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Context of 'December 23, 1998-January 12, 1999: Plan to Attack Bin Laden with Special Aircraft Is Proposed but Not Pursued'

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Richard Blee in 1976.Richard Blee in 1976. [Source: Phi Kappa Psi]Richard Blee, a CIA officer who will later go on to head the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit before 9/11 (see June 1999), serves in the Central African Republic. The State Department’s September 1984, January 1985, May 1985, and September 1986 publications “Key Officers of Foreign Service Posts” will list Blee as the consular officer at the US embassy in Bangui. [US Department of State, 9/1984, pp. 12; US Department of State, 1/1985, pp. 12; US Department of State, 5/1985, pp. 12; US Department of State, 9/1986, pp. 12] However, given his CIA affiliation he is presumably attached to the CIA station there.

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Blee, CIA Bangui Station, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Misc Entries

Richard Blee, a CIA officer who will later go on to head the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit before 9/11 (see June 1999), serves in Niger. The State Department’s May 1989, September 1989, January 1990, September 1990, and January 1991 publications “Key Officers of Foreign Service Posts” will list him as the political officer at the US embassy in Niamey. [US Department of State, 5/1989, pp. 35; US Department of State, 9/1989, pp. 35; US Department of State, 1/1990, pp. 35; US Department of State, 9/1990, pp. 32; US Department of State, 1/1991, pp. 62] However, given his CIA affiliation, Blee is presumably attached to the CIA station there.

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Richard Blee, CIA Niamey Station, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Misc Entries

A large rally for the FIS on January 9, 1992, in Algiers, Algeria. A large rally for the FIS on January 9, 1992, in Algiers, Algeria. [Source: Gyori Antoine / Corbis]Starting in 1989, the Algerian government allows political reform and elections. The country has been ruled by one party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), since independence. In June 1990, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won by large margins in local elections. Journalist Jonathan Randal will later comment that “the outcome was more a massive no-confidence vote against the corrupt, incompetent, and self-satisfied secular establishment than an endorsement of an Islamic republic.” In legislative elections in December 1991, the FIS wins again. They seem poised to win a runoff election one month later that would put them in power. But on January 11, 1992, the army stages a coup, overthrowing President Chadli Benjedid and canceling the runoff elections. Within months, the FIS is banned, its local officials elected in 1990 are removed from office, and tens of thousands of suspected sympathizers imprisoned and often tortured. Radical Islamists go underground and launch a number of violent militant groups. Over 150,000 will die over the next decade. [Randal, 2005, pp. 165-167]

Entity Tags: Chadli Benjedid, National Liberation Front, Islamic Salvation Front

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After the Taliban takes control of the area around Kandahar, Afghanistan, in September 1994, prominent Persian Gulf state officials and businessmen, including high-ranking United Arab Emirates and Saudi government ministers such as Saudi Intelligence Minister Prince Turki al-Faisal, frequently secretly fly into Kandahar on state and private jets for bird hunting expeditions. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] General Wayne Downing, who will later serve as one of President Bush’s counterterrorism “tsars,” says: “They would go out and see Osama, spend some time with him, talk with him, you know, live out in the tents, eat the simple food, engage in falconing, some other pursuits, ride horses.” [MSNBC, 9/5/2003] One noted visitor is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Defense Minister and Crown Prince for the emirate of Dubai. Another is Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ruler of the UAE. While there, some develop ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda and give them money. Both Osama bin Laden and Taliban ruler Mullah Omar sometimes participate in these hunting trips. Al Maktoum allegedly hunts with bin Laden once in 1999 (see 1999). [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 120-121] On one occasion in 1999, the US will decide not to attack bin Laden with a missile because he’s bird hunting with important members of the UAE’s royal family (see February 11, 1999). US and Afghan officials suspect that the dignitaries’ outbound jets may also have smuggle out al-Qaeda and Taliban personnel. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] The CIA also develops suspicions that many royals use the hunting trips as cover to fly out of Afghanistan with large amounts of heroin, but they are unable to prove it (see 1998).

Entity Tags: Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Turki al-Faisal, Taliban, Al-Qaeda, United Arab Emirates, Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Wayne Downing

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA proposes a policy of abducting Islamic Jihad militants and sending them to Egypt which will soon be approved by President Bill Clinton (see June 21, 1995). The Clinton administration began a policy of allowing abductions, known as “renditions,” in 1993 (see 1993). At first, renditions were rarely used because few countries wanted the suspects. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is one of the architects of a 1995 agreement with Egypt to send rendered militants there. He will later recall: “It was begun in desperation.… We were turning into voyeurs. We knew where these people were, but we couldn’t capture them because we had nowhere to take them,” due to legal and diplomatic complications. The CIA realized that “we had to come up with a third party.” Egypt was the obvious choice because the Islamic Jihad is the prime political enemy of the Egyptian government, and many Islamic Jihad militants also work for al-Qaeda, an enemy of the US.
Turning a Blind Eye - However, the Egyptian secret police force, the Mukhabarat, is notorious for its torture of prisoners. As part of the program, the US helps track, capture, and transport suspects to Egypt (see Before Summer 1995) and then turns a blind eye while the Egyptians torture them. Scheuer claims the US could give the Egyptian interrogators questions they wanted put to the detainees in the morning and get answers by the evening. Because torture is illegal in the US, US officials are never present when the torture is done. Further, the CIA only abducts suspects who have already been convicted in absentia. Talaat Fouad Qassem is the first known person the CIA renders to Egypt (see September 13, 1995). But the number of renditions greatly increases in 1998, when the CIA gets a list of Islamic Jihad operatives around the world (see Late August 1998). These renditions result in a big trial in Egypt in 1999 that effectively destroys Islamic Jihad as a major force in that country (see 1999). [New Yorker, 2/8/2005]
CIA, NSC, Justice Department Lawyers Consulted - Scheuer will say that lawyers inside and outside the CIA are intensively consulted about the program: “There is a large legal department within the Central Intelligence Agency, and there is a section of the Department of Justice that is involved in legal interpretations for intelligence work, and there is a team of lawyers at the National Security Council, and on all of these things those lawyers are involved in one way or another and have signed off on the procedure. The idea that somehow this is a rogue operation that someone has dreamed up is just absurd.” [Grey, 2007, pp. 140-141]
Leadership of Program - The rendition program does not focus solely on al-Qaeda-linked extremists, and other suspected terrorists are also abducted. Scheuer will later tell Congress, “I authored it and then ran and managed it against al-Qaeda leaders and other Sunni Islamists from August 1995, until June 1999.” [US Congress, 4/17/2007 pdf file] A dedicated Renditions Branch will be established at CIA headquarters in 1997 (see 1997), but the relationship between Scheuer and its manager is not known—it is unclear whether this manager is a subordinate, superior, or equal of Scheuer, or whether Scheuer takes on this responsibility as well. After Scheuer is fired as unit chief in May 1999 (see June 1999), his role in the rendition program will presumably be passed on to his successor, Richard Blee, who will go on to be involved in rendition after 9/11 (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). In a piece apparently about Blee, journalist Ken Silverstein will say that he “oversaw… the [Counterterrorist Center] branch that directed renditions.” [Harper's, 1/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Mukhabarat (Egypt), Richard Blee, Islamic Jihad, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Egypt, Michael Scheuer

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

During Michael Scheuer’s time as head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit Alec Station from 1996 to 1999 (see February 1996 and June 1999), the unit has conflicts with other parts of the US intelligence community. Scheuer has an angry and dogmatic style that sometimes alienates people.
Conflict with Counterterrorism 'Tsar' Clarke - Scheuer and Richard Clarke, the US counterterrorism “tsar,” do not get along, even though both are among the first people in government to take the Osama bin Laden threat seriously. Clarke can also be abrasive. One former CIA insider will later say, “I can say that, among individuals that I tend to trust, Clarke was regarded as more serious about terrorism in the 1990s than just about anybody else in the US government, but he was a truly painful individual to work with.” Clarke will later similarly criticize Scheuer, saying: “Throwing tantrums and everything doesn’t help.… [You shouldn’t be] so dysfunctional within your agency that you’re making it harder to get something done.” And Scheuer will later criticize Clarke, saying: “[He] was an interferer of the first level, in terms of talking about things that he knew nothing about and killing them.… He was always playing the FBI off against us or us against the NSA.”
Conflict with the FBI - The bin Laden unit does not get along with some FBI agents assigned to it as well. From the very start, some FBI officials, including bin Laden expert John O’Neill, resist cooperating with the unit. CIA official John MacGaffin will later claim, “O’Neill just fought it and fought it [cooperating with Alec Station].” O’Neill and Scheuer “were at each other’s throats.” On one occasion an FBI agent at the bin Laden unit is caught hiding CIA files inside his shirt to take them back to O’Neill. Scheuer will also claim that the FBI rarely follows up leads the bin Laden unit sends it. Furthermore, the FBI never shares information. “I bet we sent 700 or 800 requests for information to the FBI, and we never got an answer to any of them,” Scheuer says.
Conflicts with CIA Higher-Ups - The bin Laden unit also has conflicts with others within the CIA, including powerful superiors. An incident in 1996 leads to a breakdown of trust between Scheuer and his superiors (see 1996). John MacGaffin, who is a top CIA official for clandestine operations at the time, will later say of Scheuer, “He’s a good guy, [but] he’s an angry guy.”
Situation Improves after Scheuer - In June 1999, Richard Blee replaces Scheuer as head of the bin Laden unit, and he will stay involved in the bin Laden issue until after 9/11 (see December 9, 2001). Vanity Fair will later comment that Blee “was just as heated up over bin Laden as Scheuer had been, but obviously less likely to cause the kind of friction that would discomfit the [CIA director].” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]

