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a.k.a. Al-Qaida, Al-Qa'ida
On December 14, 2003, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf survives an assassination attempt when a powerful bomb goes off 30 seconds after his highly-guarded convoy crosses a bridge in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. The heavily guarded bridge is just a mile from Musharraf’s house, yet militants were able to spend severals days tying explosives to the pylons below it. His life is saved by a jamming device in his car given to him by the FBI, which temporarily jams all telephone signals and thus delays the explosion. On December 25, 2003, two suicide bombers launch another attempt to assassinate Musharraf, driving car bombs into his convoy a short distance from the location of the previous attack. Their car bombs fail to kill him and he escapes with only a cracked windscreen on his car, but 16 others nearby are killed.
Investigation - The identities of the two suicide bombers are soon discovered. One is Mohammed Jamil, a member of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) militant group who fought with the Taliban. The other is Hazir Sultan, who also fought with the Taliban. The memory chip from Jamil’s phone is found in the debris, and it is discovered he talked to a policeman who told him the timing of Musharraf’s convoy. Only a handful of military officers knew the route and timing of Musharraf’s travels and which of several identical cars he would be using at any given time, suggesting that elements within the military were involved in the attacks. Investigators also discover that the explosives used in the attacks came from an al-Qaeda camp in the Pakistani tribal area of South Waziristan. (Rashid 2008, pp. 230-232)
Militant Leaders against Musharraf - Osama bin Laden apparently called for Musharraf’s overthrow in October 2002 (see October 9, 2002), and Ayman al-Zawahiri apparently did the same in September 2003 (see September 28, 2003). In the months prior to the assassination attempts, Maulana Masood Azhar, head of JEM, gave a speech at a prominent mosque calling for Musharraf’s assassination. (Hasan 7/27/2007)
Limited Crackdown - Musharraf responds by reshuffling positions in the military high command. More than 150 military and security personnel will eventually be arrested and interrogated. Twelve suspects are eventually found guilty and sentenced to death for roles in the attacks; at least six are military officers. It is believed the suicide bombers and these officers were recruited and trained by Amjad Farooqi, a JEM leader also closely linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi, said to be Farooqi’s superior, is also allegedly involved. A massive manhunt for Farooqi and al-Libbi will ensue. Farooqi will eventually be killed in September 2004 (see September 27, 2004) and al-Libbi captured in May 2005 and taken into US custody (see May 2, 2005). However, Musharraf’s response is relatively restrained. He avoids calls to launch a crackdown on the entire Islamist militant movement in Pakistan. He does not ban any militant groups, nor does he arrest militant leaders, not even Azhar, the head of JEM who had publicly called for his assassination. (JEM had been banned in Pakistan for a second time the month before (see November 2003).) He does allow the Pakistani Army to attack the safe haven of South Waziristan several months later, but only after the US gives him an ultimatum, essentially forcing him to do so (see March 18- April 24, 2004). (BBC 9/27/2004; Rashid 2008, pp. 230-232)
A United Nations report criticizes Switzerland for failing to prevent support from reaching al-Qaeda and the Taliban. UN observers claim there is weapons smuggling passing through Switzerland to Afghanistan. The report further claims that the leaders of the banned Al Taqwa Bank (see November 7, 2001) are continuing to do business with new and renamed financial entities. They continue to maintain commercial interests and properties in Italy and Switzerland, despite being on US and UN blacklists. Switzerland is also failing to enforce travel bans. For instance, Al Taqwa leader Youssef Nada was able to travel through Switzerland to Liechtenstein and back in January 2003. (Swissinfo 12/16/2003) Salon noted in 2002 that, for many years, Al Taqwa has benefited from political connections in Switzerland. Al Taqwa directors have ties to some European far right wing politicians such as French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen, and even neo-Nazi groups (see 1988). (Bushinsky 3/12/2002; Komisar 3/15/2002) Newsweek will later report that in 2004, the UN will not convince its members to plug loopholes in the sanctions against Al Taqwa related entities. Instead, the UN Security Council will abolish its own monitoring group. (Isikoff and Hosenball 3/3/2004; Isikoff and Hosenball 12/24/2004) In late 2004, the Washington Post will report that although Al Taqwa “was supposedly shut down, US and European officials say they still find Nada moving funds under new corporate names.” (Mintz and Fatah 9/11/2004) Additional reports of entities connected to Al Taqwa directors continuing to do business will appear in 2005 (see June-October 2005).
President Bush gives a rare one-on-one interview to ABC’s Diane Sawyer. Among other topics addressed, he reaffirms his belief that terrorists operated in Iraq before the March 2003 invasion (citing Ansar al-Islam, “a al-Qaeda affiliate, I would call them al-Qaeda, was active in Iraq before the war, hence—a terrorist tie with Iraq…”) and that his insistence that Iraq had an active and threatening WMD program was based on “good solid intelligence[, t]he same intelligence that my predecessor [Bill Clinton] operated on.” (ABC News 12/17/2003) In 2004, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will respond, “His predecessor, however, never claimed that Saddam [Hussein] had imminent… nuclear capacity, nor did his predecessor say that Iraq had ties to al-Qaeda.” (Dean 2004, pp. 153)
Iraq Had WMD Program, Bush Insists - Bush insists that weapons inspector David Kay proved Iraq did have a burgeoning and active WMD program (see October 2, 2003), and implies that it is just a matter of time before the actual weapons are found. Sawyer says, “But stated as a hard fact, that there were weapons of mass destruction as opposed to the possibility that he could move to acquire those weapons still,” to which Bush replies, “So what’s the difference?” Sawyer appears taken aback by the answer, and Bush continues that since it was possible Hussein would acquire WMDs, it was necessary to “get rid of him” to make “the world a safer, freer place.” Sawyer presses the point home: “What would it take to convince you he didn’t have weapons of mass destruction?” and Bush responds: “Saddam Hussein was a threat. And the fact that he is gone means America is a safer country.” Sawyer asks, “And if he doesn’t have weapons of mass destruction?” and Bush replies tartly: “Diane, you can keep asking the question. I’m telling you, I made the right decision for America. Because Saddam Hussein used weapons of mass destruction, invaded Kuwait (see August 2, 1990). But the fact that he is not there is, means America’s a more secure country.” (ABC News 12/17/2003) White House press secretary Scott McClellan will later write, “Bush’s response was telling, much more so than I stopped to contemplate at the time.” (McClellan 2008, pp. 200)
Why Read the News? - Sawyer asks Bush about his reported penchant for not reading the news for himself. Bush confirms that he gets his news from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and White House chief of staff Andrew Card, who, Sawyer says, “give you a flavor of what’s in the news.” Bush agrees that this is the case, and says: “Yeah. I get my news from people who don’t editorialize. They give me the actual news. And it makes it easier to digest, on a daily basis, the facts.” Sawyer asks, “Is it just harder to read constant criticism or to read?” to which Bush replies: “Why even put up with it when you can get the facts elsewhere? I’m a lucky man. I’ve got, it’s not just Condi and Andy. It’s all kinds of people in my administration who are charged with different responsibilities. And they come in and say, ‘this is what’s happening, this isn’t what’s happening.’” Laura Bush, who joins her husband halfway through the interview, says she reads the newspapers, including the opinion columns, but says: “I agree with him that we can actually get what is really happening from the people who really know what’s happening. And that isn’t always what you get in the newspapers.… There are certain columnists I won’t read. I mean, what, you know, why would I?” (ABC News 12/17/2003)
Wilson: Bush 'Systematically Deceived' US, 'Betrayed' Military - Months later, former ambassador Joseph Wilson will write: “It was clear, from this one statement, […] that the administration, from the president on down, had systematically deceived the American people, Congress, and the world. Most of all, the president had betrayed the soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines who so bravely march out when ordered into war to defend our country against immiment threats, or even from grave and gathering dangers. Iraq had posed neither. The difference, Mr. President, I thought, is that war was not the only option, or even the best one. We had gone to war over capacity, not stockpiles, not mushroom clouds (see September 4, 2002), not intent, or, as John Bolton had earlier said more directly, because scientists were on Saddam’s payroll. Our troops had died—and were continuing to die—in vain. I came away from this sad revelation resolved that, unlike the other bitterly divisive war debate of my lifetime, over the war in Vietnam, we should admit this terrible fact sooner, rather than later, and thereby revise our national policies accordingly.” (Wilson 2004, pp. 414-415)
Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge raises the nationwide terror alert level to orange. He states that “These strategic indicators, including al-Qaeda’s continued desire to carry out attacks against our homeland, are perhaps greater now than at any point since Sept. 11.” In his announcement, Ridge cites further reports that al-Qaeda is planning further operations, and that “extremists abroad” are anticipating attacks on the scale of those on September 11, 2001. He states that “credible sources suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland around the holiday season and beyond.” Officials repeatedly warn about threats to the aviation sector. (CBC News 12/21/2003) The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says it has reliable and corroborated information from several sources indicating that a plot, similar to 9/11, is in an advanced stage. US officials focus their investigation on the “informed belief” that six men on Air France Flight 68, which arrives in Los Angeles daily at 4:05 p.m., are planning to hijack the jet and crash it near Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Officials say some names on the passenger manifest match those of known Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists, with one of them being a trained pilot with a commercial license. Six Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles are canceled by French Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin. (Times 12/24/2003) The terror alert turns out to be baseless. The names identified as terrorists turn out to be a five-year-old boy, whose name had been mistaken for an alleged Tunisian terrorist, an elderly Chinese lady who used to run a restaurant in Paris, a Welsh insurance salesman, and three French nationals. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 ) Further investigation of the Tunisian man reveals that he has no plans to leave the country, no criminal record, and no links to extremism. (Red Orbit 12/25/2003) Despite criticism of the investigation, French authorities praise the level of cooperation between intelligence agencies. A spokesman for the prime minister says “What is important is that the evaluation of threats continues, and they are undertaken between the Americans and the French in a framework of intense cooperation. Franco-American cooperation in this domain is exemplary.” (Red Orbit 12/25/2003) This alert comes in the wake of the comments of the chair of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean, suggesting that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented. President Bush is criticized in the press for the continuing failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 )
The FBI sends veteran interrogator George Piro to question captured Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein. Over a period of months, Piro uses a combination of friendliness, warmth, and verbal provocations to tease a wealth of information from Hussein. At no time does Piro or other FBI interrogators use “aggressive” or “harsh” interrogation methods against Hussein. Piro works closely with a team of FBI and CIA analysts to pore over Hussein’s responses. He will later recall his sessions with Hussein for CBS News interviewer Scott Pelley.
'Mr. Saddam' - Piro begins calling the dictator “Mr. Saddam,” as a sign of respect; by the end of their time, they are on a first-name basis with one another. Hussein never finds out that Piro is “just” an FBI agent; he believes that Piro is far more influential than he actually is, and is directly briefing President Bush on their conversations. “He didn’t know I worked for the FBI, he didn’t know I was a field agent,” Piro will recall. Had he found out, “I think initially he would have been angry. He would feel that I was way beneath him, and would not respond well to the interrogation. Or even to me.… I think he thought, and actually on a couple of occasions talked around the issue that I was directly answering to the president.” Piro will recall setting several strategies of deception into motion, including his barking orders at the guards to send them into a panic to obey his instructions. “[I]t was all part of our strategy,” Piro will explain.
Controlling the Dictator - Piro will say that he gained physical control of the setting—a small, windowless room with chairs and a table—merely by placing himself between Hussein and the door. “I purposely put his back against the wall,” Piro will recall. “And then mine against the door, psychologically to tell him that his back was against the wall in the interview room. And that I stood between him and the door, psychologically. Between him whether it’s to go back to his cell, freedom, whatever he was projecting to be outside of that door. I was kind of that psychological barrier between him and the door.” Piro will add, “I basically said that I was gonna be responsible for every aspect of his life, and that if he needed anything I was gonna be the person that he needed to talk to.” Piro controls Hussein’s food and cleaning materials—Piro will describe Hussein as a “clean freak” who uses large numbers of baby wipes to disinfect his cell and his food. Piro allows Hussein pen and paper to write what Piro will describe as inordinate amounts of “terrible” poetry. “We had the guards remove their watches,” Piro will recall. “And the only person that was wearing a watch was me. And it was very evident to him, ‘cause I was wearing the largest wristwatch you could imagine. And it was just the act of him asking for the time—was critical in our plan.” Pelley says, “So you controlled time itself,” and Piro answers, “Yes.”
No Coercive Interrogation Methods - Piro will say that no coercive interrogations, such as sleep deprivation, excessive heat or cold, bombardment with loud music, or waterboarding are ever used. “It’s against FBI policy, first,” Piro will explain. “And wouldn’t have really benefited us with someone like Saddam.… I think Saddam clearly had demonstrated over his legacy that he would not respond to threats, to any type of fear-based approach.” The best methods for use with Hussein are, according to Piro, time and patience.
Using Emotions to Create Vulnerability - Piro uses their time to build a relationship with Hussein based on dependency, trust, and emotion. He alternates between treating Hussein with courtesy and kindness, and provoking him with pictures and video images designed to anger and embarrass the former dictator. He uses pictures of the toppling of Hussein’s statues and news videos documenting his overthrow. “I wanted him to get angry. I wanted him to see those videos and to get angry,” Piro will say. “You want to take him through those various emotions. Happy, angry, sad. When you have someone going through those emotions they’re not able to really control themselves. And they’re more vulnerable during the interview.”
Insult Drove Kuwait Invasion - Piro learns that one of the driving forces behind Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 (see August 2, 1990) was personal insult. “What really triggered it for him, according to Saddam, was he had sent his foreign minister to Kuwait to meet with the Emir Al Sabah, the former leader of Kuwait, to try to resolve some of the… issues” between Kuwait and Iraq, Piro will recall. “And the Emir told the foreign minister of Iraq that he would not stop doing what he was doing until he turned every Iraqi woman into a $10 prostitute. And that really sealed it for him, to invade Kuwait. He wanted to punish, he told me, Emir Al Sabah, for saying that.” The 1991 US invasion of Iraq (see January 16, 1991 and After) soured Hussein on then-President George H. W. Bush, a feeling that Hussein transferred to the son. “He didn’t like President [George W.] Bush,” Piro will say. “He would have liked meeting President Reagan. He thought he was a great leader. Honorable man. He liked President Clinton. But he did not like President Bush, the first or the current.”
Small Things, Big Impact - Piro will recall the outsized impact relatively small incidents have on Hussein. One night the FBI flies Hussein to a hospital. He is manacled and blindfolded. Piro will remember: “And once I saw how beautiful Baghdad was in the middle of the night, so I took advantage of it. I allowed him to look out and the lights were on. There was traffic. And it looked like any other major metropolitan city around the world. And for him to see that. And as I mentioned, you know, big Baghdad is moving forward without you. I mean, little things like that didn’t require a lot of suggestion on our part. It made its point.” Piro even uses Hussein’s birthday, a former national holiday, to drive home his point. “In 2004, no one celebrated his birthday on April 28th. So the only one that really knew and cared was us. I’d brought him some cookies, and we, the FBI, celebrated his birthday for him.” Piro gives Hussein packets of flower seeds and allows him to plant his own small garden, which he must tend with his hands because the FBI will not allow him to use tools. Piro will recall that their strolls in Hussein’s tiny garden are often the site of large revelations.
Avoiding Capture - Hussein tells Piro that US forces simply missed him during the first days of the invasion, the “shock and awe” assault. “He said that he was at one of the locations. He said it in a kind of a bragging fashion, that he was there, but that we missed him,” Piro later says. “He told me he changed the way he traveled. He got rid of his normal vehicles. He got rid of the protective detail he traveled with. Really just to change his signature so he would be much harder to identify.” And Hussein denies ever using body doubles or decoys, as US intelligence had long asserted.
WMD - Five months into the sessions, Hussein finally opens up to Piro regarding the subject of Iraq’s WMD programs. Using indirection, Piro begins to tease information out of Hussein. “He told me that most of the WMD had been destroyed by the UN inspectors in the ‘90s. And those that hadn’t been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq,” Piro will recall. So why, Pelley will ask, did Hussein “put your nation at risk, why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?” Piro will respond: “It was very important for him to project that because that was what kept him, in his mind, in power. That capability kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq.” It is apparent, Piro says, that Hussein did not believe he could survive without the perception that he had WMD. But Piro confirms that Hussein always intended to restart his WMD program someday. “The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there,” Piro will observe. “He wanted to pursue all of WMD. So he wanted to reconstitute his entire WMD program.”
Did Not Believe US Would Invade - From there, Hussein begins to explain why he let the US continue to believe he had such weapons even as troops began massing on his borders. He didn’t believe the US would actually invade, he says. As Piro will recall: “[H]e told me he initially miscalculated President Bush. And President Bush’s intentions. He thought the United States would retaliate with the same type of attack as we did in 1998 under Operation Desert Fox (see December 16-19, 1998). Which was a four-day aerial attack. So you expected that initially.” Hussein says that Iraq would have survived a relatively limited aerial bombardment. “He survived that once,” Piro will recall. “And then he was willing to accept that type of attack. That type of damage.” But he never believed the US would invade until almost the moment of the initial assault.
'The Secret War' - Hussein knew his military could not win in any confrontation with the US. Instead, as Piro will recall: “What he had asked of his military leaders and senior government officials was to give him two weeks. And at that point it would go into what he called the secret war.… Going from a conventional to an unconventional war.” Pelley will remark, “So the insurgency was part of his plan from the very beginning,” to which Piro will say, “Well, he would like to take credit for the insurgency.”
Iraq and al-Qaeda - Hussein confirms that his regime had no dealings with al-Qaeda, as many Bush officials have long believed. Hussein considered Osama bin Laden “a fanatic,” according to Piro. “You can’t really trust fanatics,” Hussein tells the interrogator. And he had no interest in any alliance with al-Qaeda. “He didn’t wanna be seen with bin Laden,” Piro will recall. “And didn’t want to associate with bin Laden.” Hussein viewed bin Laden as a threat to him and his regime.
Independent Confirmation and Praise for Piro's Efforts - Hussein’s claims are later verified by independent interrogations with other high-ranking Hussein regime officials. Piro’s boss, FBI Assistant Director Joe Persichini, will say that Piro’s interrogation is a high mark of the bureau’s recent efforts. “The FBI will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and I would have to say that the interview with Saddam Hussein is one of the top accomplishments of our agency in the last 100 years,” Persichini will say, and gives credit to Piro’s language skills. Only about 50 of the 10,000 FBI agents speak Arabic, he will note. Piro will credit his FBI and CIA colleagues for their work in analyzing Hussein’s statements, and their extensive knowledge of Hussein and his regime. “The more you know about your subject, the better of an interview… that you’re gonna conduct,” he will say. “You’ll be able to recognize inconsistencies, deception, things like that. Plus it really establishes your credibility within the interview.”
