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Context of 'January 22, 2003: No Evidence of Iraq-Al-Qaeda Collaboration, Says UN Panel'

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Richard Chichakli.Richard Chichakli. [Source: Public domain]In the spring of 1993, Victor Bout moves to Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE), and begins to use it as the central hub of expanding business empire. Bout is an ex-Russian military officer and is rapidly developing an international network to buy, sell, and transport illegal goods, mostly weapons. The UAE is centrally located for his needs, and it has no money laundering laws, low taxes, and very lax banking regulations. Sharjah International Airport has almost no air passenger traffic at the time, being overshadowed by the popular airport in Dubai a short distance away. So the airport establishes a niche as an air cargo hub by offering tax incentives for cargo companies. In 1993, Richard Chichakli becomes friends and business partners with Bout. In 1995, Sharjah airport hires Chichakli to be the commercial manager of a new free trade zone now being heavily used by Bout. Chichakli, a Syrian by birth, has an interesting background. He claims to have been friends with Osama bin Laden while studying in Saudi Arabia in the early 1980s. He will later claim that he used to “sit around and eat sandwiches and sing songs” with bin Laden and his siblings, back when “Osama was OK.” In 1986, he moved to Texas, became a US citizen, and served in the US army until 1993, specializing in aviation, interrogation, and intelligence. He will later claim that he not only served in the US military, but also spent about 18 years working in intelligence (which, if true, would mean he was an intelligence agent when he was friends with bin Laden). Chichakli’s free trade zone is wildly successful. (Verloy 11/20/2002; Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 53-56) In 2000, US investigators will learn that Chichakli is living in Texas again and is still working closely with Bout. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 53) However, no action will be taken against him until April 26, 2005, when US Treasury and FBI agents raid his home and business in Texas. They will seize his computer, documents, and over $1 million in assets as part of an investigation into Bout’s financial empire, but they will not arrest him. Chichakli will not be stopped when he leaves the US several days later. He will move to Syria, where it is later suspected that he and Bout supply Hezbollah with weapons (see July 2006). (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 247-248) Meanwhile, Sharjah and its airport will become a hub for al-Qaeda and the 9/11 plot. By 1996, there are daily flights between Afghanistan and Sharjah, and al-Qaeda uses Sharjah for drug and arms smuggling (see Mid-1996-October 2001). 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will live in Sharjah in 1998 (see July 8, 1999), and 9/11 plot facilitator Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi will be based in Sharjah in the months before the 9/11 attacks. Some of the 9/11 hijackers will pass through there and visit him (see Early-Late June, 2001).

In 1996, al-Qaeda assumes control of Ariana Airlines, Afghanistan’s national airline, for use in its illegal trade network. Passenger flights become few and erratic, as planes are used to fly drugs, weapons, gold, and personnel, primarily between Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Pakistan. The Emirate of Sharjah, in the UAE, becomes a hub for al-Qaeda drug and arms smuggling. Typically, “large quantities of drugs” are flown from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to Sharjah, and large quantities of weapons are flown back to Afghanistan. (Williams 11/18/2001) About three to four flights run the route each day. Many weapons come from Victor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer based in Sharjah. (Pasternak and Braun 1/20/2002) Afghan taxes on opium production are paid in gold, and then the gold bullion is flown to Dubai, UAE, and laundered into cash. (Farah 2/17/2002) Taliban officials regularly provide militants with false papers identifying them as Ariana Airlines employees so they can move freely around the world. For instance, one flight on a Ariana small plane in 2000 lists 33 crew members. A former National Security Council official later claims the US is well aware at the time that al-Qaeda agents regularly fly on Ariana Airlines. (However, US intelligence will not learn of the widespread use of forged Ariana IDs until after 9/11.) The CIA learns of Bout’s connection to Ariana and the Taliban in 1998, but takes no action (see 1998). The US presses the UAE for tighter banking controls, but moves “delicately, not wanting to offend an ally in an already complicated relationship,” and little changes by 9/11. (Williams 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 139) Much of the money for the 9/11 hijackers flows though these Sharjah, UAE, channels. There also are reports suggesting that Ariana Airlines might have been used to train Islamic militants as pilots. The illegal use of Ariana Airlines helps convince the United Nations to impose sanctions against Afghanistan in 1999, but the sanctions lack teeth and do not stop the airline. A second round of sanctions finally stops foreign Ariana Airlines flights, but its charter flights and other charter services keep the illegal network running. (Williams 11/18/2001) About nine of the 9/11 hijackers work at the Kandahar airport in 2000, which is Ariana’s main hub (see Summer 2000).