Entity Tags: John MacGaffin, Alec Station, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Blee, Richard A. Clarke, John O’Neill, Michael Scheuer, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Imagery of bin Laden’s Tarnak Farms compound prepared for the aborted operation.Imagery of bin Laden’s Tarnak Farms compound prepared for the aborted operation. [Source: CBC]In 1997 and early 1998, the US develops a plan to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. A CIA-owned aircraft is stationed in a nearby country, ready to land on a remote landing strip long enough to pick him up. However, problems with having to hold bin Laden too long in Afghanistan make the operation unlikely. The plan morphs into using a team of Afghan informants to kidnap bin Laden from inside his heavily defended Tarnak Farm complex. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, calls the plan “the perfect operation.” Gary Schroen, the lead CIA officer in the field, agrees, and gives it about a 40 percent chance of succeeding. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 220-221; Washington Post, 2/22/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] The Pentagon also reviews the plan, finding it well crafted. In addition, there is “plausible denialability,” as the US could easily distance itself from the raid. Scheuer will comment, “It was the perfect capture operation becauase even if it went completely wrong and people got killed, there was no evidence of a US hand.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 192] However, higher-ups at the CIA are skeptical of the plan and worry that innocent civilians might die. The plan is given to CIA Director George Tenet for approval, but he rejects it without showing it to President Clinton. He considers it unlikely to succeed and decides the Afghan allies are too unreliable. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 220-221; Washington Post, 2/22/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Additionally, earlier in May 1998, the Saudis promised to try to bribe the Taliban and try bin Laden themselves, and apparently Tenet preferred this plan (see May 1998). Scheuer is furious. After 9/11 he will complain, “We had more intelligence against this man and organization than we ever had on any other group we ever called a terrorist group, and definitive and widely varied [intelligence] across all the ends, and I could not understand why they didn’t take the chance.” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] There will be later speculation that the airstrip used for these purposes is occupied and will be used as a base of operations early in the post-9/11 Afghan war. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Beginning in 1998, if not before, Uzbekistan and the CIA secretly create a joint counterterrorist strike force, funded and trained by the CIA. This force conducts joint covert operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. [Times of India, 10/14/2001; Washington Post, 10/14/2001; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] In February 1999, radical Muslims fail in an attempt to assassinate Islam Karimov, the leader of Uzbekistan, leading to a crackdown on Uzbek militants. CIA counterterrorism head Cofer Black and bin Laden unit chief Richard Blee see this as an opportunity to increase co-operation with Uzbekistan, and fly to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent to seal an agreement with Karimov. One hope is that a strike force will be established to snatch Osama bin Laden or one of his lieutenants. Karimov also allows CIA transit and helicopter operations at Uzbek air bases, as well as the installation of CIA and NSA monitoring equipment to intercept Taliban and al-Qaeda communications. The CIA is pleased with the new allies, thinking them better than Pakistan’s ISI, but at the White House some National Security Council members are skeptical. One will comment, “Uzbek motivations were highly suspect to say the least.” There are also worries about Uzbek corruption, human rights abuses, and scandal. [Coll, 2004, pp. 456-460]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Richard Blee, Uzbekistan, United States, Cofer Black, Islam Karimov, Alec Station, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, later will claim that in a one-year period starting in May 1998, the CIA gives the US government “about ten chances to capture bin Laden or kill him with military means. In all instances, the decision was made that the ‘intelligence was not good enough.’ This assertion cannot be debated publicly without compromising sources and methods. What can be said, however, is that in all these cases there was more concern expressed by senior bureaucrats and policymakers about how international opinion would react to a US action than there was concern about what might happen to Americans if they failed to act. Indeed, on one occasion these senior leaders decided it was more important to avoid hitting a structure near bin Laden’s location with shrapnel, than it was to protect Americans.” He will later list six of the attempts in a book:
bullet May 1998: a plan to capture bin Laden at his compound south of Kandahar, canceled at the last minute (see 1997-May 29, 1998).
bullet September 1998: a capture opportunity north of Kandahar, presumably by Afghan tribals working for the CIA (see September-October 1998).
bullet December 1998: canceled US missile strike on the governor’s palace in Kandahar (see December 18-20, 1998).
bullet February 1999: Military attack opportunity on governor’s residence in Herat (see February 1999).
bullet February 1999: Multiple military attack opportunities at a hunting camp near Kandahar attended by United Arab Emirates royals (see February 11, 1999).
bullet May 1999: Military attack opportunities on five consecutive nights in Kandahar (see May 1999).
bullet Also in late August 1998, there is one failed attempt to kill bin Laden.(see August 20, 1998) [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004; Scheuer, 2008, pp. 284]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later will strongly disagree with Scheuer’s assessment, claiming that the intelligence needed for such an attack on bin Laden was never very good. But he will also point out that the National Security Council and White House never killed any of the operations Scheuer wanted. It was always CIA Director George Tenet and other top CIA leaders who rejected the proposals. Scheuer will agree that it was always Tenet who turned down the operations. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, George J. Tenet, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Clinton administration, National Security Council, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Relations between Taliban head Mullah Omar and bin Laden grow tense, and Omar discusses a secret deal with the Saudis, who have urged the Taliban to expel bin Laden from Afghanistan. Head of Saudi intelligence Prince Turki al-Faisal travels to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and brokers the deal. According to Turki, he seeks to have the Taliban turn bin Laden over to Saudi custody. Omar agrees in principle, but requests that the parties establish a joint commission to work out how bin Laden would be dealt with in accordance with Islamic law. [Coll, 2004, pp. 400-02] Note that some reports of a meeting around this time—and the deal discussed—vary dramtically from Turki’s version (see May 1996 and July 1998). If this version is correct, before a deal can be reached, the US strikes Afghanistan in August in retaliation for the US African embassy bombings (see August 20, 1998), driving Omar and bin Laden back together. Turki later states that “the Taliban attitude changed 180 degrees,” and that Omar is “absolutely rude” to him when he visits again in September (see Mid-September 1998). [Guardian, 11/5/2001; London Times, 8/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Turki al-Faisal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sayyid Iskandar Suliman. This picture is from a poor photocopy of his passport found in Sudanese intelligence files.Sayyid Iskandar Suliman. This picture is from a poor photocopy of his passport found in Sudanese intelligence files. [Source: Public domain via Richard Miniter]On August 4, 1998, Sudanese immigration suspects two men, Sayyid Nazir Abbass and Sayyid Iskandar Suliman, arriving in Sudan, apparently due to something in their Pakistani passports. They attempt to rent an apartment overlooking the US embassy. Three days later, US embassies are bombed in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Within hours, Sudanese officials arrest Abbass and Suliman. The two of them had just come from Kenya, and one of them quickly admits to staying in the same hotel in Kenya as some of the embassy bombers. Sudanese intelligence believes they are al-Qaeda operatives involved in the bombings. [Observer, 9/30/2001; Vanity Fair, 1/2002; Randal, 2005, pp. 132-135] The US embassy in Sudan has been shut down for several years. But around August 14, a Sudanese intelligence official contacts an intermediary and former White House employee named Janet McElligott and gives her a vague message that Sudan is holding important suspects and the FBI should send a team immediately to see if they want to take custody of them. [Randal, 2005, pp. 132-135] The FBI wants the two men, but on August 17, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright forbids their extradition. The US has decided to bomb a factory in Sudan in retaliation for the embassy bombings instead of cooperating with Sudan. But FBI agent John O’Neill is not yet aware of Albright’s decision, and word of the Sudanese offer reaches him on August 19. He wants immediate approval to arrest the two suspects and flies to Washington that evening to discuss the issue with counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. But Clarke tells O’Neill to speak to Attorney General Janet Reno. Later that night, O’Neill talks to Reno and she tells him that the decision to retaliate against Sudan instead has already been made. Mere hours later, the US attack a factory in Sudan with cruise missiles (see August 20, 1998). Within days, it becomes apparent that the factory had no link to al-Qaeda (see September 23, 1998), and no link between the bombings and the Sudanese government will emerge (although Sudan harbored bin Laden until 1996). [Randal, 2005, pp. 132-138] The Sudanese will continue to hold the two men in hopes to make a deal with the US. But the US is not interested, so after two weeks they are send to Pakistan and set free there (see August 20-September 2, 1998).

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Sayyid Nazir Abbass, Sayyid Iskandar Suliman, Sudan, Osama bin Laden, Janet Reno, John O’Neill, Madeleine Albright, Richard A. Clarke, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

President Clinton is aware of the links between the Pakistani ISI, Taliban, and al-Qaeda. In his 2005 autobiography, he will explain why he did not warn the Pakistani government more than several minutes in advance that it was firing missiles over Pakistan in an attempt to hit Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998). He will write: “Although we were trying to work with Pakistan to defuse tensions on the Indian subcontinent, and our two nations had been allies during the Cold War, Pakistan supported the Taliban and, by extension, al-Qaeda. The Pakistani intelligence service used some of the same camps that bin Laden and al-Qaeda did to train the Taliban and insurgents who fought in Kashmir. If Pakistan had found out about our planned attacks in advance, it was likely that Pakistani intelligence would warn the Taliban or even al-Qaeda.” [Clinton, 2005, pp. 799] Despite this precaution, it appears the ISI successfully warns bin Laden in advance anyway (see August 20, 1998). Clinton takes no firm against against Pakistan for its links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, such as including Pakistan on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 1998, President Clinton faces a growing scandal about his sexual relationship with aide Monica Lewinsky, and even faces the possibility of impeachment over the matter. He is publicly interrogated about the scandal on August 17, 1998. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later claim that he worries Clinton might let the timing of the scandal get in the way of acting on new intelligence to hit Osama bin Laden with a missile strike in retaliation for the recent African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). But Clarke is reassured when Clinton tells his advisers, “Do you all recommend that we strike on the 20th? Fine. Do not give me political advice or personal advice about the timing. That’s my problem. Let me worry about that.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 185-186] Defense Secretary William Cohen also warns Clinton that he will be criticized for changing the subject from the Lewinsky scandal. [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 358]
Criticism from Politicians - Clinton gives the go-ahead for the missile strike on August 20th anyway (see August 20, 1998) and is immediately widely criticized for it. In late 1997, there was a popular movie called “Wag the Dog,” based on a fictional president who creates an artificial crisis in order to distract the public from a domestic scandal. Republicans are particularly critical and seize upon a comparison to the movie. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) initially supports the missile strike, but later criticizes it as mere “pinpricks.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 117] Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) says, “The president was considering doing something presidential to try to focus attention away from his personal problems.” [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 358-359] Sen. Daniel Coats (R-IN) says, “I just hope and pray the decision that was made was made on the basis of sound judgment, and made for the right reasons, and not made because it was necessary to save the president’s job.” [New York Times, 8/4/2004]
Media Criticism - The media is also very critical, despite a lack of any evidence that Clinton deliberately timed the missile strike as a distraction. Television networks repeatedly show clips of the “Wag the Dog” movie after the missile strike. New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh reports, “Some reporters questioned whether the president had used military force to distract the nation’s attention from the Lewinsky scandal.” [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 358-359]
9/11 Commission Commentary - The 9/11 Commission will later conclude, “The failure of the strikes, the ‘wag the dog’ slur, the intense partisanship of the period, and the [fact that one of the missile targets probably had no connection to bin Laden (see September 23, 1998)] likely had a cumulative effect on future decisions about the use of force against bin Laden.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 118]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, William S. Cohen, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Osama bin Laden, Monica Lewinsky, Daniel Coats, Arlen Specter, Newt Gingrich