No Regrets - One thing Hussein never shows during his long interviews, Piro later recalls, is remorse. “No remorse,” Piro will say. “No regret.” (CBS News 1/27/2008)
Assistant Secretary of State Bobby Charles asks the CIA to analyze where the drug profits in Afghanistan are going. The CIA concludes that it is probable some of the drugs are going to the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-related group just north of Afghanistan; the Taliban; the anti-US warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar; and possibly al-Qaeda. Charles says, “The linkages were there.” Author James Risen later comments, “The connections between drug trafficking and terrorism that the Pentagon didn’t want to acknowledge were real and growing, and were clearly helping to fuel a revival of guerrilla activity in Afghanistan.” (Risen 2006, pp. 152-162) An article in the Independent this year will come to similar conclusions (see August 14, 2004). Based on this report and other evidence, Charles will push for a tough counter-narcotics policy but will end up losing his job instead (see November 2004).
A CIA program to kill and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001) is terminated, and then revived under a new code name and surreptitiously outsourced to the private military corporation Blackwater. (Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009; Mazzetti 8/20/2009)
Outsourcing Kidnappings and Assassinations - The public will not learn of the program until 2009 (see August 19-20, 2009). The reason for the move is that key officials leave the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, which had run the program, and go to work for Blackwater. A retired intelligence officer intimately familiar with the assassination program will say of the reason for using Blackwater, “Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong.” According to the Washington Post, the contract goes to Blackwater “in part because of its close ties to the CIA and because of its record in carrying out covert assignments overseas.” (Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009) Blackwater is given operational responsibility for targeting terrorist commanders, including planning and surveillance, and is awarded millions of dollars for training and weaponry. Blackwater executives help the CIA in planning, training, and surveillance exercises for team members. It remains unclear whether Blackwater’s role is merely for training and surveillance, or if Blackwater employees are slated to actually carry out kidnappings and assassinations. A former official will say that the Blackwater phase involves “lots of time spent training,” mostly in the US. The teams reportedly simulate missions that often involve kidnapping. “They were involved not only in trying to kill but also in getting close enough to snatch,” the official will say. Blackwater does not have an official contract with the CIA; instead, individual executives, such as its founder and CEO Erik Prince, have contracts with the agency. (Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009; Mazzetti 8/20/2009)
Program Never Implemented - Although the CIA spends several million dollars on the program, no one is actually captured or killed, and most of the program’s elements are never implemented. According to a former official, there is “much frustration” among team members at this. (Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009)
Program Termination - The assassination program began in 2002, after the 9/11 attacks, and will continue until 2009, when then-CIA Director Leon Panetta will terminate it. Blackwater’s role in the program will be terminated much sooner (see (2005-2006)). In 2009, government officials will tell the New York Times that the CIA’s efforts to use what the newspaper calls “paramilitary hit teams” to kill al-Qaeda operatives “ran into logistical, legal, and diplomatic hurdles almost from the outset.” (Mazzetti 8/20/2009; Baer 8/21/2009) Despite an initial prohibition from Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002), the program will later be briefed to Congress (see June 24, 2009). The fact that Blackwater became involved in it is one of the reasons Congress is notified. The New York Times will report that “government officials said that bringing outsiders into a program with lethal authority raised deep concerns about accountability in covert operations.” In addition, a private contractor involved in an operation would not have the same diplomatic immunity as a US government employee. (Mazzetti 8/20/2009)
Former CIA Agent: Director 'Horrified' at Use of Mercenaries - In 2009, former CIA agent Robert Baer will write: “Panetta must have been horrified that the CIA turned to mercenaries to play a part in its dirty work. It’s one thing, albeit often misguided, for the agency to outsource certain tasks to contractors. It’s quite another to involve a company like Blackwater in even the planning and training of targeted killings, akin to the CIA going to the mafia to draw up a plan to kill [Cuban dictator Fidel] Castro.” Baer believes that the Blackwater contracts were more about “bilking the US taxpayer than… killing Osama bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders.… [A]s soon as CIA money lands in Blackwater’s account, it is beyond accounting, as good as gone.” Baer will note that Blackwater is involved in a number of highly questionable actions, including the apparent murder of several Iraqi and Afghan civilians, and will ask “what the CIA saw in Blackwater that the public still has not.” Baer will conclude by speculating, “Even more troubling, I think we will find out that in the unraveling of the Bush years, Blackwater was not the worst of the contractors, some of which did reportedly end up carrying out their assigned hits.” (Baer 8/21/2009)
In early 2004, the head of the CIA station in Kabul, Afghanistan, known only as “Peter,” reports a revival of al-Qaeda and Taliban forces near the border of Pakistan. He proposes a spring intelligence push in the Pakistani tribal regions of South Waziristan and Kunar. Since 2002, al-Qaeda has mainly been regrouping in Waziristan, and many speculate that Osama bin Laden may be hiding there (see August 2002). Peter estimates that 24 field officers and five station officers would be needed for the new push. However, CIA headquarters replies that it does not have the resources to make the surge, presumably due to commitments in Iraq. Peter is rotated out of his post a short time later. (Gellman and Linzer 10/22/2004)
Members of the 9/11 Commission’s team focusing on counterterrorism issues are appalled at a rewrite of a report by executive director Philip Zelikow. Zelikow rewrote the report, about the history of US efforts to contain al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, to imply that direct links exist between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see January 2004). Staffer Scott Allan, who wrote the original report, thinks that if the report is allowed to stand, it will become an important propaganda tool for the White House and its neoconservative backers in justifying the Iraq war, with headlines trumpeting the commission’s “discovery” of evidence linking al-Qaeda and Iraq. Many of Allan’s colleagues are equally disturbed, especially senior staffer Les Hawley. Hawley, a retired colonel, is a veteran of the military and civilian bureaucracies in Washington, and was a senior official in the State Department under Bill Clinton. Hawley, Allan, and the rest of the team directly challenge Zelikow’s rewrite. In author Philip Shenon’s words: “It would be remembered as an all-important showdown for the staff, the moment where they would make it clear that Zelikow could take his partisanship only so far. The staff would not allow him to trade on their credibility to promote the goals of the Bush White House—not in these interim reports, nor in the commission’s final report later that year.” The staff soon confronts Zelikow on the issue (see January 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 317-324)
After 9/11 Commission executive director Philip Zelikow rewrites a staff report to allege links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see January 2004), the staff confront Zelikow over the rewrite (see January 2004). The meeting between Zelikow and the staffers becomes somewhat heated, but Zelikow capitulates in the end, replacing the allegations of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda with far more neutral language, and agreeing to let the entire issue lay until a later staff report. Author Philip Shenon will later write: “The staff suspected that Zelikow realized at the meeting that he had been caught in a clear-cut act of helping his friends in the Bush White House—that he had tried to twist the wording of the report to serve the needs of the Bush administration and its stumbling military campaign. Zelikow said later it was nothing of the sort.” Zelikow will deny allegations that he is a “White House mole,” and insist that all he wanted to do was help the commission keep “an open mind” on the subject. (Shenon 2008, pp. 317-324)
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow rewrites a commission staff statement to imply there are ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Zelikow often rewrites many of the staff statements, but usually mainly to improve the style (see January 2004), and the addition of the Iraq-related material is unusual. The statement dealing with Iraq was originally compiled by international law expert Scott Allan, a member of the 9/11 Commission’s counterterrorism investigation, which is a strong focus of Zelikow’s attention. Allan writes the statement on the history of US diplomatic efforts to monitor and counteract al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, and the difficulties encountered by the government in working with “friendly” Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia to keep al-Qaeda at bay. Allan and other members of Team 3 are horrified at Zelikow’s rewrite of this report. Zelikow inserts sentences that allege direct ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see July 9, 2003), suggest that al-Qaeda officials were in systematic contact with Iraqi government officials in the years before 9/11, and even allege that Osama bin Laden had seriously considered moving to Iraq after the Clinton administration pressured the Taliban to oust him from Afghanistan (see April 4, 2000 and December 29, 2000). Zelikow’s additions are subtle and never directly state that Iraq and al-Qaeda had any sort of working relationship, but the import is clear. The effect of Zelikow’s rewrite would be to put the commission on record as strongly suggesting that such a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda—long a White House argument to justify the war in Iraq—existed before 9/11, and therefore Iraq bore some of the responsibility for the attacks. Allan never made any such allegations in his original draft. Moreover, he knows from his colleagues who have pored over the archives at the CIA that no evidence of such a connection exists. Allan and the other Team 3 staffers confront Zelikow on the rewrite (see January 2004), and Zelikow eventually backs down (see January 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 317-324)
In 2004, Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill) visits Pakistan to find out why the US Rewards for Justice program has generated so little information regarding al-Qaeda’s leadership. In the early 1990s, the program was effective in helping to catch al-Qaeda bomber Ramzi Yousef after a $2 million reward was announced for him and a huge number of matchboxes with his picture and the reward information on it were distributed in countries where he was likely to be (see April 2, 1993). The program has $25 million rewards for al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and lesser rewards for other al-Qaeda leaders. Kirk discovers that the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan has effectively shut down the reward program. There is no radio or television advertising. A bin Laden matchbook campaign had begun in 2000 (see February 16, 2000), but the embassy has stopped giving away matchbooks with photos of bin Laden and other leaders. Kirk will later say: “We were at zero. I couldn’t believe it.” Embassy officials tell Kirk they are busy with other issues, such as assisting US troops in Afghanistan. Kirk proposes a congressional bill that would increase funding for the rewards program to advertise, extend the program to target drug kingpins (especially those who fund al-Qaeda and the Taliban), and make other reforms and improvements. But apparently the bill does not pass and the problem is not fixed. In 2008, Kirk will complain, “[T]he key thing about the Rewards for Justice program is that no one in a rural area—anywhere—knows about it.” Former CIA officer Arthur Keller will also say in 2008 that there are people in Pakistan and elsewhere with information who would be open to informing. “They’d love to have a $25 million bounty, and they aren’t supportive of Osama. But they don’t necessarily trust the US. Who do you report it to? The local police chief?… They’re not sure who to turn to or who to trust.” (US Congress, House 2/12/2004; Whitlock 5/17/2008) In 2006, the program will conduct a large advertising blitz in the US, seemingly one of the most unlikely places to figure leaders such as bin Laden (see December 2006).
Jack Goldsmith, the embattled head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) (see October 6, 2003), finds himself again mired in a conflict with Vice President Dick Cheney’s hardline chief aide, David Addington. Goldsmith has already fought with Addington over Goldsmith’s decision to withdraw the OLC’s support for the administration’s memos justifying torture (see December 2003-June 2004). Now Goldsmith and Addington are at odds over the policies governing the detention and trial of suspected terrorists. The spark for this conflict is the January 2004 Supreme Court decision to review the detention of US citizen and suspected “enemy combatant” Yaser Esam Hamdi (see January 9, 2004). Goldsmith suggests going to Congress to have that body pass legislation declaring such detention legal, reasoning that the Supreme Court would be less likely to rule against the administration if Congress had authorized such detention policies. Addington, who like his boss does not accept the idea that Congress has any business interfering in such policy decisions, refuses to countenance the idea, and Goldsmith’s proposal goes nowhere. In June 2004, the Supreme Court approves the detention policies but put modest legal restrictions on the administration’s ability to detain citizens without trial. Goldsmith, this time with deputy solicitor general Paul Clement, again suggests going to Congress; once again, Addington refuses. The White House, Goldsmith later says, continues to operate as if it could avoid any adverse decisions from the Supreme Court. When the Court issues its decision in the Hamdan case (see November 8, 2004), rejecting the administration’s policy of trying terror suspects in military tribunals without Congressional approval, and upholding the preeminence of the Third Geneva Convention in protecting the rights of accused terror detainees—including al-Qaeda suspects—the decision has a shattering effect on the Bush administration’s legal arguments towards detaining and trying those suspects. Goldsmith believes the Court’s decision is “legally erroneous” but has huge political consequences. Now detainees at Guantanamo Bay have more legal rights than ever before, and for the first time, the specter of war-crimes charges against Bush officials becomes a real possibility. Goldsmith later says that it is in these arguments, more than in the battles over domestic wiretapping or interrogation techniques, that Addington’s attempts to expand presidential power actually backfires. Goldsmith is later vindicated when, in September 2006, one of the last acts of the Republican-led Congress will give the administration every power the administration had asked for, authorizing the military commissions that the Court had rejected. The Bush administration could have avoided a damaging Court decision by working with Congress beforehand. “I’m not a civil libertarian, and what I did wasn’t driven by concerns about civil liberties per se,” he says in a 2007 interview. “It was a disagreement about means, not ends, driven by a desire to make sure that the administration’s counterterrorism policies had a firm legal foundation.” (Rosen 9/9/2007)
A report published by the Army War College accuses the Bush administration of putting the US in an “unnecessary” war in Iraq—which it calls a “strategic error”—and pursuing an “unrealistic” war against terrorism that may lead to the US fighting wars with nations that pose no real threat. The report, titled “Bounding the Global War on Terrorism,” is compiled by visiting professor Jeffrey Record, a defense specialist and author of six books on military strategy and related issues, a former aide to the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Sam Nunn (D-GA), and a visiting professor at the War College’s Strategic Studies Institute. As a result of the Bush administration’s actions, the report finds, the US Army is “near the breaking point.” The report recommends that the “global war on terrorism” be scaled back to focus on the far narrower threat posed by the al-Qaeda terror network. “[T]he global war on terrorism as currently defined and waged is dangerously indiscriminate and ambitious, and accordingly… its parameters should be readjusted,” Record writes. Iraq “was a war-of-choice distraction from the war of necessity against al-Qaeda.” The anti-terrorism campaign “is strategically unfocused, promises more than it can deliver, and threatens to dissipate US military resources in an endless and hopeless search for absolute security.” The study adds that the administration’s plans to spread democracy throughout the Middle East are baseless: “The potential policy payoff of a democratic and prosperous Middle East, if there is one, almost certainly lies in the very distant future. The basis on which this democratic domino theory rests has never been explicated.” It concludes, “The United States may be able to defeat, even destroy, al-Qaeda, but it cannot rid the world of terrorism, much less evil.” While the study carries the standard disclaimer that its views are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the Army, the Pentagon, or the US government, both SSI director Colonel Douglas Lovelace and the War College commandant, Major General David Huntoon, stand behind it. Pentagon spokesman Lawrence Di Rita says he has not read the study, and adds, “If the conclusion is that we need to be scaling back in the global war on terrorism, it’s not likely to be on my reading list anytime soon.” Daniel Benjamin, a member of the National Security Council staff in the late 1990s, says of the report, “The criticism does not seem out of line with many of the conversations I have had with officers in every branch of the military.” (Record 12/2003 ; Ricks 1/12/2004; Neubauer and Silverstein 1/12/2004; BBC 1/13/2004) The report was compiled in December 2003 but just now released. (Record 12/2003 )
The prosecution in the trial of Abdelghani Mzoudi presents a witness who claims to be a defector from an Iranian intelligence agency. (BBC 1/21/2004) The witness, Hamid Reza Zakeri, does not appear in court himself, but instead Judge Klaus Ruehle reads out his testimony. (Schwartz 1/22/2004) According to Zakeri, the Iranian intelligence service was really behind the 9/11 attacks and had employed al-Qaeda to carry them out. Zakeri’s claims are widely publicized. However, these claims are quickly discounted, and German intelligence notes that, “he presents himself as a witness on any theme which can bring him benefit.” (Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg) 1/22/2004; Crewdson and Simpson 1/22/2004; Schwartz 1/22/2004; Associated Press 1/30/2004)
Technology Review, a magazine published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, runs an article by Professor Richard Muller arguing that audio messages apparently released by Osama bin Laden may be fakes. According to Muller, the US’s counterterrorism efforts are still going strong, making it hard for al-Qaeda to operate. Therefore, “its sympathizers desperately need encouragement from their charismatic leader,” which is why the organization is making fake audio tapes. Video tapes would be more convincing proof of bin Laden’s continued existence, but are harder to fake and therefore not forthcoming. Bin Laden is either dead or injured, and unable to make recordings, Muller argues, and adds that although voice recognition, a technique used by the US government to identify the voice on the audio tapes, is a “rapidly developing technology,” it can have problems with the poor quality tapes the man thought to be bin Laden is releasing. Therefore, the tapes may be cut and pasted excerpts of past recordings, or, more likely, made by one of bin Laden’s children, such as his son Saad, reportedly an al-Qaeda member. (Muller 1/23/2004)
Former CIA Director George Tenet privately testifies before the 9/11 Commission. He provides a detailed account of an urgent al-Qaeda warning he gave to the White House on July 10, 2001 (see July 10, 2001). According to three former senior intelligence officials, Tenet displays the slides from the PowerPoint presentation he gave the White House and even offers to testify about it in public. According to the three former officials, the hearing is attended by commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, the commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow, and some staff members. When Tenet testifies before the 9/11 Commission in public later in the year, he will not mention this meeting. The 9/11 Commission will neglect to include Tenet’s warning to the White House in its July 2004 final report. (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006) Portions of a transcript of Tenet’s private testimony will be leaked to reporters in 2006. According to the transcript, Tenet’s testimony included a detailed summary of the briefing he had with CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black on July 10 (see July 10, 2001). The transcript also reveals that he told the commission that Black’s briefing had prompted him to request an urgent meeting with Rice about it. This closely matches the account in Woodward’s 2006 book that first widely publicized the July meeting (see September 29, 2006). (Eggen and Wright 10/3/2006) Shortly after Woodward’s book is published, the 9/11 Commission staff will deny knowing that the July meeting took place. Zelikow and Ben-Veniste, who attended Tenet’s testimony, will say they are unable to find any reference to it in their files. But after the transcript is leaked, Ben-Veniste will suddenly remember details of the testimony (see September 30-October 3, 2006) and will say that Tenet did not indicate that he left his meeting with Rice with the impression he had been ignored, as Tenet has alleged. (Shenon 10/2/2006) Woodward’s book will describe why Black, who also privately testified before the 9/11 Commission, felt the commission did not mention the July meeting in their final report: “Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork about the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about. It was what happened in investigations. There were questions they wanted to ask, and questions they didn’t want to ask.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 78)
The Bush administration withholds thousands of documents from the Clinton administration that had already been cleared by Clinton’s general counsel Bruce Lindsey for release to the 9/11 Commission. (Shenon and Sanger 4/2/2004) In April, after a public outcry, the Bush administration grants access to most of the documents. (Shattuck and Malveaux 4/3/2004; Fox News 4/4/2004) However, they continue to withhold approximately 57 documents. According to the commission, the documents being withheld by the Bush White House include references to al-Qaeda, bin Laden, and other issues relevant to the panel’s work. (Eggen 4/8/2004)
Following its failure to get direct access to high-ranking al-Qaeda detainees (see October 2003 and November 5, 2003-January 2004), the 9/11 Commission has the CIA ask the detainees more questions about how the plot developed. This is a second round of questions from the Commission, which was dissatisfied with the answers produced by the first round. According to CIA and 9/11 Commission staffers, as well as an MSNBC analysis in 2008, this second round is “specifically to answer new questions from the Commission.” Analysis of the 9/11 Commission report indicates this second round includes more than 30 separate interrogation sessions. Based on the number of references attributed to each of the sessions, they appear to have been “lengthy.” The Commission is aware that the detainees are being harshly treated (see Late 2003-2004), but it is unclear whether they are further tortured during these additional sessions. The CIA is still using some or all of its “enhanced techniques” at this time (see Shortly After April 28, 2004-February 2005). (Windrem and Limjoco 1/30/2008)
The US learns that Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a former al-Qaeda camp commander, was allegedly tortured in Egypt, where he was rendered by the CIA (see January 2002 and After). Although CIA Director George Tenet will describe al-Libi’s handling by the Egyptians as “further debriefing,” after being returned to US custody, al-Libi tells CIA officers he was tortured and these claims are documented in a series of cables sent to CIA headquarters on February 4 and 5. These cables are the final proof, many believe, that the US is illegally “outsourcing” torture to other countries, against suspects who have not been convicted or even charged with a crime. After being tortured by his Egyptian captors (see November 11, 2001), al-Libi was returned to US custody on November 22, 2003. The February 5 cable reads, in part, that al-Libi was told by the Egyptians that “the next topic was al-Qaeda’s connections with Iraq…. This was a subject about which he said he knew nothing and had difficulty even coming up with a story.” The Egyptians didn’t like al-Libi’s response, and locked him in a 20 inch by 20 inch box for 17 hours—effectively burying him alive. The Egyptians released him and gave him one more change to “tell the truth.” When al-Libi did not give the proper response, he was knocked to the ground and beaten. The CIA debriefers send this information straight to Washington (see February 14, 2004), thus informing the CIA that not only was this key piece of evidence about the link between Iraq and al-Qaeda false, but it was obtained by extreme, US-sanctioned torture. Although stories and witness accounts about torture in such US-allied countries as Egypt, Syria, Morocco, and Uzbekistan have long been known, this is the first time such torture has been detailed in an official US government document. It will be almost a year before the Bush administration will confirm the CIA’s rendition program (see March 11, 2002), and even then it will begin a litany of reassurances that the US does not torture, nor does it hand over prisoners to countries that torture. The CIA cables will be declassified in September 2006, and roundly ignored by the mainstream media. And as of late 2007, al-Libi will still be a “ghost prisoner” whose whereabouts and circumstances are considered a US state secret. (Grey 11/6/2007)
The New York Times publishes a front page story blaming Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, for many troubles in the Iraq war. However, it will later be revealed that the contents in the article were a hoax or exaggeration by a US military propaganda operation. The article, written by Dexter Filkins, claims that in January 2004, US forces in Iraq intercepted a letter written by al-Zarqawi to the “inner circle” of al-Qaeda, claiming that the best way to defeat the US in Iraq is to, in essence, begin a “sectarian war” in that country. The letter reportedly states that al-Qaeda, a Sunni network, should attack the Shi’a population of Iraq: “It is the only way to prolong the duration of the fight between the infidels and us. If we succeed in dragging them into a sectarian war, this will awaken the sleepy Sunnis.” In the letter, al-Zarqawi boasts of his role in many suicide bombings in Iraq. The article also notes that this letter would “constitute the strongest evidence to date of contacts between extremists in Iraq and al-Qaeda.” (Filkins 2/9/2004; Davies 2/11/2008) US General Mark Kimmitt says later the same day: “We believe the report and the document is credible, and we take the report seriously.… It is clearly a plan on the part of outsiders to come in to this country and spark civil war, create sectarian violence, try to expose fissures in this society.” The story is quickly published around the world. (Davies 2/11/2008)
Reporter Skeptical; Article Does Not Reflect Doubts - Filkins will later say he was skeptical about the document’s authenticity when he wrote the story and remains skeptical of it. (Ricks 4/10/2006) However, the article and follow up articles in the New York Times cast no doubt on the letter’s authenticity, except for one sentence in the original article mentioning the possibility the letter could have been “written by some other insurgent.”