In 1998, CIA analysts realize that ground crews for illegal arms dealer Victor Bout are performing maintenance chores for Ariana Airlines planes flying to and from Afghanistan. Bout’s air fleet is based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE), at the time, and in fact Bout has been working with the Taliban since about 1996 (see October 1996-Late 2001). The CIA has also been gathering intelligence that al-Qaeda operatives are frequently moving between Afghanistan and the UAE. Ariana, Afghanistan’s official airline, is the only airline making flights between the Middle East and Afghanistan. Therefore, Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, concludes that Ariana is being used as a “terrorist taxi service.” Scheuer concludes that Bout is assisting al-Qaeda. He will later comment that when al-Qaeda operatives would travel through the UAE, “it was almost always through Ariana flights. Since Bout’s operation was working with Ariana, they were part of the same set of concerns.” The CIA also notices an increasing number of Bout’s own planes flying to and from Afghanistan. Scheuer will later say, “Our human intelligence said it was mostly small arms and ammunition, going to Kandahar and occasionally to Kabul.” (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 138-140) However, while intelligence reports on Bout’s ties to the Taliban continue, interest in his activities in Afghanistan fades by the end of 1998. Scheuer will later claim that he tried to raise concern about the Bout flights with National Security Council officials, but saw little interest. “I never got a sense that he was important. He was part of the problem we had with the terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan, but there were so many parts we were dealing with.… [N]o one was going to fall on their sword to get Victor Bout.” (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 143) After 9/11, evidence will emerge that about nine of the 9/11 hijackers worked in the Kandahar airport heavily used by Bout’s airplanes (see Summer 2000).

On August 20, 1998, President Clinton signs an Executive Order imposing sanctions against bin Laden and al-Qaeda. The order gives US officials the power to block accounts and impose sanctions on any government, organization, or person providing “material assistance” to al-Qaeda. Beginning in 1999, mid-level US officials travel to Saudi Arabia and a number of Persian Gulf countries seeking information about charities supporting al-Qaeda and attempting to put pressure of governments allowing such charities to operate (see June 1999). But these governments provide little to no assistance. The New York Times claims that by the end of 1999, “with the [US] embassy bombings receding into memory, the [Clinton] administration largely moved on. ‘These visits were not followed up by senior-level intervention by the State Department, or for that matter by Treasury, to those governments,’ [says] Stuart Eizenstadt, a Treasury official and a participant in the trips. ‘I think that was interpreted by those governments as meaning this was not the highest priority.’” William Wechsler, one US official involved in these efforts, will later claim, “We had only marginal successes.” He will cite the United Arab Emirates imposing money laundering laws for the first time in 1999 and efforts to ban flights by Ariana, the Afghan national airline (see November 14, 1999; January 19, 2001), as the main successes. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later notes that the Saudis promised information and support, but in the end gave little of either. He will claim that they “protested our focus on continuing contacts between Osama and his wealthy, influential family, who were supposed to have broken all ties with him years before. ‘How can we tell a mother not to call her son?’ they asked.” The New York Times concludes that by 9/11, “the assault on al-Qaeda’s finances had largely fallen by the wayside.” (Weiner and Johnston 9/20/2001; Eichenwald 12/10/2001; Clarke 2004, pp. 190-195)