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Through its own monitoring of Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone, the CIA determines that he intends to travel to a training camp in Khost, in eastern Afghanistan. The CIA has to use its own equipment to do this because of a dispute with the NSA, which refused to provide it with full details of its intercepts of bin Laden’s calls (see December 1996). Although the CIA can only get half of what the NSA gets, shortly after the attacks on US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), it determines that bin Laden will travel to Khost the next day. On that day, the US launches several missile strikes, one of which is against Khost (see August 20, 1998), but bin Laden does not travel there, evading the missiles. Some will later claim that bin Laden changes his mind on the way there for no particular reason, but there will also be allegations that the Pakistani ISI warned him of the upcoming attack (see July 1999). [Wright, 2006, pp. 283]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

El Shifa Plant in Sudan.El Shifa Plant in Sudan. [Source: US government]The US fires 66 missiles at six al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and 13 missiles at a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, Sudan, in retaliation for the US embassy bombings. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001] The US insists the attacks are aimed at terrorists “not supported by any state,” despite obvious evidence to the contrary. The Sudanese Al Shifa factory is hit in the middle of the night when it is unoccupied. Intelligence will later suggest that the factory had no links to bin Laden (see September 23, 1998). Between six and 30 people are killed in the Afghanistan attacks. But no important al-Qaeda figures die. [Observer, 8/23/1998; New Yorker, 1/24/2000; Wright, 2006, pp. 285] At least one of the missiles accidentally landed inside Pakistan and Pakistan may have been able to build their own cruise missile from examining the remains. There are additional reports that bin Laden was able to sell unexploded missiles to China for more than $10 million. [Wright, 2006, pp. 285] President Clinton is soon widely accused of using the missile strike to distract the US public from a personal sex scandal (see August 17-Late August 1998).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

State Department official Michael Malinowski.State Department official Michael Malinowski. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]Two days after the US missile strikes on militant training camps in Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998), top Taliban leader Mullah Omar unexpectedly telephones the State Department in Washington. He talks to Michael Malinowski, office director for Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh in the Bureau of South Asian Affairs. Although Mullah Omar does not threaten the US, he suggests that the missile strikes could spark more terrorist attacks. He says the Taliban is open to the idea of establishing a secure communication channel with US officials, possibly through the US embassy in Pakistan (there is no embassy in Afghanistan). The State Department comments, “Omar’s contact with a US official is rather remarkable, given his reclusive nature and his past avoidance of contact with all things American.” [US Department of State, 8/23/1998 pdf file; US Department of State, 1/14/2002] The US then sends the Taliban some evidence of bin Laden’s militant activities (see August 23, 1998), but it appears the secure communications channel never materializes.

Entity Tags: Taliban, Michael Malinowski, US Department of State, Mullah Omar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden’s satellite phone is being monitored by US intelligence at the time of the US embassy bombings in early August 1998 (see November 1996-Late August 1998 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
Washington Times Article Falsely Blamed - On August 21, 1998, an article in the Washington Times says of bin Laden, “He keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones…” The Washington Post will later note, “The information in the article does not appear to be based on any government leak and made no reference to government surveillance of bin Laden’s phone.” Other articles published on the same day make similar claims. However, it will become widely believed that this article causes bin Laden to stop using his satellite phone, which is being secretly monitored by the US (see November 1996-Late August 1998). [Washington Post, 12/20/2005] For instance, the 9/11 Commission will later blame this article and President Bush will repeat the story in late 2005. However, bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone was already widely publicized. For instance, in December 1996, Time magazine noted that bin Laden “uses satellite phones to contact fellow Islamic militants in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.” In 1997, bin Laden actually talked in a CNN interview about his use of satellite phones.
First Mention that US Was Monitoring His Calls in September - It is only on September 7, 1998, after bin Laden apparently stopped using his phone, that the Los Angeles Times is the first newspaper to mention that the US is monitoring his calls. The article says that US authorities “used their communications intercept capacity to pick up calls placed by bin Laden on his Inmarsat satellite phone, despite his apparent use of electronic ‘scramblers.’” [Washington Post, 12/22/2005]
Bin Laden Tipped Off by Missile Strike? - One possible explanation is that bin Laden stops using his phone after the August 1998 missile strike aimed at him (see August 20, 1998) for fear that the phone was used as a homing device for the missiles. The phone was in fact used as a homing device, and Defense Secretary William Cohen publicly acknowledged this by early 2001. The missile strike took place just one day before the Washington Times article. [United Press International, 2/21/2001] In 1998, a US man named Tarik Hamdi delivered a new battery for bin Laden’s phone. A former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center has stated that the battery was somehow bugged to improve US monitoring of bin Laden (see May 28, 1998).
Bin Laden Tipped Off before the Strike? - Another possibility is that bin Laden stopped using his phone just before the missile strike. Sunday Times reporter Simon Reeve claims the Pakistani ISI warned him about the strike hours before it happened, and told him that his phone use was being monitored by the US (see August 20, 1998). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 201-202]

Entity Tags: William S. Cohen, Tarik Hamdi, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Afghan tribal allies of the US apparently make some failed attempts to capture Osama bin Laden around this time. The 9/11 Commission will later report that during these two months: “[T]he tribals claimed to have tried at least four times to ambush bin Laden. Senior CIA officials doubted whether any of these ambush attempts actually occurred. But the tribals did seem to have success in reporting where bin Laden was.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 127] Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, will later list a September 1998 attempt by the tribals to capture bin Laden north of Kandahar as one of the ten missed opportunities to capture him in 1998 and 1999. [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 284]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Scheuer, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

According to Saudi intelligence minister Prince Turki al-Faisal, he participates in a second meeting with Taliban leader Mullah Omar at this time. Supposedly, earlier in the year Omar made a secret deal with Turki to hand bin Laden over to Saudi Arabia (see June 1998) and Turki is now ready to finalize the deal. ISI Director Gen. Naseem Rana is at the meeting as well. But in the wake of the US missile bombing of Afghanistan (August 20, 1998), Omar yells at Turki and denies ever having made a deal. Turki leaves empty handed. [Wright, 2006, pp. 244] However, other reports stand in complete contrast to this, suggesting that earlier in the year Turki colluded with the ISI to support bin Laden, not capture him (see May 1996 and July 1998).

Entity Tags: Naseem Rana, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban, Mullah Omar, Turki al-Faisal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The destroyed Al Shifa factory.The destroyed Al Shifa factory. [Source: Yannick Lemieux]Senior Clinton administration officials admit they had no evidence directly linking bin Laden to the Al Shifa factory at the time of retaliatory strikes on August 20, 1998 (see August 20, 1998). However, intelligence officials assert that they found financial transactions between bin Laden and the Military Industrial Corporation—a company run by the Sudan’s government. [New York Times, 9/23/1998; PBS Frontline, 2001] A soil sample is said to show that the pharmaceutical factory was producing chemical weapons, but many doubts about the sample later arise. [New York Times, 9/21/1998; New Yorker, 10/12/1998] Two anonymous US officials will later tell NBC that the soil sample was not taken at the factory, but across the street. It also comes to light that the person the US thought owned the factory in fact had sold it five months earlier. The Sudanese government asks for a US or UN investigation of the attack, but the US is not interested. [Randal, 2005, pp. 139-140] The US later unfreezes the bank accounts of the factory owner, Salah Idriss, and takes other conciliatory actions, but admits no wrongdoing. It is later learned that of the six camps targeted in Afghanistan, only four were hit, and of those, only one had definitive connections to bin Laden. Clinton declares that the missiles were aimed at a “gathering of key terrorist leaders,” but it is later revealed that the referenced meeting took place a month earlier, in Pakistan. [Observer, 8/23/1998; New Yorker, 1/24/2000]

Entity Tags: Military Industrial Corporation, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Salah Idriss, Osama bin Laden, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke advocates an aggressive approach to dealing with terrorists and countries that harbor them, and says terrorists are likely to go after America’s “Achilles’ heel,” which is “in Washington… in New York,” and “throughout the country.” He makes these comments during a two-day conference on countering chemical and biological warfare, held in Washington, DC. [New York Times, 10/8/1998; USIS Washington File, 10/8/1998]
Enemies Could Target Washington or New York - In his speech at the conference, Clarke says, “The United States can defeat in a conventional war any other military in the world.” Therefore: “Our enemies instead will use unconventional techniques, either exclusively or as a supplement to their attack. They will use terrorism. They will use cyber attack and information warfare. And they will use chem-bio attack.” He adds that America’s enemies “will go after our Achilles’ heel,” which is “in Washington. It is in New York. It is throughout the country. For no longer can we count as a nation on the two great oceans defending us from foreign attack here at home.”
US Willing to Take 'The First Step' - Clarke says that the US government has developed a strategy for dealing with chemical and biological weapons attacks, which includes an aggressive approach toward terrorist groups and rogue states. He says these groups and states “should know that those who engage in terrorist acts, including terrorist acts involving chemical and biological weapons, can be assured that they will pay a high price.” The government’s promise to them is “attack us and you will unleash a relentless and methodical machine against you.” Furthermore, Clarke says, the US is willing to act preemptively: “The United States reserves for itself the right of self-defense, and if that means our taking the first step, we will do so. We will not tolerate terrorist organizations acquiring or maintaining stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.” [USIS Washington File, 10/8/1998]
US Will Target Countries that Harbor Terrorists - In an interview after his speech, Clarke emphasizes that countries that harbor these terrorist groups also risk being targeted by the US. He points to the recent missile attacks against Sudan in retaliation for the US embassy bombings in Africa (see August 20, 1998), and says the US will “definitely do something” about such countries. “The something depends on what the circumstances are.” [New York Times, 10/8/1998] Clarke will repeat his claim that the nation’s “Achilles’ heel” terrorists will come after is “here in the United States” in an April 2000 interview with the Washington Post (see April 2, 2000). [Washington Post, 4/2/2000]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Shortly after an August 1998 US missile strike on Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998), bin Laden stops using his satellite phone, correctly deciding that it was being monitored by US intelligence (see Late August 1998). According to counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, al-Qaeda quickly “developed a system to deceive those monitoring his calls. [But] Western security and intelligence agencies were soon able to monitor the new system, which was based on transferring international calls within safe houses in Pakistan to make them seem like domestic calls.” Other al-Qaeda leaders such as Abu Zubaida will be frequently monitored as they make calls using this new system (see October 1998 and After). Gunaratna later claims to have learned this from a confidential source in a “communications monitoring agency” in Western Europe. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 15-16, 3291] It is not known how long it took until al-Qaeda realized this new system was compromised, but there are accounts of bin Laden and Zubaida’s calls being monitored days before 9/11 (see Early September 2001, September 9, 2001, and Early September 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The governor’s mansion in Kandahar, Afghanistan.The governor’s mansion in Kandahar, Afghanistan. [Source: CBC]On December 18, 2000, CIA receives a tip that bin Laden will be staying overnight on December 20 at the governor’s mansion in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Missile strikes are readied against him. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 130-131] Gary Schroen, head of the CIA’s Pakistan office, e-mails CIA headquarters with the message, “Hit him tonight—we may not get another chance.” However, principal advisers to President Clinton agree not to recommend a strike because of doubts about the intelligence and worries about collateral damage. The military estimates the attacks will kill about 200 people, presumably most of them innocent bystanders. Schroen will later recall, “It struck me as rather insane, frankly. They decided not to attack bin Laden because he was in a building in fairly close proximity to a mosque. And they were afraid that some of the shrapnel was going to hit the mosque and somehow offend the Muslim world, and so they decided not to shoot on that occasion. That’s the kind of reason for not shooting that the policy maker, anyway, came up with endlessly.” [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; CBC, 9/12/2006] Later intelligence appears to show that bin Laden left before the strike could be readied, but some aware of the intelligence felt it was a chance that should have been taken anyway. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 130-131] In the wake of this incident, officials attempt to find alternatives to cruise missiles, such a precision strike aircraft. However, US Central Command Chief General Anthony Zinni is apparently opposed to deployment of these aircraft near Afghanistan, and they are not deployed. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Anthony Zinni, Osama bin Laden, Gary C. Schroen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

