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Context of 'December 29, 2000: CIA Develops ‘Blue Sky’ Plan to Increase Support to Massoud, Strike Bin Laden'

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ISI Director and “leading Taliban supporter” Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed visits Washington. He meets officials at the CIA and the White House. In a message meant for both Pakistan and the Taliban, US officials tell him that al-Qaeda has killed Americans and “people who support those people will be treated as our enemies.” [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; Coll, 2004, pp. 508-510] US Undersecretary of State Thomas Pickering bluntly tells Mahmood, “You are in bed with those who threaten us.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 409] The US threatens to support the Northern Alliance, who are still engaged in a civil war with the Taliban. A short time later, Mahmood goes to Afghanistan and delivers this message to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. However, no actual US action, military or otherwise, is taken against either the Taliban or Pakistan. Author Steve Coll will later note that these US threats were just bluffs since the Clinton administration was not seriously considering a change of policy. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; Coll, 2004, pp. 508-510]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Pakistan, Mahmood Ahmed, Al-Qaeda, Mullah Omar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

October 12, 2000: USS Cole Bombed by Al-Qaeda

Damage to the USS Cole.Damage to the USS Cole. [Source: Department of Defense]The USS Cole is bombed in the Aden, Yemen harbor by two al-Qaeda militants, Hassan al-Khamri and Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras). Seventeen US soldiers are killed and 30 are wounded. The CIA will later conclude that with just slightly more skilled execution, the attack would have killed 300 and sunk the ship. [ABC News, 10/13/2000; Coll, 2004, pp. 532; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 191] The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) immediately takes credit for the attack. This is a Yemen-based Muslim militant group widely believed to have close ties to al-Qaeda (see 1996-1997 and After). [Guardian, 10/14/2000] The IAA statement is released by its spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997, (June 1998), and December 28, 1998 and After). Abu Hamza says that the attack was timed to mark the anniversary of the execution of the IAA’s former commander (see October 17, 1999). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 184] The prime minister of Yemen at the time of the bombing will say shortly after 9/11, “The Islamic Army was part of al-Qaeda.” [Guardian, 10/13/2001] The US soon learns the names of some al-Qaeda operatives involved in the attack, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Tawfiq bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso (see Early December 2000), and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000). 9/11 hijackers Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see October 10-21, 2000) and Khalid Almihdhar (see Around October 12, 2000) may also have been involved. This is a repeat of a previously attempted attack, against the USS The Sullivans, which failed and was apparently undetected (see January 3, 2000). [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] The 9/11 Commission will later say the Cole bombing “was a full-fledged al-Qaeda operation, supervised directly by bin Laden. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives and equipment.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 190]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khallad bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Islamic Army of Aden, USS Cole, Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim al-Thawar, Khalid Almihdhar, Fahad al-Quso, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hassan al-Khamri, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Following the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), the CIA discusses possible policy changes in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Disappointed by US inaction, Alec Station chief Richard Blee decides “we’ve got to change the rules,” because he thinks al-Qaeda is getting stronger and stronger. This entails enhanced support for the Northern Alliance led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, which is the only credible opposition fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Although some CIA officers still think Alec Station’s staff is “over the top,” both the CIA’s Near East division and Counterterrorist Center chief Cofer Black agree with Blee, and they decide what is needed is aid to enable Massoud to pressure the Taliban, creating the conditions for CIA operations against bin Laden. The list of assistance includes cash to bribe commanders, trucks, helicopters, light arms, ammunition, uniforms, food, and possibly mortars and artillery. The plan will cost between $50 and $150 million, and will include a permanent CIA base in Afghan territory controlled by the Northern Alliance. CIA officers will then be able to accompany Massoud’s men on missions. It takes some time to arrive at these conclusions, which will be formalized into a plan (see December 29, 2000). However, the plan will not be accepted by the outgoing Clinton administration or the incoming Bush administration (see December 20, 2000). [Coll, 2004, pp. 539-541; Washington Post, 2/23/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Counterterrorist Center, Cofer Black, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Shah Massoud, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a plan to “roll back” al-Qaeda over a period of three to five years until it is ineffectual. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The main component is a dramatic increase in covert aid to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to first tie down the terrorists and then “eliminate the sanctuary” for bin Laden. Financial support for terrorist activities will be systematically attacked, nations fighting al-Qaeda will be given aid to defeat them, and the US will plan for direct military and covert action in Afghanistan. The plan will cost several hundred million dollars. However, since there are only a few weeks left before the Bush administration takes over, it is decided to defer the decision until the new administration is in place. One senior Clinton official later says, “We would be handing [the Bush administration] a war when they took office on January 20. That wasn’t going to happen.” However, the plan is rejected by the Bush administration and no action is taken (see January 25, 2001). According to one senior Bush administration official, the proposal amounts to “everything we’ve done since 9/11.” [Time, 8/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Northern Alliance, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Clinton administration, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