Julie Sirrs.Julie Sirrs. [Source: Julie Sirrs]Julie Sirrs, a military analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), travels to Afghanistan. Fluent in local languages and knowledgeable about the culture, she made a previous undercover trip there in October 1997. She is surprised that the CIA was not interested in sending in agents after the failed missile attack on Osama bin Laden in August 1998, so she returns at this time. Traveling undercover, she meets with Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. She sees a terrorist training center in Taliban-controlled territory. Sirrs will later claim: “The Taliban’s brutal regime was being kept in power significantly by bin Laden’s money, plus the narcotics trade, while [Massoud’s] resistance was surviving on a shoestring. With even a little aid to the Afghan resistance, we could have pushed the Taliban out of power. But there was great reluctance by the State Department and the CIA to undertake that.” She partly blames the interest of the US government and the oil company Unocal to see the Taliban achieve political stability to enable a trans-Afghanistan pipeline (see May 1996 and September 27, 1996). She claims, “Massoud told me he had proof that Unocal had provided money that helped the Taliban take Kabul.” She also states, “The State Department didn’t want to have anything to do with Afghan resistance, or even, politically, to reveal that there was any viable option to the Taliban.” After two weeks, Sirrs returns with a treasure trove of maps, photographs, and interviews. (ABC News 2/18/2002; ABC News 2/18/2002; Sheehy 3/11/2004) By interviewing captured al-Qaeda operatives, she learns that the official Afghanistan airline, Ariana Airlines, is being used to ferry weapons and drugs, and learns that bin Laden goes hunting with “rich Saudis and top Taliban officials” (see Mid-1996-October 2001 and 1995-2001). (Braun and Pasternak 11/18/2001) When Sirrs returns from Afghanistan, her material is confiscated and she is accused of being a spy. Says one senior colleague, “She had gotten the proper clearances to go, and she came back with valuable information,” but high level officials “were so intent on getting rid of her, the last thing they wanted to pay attention to was any information she had.” Sirrs is cleared of wrongdoing, but her security clearance is pulled. She eventually quits the DIA in frustration in 1999. (ABC News 2/18/2002; Sheehy 3/11/2004) Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) will claim that the main DIA official behind the punishment of Sirrs is Lieutenant General Patrick Hughes, who later becomes “one of the top officials running the Department of Homeland Security.” (Dana Rohrabacher 6/21/2004)

William Wechsler.William Wechsler. [Source: CAP]Shortly after the US embassy bombings in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the US launches a new interagency effort to track bin Laden’s finances. There had been a previous interagency effort in 1995 but it had fizzled (see October 21, 1995). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke sets up a task force. He orders it to find out how much money bin Laden has, where it comes from, how it is distributed, and to stop it. Clarke appoints William Wechsler, a National Security Council staff member, to head the task force. The task force begins an investigation of bin Laden’s finances (see Late 1998). Clarke later writes that he and Wechsler “quickly [come] to the conclusion that the [US government] departments [are] generally doing a lousy job of tracking and disrupting international criminals’ financial networks and had done little or nothing against terrorist financing.” (Weiner and Johnston 9/20/2001; Clarke 2004, pp. 190-191) Clarke will later claim there was only limited effort from within the US government to fight bin Laden’s financial network. He will assert that within weeks of setting up the interagency effort, it was determined that only one person in the US government, a lowly Treasury Department official, appeared to have any expertise about the hawala system, an informal and paperless money transfer system used by al-Qaeda that is popular with Muslim populations worldwide (see 1993-September 11, 2001). Clarke will later write that the “CIA knew little about the [hawala] system, but set about learning. FBI knew even less, and set about doing nothing.” The FBI claims there are no hawalas in the US, but Wechsler finds several in New York City using a simple Internet search. Clarke will say, “Despite our repeated requests over the following years, nobody from the FBI ever could answer even our most basic questions about the number, location, and activities of major hawalas in the US—much less taken action.” The efforts of other departments are not much better. The one Treasury official with some expertise about hawalas is eventually let go before 9/11. (Clarke 2004, pp. 192-193) Efforts to pressure governments overseas also meet with little success (see August 20, 1998-1999).

