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Context of 'November 28, 1998: Taliban Hints at Possible Expulsion of Bin Laden'

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The INS extends future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi’s permitted stay in the US, 11 months after he filed a late application to extend it (see July 12-27, 2000). The INS should not grant the extension due to the late filing, but does so anyway. It is unclear why it has taken 11 months to process the application. The approval retroactively extends Alhazmi’s stay for six months, from the date it originally expired until January 14, 2001. While his unlawful US presence after July 14, 2000 is retroactively legalized, Alhazmi’s presence after January 14, 2001 remains unlawful, and no other applications for extensions will be filed. (Immigration and Naturalization Service 2002; INS email 3/20/2002; Immigration and Naturalization Service 5/26/2002; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 12, 25 pdf file) An INS report will note, “The application shouldn’t have been approved because it was filed 13 days late.” However, an official, whose name will be redacted, will write in an INS e-mail:  “Per [redacted]. This is a common occurrence that is within the adjudicator’s discretion to forgive a late filing, if it is brief and the applicant has a good story.… How do you suppose the press may spin this, and more importantly, how will the INS defend itself?” (Immigration and Naturalization Service 2002; INS email 3/20/2002) Alhazmi never receives notification of the extension, as the notice will be returned as undeliverable on March 25, 2002. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 25 pdf file) His passport contains an indicator of Islamist extremism used to track terrorists by the Saudi authorities (see March 21, 1999). The 9/11 Commission will comment that this extension is “[y]et another opportunity to spot the suspicious indicator,” but US authorities fail to do so. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 12 pdf file) The precise state of US knowledge about the indicator at this time is unknown (see Around February 1993). The CIA will learn of it no later than 2003, but will still not inform immigration officials then (see February 14, 2003).

Scenes in the al-Qaeda recruitment video show operatives training at the al-Farouq camp in Afghanistan.Scenes in the al-Qaeda recruitment video show operatives training at the al-Farouq camp in Afghanistan. [Source: CBC]An al-Qaeda recruitment video created months earlier is made public. The video had been circling amongst radical militants, but appears on the news worldwide after a Kuwaiti newspaper gets a copy. The video celebrates the bombing of the USS Cole. Bin Laden appears on the video, and while he does not take credit for the bombing, others in the video do. Bin Laden says that Muslims have to leave countries that are ruled by “allies of Jews and Christians,” and join his cause to be “prepared” for holy war. In an address to Palestinians, he calls for “blood, blood and destruction, destruction.” He says, “We give you the good news that the forces of Islam are coming…” He also issues a call to arms: “Your brothers in Palestine are waiting for you; it’s time to penetrate America and Israel and hit them where it hurts the most.” He also tells his supporters to “slay the United States and Israel.” A similar video appeared shortly before the bombing of the USS Cole. (Associated Press 6/20/2001; Associated Press 6/20/2001; Newsweek 7/22/2001; Eggen and Loeb 9/11/2001) Intrest in the videotape will grow in the Muslim world in the months before the 9/11 attacks (see September 9, 2001).

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

US Central Command raises the force protection condition level for US forces based in the Arabian peninsula and the Persian Gulf. In six countries the force protection level is raised to Delta, the highest level possible. The US orders all its naval ships docked in those countries out to sea, and the US Fifth Fleet moves out of port in Bahrain. Regional military exercises are canceled and US embassies are temporarily closed. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256-257, 534) This is partly in response to an al-Qaeda video which surfaced the previous week containing the message, “It’s time to penetrate America and Israel and hit them where it hurts most” (see June 19, 2001). (Bamford 2004, pp. 241; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256, 534) Additionally, Newsweek reports at the time that this alert comes after “Western intelligence agencies picked up ‘quite reliable’ signs of increased activity among Islamic extremists with Afghanistan ties. These indications are said to have included information picked up through electronic monitoring of suspected militants, who US experts say have acquired fairly sophisticated communications and computer equipment.” (Newsweek 7/22/2001) However, as author James Bamford later notes, “No precautions were ever taken within the United States, only overseas.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 241)

Abduraham Alamoudi (far left), Bush (center), and Rove (far right). Judging from the background, this picture was probably taken in 2000.Abduraham Alamoudi (far left), Bush (center), and Rove (far right). Judging from the background, this picture was probably taken in 2000. [Source: PBS] (click image to enlarge)Sami al-Arian attends a meeting in the White House complex with President Bush’s adviser Karl Rove. Al-Arian is one of 160 members of the American Muslim Council who are briefed on political matters by Rove and others. Al-Arian had been under investigation for at least six years by this time, and numerous media accounts reported that US investigators suggested al-Arian had ties to US-designated terrorist groups. Yet al-Arian passes the Secret Service’s stringent security check, enabling him to attend the meeting. (Clemetson and Naughton 7/16/2001; Allen and Leiby 2/22/2003) “A law-enforcement official… [said] the Secret Service had flagged al-Arian as a potential terrorist prior to the event,” Newsweek later reports. “But White House aides, apparently reluctant to create an incident, let him through anyway.” (Isikoff 3/3/2003) In 2005, al-Arian will be found innocent of serious terrorism charges, but sentenced to almost three years in a US prison on lesser charges (see December 6, 2005). Abduraham Alamoudi is also at the meeting. US intelligence have suspected Alamoudi of ties to bin Laden and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman since 1994 (see Shortly After March 1994). Rove and Bush met with Alamoudi in 1999 and 2000 as well (see 1999 and July 2000). Alamoudi will later be sentenced to 23 years in a US prison for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004). (Allen and Leiby 2/22/2003)

Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan are friends with each other and suspected associates of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. On June 23, 2001, al-Bayoumi moves out of the Parkwood Apartments in San Diego where Almihdhar and Alhazmi had lived the year before, and possibly live in again just before 9/11 (see Early September 2001). Basnan had been living in an apartment complex nearby, but he moves into the Parkwood Apartments in July. On the rental application, Basnan lists al-Bayoumi as a personal reference and a friend. A classified FBI report shortly after 9/11 suggests that the fact that Basnan moved in shortly after al-Bayoumi left “could indicate he succeeded Omar al-Bayoumi and may be undertaking activities on behalf of the Government of Saudi Arabia.” Both Basnan and al-Bayoumi have been suspected to be Saudi government agents. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/3/2001 pdf file) Al-Bayoumi moves to Britain (see September 21-28, 2001). Basnan remains in San Diego through 9/11. According to one US official, Basnan later “celebrate[s] the heroes of September 11” and talks about “what a wonderful, glorious day it had been” at a party shortly after the attacks. (Isikoff and Thomas 11/24/2002; Reno 9/2003)

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

Fayez Ahmed Banihammad.Fayez Ahmed Banihammad. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]9/11 facilitator Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi uses a cash deposit to open a checking account at a Standard Chartered Bank branch in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). (Al-Hawsawi is thought by some to be an alias for Saeed Sheikh, see September 7-10, 2001 and September 24, 2001-December 26, 2002). Hijacker Fayez Ahmed Banihammad opens a savings account and a checking account with approximately $30,000 in UAE currency, at the same branch. (MSNBC 12/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 138 pdf file) Banihammad, a UAE national apparently from the Emirate of Sharjah, flies to the US two days later. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file) Banihammad gives power of attorney to al-Hawsawi on July 18. Then al-Hawsawi sends Visa and ATM cards to Banihammad in Florida and deposits an extra $4,900 in Banihammad’s account (see Early August-August 22, 2001). Banihammad uses the Visa card to buy his and Mohand Alshehri’s airplane ticket for 9/11. (MSNBC 12/11/2001; Eggen 12/13/2001; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file) Several other hijackers have foreign accounts that they use while they are in the US (see December 5, 2000).

All the hijackers based in New Jersey open at least one bank account there:
bullet Hani Hanjour opens an account with the Hudson United Bank on June 27, 2001;
bullet He opens another account with the same bank three days later, when Nawaf Alhazmi also opens one;
bullet Ahmed Alghamdi, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Majed Moqed open accounts with the Dime Savings Bank on July 9, 2001;
bullet Khalid Almihdhar opens an account with the Hudson United Bank on July 18, 2001. He closes it on August 31;
bullet Salem Alhazmi opens an account with the Hudson United Bank on July 21, 2001;
bullet Abdulaziz Alomari opens an account with the Hudson United Bank on July 26, 2001;
bullet Khalid Almihdhar opens an account with the First Union National Bank on August 22, 2001 with a $50 deposit. He changes his contact address on September 5;
bullet Hani Hanjour opens an account with First Union National Bank on August 23, 2001 with a $50 deposit. He then attempts to withdraw $5,000 on September 5 and $4,900 from it on September 7, despite it containing nothing but the original $50. Unable to make the withdrawal, he cashes a $20 check instead. Hanjour closes the account the next day. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file) These hijackers will subsequently fly on three of the planes on 9/11. In its Terrorist Financing monograph the 9/11 Commission will note: “Among other things they used the debit cards to pay for hotel rooms—activity that would have enabled the FBI to locate them, had the FBI been able to get the transaction records fast enough. Moreover, Alhazmi used his debit card on August 27 to buy tickets for himself… and fellow Flight 77 hijacker Salem Alhazmi. If the FBI had found either Almihdhar or Nawaf Alhazmi, it could have found the other. They not only shared a common bank but frequently were together when conducting transactions. After locating Almihdhar and Alhazmi, the FBI could have potentially linked them through financial records to the other Flight 77 hijackers… Nawaf Alhazmi and Flight 77 pilot Hani Hanjour had opened separate savings accounts at the same small New Jersey bank at the same time and both gave the same address. On July 9, 2001, the other Flight 77 muscle hijacker, Majed Moqed, opened an account at another small New Jersey bank at the same time as Nawaf Alhazmi, and used the same address. Given timely access to the relevant records and sufficient time to conduct a follow-up investigation, the FBI could have shown that Hani Hanjour, Majed Moqed, and Salem al Hazmi were connected to potential terrorist operatives Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 58-59, 141 pdf file) The hijackers also open several other bank accounts (see June 28-July 7, 2000).

Abu Hamza al-Masri.Abu Hamza al-Masri. [Source: BBC]The Italian Secret Service SISDE records a meeting in the Finsbury Park mosque, in northern London, Britain. Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri (an Afghanistan war veteran heading a radical Islamic group), Mustapha Melki (linked to al-Qaeda member Abu Doha—see February 2001), and a man only known as Omar talk to each other. Notes of the meeting state, “Abu Hamza proposed an ambitious but unlikely plot which involved attacks carried by planes.” This is apparently a reference to an attack on the upcoming G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, scheduled in several weeks (see July 20-22, 2001). But unlike other reports of an al-Qaeda attack on that summit, this refers to an attack using more than one plane. The notes of the meeting conclude, “The belief that Osama bin Laden is plotting an attack is spreading among the radical Islamic groups.” (Lorenzi 9/13/2001)

The three authors of the book Germs, Judith Miller (left), Stephen Engelberg (top), and William Broad (bottom). This was the book Miller was working on before 9/11; it was published several weeks after 9/11.The three authors of the book Germs, Judith Miller (left), Stephen Engelberg (top), and William Broad (bottom). This was the book Miller was working on before 9/11; it was published several weeks after 9/11. [Source: Publicity photo]New York Times reporter Judith Miller learns her government counterterrorism sources are worried that al-Qaeda is going to attack a US target on the Fourth of July holiday. There has been an increase in chatter about an impending attack. In 2005, Miller will recall, “Everyone in Washington was very spun-up in the counterterrorism world at that time. I think everybody knew that an attack was coming—everyone who followed this.… I got the sense that part of the reason that I was being told of what was going on was that the people in counterterrorism were trying to get the word to the president or the senior officials through the press, because they were not able to get listened to themselves.”
Conversation Overheard - She has a conversation with a still-anonymous top-level White House source who reveals there is some concern about a top-secret NSA intercept between two al-Qaeda operatives. She explains, “They had been talking to one another, supposedly expressing disappointment that the United States had not chosen to retaliate more seriously against what had happened to the [USS] Cole. And one al-Qaeda operative was overheard saying to the other, ‘Don’t worry; we’re planning something so big now that the US will have to respond.’ And I was obviously floored by that information. I thought it was a very good story: (1) the source was impeccable; (2) the information was specific, tying al-Qaeda operatives to, at least, knowledge of the attack on the Cole; and (3) they were warning that something big was coming, to which the United States would have to respond. This struck me as a major page one-potential story.”
Not Printed - Miller tells her editor Stephen Engelberg about the story the next day. But Engelberg says, “You have a great first and second paragraph. What’s your third?” Miller finds only one other source to confirm these details.
Yemen Connection - She later learns from her first source that the conversation occurred in Yemen. Though the telephone number is never disclosed, some circumstances suggest one of the parties taking part in the call may have been at the al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, that is monitored by US intelligence. One of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, lives there with his wife and children (see Late August 1998), and communicates there will be forthcoming attacks to at least one family member (see Late October 2000-July 4, 2001). The hijackers in the US apparently call the Yemen hub around this time (see (August 2001)). On July 3, the CIA will request the arrest of Djamel Beghal (see July 3, 2001), an al-Qaeda operative whose calls to the hub are apparently being monitored at this time (see Before July 3, 2001).
Regrets - Miller later regrets not following through more because she “had a book coming out” as well as other stories and that there wasn’t a “sense of immediacy” about the information. In 2005, Engelberg will confirm Miller’s story and agree that he wanted more specifics before running the story. Engelberg also later wonders “maybe I made the wrong call,” asking, “More than once I’ve wondered what would have happened if we’d run the piece?” The New York Times has yet to mention the warning in all of their post-9/11 reporting and the 9/11 Commission has never mentioned anything about the warning either. In 2005, Miller will spend 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal a source and then leave the New York Times after widespread criticism about her reporting. (McCollam 9/2005; O'Connor and Malone 5/18/2006; Strupp 5/18/2006)