Skepticism from Other News Outlets - However, some scattered accounts elsewhere at the time are more critical. For instance, a few days later, Newsweek writes: “Given the Bush administration’s record peddling bad intelligence and worse innuendo, you’ve got to wonder if this letter is a total fake. How do we know the text is genuine? How was it obtained? By whom? And when? And how do we know it’s from al-Zarqawi? We don’t.” (Mitchell 4/10/2006) In the letter, al-Zarqawi says that if success does not come soon: “We can pack up and leave and look for another land, just like what has happened in so many lands of jihad. Our enemy is growing stronger day after day, and its intelligence information increases. By god, this is suffocation!” Counterpunch notes this and skeptically comments, “If you were Karl Rove, you couldn’t design a better scenario to validate the administration’s slant on the war than this.” It is also noted that this article follows a dubious pattern of New York Times reporting on Iraq: “cultivate a ‘highly placed inside source,’ take whatever this person says and report it verbatim on the front page above the fold.” (Weiher 2/26/2004)
Systematic Propaganda Campaign - Later in 2004, the Telegraph will report, “Senior diplomats in Baghdad claim that the letter was almost certainly a hoax” and that the US is systematically buying extremely dubious intelligence that exaggerates al-Zarqawi’s role in Iraq (see October 4, 2004). (Blomfield 10/4/2004) In 2006, a number of classified documents will be leaked to the Washington Post, showing the US military has a propaganda campaign to exaggerate the role of al-Zarqawi in Iraq (see April 10, 2006). One document mentions the “selective leak” of this letter to Filkins as part of this campaign. (Ricks 4/10/2006)
Media Unquestioning in its Acceptance - Editor and Publisher will later examine the media coverage of this letter, and note that most publications reported on it unquestioningly, “So clearly, the leak to Filkins worked.” Ironically, Reuters at the time quotes an “amazed” US official who says, “We couldn’t make this up if we tried.” (Mitchell 4/10/2006)
In the wake of Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan’s public apology for his role in nuclear proliferation on February 4, 2004 (see February 4, 2004), and the US government’s quick acceptance of that apology, it is clear the US expects more cooperation from Pakistan on counterterrorism in return. Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says in an interview on February 19: “In a funny way, the A. Q. Khan [apology]… we feel it gives us more leverage, and it may give [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf a stronger hand, that Pakistan has an act to clean up. The international community is prepared to accept Musharraf’s pardoning of Khan for all that he has done, but clearly it is a kind of IOU, and in return for that there has to be a really thorough accounting. Beyond that understanding, we expect an even higher level of cooperation on the al-Qaeda front than we have had to date.” But there is no increased cooperation in the next months. Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment: “Musharraf had become a master at playing off Americans’ fears while protecting the army and Pakistan’s national interest.… [He] refused to budge and continued to provide only minimal satisfaction to the United States and the world. He declined to give the CIA access to Khan, and there was no stepped-up hunt for bin Laden.” (Rashid 2008, pp. 289-290)
A senior UN official reports that conditions in Afghanistan have deteriorated significantly in nearly every respect. According to Lakhdar Brahima, UN special envoy to Afghanistan, the situation “is reminiscent to what was witnessed after the establishment of the mujaheddin government in 1992.” Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a member of the Wahhabi sect of Islam who opposed the presence of US troops in Saudi Arabia, along with several other warlords accused of atrocities in the mid-1990s, have returned to power and are effectively ruling the country, Brahima says. Several hold key positions within the government. They “continue to maintain their own private armies and… are reaping vast amounts of money from Afghanistan’s illegal opium trade…” The US, while claming to support Afghan President Karzai, is relying on these warlords to “help” hunt down Taliban and al-Qaeda factions, although the success rate is abysmal, and much of the intelligence provided by the warlords is faulty. The Taliban has begun to regroup, and now essentially controls much of the southern and eastern regions of the country. (Gannon 5/2004)
In March 2004, al-Qaeda apparently holds what Time magazine calls a “terrorist summit” in the Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan. Time says the meeting is a “gathering of terrorism’s elite” who come from all over the world to attend. Attendees include:
Dhiren Barot, an al-Qaeda leader living in Britain.
Adnan Shukrijumah, an Arab Guyanese bombmaker and commercial pilot who apparently met 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and has been on public wanted lists since 2003.
Mohammed Junaid Babar, a Pakistani-American living in Britain. He arrives with money and supplies.
Abu Faraj al-Libbi, al-Qaeda leader living somewhere in Pakistan.
Two other unnamed attendees are believed to have surveilled targets in New York City and elsewhere with Barot in 2001 (see May 30, 2001). (Shannon and McGirk 8/8/2004; Franco 7/21/2005)
Other attendees have not been named. The meeting is said to be a “subject of obsession for authorities” in the US and Pakistan. Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says, “The personalities involved, the operations, the fact that a major explosives expert came here and went back, all this was extremely significant.” Officials worry that it may have been a planning meeting for a major attack in the West. (Shannon and McGirk 8/8/2004) Babar is arrested one month later in the US and immediately agrees to become an informant and reveal all he knows (see April 10, 2004). But US intelligence had been monitoring Babar since late 2001 (see Early November 2001-April 10, 2004), and Newsweek will later claim that “Babar was tracked flying off [in early 2004] to South Waziristan in Pakistan, where he attended [the] terror summit…” It is unknown if the summit itself is monitored, however. (Isikoff and Hosenball 1/24/2005) Regardless on when the US learned about it, no known additional pressure on Pakistan to do something about al-Qaeda in Waziristan results. In fact, in late April the Pakistani government ends one month of fighting with militants in Waziristan and signs a peace treaty with them (see April 24-June 18, 2004).
Alleged “high value” al-Qaeda leader Gouled Hassan Dourad is captured. Dourad is captured by Djibouti government forces in his house in Djibouti. He is turned over to US custody at an unknown date and held as a ghost prisoner in the CIA’s secret prison system. On September 4, 2006, he will be transferred to the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, and will be officially declared a “high value” prisoner (see September 2-3, 2006).
Who Is Dourad? - Very little is publicly known about Dourad or why he is deemed an important militant leader. Virtually nothing has appeared about him in the media either before or after his capture. But his 2008 Guantanamo file will detail his history. According to that file, Dourad is a Somali who is an admitted member of both al-Qaeda’s East Africa branch and Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya (AIAI), an Islamist militant group based in Somalia that was blacklisted by the US shortly after 9/11. In 1993, he was granted asylum in Sweden, and lived there for nearly three years. In 1996, he trained in al-Qaeda linked training camps in Afghanistan. Returning to East Africa, he fought against Ethiopian forces for several years. Dourad grew more involved with al-Qaeda and took part in various plots. When he is caught, he allegedly is in the final stages of planning an operation against US military bases and various embassies in Djibouti. He does not seem to have been in frequent contact with many top al-Qaeda leaders, but it is claimed he worked closely with Abu Talha al-Sudani, a leader of al-Qaeda operations in East Africa. (US Department of Defense 9/19/2008) Note that the Guantanamo files of prisoners often contain dubious information, and in some cases information that was extracted by torture (see April 24, 2011).
At Guantanamo, shortly before their release, Jamal Udeen, Tarek Dergoul, and the Tipton Three are asked to sign a document confessing to having links with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Iqbal remembers: “It was along the lines that I was a member of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, however I have since changed. In other words I had changed my mind since I was detained at Guantanamo Bay. It went on to say that if I was suspected of anything at any time by the United States, I could be picked up and returned to Guantanamo Bay.” He is told that signing the document is a precondition for going back to Britain. “I didn’t really believe him,” Iqbal later says, and so he refused to sign. (Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed 7/26/2004 ) Jamal Udeen also has a confession statement presented to him by a British official. “This was given to me first by the Americans and then by a British diplomat who asked if I agreed to sign it. I just said ‘No.’ I would rather have stayed in Guantanamo than sign that paper.” (Prince and Jones 3/12/2004)
A federal court denies the appeal of suspected al-Qaeda operative Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri , who is challenging his classification as an enemy combatant (see June 23, 2003) and wants his case heard in Illinois, where he attended college. The court rules that al-Marri’s case belongs in South Carolina, where he is being held in strict isolation in the Charleston naval brig. Mark Berman, an attorney for al-Marri, says the ruling will be appealed to the Supreme Court. (The Court will decline to review the decision (see October 4, 2004).) Al-Marri’s lawyers say that wherever the case is heard, they will seek a writ of habeas corpus to require the government to justify its detention of their client. Government lawyers say they have evidence that al-Marri was in the US helping al-Qaeda plan terrorist attacks, but have refused to provide that evidence. (Associated Press 3/10/2004)
At about 7:40 a.m., four trains are bombed in Madrid, Spain, killing 191 people and injuring about 1,800 more. These are not suicide bombings, but were set by cell phone timers. Basque separatists are initially blamed, but evidence later points to people loosely associated with al-Qaeda. It will later be reported that 34 out of the 40 main people suspected or arrested for involvement in the bombings were under surveillance in Spain prior to the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Most of the bombers had never been to any training camps. In 2006, Spanish investigators will announce that the bombings were inspired by al-Qaeda, but not ordered or funded by al-Qaeda’s leadership. Specifically, the bombers are said to have been inspired by a speech allegedly given by Osama bin Laden in October 2003 (see October 19, 2003). (Wright 7/26/2004; Associated Press 3/9/2006) However, there will also be evidence against this that will not be refuted. For instance, the investigators will claim that all the key participants are either dead or in jail, but a number of them remain free overseas. For example, Amer el-Azizi is implicated in the Madrid bombings (see Before March 11, 2004), and he has links to well-known al-Qaeda figures such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see (November 2001)), Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see Before July 8, 2001), and Zacarias Moussaoui (see Before August 16, 2001). In late 2002 or early 2003, el-Azizi is said to have met with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of the key bombers, to discuss a bombing. He reportedly gave Fakhet permission to stage a bombing in the name of al-Qaeda, but it is unclear if he gave any funding or other assistance. (Giles 4/10/2004; Wright 7/26/2004) There are suggestions that el-Azizi was protected by Spanish intelligence (see Shortly After November 21, 2001), so the government may not be eager to highlight his involvement. Fakhet, considered one of the three masterminds of the bombings, may have been a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Many of the other plotters also appear to have been informants, and almost all the plotters were under surveillance before the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say later in the month: “If we catch [bin Laden] this summer, which I expect, it’s two years too late. Because during those two years when forces were diverted to Iraq… al-Qaeda has metamorphosized into a hydra-headed organization with cells that are operating autonomously like the cells that operated in Madrid recently.” (Moniz and Komarow 3/28/2004) It will be noted that the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US and the Madrid train bombings are separated by a total of 911 days. (Wolk 3/19/2004; O'Reilly 4/22/2005)
A news release issued from the headquarters of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) in Florida heralds the start of a new offensive, Operation Mountain Storm (OMS), describing it as “the next in the continuing series of operations in the south, southeast, and eastern portions of Afghanistan designed to destroy terrorist organizations and their infrastructure while continuing to focus on national stability and support.” (GlobalSecurity (.org) 3/13/2004)
OMS to Go after Bin Laden, Or Not To? - Elsewhere, the objective of Operation Mountain Storm is reported to be to “flush out militants, including members of the al-Qaeda terror network” and “insurgents led by remnants of Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime.” Although military sources have indicated that US forces are closing in on Osama bin Laden, according to US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, speaking from Kabul, this new operation is “not aimed at hunting for individuals.” All coalition troops, 13,000-plus, are to join the US-led campaign. (GlobalSecurity (.org) 3/13/2004)
The Measure of Success: Numbers - CENTCOM’s news release touts the success of the previous campaign, Operation Blizzard, enumerating its results thusly: “[W]e conducted 1,731 patrols, 143 raids and cordons and searches, killing 22 enemy combatants and discovering caches with 3,648 rockets, 3,202 mortar rounds, 2,944 rocket propelled grenades, 3,000 recoils rifle rounds, 2,232 mines, and tens of thousands of small arm ammunitions.” The CENTCOM news release then ticks off several areas where Operation Blizzard’s successor, Mountain Storm, has already found weapons caches. Concluding, it reports that “just yesterday afternoon, an Afghan citizen turned in to coalition forces in the vicinity of Deh Rawood a recoiless rifle, an anti-aircraft gun, a mortar, and machine guns, along with ammunition.” (GlobalSecurity (.org) 3/13/2004)
The Numbers Game and Pat Tillman's Death - Later, Stan Goff, an analyst and critic of military culture, writing about Pat Tillman’s death while on patrol in OMS less than a month after its launch (See April 23, 2004 and Early April 2004), will cite “the Rumsfeldian ‘metrics’ of quantification” used to measure and then propagandize military progress, as driving the order to split Tillman’s platoon, a chain-of-command decision which many, including some in command, will later contend led to his death by friendly fire, or as some define it, fratricide (see April 22, 2004). (Eskow 8/2/2007; Goff 8/9/2007)
At 7:30 p.m., on March 13, 2004, the night before national elections in Spain, an anonymous phone caller tells a Madrid television station that there is a videotape related to the Madrid train bombings two days earlier (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) in a nearby trash can. The video is quickly found. It is not broadcast, but the government releases portions of its text to the media that evening. (Associated Press 3/13/2004) A man on the tape identifies himself as Abu Dujan al-Afghani, and says he is the military spokesman for the “military wing of Ansar al-Qaeda” (ansar means partisan). (Sciolino and Daly 4/12/2004) Dressed in white burial robes and holding a submachine gun, he says: “We declare our responsibility for what happened in Madrid exactly two-and-a-half years after the attacks on New York and Washington. It is a response to your collaboration with the criminals Bush and his allies. This is a response to the crimes that you have caused in the world, and specifically in Iraq and Afghanistan, and there will be more, if God wills it.” (BBC 3/14/2004; Irujo 2005, pp. 327-342) Spanish Interior Minister Angel Acebes has been repeatedly blaming ETA, a Basque separatist group, for the bombings (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004 and March 12, 2004). He holds a press conference shortly after the videotape text is made public and encourages the public to be skeptical about the tape’s authenticity. (Tremlett 3/14/2004) But more and more Spaniards doubt the official story. El Mundo, the largest newspaper in Madrid, criticizes “the more than dubious attitude of the government in relation to the lines of investigation.” The BBC publishes a story hours before the election is to begin and notes: “If ETA is to blame it would justify the [ruling Populist Party’s] hard line against the group and separatism in Spain. But if al-Qaeda is to blame, however, it would bring into question Spain’s decision to join the United States and Britain in the war on Iraq, something 90 percent of Spaniards opposed.” (Bailey 3/14/2004) The video actually was made by the bombers. A banner shown in the video is found in a safe house used by the bombers about a month later (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004), suggesting the video was shot there. (Sciolino and Daly 4/12/2004) The spokesman will later be revealed to be Youssef Belhadj. Belhadj will be arrested in Belgium in 2005, extradited to Spain, and sentenced to prison for a role in the Madrid bombings. (Irujo 2005, pp. 327-342; MSNBC 10/31/2007)
On March 14, 2004, just three days after the Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), Spain holds national elections. The opposition Socialist party wins. The Socialists go from 125 seats to 164 in the 350-seat legislature. The ruling Popular Party falls from 183 seats to 148. As a result, Socialist Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero replaces Jose Maria Aznar as Spain’s prime minister. Zapatero had pledged to withdraw Spain’s troops from the war in Iraq. In declaring victory, Zapatero again condemns the war in Iraq and reiterates his pledge to withdraw. He keeps his pledge and withdraws all of Spain’s troops over the next couple of months. (Associated Press 3/15/2004; Wright 7/26/2004)
Victory for Al-Qaeda? - Some will see this as a strategic victory for al-Qaeda. A treatise written by al-Qaeda leader Yusef al-Ayeri in late 2003 suggested the political utility of bombing Spain in order to force them to withdraw their troops from Iraq (see December 2003). For instance, an editor at the conservative Spanish newspaper ABC will later say, “I doubt whether anyone can seriously suggest that Spain has not acted in a way that suggests appeasement.”