A group of Abu Sayyaf militants photographed on July 16, 2000.A group of Abu Sayyaf militants photographed on July 16, 2000. [Source: Associated Press]In the book “Dollars for Terror” published this year, investigative journalist Richard Labeviere claims that the Philippine drug trade is worth billions of dollars a year and that Muslim militants connected to al-Qaeda have a role in it. “Admittedly, the Islamists do not control all of these flows, but the Abu Sayyaf group plays a big part. Its mercenaries look after the protection of transport and the shipping of cargoes via jungle airports in the [southern Philippines.] By the same air channels, and also by sea, weapons are delivered for the group’s combat unit. This supply chain is managed by Pakistani intermediaries who are trained directly in the Afghan camps around Peshawar” in Pakistan. He does not give his source for this information. (Labeviere 1999, pp. 365) Perhaps not coincidentally, a Pakistani believed to be connected to the drug trade is suspected of helping to fund the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), which was planned in the Philippines with the help of the Abu Sayyaf (see December 1994-April 1995). Victor Bout, the world’s biggest illegal arms dealer, is said to use his network to ship weaponry to the Abu Sayyaf, though details have not been reported. Bout’s network also delivers weapons to the Taliban (see Mid-1996-October 2001). (McNeil 2/27/2002; Abuza 9/1/2005 pdf file) There are many reports on the Abu Sayyaf’s involvement with illegal drugs. For instance, in 2002 a Philippine newspaper will note that the region dominated by Abu Sayyaf has become such a notorious drug center that it is sometimes nicknamed “Little Colombia.” (Sicat 3/13/2002)

Richard Newcomb.Richard Newcomb. [Source: Scott Ferrell/ Getty Images]The US has been pressuring the Saudi government to do more to stop Saudi financing for al-Qaeda and other militant groups, but so far little has been accomplished (see August 20, 1998-1999). Vice President Al Gore contacts the Saudis and arranges for some US officials to have a meeting with their top security and banking officials. William Wechsler from the National Security Council (NSC), Richard Newcomb from the Treasury Department, and others on an NSC al-Qaeda financing task force meet about six senior Saudi officials in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. One US official will later recall, “We laid everything out—what we knew, what we thought. We told them we’d just had two of our embassies blown up and that we needed to deal with them in a different way.” But the Saudis have virtually no oversight over their charities and do not seem interested in changing that. Newcomb threatens to freeze the assets of certain groups and individuals if the Saudis do not crack down. The Saudis promise action, but nothing happens. A second visit by a US delegation in January 2000 is ineffective as well. (Kaplan, Ekman, and Latif 12/15/2003)

In 2008, the website Intelwire.com will obtain a declassified FBI document from this date. The content is heavily redacted, including the title, but the full title appears to be, “Summary of information obtained from the United Arab Emirates with regard to Manila Air fugitive Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.” The document appears to detail a briefing by United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials from the General Department of State Security to FBI officials visiting the UAE. It mentions that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) “who was reported to be in _____ during mid-1998, is still currently living in Sharjah, UAE, with his family.” The report also mentions that “in July 1998, authorities from ______ based on information probably obtained from Qatar, located KSM living and working in ____. After questioning him about his activities with the [Muslim Brotherhood], he was deported to Bahrain.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 7/8/1999 pdf file) The 9/11 Commission will later mention this document a single time, and reveal that one of the redacted sections discusses KSM’s links to the Abu Sayyaf militant group in the Philippines. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 488) Sharjah is a major hub of al-Qaeda activity at this time (see Mid-1996-October 2001), and one of the 9/11 hijackers, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, is from the emirate of Sharjah (see 1980s and 1990s). 9/11 plot facilitator Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi will be based in Sharjah in the months before the 9/11 attacks, and some of the 9/11 hijackers will pass through there and visit him (see Early-Late June, 2001). It is not known what action US intelligence takes in response to this briefing.

United Nations sanctions against Afghanistan take effect. The sanctions freeze Taliban assets and impose an air embargo on Ariana Airlines in an effort to force the Taliban to hand over bin Laden. (BBC 2/6/2000) It had been widely reported that Ariana had become a transportation arm for al-Qaeda (see Mid-1996-October 2001). However, Ariana will keep its illegal trade network flying, until stricter sanctions will ground it in 2001 (see January 19, 2001).