An AC-130.An AC-130. [Source: US Air Force]In the immediate aftermath of a decision not to attack bin Laden with cruise missiles for fear of collateral damage (see December 18-20, 1998), the US military looks for other options than the inaccurate cruise missiles. On this day, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Henry Shelton formally directs Generals Anthony Zinni and Peter J. Schoomaker to develop plans for an AC-130 gunship attack against al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan. The AC-130 is an aircraft designed specifically for special forces missions. It can fly in fast or from a high altitude, undetected by radar. It is capable of rapidly firing precision-guided projectiles that are much less likely to cause collateral damage. The two generals do submit such a plan on January 12, 1999, but the plan will never be developed beyond this initial document. One reason is that Zinni is against the idea. Another obstacle is that due to technical reasons the AC-130s would need to be based in a nearby country (most likely Uzbekistan, which is the most supportive of US efforts to get bin Laden at this time (see 1998 and After)). Political agreements allowing for basing and overflight rights would have to be arranged, but there is never any attempt to do so. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 135, 486]

Entity Tags: Henry Hugh Shelton, Peter J. Schoomaker, Anthony Zinni

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Tony Kushner.Tony Kushner. [Source: PBS]Tony Kushner, a Pulitzer Prize-winning American playwright, writes a play in which Osama bin Laden is referred to and a disgruntled character warns that Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban—which will be condemned for harboring bin Laden after 9/11—is “coming to New York.” [Village Voice, 12/4/2001; Washington Post, 12/12/2001; Los Angeles Times, 12/20/2001] The play, called Homebody/Kabul, is about a middle-aged English woman who travels to Afghanistan in 1998 and mysteriously disappears there. Her husband and daughter then go to Afghanistan to search for her. [Cleveland Jewish News, 9/19/2002]
Character Is Told the Taliban Are 'Coming to New York' - In one scene, Mahala, an embittered Afghan woman, complains to Priscilla, the young English woman who is searching for her mother, about the world’s indifference to the brutal rule of the Taliban. “We must suffer under the Taliban so that the US can settle a 20-year-old score with Iran!” Mahala says. Apparently mistakenly thinking Priscilla is American, she continues, “You love the Taliban so much, bring them to New York!” In conclusion, she says, “Well, don’t worry, they’re coming to New York!” [Washington Post, 12/12/2001; Los Angeles Times, 12/20/2001; Kushner, 2002, pp. 85]
Character Jokes about Bin Laden Being Killed - In another scene, bin Laden, who will be accused of ordering the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, DC, is mentioned. Two characters, Quango and Milton, are joking that the United States “has smiled down on the Taliban” up until the previous week, “when America bombed them!” Quango says the Americans killed “quite a number of people” in the attack. In response, Milton jokingly exclaims, “Osama bin Laden!” but Quango comments, “No, they missed him.” [Kushner, 2002, pp. 100-101]
Play Is Written in Response to the US Attack on Afghanistan in 1998 - Kushner reportedly writes Homebody/Kabul partly in response to America’s cruise missile attack on terrorist training camps in Afghanistan, in August 1998 (see August 20, 1998), in retaliation for the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [Los Angeles Times, 12/20/2001; Cleveland Jewish News, 9/19/2002] It is unclear, however, exactly when the play is written. Kushner writes it, or at least starts writing it, in 1999, according to some reports. [Los Angeles Times, 12/20/2001; Metro Weekly, 3/10/2004; Denver Post, 3/16/2011] But according to other reports, he started work on it as early as 1997 or 1998. [Washington Post, 12/12/2001; New Yorker, 1/28/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 4/14/2002; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 2/18/2007]
Writer Will Say that 9/11 Was Foreseeable - Homebody/Kabul will have its world premiere in New York about three months after 9/11, in December 2001. Coverage of the play will be filled with mentions of Kushner’s supposed “prescience” and “prophesy.” [Village Voice, 12/4/2001; Los Angeles Times, 12/20/2001; Observer, 5/5/2002] But Kushner will later dismiss these suggestions. “I’m not psychic,” he will write, adding, “If lines in Homebody/Kabul seem ‘eerily prescient‘… we ought to consider that the information required to foresee, long before 9/11, at least the broad outline of serious trouble ahead was so abundant and easy of access that even a playwright could avail himself of it.” [Kushner, 2002, pp. 144] “So much of [what happened on September 11, 2001] was foreseeable—and had been foreseen by clear-thinking people,” he will explain to the Denver Post. Therefore, he will say, “It wasn’t very hard to smell that particular rat.” [Denver Post, 3/16/2011]

Entity Tags: Tony Kushner, Osama bin Laden, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The US apparently misses an opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. In a 2008 book, Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit until mid-1999, will list a number of missed opportunities to get bin Laden (see May 1998-May 1999). He will briefly mention a “military attack opportunity” at the governor’s residence in the Afghan town of Herat during this month. This is separate from an opportunity to get bin Laden at a bird hunting camp in the same month, which he also lists (see February 11, 1999). But nothing more is known about this opportunity and the 9/11 Commission will not mention it. [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 284]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Michael Scheuer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Apparently, this surveillance photo of a C-130 transport plane from the United Arab Emirates plays a key role in the decision not to strike at bin Laden.Apparently, this surveillance photo of a C-130 transport plane from the United Arab Emirates plays a key role in the decision not to strike at bin Laden. [Source: CBC]Intelligence reports foresee the presence of Osama bin Laden at a desert hunting camp in Afghanistan for about a week. Information on his presence appears reliable, so preparations are made to target his location with cruise missiles. However, intelligence also puts an official aircraft of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and members of the royal family from that country in the same location. Bin Laden is hunting with the Emirati royals, as he does with leaders from the UAE and Saudi Arabia on other occasions (see 1995-2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] According to Michael Scheuer, the chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, the hunting party has “huge fancy tents, with tractor trailers with generators on them to run the air-conditioning.” Surveillance after the camp is established shows the “pattern of bin Laden’s visits—he would come for evening prayers or he would come for dinner and stay for evening prayers.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 192] Local informants confirm exactly where bin Laden will be in the camp on February 11, and a strike is prepared. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] But policy makers are concerned that a strike might kill a prince or other senior officials, and that this would damage relations with the UAE and other Persian gulf countries. Therefore, the strike is called off. Bin Laden will leave the camp on February 12. A top UAE official at the time denies that high-level officials are there, but evidence subsequently confirms their presence. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 192] Scheuer will claim in 2004 that “the truth has not been fully told” about this incident. He will claim that the strike is cancelled because senior officials at the CIA, White House, and other agencies, decide to accept assurances from an unnamed Islamic country that it can acquire bin Laden from the Taliban. “US officials accepted these assurances despite the well-documented record of that country withholding help—indeed, it was a record of deceit and obstruction—regarding all issues pertaining to bin Laden” in previous years. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] This may be a reference to Saudi Arabia. In mid-1998, the CIA called off a plan to capture bin Laden in favor of an ultimately unfulfilled Saudi promise to bribe the Taliban to hand bin Laden over (see May 1998). Many in US intelligence will be resentful over this missed opportunity and blame a conflict of interest with the Emirati royals (see Shortly After February 11, 1999).

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden, Alec Station, United Arab Emirates

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The failure to strike at bin Laden in February 1999, despite having unusually good intelligence about his location (see February 11, 1999), causes strong resentment in the US intelligence community. It is believed that the US held its fire because of the presence of royalty from the United Arab Emirates(UAE), but some felt those royals were legitimate targets as well since they were associating with bin Laden there. Further, intelligence at the time suggests the planes carrying these royals to Afghanistan were also bringing weapons to the Taliban in defiance of United Nations bans. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, is particularly upset. He reportedly sends a series of e-mails to others in the CIA that are, in the opinion of one person who read them, “angry, unusual, and widely circulated.” His anger at this decision not to strike at bin Laden will apparently contribute to him losing his position leading the bin Laden unit a few months later (see June 1999). Some resentment is directed at counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who voted against the missile strike. Clarke was known to be close to the UAE’s royal family. He’d negotiated many arms deals and other arrangements with them, including an $8 billion deal in May 1998 to buy F-16 fighters from the US (see Early February 1999). [Coll, 2004, pp. 447-450] In March 1999, Clarke calls Emirati royals and asks them to stop visiting bin Laden. However, he apparently did not have permission from the CIA to make this call. Within one week, the camp where the Emiratis and bin Laden met is abandoned. CIA officers are irate, feeling that this ruined a chance to strike at bin Laden if he made a return visit to the location. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Richard A. Clarke, Michael Scheuer, Alec Station, United Arab Emirates