Angry Voters - But Spanish voters may not have voted out of fear of being attacked again because of its Iraq commitment so much as anger at the ruling party for attempting to hide evidence linking the bombing to al-Qaeda and falsely blaming Basque separatists instead (see Evening, March 11, 2004, March 12, 2004, 4:00 p.m., March 13, 2004). (Wright 7/26/2004) For instance, the Guardian will report, “The spectacular gains made by [the Socialist party] were in large part a result of the government’s clumsy attempts at media manipulation following the Madrid bombs on Thursday.… The party had just three days to avoid the charge that it had attracted the bombers by supporting a war that was opposed by 90% of Spaniards.… There would have been a double bonus for the [Popular Party] if they could have successfully deflected the blame onto the Basque terrorist group, ETA. A central plank of the government’s election platform had been that [the Socialists] are ‘soft’ on Basque terrorism.” (Mathieson 3/15/2004)
In mid-March 2004, Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Pakistan. He reportedly gives Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf an ultimatum: either Pakistan attacks the al-Qaeda safe haven in the South Waziristan tribal region, or the US will. On March 16, hundreds of Frontier Corps soldiers surround a compound in the village of Kalosha, a few miles from the capital of South Waziristan. Apparently, they are looking for Tahir Yuldashev, the leader of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), an al-Qaeda-linked militant group based in nearby Uzbekistan. But the poorly trained Frontier Corps local militia have walked into a trap, and are badly defeated by about 2,000 al-Qaeda, Taliban, and IMU militants who greatly outnumber them. Yuldashev escapes.
Escalation - Ali Jan Orakzai, the regional commander of the Pakistani army, immediately rushes in eight thousand regular troops in an effort to save the situation. For the next two weeks, heavy fighting rages in South Waziristan. Helicopter gunships, fighter bombers, and heavy artillery are brought in to help defeat the militants, but the militants have heavy weapons as well and command the heights in extremely difficult mountainous terrain. (Rashid 2008, pp. 270-271)
Al-Zawahiri Supposedly Surrounded - On March 18, Musharraf boasts on CNN that a “high-value target” has been surrounded, and suggests that it could be al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. He claims that 200 well-armed al-Qaeda fighters are protecting him. (CNN 3/18/2004; FOX News 3/18/2004) On March 19, Pakistani officials say that al-Zawahiri has escaped the South Waziristan village where he was supposedly surrounded. (Interactive Investor 3/19/2004) In all likelihood, al-Zawahiri was never there, but was used as an excuse to justify the debacle.
Al-Qaeda Victorious - Heavy fighting continues for the next several weeks. Musharraf eventually orders local commanders to strike a deal with the militants to end the fighting. The fighting finally ends on April 24, when the Pakistani government signs an agreement with the militants, pardoning their leaders. The government claims that 46 of its soldiers were killed, while 63 militants were killed and another 166 were captured. But privately, army officers admit that their losses were close to 200 soldiers killed. US officials monitoring the fighting will later admit that the army attack was a disaster, resulting from poor planning and a near total lack of coordination. Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will later comment: “But there were deeper suspicions. The ISI had held meetings with the militants and possessed detailed information about the enemy’s numbers and armaments, but this intelligence did not seem to have been conveyed to the Frontier Corps. Western officers in [Afghanistan and Pakistan] wondered if the failed attack was due to a lack of coordination or was deliberate.” Orakzai, the army commander in charge of the offensive, reportedly intensely hates the US and has sympathy for the Taliban (see Late 2002-Late 2003). But there is no internal inquiry, even though many soldiers deserted or refused to fire on the militants. Nek Mohammed, a native local militant leader, emerges as a hero (see April 24-June 18, 2004). (PBS Frontline 10/3/2006; Rashid 2008, pp. 270-271)
As the US Defense Department launches Operation Mountain Storm (OMS—see March 13, 2004 and March 15, 2004), a major planner for the Afghan resistance reveals the insurgency’s counter-strategy in an “exclusive meeting” with Asia Times Online.
Coalition Vs. Resistance Plan - In his article, “Afghan offensive: Grand plans hits rugged reality,” Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online, describes the plan behind OMS: “US-led coalition forces would drive from inside Afghanistan into the last real sanctuary of the insurgents, and meet the Pakistani military driving from the opposite direction.” If the widely publicized operation were to go according to plan, Shahzad writes, “There would then be no safe place left to hide for the Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants, or, presumably, for Osama bin Laden himself.” However, according to the unnamed insurgent, the resistance has a plan of its own: to waylay US-led forces with a series of small-scale, local skirmishes and to divert Pakistani allies from joining the coalition’s new surge.
Afghan Resistance Leverages Tribal Loyalty and Harsh Landscape - The insurgent claims that tribes people, familiar with the increasingly forbidding territory, can exhaust their much stronger opposition through “a classic guerrilla strategy” designed by “foreign resistance fighters of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Arab origin.” Hidden in a dizzying array of seemingly endless mountains, they can “regroup,” then emerge to carry out “hit and run” battles against coalition forces while under the protection of villagers loyal to their cause. In turn, according to Asia Times, these local tribes “are now the protectors of the Taliban and al-Quaeda fighters” ranged along and across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Pakistani Army De-Railed - Meanwhile, Pakistani troops are occupied in South Waziristan with Wazir tribes and their neighbors. And Asia Times reports that “the South Waziristan fighting has spread to other areas,” flaring up in North Waziristan, for instance, where recently an attack on the Pakistani army resulted in the death of an officer and his soldiers. Effectively, the insurgency has stopped Pakistan from helping the US clean out “remnants” of its opposition, while more guerrilla fighters join in. This, in only the first week of the official launch of OMS. Based on his interview with the opposition strategist, Shahzad concludes that, thus far, “the operation that began as a hunt for Osama bin Laden has already degenerated into sideshows against rebel Pakistani tribes people.” (Shahzad 3/20/2004)
Critics Point Finger at US Defense Secretary for Poor Planning - Later, critics of the US military strategy in Afghanistan will cite numerous problems in the design and conception of OMS. Some will blame the high-profile death of Pat Tillman while on patrol for OMS, or on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s flawed strategy, one designed to boast quick results so as to help re-elect President George Bush in the upcoming November 2004 elections (see March 15, 2004).
The 9/11 Family Steering Committee and 9/11 Citizens Watch demand the resignation of Philip Zelikow, executive director of the 9/11 Commission. The demand comes shortly after former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke told the New York Times that Zelikow was present when he gave briefings on the threat posed by al-Qaeda to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from December 2000 to January 2001. The Family Steering Committee, a group of 9/11 victims’ relatives, writes: “It is clear that [Zelikow] should never have been permitted to be a member of the Commission, since it is the mandate of the Commission to identify the source of failures. It is now apparent why there has been so little effort to assign individual culpability. We now can see that trail would lead directly to the staff director himself.” Zelikow has been interviewed by his own Commission because of his role during the transition period. But a spokesman for the Commission claims that having Zelikow recluse himself from certain topics is enough to avoid any conflicts of interest. (Shenon 3/20/2004; Waterman 3/23/2004) 9/11 Commission Chairman Thomas Kean defends Zelikow on NBC’s Meet the Press, calling him “one of the best experts on terrorism in the whole area of intelligence in the entire country” and “the best possible person we could have found for the job.” (NBC 4/4/2004) Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton adds, “I found no evidence of a conflict of interest of any kind.” Author Philip Shenon will comment: “If there had been any lingering doubt that Zelikow would survive as executive director until the end of the investigation, Kean and Hamilton had put it to rest with their statements of support… on national television. Zelikow would remain in charge.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 263) However, Salon points out that the “long list” of Zelikow’s writings “includes only one article focused on terrorism,” and he appears to have written nothing about al-Qaeda. (Conason 4/6/2004)
The Sunday Times publishes details of interrogations of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), who is being held by the CIA. The article, written by Christina Lamb, indicates the information is from “transcripts” of his interrogations. It also quotes KSM as making various statements, such as “The original plan [for 9/11] was for a two-pronged attack with five targets on the East Coast of America and five on the West Coast.” The report makes the following claims:
KSM introduced Osama bin Laden to Hambali, leader of the Southeast Asian militant organization Jemaah Islamiyah, who KSM first met during the Soviet-Afghan War in Peshawar, Pakistan. KSM was “impressed” with “Hambali’s connections with the Malaysian government,” and bin Laden and Hambali forged an alliance in 1996.
After 1996, KSM became a “key planner in almost every attack, including the simultaneous bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.”
He was the “chief planner” for 9/11 and planning started very early, before his associate Ramzi Yousef was captured (see February 7, 1995), when they hit upon the idea of using planes to attack the US. The plan for 9/11 initially had two parts, one on the US East Coast and the other on the west, but bin Laden canceled the second half. This part was then spun off into a second, separate plot, to be carried out independently, and one of the operatives to be involved was Zacarias Moussaoui. The first two operatives selected for 9/11 were Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, followed by Mohamed Atta and his associates from Hamburg.
Al-Qaeda was very surprised by the US response to the 9/11 attacks. “Afterwards we never got time to catch our breath, we were immediately on the run,” KSM is quoted as saying. He added that the US campaign seriously disrupted operations.
Britain was the next target after 9/11, because, “Osama declared [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair our principal enemy and London a target.” However, a plot to attack Heathrow Airport never got beyond the planning stage.
KSM also described Hambali’s departure from Afghanistan in November 2001, and said the two kept in touch through Hambali’s brother.
The article points out that “the interrogation transcripts are prefaced with the warning that ‘the detainee has been known to withhold information or deliberately mislead,’” and also mentions some allegations made against US interrogators, including sleep deprivation, extremes of heat and cold, truth drugs, and the use of Arab interrogators so that detainees thought they were in an Arab camp. (Lamb 3/28/2004) When it becomes clear what techniques have been used to obtain information from KSM, doubts will be expressed about the reliability of his information (see June 16, 2004 and August 6, 2007). However, most of this information will appear in the relevant sections of the 9/11 Commission report, which are based on reports produced by CIA interrogators. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004) Despite this, some of the information contained in the report seems to be incorrect. For example, Abu Zubaida is described as a member of al-Qaeda’s inner shura council, although it appears he was not that close to al-Qaeda’s senior leadership (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). In addition, KSM is described as the head of al-Qaeda’s military committee, although he will later deny this (see March 10, 2007).
In a news conference, President Bush is asked about the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). Bush explains: “I asked for the briefing. And the reason I did is because there had been a lot of threat intelligence from overseas. And part of it had to do with the Genoa G8 conference that I was going to attend. And I asked at that point in time, let’s make sure we are paying attention here at home as well. And that’s what triggered the report.” (US President 4/19/2004) Although Bush had shown some interest in counterterrorism around that time (see July 5, 2001 and June 20, 2001), the CIA analysts who drafted the PDB item will deny he asked for it specifically, saying they drafted it on the CIA’s initiative (see July 13, 2004). The main threat to the late July 2001 Genoa conference, as discussed in numerous articles even before the conference, was an al-Qaeda plot to fly an airplane into the conference building, killing Bush and other world leaders (see Mid-July 2001). But Bush’s tacit admission that a plot involving planes as weapons helped inspire the well-known August briefing passes without comment by the mainstream media. However, a professor will write a letter to the editor of Britain’s Financial Times noting Bush’s remark and commenting, “If President Bush had been sufficiently alarmed by the Italian defenses [against a suicide air attack] in Genoa to request a special report, he must have been able to recognize that, yes, it could happen in the US.” (Willetts 4/27/2004)
The Pentagon reports that Army Ranger Pat Tillman has died in combat with enemy fighters in Afghanistan. Tillman gave up a multi-million dollar NFL contract to fight against al-Qaeda ( seeMay 23-June 1, 2002, and was was perhaps the most well-known US soldier in the Middle East. (Rich 2006)
White House Calls Tillman Death "Ultimate Sacrifice" - In a statement made a day after Tillman’s death, Taylor Goss, a White House spokesman, says: “Pat Tillman was an inspiration on and off the football field, as with all who have made the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror. His family is in the thoughts and prayers of President and Mrs. Bush.” (MSNBC 4/26/2004)
Military Spokesman Tells NBC Tillman Died at Hands of Enemy - According to Pentagon spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Matthew Beevers, Tillman died at the hand of enemy fighters in an ambush near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. The Pentagon will release more details of Tillman’s death a week later. (Rich 2006)
A Pakistani army offensive against the al-Qaeda safe haven in the tribal region of South Waziristan ends in victory for al-Qaeda and associated militants (see March 18- April 24, 2004). On April 24, 2004, the Pakistani army signs an agreement with the local militants. They are pardoned and given money to pay the debts they claim they owe to al-Qaeda. One young local militant, Nek Mohammed, emerges as a hero for his fighting against the army offensive. Army commander General Safdar Hussein travels to South Waziristan and signs the agreement with Mohammed in front of a large crowd. One Pakistani politician will later tell PBS Frontline: “It was really shocking to see the Pakistan army entering into agreement with al-Qaeda operatives. It was for the first time after September 11th that any state was not only entering into negotiation with al-Qaeda but establishing peace with their help, which is really amazing.” But the agreement quickly breaks down, as Mohammed publicly vows to fight against the US in Afghanistan. The Pakistani army goes on the offensive, blockading the main town of Wana and preventing goods from entering the region. Pakistan also makes a secret deal with the US, allowing them to attack certain targets in Pakistan with missiles fired from Predator drones. On June 18, Mohammed is killed by a missile fired from a Predator after his location was determined from his use of a satellite phone. (PBS Frontline 10/3/2006; Rashid 2008, pp. 272-274)
A second attempted raid is made on al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi in Abbottabad, Pakistan, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will describe in a 2006 memoir. In April 2004, Pakistani intelligence discovered al-Libbi was living in Abbottabad, but it raided only one of his three houses there and missed him (see April 2004). Later in 2004, Pakistani intelligence is tipped off that some important al-Qaeda figure is living in a certain Abbottabad house, and someone else important is supposed to meet him there. Al-Libbi is the visitor, but he sends a decoy to check out the situation first. The decoy is shot and killed, al-Libbi doesn’t show, and the al-Qaeda figure living at the house apparently gets away. Musharraf will not mention if it is ever determined who this person is. (Musharraf 2006, pp. 211) Al-Libbi will be captured in Pakistan a year later (see May 2, 2005). Osama bin Laden begins living in Abbottabad around late 2005 (see Late 2005-Early 2006). His trusted courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed already lives there in 2004 (see January 22, 2004-2005).
Gunmen attack the offices of the US oil company ABB Lummus Global Inc. in the port of Yanbu, Saudi Arabia. Six Westerners and a Saudi are killed. All four gunmen are killed in a subsequent shootout. Al-Qaeda is blamed for the attack. (BBC 12/6/2004) Three of the gunmen apparently worked at the company and used their entry passes to gain access for the attack. (Asser 5/31/2004)
In a secret agreement with the White House, the 9/11 Commission obtains the right to question at least two top al-Qaeda leaders in US custody. The two men are believed to be Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, two accused masterminds of the 2001 attacks. (Sullivan 5/12/2004) The results of the commission’s questioning of these suspects are published in a 9/11 Staff Statement released in June 2004. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004) However, in an ironic twist, during a 9/11-related lawsuit hearing held in June, US authorities refuse to acknowledge whether or not they have Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in custody. (Associated Press 4/23/2004; Yen 6/15/2004) Insurance companies representing 9/11 victims had requested that the US Justice Department serve a summons against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, but a judge rules that the US government does not have to disclose whether it is holding alleged terrorists in custody. (Associated Press 4/23/2004; Yen 6/15/2004)
On May 17, 2004, security officials say that recent intelligence has led to increased concern about the possibility of a major terrorist attack in the US. It is believed that the attack could take place as early as the summer and before November, perhaps in an attempt to affect the outcome of the Presidential election. Potential targets include the dedication of the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, the G8 economic summit on Sea Island, Georgia, Fourth of July celebrations, the Democratic convention in Boston, the Republican convention in New York, and the Olympics in Greece. However, no specific target, time or date is identified for the possible attack. Sources do state that the assessment is new and is the result of intelligence gathered over time. However, an official with the Department of Homeland Security, speaking on condition of anonymity, states that “We are not aware of any new highly credible intelligence indicating a planned attack in the US this summer. Nothing in the current intelligence is exceptionally specific.” (Arena 5/25/2004) The next day, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller hold a news conference to warn of a “plane attack inside the United States.” They warn that terrorists are “poised for an immediate attack.” Ashcroft says “credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that al-Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months. This disturbing intelligence indicates al-Qaeda’s specific intention to hit the United States hard.” (CNN 5/26/2004) The Justice Department asks for assistance in locating seven alleged terrorist operatives and states an increased concern about attacks over the summer. (CBS News 6/14/2004) It is later revealed the threat actually came from a group that falsely claimed responsibility for the terror attacks in Madrid. One expert says that the group is “not really taken seriously by Western intelligence.” These warnings come as the administration is under heavy criticism for failures in Iraq. The Abu Ghraib torture scandal dominates headlines. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 ) This warning also comes on the heels of other bad news for the Bush administration. During a May 16 interview on Meet the Press, Secretary of State Colin Powell is cut off by an aide while discussing misleading CIA information regarding WMD in Iraq. He admits that “it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading. And for that, I am disappointed and I regret it.” (MSNBC 6/15/2004) Three days later, Newsweek reports that White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez warned in a January 25, 2002 internal White House memo that US officials could be prosecuted for war crimes due to the unprecedented and unusual methods used by the Bush administration in the war on terrorism. (Isikoff 5/19/2004)
Retired Marine General Anthony Zinni was the chief of the US Central Command until 2000, and, until just before the invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration’s special envoy to the Middle East. Now he has become an outspoken critic of the administration’s war efforts in Iraq. Zinni gives an interview to CBS’s 60 Minutes, in part to promote his new biography, Battle Ready, co-authored by famed war novelist Tom Clancy.