Under interrogation after 9/11, al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash will claim he met some of the 9/11 hijackers at Kandahar airport in Afghanistan in the summer of 2000. Although he will not be able to recall all of them, he will say the group includes Satam Al Suqami, Waleed and Wail Alshehri, Abdulaziz Alomari, Hamza Alghamdi, Salem Alhazmi, and Majed Moqed. He will say he was closest to Saeed Alghamdi, whom he convinced to become a martyr and whom he asked to recruit a friend, Ahmed Alghamdi, to the same cause. However, doubts will later be expressed about the reliability of such statements from prisoners like bin Attash, due to the methods used to obtain them (see June 16, 2004) (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 233-4) Al-Qaeda’s division of passports and host country issues is based at the airport and it alters passports, visas and identification cards. Some people involved in the plot will later be reported to have altered travel documents (see July 23, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 56 pdf file) 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alnami and would-be hijacker Mushabib al-Hamlan are also said to be at the same Kandahar camp, Al Farooq, and are assigned to guard the airport. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 526) By the late 1990s, the Kandahar airport will become the main logistics lifeline for al-Qaeda and the Taliban to the outside world. One Ariana pilot will later recall, “I would see Arabs with [satellite] phones walking around the terminal, in touch with the Taliban at the highest levels.” On one occasion, he sees Taliban ruler Mullah Omar meeting in the middle of the airport with a rebel leader from Tajikistan, surrounded by aides. “There they were, cross-legged on their mats, chattering into cell phones.” (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 140) At this time, the Kandahar airport is being mainly used by Ariana Airlines, which has been completely co-opted by al-Qaeda and the Taliban, and aircraft companies controlled by international arms dealer Victor Bout (see 1998).

New United Nations sanctions against Afghanistan take effect, adding to those from November 1999 (see November 14, 1999). The sanctions limit travel by senior Taliban authorities, freeze bin Laden’s and the Taliban’s assets, and order the closure of Ariana Airlines offices abroad. The sanctions also impose an arms embargo against the Taliban, but not against Northern Alliance forces battling the Taliban. (Associated Press 12/19/2000) The arms embargo has no visible effect because the sanctions fail to stop Pakistani military assistance. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The sanctions also fail to stop the illegal trade network that the Taliban is secretly running through Ariana. Two companies, Air Cess and Flying Dolphin, take over most of Ariana’s traffic. Air Cess is owned by the Russian arms dealer Victor Bout (see Mid-1996-October 2001), and Flying Dolphin is owned by the United Arab Emirates’ former ambassador to the US, who is also an associate of Bout. In late 2000, despite reports linking Flying Dolphin to arms smuggling, the United Nations will give Flying Dolphin permission to take over Ariana’s closed routes, which it does until the new sanctions take effect. Bout’s operations are still functioning and he has not been arrested. (Pasternak and Braun 1/20/2002; van Niekerk and Verloy 2/5/2002) Ariana will essentially be destroyed in the October 2001 US bombing of Afghanistan. (Williams 11/18/2001)

The muscle hijackers arrive in Dubai on their way to the US (see April 23-June 29, 2001):
bullet April 11: It is not known when Ahmed Alghamdi first arrives in Dubai, but he leaves on April 8, traveling to an unknown destination, and returns on April 11;
bullet April 12: Satam al Suqami arrives in the United Arab Emirates from Malaysia (see April 1-May 27, 2001);
bullet May 7, 2001: Ahmed Alhaznawi arrives in Abu Dhabi from Karachi by plane;
bullet May 13: Ahmed Alnami arrives in the United Arab Emirates by plane from Saudi Arabia;
bullet May 26: Hamza Alghamdi enters the United Arab Emirates;
bullet May 27: Abdulaziz Alomari arrives in Dubai from Malaysia (see April 1-May 27, 2001);
bullet June 1: It is not known when Wail Alshehri first arrives in Dubai, but he leaves on May 29, traveling to an unknown destination, and returns on June 1 with Ahmed Alhaznawi, who previously arrived on May 7, but must have left in the meantime;
bullet June 12: Saeed Alghamdi arrives in the United Arab Emirates from Saudi Arabia;
bullet June 28: Salem Alhazmi arrives in the United Arab Emirates from Saudi Arabia. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 42-50 pdf file)
The hijackers typically remain in Dubai for a few weeks before moving on to the US (see April 23-June 29, 2001). While in Dubai the hijackers purchase traveler’s checks:
bullet April 28: Majed Moqed purchases $2,980 in MasterCard travelers’ checks from the Thomas Cook Exchange in the nearby emirate of Sharjah;
bullet May 27, 2001: Ahmed Alnami purchases $10,000 of American Express travelers’ checks and Hamza Alghamdi purchases the same amount of Visa travelers’ checks in Dubai;
bullet June 6, 2001: Ahmed Alhaznawi purchases $3,000 of American Express travelers’ checks in Dubai;
bullet June 7, 2001: Wail Alshehri purchases $14,000 of American Express travelers’ checks in Sharjah;
bullet June 24: Fayez Ahmed Banihammad purchases $4,000 of Thomas Cook travelers’ checks in Sharjah. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 44-48 pdf file)
In addition, Wail Alshehri obtains an international driving permit in Sharjah on June 5. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 47 pdf file) Some of these hijackers are assisted by plot facilitator Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (see Early-Late June, 2001). It is not clear who helps the others, although Dubai-based Ali Abdul Aziz Ali previously assisted some of the hijackers (see June 29, 2000-September 18, 2000), and Saeed Sheikh, who has Dubai connections, may also assist some of them (see Early August 2001). In addition, Victor Bout, an arms dealer who flies shipments for al-Qaeda and the Taliban through the UAE, is based in Sharjah (see Mid-1996-October 2001).

