, it states that he and several dozen other people are proposed “to be consular officers and/or secretaries of the diplomatic service of the United States of America, as indicated for appointment as foreign service officers of class three, consular officer and secretary in the diplomatic service of the United States of America.” The listing gives his address as the District of Columbia. (US Congress 2/23/2004, pp. 48 pdf file)

FBI Director Robert Mueller launches a charm offensive to win over the 9/11 Commission and ensure that its recommendations are favorable to the bureau.
Commission Initially Favored Break-Up - The attempt is greatly needed, as the Commission initially has an unfavorable view of the FBI due to its very public failings before 9/11: the Phoenix memo (see July 10, 2001), the fact that two of the hijackers lived with an FBI counterterrorism informer (see May 10-Mid-December 2000), and the failure to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 16, 2001). Commissioner John Lehman will say that at the start of the investigation he thought “it was a no-brainer that we should go to an MI5,” the British domestic intelligence service, which would entail taking counterterrorism away from the bureau.
Lobbying Campaign - Author Philip Shenon will say that the campaign against the commissioners “could not have been more aggressive,” because Mueller was “in their faces, literally.” Mueller says he will open his schedule to them at a moment’s notice and returns their calls within minutes. He pays so much attention to the commissioners that some of them begin to regard it as harassment and chairman Tom Kean tells his secretaries to turn away Mueller’s repeated invitations for a meal. Mueller even opens the FBI’s investigatory files to the Commission, giving its investigators unrestricted access to a special FBI building housing the files. He also gets Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of MI5, to meet the commissioners and intercede for the bureau.
Contrast with CIA - The campaign succeeds and the Commission is convinced to leave the FBI intact. This is partially due to the perceived difference between Mueller and CIA Director George Tenet, who the Commission suspects of telling it a string of lies (see July 2, 2004). Commissioner Slade Gorton will say, “Mueller was a guy who came in new and was trying to do something different, as opposed to Tenet.” Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will also say that the Commission recommended changing the CIA by establishing the position of director of national intelligence. It is therefore better to leave the FBI alone because “the system can only stand so much change.”
Change Partially Motivated by Fear - This change of mind is also partially motivated by the commissioners’ fear of the bureau. Shenon will comment: “Mueller… was also aware of how much fear the FBI continued to inspire among Washington’s powerful and how, even after 9/11, that fear dampened public criticism. Members of congress… shrank at the thought of attacking the FBI.… For many on Capitol Hill, there was always the assumption that there was an embarrassing FBI file somewhere with your name on it, ready to be leaked at just the right moment. More than one member of the 9/11 Commission admitted privately that they had joked—and worried—among themselves about the danger of being a little too publicly critical of the bureau.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 364-368)

In November 2002, as the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry was finishing its investigation, it had formally asked for a report by the Justice Department (which oversees the FBI) to determine “whether and to what extent personnel at all levels should be held accountable” for the failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. An identical request was made to the CIA (see June-November 2004). (Jehl and Lichtblau 9/14/2004) The Justice Department report, titled “A Review of the FBI’s Handling of Intelligence Information Related to the September 11 Attacks,” is completed this month. (Eggen 4/30/2005) It centers on three FBI failures before 9/11: the failure to follow up on the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001), the failure to follow up on FBI agent Ken Williams’ memo (see July 10, 2001) warning about Islamic militants training in US flight schools, and the FBI’s failure to follow up on many leads to hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. The report provides some new details about miscommunications, inaction, and other problems. (Jehl and Lichtblau 9/14/2004) The report remains classified. Senior Senate Judiciary Committee members Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) call for its release. The senators state, “While the needs of national security must be weighed seriously, we fear the designation of information as classified, in some cases, serves to protect the executive branch against embarrassing revelations and full accountability. We hope that is not the case here.” (Seper 7/12/2004; Jehl and Lichtblau 9/14/2004) One problem complicating the issuing of even a declassified version is the possibility that the material would taint the criminal proceedings against Zacarias Moussaoui. In early 2005, the Justice Department inspector general’s office will ask the judge presiding over Moussaoui’s case for permission to release a declassified version of the report. But the judge will turn down the request in April 2005, even after Moussaoui pleads guilty (see April 30, 2005). The report will finally be released in June 2005 without the section on Moussaoui (see June 9, 2005). (FBI 2/13/2005)