'Dereliction of Duty' among Senior Pentagon Officials - Zinni says that senior officials at the Pentagon, from Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld on down, are guilty of what he calls dereliction of duty, and he believes it is time for “heads to roll.” Zinni tells correspondent Steve Kroft: “There has been poor strategic thinking in this. There has been poor operational planning and execution on the ground. And to think that we are going to ‘stay the course,’ the course is headed over Niagara Falls. I think it’s time to change course a little bit, or at least hold somebody responsible for putting you on this course. Because it’s been a failure.” In his book, Zinni writes: “In the lead up to the Iraq war and its later conduct, I saw at a minimum, true dereliction, negligence, and irresponsibility, at worse, lying, incompetence, and corruption.… I think there was dereliction in insufficient forces being put on the ground and fully understanding the military dimensions of the plan. I think there was dereliction in lack of planning.”
'The Wrong War at the Wrong Time' - Zinni calls Iraq “the wrong war at the wrong time,” and with the wrong strategy. Before the invasion, Zinni told Congress (see October 31, 2002): “This is, in my view, the worst time to take this on. And I don’t feel it needs to be done now.” The generals never wanted this war, Zinni says, but the civilians in the Pentagon and the White House did. “I can’t speak for all generals, certainly,” he says. “But I know we felt that this situation was contained (see Summer 2002-2003). Saddam was effectively contained.… And I think most of the generals felt, let’s deal with this one at a time. Let’s deal with this threat from terrorism, from al-Qaeda.”
Much Larger Force Required - Zinni was heavily involved in planning for any invasion of Iraq, going back to at least 1999 (see April-July 1999). Zinni always envisioned any such invasion as being implemented with enough ground forces to get the job done quickly and cleanly. Rumsfeld had different ideas—the invasion could be carried off with fewer troops and more high-tech weaponry. Zinni wanted around 300,000 troops: “We were much in line with General Shinseki’s view. We were talking about, you know, 300,000, in that neighborhood.” Would a larger force have made a difference? Kroft asks. Zinni replies, “I think it’s critical in the aftermath, if you’re gonna go to resolve a conflict through the use of force, and then to rebuild the country.” Rumsfeld should have anticipated the level and ferocity of violence that erupted in the aftermath of the toppling of the Hussein government, but, Zinni says, he did not, and worse, he ignored or belittled those such as Shinseki and a number of foreign allies who warned him of the possible consequences. Instead, Zinni notes, Rumsfeld relied on, among other sources, fabricated intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi and his Iraqi National Congress (see September 19-20, 2001).
'Seat of the Pants Operation' - The entire reconstruction effort was, in Zinni’s mind, a seat-of-the-pants affair. “As best I could see, I saw a pickup team, very small, insufficient in the Pentagon with no detailed plans that walked onto the battlefield after the major fighting stopped and tried to work it out in the huddle,” he says, “in effect to create a seat-of-the-pants operation on reconstructing a country.” Coalition Provisional Authority head L. Paul Bremer is “a great American who’s serving his country, I think, with all the kind of sacrifice and spirit you could expect. But he has made mistake after mistake after mistake.” Bremer’s mistakes include “Disbanding the army (see May 23, 2003). De-Baathifying (see May 16, 2003), down to a level where we removed people that were competent and didn’t have blood on their hands that you needed in the aftermath of reconstruction—alienating certain elements of that society.” Zinni reserves most of the blame for the Pentagon: “I blame the civilian leadership of the Pentagon directly.”
Heads Should Roll, Beginning with Rumsfeld's - Zinni continues: “But regardless of whose responsibility I think it is, somebody has screwed up. And at this level and at this stage, it should be evident to everybody that they’ve screwed up. And whose heads are rolling on this? That’s what bothers me most.” The first one to go, Zinni says, is Rumsfeld: “Well, it starts with at the top. If you’re the secretary of defense and you’re responsible for that.”
Neoconservatives at Fault - Next up are Rumsfeld’s advisers, whom Kroft identifies as the cadre of neoconservatives “who saw the invasion of Iraq as a way to stabilize American interests in the region and strengthen the position of Israel.” Zinni says: “Certainly those in your ranks that foisted this strategy on us that is flawed. Certainly they ought to be gone and replaced.” Kroft identifies that group as including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz; Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith; former Defense Policy Board member Richard Perle; National Security Council member Elliott Abrams; and Vice President Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Zinni calls them political ideologues who have hijacked US policy in Iraq: “I think it’s the worst-kept secret in Washington. That everybody—everybody I talk to in Washington has known and fully knows what their agenda was and what they were trying to do.” Like so many others who criticized them, Zinni recalls, he was targeted for personal counterattacks. After publishing one article, he says: “I was called anti-Semitic. I mean, you know, unbelievable that that’s the kind of personal attacks that are run when you criticize a strategy and those who propose it.”
Fundamental Conceptual Flaws - Zinni says the neoconservatives believed they could remake the Middle East through the use of American military might, beginning with Iraq. Instead, the US is viewed in the region as “the modern crusaders, as the modern colonial power in this part of the world.”
Changing Course - Zinni has a number of recommendations. He advises President Bush and his senior officials to reach out much more strongly to the United Nations, and to US allies, and secure the UN’s backing. Do these other countries “want a say in political reconstruction? Do they want a piece of the pie economically? If that’s the cost, fine. What they’re gonna pay for up front is boots on the ground and involvement in sharing the burden.” Many more troops are needed on the ground, and not just American troops, he says, enough to seal off the borders, protect the road networks.
Exit Strategy - Zinni says that planning for an exit is necessary because it is inevitable that the US will want to withdraw, and that time will come sooner rather than later. “There is a limit,” he says. “I think it’s important to understand what the limit is. Now do I think we are there yet?”
Speaking Out - He is speaking out, he says, because it is his duty to do so: “It is part of your duty. Look, there is one statement that bothers me more than anything else. And that’s the idea that when the troops are in combat, everybody has to shut up. Imagine if we put troops in combat with a faulty rifle, and that rifle was malfunctioning, and troops were dying as a result. I can’t think anyone would allow that to happen, that would not speak up. Well, what’s the difference between a faulty plan and strategy that’s getting just as many troops killed?” (CBS News 5/21/2004)
Time magazine reports that “the prestigious International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) released its annual survey that found, among other things, that far from dealing a blow to al-Qaeda and making the US and its allies safer, the Iraq invasion has in fact substantially strengthened bin Laden’s network and increased the danger of attacks in the West. And the London-based IISS is not some Bush-bashing antiwar think tank; it hosted the president’s keynote address during his embattled visit to the British late last year.” According to the IISS report, “Although half of al-Qaeda’s 30 senior leaders and perhaps 2,000 rank-and-file members have been killed or captured, a rump leadership is still intact and more than 18,000 potential terrorists are still at large, with recruitment accelerating on account of Iraq.” (Karon 5/26/2004)
Gunmen attack oil company compounds in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, and then take hostages. The Khobar headquarters of APICORP (Arab Petroleum Investments Corporation) is attacked and six people are killed. About 30 minutes later, gunmen storm the Petroleum Center headquarters about two miles away and kill at least four people. Then the gunmen move less than a mile away to the Oasis compound, a residential building full of Westerners, and take hostages. After a 24-hour siege, all but one of attackers manage to escape even though the building is surrounded by a cordon of hundreds of police. At least 30 people are killed in total, including nine hostages. Al-Qaeda reportedly takes credit for the attacks. (CNN 5/30/2004; BBC 12/6/2004) There is widespread speculation that the gunmen were allowed to walk free as part of a deal to ensure the safe release of other hostages. The BBC reports that counterterrorism experts say “they were surprised at the ease with which three of the four attackers were able to escape… despite the overwhelming numerical superiority of the security forces and the tactical and logistical advantages which they enjoyed. If true, the existence of collusion between attackers and the people meant to catch them would be most disturbing.” (Asser 5/31/2004) The Scotsman adds, “Eyewitnesses said they were highly skeptical of official accounts that there were only four kidnappers, insisting others were seen during the earlier attacks on two oil industry office buildings and entering the sprawling compound. It was also reported that they arrived in three vehicles.” Further, the fact that “the Khobar attackers wore military uniforms has raised fears of collusion between militants and the security forces.” (Theodoulou 6/1/2004)
Deputy Attorney General James B. Comey Jr. releases a newly declassified Pentagon report that states that al-Qaeda “master planner” Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was “very skeptical” about Jose Padilla’s dirty bomb plan when they met in Pakistan in March 2002, and suggested instead that Padilla bomb apartment buildings through conventional means. Padilla tells US interrogators later that he “proposed the dirty-bomb plot only as a way to get out of Pakistan and avoid combat in Afghanistan, yet save face with Abu Zubaida” (see May 8, 2002). He says he also had “no intention of carrying out the apartment-building operation.” Nevertheless, the release of the Pentagon report is apparently intended to draw attention to Padilla’s high-level al-Qaeda connection in an attempt to influence deliberations by the Supreme Court on the Padilla case. (Isikoff and Hosenball 6/9/2004) Comey and other government officials admit that Padilla’s alleged confession can never be used as evidence in court, because Padilla made the statements without ever being informed of his legal rights. The government had consistently refused to discuss how Padilla was interrogated, claiming that to make that knowledge public would assist al-Qaeda in preparing countermeasures for other operatives who might be captured in the future. Defense lawyers and civil rights experts believe that the government may have used illegal methods in interrogating Padilla. The criminal charges eventually filed against Padilla will make no mention of the allegations of planning to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” or of any plans to blow up apartment buildings. (Isikoff and Hosenball 2/28/2007) The release of the Pentagon report by the Justice Department is heavily criticized at the time as being an inappropriate interference of the executive with the judiciary branch. (New York Review of Books 7/15/2004)
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)
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says the US would have stopped 9/11, but “We lacked the intelligence that might have prevented it.” He blames the lack of “a source inside the group of people that had planned and executed those attacks.… Had we had a source inside there, we undoubtedly would have been able to stop it. We did not.” (Newsday 6/4/2004)
President Bush repeats the US government claim that al-Qaeda had links to the Saddam Hussein government of Iraq, suggesting that militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is the link between the two. “Al-Zarqawi’s the best evidence of a connection to al-Qaeda affiliates and al-Qaeda. He’s the person who’s still killing.” (CNN 6/15/2004)
Vice President Dick Cheney, infuriated by the 9/11 Commission’s intent to report that no serious connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda ever existed (see July 12, 2004) and the media’s acceptance of the same position, decides to launch a media counterattack. His first target is not the Commission itself, but the media, particularly the New York Times, which has just published a front-page article entitled “Panel Finds No Qaeda-Iraq Tie.” Cheney’s first appearance is on CNBC’s Capital Report. Correspondent Gloria Borger notes, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen you… as exercised about something as you seem today.” Cheney leads off by calling the Times reporting “outrageous,” and accuses the newspaper of manufacturing a division between the administration’s claims of a “Qaeda-Iraq tie” and the Commission’s report that no such ties ever existed. “There’s no conflict,” he says. He asserts that “[W]e don’t know” if Iraq was involved in 9/11 and adds that no one has “been able to confirm” or “knock… down” the claim that 9/11 plotter Mohamed Atta met with an Iraqi intelligence agent in Prague in April of 2001. Reporters who doubt the connection are “lazy,” he says. When Borger notes that Commission investigators have found no evidence to support that allegation, Cheney asserts that he “probably” knows information the 9/11 Commission does not. (CNN 6/18/2004; Shenon 2008, pp. 381-385) A few days later, the Commission says that after asking Cheney for any additional evidence he might have, they stand by their position. Cheney maintains his position as well, but does not turn over any new evidence. (Wallsten and Meyer 7/2/2004; Shenon 2008, pp. 381-385)
“An unnamed senior staff member” on the 9/11 Commission tells the Los Angeles Times that, before 9/11, Pakistani officials were “up to their eyeballs” in collaboration with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. As an example, this source says of bin Laden moving to Afghanistan in 1996, “He wouldn’t go back there without Pakistan’s approval and support, and had to comply with their rules and regulations.” From “day one,” the ISI helped al-Qaeda set up an infrastructure, and jointly operated training camps. The article further notes that what the commission will publicly say on this is just the “tip of the iceberg” of the material they’ve been given on the matter. (Meyer 7/16/2004) In fact, the commission’s final report released a month later will barely mention the ISI at all. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004)
Attempting to stem the flow of bad publicity and world-wide criticism surrounding the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and similar reports from Guantanamo Bay, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes, accompanied by Pentagon lawyer Daniel Dell’Orto, give a lengthy press conference to discuss the US’s position on interrogation and torture. Gonzales and Haynes provide reporters with a thick folder of documents, being made public for the first time. Those documents include the so-called “Haynes Memo” (see November 27, 2002), and the list of 18 interrogation techniques approved for use against detainees (see December 2, 2002 and April 16, 2003). Gonzales and Haynes make carefully prepared points: the war against terrorism, and al-Qaeda in particular, is a different kind of war, they say. Terrorism targets civilians and is not limited to battlefield engagements, nor do terrorists observe the restrictions of the Geneva Conventions or any other international rules. The administration has always acted judiciously in its attempt to counter terrorism, even as it moved from a strictly law-enforcement paradigm to one that marshaled “all elements of national power.” Their arguments are as follows:
Always Within the Law - First, the Bush administration has always acted within reason, care, and deliberation, and has always followed the law. In February 2002, President Bush had determined that none of the detainees at Guantanamo should be covered under the Geneva Conventions (see February 7, 2002). That presidential order is included in the document packet. According to Gonzales and Haynes, that order merely reflected a clear-eyed reading of the actual provision of the conventions, and does not circumvent the law. Another document is the so-called “torture memo” written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see August 1, 2002). Although such legal opinions carry great weight, and though the administration used the “torture memo” for months to guide actions by military and CIA interrogators, Gonzales says that the memo has nothing to do with the actions at Guantanamo. The memo was intended to do little more than explore “the limits of the legal landscape.” Gonzales says that the memo included “irrelevant and unnecessary” material, and was never given to Bush or distributed to soldiers in the field. The memo did not, Gonzales asserts, “reflect the policies that the administration ultimately adopted.” Unfortunately for their story, the facts are quite different. According to several people involved in the Geneva decision, it was never about following the letter of the law, but was designed to give legal cover to a prior decision to use harsh, coercive interrogation. Author and law professor Phillippe Sands will write, “it deliberately created a legal black hole into which the detainees were meant to fall.” Sands interviewed former Defense Department official Douglas Feith about the Geneva issue, and Feith proudly acknowledged that the entire point of the legal machinations was to strip away detainees’ rights under Geneva (see Early 2006).
Harsh Techniques Suggested from Below - Gonzales and Haynes move to the question of where, exactly, the new interrogation techniques came from. Their answer: the former military commander at Guantanamo, Michael E. Dunlavey. Haynes later describes Dunlavey to the Senate Judiciary Committee as “an aggressive major general.” None of the ideas originated in Washington, and anything signed off or approved by White House or Pentagon officials were merely responses to requests from the field. Those requests were prompted by a recalcitrant detainee at Guantanamo, Mohamed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), who had proven resistant to normal interrogation techniques. As the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approached, and fears of a second attack mounted, Dell’Orto says that Guantanamo field commanders decided “that it may be time to inquire as to whether there may be more flexibility in the type of techniques we use on him.” Thusly, a request was processed from Guantanamo through military channels, through Haynes, and ultimately to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who approved 15 of the 18 requested techniques to be used against al-Khatani and, later, against other terror suspects (see September 25, 2002 and December 2, 2002). According to Gonzales, Haynes, and Dell’Orto, Haynes and Rumsfeld were just processing a request from military officers. Again, the evidence contradicts their story. The torture memo came as a result of intense pressure from the offices of Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney. It was never some theoretical document or some exercise in hypothesizing, but, Sands will write, “played a crucial role in giving those at the top the confidence to put pressure on those at the bottom. And the practices employed at Guantanamo led to abuses at Abu Ghraib.” Gonzales and Haynes were, with Cheney chief of staff David Addington and Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee (the authors of the torture memo), “a torture team of lawyers, freeing the administration from the constraints of all international rules prohibiting abuse,” in Sands’s words. Dunlavey was Rumsfeld’s personal choice to head the interrogations at Guantanamo; he liked the fact that Dunlavey was a “tyrant,” in the words of a former Judge Advocate General official, and had no problem with the decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions. Rumsfeld had Dunlavey ignore the chain of command and report directly to him, though Dunlavey reported most often to Feith. Additionally, the Yoo/Bybee torture memo was in response to the CIA’s desire to aggressively interrogate another terror suspect not held at Guantanamo, Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Sands will write, “Gonzales would later contend that this policy memo did ‘not reflect the policies the administration ultimately adopted,’ but in fact it gave carte blanche to all the interrogation techniques later recommended by Haynes and approved by Rumsfeld.” He also cites another Justice Department memo, requested by the CIA and never made public, that spells out the specific techniques in detail. No one at Guantanamo ever saw either of the memos. Sands concludes, “The lawyers in Washington were playing a double game. They wanted maximum pressure applied during interrogations, but didn’t want to be seen as the ones applying it—they wanted distance and deniability. They also wanted legal cover for themselves. A key question is whether Haynes and Rumsfeld had knowledge of the content of these memos before they approved the new interrogation techniques for al-Khatani. If they did, then the administration’s official narrative—that the pressure for new techniques, and the legal support for them, originated on the ground at Guantanamo, from the ‘aggressive major general’ and his staff lawyer—becomes difficult to sustain. More crucially, that knowledge is a link in the causal chain that connects the keyboards of Feith and Yoo to the interrogations of Guantanamo.”