Ali Soufan, an FBI agent working on the investigation into the USS Cole bombing, submits a third request to the CIA for information about travel by al-Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia (see Late November 2000 and April 2001). Whereas in previous requests to the CIA he had only asked for information about a possible meeting somewhere in Southeast Asia, he has now developed a much clearer understanding of the relationship between al-Qaeda manager Khallad bin Attash and the Cole conspirators, and correctly suspects some operatives met in Malaysia in January 2000. He asks the CIA about this and about a trip by bin Attash to Bangkok to meet another two members of the Cole bombing team (see January 13, 2000). The CIA actually monitored the meeting Soufan suspects took place in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and considered it so important that the CIA director and other top officials were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000), but the CIA does not respond to his inquiry. FBI managers are also aware of some of this information, including the existence of an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia at the time Soufan suspects one took place, but they apparently do not tell Soufan either (see January 6, 2000). (Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) Author Lawrence Wright will later say: “The FBI’s investigating the death of 17 American sailors and they’re asking the CIA for information that would solve the crime. And the CIA is refusing, essentially obstructing justice.” (Wright 10/5/2006)

A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) entitled “Planning for Bin Laden Attacks Continues, Despite Delays” is sent to top White House officials. SEIBs are typically based on the previous day’s presidential daily briefing (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable President Bush is given this warning. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 534; US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 4 pdf file)

The NSA monitors calls between an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen and one or more operatives involved in a plot to attack the US embassy in Paris. The communications hub in Yemen is run by Ahmed al-Hada, father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who is also involved in the US embassy bombings (see August 4-25, 1998), the USS Cole bombing (see Mid-August 1998-October 2000), and 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). The Paris plot is apparently foiled based on this information, although the details are sketchy. (Kaplan and Whitelaw 3/15/2004) The name of the operative or operatives who talk to the communications hub in Yemen is unknown. One candidate is Djamel Beghal, who will be arrested on July 28 (see July 24 or 28, 2001) based on a tip-off issued by the CIA to partner agencies on July 3 (see July 3, 2001). Another is Nizar Trabelsi, who will be arrested on September 13, although Trabelsi may be arrested based on information gleaned from Beghal. Both Beghal (see Spring 1998) and Trabelsi (see September 13, 2001) are connected to a plot to destroy an airliner with a shoe bomb, but this is not stopped (see December 22, 2001).

9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar departs Saudi Arabia, flying to the US. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 237) According to the 9/11 Commission, Almihdhar has a passport containing an indicator of Islamic extremism (see June 1, 2001). Such indicators are used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007), so the Saudis presumably register his departure.

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

Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer assigned to the FBI, sends an e-mail to managers at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, saying there is a potential connection between recent warnings of an attack against US interests and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). He notes “how bad things look in Malaysia” and points out that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar may be connected to the radicals who attacked the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). He recommends that the Cole bombing and the Malaysia summit be re-examined for potential connections to the current warnings of an attack. The e-mail ends, “all the indicators are of a massively bad infrastructure being readily completed with just one purpose in mind.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 298 pdf file) This is one of a series of e-mails sent around this time by Wilshire to Alec Station about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see July 13, 2001 and July 23, 2001). Presumably, one of the recipients at CIA headquarters is Richard Blee, the manager responsible for Alec Station, as he apparently receives at least one of the e-mails (see July 13, 2001).

Sir Stephen Lander.Sir Stephen Lander. [Source: Public domain]According to an officially authorized book on the MI5 published in 2009, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, MI5, warns top British leaders that a surge in the number of reports of threat information is “sufficient to conclude that [Osama bin Laden] and those that share his agenda are currently well advanced in operational planning for a number of major attacks on Western interests.” Similar MI5 warnings about an imminent attack will continue up until 9/11, including one put out on the morning of 9/11. However, apparently none of these suggest a major attack in the US or an attack using hijacked airplanes. MI6 is Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, and presumably most information about al-Qaeda and attack threats would come from it and not MI5. In fact, MI5 appears to be much less aware of al-Qaeda at this time. Sir Stephen Lander, director general of MI5 from 1996 to 2002, will later say that MI5 was “slow to get going” on the al-Qaeda threat because it was preoccupied with the IRA, and after 9/11 it had a “major set to, sitting around a board room table working out how to move on.” (Gardham 10/5/2009) This warning appears similar, but not identical, to a warning 10 days later that is an analysis involving all British intelligence agencies (see July 16, 2001).

An adapted 9/11 Commission chart of knives purchased by the hijackers.An adapted 9/11 Commission chart of knives purchased by the hijackers. [Source: 9/11 Commission]Several 9/11 hijackers purchase multi-use tools and small knives that “may actually have been used in the attacks.” according to the 9/11 Commission. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 248-249)
bullet On July 8, Flight 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta buys two Victorinox Swiss Army knives at Zurich Airport, Switzerland, while on his way to Spain (see July 8-19, 2001). He possibly attempts to buy box cutters in Florida on August 27. On August 30, he buys a Leatherman multi-tool in Boynton Beach, Florida. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 530; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 4, 85)
bullet On August 13, Flight 175 hijackers Marwan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, and Hamza Alghamdi buy knives and multi-tools. Alshehhi buys a Cliphanger Viper and an Imperial Tradesman Dual Edge, both short-bladed knives. Banihammad buys a Stanley two-piece snap knife set, and Alghamdi buys a Leatherman Wave multi-tool. All purchases are made in the same city, though the 9/11 Commission does not say where this is. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 17)
bullet On August 27, Flight 77 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi buys Leatherman multi-tool knives. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 27) Although it is unknown whether any of these knives and tools are used on 9/11, the 9/11 Commission will point out, “While FAA rules did not expressly prohibit knives with blades under four inches long, the airlines’ checkpoint operations guide (which was developed in cooperation with the FAA), explicitly permitted them.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 84) Regarding Flight 93, personal financial records do not reflect weapons being purchased by any of the hijackers. However, the FBI will reportedly recover “14 knives or portions of knives, including a box cutter,” at the crash site. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 457; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 35)

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)

CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black and Richard Blee, a manager responsible for the CIA’s bin Laden unit, meet with CIA Director George Tenet and review the latest intelligence about al-Qaeda. Black lays out a case based on communications intercepts and other intelligence suggesting a growing chance that al-Qaeda will attack the US soon. There is no smoking gun per se, but there is a huge volume of data indicating an attack is coming (see July 9-10, 2001). The case is so compelling—Tenet will later say it “literally made my hair stand on end”—that Tenet decides to brief the White House on it this same day (see July 10, 2001). (Woodward 10/1/2006; Tenet 2007, pp. 151)

Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House. This picture is actually taken on October 8, 2001, and President Bush is elsewhere in the room.Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House. This picture is actually taken on October 8, 2001, and President Bush is elsewhere in the room. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]CIA Director George Tenet finds the briefing that counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave him earlier in the day (see July 10, 2001) so alarming that he calls National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from his car as he heads to the White House and says he needs to see her right away, even though he has regular weekly meetings with her. (Woodward 10/1/2006) Tenet and Black let a third CIA official, Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, brief Rice on the latest intelligence. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke are also present. (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006)
'Significant Attack' - Blee starts by saying, “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!” He argues that it is impossible to pick the specific day, saying Osama bin Laden “will attack when he believes the attack will be successful.” He mentions a range of threat information including:
bullet A warning related to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see (July 9, 2001)) and seven pieces of intelligence the CIA recently received indicating there would soon be a terrorist attack (see July 9-10, 2001);
bullet A mid-June statement by bin Laden to trainees that there would be an attack in the near future (see Mid-June 2001);
bullet Information that talks about moving toward decisive acts;
bullet Late-June information saying a “big event” was forthcoming;
bullet Two separate bits of information collected “a few days before the meeting” in which people predicted a “stunning turn of events” in the weeks ahead. This may be a reference to intercepts of calls in Yemen, possibly involving the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
Multiple, Simultaneous Attacks in US Possible - Blee says that the attacks will be “spectacular,” they will be designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities and interests, there may be multiple, simultaneous attacks, and they may be in the US itself. He outlines the CIA’s efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda by spreading incorrect word that the attack plans have been compromised, in the hope that this will cause a delay in the attack. But he says this is not enough and that the CIA should go on the attack. Blee also discounts the possibility of disinformation, as bin Laden’s threats are known to the public in the Middle East and there will be a loss of face, funds, and popularity if they are not carried out. Blee urges that the US take a “proactive approach” by using the Northern Alliance. (Tenet 2007, pp. 151-4) Author Bob Woodward will later write: “Black emphasize[s] that this amount[s] to a strategic warning, meaning the problem [is] so serious that it require[s] an overall plan and strategy. Second, this [is] a major foreign policy problem that need[s] to be addressed immediately. They need […] to take action that moment—covert, military, whatever—to thwart bin Laden. The United States ha[s] human and technical sources, and all the intelligence [is] consistent.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 80; Woodward 10/1/2006) Richard Clarke expresses his agreement with the CIA about the threat’s seriousness, and Black says, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”
Rice's Response - There are conflicting accounts about the CIA’s reading of Rice’s response. According to Woodward: “Tenet and Black [feel] they [are] not getting through to Rice. She [is] polite, but they [feel] the brush-off.” They leave the meeting frustrated, seeing little prospect for immediate action. Tenet and Black will both later recall the meeting as the starkest warning they gave the White House on al-Qaeda before 9/11 and one that could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks if Rice had acted on it (see July 10, 2001) and conveyed their urgency to President Bush. (Tenet is briefing Bush on a daily basis at this time, but he will later say that Rice has a much better rapport with the president.) Black will say, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 80; Woodward 10/1/2006) Rice says that Bush will align his policy with the new realities and grant new authorities. Writing in 2007, Tenet will say that this response is “just the outcome I had expected and hoped for,” and recall that as they leave the meeting, Blee and Black congratulate each other on having got the administration’s attention. Nevertheless, Rice does not take the requested action until after 9/11. (Tenet 2007, pp. 153-4)
Rice Concerned about Genoa - Clarke will recall in 2006 that Rice focuses on the possible threat to Bush at an upcoming summit meeting in Genoa, Italy (see June 13, 2001 and July 20-22, 2001). Rice and Bush have already been briefed about the Genoa warning by this time (see July 5, 2001). Rice also promises to quickly schedule a high-level White House meeting on al-Qaeda. However, that meeting does not take place until September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001). (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006) Rice also directs that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same briefing, and they receive it a short time later (see July 11-17, 2001).
Meeting Not Mentioned in 9/11 Commission Report - The meeting will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (see August 4, 2002), and there will be controversy when it is fully revealed in 2006 (see September 29, 2006, September 30-October 3, 2006, and October 1-2, 2006).

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft receive the same CIA briefing about a likely imminent, multiple, and simultaneous al-Qaeda strike that was given to the White House on July 10, 2001 (see July 10, 2001). In 2006, the State Department will reveal the two were briefed within a week of the White House briefing, at the request of National Security Adviser Rice. One official who helped prepare the briefing later describes it as a “ten on a scale of one to ten” that “connected the dots” to present a stark warning that al-Qaeda is ready to launch a new attack. A Pentagon spokesman says he has no information “about what may or may not have been briefed” to Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld does not answer questions about it. Ashcroft says he was not given any briefing and calls it “disappointing” that he was not briefed. After it is confirmed that Ashcroft was briefed, apparently on July 17, Ashcroft will still claim not to remember the briefing, and will say he only recalls another CIA briefing earlier in the month (see July 5, 2001). Journalist Andrew Cockburn later reports that, “according to several intelligence sources,” Rumsfeld’s reaction to the briefing at the time “was one of vehement dismissal, complete with cutting observations about the CIA falling victim to ‘vast doses of al-Qaeda disinformation’ and ‘mortal doses of gullibility.’” McClatchy Newspapers will comment that these briefings raise “new questions about what the Bush administration did in response, and about why so many officials have claimed they never received or don’t remember the warning.” (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006; Cockburn 2007, pp. 9) On July 26, 2001, it will be reported that Ashcroft has stopped flying on commercial airlines within the US (see July 26, 2001).

