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Context of '(1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001: CIA Director Tenet Receives the Passenger Lists for the Hijacked Planes'

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By 9:50 a.m., CIA Director George Tenet is in his office on the seventh floor of the agency’s Langley headquarters. He later describes: “[E]veryone was wondering, what next? Reports came in of several airplanes that were not responding to communications from the ground and perhaps heading toward Washington. Several [Counterterrorist Center] officers reminded us that al-Qaeda members had once discussed flying an airplane into CIA headquarters, the top floor of which we were presently occupying.” Tenet himself later recalls that, in the minutes after he’d learned of the first attack, he’d “thought about the ‘Bojinka’ plot to blow up twelve US airliners over the Pacific and a subsequent plan to fly a small airplane into CIA headquarters” (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Woodward, 2002, pp. 7-8; Tenet, 2007, pp. 162 and 164] According to CIA contractor Billy Waugh, people at the headquarters are aware that Flight 93 is currently unaccounted for, and it is “a widespread assumption within the building that this flight [is] headed straight for us in the CIA headquarters” (see (Before 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 293-294] Tenet asks Mike Hohlfelder, the chief of his security detail, for his recommendation, and is advised, “Let’s evacuate.” Though he later claims he was “reluctant” about this, Tenet tells his senior leadership: “We have to save our people. We have to evacuate the building.” Therefore, at about 10 a.m., the word goes out for a large number of the CIA’s thousands of employees to go home. Initially, the senior leadership team moves from Tenet’s seventh-floor conference room to another room on the first floor, but it then exits the headquarters building and heads across the campus to the CIA’s printing plant, where a crude operational capability has been set up. However, due to the objections of CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black, those in the Counterterrorist Center and the Global Response Center are allowed to stay in place in the headquarters (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Tenet and his staff will leave the printing plant and return to the headquarters at around 1 p.m., by which time they will consider the danger to be over. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 8-9; Tenet, 2007, pp. 164-165 and 168] The CIA headquarters evacuation is aided by the fact that a fire had occurred there just over a month earlier. Consequently, new evacuation procedures had been laid out, which Tenet follows on this day (see August 7-September 10, 2001). [Kessler, 2003, pp. 222-223]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Mike Hohlfelder, Billy Waugh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told in private by Dale Watson, the head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division: “We got the passenger manifests from the airlines. We recognize some names, Dick. They’re al-Qaeda.” Clarke asks, “How the f_ck did they get on board then?” Watson replies: “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger, friend. CIA forgot to tell us about them.” As they are talking about this, they see the first WTC tower collapse on television. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 13-14] Some hijacker names, including Mohamed Atta’s, were identified on a reservations computer over an hour earlier (see (Shortly After 8:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Counterterrorism Division (FBI), Dale Watson, Mohamed Atta, Al-Qaeda, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Shortly after arriving at Washington’s Dulles Airport, from which Flight 77 took off, the FBI confiscates a security tape from a checkpoint through which the hijackers passed before boarding the plane. Airport security manager Ed Nelson will later say: “They pulled the tape right away.… They brought me to look at it. They went right to the first hijacker on the tape and identified him. They knew who the hijackers were out of hundreds of people going through the checkpoints. They would go ‘roll and stop it’ and showed me each of the hijackers.… It boggles my mind that they had already had the hijackers identified.… Both metal detectors were open at that time, and lots of traffic was moving through. So picking people out is hard.… I wanted to know how they had that kind of information. So fast. It didn’t make sense to me.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 37] Some of the hijackers are identified on the passenger manifests around this time (see (9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and this knowledge is disseminated in the US intelligence community (see (1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Ed Nelson, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Robert White, the FAA liaison at the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters, refuses to provide the CIA with passenger lists for the four planes that were hijacked this morning. Richard Blee, chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, wants copies of the passenger lists for the hijacked planes. He, along with Alec Station’s analysts at the CTC, are now certain al-Qaeda was behind the attacks on the United States, but they need proof of this before they can pass on their assessment to the White House. White has the capability to access airline passenger manifests, and so Blee asks him to access the FAA’s computers and share the manifests for the hijacked planes with him. White, however, refuses. He maintains that “[t]hese were American airliners filled with American citizens and under the law the CIA could not access private information about US persons.” Blee is frantic when he is told this. He therefore asks FBI agents deployed to Alec Station to see if they can get the information he requires through their channels. [9/11 Commission, 10/8/2003 pdf file; Coll, 2018, pp. 33] The FBI agents will subsequently obtain the passenger manifests and pass them on to the CIA (see (1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Daily Beast, 8/12/2011; Council on Foreign Relations, 9/12/2016; Coll, 2018, pp. 35]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Blee, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert White (FAA)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Robert Bonner, the head of Customs and Border Protection, later testifies, “We ran passenger manifests through the system used by Customs—two were hits on our watch list of August 2001.” (This is presumably a reference to hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, watch-listed on August 23, 2001.) “And by looking at the Arab names and their seat locations, ticket purchases and other passenger information, it didn’t take a lot to do a rudimentary link analysis. Customs officers were able to ID 19 probable hijackers within 45 minutes. I saw the sheet by 11 a.m. And that analysis did indeed correctly identify the terrorists.” [New York Observer, 2/15/2004] However, Bonner appears to be at least somewhat incorrect: for two days after the attacks (see September 13, 2001-September 14, 2001), the FBI believes there are only 18 hijackers, and the original list contains some erroneous Arab-sounding names on the flight manifests, such as Adnan Bukhari and Ameer Bukhari. [CNN, 9/13/2001] Some hijacker names, including Mohamed Atta’s, were identified on a reservations computer around 8:30 a.m. (see (Shortly After 8:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and Richard Clarke was told some of the names were al-Qaeda around 10:00 a.m. (see (9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001)