Legal Justifications Also From Below - The legal justification for the new interrogation techniques also originated at Guantanamo, the three assert, and not by anyone in the White House and certainly not by anyone in the Justice Department. The document stack includes a legal analysis by the staff judge advocate at Guantanamo, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver (see October 11, 2002), which gives legal justifications for all the interrogation techniques. The responsibility lies ultimately with Beaver, the three imply, and not with anyone higher up the chain. Again, the story is severely flawed. Beaver will give extensive interviews to Sands, and paint a very different picture (see Fall 2006). One Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) psychologist, Mike Gelles (see December 17-18, 2002), will dispute Gonzales’s contention that the techniques trickled up the chain from lower-level officials at Guantanamo such as Beaver. “That’s not accurate,” he will say. “This was not done by a bunch of people down in Gitmo—no way.” That view is supported by a visit to Guantanamo by several top-ranking administration lawyers, in which Guantanamo personnel are given the “green light” to conduct harsh interrogations of detainees (see September 25, 2002).
No Connection between Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib - Finally, the decisions regarding interrogations at Guantanamo have never had any impact on the interrogations at Abu Ghraib. Gonzales wants to “set the record straight” on that question. The administration has never authorized nor countenanced torture of any kind. The abuses at Abu Ghraib were unauthorized and had nothing to do with administration policies. Much evidence exists to counter this assertion (see December 17-18, 2002). In August 2003, the head of the Guantanamo facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, visited Abu Ghraib in Baghdad, accompanied by, among others, Diane Beaver (see August 31, 2003-September 9, 2003). They were shocked at the near-lawlessness of the facility, and Miller recommended to Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the supreme US commander in Iraq, that many of the same techniques used at Guantanamo be used in Abu Ghraib. Sanchez soon authorized the use of those techniques (see September 14-17, 2003). The serious abuses reported at Abu Ghraib began a month later. Gelles worried, with justification, that the techniques approved for use against al-Khatani would spread to other US detention facilities. Gelles’s “migration theory” was controversial and dangerous, because if found to be accurate, it would tend to implicate those who authorized the Guantanamo interrogation techniques in the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. “Torture memo” author John Yoo called the theory “an exercise in hyperbole and partisan smear.” But Gelles’s theory is supported, not only by the Abu Ghraib abuses, but by an August 2006 Pentagon report that will find that techniques from Guantanamo did indeed migrate into Abu Ghraib, and a report from an investigation by former defense secretary James Schlesinger (see August 24, 2004) that will find “augmented techniques for Guantanamo migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq where they were neither limited nor safeguarded.” (White House 7/22/2004; Sands 5/2008)
It is reported that the Swiss government is investigate an unnamed Saudi businessman who is the former president of the Muwafaq Foundation, which is now defunct. Swiss investigators will say he is suspected of transferring tens of millions of dollars to “close al-Qaeda associates” from Swiss bank accounts. The Swiss will freeze $20 million of his bank accounts. This businessman denies any connection with terrorism (see September 19, 2005). (Fleck 6/25/2004) The have been repeated allegations that Muwafaq funded radical militants in the Bosnian war (see 1991-1995) and had ties to bin Laden (see 1995-1998).
It is reported that the FBI’s Boston office is investigating if there may have been an al-Qaeda sleeper cell in Boston and whether it may have had connections to the 9/11 attacks. The Boston FBI had previously denied the existence of any Boston cell, even though they knew before 9/11 that four Boston taxi drivers—Nabil al-Marabh, Raed Hijazi, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, and Bassam Kanj—all knew each other well and were all connected to al-Qaeda (see January 2001; Mid-August 2001). But the FBI shows new interest in the possibility after indicting Elzahabi in Minnesota a few days earlier (see April 16, 2004-June 25, 2004). The Boston Globe comments, “The possibility that unknown people in Boston were providing support to terrorists, including the 10 who hijacked the two planes out of Logan Airport, has been the subject of much conjecture among law enforcement officials.” (Kurkjian and DeMarco 6/27/2004) Unofficially, it seems that even before 9/11, some in the FBI thought that al-Qaeda had cells in Boston. On September 12, 2001, an anonymous long-time Boston FBI agent told the Boston Globe that there were “a lot of terrorist cells in [the Boston] area.… It’s a facilitator for terrorist activity. There have been cells here of bin Laden’s associates. They’re entrenched here.” (Cullen 9/12/2001) Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says, “We uncovered plots in December of 1999 that also involved Boston cab drivers around the millennium rollover. I think there is a high probability the Boston FBI missed a major cell there.” (WCVB 5 (Boston) 6/28/2004)
Since being defeated in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in late 2001, al-Qaeda has made a safe haven in the Pakistani tribal region of South Waziristan (see December 10, 2001 and Late May 2002). But in April 2004, the Pakistani army begins attacking militants there (see March 18- April 24, 2004 and April 24-June 18, 2004). The army is defeated, but rapidly increases its troops in South Waziristan from less than 10,000 militia soldiers based only in the main town before the fighting began to 80,000 throughout the region. As a result, most of the al-Qaeda militants simply move from South Waziristan to North Waziristan. There is no similar increase in troop strength in North Waziristan, so al-Qaeda is able to reestablish a safe haven there. (Rashid 2008, pp. 274) In February 2005, the army will strike a deal with the remaining militants in South Waziristan and withdraw all its troops from there, allowing al-Qaeda to reestablish themselves there as well (see February 7, 2005).
The Senate Intelligence Committee releases the 511-page Senate Report on Iraqi WMD intelligence, formally titled the “Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the US Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq.” (US Congress 7/7/2004; CNN 7/9/2004) All nine Republicans and eight Democrats signed off on the report without dissent, which, as reporter Murray Waas will write, is “a rarity for any such report in Washington, especially during an election year.” (Waas 10/27/2005)
Report Redacted by White House - About 20 percent of the report was redacted by the White House before its release, over the objections of both Republicans and Democrats on the committee. Some of the redactions include caveats and warnings about the reliability of key CIA informants, one code-named “Red River” and another code-named “Curveball” (see Mid- and Late 2001). The source called “Red River” failed polygraph tests given to him by CIA officers to assess his reliability, but portions of the report detailing these and other caveats were redacted at the behest of Bush administration officials. (Jehl 7/12/2004; Rosenthal 7/18/2004)
Widespread Failures of US Intelligence - The report identifies multiple, widespread failures by the US intelligence community in its gathering and analysis of intelligence about Iraq WMD, which led to gross misunderstandings and misrepresentations about Iraq’s WMD programs to the American public by government officials. Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), who has previously attempted to shift blame for the intelligence misrepresentations away from the Bush administration and onto the CIA (see July 11, 2003 and After), says that intelligence used to support the invasion of Iraq was based on assessments that were “unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence.” He continues: “Before the war, the US intelligence community told the president as well as the Congress and the public that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and if left unchecked would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Today we know these assessments were wrong.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the 18-member panel that created the report, says “bad information” was used to bolster the case for war. “We in Congress would not have authorized that war with 75 votes if we knew what we know now,” he says (see October 10, 2002). “Leading up to September 11, our government didn’t connect the dots. In Iraq, we are even more culpable because the dots themselves never existed.” Numerous assertions in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002) were “overstated” or “not supported by the raw intelligence reporting,” including:
Claims that Iraq was rebuilding its nuclear weapons program;
Claims that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons;
Claims that Iraq was developing an unmanned aerial vehicle that could be used to deliver chemical and/or biological weapons payloads onto distant targets;
The so-called “layering effect,” where “assessments were based on previous judgments, without considering the uncertainties of those judgments” (Roberts calls it an “assumption train”);
The failure to explain adequately the uncertainties in the October 2002 NIE to White House officials and Congressional lawmakers;
Reliance on claims by “Curveball,” noting that the use of those claims “demonstrated serious lapses in handling such an important source”;
Use of “overstated, misleading, or incorrect” information in helping then-Secretary of State Colin Powell present the administration’s case to the United Nations in February 2003 (see February 5, 2003); and
The failure of the CIA to share significant intelligence with other agencies. (CNN 7/9/2004; Jones 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004)
“One fact is now clear,” Roberts says. “Before the war, the US intelligence community told the president as well as the Congress and the public that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and if left unchecked, would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Well, today we know these assessments were wrong.” (Jones 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004) Rockefeller says the intelligence community failed to “accurately or adequately explain the uncertainties behind the judgments in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate to policymakers.” The community’s “intelligence failures” will haunt America’s national security “for generations to come,” he says. “Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower,” he says. “We have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world, and that will grow. As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before.” (CNN 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004)
'Group Think' and 'Corporate Culture' - Roberts says the report finds that the “flawed” information used to send the nation to war was the result of “what we call a collective group think, which led analysts and collectors and managers to presume that Iraq had active and growing WMD programs.” He says this “group think caused the community to interpret ambiguous evidence, such as the procurement of dual-use technology, as conclusive evidence of the existence of WMD programs.” Roberts blames “group think” and a “broken corporate culture and poor management,” which “cannot be solved by simply adding funding and also personnel.” (CNN 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004)
Lack of Human Intelligence in Iraq - Perhaps the most troubling finding, Roberts says, is the intelligence community’s near-total lack of human intelligence in Iraq. “Most alarmingly, after 1998 and the exit of the UN inspectors, the CIA had no human intelligence sources inside Iraq who were collecting against the WMD target,” he says. (CNN 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004)
No Connection between Iraq, al-Qaeda - Rockefeller says that the administration’s claims of an alliance between Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda had no basis in fact: “[N]o evidence existed of Iraq’s complicity or assistance in al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks, including 9/11.” The report says that intelligence claims of connections between Iraq and some terrorist activities were accurate, though the contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq from the 1990s “did not add up to an established formal relationship.” (CNN 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004)
Divided Opinion on Pressure from Bush Administration - Republicans and Democrats on the committee differ as to whether they believe the CIA and other intelligence agencies groomed or distorted their findings as a result of political pressure from the White House. “The committee found no evidence that the intelligence community’s mischaracterization or exaggeration of intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities was the result of politics or pressure,” Roberts says. However, Rockefeller notes that the report fails to explain fully the pressures on the intelligence community “when the most senior officials in the Bush administration had already forcefully and repeatedly stated their conclusions publicly. It was clear to all of us in this room who were watching that—and to many others—that they had made up their mind that they were going to go to war.” The analysts were subjected to a “cascade of ominous statements,” Rockefeller says, that may have pushed them to slant their analyses in the direction the White House indicated it wanted. The report finds that Vice President Dick Cheney and others who repeatedly visited intelligence agencies (see 2002-Early 2003) pressured intelligence analysts or officials to present particular findings or change their views. However, the report notes repeated instances of analysts exaggerating what they knew, and leaving out, glossing over, or omitting dissenting views. According to the report, the intelligence community released a misleading public version of the October 2002 NIE (see October 4, 2002) that eliminated caveats and dissenting opinions, thus misrepresenting “their judgments to the public which did not have access to the classified National Intelligence Estimate containing the more carefully worded assessments.” (CNN 7/9/2004; New York Times 7/9/2004; Jones 7/9/2004) In an interview the evening after the report’s release, Rockefeller is asked if the report documents “a failure of a system or is this a failure of a bunch of individuals who just did their jobs poorly?” Rockefeller responds: “This is a failure of a system.… It is not fair to simply dump all of this on the Central Intelligence Agency. The Central Intelligence Agency does not make the decision, and [former Director] George Tenet does not make the decision to go to war. That decision is made at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.… So we went to war under false pretenses, and I think that is a very serious subject for Americans to think about for our future.” Asked “if the president had known then what he knows now, he would have still taken us to war?” Rockefeller answers: “I can’t answer that question. I just ask—the question I ask is, why isn’t he, and maybe he is, why isn’t he as angry about his decision, so to speak his vote on this, as I am about mine?” (Lehrer 7/9/2004)
Supporting the Claim of Iraq's Attempt to Purchase Nigerien Uranium - The report states flatly that senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson made the decision to send her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate false claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The CIA has demonstrated that Plame Wilson did not make that decision (see February 19, 2002). However, as well as claiming that Plame Wilson sent Wilson to Niger, it claims that Wilson’s report, far from disproving the assertion of an attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium, actually bolstered that assertion. The report states that the question of Iraq’s attempt to buy Nigerien uranium remains “open.” It also says Wilson lied to the Washington Post in June 2004 by claiming that the documents used to support the claim were forgeries (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). “Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the ‘dates were wrong and the names were wrong’ when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports,” the report states. Wilson told committee members he may have been confused and may have “misspoken” to some reporters (see May 2, 2004). The committee did not examine the documents themselves. (Schmidt 7/10/2009) The committee made similar claims a year before (see June 11, 2003 and July 11, 2003 and After). Progressive reporter and columnist Joshua Micah Marshall disputes the report’s claim that Wilson’s trip to Niger actually helped prove the assertion that Iraq tried to buy Nigerien uranium. The intelligence reports making the assertion are “fruits of the same poison tree” that produced so many other false and misleading claims, Marshall writes, and were based on the assumption that the forged documents were genuine. (Joshua Micah Marshall 7/10/2004) In 2007, Plame Wilson will write, “What was missing from the [committee] report was just as telling as the distortions it contained. The ‘Additional Views’ section… had concluded” that she was responsible for sending Wilson to Niger. Yet that was contradicted by a senior CIA official over a year before. Plame Wilson will call the “Additional Views” section “a political smear if there ever was one,” crammed with “distortions and outright lies. Yet it continues to be cited today by Joe’s critics as proof of his lack of credibility.” The Wilsons learn months later that committee Democrats decided not to fight against the attacks on Wilson’s integrity; according to one of the senior Democratic senators on the panel, there was simply too much “incoming” from the Republicans for them to fight every issue. There were “far too many serious substantial disputes” that needed solving, and the Democrats chose to allow the attacks on Wilson to proceed without comment. (Wilson 2007, pp. 187-190)
Portion of the Report Delayed - Roberts and other Republican majority committee members were successful in blocking Democrats’ attempts to complete the second portion of the report, which delineates the Bush administration’s use of the intelligence findings. That report will not be released until after the November 2004 presidential election. Rockefeller says he feels “genuine frustration… that virtually everything that has to do with the administration” has been “relegated to phase two” and will be discussed at another time. The second part of the committee’s investigation will focus on the “interaction or the pressure or the shaping of intelligence” by the Bush administration, Rockefeller says. “It was clear to all of us that the Bush administration had made up its mind to go to war,” he says, and he believes that such a “predetermination” influenced the intelligence community. Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says she hopes a similar House investigation would address some of those issues. However, she notes, she has been stymied by House Republicans in even launching that investigation. “There has not been the cooperation that there apparently has been on the Senate side,” she says. She has just now managed to wangle a meeting with House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss (R-FL), who is being touted as the next director of the CIA (see September 24, 2004). Harman says, “I would hope we could address [the issues] factually and on a bipartisan basis, but at the moment I don’t have a lot of confidence in it.” (CNN 7/9/2004; Jones 7/9/2004) Roberts’s spokeswoman Sarah Little later says that the committee has not yet decided whether the second portion of the report will be fully classified, declassified, or even if it will hold hearings. (Waas 10/27/2005)
Cheney, Roberts Colluded in Interfering with Report - Over a year later, the media will find that Roberts allowed Cheney and members of his staff to interfere with the committee’s investigation and dramatically limit its scope (see October 27, 2005). Rockefeller will say that he made three separate requests for White House documents during the committee’s investigation, but never received the documents he asked for. “The fact is,” Rockefeller will say, “that throughout the Iraq investigation any line of questioning that brought us too close to the White House was thwarted.” Rockefeller’s spokesperson, Wendy Morigi, will say that Rockefeller will “sadly come to the conclusion that the Intelligence Committee is not capable of doing the job of investigating the fundamental question as to whether the administration has misused intelligence to go to war.” (Waas and Singer 10/30/2005) Plame Wilson will write: “In the coming months, many reliable sources told us that before the report was issued, there was considerable collusion between the vice president’s office and… Roberts on how to craft the report and its content. So much for checks and balances and the separation of powers.” (Wilson 2007, pp. 192)
Ten days before the 9/11 Commission releases its final report, a senior member of its staff, Dietrich Snell, accompanied by another commission staff member, meets at one of the commission’s Washington, DC offices with a US Navy officer who worked with a US Army intelligence program called Able Danger, which had been tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks around the world. This officer, Captain Scott Phillpott, tells them he saw an Able Danger document in 2000 that described Mohamed Atta as part of a Brooklyn al-Qaeda cell. He complains that this information about Atta, and information about other alleged members of the Brooklyn cell, was deleted from the document soon after he saw it, due to the concerns of Department of Defense lawyers. However, despite having this meeting with Phillpott, and having met previously with an Army intelligence officer who was also involved with Able Danger (see October 21, 2003), the 9/11 Commission makes no mention of the unit in their final report. The commissioners later claim that Phillpott’s information “[does] not mesh with other conclusions” they are drawing from their investigation. Consequently, the commission staff conclude “that the officer’s account [is] not sufficiently reliable to warrant revision of the report or further investigation.” Able Danger is not mentioned in their final report, they claim, because “the operation itself did not turn out to be historically significant.” (Associated Press 8/11/2005; Jehl 8/11/2005; Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton 8/12/2005 ; Jehl 8/13/2005; Eggen 8/13/2005; Shenon 8/22/2005) Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer additionally claims, “Captain Phillpott actually told the 9/11 Commission about the fact that Able Danger discovered information regarding the Cole attack.… There was information that Able Danger found that related to al-Qaeda planning an attack. That information unfortunately didn’t get anywhere either. So that is another clue that was given to the 9/11 Commission to say, hey, this [Able Danger] capability did some stuff, and they chose not to even look at that.” (Shaffer 9/20/2005)
Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, a young Pakistani, is arrested in Lahore after six weeks of surveillance by Pakistani authorities in conjunction with US intelligence agencies. The US and Pakistanis learned of Noor Khan after arresting another al-Qaeda suspect, Musaad Aruchi, a month before (see June 12, 2004), and they had been tracking him since then. Noor Khan is taken to a high-security prison by Pakistani authorities, who resisted pressure from the CIA to let them completely handle the operation. (Burke, Harris, and Bright 8/8/2004) American intelligence agents find what they later call a “treasure trove” of information in Noor Khan’s computers and documents. (CNN 8/2/2004) Khan is a communications hub of sorts for al-Qaeda. He is in frequent contact with dozens of other al-Qaeda terrorists around the world and passing messages back and forth from more senior al-Qaeda operatives. Former National Security Council official Gideon Rose will later say, “It is obviously a very serious victory. It is obvious that there is a real find here.” (Burke, Harris, and Bright 8/8/2004) Khan, who speaks fluent English, is not just a center for expediting clandestine communications between al-Qaeda leaders and their underlings, but also handles and collates documents, reports, maps, and other information, and sometimes performs his own intelligence-gathering, usually on trips to Britain. (Moreau, Hussain, and Yousafzai 8/8/2004) Khan’s computer contains detailed surveillance information about five US buildings—the Stock Exchange and Citigroup’s headquarters in New York City, the Prudential building in Newark, and the International Monetary Fund and World Bank headquarters in Washington—all possible targets for future al-Qaeda attacks, though the information is all from 2000 and 2001. Other sites in New York City and San Francisco are mentioned, and meticulous information about London’s Heathrow Airport is also found. Pakistani intelligence officials believe that the information indicates a “present” threat, and so inform their US counterparts. Later in the month, the Pakistanis convince Khan to “turn,” or become a double agent. Khan will subsequently send e-mails to dozens of operatives all requesting that they contact him immediately (see July 24-25, 2004). (Burke, Harris, and Bright 8/8/2004)
Shortly before the 9/11 Commission is due to release its final report (see July 22, 2004), Commission Chairman Thomas Kean says, “We believe.… that there were a lot more active contacts, frankly, [between al-Qaeda and] Iran and with Pakistan than there were with Iraq.” (Zagorin and Klein 7/16/2004) This is based on a review of NSA material performed by one commission staffer (see January-June 2004) and a day trip to NSA headquarters by a group of staffers to examine material there (see Between July 1 and July 17, 2004). (Shenon 2008, pp. 155-7, 370-373) The US media immediately runs prominent stories on the Commission’s evidence regarding Iran and nearly completely ignores evidence regarding Pakistan. The Commission’s final report mentions that around ten of the hijackers passed through Iran in late 2000 and early 2001. At least some Iranian officials turned a blind eye to the passage of al-Qaeda agents, but there was no evidence that the Iranian government had any foreknowledge or involvement in the 9/11 plot (see Mid-July 2004). (Zagorin and Klein 7/16/2004; Reuters 7/18/2004) In the wake of these findings, President Bush states of Iran, “As to direct connections with September 11, we’re digging into the facts to determine if there was one.” This puts Bush at odds with his own CIA, which has seen no Iran-9/11 ties. (Chen and Miller 7/20/2004) Bush has long considered Iran part of his “axis of evil,” and there has been talk of the US attacking or overthrowing the Iranian government. (Reuters 7/18/2004) Provocative articles appear, such as one in the Daily Telegraph titled, “Now America Accuses Iran of Complicity in World Trade Center Attack.” (Coman 7/18/2004) Yet, while this information on Iran makes front page news in most major newspapers, evidence of a much stronger connection between Pakistan and 9/11 is nearly completely ignored. For instance, only UPI reports on a document suggesting high-level Pakistani involvement in the 9/11 attacks that is revealed this same week. (de Borchgrave 7/22/2004) Furthermore, the 9/11 Commission’s final report will contain almost nothing on Pakistan’s ties to al-Qaeda, despite evidence given to the Commission that, according to one commissioner speaking to the Los Angeles Times, showed that Pakistan was “up to their eyeballs” in intrigue with al-Qaeda. (Meyer 7/16/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004)
The 9/11 Commission completes its work and releases its final report. They blame incompetence for the reason why the US government did not prevent the attack. The Washington Post summarizes the report, “The US government was utterly unprepared on Sept. 11, 2001, to protect the American people from al-Qaeda terrorists.” (Eggen 7/23/2004) The report itself states, “We believe the 9/11 attacks revealed four kinds of failures: in imagination, policy, capabilities, and management.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004) The Washington Post reports, “Though openly dreaded for months by many Republicans and quietly feared by the White House, the report was much gentler on the Bush administration than they feared. Rather than focus criticism on the Bush administration, the commission spread the blame broadly and evenly across two administrations, the FBI, and Congress.” (Milbank and Allen 7/23/2004) More to the point, as former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke notes in a New York Times editorial, “Honorable Commission, Toothless Report,” because the commission wanted a unanimous report from a bipartisan group, “it softened the edges and left it to the public to draw many conclusions.” (Clarke 7/25/2004) The Washington Post comments, “In many respects, the panel’s work has been closer to the fact-finding, conspiracy-debunking Warren Commission of the mid-1960s, which investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, than to the reform-oriented Church Commission, which exposed assassination plots and CIA abuses during the mid-1970s.” (Eggen and Coll 7/18/2004)
Despite previous leaks to the media showing the 9/11 Commission was given information showing Pakistani officials were “up to their eyeballs” in collaboration with the Taliban and al-Qaeda before 9/11 (see June 20, 2004) (Turan 6/14/2004) , and even reports of a document given to the commission claiming the “ISI was fully involved in devising and helping the entire [9/11 plot]” (see July 22, 2004) (de Borchgrave 7/22/2004) , the 9/11 Commission’s Final Report released on this day rarely mentions the ISI at all. The only significant mention is a brief comment that the ISI was the Taliban’s “primary patron.” ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed is mentioned only twice, both in the context of post-9/11 diplomacy. Saeed Sheikh is not mentioned at all. The report notes that details of the 9/11 plot were widely known by the Taliban leadership, but fails to consider if the Taliban shared that knowledge or involvement with their “primary patron.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004) Indeed, far from criticizing Pakistan, the commission praises the country for its support in the war on terrorism, and suggests that the US should greatly increase its foreign aid there. (Associated Press 7/22/2004)
UPI reports that the 9/11 Commission has been given a document from a high-level, publicly anonymous source claiming that the Pakistani “ISI was fully involved in devising and helping the entire [9/11 plot].” The document blames Gen. Hamid Gul, a former ISI Director, as being a central participant in the plot. It notes that Gul is a self-avowed “admirer” of bin Laden. An anonymous, ranking CIA official says the CIA considers Gul to be “the most dangerous man” in Pakistan. A senior Pakistani political leader says, “I have reason to believe Hamid Gul was Osama bin Laden’s master planner.” The document further suggests that Pakistan’s appearance of fighting al-Qaeda is merely an elaborate charade, and top military and intelligence officials in Pakistan still closely sympathize with bin Laden’s ideology. (de Borchgrave 7/22/2004) However, the 9/11 Commission final report released a short time later will fail to mention any of this. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004)
The 9/11 Commission dismisses allegations of insider trading in the days preceding 9/11, in a footnote contained in its final report. According to the report, the put options for the parent companies of United Airlines were placed by a “US-based institutional investor with no conceivable ties to al-Qaeda as part of a trading strategy that also included buying 115,000 shares of American on September 10.” With respect to the highly suspicious trading in the parent company of American Airlines, the Commission states that many of the trades were “traced to a specific US-based options trading newsletter, faxed to its subscribers on Sunday, September 9, which recommended these trades.” According to the Commission: “The SEC and the FBI, aided by other agencies and the securities industry, devoted enormous resources to investigating this issue, including securing the cooperation of many foreign governments. These investigators have found that the apparently suspicious consistently proved innocuous.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 499)
On July 13, 2004, a young Pakistani al-Qaeda operative named Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan was arrested in Pakistan (see July 13, 2004). US intelligence agents find what they later call a “treasure trove” of information in Noor Khan’s computers and documents. (CNN 8/2/2004) They realize that Khan has served as a communications hub of sorts for al-Qaeda. He is in frequent contact with dozens of other al-Qaeda terrorists around the world and passing messages back and forth from more senior al-Qaeda operatives. Intelligence agents quickly realize that, through Khan, they can penetrate deep into the core of al-Qaeda’s current operations. Around the weekend of July 24-25, the Pakistanis convince Khan to “turn,” or become a double agent. Khan sends e-mails to dozens of activists in Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, and other countries. He requests that they contact him immediately and reveal where they are. As the emails come back, intelligence agents all over the world go into action to monitor those who have replied to Khan. (Burke, Harris, and Bright 8/8/2004) Newsweek later reports that he sends e-mails to at least six contacts in the US, but the results of this are unknown. A senior US intelligence official confirms that Khan contacted people in the US, but believes number is less than six. (Moreau, Hussain, and Yousafzai 8/8/2004) Some of Khan’s contacts are quickly arrested, including Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a Tanzanian wanted since 1998 for his role in the bombing of the US embassy in his home country (see July 25-29, 2004). (Suskind 2006) Some communications take time to reach him. He is sometimes sent handwritten notes or computer discs from the mountains where bin Laden and other top leaders are hiding out. These are delivered by secretive relays of couriers who never see each other, using dead drops to avoid being traced. Other messages come from far-flung intermediaries who forward e-mail without knowing what it means, where it is going, or who is sending it. (Moreau, Hussain, and Yousafzai 8/8/2004) However, on August 1, Bush administration officials leak Noor Khan’s name to the press and the New York Times prints his name one day later. This only gives one week for the sting operation to work. Intelligence officials are crushed the operation has to end before it could expose many more al-Qaeda operatives (see August 2, 2004).
Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, a high-level al-Qaeda operative from Tanzania suspected of participating in the 1998 bombings of US embassies in East Africa, is captured in Gujrat, Pakistan, after a violent standoff with Pakistani police. (CNN 8/3/2004) Ghailani’s arrest is publicly announced on July 29, four days later. The announcement by Pakistan’s Interior Minister Faisal Hayat is made in an unusual late-night press conference that takes place just hours before John Kerry accepts the Democratic nomination for president. (Haqqani 8/17/2004) Pakistani authorities say the announcement of Ghailani’s arrest was delayed four days because of the need to confirm his identity before making the proclamation. (BBC 7/30/2004) But former Pakistani official Husain Haqqani later claims the announcement was timed to upstage the Kerry speech. (Haqqani 8/17/2004; United States Conference on International Religious Freedom 6/30/2005) An article in the New Republic published earlier in the month reported that the Bush administration was asking Pakistan to make high-profile arrests of al-Qaeda suspects during the Democratic National Convention in order to redirect US media attention from the nomination of John Kerry (see July 8, 2004). (Judis, Ackerman, and Ansari 7/29/2004) John Judis, who co-wrote the article predicting such an arrest, says the day after the arrest is announced, “Well, the latest development pretty much confirms what we wrote in the article, which is that there was pressure for Pakistan to produce a high-value target during the last 10 days of July and to announce that arrest.” He also asks why is it “they announced [the arrest] at all? Because when you have somebody who’s been in hiding since 1998, they have an enormous amount of information and contacts. By announcing this guy’s arrest, what you do is you warn off everybody who’s been associated with him from the last five or six years. You tell them that they better get their act together or they are going to be found. So, there’s some, really a lot of questions of why they announced this thing when they did.… It may be in this case that we—that we, and the Pakistanis got somebody and prematurely announced this person’s arrest in order to have an electoral impact.” (Democracy Now! 7/30/2004)
The Bush administration issues a terror alert in the wake of the Democratic presidential convention, which ended on July 29, 2004. New Code Orange alerts are put into effect for New York City, Newark, and Washington, DC. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge says, “Now this afternoon, we do have new and unusually specific information about where al-Qaeda would like to attack.… Compared to previous threat reporting, these intelligence reports have provided a level of detail that is very specific. The quality of this intelligence, based on multiple reporting streams in multiple locations, is rarely seen and it is alarming in both the amount and specificity of the information.… As of now, this is what we know: reports indicate that al-Qaeda is targeting several specific buildings, including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in the District of Columbia; Prudential Financial in Northern New Jersey; and Citigroup buildings and the New York Stock Exchange in New York.” (Department of Homeland Security 8/1/2004; Eggen and Priest 8/3/2004) But Ridge fails to mention that the so-called “casing disks” are from 2000 and 2001, nor does he discuss the fact that the decision on whether to issue the alerts had been hotly debated by officials over the weekend. Within 24 hours, the age of the intelligence is leaked, causing a controversy about the merit and urgency of the orange alert. (Suskind 2006, pp. 325-326) The next day it will be revealed that the warning was based on information from the computer of recently captured al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan (see August 2, 2004). President Bush and his top advisors learned of the arrest and subsequent “turning” of Noor Khan just the day before. They decide to publicize an alert based on data captured with Noor Khan, even though doing so could jeopardize a sting operation launched just days earlier in which Noor Khan is contacting dozens of al-Qaeda operatives around the world (see July 24-25, 2004). (Burke, Harris, and Bright 8/8/2004) But even though Khan was arrested just weeks before, one senior law enforcement official who was briefed on the alert says, “There is nothing right now that we’re hearing that is new. Why did we go to this level?… I still don’t know that.” Homeland Security officials admit that that there is no indication that any terrorist action was imminent. “What we’ve uncovered is a collection operation as opposed to the launching of an attack,” says one. However, administration officials insist that even three-year-old intelligence, when coupled with other information about al-Qaeda’s plans to attack the US, justifies the security response in the three cities. President Bush says of the alerts, “It’s serious business. I mean, we wouldn’t be, you know, contacting authorities at the local level unless something was real.” A senior counterterrorism official says, “Most of the information is very dated but you clearly have targets with enough specificity, and that pushed it over the edge. You’ve got the Republican convention coming up, the Olympics, the elections…. I think there was a feeling that we should err on the side of caution even if it’s not clear that anything is new.” (Eggen and Priest 8/3/2004) Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean says he worries “every time something happens that’s not good for President Bush, he plays this trump card, which is terrorism. It’s just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics, and I suspect there’s some of both.” But conservatives defend the alert and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry swiftly moves to disassociate his campaign from Dean’s remarks. (Conason 8/4/2007) Author William Rivers Pitt points out that Laura Bush and daughters Barbara and Jenna make high-profile visits to the Citigroup Center in New York City on the first day of Ridge’s new orange alert. Noting this was one of the target buildings, Pitt asks, “George W. Bush sent his entire family to the very place that was supposedly about to be blown to smithereens?” Pitt concludes, “Bush and his administration officials are using terrorism—the fear of it, the fight against it—to manipulate domestic American politics. They are, as they have every day for almost three years now, using September 11 against their own people.” (Pitt 8/4/2004)
The New York Times reveals the identity of al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan. Bush administration officials allegedly revealed his name to the Times in an attempt to defend a controversial US terror alert issued the day before (see August 1, 2004). (Associated Press 8/10/2004; Suskind 2006, pp. 325-326) Officials from the Department of Homeland Security apparently gave out the name without revealing that Khan had already been turned and was helping to catch other al-Qaeda operatives. (Hasan 8/8/2004) A few days later, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice confirms that US officials named Khan to the reporters “on background.” (Savage and Bender 8/10/2004) But some days after that, anonymous Pakistani government sources will claim that Khan’s name was initially leaked by Pakistani officials. (Haqqani 8/17/2004) Middle East expert Juan Cole suggests both accounts have merit. In the hours after the August 1 terror alert that was based on information secured from Khan’s computer, reporters scramble to determine the source of the alert. One reporter learns of the Khan arrest from a CIA analyst, though the analyst refuses to give out any names. Cole believes that New York Times reporter David Rohde then acquires Khan’s name from his Pakistani sources and confirms it through US sources at the Department of Homeland Security. (Cole 8/19/2004) Khan, an al-Qaeda computer expert, was arrested in Pakistan on July 13 and quickly began cooperating with investigators. He started sending e-mails to other operatives around the world and asked them to report back in. As they replied, investigators began tracing their locations. But Khan’s name is revealed before his computer contacts could be fully exploited. Many al-Qaeda members, including some suspected plotters planning strikes on US targets, escape arrest because of the outing. One Pakistani official says, “Let me say that this intelligence leak jeopardized our plan and some al-Qaeda suspects ran away.” (Associated Press 8/10/2004; Suskind 2006, pp. 325-326) Intelligence reports also indicate that the exposure of Khan makes al-Qaeda members more cautious in their electronic communications. Many cells abruptly move their hideouts, causing the US losing track of them. (Grieve 8/9/2004; Ridgeway 8/2/2005) Some are critical about the leak of Khan’s name:
Tim Ripley, a security expert who writes for Jane’s Defense publications, says, “The whole thing smacks of either incompetence or worse. You have to ask: what are they doing compromising a deep mole within al-Qaeda, when it’s so difficult to get these guys in there in the first place? It goes against all the rules of counterespionage, counterterrorism, running agents, and so forth. It’s not exactly cloak and dagger undercover work if it’s on the front pages every time there’s a development, is it?”
British Home Secretary David Blunkett is openly contemptuous of the White House’s management of the information. “In the United States there is often high-profile commentary followed, as in the current case, by detailed scrutiny, with the potential risk of ridicule. Is it really the job of a senior cabinet minister in charge of counter-terrorism to feed the media? To increase concern? Of course not. This is arrant nonsense.” (Grieve 8/9/2004)
Other high-level British officials are “dismayed by the nakedly political use made of recent intelligence breakthroughs both in the US and in Pakistan.” They complain that they had to act precipitously in arresting low-level al-Qaeda figures connected to Khan instead of using those suspects to ferret out more senior al-Qaeda figures. These officials are “dismayed by the nakedly political use made of recent intelligence breakthroughs both in the US and in Pakistan.” (Conason 8/11/2004)
Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) writes in a letter to Bush officials, “I respectfully request an explanation [about] who leaked this Mr. Khan’s name, for what reason it was leaked, and whether the British and Pakistani reports that this leak compromised future intelligence activity are accurate.” (Savage and Bender 8/10/2004)
Senator George Allen (R-VA) says, “In this situation, in my view, they should have kept their mouth shut and just said, ‘We have information, trust us’.”