Both Russia and France have recently presented intelligence to the United Nations Security Council documenting that Pakistan is continuing to heavily support the Taliban (see March 7, 2001), in direct violation of UN sanctions (see January 19, 2001). Up to 30 ISI trucks a day are crossing into Afghanistan (see June 13, 2001 and Summer 2001). But on August 20, 2001, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf openly condemns the UN sanctions, saying: “The Taliban are the dominant reality in Afghanistan.… The unilateral arms embargo on the Taliban is unjustified, discriminatory, and will further escalate the war [between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance].” (Rashid 2008, pp. 60, 416)

William Safire’s New York Times editorial published November 12, 2001, in which he calls the alleged meeting between Atta and an Iraqi agent an “undisputed fact.”William Safire’s New York Times editorial published November 12, 2001, in which he calls the alleged meeting between Atta and an Iraqi agent an “undisputed fact.” [Source: PBS]Media coverage relating to an alleged meeting between hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi spy named Ahmed al-Ani took place in Prague, Czech Republic, has changed repeatedly over time:
bullet September 18, 2001: It is first reported that 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta met in Prague, Czech Republic, with an Iraqi diplomat in April 2001. The name of the diplomat, Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, is mentioned in follow up articles. (Gullo 9/18/2001; Lichtblau, Serrano, and Mcdonnell 9/19/2001; CNN 10/11/2001; Safire 11/19/2003)
bullet October 20, 2001: The story is denied by some Czech officials (see October 16, 2001). (Tagliabue 10/20/2001)
bullet October 26, 2001: The story is confirmed by the Czech interior minister (see October 26, 2001). (Tyler and Tagliabue 10/27/2001)
bullet October 27, 2001: It is claimed Atta met with Iraqi agents four times in Prague, and was given a vial of antrax. Atta is alleged to have had further meetings with Iraqi agents in Germany, Spain, and Italy (see October 27, 2001). (McGrory 10/27/2001)
bullet November 12, 2001: Conservative columnist William Safire calls the meeting an “undisputed fact” in a New York Times editorial (see November 12, 2001). (Safire 11/12/2001)
bullet December 9, 2001: Vice President Cheney asserts that the existence of the meeting is “pretty well confirmed” (see December 9, 2001). (Washington Post 12/9/2001)
bullet December 16, 2001: The identities of both al-Ani and Atta, alleged to have been at the meetings, are disputed by a Czech police chief (see December 16, 2001). (Hedges and Mcneil 12/16/2001; Hejma 12/16/2001)
bullet January 12, 2002: It is claimed at least two meetings took place, including one a year earlier. (Johnston 1/12/2002)
bullet February 6, 2002: It is reported that senior US intelligence officials believe the meeting took place, but they believe it is not enough evidence to tie Iraq to the 9/11 attacks (see February 6, 2002). (Risen 2/6/2002)
bullet March 15, 2002: Evidence that the meeting took place is considered between “slim” and “none.” (Ignatius 3/15/2002)
bullet March 18, 2002: William Safire again strongly asserts that the meeting took place. (Safire 3/18/2002)
bullet April 28-May 2, 2002: The meeting is largely discredited. For example, the Washington Post quotes FBI Director Mueller stating that, “We ran down literally hundreds of thousands of leads and checked every record we could get our hands on, from flight reservations to car rentals to bank accounts,” yet no evidence that Atta left the country was found. According to the Post, “[a]fter months of investigation, the Czechs [say] they [are] no longer certain that Atta was the person who met al-Ani, saying ‘he may be different from Atta.’” (Pincus 5/1/2002) Newsweek cites a US official who contends that, “Neither we nor the Czechs nor anybody else has any information [Atta] was coming or going [to Prague] at that time” (see April 28, 2002). (Isikoff 4/28/2002; Pincus 5/1/2002; listed] 5/2/2002)
bullet May 8, 2002: Some Czech officials continue to affirm the meeting took place. (Pitkin 5/8/2002)
bullet May 9, 2002: William Safire refuses to give up the story, claiming a “protect-Saddam cabal” in the high levels of the US government is burying the evidence. (Safire 5/9/2002)
bullet July 15, 2002: The head of Czech foreign intelligence states that reports of the meeting are unproved and implausible. (Swoger 7/15/2002)
bullet August 2, 2002: With a war against Iraq growing more likely, Press Secretary Ari Fleischer suggests the meeting did happen, “despite deep doubts by the CIA and FBI.” (Drogin, Richter, and McManus 8/2/2002)