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Yellowcake.Yellowcake. [Source: CBC]Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan takes a trip to West Africa. Ostensibly, he is going to oversee the construction of the Hendrina Khan Hotel in Timbuktu, Mali, which he bought the year before and is named after his wife, but it is believed that is just a cover for nuclear-related business. He spends several days in Khartoum, Sudan, where he is spotted touring the al-Shifa factory, bombed by the US the year before in response to al-Qaeda bombings in Africa (see August 20, 1998). In 2006, intelligence sources in India and Israel will claim that Khan actually partly owns the factory. Khan then travels to N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, Timbuktu in Mali, and Niamey, the capital of Niger. Niger has considerable uranium deposits and had been a major supplier of yellowcake uranium to Pakistan in the 1970s. Khan returns to Sudan, where he meets with the Sudanese president, and then returns to Pakistan. He is accompanied by his top nuclear aides and a number of Pakistani generals, and all expenses on the trip are paid for by the Pakistani government.
CIA Investigates Khan Trip - CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame Wilson learns about the trip, and the CIA is so concerned that it launches an investigation, especially to find out if Khan could be buying yellowcake from Niger. Plame Wilson’s husband Joseph Wilson, a former National Security Council official and US ambassador to the nearby country of Gabon who has close ties to important politicians in Niger, and who who has just set up a private consulting firm with a focus on advising clients who want to do business in Africa, is approached by officials from the CIA’s National Resources Division (NR) to visit Niger. The agency asks Wilson, who already has a business trip planned to West Africa, to find out what he can about Khan’s trip.
Illicit Uranium Sales Highly Unlikely - Wilson concludes that illicit uranium sales are very unlikely since the French government tightly controls Niger’s uranium mines and uranium sales. However, Khan’s trip does raise concern that he could be working with Osama bin Laden, because of his interest in the al-Shifa factory in Sudan, and because of intelligence that the hotel he owns in Timbuktu was paid for by bin Laden as part of a cooperative deal between them. The CIA writes and distributes a report on the trip. (In 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee will erroneously conclude that the CIA did not distribute the Wilson-Niger report—see July 9, 2004.) Wilson will keep this trip secret, even refusing to mention it in his 2004 memoir The Politics of Truth, presumably because he signed a confidentiality agreement with the CIA. In 2002, he will return to Niger to investigate if Saddam Hussein could be buying uranium in Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). That will lead to the eventual outing of his wife Plame Wilson’s status as a CIA agent. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 283-285, 516; Wilson, 2007, pp. 358-360]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Osama bin Laden, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

US intelligence obtains detailed reporting on where bin Laden is located for five consecutive nights. CIA Director Tenet decides against acting three times, because of concerns about collateral damage and worries about the veracity of the single source of information. Frustration mounts. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, writes to a colleague in the field, “having a chance to get [bin Laden] three times in 36 hours and foregoing the chance each time has made me a bit angry…” [Coll, 2004, pp. 450; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 140] An unnamed senior military officer later complains, “This was in our strike zone. It was a fat pitch, a home run.” However, that month, the US mistakenly bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, due to outdated intelligence. It is speculated Tenet was wary of making another mistake. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] There is one more opportunity to strike bin Laden in July 1999, but after that there is apparently no intelligence good enough to justify considering a strike. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden, George J. Tenet, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Richard Blee. The only known public photo of Blee is this one taken from a school yearbook, when he was nine years old.Richard Blee. The only known public photo of Blee is this one taken from a school yearbook, when he was nine years old. [Source: Public domain]Following the firing of Michael Scheuer, the founding head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see June 1999), a new chief of the station is appointed. The chief, Richard Blee, worked in Algeria as a case officer during the civil war there in the early 1990s (see January 11, 1992) and prior to his appointment as station chief was an executive assistant to CIA management. [Coll, 2004, pp. 456] He also served on an Iraqi task force attempting to destabilize Saddam Hussein’s regime in the mid-1990s. [Harper's, 1/28/2007] According to author Steve Coll: “Since he came directly from [CIA Director George] Tenet’s leadership group, his arrival was seen as a signal of renewed high-level interest in the bin Laden case. The new chief’s connections presumably would help attract resources to the cause and smooth decision-making.” In addition, “He [knows] the bin Laden issue, he [knows] the Third World and he [does] not mind high-risk travel.”
Criticism of Management Style - However, Blee’s management style will attract some criticism. Coll will say that he is “intense and sometimes emotional and combative” and that he is seen by some colleagues as “typical of the unyielding zealots” at Alec Station. [Coll, 2004, pp. 456, 540] Author James Bamford will comment, “But the most serious problem was [Blee]‘s lack of management, his myopic obsession with bin Laden, and his focus on the fun and adventure part of the job.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 218-9] Journalist Ken Silverstein will say: “[S]ources have told me that [Blee] has frequently been divisive and ineffective in previous positions.… His reputation and relationship with the military, especially the special-ops community, is very bad, based on substantive issues that arose during his time [in Afghanistan and Pakistan] post-9/11.… Another former official called [Blee] a ‘smart guy‘…, but described him as a terrible manager.” [Harper's, 1/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Steve Coll, James Bamford, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Ken Silverstein

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Following the replacement of Michael Scheuer by Richard Blee as chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see June 1999 and June 1999), the relationship between Alec Station and its FBI counterpart headed by John O’Neill does not improve. The relationship between Scheuer and O’Neill was extremely stormy, but Blee’s arrival does nothing to calm matters. As O’Neill is the FBI manager most knowledgeable about al-Qaeda, the combative nature of the relationship may hamper interagency counterterrorism efforts. Author James Bamford will write, “The epicenter of the clash between the two cultures [of the FBI and CIA] was the relationship between [Blee] and John P. O’Neill, the flashy, outspoken chief of the FBI’s National Security Division in New York.” An associate of O’Neill’s will say of Alec Station staff, “They despised the FBI and they despised John O’Neill.” A CIA officer will add, “The working relationships were very difficult at times.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 217-8]

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, John O’Neill, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, James Bamford

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is involved in a reorganization at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) and is merged into a larger group within the CTC. Precise details of the reorganization are not known. When FBI agent Charles Frahm is detailed to the CIA in July 2000 to replace an FBI agent who had previously been deputy manager of Alec Station (see Mid-January 2000), due to the reorganization Frahm is made deputy chief of the larger unit. Presumably therefore, Alec Station chief Richard Blee is now the head of the larger unit. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 229, 231-232, 320 pdf file] The 9/11 Commission Report will refer to Blee as “head of the section that included the bin Laden unit,” and “a group chief with authority over the bin Laden unit,” indicating that his position is indeed upgraded. (Note: this first quote from the 9/11 Commission Report refers to an event in mid-1999. Presumably, there is an error in the timing here by the Commission, as at this time Blee was head of the bin Laden unit (see June 1999), not the larger group. His position appears not to be upgraded until around the spring of 2000.) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 142, 204] Journalist Ken Silverstein will say that at one point Blee holds the number four position at the CTC, chief of operations, which may be at this time. [Harper's, 1/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Charles Frahm, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Richard Blee, Counterterrorist Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Hours after the USS Cole bombing in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), President Clinton says regarding the bombing: “If, as it now appears, this was an act of terrorism, it was a despicable and cowardly act. We will find out who was responsible and hold them accountable.” [ABC News, 10/12/2000] But the US will not quickly retaliate against al-Qaeda, as it did with missile strikes after the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa (see August 20, 1998), despite convincing evidence that al-Qaeda was behind the Cole bombing (see Shortly After October 12, 2000, November 2000 or After, and November 7, 2000).

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), the Clinton administration discusses what standard of evidence it needs to launch a counter-strike against al-Qaeda, which it suspects of the bombing. Following the bombing of the US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the administration fired a number of cruise missiles at suspected al-Qaeda targets (see August 20, 1998). However, the administration decides it must have evidence that bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s leadership has authority, direction, and control of the attack before initiating a response. CIA Director George Tenet will comment: “This is a high threshold to cross.” Tenet will also say that this threshold was not set by the CIA, but by “policy makers.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 128] Although the bombing is tied to three known leading al-Qaeda operatives, Khallad bin Attash (see November 11, 2000), Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000), and Ahmed al-Hada (see November 2000 or After), early on in the investigation, no counterstrike is initiated (see Shortly After October 12, 2000 and Late October 2000). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will express his frustration with the inaction: “[I]n Washington neither CIA nor FBI would state the obvious: al-Qaeda did it. We knew there was a large al-Qaeda cell in Yemen There was also a large cell of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, but that group had now announced its complete merger into al-Qaeda, so what difference did it make which group did the attack? [Counterterrorism staff] had worked around the clock piecing together the evidence and had made a very credible case against al-Qaeda. CIA would agree only months later.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 223] The authors of the 2002 book The Cell will later write: “The links to bin Laden were everywhere. Each of the suspects being held in Yemen had admitted training in the Afghan camps run by bin Laden… neither the FBI nor the CIA was ever able to tell the president that they had direct proof that the Cole was a bin Laden-ordered job, though now, in retrospect, it seems terribly obvious. In any case, even if there had been compelling proof that bin Laden was behind the Cole bombing, there was little chance that the Clinton administration would have launched an attack on any Islamic country while he was trying to get the Israelis and Palestinians to the peace table.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 238]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Richard A. Clarke, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US Army Lieutenant General Michael A. Canavan is appointed associate administrator for civil aviation security at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), a position that includes being the “hijack coordinator” (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Federal Aviation Administration, 11/2000] In early 1998, Canavan participated in reviewing a CIA plan to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. He was then the commander of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), which oversees the military’s counterterrorism operations and covert missions. He objected to the plan, saying it was too complicated for the CIA and “out of their league.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 113] The plan was later canceled (see 1997-May 29, 1998). It is not known if Canavan’s appointment at the FAA is related to his prior involvement in counterterrorism or to any intelligence that al-Qaeda might target civil aviation. He will leave the post in October 2001, after only 10 months, reportedly after clashing with other FAA officials. [Los Angeles Times, 10/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, Mike Canavan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Two unnamed veteran CIA Counterterrorist Center officers deeply involved in Osama bin Laden-related issues are so worried about an impending attack that they consider resigning and going public with their concerns, according to the 9/11 Commission. Apparently they are also unhappy with the Bush administration’s lack of response to recent warnings. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259-260] In a 2008 book by journalist Philip Shenon, one of the officials will be named as Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Alec Station, from 1996 to 1999. The other may be his replacement Richard Blee (see June 1999), the CIA manager currently responsible for overseeing Alec Station. Neither will have commented publicly on their threatened resignations. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 395] However, in 2004, Scheuer will say that on the day of 9/11, he turned on his TV just in time to see the second plane hit the World Trade Center. He will say that at that moment he felt “sadness more than anything else.… I was nearly physically sick that I had neither resigned in 1999 and told Congress what I knew nor resigned and published my book sooner.” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]

Entity Tags: Counterterrorist Center, Michael Scheuer, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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).

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, Khallad bin Attash, Central Intelligence Agency, Tom Wilshire, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Blee, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Khalid Almihdhar, Alec Station, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At around 8:00 p.m., Afghanistan time (11:30 a.m., New York time), Taliban leader Mullah Omar allegedly says, “Things have gone much further than expected.” This is according to what the New Yorker will describe as “Afghan intelligence sources” who monitor the call. (It is unclear what “Afghan intelligence sources” means, since the Taliban control nearly all of Afghanistan at this time, but it could be a reference to Northern Alliance forces; the CIA gave them equipment to monitor the Taliban (see Winter 1999-March 2000).) Omar’s comment takes place over an hour after one of the World Trade Center towers collapsed, which means thousands have been killed in the attacks, not hundreds (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). An Afghan intelligence official will later say: “They were expecting a reaction. But they thought it would be a Clinton-type reaction. They didn’t anticipate the kind of revenge that occurred.” [New Yorker, 6/10/2002] The “Clinton-type reaction” presumably is a reference to the August 1998 missile strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan during the Clinton administration (see August 20, 1998).