On July 12, 2001, acting FBI Director Tom Pickard briefs Attorney General Ashcroft a second time about the al-Qaeda threat (see July 12, 2001). In a later letter to the 9/11 Commission discussing the meeting, Pickard will mention, “I had not told [Ashcroft] about the meeting in Malaysia since I was told by FBI Assistant Director Dale Watson that there was a ‘close hold’ on that info. This means that it was not to be shared with anyone without the explicit approval of the CIA.” During the briefing, Pickard also strongly recommends that Ashcroft be briefed by the CIA to learn details that Pickard feels he is not allowed to reveal. The “meeting in Malaysia” is an obvious reference to the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Louis Freeh, the FBI director at the time of the summit, and other unnamed FBI officials were told some about the summit while it was taking place (see January 6, 2000). It is unknown if Pickard and Watson learned about it at that time, but Pickard’s letter shows they both knew about it by the time of this briefing. It is not known why the CIA placed a “close hold” on any mention of the Malaysian summit so strict that even the attorney general could not be told. Since two of the 9/11 hijackers attended that summit, sharing the information about the summit with other agencies may have helped stop the 9/11 attacks. (Pickard 6/24/2004)

The Bush administration again denies the CIA expanded authorities to go on the offensive against bin Laden. These authorities would include permission to assassinate bin Laden without making an attempt to capture him alive first. In March 2001, the CIA wanted to give a draft request about this to the Bush administration, but officials weren’t ready so the draft was withdrawn (see Early March 2001). On July 13, three days after a dramatic CIA presentation about a likely upcoming al-Qaeda attack (see July 10, 2001), a meeting of deputy cabinet officials is held to discuss the CIA’s expanded authorities request. However, no decisions are made. Tenet will later comment, “the bureaucracy moved slowly.” The Bush administration will grant these authorities a few days after 9/11. (Tenet 2007, pp. 154)

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)

A CIA manager says that an additional intelligence officer, Doug Miller, will be assigned to help an ongoing low-key review of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit when Miller returns from holiday (see January 5-8, 2000 and Mid-May 2001). The statement is made in response to an e-mail by CIA manager Tom Wilshire, who pointed out that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash attended the summit, meaning it was important (see January 4, 2001). Presumably, the manager that sends this e-mail is Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Blee appears to have received the e-mail to which this is a response (see July 13, 2001). The review is currently only being conducted by one intelligence officer, Margaret Gillespie, who is only told to do it in her spare time and whom it takes over three months to find CIA cables indicating two of the future 9/11 hijackers have entered the US (see August 21-22, 2001). Miller’s help would certainly benefit the review, as he is already aware one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa, but a cable he drafted to notify the FBI about this was blocked by Wilshire (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). However, there is no mention of Miller actually being given the assignment on his return and no sign he does any work on this. Wilshire also asked that the FBI be officially told bin Attash attended the summit in Malaysia, but this information is again withheld (see January 5, 2001 and After). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 298-9 pdf file)

US intelligence reports another spike in warnings related to the July 20-22 G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy. The reports include specific threats discovered by the head of Russia’s Federal Bodyguard Service that al-Qaeda will try to kill Bush as he attends the summit. (CNN 3/2002) Two days before the summit begins, the BBC reports: “The huge force of officers and equipment which has been assembled to deal with unrest has been spurred on by a warning that supporters of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden might attempt an air attack on some of the world leaders present.” (BBC 7/18/2001) The attack is called off.

British intelligence agencies send a report to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other top officials warning that al-Qaeda is in “the final stages” of preparing an attack in the West. The prediction is “based on intelligence gleaned not just from [British intelligence] but also from US agencies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency,” which cooperate with the British. “The contents of the July 16 warning would have been passed to the Americans, Whitehall sources confirmed.” The report states there is “an acute awareness” that the attack is “a very serious threat.” (Evans 6/14/2002) This appears to be similar, but not identical, to a warning to British leaders from MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, 10 days earlier (see July 6, 2001).

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)

Future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah seems to leave the US twice on the same day. According to a 2002 FBI document about the 9/11 attacks, Jarrah takes a KLM flight from Atlanta, Georgia, to Amsterdam, Netherlands. But the same document says he also takes a Continental flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Dusseldorf, Germany. The FBI document contains a note from an analyst that merely comments this is “conflicting information.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 4/19/2002) Jarrah seems to leave the US twice in a short time period on one other occasion (see December 26-28, 2000).

Dan Rather in July 2001 presenting the story about John Ashcroft.Dan Rather in July 2001 presenting the story about John Ashcroft. [Source: CBS via Banded Artists Productions]CBS News reports that Attorney General Ashcroft has stopped flying commercial airlines due to a threat assessment, but “neither the FBI nor the Justice Department… would identify [to CBS] what the threat was, when it was detected or who made it.” (CBS News 7/26/2001) One newspaper reports, “Ashcroft demonstrated an amazing lack of curiosity when asked if he knew anything about the threat. ‘Frankly, I don’t,’ he told reporters.” (Sorensen 6/3/2002) It is later reported that he stopped flying in July based on threat assessments made on May 8 and June 19. In May 2002, it is claimed the threat assessment had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, but Ashcroft walked out of his office rather than answer questions about it. (Associated Press 5/16/2002) The San Francisco Chronicle will later conclude, “The FBI obviously knew something was in the wind.… The FBI did advise Ashcroft to stay off commercial aircraft. The rest of us just had to take our chances.” (Sorensen 6/3/2002) CBS’s Dan Rather will later ask of this warning: “Why wasn’t it shared with the public at large?” (Kurtz 5/27/2002) On July 5, the CIA had warned Ashcroft to expect multiple, imminent al-Qaeda attacks overseas (see July 5, 2001) and on July 12 the FBI warned him about the al-Qaeda threat within the US (see July 12, 2001).

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)).

An FBI agent assigned to the CIA’s bin Laden unit locates a CIA cable that says 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa, but fails to disseminate the information to the FBI. It is not clear why the agent, Margaret Gillespie, fails to do this. However, at the same time she locates another CIA cable which mistakenly states that the information about the visa has already been passed to the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 299 pdf file)

A Western Union money transfer between Ahad Sabet (Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s alias) and Moussaoui in Norman, Oklahoma.A Western Union money transfer between Ahad Sabet (Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s alias) and Moussaoui in Norman, Oklahoma. [Source: FBI]According to the Justice Department indictment against Zacarias Moussaoui, Moussaoui and 9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh are in communication for several days. Moussaoui makes several calls from Norman, Oklahoma, to Dusseldorf, Germany. Then, around July 31 someone using the name “Hashim Abdulrahman” in the United Arab Emirates sends two wire transfers totaling about $15,000 to an “Ahad Sabet” in Hamburg, Germany. Sabet is claimed to be an alias for bin al-Shibh. Then bin al-Shibh, again using the Sabet name, wires about $14,000 to Moussaoui in Oklahoma. (MSNBC 12/11/2001) Moussaoui immediately moves to Minnesota and begins studying at a flight school there (see August 10-11, 2001). The passport with the name Ahad Sabet that bin al-Shibh used appears to belong to an innocent US doctor who had his passport stolen in Spain several years earlier (see July 7, 1998). (Hirschkorn 8/7/2002)

Ratcheting up the anti-Iraq rhetoric in the press, neoconservative Reuel Marc Gerecht writes in the Weekly Standard that the US is a “cowering superpower” for not directly challenging Iraq, and demands that President Bush explain “how we will live with Saddam [Hussein] and his nuclear weapons.” (Unger 2007, pp. 206)

CBS later reports, in a long story on another topic: “Just days after [Mohamed] Atta return[s] to the US from Spain, Egyptian intelligence in Cairo says it received a report from one of its operatives in Afghanistan that 20 al-Qaeda members had slipped into the US and four of them had received flight training on Cessnas. To the Egyptians, pilots of small planes didn’t sound terribly alarming, but they [pass] on the message to the CIA anyway, fully expecting Washington to request information. The request never [comes].” (CBS News 10/9/2002) This appears to be just one of several accurate Egyptian warnings from their informants inside al-Qaeda. Around this time, word of the upcoming 9/11 attacks is spreading widely in the training camps in Afghanistan. For instance, in a recorded speech played at one of the camps, Osama bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs (see Summer 2001).

With the approaching third anniversary of the US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the FBI reissues a warning that overseas law enforcement agencies may be targets. It notes that although most reporting indicates a potential for attacks on US interests abroad, the possibility of an attack in the US cannot be discounted. (CNN 3/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260, 534)

The Federal Reserve Board of Governors issues a non-routine supervisory letter to Federal Reserve banks, emphasizing the need to continue monitoring suspicious activity reports (SARs). The letter gives no explanation why it has been sent out at this particular time, but states, “Reserve banks must continue to conduct a thorough and timely review of all material SARs filed by supervised financial institutions in their districts.” It adds, “A periodic, comprehensive review of SARs will assist Reserve banks in identifying suspicious or suspected criminal activity occurring at or through supervised financial institutions; provide the information necessary to assess the procedures and controls used by the reporting institutions to identify, monitor, and report violations and suspicious illicit activities; and assist in the assessment of the adequacy of anti-money laundering programs.” (Spillenkothen 8/2/2001) While the letter does not say if there are specific reasons why the banks should currently be watching for suspicious activities, William Bergman, an economist who works at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago from 1990 to 2004, will later point out, “Intelligence warnings on terrorism were rising significantly in mid-2001.” He will therefore question whether, “with terrorism and its financing already recognized as an important element of the national money laundering strategy,” this letter is “related to these warnings.” He will also point out, “negotiations between the Taliban and representatives of the United States over energy production issues in Afghanistan ended on August 2, 2001” (see August 2, 2001), and that, “Four days later, President Bush received a ‘PDB’—a presidential daily brief—with a headline warning that bin Laden was ‘determined to strike in US,’ and the body text of the PDB referred to ‘patterns of suspicious activity’” (see August 6, 2001). (Bergman 1/4/2006) When, in December 2003, Bergman asks the Board of Governors staff why it issued the August 2 letter, and if the letter was related to intelligence about heightened terrorist threats, he will receive no reply and subsequently be told he has “committed an egregious breach of protocol in calling the Board staff and asking the question.” (Bergman 5/14/2006) Also around this time, between June and August 2001, there is an unexplained surge in the amount of US currency in circulation (see June-August 2001). (Bergman 9/16/2005)

9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta’s rental car is queried by police in Broward County, Florida. This incident is added to the NCIC, a widely used nationwide police database. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 204 pdf file) On June 4, a Florida warrant was issued for Atta’s arrest, as he skipped court following a previous traffic offense (see June 4, 2001). It is not clear why the existing arrest warrant does not raise a red flag, since he rented the car in his own name.

Customs agent Jose Melendez-Perez.
Customs agent Jose Melendez-Perez. [Source: US Senate]A Saudi named Mohamed al-Khatani is stopped at the Orlando, Florida, airport and denied entry to the US. Jose Melendez-Perez, the customs official who stops him, later says he was suspicious of al-Khatani because he had arrived with no return ticket, no hotel reservations, spoke little English, behaved menacingly, and offered conflicting information on the purpose of his travel. At one point, al-Khatani said that someone was waiting for him elsewhere at the airport. After 9/11, surveillance cameras show that Mohamed Atta was at the Orlando airport that day. 9/11 Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste says: “It is extremely possible and perhaps probable that [al-Khatani] was to be the 20th hijacker.” Al-Khatani boards a return flight to Saudi Arabia. He is later captured in Afghanistan and sent to a US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (see December 2001). Melendez-Perez says that before 9/11, customs officials were discouraged by their superiors from hassling Saudi travelers, who were seen as big spenders. (Miller and Meyer 1/27/2004; Zagorin and Duffy 6/12/2005) Al-Khatani will later confess to being sent to the US by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) (see July 2002), and in June 2001 US intelligence was warned that KSM was sending operatives to the US to meet up with those already there (see June 12, 2001).

President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings.President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings. [Source: White House]President Bush receives a classified presidential daily briefing (PDB) at his Crawford, Texas ranch indicating that Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. The PDB provided to him is entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” The entire briefing focuses on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the US. (Sanger 5/15/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002) The analysts who drafted the briefing will say that they drafted it on the CIA’s initiative (see July 13, 2004), whereas in 2004 Bush will state that he requested a briefing on the topic due to threats relating to a conference in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001, where Western intelligence agencies believed Osama bin Laden was involved in a plot to crash an airplane into a building to kill Bush and other leaders (see April 13, 2004). The analysts will later explain that they saw it as an opportunity to convey that the threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the US was both current and serious. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260) The existence of this briefing is kept secret, until it is leaked in May 2002, causing a storm of controversy (see May 15, 2002). While National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim the memo is only one and a half pages long, other accounts state it is 11 1/2 pages instead of the usual two or three. (Sanger 5/15/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002; Schrom 10/1/2002) A page and a half of the contents will be released on April 10, 2004; this reportedly is the full content of the briefing. (Pincus and Eggen 4/10/2004) The briefing, as released, states as follows (note that the spelling of certain words are corrected and links have been added):
bullet Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US (see December 1, 1998). Bin Laden implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America” (see May 26, 1998).
bullet After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a -REDACTED-service (see December 21, 1998).
bullet An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told -REDACTED- service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.
bullet The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden’s first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself (see December 14, 1999), but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaida encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaida was planning his own US attack (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001).
bullet Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
bullet Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993 (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.
bullet Al-Qaeda members—including some who are US citizens—have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks (see January 25, 2001). Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US citizens (see September 15, 1998), and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s (see November 1989 and September 10, 1998).
bullet A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks (see October-November 1998).
bullet “We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [REDACTED] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and other US-held extremists” (see 1998, December 4, 1998, and May 23, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223) According to the Washington Post, this information came from a British service. (Woodward and Eggen 5/18/2002)
bullet Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York (see May 30, 2001).
bullet The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related (see August 6, 2001). CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives (see May 16-17, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223)
In retrospect, the briefing is remarkable for the many warnings that apparently are not included (see for instance, from the summer of 2001 prior to August alone: May 2001, June 2001, June 12, 2001, June 19, 2001, Late Summer 2001, July 2001, July 16, 2001, Late July 2001, Late July 2001, Summer 2001, June 30-July 1, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Early August 2001). According to one account, after the PDB has been given to him, Bush tells the CIA briefer, “You’ve covered your ass now” (see August 6, 2001). Incredibly, the New York Times later reports that after being given the briefing, Bush “[breaks] off from work early and [spends] most of the day fishing.” (Rich 5/25/2002) In 2002 and again in 2004, National Security Adviser Rice will incorrectly claim under oath that the briefing only contained historical information from 1998 and before (see May 16, 2002 and April 8, 2004).