bullet August 19, 2002: Newsweek states: “The sole evidence for the alleged meeting is the uncorroborated claim of a Czech informant.” According to Newsweek, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz is nonetheless pushing the FBI to have the meeting accepted as fact. (Isikoff 8/19/2002)
bullet September 10, 2002: The Bush administration is no longer actively asserting that the meeting took place. (Priest 9/10/2002)
bullet September 17, 2002: Vice President Cheney and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld “accept reports from Czech diplomats” that the meeting took place. (Diamond 9/17/2002)
bullet September 23, 2002: Newsweek reports that the CIA is resisting Pentagon demands to obtain pictures of the alleged meeting from Iraqi exiles. One official says, “We do not shy away from evidence. But we also don’t make it up.” (Hosenball and Lipper 9/23/2002)
bullet October 10, 2002: British officials deny the meeting ever took place (see October 4-10, 2002). (Huband 10/4/2002; Norton-Taylor 10/10/2002)
bullet October 20, 2002: Czech officials, including President Vaclav Havel, emphatically deny that the meeting ever took place. It now appears Atta was not even in the Czech Republic during the month the meeting was supposed to have taken place. President Havel told Bush “quietly some time earlier this year” that the meeting did not happen (see Early 2002, probably May or later). (Walker 10/20/2002; Risen 10/21/2002)
bullet December 8, 2002: Bush adviser Richard Perle continues to push the story, stating, “To the best of my knowledge that meeting took place.” (Simon 9/5/2002) He says this despite the fact that in October 2002, Czech officials told Perle in person that the meeting did not take place (see October 20, 2002).
bullet July 9, 2003: Iraqi intelligence officer Ahmed al-Ani is captured by US forces in Iraq. (Schmidt 7/9/2003)
bullet July 10, 2003: In a story confirming al-Ani’s capture, ABC News cites US and British intelligence officials who have seen surveillance photos of al-Ani’s meetings in Prague, and who say that there is a man who looks somewhat like Atta, but is not Atta. (ABC News 7/10/2003)
bullet September 14, 2003: Vice President Cheney repeats the claims that Atta met with al-Ani in Prague on NBC’s Meet the Press. He says “we’ve never been able to develop anymore of that yet, either in terms of confirming it or discrediting” the meeting, but he also cites the when making the claim that Iraq officially supported al-Qaeda (see September 14, 2003 and September 14, 2003). (Milbank and Pincus 9/15/2003)
bullet July 25, 2003: The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry makes public its conclusion that the meeting never took place (see January-July 2003).
bullet December 13, 2003: It is reported that al-Ani told interrogators he did not meet Atta in Prague. (Priest and Kessler 9/29/2003; Reuters 12/13/2003)
bullet February 24, 2004: CIA Director George Tenet says of the meeting: “We can’t prove that one way or another.” (Jehl 7/9/2004)
bullet June 16, 2004: The 9/11 Commission concludes that the meeting never happened. They claim cell phone records and other records show Atta never left Florida during the time in question (see June 16, 2004). (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004)
bullet June 17, 2004: Vice President Cheney says no one has “been able to confirm” the Atta meeting in Prague or to “to knock it down” He calls reports suggesting that the 9/11 Commission has reached a contradictory conclusion “irresponsible,” even though the 9/11 Commission did conclude just that the day before (see June 17, 2004). (CNN 6/18/2004)
bullet July 1, 2004: CIA Director Tenet says that the CIA is “increasingly skeptical” the meeting ever took place (see July 1, 2004). (Jehl 7/9/2004)
bullet July 12, 2004: The 9/11 Commission publicly concludes the meeting never took place (see July 12, 2004).
bullet March 29, 2006: Cheney says of the meeting: “And that reporting waxed and waned where the degree of confidence in it, and so forth, has been pretty well knocked down now at this stage, that that meeting ever took place” (see March 29, 2006).
bullet September 8, 2006: A bipartisan Senate report confirms that the meeting never took place (see September 8-10, 2006). (US Senate and Intelligence Committee 9/8/2006 pdf file)
bullet September 10, 2006: Cheney still breathes life into reports of the meeting, reversing position and refusing to deny that the meeting took place (see September 10, 2006). (Cheney 9/10/2006)
bullet April 2007: In a new book, former CIA Director Tenet claims, “It is my understanding that in 2006, new intelligence was obtained that proved beyond any doubt that the man seen meeting with [a] member of the Iraqi intelligence service in Prague in 2001 was not Mohamed Atta” (see 2006). (Tenet 2007, pp. 355)