Entity Tags: Mullah Omar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the Russian government realizes the US will attempt to push into the Central Asian “Stans”—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—as part of the US effort to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the region. But these countries had been part of the Soviet Union ten years before, and Russia does not want the US increasing its influence there. On September 13, 2001, Russian intelligence officials hold a meeting with Northern Alliance figures and the other governments that support the Northern Alliance—Iran, India, and Uzbekistan. They promise to increase support to the Northern Alliance in an attempt to outbid the US and keep the US military out of the region. Soon after, Tajikistan announces that it will not allow its airspace to be used by US aircraft. But Uzbekistan is the key country, since it has the most military bases inherited from the Soviet era, the largest population, and also a key strategic location. It also has been working with the CIA against al-Qaeda and the Taliban for several years (see 1998 and After). Uzbekistan indicates it is going to allow the US to base some of its military operations there. Realizing that the other countries are likely to follow Uzbekistan’s lead, Russia switches positions and attempts to make a collective offer to the US. On September 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting in Moscow with the leaders from all the “Stans” in an attempt to reach a joint agreement about allowing the US to use former Soviet military bases. A formal deal is reached between the US and Russia on September 22 after Putin speaks to President Bush on the telephone.
bullet The US agrees that its bases in the region will only be temporary.
bullet Bush will stop criticizing Russia for its war in Chechnya.
bullet The US will consult with Russia before taking further steps in Central Asia.
bullet The US will help accelerate Russian integration into Western economic institutions.
bullet Russian commanders who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s give extensive briefings to US Army generals.
By this time, CIA teams are already moving into the K2 air base in southern Uzbekistan. Tajikistan also reverses course and allows the US to use bases there as well. Deals between the US, Russia, and Central Asian countries are initially kept secret from the public. But within days of the agreement between Putin and Bush, newspapers begin to report that US forces are moving into Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Other countries make similar deals later (see September 22, 2001-December 2001). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 69-71]

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, Russia, George W. Bush, Taliban, United States

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, US International Relations, War in Afghanistan

A Mirage 2000-D fighter in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in February 2002.A Mirage 2000-D fighter in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, in February 2002. [Source: Shamil Zhumatov/ Reuters]Witnesses begin to report US military planes secretly landing at night in the Central Asian nations of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The US, Tajik, and Uzbek governments initially deny that any US troops have been sent there. [Daily Telegraph, 9/23/2001; Associated Press, 9/25/2001] By October 5, witnesses say a “huge military buildup” has already occurred. [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2001] In fact, on September 22, the US and Russia signed a secret agreement allowing the US to use bases in the Central Asian countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union, but only on a temporary basis (see September 13-22, 2001). The US then makes deals with individual countries:
Uzbekistan - On October 7, the US and Uzbekistan sign a secret agreement that reportedly is “a long term commitment to advance security and regional stability.” [Financial Times, 10/13/2001] The US is allowed to use the massive K2 (Karshi-Khanabad) air base in southern Uzbekistan. CIA teams begin arriving at the base just days after 9/11, while an agreement to use the base is still being worked out, and by mid-October there are 2,000 US troops there. Germany is also allowed to set up a resupply base in Termez, close to the border with Afghanistan. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 70-71]
Kyrgyzstan - The US begins using the Manas air base in the nearby country of Kyrgyzstan in December 2001. “There are no restrictions” in the agreement on what the US can do with this base, and it will be a “transportation hub” for the whole region. [New York Times, 1/9/2002] The base is only 200 miles from China. [Christian Science Monitor, 1/17/2002]
Tajikistan - The French are allowed to base their Mirage fighters at Dushanbe, Tajikistan. They will withdraw in November 2005. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 70-71]
Turkmenistan - Turkmenistan only allows US overflight rights and support for humanitarian aid to Afghanistan.
Kazakhstan - Kazakhstan initially only allows US overflight rights as well. But in March 2002 it will be reported that US special forces are training troops in Kazakhstan in a secret location (see March 30, 2002). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 70-71]
In early 2002, it will be reported that the US military bases in the region, “originally agreed as temporary and emergency expedients, are now permanent.” [Guardian, 1/16/2002]

Entity Tags: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, United States, Kyrgyzstan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Gary Bernsten.Gary Bernsten. [Source: CNN]Veteran CIA agent Gary Berntsen leads a CIA undercover team, codenamed Jawbreaker, to capture or kill bin Laden in Afghanistan (see September 26, 2001). In a 2005 book, also called Jawbreaker, Berntsen will describe how his team monitored multiple intelligence reports tracking bin Laden on a path through Jalalabad to Tora Bora (see November 13, 2001). He will claim that at the start of December 2001, one of his Arabic-speaking CIA agents finds a radio on a dead al-Qaeda fighter during a battle in the Tora Bora region. This agent hears bin Laden repeatedly attempt to rally his troops. On the same radio, that agent and another CIA agent who speaks Arabic hear bin Laden apologizing to his troops for getting them trapped and killed by US aerial bombing. Based on this information, Berntsen makes a formal request for 800 US troops to be deployed along the Pakistani border to prevent bin Laden’s escape. The request is not granted. Berntsen’s lawyer later claims, “Gary coordinated most of the boots on the ground. We knew where bin Laden was within a very circumscribed area. It was full of caves and tunnels but we could have bombed them or searched them one by one. The Pentagon failed to deploy sufficient troops to seal them off.” Although the area is heavily bombed, bin Laden is able to escape (see Mid-December 2001). [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 43-64; London Times, 8/14/2005; MSNBC, 12/29/2005; Financial Times, 1/3/2006] A Knight Ridder investigative report will later conclude, “While more than 1,200 US Marines [sit] at an abandoned air base in the desert 80 miles away, Franks and other commanders [rely] on three Afghan warlords and a small number of American, British, and Australian special forces to stop al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters from escaping across the mountains into Pakistan.” Military and intelligence officials warn Franks that the two main Afghan commanders cannot be trusted. This turns out to be correct, as the warlords accept bribes from al-Qaeda leaders to let them escape. [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] In 2005, Berntsen will call himself a supporter of Bush and will say he approves of how CIA Director Porter Goss is running the CIA, but he will nonetheless sue the CIA for what he claims is excessive censorship of his book. [London Times, 8/14/2005; MSNBC, 12/29/2005]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Osama bin Laden, Gary Berntsen, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Thomas Franks

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

November 16, 2001: Tora Bora Battle Begins

A US airstrike in the Tora Bora region.A US airstrike in the Tora Bora region. [Source: Gary Bernsten]Heavy US bombing of Tora Bora, the Taliban and al-Qaeda mountainous stronghold near the Pakistani border, begins. A large convoy containing bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders arrived in Tora Bora about three day earlier. The son of a tribal elder later recalls, “At first, we thought that the US military was trying to frighten the Arabs out, since they were only bombing from one side.” Rather than send in US ground forces in large numbers, the US chooses to supply two local warlords and have their fighters do most of the fighting while heavy bombing continues. Within days, a small number of US special forces are brought in to assist the local warlords. One of the warlords chosen, Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, was actually living in exile in France and has to be flown to Afghanistan. He is “known to many as a ruthless player in the regional smuggling business.” Between 1,500 to 2,000 of bin Laden’s fighters are in Tora Bora when the battle begins. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] There are two main mountain passes out of Tora Bora and into Pakistan. From the beginning on this day, eyewitnesses report that the US bombs only one pass. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] The fighting and bombing will continue through early December (see December 5-17, 2001) while bin Laden and most of his forces escape via the other pass (see November 28-30, 2001).

Entity Tags: United States, Al-Qaeda, Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, Osama bin Laden, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

US Marines landing near Kandahar on December 10, 2001.US Marines landing near Kandahar on December 10, 2001. [Source: Earnie Grafton / Agence France-Presse]A force of about 1,200 US marines settles in the countryside around Kandahar, Afghanistan. This will make up nearly the entire US force actually on the ground in the country during the war to remove the Taliban from power. Over the previous week, CIA Deputy Counter Terrorism Center Director Hank Crumpton had been in contact with Gen. Tommy Franks and other military leaders at CENTCOM, arguing that “the back door was open” in Tora Bora and the troops should go there instead. But Franks responded that the momentum of the CIA’s effort to corner bin Laden could be lost waiting for the troops to arrive. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 58] The marines will end up being largely unused in the Kandahar region while bin Laden will escape from Tora Bora. In 2005, Gary Berntsen, who was in charge of an on-the-ground CIA team trying to find bin Laden, will claim that Franks “was either badly misinformed by his own people or blinded by the fog of war. I’d made it clear in my reports that our Afghan allies were hardly anxious to get at al-Qaeda in Tora Bora.” [Financial Times, 1/3/2006] The Afghan allies the US relies on to find bin Laden will actually help him escape (see Mid-November 2001-Mid-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Hank Crumpton, Thomas Franks, US Department of the Marines, Gary Berntsen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Radios, weapons, and simple supplies in a Tora Bora cave allegedly occupied by al-Qaeda forces. Radios, weapons, and simple supplies in a Tora Bora cave allegedly occupied by al-Qaeda forces. [Source: Confidential source via Robin Moore]According to author Ron Suskind, the CIA continues to press President Bush to send US troops to surround the caves in Tora Bora where bin Laden is believed to be hiding. It is about a 15 square-mile area. The CIA issued similar warnings a few weeks earlier (see Late November 2001). Suskind relates: “A fierce debate was raging inside the upper reaches of the US government. The White House had received a guarantee from [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf in November that the Pakistani army would cover the southern pass from the caves (see November 2001). Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld felt the Pakistani leader’s assurance was sound. Classified CIA reports passed to Bush in his morning briefings of early December, however, warned that ‘the back door is open’ and that a bare few Pakistani army units were visible gathering near the Pakistani border.… Musharraf, when pressed by the White House, said troop movements were slow, but not to worry-they were on their way.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 74] But again, no US troops are sent, and Pakistani troops fail to arrive in time. Bin Laden eventually will escape into Pakistan (see Mid-December 2001).