A report by the 9/11 Commission on the FAA and 9/11 is publicly released. The fact that the report reveals nearly half of all FAA daily briefings between April and early September 2001 mentioned al-Qaeda, bin Laden, or both causes headlines (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). However, the report was actually completed in August 2004 but was held up by the Bush administration. Some speculate that the publication of the report was delayed until after the November 2004 presidential election to help Bush get reelected. For instance, 9/11 victim’s relative Carol Ashley states, “I’m just appalled that this was withheld for five months. That contributes to the idea that the government knew something and didn’t act, it contributes to the conspiracy theories out there.” Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) asks for a hearing on whether the Bush administration played politics with the report’s release, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives does not allow such a hearing. (Associated Press 2/11/2005) Additionally, the released version of this report is heavily censored in some areas. The 9/11 Commission asserts that the whole report should be released, but the Bush administration is blocking their efforts to release the censored portions. Politicians, 9/11 victims’ relatives, open-government advocates, and others call for the release of the entire report, but to no avail. (Lichtblau 2/11/2005)

A courtroom sketch of Leonie Brinkema.A courtroom sketch of Leonie Brinkema. [Source: Art Lein / Agence France-Presse]Leonie Brinkema, the federal judge overseeing the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, denies a request to make public an unclassified version of a report on the FBI’s failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. The report, written by the Justice Department’s Inspector General Glenn Fine, was completed in July 2004 (see July 2004) has been held up from publication because of the Moussaoui trial. One portion of the report deals with the FBI’s handling of Moussaoui’s arrest in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001). However, he pleaded guilty earlier in April (see April 22, 2005). Judge Brinkema doesn’t give an explanation for continuing to keep the report classified or hint when it might finally be unclassified. Most of the report has no bearing on Moussaoui. (Eggen 4/30/2005) The report will be released two months later with the section on Moussaoui completely removed (see June 9, 2005).

Zacarias Moussaoui.Zacarias Moussaoui. [Source: WNBC / Jonathan Deinst]Zacarias Moussaoui becomes the first and only person charged in direct connection with the 9/11 attacks to stand trial in the US. (Sniffen and Barakat 3/17/2006) He was preparing to hijack an aircraft and fly it into a target when he was arrested 26 days before 9/11 (see August 16, 2001 and April 22, 2005). Although there has been disagreement whether Moussaoui was to take part in the actual attack of 9/11 or a follow-up plot (see January 30, 2003), the prosecution alleges that Moussaoui had information related to the attacks (see August 16, 2001) and facilitated them by lying and not disclosing everything he knew to the FBI. He is charged with six counts, including conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism and conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 12/11/2001 pdf file) The trial receives much media coverage and the highlights include the playing of United 93’s cockpit recorder (see April 12, 2006), a row over a government lawyer coaching witnesses (see March 13, 2006), and testimony by FBI agent Harry Samit (see March 9 and 20, 2006), former FBI assistant director Michael Rolince (see March 21, 2006), and Moussaoui himself (see March 27, 2006). Moussaoui is forced to wear a stun belt, controlled by one of the marshalls, under his jumpsuit. The belt is to be used if Moussaoui lunges at a trial participant. (Lewis 4/17/2006) He has already pleaded guilty (see April 22, 2005) and the trial is divided into two phases; in the first phase the jury decides that Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty, but in the second phase it fails to achieve unanimity on whether Moussaoui should be executed (see May 3, 2006). (Barakat 4/3/2006; Lewis 4/17/2006)