According to journalist and author Ron Suskind, just after a CIA briefer presents President Bush with the later infamous PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing) item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001), Bush tells the briefer, “You’ve covered your ass, now.” This account is from Suskind’s 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, which is based largely on anonymous accounts from political insiders. In the book, after describing the presentation of the PDB, Suskind will write: “And, at an eyeball-to-eyeball intelligence briefing during this urgent summer, George W. Bush seems to have made the wrong choice. He looked hard at the panicked CIA briefer. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘You’ve covered your ass, now.’” (Suskind 2006, pp. 2; Gellman 6/20/2006)

The CIA’s Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) given to President Bush on this day (see August 6, 2001) contains the important line, “The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related.” Bush will state in 2004 that, based on this, “I was satisfied that some of the matters were being looked into.” National Security Adviser Rice will explain that since the FBI had 70 “full-field investigations under way of cells” in the US, “there was no recommendation [coming from the White House] that we do something about” the large number of warnings coming in. However, the number and content of the FBI investigations appears grossly exaggerated. The FBI later will reveal that the investigations are not limited to al-Qaeda and do not focus on al-Qaeda cells. Many were criminal investigations, which typically are not likely to help prevent future terrorist acts. An FBI spokesman will say the FBI does not know how that number got into Bush’s PDB. The 9/11 Commission will later conclude, “The 70 full-field investigations number was a generous calculation that included fund-raising investigations. It also counted each individual connected to an investigation as a separate full-field investigation. Many of these investigations should not have been included, such as the one that related to a dead person, four that concerned people who had been in long-term custody, and eight that had been closed well before August 6, 2001.” (Royce and Brune 4/10/2004; Associated Press 4/11/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 262, 535)

Bush being briefed at his ranch on August 6, 2001.Bush being briefed at his ranch on August 6, 2001. [Source: Associated Press]On April 29, 2004, President Bush will testify before the 9/11 Commission, but almost no details of what he said will be publicly released. He testifies with Vice President Cheney, in private, not under oath, is not recorded, and the notes that the commissioners take are censored by the White House (see April 29, 2004). However, the 9/11 Commission will release a one paragraph summary of how Bush claims he responded to the Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001, entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). The Commission recalls, “The President told us the August 6 report was historical in nature. President Bush said the article told him that al-Qaeda was dangerous, which he said he had known since he had become President. The President said bin Laden had long been talking about his desire to attack America. He recalled some operational data on the FBI, and remembered thinking it was heartening that 70 investigations were under way (see August 6, 2001). As best he could recollect, [National Security Adviser] Rice had mentioned that the Yemenis’ surveillance of a federal building in New York had been looked into in May and June, but there was no actionable intelligence (see May 30, 2001). He did not recall discussing the August 6 report with the Attorney General or whether Rice had done so. He said that if his advisers had told him there was a cell in the United States, they would have moved to take care of it. That never happened.” The 9/11 Commission will conclude that they could find no evidence of any further discussions or actions taken by Bush and his top advisers in response to the briefing (see Between August 6 and September 10, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260)

The 9/11 Commission will later state that after the now famous “bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” memo is given to President Bush on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001), “We have found no indication of any further discussion before September 11 among the president and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the United States.” (Isikoff and Hosenball 4/28/2005) 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey will later state to CNN,“[B]y the way, there’s a credible case that the president’s own negligence prior to 9/11 at least in part contributed to the disaster in the first place.… [I]n the summer of 2001, the government ignored repeated warnings by the CIA, ignored, and didn’t do anything to harden our border security, didn’t do anything to harden airport country, didn’t do anything to engage local law enforcement, didn’t do anything to round up INS and consular offices and say we have to shut this down, and didn’t warn the American people. The famous presidential daily briefing on August 6, we say in the report that the briefing officers believed that there was a considerable sense of urgency and it was current. So there was a case to be made that wasn’t made.… The president says, if I had only known that 19 Islamic men would come into the United States of America and on the morning of 11 September hijack four American aircraft, fly two into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and one into an unknown Pennsylvania that crashed in Shanksville, I would have moved heaven and earth. That’s what he said. Mr. President, you don’t need to know that. This is an Islamic Jihadist movement that has been organized since the early 1990s, declared war on the United States twice, in ‘96 and ‘98. You knew they were in the United States. You were warned by the CIA. You knew in July they were inside the United States. You were told again by briefing officers in August that it was a dire threat. And what did you do? Nothing, so far as we could see on the 9/11 Commission.” (CNN 11/8/2004)

Zacarias Moussaoui.Zacarias Moussaoui. [Source: US Justice Department]Zacarias Moussaoui moves from Oklahoma to Minnesota, in order to attend flight school training there. Moussaoui drives there with Hussein al-Attas, a friend who will stay with him in Minnesota. Curiously, on August 11, someone breaks into the Norman, Oklahoma, apartment that remained unoccupied since Moussaoui moved out of it at the end of May 2001. A neighbor’s bicycle is used to break through the door of the vacant apartment and a bloodstain is left on the wall. A neighbor “[tells] reporters that furniture was overturned as if someone was looking for something.” (MSNBC 12/11/2001; Linsk 9/10/2002; US Congress 10/17/2002)

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).

Immediately after learning of Zacarias Moussaoui’s suspicious behavior, Minneapolis FBI agent Harry Samit, one of the agents who arrests Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), suspects he is preparing to hijack an airliner. He writes to a colleague, “That’s pretty ominous and obviously suggests some sort of hijacking plan.” (Linsk 4/4/2006) Interviews with Moussaoui after his arrest will reinforce the Minneapolis FBI’s suspicions that he is involved in a wider terrorist plot against airliners (see August 16-17, 2001). And after interviewing Moussaoui’s associate Hussein al-Attas as well (see August 16, 2001), Samit is unequivocally “convinced… a hundred percent that Moussaoui [is] a bad actor, [is] probably a professional mujaheddin and this [is] not a joyride, that he [is] completely bent on the use of this aircraft for destructive purposes.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 114-5, 120-2 pdf file) In the main initial memo from Samit to other FBI units, Samit describes Moussaoui as “extremely evasive” and “extremely agitated.” Samit also writes that Moussaoui appeared to by lying when he denied he had weapons training. Samit says, “Minneapolis believes that Moussaoui is an Islamic extremist preparing for some future act in furtherance of radical fundamentalist goals.” Samit expresses his belief Moussaoui is planning something with a 747-400. He is aware Moussaoui’s plan probably involves co-conspirators and writes “Moussaoui, al-Attas, and others yet unknown are conspiring to commit violations of [Federal anti-terrorism statutes],” and “there is reason to believe that Moussaoui and al-Attas are part of a larger international radical fundamentalist group.” Samit even suspects Moussaoui of two of the offenses he will eventually be charged with and plead guilty to (see April 22, 2005). The e-mail accompanying the main memo concludes, “[p]lease let me know a soon as [the Department] gives the go-ahead. We’re all counting on you!” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 120-2 pdf file; Gordon 6/4/2006)

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).

CIA records show that CIA Director George Tenet briefed President Bush twice in August—once in Crawford, Texas, on August 17, and once in Washington, on August 31. (Priest 4/15/2004) In Tenet’s 2007 book, he will briefly mention that “A few weeks after the August 6 PDB [titled ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US’ (see August 6, 2001)] was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the president stayed current on events. That was my first visit to the ranch.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 145) Later asked about what he told Bush at this meeting, Tenet will only say, “I held nothing back from the president. He understood our concerns about threats. He understood what we were doing around the world at the time.” (MSNBC 5/7/2007) By the time of the second briefing, Tenet has been briefed about Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest (see August 23, 2001), but, apparently, he fails to tell Bush about it. (Priest 4/15/2004) In April 2004, Tenet will testify under oath before the 9/11 Commission that he had no direct communication with President Bush during the month of August. (Jehl 4/15/2004) This is quickly discovered to be untrue. A CIA spokesperson will then claim, “He momentarily forgot [about the briefings]” (see April 14, 2004). (Priest 4/15/2004) Tenet will personally brief Bush six more times before 9/11 and will still apparently fail to mention Moussaoui to him (see September 1-8, 2001).

John O’Neill.
John O’Neill. [Source: FBI]An article in the New York Times reveals that the FBI has launched an internal investigation of John O’Neill, one of its most senior counterterrorism officials, for losing a briefcase that contained highly classified information. (Johnston and Risen 8/19/2001) O’Neill, special agent in charge of the FBI’s national security division in New York, had his briefcase, which contained his division’s annual field office report, stolen when he left it unattended during a conference in Orlando, Florida, in July 2000 (see July 2000). The briefcase was found a few hours later with the report still in it. (Wright 2006, pp. 317; Graff 2011, pp. 260) However, the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility immediately launched an investigation to determine whether any criminal charges should be brought against O’Neill. (Weiss 2003, pp. 281) That investigation recently ended with a decision not to prosecute, but the FBI’s internal affairs unit subsequently began an investigation to determine whether O’Neill had violated FBI rules. According to the Times: “FBI officials were alarmed, in part, because of the sensitivity of the documents involved, including details about the bureau’s counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations. One document contained highly sensitive information about an FBI source.” (Johnston and Risen 8/19/2001)
Story Appears Timed to Stop O'Neill Getting a Job on the NSC - The New Yorker will later comment that the leaking of the details of the FBI investigation to the Times “seemed to be timed to destroy O’Neill’s chance of being confirmed for [a National Security Council] job.” The leak was “somebody being pretty vicious to John,” Thomas Pickard, acting FBI director, will say. (Wright 1/14/2002)
Several Officials Will Be Suspected of Being the Article's Source - A number of people will be suspected of leaking the details of the investigation to the Times. (Weiss 2003, pp. 347) O’Neill will suspect Pickard. The acting director “was out to get John for a long time and John never really knew why,” Valerie James, O’Neill’s longtime girlfriend, will say. Pickard will deny being the leaker, though, when O’Neill confronts him about the issue. (PBS 10/3/2002) Other possible sources of the leak, according to journalist and author Murray Weiss, include Dale Watson, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division; Barbara Bodine, the US ambassador to Yemen; and Richard Clarke, the White House counterterrorism chief. (Weiss 2003, pp. 347)
O'Neill Has Overseen Major Terrorism Investigations - O’Neill’s job is among the most powerful in the FBI, and O’Neill has overseen cases such as the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). (Johnston and Risen 8/19/2001) He is the FBI’s “most committed tracker of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network of terrorists,” according to the New Yorker. But he will retire from the FBI on August 22 and take up a new job as head of security at the World Trade Center a day later (see August 22, 2001 and August 23, 2001). (Wright 1/14/2002; Weiss 2003, pp. 349-350)

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)

Margaret Gillespie, an FBI agent detailed to the CIA who has just found out that future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US (see August 21-22, 2001), suggests asking failed Millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam whether he recognizes Almihdhar, but the proposal is not acted on. Ressam was arrested on his way to bomb Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999), but has been co-operating with the US government against al-Qaeda (see May 30, 2001). Gillespie makes the suggestion in an e-mail to Tom Wilshire, a CIA representative to the FBI. It is unclear what Wilshire does with the suggestion, but Ressam is not interviewed. When shown photos of Almihdhar after 9/11, Ressam will not recognize him. The FBI also fails to ask Ressam about Zacarias Moussaoui before 9/11, but shortly after 9/11 Ressam will identity Moussaoui as a person that attended al-Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan (see Late August-Early September 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 275-6, 541)

FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi learns that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash attended a summit in Malaysia that was also attended by 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 5-8, 2000); an e-mail sent by Corsi on this date contains the first reference in FBI documents to bin Attash’s presence at the Malaysia summit. Although it is her job to support the investigation into the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), which bin Attash commanded, and she is aware that bin Attash is important to the Cole investigation, even saying that she is focused on his identity and whereabouts, she fails to communicate this information to the agents investigating the bombing, who do not receive it before 9/11 (see August 30, 2001). After 9/11, she will say she cannot recall how she learned this information and an investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will fail to find any documents that cast light on the matter. Although she does not do anything with this information before another FBI agent tells her Khalid Almihdhar is in the US (see August 21-22, 2001), she will later say that the information bin Attash was at the Malaysia summit was important, as it connected Almihdhar and Alhazmi to the Cole bombing. She will also say that CIA officers Tom Wilshire and Clark Shannon, who she discussed al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit with and who knew that bin Attash was in Malaysia with Alhazmi and Almihdhar (see Late May, 2001, Mid-May 2001 and June 11, 2001), did not give her this information. Although Corsi and others know that bin Attash is an important al-Qaeda leader, he is not watchlisted at this point, although one of his aliases is watchlisted in August (see August 23, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 280, 284, 286, 293, 296, 302 pdf file)

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).

Mike Maltbie, a supervisory special agent with the Radical Fundamentalist Unit at FBI headquarters, writes to Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager stationed with the FBI, about the case of Zacarias Moussaoui and Hussein al-Attas (see August 24, 2001). He tells Wilshire what actions the FBI has taken on the case and concludes by saying, “Please bear in mind that there is no indication that either of these two had plans for nefarious activity as was apparently indicated in an earlier communication.” The word “no” is underlined. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 151 pdf file) However, the FBI’s field office in Minneapolis suspects Moussaoui is part of a wider plot to hijack airliners and Maltbie is aware of their concerns (see August 15-20, 2001).