Entity Tags: Pervez Musharraf, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Gary Berntsen on an airplane, date and location unknown.Gary Berntsen on an airplane, date and location unknown. [Source: National Geographic]Richard Blee, head of the Sunni Extremist Group at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and a former head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is made chief of the CIA’s new station in Kabul. Blee replaces Gary Berntsen, who had effectively led the CIA’s war effort against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Berntsen is unhappy with being replaced, saying: “It felt as though someone had just thrown a bucket of cold water in my face. I couldn’t believe they were doing this in the middle of the most important battle of the war.” The battle of Tora Bora begins around this time and, although the US thinks it has Osama bin Laden cornered there, he somehow manages to escape (see November 16, 2001, November 26, 2001 and Early December 2001).
Replacement Decision Is Not Well Received - Berntsen’s staff members are also unhappy with the decision, and slap their hands over their heads and groan when they find out about it. They tell Berntsen, “No disrespect to Rich, but when you leave, we leave.” Berntsen will attribute Blee’s selection to his closeness to CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt, and will also hint that Blee strongly desired the job. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 296-7, 306] Berntsen pushed hard for US troops to be deployed to catch bin Laden (see Late October-Early December 2001), but it is not known whether Blee is in favor of using US troops or not. Blee will also instigate the transfer of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi from the FBI to Egypt shortly after arriving; this is the first such transfer of a major figure after 9/11 (see Shortly After December 19, 2001).
Blee's Replacement - Blee is apparently replaced as chief of the Sunni Extremist Group by someone known only as Hendrik V. (see (Between Summer and Winter 2001)). Hendrik V. will later be replaced by an official known as “Marty M.” before March 2003. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 232, 251] That is almost certainly Marty Martin, someone said to lead the search for bin Laden from 2002 to 2004 (see (Shortly After October 29, 2004)).

Entity Tags: Marty Martin, Gary Berntsen, Central Intelligence Agency, Hendrik V., Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

At some point between the middle of 2001 and February 2002, the CIA appoints a new chief of the Sunni Extremist Group, the part of the Counterterrorist Center that is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit. Presumably this occurs in December 2001, when the group’s former head, Richard Blee, is made chief of station in Afghanistan (see December 9, 2001). However, this is not entirely certain. A 2011 book by FBI agent Ali Soufan will refer to the new group chief as “Alvin,” although this is apparently an alias. A 2007 book by former CIA Director George Tenet will refer to the chief as “Hendrik V.,” apparently a version of his real name. Hendrik V. will have been replaced as SEG chief by another official, Marty Martin, by March 2003. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 232, 251; Soufan, 2011, pp. 376,548] Hendrik V. previously served at the CIA station in Jordan, where he ignored crucial evidence during the investigation of the Millennium Plot in 1999 (see Late December 1999).

Entity Tags: Sunni Extremist Group, Central Intelligence Agency, Hendrik V.

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, captured by Pakistani forces six weeks earlier (see November 11, 2001), is handed over to US authorities at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Two FBI agents from New York are tasked with interrogating him. One of the agents, Russell Fincher, spends more than 80 hours with al-Libi discussing religion and prayer in an effort to establish a close bond. It works, and al-Libi opens up to Fincher, giving him information about Zacarias Moussaoui and the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001). [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 120] But despite this progress, he will soon be transferred to Egypt and tortured there into making some false confessions (see January 2002 and After).

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Richard C. Reid, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Russell Fincher

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

CIA officer Richard Blee, who is now chief of the CIA’s station in Kabul, Afghanistan, objects to the FBI interviewing high-ranking al-Qaeda detainee Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The FBI obtained access to al-Libi after he was handed over to the US, and is obtaining some information from him about Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid, who will be prosecuted in the US (see December 19, 2001). However, according to FBI agent Jack Cloonan, “for some reason, the CIA chief of station in Kabul is taking issue with our approach.” [American Prospect, 6/19/2005] CIA Director George Tenet learns of Blee’s complaints and insists that al-Libi be turned over to the CIA (see January-April 2002), which promptly puts him on a plane to Egypt (see January 2002 and After), where he is tortured and makes false statements (see February 2002). Blee was in charge of the CIA’s bin Laden unit on 9/11 and has only recently become chief of its Kabul station. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 59-60, 297] The FBI, which has long experience interviewing suspects, will continue in its attempts to use rapport-building techniques (see Late March through Early June, 2002), whereas the CIA will employ harsher techniques, despite not having much experience with interviews (see Mid-April 2002).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Blee, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

In the first months after 9/11, the FBI is generally in charge of captured al-Qaeda detainees and the assumption is that these detainees will be sent to the US for criminal prosecutions. However, beginning in January 2002, this policy begins to change. The highest ranking al-Qaeda detainee in US custody at the time, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, is transfered from FBI to CIA custody and then flown to Egypt to be tortured by the Egyptian government (see January 2002 and After). ]]). Also in January, the CIA, not the FBI, begins secretly flying detainees to the US-controlled prison in Guantanamo, Cuba (see January 14, 2002-2005). Journalist James Risen will later comment, “By choosing the CIA over the FBI, [President] Bush was rejecting the law enforcement approach to fighting terrorism that had been favored during the Clinton era. Bush had decided that al-Qaeda was a national security threat, not a law enforcement problem, and he did not want al-Qaeda operatives brought back to face trial in the United States, where they would come under the strict rules of the American legal system.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 28] This change of policy culminates in the arrest of Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). The Washington Post will later report, “In March 2002, Abu Zubaida was captured, and the interrogation debate between the CIA and FBI began anew. This time, when FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III decided to withhold FBI involvement, it was a signal that the tug of war was over. ‘Once the CIA was given the green light… they had the lead role,’ said a senior FBI counterterrorism official.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2004] The CIA decides that Guantanamo is too public and involves too many US agencies to hold important al-Qaeda detainees. By the time Zubaida is captured the CIA has already set up a secret prison in Thailand, and Zubaida is flown there just days after his capture (see March 2002). Risen will comment, “The CIA wanted secret locations where it could have complete control over the interrogations and debriefings, free from the prying eyes of the international media, free from monitoring by human rights groups, and most important, far from the jurisdiction of the American legal system.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 29-30]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Abu Zubaida, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The Defense Intelligence Agency issues a four-page Defense Intelligence Terrorism Summary (DITSUM No. 044-02) stating that it is probable that prisoner Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi intentionally misled debriefers when he claimed Iraq was supporting al-Qaeda in working with illicit weapons. During interviews with al-Libi, the DIA noted the Libyan al-Qaeda operative could not name any Iraqis involved, any chemical or biological material used, or where the alleged training took place. “It is possible he does not know any further details; it is more likely this individual is intentionally misleading the debriefers,” the report says. “Ibn al-Shaykh has been undergoing debriefs for several weeks and may be describing scenarios to the debriefers that he knows will retain their interest.” The DIA report is presumably circulated widely within the government, and is available to the CIA, the White House, the Pentagon, the National Security Council, and other agencies.
No Evidence of Connections between Iraq, al-Qaeda - On the general subject of Iraq’s alleged ties to al-Qaeda, the DIA report notes: “Saddam [Hussein]‘s regime is intensely secular and is wary of Islamic revolutionary movements. Moreover, Baghdad is unlikely to provide assistance to a group it cannot control.” The report also questions the reliability of information provided by high-value al-Qaeda detainees being held in secret CIA facilities or who have been “rendered” to foreign countries where they are believed to undergo harsh interrogation tactics.
Using al-Libi's Information to Bolster Case for War - Information supplied by al-Libi will be the basis for a claim included in an October 2002 speech (see October 7, 2002) by President Bush, in which he states, “[W]e’ve learned that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases.” Intelligence provided by al-Libi will also be included in Colin Powell’s February speech (see February 5, 2003) to the UN. In that speech, Powell will cite “the story of a senior terrorist operative telling how Iraq provided training in these weapons to al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 11/6/2005; Washington Post, 11/6/2005; Los Angeles Times, 11/7/2005; Newsweek, 11/10/2005]
Report Released as Proof of Administration's Reliance on Poor Intelligence Sources - Declassified portions of the DIA report will be issued on November 6, 2005 by two senators, Carl Levin (D-MI) and John D. Rockefeller (D-WV). Rockefeller will tell CNN that al-Libi is “an entirely unreliable individual upon whom the White House was placing a substantial intelligence trust.” The situation was, Rockefeller will say, “a classic example of a lack of accountability to the American people.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/7/2005]

Entity Tags: Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, US Department of Defense, National Security Council, George W. Bush, Saddam Hussein, Colin Powell, Al-Qaeda, Defense Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John D. Rockefeller, Carl Levin, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

With US troops already in many Central Asian countries, US Special Forces are now reportedly training Kazakhstan troops in a secret location. [London Times, 3/30/2002] An anonymous source in the Kazakh government previously stated, “It is clear that the continuing war in Afghanistan is no more than a veil for the US to establish political dominance in the region. The war on terrorism is only a pretext for extending influence over our energy resources.” [Observer, 1/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Kazakhstan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