During the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui (see also March 6-May 4, 2006), the prosecution claims that if Zacarias Moussaoui had not lied when arrested and questioned (see August 16, 2001) and had provided information about the plot (see August 16, 2001), the FAA could have altered its security procedures to deal with the suicide hijacker threat. Prosecution witness Robert Cammaroto, an aviation security officer, says that security measures in effect before 9/11 were designed to cope with different types of threats, such as “the homesick Cuban,” rather than suicide hijackings. He says that if the FAA had more information about Moussaoui, its three dozen air marshals could have been moved from international to domestic flights, security checkpoints could have been tightened to detect short knives like the ones Moussaoui had, and flight crews could have been instructed to resist rather than cooperate with hijackers. Most of these steps could have been implemented within a matter of hours. However, Cammarato admits that the FAA was aware before 9/11 that terrorists considered flying a plane into the Eiffel Tower and that al-Qaeda has performed suicide operations on land and sea. (Sniffen 3/22/2006)

Michael Tabman, the Minneapolis FBI field office’s special agent in charge, prevents Harry Samit from speaking at a national security forum about the Moussaoui case and removes him from counterterrorism investigations. Samit was an important figure in the Zacarias Moussaoui investigation just before 9/11 (see August 15-September 10, 2001, August 16, 2001 and August 20-September 11, 2001). Unlike his former colleague Coleen Rowley (see May 21, 2002 and February 26, 2003), Samit has never gone public with his criticism of the FBI’s handling of the case. Tabman has been working at the Minneapolis office only since 2005. After Samit files a complaint, FBI headquarters will reassign him to counterterrorism and send Tabman back to headquarters. (Gordon and Chanen 9/23/2006; Karnowski 1/10/2007)

CIA officer Richard Blee, who headed Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, at the time of the 9/11 attacks (see August 22-September 10, 2001), is considered for the position of chief of station in Baghdad, one of the CIA’s largest stations. (Silverstein 1/28/2007) However, he does not get the position. (Silverstein 2/9/2007) The reasons for him not getting the job are apparently that he is seen as a “bad fit,” and is closely associated with detainee abuse and renditions, in particular that of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). In addition, he is said to have a poor relationship with the military, in particular the Special Operations community. An unnamed former official calls Blee a “smart guy,” but says, “He’s the last guy you want running a tense place like the station in Baghdad, because he creates a lot of tension himself.” (Silverstein 1/28/2007) Shortly before mid-May 2003, Blee had been loaned to the FBI, where he had a senior position, but his career history after that is unknown. (Gerth 5/15/2003)

A redacted summary of a report by the CIA’s inspector general into some aspects of the agency’s pre-9/11 performance is released. The report’s main points are:
bullet No CIA employees violated the law or were guilty of misconduct in the run-up to 9/11;
bullet However, some officials did not perform their duties in a satisfactory manner. The report recommended accountability boards be convened to review their performance, but former CIA Director Porter Goss decided against this recommendation in 2005 (see October 10, 2005);
bullet There was no “silver bullet” that could have prevented 9/11, but if officers had performed satisfactorily, they would have had a better chance of stopping the attacks;
bullet The CIA had no comprehensive strategy to combat al-Qaeda before 9/11 (see After December 4, 1998 and Between Mid-December 2002 and June 2004);
bullet Management of counterterrorism funds was poor (see 1997-2001);
bullet Arguments between the CIA and NSA negatively impacted counterterrorism efforts (see December 1996, Late August 1998, and 2000);
bullet Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was well-known to the CIA before 9/11, but his case was badly handled (see 1997 or After);
bullet There were numerous failures related to the CIA’s monitoring of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see Mid-January-March 2000, 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, Mid-July 2004, (After January 6, 2000), and March 5, 2000);
bullet The CIA also missed “several additional opportunities” to watchlist Pentagon hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 8, 2000 and August 23, 2001). Such watchlisting could have led to them being denied entry, or being placed under surveillance in the US;
bullet The CIA was confused about whether it was authorized to assassinate Osama bin Laden or not (see Mid-August 1998, December 24, 1998, December 26, 1998 and After, February 1999, February 1999, and December 1999);
bullet There were various problems with assets and operations linked to foreign services. (Central Intelligence Agency 6/2005 pdf file)
The media picks various angles in commenting on the report (see August 21, 2007), which is criticized by current CIA Director Michael Hayden (see August 21, 2007) and former Director George Tenet (see August 21, 2007).


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