The FBI fails to ask Ahmed Ressam, an al-Qaeda operative arrested during the Millennium alert (see December 14, 1999), whether he can identify Zacarias Moussaoui. Agents in Seattle holding Ressam receive a general notification about the Moussaoui case, but it lacks urgency and they do not follow up on it with Ressam (see September 4, 2001). When asked shortly after 9/11, Ressam will say he recognizes Moussaoui from al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan. The 9/11 Commission will conclude that had Ressam been shown photos of Moussaoui and identified him before 9/11, the FBI would have been able to search his belongings. The belongings contain enough information to potentially prevent 9/11 (see August 16, 2001). The FBI also fails to ask Ressam whether he recognizes Khalid Almihdhar at this time, although Ressam has never met Almihdhar and will not identify him after 9/11 (see August 21, 2001). (Sunday Times (London) 2/3/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 275-6, 541)

Osama Awadallah.Osama Awadallah. [Source: Chris Park / Associated Press]Associates of 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in San Diego reportedly change their behavior and seem to be aware that “something big” is about to happen. But it is not clear how they would have obtained this information.
bullet The 9/11 Commission will suggest that there is evidence Alhazmi calls Mohdar Abdullah in late August (see (August 25, 2001)). Abdullah, a friend of these two hijackers in San Diego, may have been told some about the 9/11 plot back in 2000 and even invited to join in (see Early 2000 and June 10, 2000).
bullet He will later brag to someone in prison that he was told of the attack date three weeks in advance (see Early 2000).
bullet Both Abdullah and another former associate of the hijackers, Yazeed al-Salmi, suddenly become intent on marrying before 9/11. The 9/11 Commission will quote a witness saying al-Salmi told him, “I knew they were going to do something, that is why I got married.”
bullet In addition, employees at the Texaco station where Alhazmi worked (see Autumn 2000), including one named Iyad Kreiwesh, apparently expect that law enforcement authorities will visit them in the near future.
bullet Further, according to one witness, early on the morning of September 10, Abdullah, Osama Awadallah, Omar Bakarbashat, and others behave suspiciously at the gas station. The witness will say that after the group meets, Awadallah tells the others, “[I]t is finally going to happen” and they celebrate with high fives. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 219-220, 249-50, 532)

The NSA’s representative to the FBI asks the NSA for permission to pass intelligence information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to FBI criminal agents investigating the bombing of the USS Cole and permission is granted the same day, but FBI headquarters does not forward this information to the Cole investigators. The request is made on behalf of FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, but Corsi does not want the agents to launch a criminal investigation to find Almihdhar in the US—she believes the information will be useful to them because of Almihdhar’s connection to the Cole bombing. The information identifies Almihdhar as an “Islamic extremist” and says that he traveled to Kuala Lumpur, where he met an associate named Nawaf (see January 5-8, 2000). This links Almihdhar to the Cole bombing because the FBI thinks one of the bombers, Fahad al-Quso, may have traveled to Kuala Lumpur at the same time as Almihdhar. Although the 9/11 Commission will say that Corsi “had permission to share the information” with the Cole investigators, she apparently does not do so, even though it is clear from conversations they have around this time that they want it (see August 28, 2001, and August 28, 2001, August 28-29, 2001, and August 29, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 271, 539; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 276-7, 283, 286, 294, 304 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file)

The FBI’s Minneapolis field office has submitted a memorandum to the Radical Fundamental Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters for a search warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 23-27, 2001). Before it is submitted, RFU agent Mike Maltbie makes several alterations to the memo. In particular, he deletes a key section saying that a CIA officer had described Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab, to whom Moussaoui was connected, as an associate of bin Laden. He deletes this even though the FBI was recently warned that bin Laden and Ibn Khattab may be working together on attacks against US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). However, Minneapolis FBI agent Greg Jones objects in a lengthy e-mail that “we are setting this up for failure if we don’t have the foreign power connection firmly established for the initial review.” Jones also complains about other changes made by Maltbie, including:
bullet Maltbie changes a statement about Moussaoui “preparing himself to fight” to one saying he and an associate “train together in defensive tactics.”
bullet Maltbie changes the sentence, “Moussaoui was unable to give a convincing explanation for his paying $8300 for 747-400 training,” to “Moussaoui would give an explanation for his paying $8300 in cash for 747-700 flight simulation training.”
bullet Maltbie changes a statement that Moussaoui has no convincing explanation for the large sums of money he had to “Moussaoui would not explain the large sums of money known to have been in his possession.”
Maltbie responds by saying that they will attempt to put something together for the foreign power requirement and by changing some, but not all of the sections Jones complains about. However, Minneapolis is still unhappy and the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will state that after Jones’ complaints are taken into consideration the memo is only “slightly less persuasive.” The key section about Chechnya is not reinstated, but Moussaoui’s links to Chechnya are discussed at the relevant meeting with an attorney about the request (see August 28, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 161-4, 209-211 pdf file)

FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi asks the FBI’s New York field office to open an intelligence investigation into future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and locate him in the US. Corsi’s written request mentions Almihdhar’s arrival in the US in July 2001 (see July 4, 2001), his previous travel to the US in January 2000 with Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 15, 2000), his attendance at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), his association with an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001), and similarities between his travel and that of Fahad al-Quso, Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras), and Khallad bin Attash (see January 13, 2000), operatives involved in the bombing of the USS Cole. Corsi does not mention that the CIA knows bin Attash also attended the Malaysia summit, as this information has not officially been passed to the FBI yet. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 304 pdf file)

Mike Maltbie and Rita Flack of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) forward a request for a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 21, 2001) to National Security Law Unit chief Spike Bowman. The request was submitted by the Minneapolis field office (see August 22-28, 2001), which has been trying to obtain a warrant for some time. Earlier in the day, Maltbie edited the request, removing information connecting Moussaoui to al-Qaeda through a rebel group in Chechnya (see August 28, 2001). RFU chief Dave Frasca was to attend the meeting, but is called away at the last minute. According to Bowman, who is already very familiar with the facts in this case, Maltbie is adamant that there is not enough evidence to issue the warrant. Bowman agrees, saying that the evidence fails to implicate Moussaoui as an agent of a foreign power. The FBI thus abandons the effort to obtain a FISA warrant and begins planning his deportation (see (August 30-September 10, 2001)). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 164-6, 168 pdf file; US Department of Justice 3/1/2006 pdf file)

Steve Bongardt, an FBI criminal agent investigating the bombing of the USS Cole, receives an e-mail from FBI headquarters asking the FBI’s New York office to start looking for future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar under an intelligence investigation, but is forced to delete it following an argument with headquarters. The e-mail was not addressed to Bongardt, but forwarded to him by a supervisor, possibly in error. However, Bongardt calls Dina Corsi, the headquarters agent who wrote the e-mail, and expresses his surprise at the information contained in it, saying: “Dina, you got to be kidding me! Almihdhar is in the country?” He tells her the search should be conducted as a criminal investigation, not an intelligence investigation. Corsi incorrectly replies that the “wall” prevents the search from being carried out by criminal agents (see Early 1980s and July 19, 1995), as the investigation requires intelligence from the NSA that criminal agents cannot have, and she forces Bongardt to delete the e-mail from his computer (see August 29, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 271; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 304 pdf file; Wright 2006, pp. 353)

FBI New York agent Steve Bongardt, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, and acting FBI Osama bin Laden unit head Rod Middleton, who is Corsi’s supervisor, discuss whether the search for future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar should be an intelligence or criminal investigation. Bongardt argues that the search should be a criminal investigation because of Almihdhar’s connection to the bombing of the USS Cole and because more agents could be assigned to a criminal investigation. (Note: the office only has one rookie intelligence agent available.) He also says a criminal investigation would have better tools, such as grand jury subpoenas, which are faster and easier to obtain than the tools in an intelligence investigation. Corsi and Middleton say that the “wall” prevents the intelligence information necessary for the case being shared with criminal investigators, so the search must be an intelligence investigation. (Note: Corsi and Middleton are wrong (see August 29, 2001).) Bongardt is unhappy with this and requests an opinion from the Justice Department’s national security law unit (see August 28-29, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 307 pdf file)

FBI headquarters agents Dina Corsi and Rod Middleton contact Justice Department lawyer Sherry Sabol to ask her opinion on the search for 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, but Sabol will later say that Corsi misrepresents her advice to other agents. Corsi contacts Sabol, an attorney at the national security law unit, to ask her about legal restrictions on the search for Almihdhar, because of an argument she has had with New York agent Steve Bongardt about whether the search should be an intelligence or criminal investigation (see August 28, 2001 and August 28, 2001). Corsi will later tell Bongardt that Sabol told her that the information needed for the investigation cannot be passed on to criminal agents at the FBI, only intelligence agents, and that if Almihdhar is located, a criminal agent cannot be present at an interview. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 307-8 pdf file) Corsi’s understanding of the issue is wrong, and the “wall,” which restricted the passage of some intelligence information to criminal agents at the FBI, does not prevent the information in question being shared with criminal agents (see August 29, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will comment that Corsi “appears to have misunderstood the complex rules that could apply to the situation.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 271) In addition, Sabol will later insist that her advice was very different than what Corsi claims it is. She will deny saying a criminal agent could not interview Almihdhar, arguing that she would not have given such inaccurate advice. She will also say the caveat on the intelligence information from the NSA would not have stopped criminal agents getting involved and, in any case, the NSA would have waived the caveat if asked. (Note: the NSA did so at Corsi’s request just one day earlier (see August 27-28, 2001), but presumably Corsi does not tell Sabol this.) (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 271) Larry Parkinson, the FBI’s general counsel at this time, will later say there was no legal bar to a criminal agent being present at an interview and that he would be shocked if Sabol had actually told Corsi this. (9/11 Commission 2/24/2004) Furthermore, Corsi apparently does not tell Sabol that Almihdhar is in the US illegally. The illegal entry is a crime and means criminal FBI agents can search for him (see August 29, 2001).

The Bush administration attempts to repair its relation with Saudi Arabia after a dramatic letter from Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah. On August 27, 2001, Abdullah, the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, sent a message to President Bush threatening to end the Saudi alliance with the US because of what they see as US favoritism towards Israel (see August 27, 2001). Two days later, Bush sends a two-page letter to Abdullah: “Let me make one thing clear up front: nothing should ever break the relationship between us. There has been no change in the strategic equation. I firmly believe the Palestinian people have a right to self-determination and to live peacefully and securely in their own state, in their own homeland, just as the Israelis have the right to live peacefully and safely in their own state.” Journalist Bob Woodward will later note that this “was a much bigger step than President Clinton had taken. Even as Clinton had tried to fashion a Middle East peace agreement as his legacy, he had never directly supported a separate Palestinian state.” On September 6, Abdullah replies, “Mr. President, it was a great relief to me to find in your letter a clear commitment confirming the principle in which the peace process was established. I was particularly pleased with your commitment to the right of the Palestinians to self-determination as well as the right to peace without humiliation, within their independent state.” The Saudis appear appeased. (Woodward 2006, pp. 77-79) Also on September 6, Bush holds a meeting with his top advisers and suggests a change of policy towards Palestine, including public support for a separate Palestinian state. However, days before Bush is to announce these new policies, the 9/11 attacks take place. None of the planned US policy changes materialize (see September 6, 2001).

FBI agent Robert Fuller in 2009.FBI agent Robert Fuller in 2009. [Source: Associated Press]The FBI’s New York office opens a full field intelligence investigation to locate Khalid Almihdhar. New York FBI agent Robert Fuller, new to the international terrorism squad, is the only person assigned to the task. The New York office had been given a “heads up alert” about Almihdhar on August 23, but the search only begins after the FBI decides on August 28 to conduct an intelligence investigation instead of a criminal investigation (see August 29, 2001). Another agent had labeled the search request “routine,” meaning that Fuller has 30 days to find his target. However, Fuller will be busy with another matter and won’t begin work on finding Almihdhar until September 4 (see September 4-5, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004)

According to author Lawrence Wright, on this day there is a conference call between FBI field agent Steve Bongardt, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, and a CIA supervisor at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, who tells Bongardt to stand down in the search for future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Corsi and Bongardt have been arguing over whether the search for Almihdhar in the US should be a criminal or intelligence investigation (see August 28, 2001 and August 28, 2001), and the CIA supervisor apparently sides with Corsi, saying the search should be an intelligence investigation, and so Bongardt, a criminal agent, cannot be involved in it. Bongardt is angry with this and remarks, “If this guy [Almihdhar] is in the country, it’s not because he’s going to f___ing Disneyland!” (Wright 2006, pp. 353-4) However, there will be no mention of this conversation in the 9/11 Commission Report or the Justice Department’s report into the FBI’s performance before 9/11. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 271; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 306-7 pdf file) According to the Justice Department report, there is a similar conference call between Bongardt, Corsi, and her supervisor at the FBI around this time (see August 28, 2001). It is possible Wright is confusing the supervisor of the CIA’s bin Laden unit with the supervisor of the FBI’s bin Laden unit, meaning that the CIA supervisor is not involved in this argument.