FBI senior interrogator and al-Qaeda expert Ali Soufan, in conjunction with FBI agent Steve Gaudin, interrogate suspected al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) using traditional non-coercive interrogation methods, while Zubaida is under guard in a secret CIA prison in Thailand. A CIA interrogation team is expected but has not yet arrived, so Soufan and Gaudin who have been nursing his wounds are initially leading his questioning using its typical rapport-building techniques. “We kept him alive,” Soufan will later recall. “It wasn’t easy, he couldn’t drink, he had a fever. I was holding ice to his lips.” At the beginning, Zubaida denies even his identity, calling himself “Daoud;” Soufan, who has pored over the FBI’s files on Zubaida, stuns him by calling him “Hani,” the nickname his mother called him. Soufan and Gaudin, with CIA officials present, elicit what he will later call “important actionable intelligence” from Zubaida. To help get him to talk, the agents bring in a box of audiotapes and claim they contain recordings of his phone conversations. He begins to confess.
Zubaida Reveals KSM Is 9/11 Mastermind - Zubaida tells Soufan that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and confirms that Mohammed’s alias is “Mukhtar,” a vital fact US intelligence discovered shortly before 9/11 (see August 28, 2001). Soufan shows Zubaida a sheaf of pictures of terror suspects; Zubaida points at Mohammed’s photo and says, “That’s Mukhtar… the one behind 9/11” (see April 2002). Zubaida also tells Soufan about American al-Qaeda operative Jose Padilla (see March 2002 and Mid-April 2002). In 2009, Soufan will write of his interrogations of Zubaida (see April 22, 2009): “This experience fit what I had found throughout my counterterrorism career: traditional interrogation techniques are successful in identifying operatives, uncovering plots and saving lives.” When the CIA begins subjecting Zubaida to “enhanced interrogation tactics” (see Mid-April 2002), Soufan will note that they learn nothing from using those tactics “that wasn’t, or couldn’t have been, gained from regular tactics. In addition, I saw that using these alternative methods on other terrorists backfired on more than a few occasions… The short sightedness behind the use of these techniques ignored the unreliability of the methods, the nature of the threat, the mentality and modus operandi of the terrorists, and due process.” [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007; Mayer, 2008, pp. 155; New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Standing Up to the CIA - The CIA interrogation team members, which includes several private contractors, want to begin using “harsh interrogation tactics” on Zubaida almost as soon as they arrive. The techniques they have in mind include nakedness, exposure to freezing temperatures, and loud music. Soufan objects. He yells at one contractor (whom other sources will later identify as psychologist James Mitchell—see Late 2001-Mid-March 2002, January 2002 and After and Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002), telling him that what he is doing is wrong, ineffective, and an offense to American values. “I asked [the contractor] if he’d ever interrogated anyone, and he said no,” Soufan will later say. But, Mitchell retorts that his inexperience does not matter. “Science is science,” he says. “This is a behavioral issue.” Instead, Mitchell says, Soufan is the inexperienced one. As Soufan will later recall, “He told me he’s a psychologist and he knows how the human mind works.” During the interrogation process, Soufan finds a dark wooden “confinement box” that the contractor has built for Zubaida. Soufan will later recall that it looked “like a coffin.” (Other sources later say that Mitchell had the box constructed for a “mock burial.”) An enraged Soufan calls Pasquale D’Amuro, the FBI assistant director for counterterrorism. “I swear to God,” he shouts, “I’m going to arrest these guys!” Soufan challenges one CIA official over the agency’s legal authority to torture Zubaida, saying, “We’re the United States of America, and we don’t do that kind of thing.” But the official counters with the assertion that the agency has received approval from the “highest levels” in Washington to use such techniques. The official even shows Soufan a document that the official claims was approved by White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. It is unclear what document the official is referring to.
Ordered Home - In Washington, D’Amuro is disturbed by Soufan’s reports, and tells FBI director Robert Mueller, “Someday, people are going to be sitting in front of green felt tables having to testify about all of this.” Mueller orders Soufan and then Gaudin to return to the US, and later forbids the FBI from taking part in CIA interrogations (see May 13, 2004). [New York Times, 9/10/2006; Newsweek, 4/25/2009]
Disputed Claims of Effectiveness - The New York Times will later note that officials aligned with the FBI tend to think the FBI’s techniques were effective while officials aligned with the CIA tend to think the CIA’s techniques were more effective. [New York Times, 9/10/2006] In 2007, former CIA officer John Kiriakou will make the opposite claim, that FBI techniques were slow and ineffective and CIA techniques were immediately effective. However, Kiriakou led the team that captured Zubaida in Pakistan and does not appear to have traveled with him to Thailand (see December 10, 2007). [ABC News, 12/10/2007; ABC News, 12/10/2007 pdf file]
Press Investigation Finds that FBI Interrogations Effective - In 2007, Vanity Fair will conclude a 10 month investigation comprising 70 interviews, and conclude that the FBI techniques were effective. The writers will later note, “America learned the truth of how 9/11 was organized because a detainee had come to trust his captors after they treated him humanely.” CIA Director George Tenet reportedly is infuriated that the FBI and not the CIA obtained the information and he demands that the CIA team get there immediately. But once the CIA team arrives, they immediately put a stop to the rapport building techniques and instead begin implementing a controversial “psychic demolition” using legally questionable interrogation techniques. Zubaida immediately stops cooperating (see Mid-April 2002). [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]

Entity Tags: Steve Gaudin, Vanity Fair, Robert S. Mueller III, James Elmer Mitchell, Jose Padilla, Abu Zubaida, Ali Soufan, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, John Kiriakou, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pasquale D’Amuro

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The law offices of Mitchell, Jessen and Associates are in this American Legion Building in Spokane, Washington.The law offices of Mitchell, Jessen and Associates are in this American Legion Building in Spokane, Washington. [Source: Brian Plonka / Spokesman-Review]The FBI has been interrogating captured al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida at a secret CIA prison in Thailand and learning valuable intelligence information (see Late March through Early June, 2002). However, the prison is controlled by the CIA and the FBI is only in control until a team of CIA interrogators arrives, which apparently happens around mid-April 2002. The FBI has been using humane rapport-building techniques, but the new CIA team immediately abandons this approach. The team is lead by psychologist James Mitchell, who runs a consulting business in Washington State with psychologist Bruce Jessen (see January 2002 and After). Both worked in SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape), a classified US military training program which trains soldiers to endure being tortured by the enemy. Mitchell and Jessen reverse-engineered the techniques inflicted in the SERE training so they could be used on Zubaida and other detainees. [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007] SERE trainees are subjected to “waterboarding (simulated drowning), sleep deprivation, isolation, exposure to temperature extremes, enclosure in tiny spaces, bombardment with agonizing sounds, and religious and sexual humiliation.” One European official knowledgeable about the SERE program will say of Mitchell and Jessen: “They were very arrogant, and pro-torture.… They sought to render the detainees vulnerable—to break down all of their senses.” The use of these psychologists also helps to put a veneer of scientific respectability over the torture techniques favored by top officials. One former US intelligence community adviser will later say: “Clearly, some senior people felt they needed a theory to justify what they were doing. You can’t just say, ‘We want to do what Egypt’s doing.’ When the lawyers asked what their basis was, they could say, ‘We have PhD’s who have these theories.’” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] But Mitchell and Jessen have no experience in conducting interrogations and have no proof that their techniques are effective. In fact, the SERE techniques are based on Communist interrogation techniques from the Korean War, designed not to get valuable intelligence but to generate propaganda by getting US prisoners to make statements denouncing the US (see December 2001). Air Force Reserve colonel Steve Kleinman, an expert in human intelligence operations, will later say he finds it astonishing the CIA “chose two clinical psychologists who had no intelligence background whatsoever, who had never conducted an interrogation… to do something that had never been proven in the real world.” FBI official Michael Rolince calls their techniques “voodoo science.” In 2006, a report by the best-known interrogation experts in the US will conclude that there is no evidence that reverse-engineered SERE tactics are effective in obtaining useful intelligence. But nonetheless, from this time forward Zubaida’s interrogations will be based on these techniques. [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007]

Entity Tags: James Elmer Mitchell, Abu Zubaida, Steve Kleinman, Michael Rolince, Bruce Jessen, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA officer known only as Paul P., who was chief of station in Afghanistan at the time a subordinate caused a detainee to freeze to death, is promoted multiple times. The death occurred in late November 2002, when an officer named Matthew Zirbel had the detainee, Gul Rahman, doused in water and left with few clothes in the cold at the Salt Pit prison (see November 20, 2002). The station chief was involved in the death and an investigation by the CIA’s inspector general will examine his actions. Nevertheless, according to former officials speaking in 2010, Paul P. “has been promoted at least three times.” [Associated Press, 3/28/2010] The officer will be referred to as “Mr. P” in a post by Harper’s journalist Scott Horton. Horton refers to the Zirbel as “Mr. Z,” indicating that Paul P.‘s real surname may actually begin with the letter P, although this is not certain. [Harper's, 3/28/2010] His first name will be revealed by the Associated Press in 2011. [Associated Press, 2/9/2011] Richard Blee had been appointed station chief in Afghanistan in December 2001 (see December 9, 2001), but would appear to have left the position by this time.

Entity Tags: “Paul P.”, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

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

Entity Tags: Barbara Bodine, George W. Bush, Charles Grassley, David Frasca, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Michael Maltbie, Dina Corsi, Marion (“Spike”) Bowman, Robert S. Mueller III, Pasquale D’Amuro, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow appoints Michael Hurley—a 20-year CIA officer still actively employed—to lead the Commission’s investigation of counterterrorism policy prior to 9/11. This team will be responsible for reviewing the performance of the CIA and NSC (see Around February 2003). Hurley and his team will also be responsible for examining the pre-9/11 conduct of former CIA bin Laden unit manager Rich Blee, even though Hurley presumably served under Blee in Afghanistan after 9/11. Following the 9/11 attacks, Blee was made Kabul station chief (see December 9, 2001) and Hurley served three tours in Afghanistan. According to his biography at the 9/11 Public Discourse Project, “[Hurley] was one of the agency’s lead coordinators on the ground of Operation Anaconda, the largest battle against al-Qaeda in the campaign in Afghanistan” (see March 2-13, 2002). The biography also states: “From 1998-1999, and again in 2000, he was detailed to the National Security Council, where he was director for the Balkans, and advised the national security adviser and the president on Balkans policy. Over the past decade he has been a leader in US interventions in troubled areas: Kosovo (1999-2000); Bosnia (1995-1996); and Haiti (during the US intervention, 1994-1995). Michael Hurley has held a range of management positions at CIA headquarters and served multiple tours of duty in western Europe.” [9/11 Public Discourse Project, 8/8/2008] Author Philip Shenon will describe Hurley as “a battle-hardened spy on loan to the Commission from the CIA.” Besides Hurley, other staffers on the counterterrorism review team are Warren Bass, a “terrorism researcher at the Council for Foreign Relations in New York” who will “focus on the NSC,” and Alexis Albion, a “doctoral candidate in intelligence studies at Harvard” who will be “the central researcher on the CIA.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 87]

Entity Tags: Warren Bass, Philip Zelikow, 9/11 Commission, Alexis Albion, Michael Hurley

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Donald Rumsfeld selects retired Gen. Peter J. Schoomaker as the Army’s chief of staff, bypassing several highly qualified active generals. Schoomaker is the general who failed to locate bin Laden during the Clinton administration (see December 23, 1998-January 12, 1999). Senior defense officials tell the Associated Press that Rumsfeld’s decision to bypass senior active-duty generals in favor of a retired officer is highly unusual and likely to raise eyebrows. [Associated Press, 6/10/2003]

Entity Tags: Peter J. Schoomaker, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Roughly around 2004, the CIA suspects that Osama bin Laden has moved from the mountains of Pakistan or Afghanistan to an urban area in Pakistan. Marty Martin leads the CIA’s hunt for bin Laden from 2002 to 2004. After bin Laden’s death in 2011, he will say: “We could see from his videos what his circumstances were. In the immediate years [after bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora in late 2001] he looked battle fatigued and on the run. He didn’t look healthy. We knew he was moving. But where? We simply didn’t know. Then, he gained weight and looked healthy. I told my analysts, ‘He’s gone urban, moved somewhere stable and safe.’” [ABC News, 5/19/2011] The only publicly known video of bin Laden after December 2001 is one released in October 2004, so Martin presumably is referring to that (see December 26, 2001 and October 29, 2004).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Marty Martin, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Journalist Ken Silverstein writes a piece about a CIA officer who is being considered for the position of station chief in Baghdad (see January-February 2007). According to Silverstein, who uses the pseudonym “James,” the officer is “the son of a well-known and controversial figure who served at the agency during its early years.” Silverstein also mentions the officer’s time managing Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, problems with his management style (see June 1999), his closeness to former CIA Counterterrorist Center chief Cofer Black (see 1998 and After), his work as station chief in Kabul after 9/11 (see December 9, 2001), and his involvement in the rendition of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). [Harper's, 1/28/2007] The officer, Richard Blee, will finally “out” himself in a joint statement issued with former CIA Director George Tenet and Black in August 2011 (see August 3, 2011).

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Ken Silverstein

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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