The United Nations panel in charge of monitoring sanctions against the al-Qaeda network says it has found no evidence of collaboration between al-Qaeda and Iraq. The panel’s chairman, Michael Chandler, tells the Agence France Presse (AFP) in an interview, “We don’t have anything yet, and no one has been able to produce anything.” (Agence France-Presse 1/22/2003) Six months later, Chandler will reaffirm this, telling the Associated Press, “Nothing has come to our notice that would indicate links between Iraq and al-Qaeda.” Abaza Hassan, a committee investigator who will also be interviewed by the news agency, will say, “It had never come to our knowledge before Powell’s speech and we never received any information from the United States for us to even follow up on.” (Linzer 6/27/2003)

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

A staff statement by the 9/11 Commission concludes that the alleged meeting between hijacker Mohamed Atta and an Iraqi agent in Prague never happened. It claims cell phone records and other records show Atta never left Florida during the time in question. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004) The same claim is made in the 9/11 Commission’s final report one month later (see July 12, 2004).

President Bush forcefully disputes statements by the 9/11 Commission (see July 12, 2004) that there was no evidence of collaboration between Iraq and al-Qaeda. “The reason I keep insisting that there was a relationship between Iraq and Saddam and al-Qaeda, because there was a relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda,” Bush says. (CNN 6/17/2004; Milbank 6/18/2004)

The 9/11 Commission publicly concludes that there was “no credible evidence that Iraq and al-Qaeda cooperated on attacks against the United States” and that repeated contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda “do not appear to have resulted in a collaborative relationship.” It also again confirms that it does not believe the alleged April 2001 Prague meeting between Mohamed Atta and Iraqi diplomat Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani (see 1999) ever took place, a conclusion it had made in a public staff statement the month before (see June 16, 2004). (Shenon 7/12/2004)

Victor Bout during his trial.Victor Bout during his trial. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Victor Bout is found guilty on conspiracy charges to kill US citizens and officials, deliver anti-aircraft missiles, and provide aid to a terrorist organization (see September 1992, 1993-1995, Mid-1996-October 2001, October 1996-Late 2001, 1998, 1998, January 1998-April 2001, 1999, Early 2001-September 11, 2001, January 19, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, Late February 2002, Summer 2002, Late April 2003, Late April 2003-2007, August 17, 2003, July 2006, Late July 2006, March 6, 2008, and November 16, 2010). In the the trial, which began on October 12, Bout was accused of agreeing to deliver 100 surface-to-air missiles, 20,000 high-powered weapons, and 10 million rounds of ammunition to rebels in Colombia sometime in 2008. Bout will be sentenced on February 8, 2012. The BBC’s Laura Trevelyan will note: “This was a potentially risky case for the US government. Bout was caught in a sting operation by informants working for the US Drug Enforcement Administration, the so-called Farc rebels were actually former criminals and might have had their evidence discredited.” (BBC 11/2/2011)


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