The FBI opens an intelligence investigation to find future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, despite protests from the FBI New York field office that FBI headquarters has wrongly insisted on an intelligence investigation, when a criminal investigation would be more appropriate and have a better chance of finding him. The Justice Department’s office of inspector general will later conclude that “the designation of the Almihdhar matter as an intelligence investigation, as opposed to a criminal investigation, undermined the priority of any effort to locate Almihdhar.” Upon learning of the decision, Steve Bongardt, an investigator working on the USS Cole bombing investigation, writes to headquarters agent Dina Corsi to express his frustration. He points out that she is unable to produce any solid documentary evidence to support her view of the “wall,” a mechanism that restricts the passage of some intelligence information to criminal agents at the FBI (see Early 1980s and July 19, 1995), and that her interpretation of the “wall” is at odds with the purpose for which it was established. He adds: “Whatever has happened to this—someday someone will die—and wall or not—the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain ‘problems.’ Let’s hope the [Justice Department’s] National Security Law Unit will stand behind their decisions then, especially since the biggest threat to us now, UBL [Osama bin Laden], is getting the most ‘protection.’” (US Congress 9/20/2002; Firestone and Risen 9/21/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 307-9 pdf file; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) Both the Justice Department’s office of inspector general and the 9/11 Commission will later back Bongardt and say the investigation should have been a criminal investigation, as the “wall” procedures did not apply. The inspector general will comment that Bongardt “was correct that the wall had been created to deal with the handling of only [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] information and that there was no legal barrier to a criminal agent being present for an interview with Almihdhar if it occurred in the intelligence investigation.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 351 pdf file) The 9/11 Commission will remark that Corsi “misunderstood” the wall and that, “Simply put, there was no legal reason why the information [Corsi] possessed could not have been shared with [Bongardt].” It will conclude: “It is now clear that everyone involved was confused about the rules governing the sharing and use of information gathered in intelligence channels. Because Almihdhar was being sought for his possible connection to or knowledge of the Cole bombing, he could be investigated or tracked under the existing Cole criminal case. No new criminal case was needed for the criminal agent to begin searching for [him]. And as the NSA had approved the passage of its information to the criminal agent, he could have conducted a search using all available information. As a result of this confusion, the criminal agents who were knowledgeable about al-Qaeda and experienced with criminal investigative techniques, including finding suspects and possible criminal charges, were thus excluded from the search.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 271, 539)

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)

Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service for 24 years, is replaced. No explanation is given. He is replaced by Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz, his nephew and the king’s brother, who has “no background in intelligence whatsoever.” (Agence France-Presse 8/31/2001; Henderson 10/22/2001; Seattle Times 10/29/2001) The Wall Street Journal later reports: “The timing of Turki’s removal—August 31—and his Taliban connection raise the question: Did the Saudi regime know that bin Laden was planning his attack against the US? The current view among Saudi-watchers is probably not, but that the House of Saud might have heard rumors that something was planned, although they did not know what or when. (An interesting and possibly significant detail: Prince Sultan, the defense minister, had been due to visit Japan in early September, but canceled his trip for no apparent reason less than two days before an alleged planned departure.)” (Henderson 10/22/2001) It will later come out that Turki’s removal takes place during a time of great turmoil in the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia, though it is not known if there is a connection (see August 27, 2001, August 29-September 6, 2001, and September 6, 2001). Turki is later sued in August 2002 for his role in 9/11 (see August 15, 2002), and is later appointed ambassador to Britain (see October 18, 2002) and then ambassador to the US (see August 21, 2005).

With President Bush back in Washington after a long vacation, CIA Director George Tenet resumes personally delivering the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) to him. Tenet has one meeting with Bush on August 31, 2001, after Bush’s return (see August 17 and 31, 2001), and then briefs him six more times in the first eight days of September. Bush is out of town the next few days, so he is briefed by other CIA personnel. (Agence France-Presse 4/15/2004) By this time, Tenet has been told about the arrest of suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 23, 2001). But there is no evidence he mentions this to Bush before 9/11. Further, on August 23, 2001, the CIA watchlisted 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and began looking for them in the US (see August 23, 2001), but there’s no evidence Tenet or anyone else briefed Bush about this, either.

Said Bahaji at his 1999 wedding.Said Bahaji at his 1999 wedding. [Source: Public domain]Members of Mohamed Atta’s Hamburg al-Qaeda cell leave Germany for Pakistan. Said Bahaji flies out of Hamburg on September 3, 2001, using his real name. (Crewdson, Swanson, and Simpson 2/25/2003) German intelligence already has Bahaji under surveillance, and German border guards are under orders to report if he leaves the country, yet the border guards fail to note his departure (see September 3, 2001). (Schrom and Laabs 2/2/2003) German agents later discover two other passengers on the same flight traveling with false passports who stay in the same room with Bahaji when they arrive in Karachi, Pakistan. (McDermott 9/1/2002) Investigators now believe his flight companions were Ismail Bin Murabit (a.k.a. Ismail Ben Mrabete) and Labed Ahmed (a.k.a. Ahmed Taleb), both Algerians in their late 40s. Three more associates—Mohammed Belfatmi, an Algerian extremist from the Tarragona region of Spain, and the brothers Mohammad Sarwar Joia and Patrick Joia—also travel on the same plane. (Crewdson, Swanson, and Simpson 2/25/2003; Crewdson, Swanson, and Simpson 2/25/2003) Ramzi bin al-Shibh flies out of Germany on September 5 and stays in Spain a few days before presumably heading for Pakistan (see September 5, 2001). (McDermott 9/1/2002) Some of these men are reported to meet in Karachi around this time, possibly with others (see September 4-5, 2001).

White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke sends a memo to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in which he warns that hundreds of Americans could die in an attack by al-Qaeda and complains that the Bush administration is not doing enough to combat the threat posed by the terrorist network. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; Eggen and Pincus 3/25/2004) The National Security Council’s principals committee—a group of senior officials who advise the president on issues of national security policy—is set to meet today to discuss al-Qaeda. Before the meeting takes place, Clarke sends a memo to Rice in which he criticizes US counterterrorism efforts.
Al-Qaeda Could Kill 'Hundreds of Americans' - The “real question” before the members of the principals committee, Clarke writes in the memo, is, “[A]re we serious about dealing with the al-Qaeda threat?” He suggests: “Decision makers should imagine themselves on a future day when the [White House Counterterrorism Security Group] has not succeeded in stopping al-Qaeda attacks and hundreds of Americans lay dead in several countries, including the US. What would those decision makers wish that they had done earlier?” “That future day could happen at any time,” he adds.
Clarke Complains about the Lack of Response to the USS Cole Bombing - Clarke criticizes the US military for failing to respond to the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). “Many in al-Qaeda and the Taliban may have drawn the wrong lesson from the Cole: that they can kill Americans without there being a US response, without there being a price,” he writes. He states that he cannot understand “why we continue to allow the existence of large-scale al-Qaeda bases where we know people are being trained to kill Americans.”
Clarke Warns of a Possible 'Big Attack, with Lots of Casualties' - Clarke complains that without adequate funding: “You are left with a modest effort to swat flies, to try to prevent specific al-Qaeda attacks by using [intelligence] to detect them, and friendly governments’ police and intelligence officers to stop them. You are left waiting for the big attack, with lots of casualties, after which some major US retaliation will be in order.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 212-213)
Rice Later Says Memo Is 'Not a Warning about September 11th' - Rice will later say of Clarke’s memo: “It would not be appropriate or correct to characterize what Dick [Clarke] wrote to me on September 4th as a warning of an impending attack. What he was doing was, I think, trying to buck me up so that when I went into this principals meeting, I was sufficiently on guard against the kind of bureaucratic inertia that he had fought all of his life.” The memo, she will say, “was a warning to me not to get dragged down by the bureaucracy, not a warning about September 11th.” (9/11 Commission 4/8/2004) The principals committee’s meeting today is the committee’s first meeting on al-Qaeda issues. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 212) Clarke had “urgently” called for such a meeting back in January this year (see January 25, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 237)

Oklahoma City District Attorney Wes Lane announces that Oklahoma will continue prosecuting convicted Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see March 29, 1999) on 160 state charges of murder, in part because the state fears Nichols may win his federal appeals (see June 4, 1998). “I will not roll the dice on this issue. There is simply too much at stake,” Lane says. He says that the state will seek the death penalty against Nichols. Lane took over the case after District Attorney Robert Macy retired in June 2001; some have speculated that Oklahoma might drop the case due to the expenditure, the difficulty of finding an impartial jury, and the emotional toll on the victims of another trial. Nichols’s lead lawyer for the state case, Brian Hermanson, writes in a letter quoted by local newspapers that Nichols was willing to drop his appeals and accept a federal life sentence to avoid a state trial. The letter states: “Taking such a step ensures that he will spend the rest of his life in prison. It would enable Mr. Lane to drop the state prosecution, thereby sparing Oklahoma the trauma and expense of another trial.” Lane responds that “the interests of the people of the State of Oklahoma cannot be vindicated by the blind reliance on the federal government or Terry Lynn Nichols,” and says he will seek sanctions against Hermanson for what he calls a “glaring, blatant violation” of a state court order not to discuss the case. Shelly Thompson, who lost her mother in the blast (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), says: “You can’t just get away with a little bit of a crime. We’re going to go for the whole thing. I want to make sure he will stay in prison for his life. This is something I need to do for her. He was not found guilty in my mother’s death and 159 other deaths. They are more than numbers.” (Thomas 9/6/2001; The Oklahoman 4/2009; Mayhem (.net) 4/2009)

According to a New York Times article several days later, on this day President Bush holds a National Security Council meeting with Secretary of State Powell, National Security Adviser Rice, and others, to consider how to change his Middle East policy. This potential change in US policy comes after the Saudis threatened to end their alliance with the US because of US policy towards Israel and Palestine (see August 27, 2001 and August 29-September 6, 2001). It is reported that he is considering meeting with Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat when Arafat is scheduled to come to New York for the opening of the United Nations General Assembly two weeks later. Bush has so far been firm in refusing to meet with Arafat. According to the New York Times, at this meeting, “Bush discussed the wisdom of changing tack, officials said. While no clear decision was made, there was an inclination to go ahead with a meeting with Arafat if events unfolded in a more favorable way in the next 10 days or so…” Additionally, it is reported that Israeli foreign minister Shimon Peres will meet with Arafat in mid-September, in what it is hoped will be “the first of a series that could start a process of serious dialogue” between Palestine and Israel. (Perlez 9/9/2001) Reporter Bob Woodward will add in 2006, “Bush agreed to come out publicly for a Palestinian state. A big rollout was planned for the week of September 10, 2001.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 77) But after the 9/11 attacks a few days later, Bush and Peres do not go forward with any meetings with Arafat and US policy does not change. The Nation will later comment, “In the aftermath of [9/11], few people recalled that for a brief moment in the late summer of 2001, the Bush Administration had considered meeting with Arafat and deepening its political involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” (Rozen 7/14/2005) The leak to the New York Times about this September 6 meeting will result in a wide FBI investigation of Israeli spying in the US (see September 9, 2001).

9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi transfers $200 from his and Atta’s joint account at SunTrust Bank to fellow hijacker Abdulaziz Alomari’s account in Buraidah, Saudi Arabia. Alomari’s account is with Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp, which will later be unsuccessfully sued for allegedly supporting terrorism (see August 15, 2002). The transfer costs $50 plus charges. The reason for the transfer is not clear, as Alomari, who also has an account with the Hudson United Bank in the US (see June 27-August 23, 2001), had only left Florida the previous day and will be in Boston at the same time as Alshehhi on September 9. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia; Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file) Records show that Alshehhi completes the transaction just before 4.00 p.m. However, according to some accounts, Alshehhi is drinking at Shuckums bar at this time (see September 7, 2001). (Eggen 9/13/2001; Vulliamy et al. 9/16/2001)

A training exercise is held at New York’s La Guardia Airport, based around the scenario of a terrorist attack with a biological weapon. Mark Edelman, chief external relations officer of the Greater New York chapter of the American Red Cross, will later say the Greater New York chapter has been preparing for the possibility of a biological terrorist attack since the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). And today—“the very Saturday before September 11”—there is “a bioterror drill at La Guardia Airport,” he will add. Details of what the exercise involves are unstated. Whether any agencies other than the Red Cross participate in the exercise is also unstated. (Philanthropy News Digest 12/7/2001) La Guardia Airport is located eight miles from midtown Manhattan in the borough of Queens, New York, and is operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. (Braun and Gjorgievska 7/27/2015; Malo 7/27/2015) Another exercise is being held there today by the New York City Fire Department Bureau of Emergency Medical Services, which is based around a simulated plane crash (see September 8, 2001). (Asaeda 3/2002)

Massoud’s two assassins pictured just before their assassination attempt. One holds the rigged video camera.Massoud’s two assassins pictured just before their assassination attempt. One holds the rigged video camera. [Source: CNN]General Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, is assassinated by two al-Qaeda agents posing as Moroccan journalists. (Elliott 8/12/2002) A legendary mujaheddin commander and a brilliant tactician, Massoud had pledged to bring freedom and democracy to Afghanistan. The BBC says the next day, “General Massoud’s death might well have meant the end of the [Northern] alliance” because there clearly was no figure with his skills and popularity to replace him. (Clark 9/10/2001; NPA 9/10/2001) “With Massoud out of the way, the Taliban and al-Qaeda would be rid of their most effective opponent and be in a stronger position to resist the American onslaught.” (Martin 9/9/2002) It appears the assassination was supposed to happen earlier: the “journalists” waited for three weeks in Northern Alliance territory to meet Massoud. Finally on September 8, an aide says they “were so worried and excitable they were begging us.” They were granted an interview after threatening to leave if the interview did not happen in the next 24 hours. Meanwhile, the Taliban army (together with elements of the Pakistani army) had massed for an offensive against the Northern Alliance in the previous weeks, but the offensive began only hours after the assassination. Massoud was killed that day but Northern Alliance leaders pretend for several days that Massoud was only injured in order to keep the Northern Alliance army’s morale up, and they are able to stave off total defeat. The timing of the assassination and the actions of the Taliban army suggest that the 9/11 attacks were known to the Taliban leadership. (Elliott 8/12/2002) Though it is not widely reported, the Northern Alliance releases a statement the next day: “Ahmed Shah Massoud was the target of an assassination attempt organized by the Pakistani [intelligence service] ISI and Osama bin Laden” (see September 10, 2001). (Wesolowsky 9/10/2001; Gardiner and Rayman 9/15/2001; Reuters 10/4/2001) This suggests that the ISI may also have had prior knowledge of the attack plans.