Entity Tags: Robert Bonner, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Adnan Bukhari, Ameer Bukhari

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CIA Director George Tenet is given copies of the passenger manifests for the four planes that were hijacked this morning. [Daily Beast, 8/12/2011] Tenet is currently in the CIA’s printing plant, where a makeshift operational facility has been set up, after evacuating from the agency’s headquarters building this morning (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 164, 167] Earlier today, Richard Blee, chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, asked the FAA liaison at the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters to let him see the manifests for the hijacked planes, but the liaison refused. Blee therefore asked FBI agents deployed to Alec Station to see if they could get the manifests through their channels (see After 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001).
FBI Has Sent the Passenger Lists to the CTC - The FBI has now sent copies of the manifests to these agents. [Coll, 2018, pp. 33, 35] It apparently obtained them from the US Customs Service. Robert Bonner, commissioner-designate of US Customs, will later state, “Within 45 minutes of the attacks, Customs forwarded the passenger lists with the names of the victims and 19 probable hijackers to the FBI and the intelligence community” (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004]
Analyst Passes the Lists to Tenet - An analyst from the CTC races across to the printing plant with the manifests. He hands them to Tenet and points out that the manifest for Flight 77 shows two known al-Qaeda members were on this plane. “Some of these guys on one of the planes are the ones we’ve been looking for in the last few weeks,” he says, pointing at the names Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. Tenet looks at the manifest for Flight 77 and exclaims: “There it is. Confirmation. Oh, Jesus…” This is “the first time we had absolute proof of what I had been virtually certain of from the moment I heard about the attacks: we were in the middle of an al-Qaeda plot,” he will comment. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 167; Summers and Swan, 2011; Daily Beast, 8/12/2011]
Counterterrorism Chief Will Claim the Manifests Were Obtained Much Earlier - The exact time when Tenet receives the passenger manifests is unclear. The FBI agents at the CTC received them “by about 1:00 p.m.,” according to journalist and author Steve Coll. [Coll, 2018, pp. 35] Authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan will write that Tenet is given them “[s]oon after 1:00 p.m.” [Summers and Swan, 2011; Daily Beast, 8/12/2011] CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin will recall that an analyst bursts into the temporary office at the printing plant with a copy of the manifest for Flight 77 “[w]ithin about two and a half to three hours after the last plane hit.” [OZY, 9/11/2016; Council on Foreign Relations, 9/12/2016] But White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke will claim that he was told the FBI had received the manifests from the airlines significantly earlier, at around 9:59 a.m. (see (9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 13-14]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George J. Tenet, Richard A. Clarke, Nawaf Alhazmi, John E. McLaughlin, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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