National Security Adviser Sandy Berger asks CIA Director how he would go after al-Qaeda if he were unconstrained by resources and policies. He assigns Cofer Black and the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center to develops a plan for the incoming Bush administration. It is dubbed the “Blue Sky Memo.” The CIA presents it to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke on December 29, 2000. It recommends increased support to anti-Taliban groups and especially a major effort to back Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance, to tie down al-Qaeda personnel before they leave Afghanistan. No action is taken on it in the last few weeks of the Clinton administration; and the new Bush administration does not appear interested in it either. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Tenet, 2007, pp. 130-131] The National Security Council counterterrorism staff also prepares a strategy paper, incorporating ideas from the Blue Sky Memo. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Sandy Berger, Richard A. Clarke, Northern Alliance, Osama bin Laden, National Security Council, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Clinton administration, Cofer Black, George J. Tenet, Counterterrorist Center, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Philip Zelikow, who will later be appointed director of the 9/11 Commission (see Shortly Before January 27, 2003), makes public comments supporting the forthcoming invasion of Iraq. Zelikow says that “we’re now beginning to understand that we can’t wait for these folks to deliver the weapons of mass destruction and see what they do with them before we act.” He adds, “We’re beginning to understand that we might not want to give people like Saddam Hussein advance warning that we’re going to strike.” Zelikow will later help draft a policy paper used as justification for the invasion (see September 20, 2002) and will attempt to link Iraq to 9/11 when appointed to head the commission’s staff (see July 9, 2003, January 2004 and January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 128-129, 429]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission holds its first set of public hearings on al-Qaeda and its connections to other nations and terrorist groups. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134]
'Political Theater' - The first person to testify is Laurie Mylroie, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Mylroie’s testimony is, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “a bizarre bit of political theater.” Mylroie, considered by some to be “one of the most influential political academics of her generation, whose research was cited by the United States government to justify a war,” sits in front of the Commission, “spouting what would later be shown to be—and what many experts in the field already knew to be—nonsense.” Mylroie says that both the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993) and 9/11 were planned and carried out by Iraqi intelligence agents, and the planner of the 1993 attacks, Ramzi Yousef (see December 1991-May 1992 and Late July or Early August 2001), and the chief 9/11 planner, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see 1987-1991), were both Iraqi spies. Iraq had planted phony identification documents—“legends”—in Kuwaiti government offices during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990, she says. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134] “The odds are high that these people are not whom they claim to be, and demonstrating that would constitute a clear link between Iraq and the 9/11 attack, as reasonably only Iraq could have created these legends while it occupied Kuwait,” she states. Al-Qaeda was a front group for Iraq in the same way that Hezbollah is a front group for Syria, she claims, and tells the Commission, “We went to war because senior administration officials believe Iraq was involved in 9/11” (see July 31, 2002). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134]
Discrediting Mylroie - Several members of the Commission and its staff are dubious about Mylroie’s claims (see July 9, 2003). Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, one of those who believes her appearance is part of the Bush administration’s efforts to justify the war with Iraq, forces her to admit that “95 percent” of Middle East experts do not accept her theories about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Testimony later the same day by CIA expert Judith Yaphe further discredits Mylroie’s theories (see July 9, 2003). Both Yaphe and Ben-Veniste feel that Mylroie’s theories are shown to be little more than wild speculations with no evidence to bolster them, but the media coverage of her testimony is far different. She is given great credence by almost all of the mainstream media reports of her appearance before the Commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134] Additionally, many of those who lost family members in the attacks are angered by Mylroie’s testimony (see July 9, 2003). Shortly after her testimony, Mylroie’s new book Bush vs. the Beltway will be published, expounding further on her theories. [Washington Monthly, 12/2003]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, American Enterprise Institute, Hezbollah, 9/11 Commission, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Richard Ben-Veniste, Laurie Mylroie, Philip Shenon, Ramzi Yousef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow rewrites a commission staff statement to imply there are ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Zelikow often rewrites many of the staff statements, but usually mainly to improve the style (see January 2004), and the addition of the Iraq-related material is unusual. The statement dealing with Iraq was originally compiled by international law expert Scott Allan, a member of the 9/11 Commission’s counterterrorism investigation, which is a strong focus of Zelikow’s attention. Allan writes the statement on the history of US diplomatic efforts to monitor and counteract al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, and the difficulties encountered by the government in working with “friendly” Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia to keep al-Qaeda at bay. Allan and other members of Team 3 are horrified at Zelikow’s rewrite of this report. Zelikow inserts sentences that allege direct ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see July 9, 2003), suggest that al-Qaeda officials were in systematic contact with Iraqi government officials in the years before 9/11, and even allege that Osama bin Laden had seriously considered moving to Iraq after the Clinton administration pressured the Taliban to oust him from Afghanistan (see April 4, 2000 and December 29, 2000). Zelikow’s additions are subtle and never directly state that Iraq and al-Qaeda had any sort of working relationship, but the import is clear. The effect of Zelikow’s rewrite would be to put the commission on record as strongly suggesting that such a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda—long a White House argument to justify the war in Iraq—existed before 9/11, and therefore Iraq bore some of the responsibility for the attacks. Allan never made any such allegations in his original draft. Moreover, he knows from his colleagues who have pored over the archives at the CIA that no evidence of such a connection exists. Allan and the other Team 3 staffers confront Zelikow on the rewrite (see January 2004), and Zelikow eventually backs down (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), 9/11 Commission, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Philip Zelikow, Osama bin Laden, Clinton administration, Scott Allan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline

Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, finally accepts the fact that he cannot successfully spin or browbeat the commission staff into reporting links between Iraq and al-Qaeda as factual (see July 12, 2004). His most recent efforts to rewrite a report claiming such links was thwarted by angry commission staffers (see January 2004), and for months he has dodged charges that he is a White House “plant,” there to ensure the commission makes the kind of conclusions that Bush officials want it to make. Now, he finally admits that there is no evidence to support the claim of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, although there was some minor contact. Author Philip Shenon will later write: “The intelligence showed that when bin Laden wanted to do business with Iraq, Iraq did not want to do business with al-Qaeda…. Saddam Hussein saw [Osama] bin Laden… as a threat to his own very brutal and very secular rule in Iraq.” The widely reported story about 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta meeting an Iraqi spy in Prague (see April 8, 2001 and September 14, 2001) has been examined and re-examined, and found to be unsupported (see December 2001). Zelikow is forced to admit the reality of the situation. Shenon will write: “Even if he wanted to, there was little Zelikow could do to rescue the administration now…. If Zelikow tried to tamper with the report now, he knew he risked a public insurrection by the staff, with only a month before the commission’s final report was due.” Bush officials are horrified at the prospect of the commission reporting flatly that there are no verifiable links of any kind between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Since the failure of the US to find WMDs in Iraq, the Bush administration has shifted its rationale for invading that nation—now it was a punitive measure against one of the backers of the 9/11 attacks, and senior Bush officials, most notably Vice President Cheney, have been advocating that point for over a year. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 381-385]

Entity Tags: Philip Shenon, 9/11 Commission, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), John Kerry, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Philip Zelikow

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline

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