Al-Rajhi Bank logo.Al-Rajhi Bank logo. [Source: Al-Rajhi Bank.]Extremists order “operatives in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Yemen” to use accounts at the Al-Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp, according to a 2003 CIA report. The Al-Rajhi Bank is one of the biggest Saudi banks, with billions in assets. Who gives this order and when will not be made public. However, some examples of militants using the bank will later be alleged:
bullet When al-Qaeda leader Mamdouh Mahmud Salim is arrested in late 1998 (see September 16, 1998), he is carrying records of an Al-Rajhi account.
bullet When Wadih El-Hage’s house in Kenya is raided in 1997, investigators find contact information in his address book for Salah Al-Rajhi, one of the billionaire co-owners of the bank (see Shortly After August 21, 1997). (Simpson 7/26/2007)
bullet Some of the 9/11 hijackers use the bank. For instance, Hani Hanjour is sent wire transfers from Al-Rajhi bank in Saudi Arabia at least six times in 1998 and 1999. In September 2000, Nawaf Alhazmi uses $2,000 in Al-Rajhi traveler’s checks paid for by an unnamed person in Saudi Arabia. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 19, 31, 33, 34, 41, 87 pdf file) And Abdulaziz Alomari has an account at the bank (see September 7, 2001).
bullet The bank is used by a number of charities suspected of militant links, including the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), the Muslim World League, the Saudi branch of Red Crescent, Global Relief Foundation, and the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). (Mowbray 10/13/2003)
bullet An al-Qaeda affiliate in Spain holds accounts at the bank. According to a fax later recovered by Spanish police, the group’s chief financier tells a business partner to use the bank for their transactions. (Mowbray 10/13/2003)
bullet In 2000, Al-Rajhi Bank couriers deliver money to insurgents in Indonesia to buy weapons and bomb-making materials.
bullet According to a 2003 German report, bank co-founder Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi contributes to a charity front buying weapons for Islamic militants in Bosnia in the early 1990s. He is also on the “Golden Chain,” a list of early al-Qaeda funders (see 1988-1989).
bullet A US intelligence memo from shortly after 9/11 will say that a money courier for al-Qaeda’s second in command, Ayman al-Zawahiri, travels on a visa obtained by the bank.
The 2003 CIA report will state: “Islamic extremists have used Al-Rajhi Banking and Investment Corporation since at least the mid-1990s as a conduit for terrorist transactions.… Senior al-Rajhi family members have long supported Islamic extremists and probably know that terrorists use their bank.” (Simpson 7/26/2007)

A group of five Middle Eastern men, which includes two men who will later be identified as alleged 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Marwan Alshehhi, get into a confrontation with Eric Gill, an employee at Washington’s Dulles International Airport, from where Flight 77 will take off on September 11, after they try to get to a secure area of the airport. Gill, who works for Argenbright Security, which handles the passenger security checkpoints at Dulles Airport, notices the men while supervising the west checkpoint on the upper level of the airport’s main terminal. He initially sees just two of them as they try to go through a side door next to the checkpoint that only a few people are permitted to use. People can use this door to bypass the checkpoint, but they need to swipe a card and enter a code on a keypad to pass through it. Going through the door enables a person to reach the airport’s secure, employee-only areas, including the area where planes are parked.
Men Try to Go through a Door Used by Security Personnel - One of the men trying to go through the door is wearing a green ID badge with a red “A” on it, of the kind typically worn by the airport’s baggage, ramp, and services personnel. However, use of the door is restricted to police, security personnel, and government officials. Gill then notices the other three Middle Eastern men following the first two. Two of these men are also wearing green ID badges with red As on them. Gill will describe one of the five men as Arabic or Palestinian and the other four as Middle Eastern. He will say the men appear to be aged between 30 and 35, and between 5 feet 7 and 5 feet 9 in height. The three men with ID badges are wearing dull grey striped shirts and blue pants, like the uniform worn by United Airlines ramp workers. None of the men are carrying anything and Gill does not recognize any of them.
Men Appear to Be Examining Security Procedures - As the men are approaching the side door, they stop and look around for a few moments, as if they are examining security procedures at the checkpoint. Gill finds this unusual. “Normally, people who had legitimate business would just keep walking because they knew where they were going and what they were doing,” he will comment. One of the men swipes his ID card and enters a code into a keypad in order to open the side door and allow the group to go through it. But Gill is suspicious and goes up to the men. After asking if he can help, he refuses to let them proceed through the door. The men who have ID cards show them to him. But he then notices that the other two men are not wearing uniforms and have no airport identification, and so he tells these men they cannot enter the secure area unless they have their own IDs with them.
Men Don't Say Who They Are - Gill asks the men who they are and why they are trying to go through the side door, but they give no answer. He tells the two men without IDs that they have to come back through the door, but they say they have IDs and are going to continue on their way. Around this time, Gill is joined by his colleague Nicholas DeSilva, who subsequently witnesses the rest of the incident. Gill then notices that the uniforms worn by three of the men are very dirty, which strikes him as odd, since United Airlines managers would not usually tolerate this. He refuses to let the men in uniforms escort the other two men through the side door and says the men without IDs will have to go through the main security checkpoint.
Men Become Abusive - At this point, the men get angry and become abusive. One of them tells Gill to “f_ck off” and says they are important people he doesn’t know. Next, however, instead of the men without IDs simply passing through the security checkpoint as requested, all of the men retreat, which surprises Gill. They then head off and go down the stairs that lead to the lower level of the main terminal. Gill will never see them again. However, Ed Nelson, his supervisor, will note that if they’d wanted to access a plane at the airport, perhaps to plant weapons on it, they could have returned after 10:00 p.m., when Gill’s shift ended, and used their ID cards to activate the electronic lock and pass through the side door next to the west checkpoint.
Incident Will Be Reported the Next Day - The exact time when Gill’s confrontation with the five men occurs is unclear. Gill will tell the FBI that it occurs “[d]uring the approximate time period of 8:10 p.m. to 8:45 p.m.” But he will tell the 9/11 Commission that it occurs at around 8:00 p.m. And he will tell investigative journalists Joseph Trento and Susan Trento that it occurs at 8:15 p.m. The incident is not unusual enough to necessitate a report and so Gill will take no further action this evening. But he will report it after he comes into work at 1:00 p.m. the following day and hears about the hijacking of Flight 77.
Two of the Men Will Be Identified as Hijackers - Gill will subsequently identify two of the men he confronted as 9/11 hijackers. A week or two after 9/11, his wife will show him a story in the National Enquirer magazine that includes photos of the alleged hijackers and he will recognize two of the hijackers as having been among the group he encountered. And, at some point after this, he will be shown the photos of the alleged hijackers that are published on the FBI website by Steve Wragg, the district manager in charge of Dulles Airport for Argenbright Security. From looking at these, he will identify two of the men he confronted as Flight 77 hijacker Alhazmi and Flight 175 hijacker Alshehhi. He will say these two hijackers were among the men wearing uniforms and ID badges. He will also recognize Alshehhi as the first man to have shown him his ID and Alhazmi as the man who verbally abused him. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/14/2002; 9/11 Commission 1/19/2004 pdf file; Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 1-6, 43-44; Priska Neely 10/21/2010) However, in 2004, when the 9/11 Commission shows Gill photos of numerous individuals, including Alshehhi, Alhazmi, and other 9/11 hijackers, he will say he does not recognize any of these individuals as having been among the men he confronted at Dulles Airport. (9/11 Commission 2/10/2004 pdf file) The FBI will not take Gill’s account seriously because it has difficulty understanding how and why one of the Flight 175 hijackers would have been at Dulles Airport on the evening before he took an early morning flight from Boston, according to a source with the bureau. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 44) Khalid Almihdhar and “possibly” Salem Alhazmi—two of the alleged hijackers of Flight 77—are recorded on video at Dulles Airport at an unspecified time this evening (see September 10, 2001). (9/11 Commission 9/29/2003 pdf file; Federal Bureau of Investigation 11/14/2003 pdf file)

An Echelon station in Menwith Hill, Britain.An Echelon station in Menwith Hill, Britain. [Source: BBC]By the 1980s, a high-tech global electronic surveillance network shared between the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand is gathering intelligence all over the world. The BBC describes Echelon’s power as “astounding,” and elaborates: “Every international telephone call, fax, e-mail, or radio transmission can be listened to by powerful computers capable of voice recognition. They home in on a long list of key words, or patterns of messages. They are looking for evidence of international crime, like terrorism.” (Bomford 11/3/1999) One major focus for Echelon before 9/11 is al-Qaeda. For instance, one account mentions Echelon intercepting al-Qaeda communications in Southeast Asia in 1996 (see Before September 11, 2001). A staff member of the National Security Council who regularly attends briefings on bin Laden states, “We are probably tapped into every hotel room in Pakistan. We can listen in to just about every phone call in Afghanistan.” However, he and other critics will claim one reason why US intelligence failed to stop terrorism before 9/11 was because there was too much of a focus on electronic intelligence gathering and not enough focus on human interpretation of that vast data collection. (Brzezinski 2/2/2002)

It has been widely reported that the CIA never had any assets near bin Laden before 9/11. For instance, Lawrence Wright will write in his highly regarded 2006 book, The Looming Tower, “The fact is that the CIA had no one inside al-Qaeda or the Taliban security that surrounded bin Laden.” (Wright 2006, pp. 265) But author Ronald Kessler will write in a 2004 book, “Often, the CIA used operatives from Arab intelligence services like those of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and other countries to infiltrate bin Laden’s organization.” A longtime CIA officer says, “Egyptians, Jordanians, [and] Palestinians penetrated the bin Laden organization for us. It’s B.S. that we didn’t.” Kessler further explains that such operations remain one of the CIA’s best-kept secrets and often occur even with intelligence agencies the CIA is sometimes otherwise at odds with. Kessler says, “In return for help, the CIA provided them with money, equipment, and intelligence on their adversaries. Over the years, the Jordanians, for example, relied on the CIA to alert them to plots against the king. Over time, the Jordanians became so good at the intelligence game that they were better at detecting plots than the CIA.” (Kessler 2004, pp. 143) Jack Cloonan, an FBI expert on al-Qaeda, will later say, “There were agents run into the camps. But most of them were not very well placed,” and lacked access to the inner circles. (Waterman 11/27/2006) One example of such an asset may be Khalil Deek, who worked closely with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see 1998-December 11, 1999) and was reportedly a mole for Jordanian intelligence (see Shortly After December 11, 1999). In the months before 9/11, Jordan will warn the US that al-Qaeda is planning a major attack inside the US using aircraft (see Late Summer 2001), and Egypt will warn the CIA that al-Qaeda has 20 operatives on a mission in the US, some of them training to fly (see Late July 2001).

Zainelabdeen Ibrahim Omer, a Sudanese man, tells police in Sarasota, Florida, he is concerned that a friend of his may pose a threat to President Bush, who is spending the night on nearby Longboat Key and is due to visit Sarasota today. After he contacts the Sarasota police, Omer is visited by some officers. He tells them that on the previous evening he talked to a friend of his, who he identifies only as “Gandi.” He says Gandi is in Sarasota with two companions, with the intention of getting a friend of theirs out of jail. Omer is apparently concerned that Gandi may be a danger to Bush while he is visiting the area. He says Gandi “has made several remarks in the past that indicated extremely violent thoughts.” He adds that, considering the man’s “past inclinations,” the fact that Gandi is in Sarasota at the time Bush is visiting the area “might not be coincidental.” The Sarasota police officers will contact the Secret Service, whose agents then question Omer about his concerns. Police officers and Secret Service agents will visit an address on 32nd Street in Sarasota, where they find 11 Arab men apparently at morning prayer. One of the men has a card for the Longboat Key Club, which is near the resort where Bush has been spending the night (see September 10, 2001). The men will be questioned, held until Bush has left the area, and then released. It will later be reported that Gandi has links to the guerrilla group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. However, an unnamed law enforcement source will tell authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan that there is “nothing to indicate” the 11 Arab men questioned by the police and the Secret Service are linked to the 9/11 plotters. (Sarasota Police Department 9/11/2001; Sarasota Police Department 9/11/2001; Summers and Swan 2011, pp. 457) While Bush is staying on Longboat Key, several Middle Eastern men reportedly arrive at the resort where he is staying and falsely claim they have an interview with him arranged (see (Before 6:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). And at 8:50 a.m. on September 11, a local man will see a van in Sarasota with two Middle Eastern men screaming out the windows, “Down with Bush” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sullivan 9/26/2001)

Abdulaziz Alomari (a passport stamp overlaps part of his face).Abdulaziz Alomari (a passport stamp overlaps part of his face). [Source: FBI]Having spent the previous night at the Comfort Inn in Portland, Maine (see September 10, 2001), hijackers Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari check out at 5:33 a.m. and drive their rented Nissan to the nearby Portland International Jetport Airport, entering its parking lot at 5:40 a.m. The FBI will later seize their car there. (Vulliamy et al. 9/16/2001; Portland Press Herald 10/5/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/5/2001; Dorman 4/17/2006) Their flight is due to take off for Boston at 6:00 a.m. (see (6:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Boston Globe points out, “Any significant delay would foil [Atta’s] big plans for the day.” (Zuckoff 9/16/2001) The 9/11 Commission later concludes: “The Portland detour almost prevented Atta and Omari from making Flight 11 out of Boston.” (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004)

Michael Tuohey.Michael Tuohey. [Source: CNN]9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari check in at the US Airways counter at Portland International Jetport. (Portland Press Herald 10/5/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/5/2001) They are wearing ties and jackets. Atta checks in two bags, Alomari none. Atta is randomly selected for additional security scrutiny by the FAA’s Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS) (see (6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the only consequence is that his checked bags will be held off the plane until it is confirmed that he has boarded. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 1; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 2; CNN 3/3/2006) Noting that their flight is soon due to leave, the ticket agent who checks them in, Michael Tuohey, says, “You’re cutting it close.” (Hench 3/6/2005) Tuohey thinks the pair seems unusual. He notices they both have $2,500 first-class, one-way tickets. He later comments, “You don’t see many of those.” Atta looks “like a walking corpse. He looked so angry.” In contrast, Tuohey will say, Alomari can barely speak English and has “a goofy smile, I can’t believe he knew he was going to die that day.” Tuohey will later recount, “I thought they looked like two Arab terrorists but then I berated myself for the stereotype and did nothing.” (Smerconish 2/24/2005; Massie 9/11/2005; CNN 3/3/2006) Atta becomes angry when Tuohey informs him he will have to check in again in Boston. He complains that he was assured he would have a “one-step check-in.” (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 2; Associated Press 3/7/2005) Tuohey will be recalled to work later in the day to speak to an FBI agent about his encounter with Atta and Alomari. He is shown video footage of them passing through the airport’s security checkpoint upstairs (see (Between 5:45 a.m. and 5:53 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Although recognizing the two men, he notices that in the video they are no longer wearing the jackets and ties they’d had on when checking in just minutes before. He assumes they must have taken these off and tucked them into their carry-on baggage. He is also informed that the security camera behind his own desk, which should have captured the two hijackers, has in fact been out of order for some time. (Hench 3/6/2005; CNN 3/3/2006)

Shay Sullivan.Shay Sullivan. [Source: Longboat Observer]A group of Middle Eastern men pulls up at the resort on Longboat Key, Florida, where President Bush is staying and falsely claims to have an interview scheduled with the president, but the men are turned away from the premises, according to a local fire marshal who later hears about the incident. (Sullivan 9/26/2001) Bush arrived at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key at 6:30 p.m. on September 10 and then spent the night there (see September 10, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 13; Bayles 9/10/2002) Sometime before 6:00 a.m. on September 11, or possibly on the evening of September 10, a van occupied by some Middle Eastern men pulls up at the resort. The men claim to be reporters and say they are there for a “poolside” interview with Bush. They then ask for a particular Secret Service agent by name. Security guards phone the receptionist at the resort and relay the men’s request. The receptionist has not heard of the Secret Service agent named by the men or anything about a planned interview with Bush. She passes the phone to a Secret Service agent, who similarly tells the security guards that no one knows of the agent the men referred to or is aware of any scheduled interview with the president. The Secret Service agent says the men should contact the president’s public relations office in Washington, DC, and has them turned away from the premises. (Sullivan 9/26/2001; Longboat Observer 9/7/2011)
Incident Resembles Recent Assassination Method - Some people will later note the similarity of this alleged incident to the method used to assassinate General Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, on September 9. (Martin 7/4/2004) Massoud was killed by a bomb hidden in the video camera of two Arab men who said they were journalists who wanted to interview him (see September 9, 2001). (Elliott 8/12/2002; Martin 9/9/2002) “Were the men on Longboat Key planning to kill Bush in similar fashion?” the St. Petersburg Times will ask. (Martin 7/4/2004)
Fire Marshal Learns about Incident - The alleged incident on Longboat Key will come to light after reporter Shay Sullivan hears local Fire Marshal Carroll Mooneyhan describing it to a colleague during a lull in a firefighters’ union meeting and then writes an article about it for the Longboat Observer. Mooneyhan does not witness the incident firsthand, but will learn about it when he is at the front desk at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort at around 6:00 a.m. on September 11. At that time, he will overhear the receptionist and a security guard discussing what happened. It is unclear when exactly the incident they discuss is meant to have occurred. (Sullivan 9/26/2001; Hartill 9/7/2011) The Secret Service will question Mooneyhan about what he hears. (Martin 7/4/2004) Two weeks after 9/11, the FBI will reportedly be looking into the alleged incident. (Sullivan 9/26/2001)
Incident Is Later Denied - The day after the incident is first reported in the Longboat Observer, Mooneyhan “went silent” about it, Sullivan will say. (Hartill 9/7/2011) In 2004, Mooneyhan will deny telling anyone at the Longboat Observer about the incident. “How did they get that information from me if I didn’t know it?” he will say. (Martin 7/4/2004) However, Sullivan will suggest that Mooneyhan may have been “ordered to stop talking about it.” He will note that Secret Service agents visited his newspaper and “suggested we back off the story.” (Hartill 9/7/2011) Longboat Key Police Chief John Kintz will say in 2011 that he has been unable to find any evidence of the incident. “[T]here wasn’t a single person who could confirm that it happened,” he will say, adding, “We never found anyone who worked at the gate who could tell us that that happened.” (Hartill 9/7/2011)
Other Suspicious Incidents Occur - Other suspicious incidents occur in the Longboat Key area around this time. Shortly after 4:00 a.m. on September 11, a Sudanese man contacts police in Sarasota and says he is concerned that a friend of his might pose a threat to the president while he is visiting the area (see 4:07 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Summers and Swan 2011, pp. 457) And at 8:50 a.m. on September 11, a local man will see a van in Sarasota with two Middle Eastern men screaming out the windows, “Down with Bush” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sullivan 9/26/2001) Whether these two incidents are related to the alleged incident at the Longboat Key resort is unclear.

All the alleged 9/11 hijackers reportedly check in at the airports from where they board Flights 11, 175, 77, and 93. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 1-4; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 27, 89, 93) Since 1998, the FAA has required air carriers to implement a program called the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS). This identifies those passengers who might be a security risk, based upon suspicious behavior such as buying one-way tickets or paying with cash. CAPPS also randomly assigns some passengers to receive additional security scrutiny. If a particular passenger has been designated as a “selectee,” this information is transmitted to the airport’s check-in counter, where a code is printed on their boarding pass. At the airport’s security checkpoints, selectees are subjected to additional security measures. (Satchell 4/1/2002; 9/11 Commission 1/27/2004; US Congress 3/17/2004; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 2, 85) Their baggage is to be screened for explosives or held off the plane until they have boarded. Supposedly, the thinking behind this is that someone smuggling a bomb onto a plane won’t get onto that same flight. According to the 9/11 Commission, nine of the 19 hijackers are flagged by the CAPPS system before boarding Flights 11, 175, 77, and 93. (Goo and Eggen 1/28/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 84; United States of America v. Zacarias Moussaoui, a/k/a Shaqil, a/k/a Abu Khalid al Sahrawi, Defendant 3/6/2006) In addition, Mohamed Atta was selected when he checked in at the airport in Portland, for his earlier connecting flight to Boston (see 5:33 a.m.-5:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). All of the hijackers subsequently pass through security checkpoints before boarding their flights. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 1-4)

NORAD’s war room in Cheyenne Mountain, ColoradoNORAD’s war room in Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado [Source: Val Gempis]Lieutenant Colonel Dawne Deskins and other day shift employees at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) in Rome, NY, start their workday. NORAD is conducting a week-long, large-scale exercise called Vigilant Guardian. (Seely 1/25/2002) Deskins is regional mission crew chief for the Vigilant Guardian exercise. (ABC News 9/11/2002)
Exercise Includes Simulated Attack on the US - Vigilant Guardian is described as “an exercise that would pose an imaginary crisis to North American Air Defense outposts nationwide”; as a “simulated air war”; and as “an air defense exercise simulating an attack on the United States.” According to the 9/11 Commission, it “postulated a bomber attack from the former Soviet Union.” (Seely 1/25/2002; Filson 2003, pp. 55 and 122; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 458) Vigilant Guardian is described as being held annually, and is one of NORAD’s four major annual exercises. (Filson 2003, pp. 41; Arkin 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) However, one report says it takes place semi-annually. (Scott 6/3/2002) Accounts by participants vary on whether 9/11 is the second, third, or fourth day of the exercise. (Code One Magazine 1/2002; Seely 1/25/2002; Kampouris 9/11/2002) Vigilant Guardian is a command post exercise (CPX), and in at least some previous years was conducted in conjunction with Stratcom’s Global Guardian exercise and a US Space Command exercise called Apollo Guardian. (US Congress n.d.; Arkin 2005, pp. 545; GlobalSecurity (.org) 4/27/2005) All of NORAD is participating in Vigilant Guardian on 9/11. (Scott 6/3/2002)
Exercise Includes Simulated Hijacking - Vanity Fair reports that the “day’s exercise” (presumably Vigilant Guardian) is “designed to run a range of scenarios, including a ‘traditional’ simulated hijack in which politically motivated perpetrators commandeer an aircraft, land on a Cuba-like island, and seek asylum.” (Bronner 8/1/2006) However, at NEADS, most of the dozen or so staff on the operations floor have no idea what the exercise is going to entail and are ready for anything. (Cooper 8/5/2004)
NORAD Fully Staffed and Alert - NORAD is currently running a real-world operation named Operation Northern Vigilance (see September 9, 2001). It may also be conducting a field training exercise calling Amalgam Warrior on this morning (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD is thus fully staffed and alert, and senior officers are manning stations throughout the US. The entire chain of command will be in place and ready when the first hijacking is reported. An article later says, “In retrospect, the exercise would prove to be a serendipitous enabler of a rapid military response to terrorist attacks on September 11.” (Scott 6/3/2002; Kelly 12/5/2003) Colonel Robert Marr, in charge of NEADS, will say: “We had the fighters with a little more gas on board. A few more weapons on board.” (ABC News 9/11/2002) However, Deskins and other NORAD officials later are initially confused about whether the 9/11 attacks are real or part of the exercise (see (8:38 a.m.-8:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001).

During this period, all five Flight 11 hijackers check in at Boston’s Logan Airport and board their plane, bound for Los Angeles. The FAA has a program in place called the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS), which is designed to identify those passengers most likely requiring additional scrutiny by airport security (see (6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Ticket records will show that CAPPS selects three of the Flight 11 hijackers at Logan: Since Waleed Alshehri checks no bags his selection has no consequences; Wail Alshehri and Satam Al Suqami have their bags scanned for explosives, but are not stopped. All five hijackers would need to pass through a security checkpoint to reach the departure gate for their flight. Each would have been screened as they walked through a metal detector calibrated to detect items with at least the metal content of a small-caliber handgun. If they’d set this off, they would have been screened with a handheld metal detector. An X-ray machine would have screened their carry-on luggage. However, Logan Airport has no video surveillance of its security checkpoints (see 1991-2000), so there is no documentary evidence of exactly when they pass through them, or if alarms are triggered. According to the 9/11 Commission, none of the checkpoint supervisors later recall seeing any of the Flights 11 hijackers, or report anything suspicious having occurred. (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 1-2; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 5-6) However, a WorldNetDaily article will claim that some Logan staff members recall seeing Mohamed Atta (see (6:50 a.m.-7:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sperry 9/21/2001) The Boston Globe will later comment, “aviation specialists have said it is unlikely that more rigorous attention to existing rules would have thwarted the 10 hijackers who boarded two jets at Logan on Sept. 11. At the time, the knives and box-cutters they were carrying were permitted.” (Carroll 10/17/2001)

Jackie Chan.Jackie Chan. [Source: Reuters]A scene for a Hollywood movie about a terrorist plot to blow up the World Trade Center was originally scheduled to be filmed at the top of one of the Twin Towers at this time, but the filming has been canceled because the script for the scene is late to arrive. (ABC News 9/19/2001; Empire 9/19/2001; Moore 9/27/2002) The action-comedy movie, titled Nosebleed, which was written in 1999 (see February 1999-September 11, 2001), is set to feature the well-known martial artist and actor Jackie Chan as a window washer at the WTC who uncovers a terrorist plot to bomb the Twin Towers. (Carver and Petrikin 2/7/1999; Jensen and Svetkey 9/24/2001)
Actor 'Would Probably Have Died' if Filming Took Place - Chan will later tell the Hong Kong newspaper Oriental Daily News, “Filming was scheduled to have taken place at 7:00 a.m. [on September 11] and… I had to be at the top of one of the towers for one of the scenes.” (ABC News 9/19/2001; Empire 9/19/2001) The scene, Chan will say, was going to be filmed at the “Top of the World restaurant.” (Moore 9/27/2002) Presumably he is referring to Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the North Tower. Everyone who is in Windows on the World when Flight 11 hits the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001) will subsequently die. (NPR 9/11/2003) Chan will comment, “I would probably have died if the shooting had gone ahead as planned.” Today’s filming at the WTC has been canceled, reportedly because the script for the scene that would have been filmed is late. (ABC News 9/19/2001; Empire 9/19/2001) “The action was good, but, somehow, the script not ready,” Chan will say.
Actor Is in Canada for Another Film - Instead of doing the scene for Nosebleed, Chan is in Toronto, Canada, where filming began the previous day for another movie he is starring in. That movie, The Tuxedo, is an action-comedy that Steven Spielberg is involved in producing. Chan will say of The Tuxedo, “I only did this movie because Steven Spielberg asked me himself.” (Tourtellotte 6/17/2001; Bickley 7/11/2001; Moore 9/27/2002) He will recall learning of the attacks in New York during filming, saying: “After the first shot, I turned around and everyone was looking at one monitor, and nobody had responded to me. They said, ‘Jackie, a plane crashed into the World Trade Center.’ Then we [saw] the second plane crash. We knew it was a terrorist attack and everyone started crying.” Chan will add, “The whole day I was like a walking dead man.” (Klass 9/23/2002)
Actor Learned 'Secrets' of the WTC in Preparation for Film - Chan has done a lot of groundwork for Nosebleed. “We had visited the [WTC] before September 11,” he will recall. “The producer. My manager. We had dinner upstairs. We were getting all kinds of information. I was going to play a window washer, so they were telling me things like how many windows the building had.” Chan has therefore learned “the ‘secrets’ of the towers—how air pressure was regulated with doors that might be useful as gags in one of his trademark fights—which sides of the buildings one could work on to avoid the wind,” according to the Orlando Sentinel. (Moore 9/27/2002; Denerstein 9/28/2002) Production of Nosebleed will be canceled as a result of the 9/11 attacks. (Aberman 10/24/2001; Hoberman 12/4/2001)

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