Middle East expert Juan Cole notes that the leak of Khan’s name forced the British to arrest 12 members of an al-Qaeda cell prematurely, allowing others to escape. “[T]his slip is a major screw-up that casts the gravest doubts on the competency of the administration to fight a war on terror. Either the motive was political calculation, or it was sheer stupidity. They don’t deserve to be in power either way.” (Hasan 8/8/2004)
Salon’s Dale Davis says, “[S]adly, the damage [the Bush administration’s] machinations have caused to the goal of defeating al-Qaeda will be measured in the loss of the young American servicemen and women who carry the burden of their failed policies.” (Davis 8/13/2004)
Dhiren Barot, a Londoner of Indian descent who converted to Islam and fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is arrested along with about a dozen other al-Qaeda suspects by British authorities (see August 3, 2004). Barot, who uses a number of pseudonyms, including Abu Eissa al-Hindi, will be charged with several crimes surrounding his plans to launch attacks against British and US targets. Barot’s plans were discovered in a computer owned by al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, who was arrested in July 2004 and was helping US intelligence until his outing by US and Pakistani officials on August 2, 2004 (see August 2, 2004). Though Barot is not believed to be a high-level al-Qaeda operative, he has connections to some of al-Qaeda’s most notorious leaders, including bin Laden and 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), who, according to the 9/11 Commission, dispatched him to “case” targets in New York City in 2001. Under the alias Issa al-Britani, he is known to have been sent to Malaysia in late 1999 or very early 2000 by KSM to meet with Hambali, the head of the al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah. According to the commission report, Barot may have given Hambali the names of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. Barot may have traveled to Malaysia with Khallad bin Attash. Bin Attash is believed to be one of the planners behind the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). Barot’s trip to Malaysia came just days before the well-documented January 2000 al-Qaeda summit where early plans for the 9/11 bombings were hatched (see January 5-8, 2000), though US officials do not believe that Barot was present at that meeting. British authorities believe that Barot was part of an al-Qaeda plan to launch a mass terror attack using chemical and/or radioactive weapons. Barot and other suspects arrested were, according to Western officials, in contact with al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, who themselves were communicating with bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders as recently as July 2004. (Isikoff and Hosenball 8/20/2004) Barot’s plans seem to have focused more actively on British targets, including London’s subway system. In November 2006, Barot will be convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and other crimes, and eventually sentenced to thirty years in prison by a British court. (BBC 11/7/2006; BBC 5/16/2007)
British agents are forced to arrest about a dozen low-level suspected al-Qaeda operatives as a result of the August 1, 2004, outing of Muhammed Naeem Noor Khan by the US (see August 2, 2004). One important figure, Dhiren Barot, is among the arrested (see August 3, 2004). But the British are forced to move before they are ready, and many higher-level al-Qaeda operatives in Britain, including three of the alleged 2005 London bombers (see July 7, 2005)—Mohammed Sidique Khan, Hasib Mir Hussain, and Magdy El Nashar—escape the hastily formed dragnet (see August 3, 2004). (Ross 7/14/2005) Sidique Khan will be able to later complete the planning and execution of the July 7, 2005, London bombings (see July 7, 2005). Sidique Khan is connected to at least one of the suspects arrested by British authorities, but because of the unexpected outing of Noor Khan, he and other al-Qaeda bombers slip through the British nets. (Ross 7/14/2005; Israel National News (Arutz Shiva) 7/19/2005) Sidique Khan and other London bombing suspects had started working on a London bomb plot in 2003. Noor Khan’s computer shows that there were plans for a coordinated series of attacks on the London subway system, as well as on financial buildings in both New York and Washington. Alexis Debat, a former official in the French Defense Ministry, will later say, “There’s absolutely no doubt [Sidique Khan] was part of an al-Qaeda operation aimed at not only the United States but [Britain].… It is very likely this group was activated… after the other group was arrested.” (Ross 7/14/2005)
The New York Times reports that, “For months Afghan and American officials have complained that even while Pakistan cooperates in the fight against al-Qaeda, militant Islamic groups there are training fighters and sending them into Afghanistan to attack American and Afghan forces.” One prisoner captured by the Afghan government says Pakistan is allowing militant groups to train and organize insurgents to fight in Afghanistan. Groups designated as terrorist organizations by the US and/or Pakistan have simply changed names and continue to operate freely. An anonymous Western diplomat says, “When you talk about Taliban, it’s like fish in a barrel in Pakistan. They train, they rest there. They get support.” The New York Times comments, “Western diplomats in Kabul and Pakistani political analysts have said that Pakistan has continued to allow the Taliban to operate to retain influence in Afghanistan.” (Gall 8/4/2004)
The Independent reports that “there is mounting evidence that [Afghanistan’s] booming opium trade is funding terrorists linked to al-Qaeda.” The governor of Kandahar, in a joint press conference with a US general, states, “One of the most important things prolonging terrorism is drugs. We are 100 percent sure that some of the top terrorists are involved in drug smuggling, and eradication of this industry would not only benefit Afghanistan but would be a step towards eradicating terrorism [worldwide].” The Independent comments, “Patrolling US troops routinely turn a blind eye to opium farming and trading, ignoring poppy fields, and have recruited warlords suspected of being drug dealers to fight al-Qaeda.” Troops are explicitly told not to engage in drug eradication (see November 2003). It is believed that the US and allied military forces are overstretched in Afghanistan, and would face a violent backlash if they took more steps to confront drug trafficking. The Independent notes, “The drugs business is widely believed to have corrupted officials up to cabinet level, and many Afghans fear that they may have exchanged Taliban fundamentalism for rule by narco-mafias in the future.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld has raised the possibility of using the 17,000 US soldiers still stationed in Afghanistan to take a more active role against the drug trade. (Meo 8/14/2004) However, nine months later, no such change of policy will be evident. It will be reported that US and Afghan officials decided in late 2004 that a more aggressive anti-poppy effort is “too risky.” (Cloud and Gall 5/22/2005)
Former Pakistani government official Husain Haqqani says that Pakistan, not the US government, may have originally leaked the news to the international press that Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, an al-Qaeda operative turned informant for the US and Pakistan, was a double agent (see August 2, 2004). The leak of Khan’s identity ruins his capability to provide information about al-Qaeda and allows senior al-Qaeda operatives to escape arrest. Haqqani writes that there are two possible reasons for Pakistan’s decision to leak such damaging information: either Pakistani officials were eager to demonstrate their success in penetrating al-Qaeda, or, more likely, that Pakistan wanted to curb the inroads being made into al-Qaeda in order to keep the terrorist group safe and functional. A second leak, from Pakistani intelligence officials like the first, fingered US officials for the leak. The US government accepted the responsibility for outing Khan because, Haqqani writes, administration officials were complicit in the leak, and because the Bush administration is involved in a twisted, mutually duplicitous relationship with the Musharraf regime of Pakistan: “ostensibly driven by the mutual desire for security, there is clearly a political element to the relationship related to the survival of both the Bush and the Musharraf governments.” (Haqqani 8/17/2004) On August 6, 2004, former President Bill Clinton accused the Bush administration of essentially contracting out US security and the hunt for Osama bin Laden to Pakistan in its zeal to wage war in Iraq (see August 6, 2004). One consequence of the decision to subcontract the hunt for members of al-Qaeda to Pakistan is that the terrorists appear to be regrouping and regaining in strength. (Eggen and Lancaster 8/14/2004) Haqqani believes that the two have mutual political concerns: while Pakistan cooperates, to a point, in hunting down al-Qaeda members, the government of Pervez Musharraf is more secure. In return, Pakistani officials, known for their reticence, have lately been unusually forthcoming in issuing well-timed reports designed to help Bush’s re-election efforts. For instance, on July 29, just hours before John Kerry’s speech accepting the Democratic nomination for president, Pakistan’s interior minister, Faisal Hayat, held an unusual late-night press conference announcing the arrest of Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, the man wanted for the 1998 terrorist bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see July 25-29, 2004). (Haqqani 8/17/2004)
The 9/11 Commission releases a report on terrorism financing. Its conclusions generally stand in complete contrast to a great body of material reported by the mainstream media, before and after this report. For instance, while the report does mention some terrorism-supporting organizations in great detail, such as the Global Relief Foundation or Al Barakaat, many seemingly important organizations are not mentioned a single time in either this report or the 9/11 Commission Final Report. The Commission fails to ever mention: BMI, Inc., Ptech, Al Taqwa Bank, Holy Land Foundation, InfoCom, International Islamic Relief Organization, Muslim World League, Muwafaq (Blessed Relief) Foundation, Quranic Literacy Institute, and the SAAR network or any entity within it. Additionally, important efforts to track terrorist financing such as Vulgar Betrayal and Operation Greenquest are not mentioned a single time. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 61; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 134-5 ) Some select quotes from the report:
“While the drug trade was an important source of income for the Taliban before 9/11, it did not serve the same purpose for al-Qaeda. Although there is some fragmentary reporting alleging that bin Laden may have been an investor, or even had an operational role, in drug trafficking before 9/11, this intelligence cannot be substantiated and the sourcing is probably suspect.” Additionally, there is “no evidence of [al-Qaeda] drug funding after 9/11.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 22-23 )
“[C]ontrary to some public reports, we have not seen substantial evidence that al-Qaeda shares a fund-raising infrastructure in the United States with Hamas, Hezbollah, or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 24 )
“The United States is not, and has not been, a substantial source of al-Qaeda funding, but some funds raised in the United States may have made their way to al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups. A murky US network of jihadist (holy war) supporters has plainly provided funds to foreign mujaheddin with al-Qaeda links. Still, there is little hard evidence of substantial funds from the United States actually going to al-Qaeda. A CIA expert on al-Qaeda financing believes that any money coming out of the United States for al-Qaeda is ‘minuscule.’” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 24 )
The notion “that bin Laden was a financier with a fortune of several hundred million dollars” is an “urban legend.” “[S]ome within the government continued to cite the $300 million figure well after 9/11, and the general public still [incorrectly] gives credence to the notion of a ‘multimillionaire bin Laden.’” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 20, 34 ) (A few months after this report, it will be reported that in 2000 over $250 million passed through a bank account jointly controlled by bin Laden and another man (see 2000).)
“To date, the US government has not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks.… Ultimately the question of the origin of the funds is of little practical significance.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 144 )
“The US intelligence community has attacked the problem [of terrorist funding] with imagination and vigor” since 9/11. (Shenon 8/22/2004)
According to the New York Times, the report “largely exonerate[s] the Saudi government and its senior officials of long-standing accusations that they were involved in financing al-Qaeda terrorists.” (Shenon 8/22/2004) Author Douglas Farah comments on the Commission’s report, “The biggest hole is the complete lack of attention to the role the Muslim Brotherhood has played in the financing of al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups. While the ties are extensive on a personal level, they also pervade the financial structure of al-Qaeda.… According to sources who provided classified briefing to the Commission staff, most of the information that was provided was ignored.… [T]he Commission staff simply did not include any information that was at odds with the official line of different agencies.” (Farah 8/27/2004)
Haji Bashir Noorzai, reputedly Afghanistan’s biggest drug kingpin with ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, was arrested by US forces then inexplicably released in late 2001 (see Late 2001). He lives in Pakistan with the protection of the ISI, but in June 2004, the Bush administration adds his name to a US government list of wanted drug figures. Concerned that he may eventually be arrested again, he agrees to hold secret talks with a FBI team to discuss a deal. According to author James Risen, “The message the Americans delivered to Noorzai was a simple one: you can keep on running, or you can come work with us. Cooperate, and tell us what you know about the Afghan drug business, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and their financiers.” Arrangements are made for Noorzai to meet the FBI team in a hotel in the United Arab Emirates to finalize a deal. But the FBI team never arrives. According to Risen, “American sources add that the local CIA station in the UAE was so preoccupied with the war in Iraq that it was unable to devote any attention to the Noorzai case.” Noorzai eventually tires of waiting and returns to Pakistan. One US official familiar with the case says, “We let one of the big drug kingpins go, someone who was a key financier for al-Qaeda, someone who could help us identify al-Qaeda’s key financiers in the Gulf. It was a real missed opportunity. If the American people knew what was going on, they would go nuts.” (Risen 2006, pp. 152-162; Blanchard 1/25/2006)
Cantor Fitzgerald Securities, a bond-trading firm that lost 658 employees in the World Trade Center attacks, files a $7 billion lawsuit against the government of Saudi Arabia for allegedly supporting al-Qaeda prior to 9/11. The lawsuit names dozens of other defendants, including many Saudi banks and Islamic charities. Many of the defendants had also been named in the still-pending $300 billion Ron Motley lawsuit (see August 15, 2002). The Cantor Fitzgerald lawsuit claims the Saudi Arabian government “knew and intended that these Saudi-based charity and relief organization defendants would provide financial and material support and substantial assistance to al-Qaeda.… This uninterrupted financial and material support and substantial assistance enabled the al-Qaeda defendants to plan, orchestrate and carry out the Sept. 11 attacks.” (Neumeister 9/3/2004)
A car bombing outside the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, kills ten people and injures about 200 more. Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), said to be the Southeast Asian arm of al-Qaeda, takes credit for the attack. A year later, a militant on trial for involvement in the attack claims that al-Qaeda funded the operation. (Ressa 9/9/2004; Reuters 8/2/2005) JI leaders Azhari Husin and Noordin Mohammed Top are said to have masterminded the bombing largely on their own, since the rest of JI is in disarray by this time. (Bonner 10/7/2005)
The Army’s Criminal Investigation Division (CID) opens a probe into the deaths of two Afghan detainees, allegedly at the hands of US Special Forces soldiers. The two men, Wakil Mohammed and Jamal Naseer, died on March 1, 2003 and March 16, 2003, respectively (see March 1, 2003 and March 16, 2003). Mohammed, an unarmed peasant, was being interrogated about his role in a recent firefight. While he was protesting his innocence, he was shot in the face by an American soldier. Naseer, taken into custody with seven other Afghans for interrogation about their supposed involvement with local Taliban or al-Qaeda fighters, died about a week after his capture, allegedly from repeated torture and abuse. Los Angeles Times reporters Craig Pyes and Mark Mazzetti write, “Motivation for those arrests remains cloaked in Afghan political intrigue. The action was requested by a provincial governor feuding with local military commanders, an Afghan intelligence report says.” While the Army apparently looked into the circumstances of the deaths shortly after they occurred, no official investigation was ever mounted until the Crimes of War Project began its own investigation into the deaths. When the organization released its findings to two Los Angeles Times reporters, Kevin Sack and Craig Pyes, and the reporters filed a series of articles on the deaths in September 2004, the CID opened its own probe. Former Attorney General for the Armed Forces Yar Mohammed Tamkin, who directs the Afghan investigation into the death of Naseer, concludes in his own report that there was a “strong possibility” that Naseer was “murdered as the result of torture” at the hands of his US captors. Under Afghan law, he writes, “it is necessary for our legal system to investigate the torture of the seven individuals and the murder of Jamal, son of Ghazi, and other similar acts committed by foreign nationals.” CID investigators say that the Army’s original inquiry into the deaths was stymied by a lack of information made available by the Gardez unit’s commanders. “We’re trying to figure out who was running the base,” says Army detective Christopher Coffey. “We don’t know what unit was there. There are no records. The reporting system is broke across the board. Units are transferred in and out. There are no SOPs [standard operating procedures]… and each unit acts differently.” Coffey does acknowledge that “Gardez is the worst facility—it is three or four times as bad as any other base in Afghanistan.” Naseer’s death was officially attributed to “natural causes” stemming from an apparent sexually-contracted urinary tract infection, and his death was never reported, as is standard Army procedure. Shortly after Naseer’s death, the other seven detainees were transferred to the custody of local Afghan police, who mounted their own investigation. The seven were released without charge six weeks later. (Pyes and Mazzetti 9/21/2004) Two special Forces soldiers accused of complicity in Naseer and Mohammed’s deaths will be given administrative reprimands by the Army in 2007 (see January 26, 2007).
Amjad Farooqi, a leader of al-Qaeda and the Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, is allegedly shot and killed in Nawabshah, Pakistan, a town 170 miles north of Karachi. Farooqi had been indicted for the murder of US journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002 (see January 31, 2002), and was said to have been a mastermind of the two assassination attempts against Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf in December 2003 (see December 14 and 25, 2003). Farooqi is also believed to have taken part in the hijacking of an Indian airliner in late 1999 (see December 24-31, 1999). He is said to be close to al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi. Farooqi was allegedly tracked by his mobile home to a hideout, which was then surrounded by police. He and two associates were killed after a two-hour gun battle, while three others were arrested. A senior Pakistani official says, “Farooqi’s elimination is a crushing blow to the al-Qaeda network in Pakistan because he was the man who had been providing al-Qaeda terrorists with the manpower to carry out attacks.” (Khan 9/27/2004)
Staged Death? - However, the Asia Times reported in June 2004 that Farooqi had been secretly arrested already and that Musharraf was saving him for a politically opportune time. (Shahzad 6/5/2004) After the announcement of his death, the Asia Times further report that its sources believe Farooqi indeed was killed, but his death was staged and he had been arrested months before. It is claimed that Pakistani authorities wanted him dead to close investigations into the murder of Daniel Pearl and the assassination attempts against Musharraf. In both cases, there are unanswered questions about the links between al-Qaeda and forces within the Pakistani government. Furthermore, some say the 1999 Indian airline hijacking he was said to have been a part of was planned by al-Qaeda-linked militants working with the Pakistani ISI (see December 24-31, 1999).
Allegedly Overhyped - The Asia Times further claims that while Farooqi was involved in Pearl’s death and the Musharraf assassinations, he was not the “super villain” he was made out to be in the months before his death. They also portray him as a stand-alone operator who worked with al-Qaeda and a number of Pakistani militant groups, but did not directly belong to any one group. (Shahzad 9/28/2004; Shahzad 9/29/2004)
Questions Unanswered - One senior Pakistani law-enforcement official says after the announcement of his death, “It was very important to catch Amjad Farooqi alive. Farooqi was the key link between the foot soldiers and those who ordered the murder [of Musharraf].” Another says, “Amjad Farooqi is now dead with the most important secret and we still don’t know for sure the real identity of the Pakistani or al-Qaeda or any other foreign elements who had launched Farooqi into action to remove General Musharraf from the scene.” (Raman 9/30/2004)
On a September 30, 2004, presidential debate with John Kerry, President Bush says, “75 percent of known al-Qaeda leaders have been brought to justice.” But there is no evidence to support such a number. He uses this same number in other speeches around this time. In 2003, Bush’s top advisers typically said that more than one-third of the most wanted leaders had been found. Prior to the Republican convention in early September, the White House had claimed that “two-thirds” of the “senior al-Qaeda and associated leaders, operational managers, and key facilitators” had been captured or killed. But while the White House numbers were increasing as the November 2004 presidential election drew closer, the number of top al-Qaeda figures captured or killed remained essentially unchanged - Hassan Ghul was captured in early 2004 (see January 23, 2004). In October 2004, the Washington Post learns 28 of the approximately 30 names on a classified and unpublished “high-value targets” list of al-Qaeda leaders. Only 14, or half, are known to be killed or captured. (Other al-Qaeda leaders captured in 2004, such as Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (see July 25-29, 2004), apparently are not considered important enough to be included in the list seen by the Washington Post.) (Gellman and Linzer 10/22/2004; Greenberg and Holmes 11/1/2004) In 2008, it will be reported that, of the 37 people the CIA deemed the most important al-Qaeda leaders in 2002, only 15 have been captured or killed. (Rashid 2008, pp. 280-281)
In the 2004 presidential campaign, Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry accuses the Bush administration of allowing bin Laden to escape Afghanistan in late 2001 by not sending enough US troops to contain him when he was trapped in the Tora Bora region. The New York Times publishes an op-ed by Gen. Tommy Franks, the former head of US Central Command. Franks writes, “On more than one occasion, Senator Kerry has referred to the fight at Tora Bora in Afghanistan during late 2001 as a missed opportunity for America. He claims that our forces had Osama bin Laden cornered and allowed him to escape. How did it happen? According to Mr. Kerry, we ‘outsourced’ the job to Afghan warlords. As commander of the allied forces in the Middle East, I was responsible for the operation at Tora Bora, and I can tell you that the senator’s understanding of events doesn’t square with reality.… We don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.” Franks is a vocal supporter of Bush’s reelection. (Franks 10/19/2004) Shortly after Franks’ comments, four Knight Ridder reporters who had been at Tora Bora during the battle revisit the issue. They discover that “Franks and other top officials ignored warnings from their own and allied military and intelligence officers that the combination of precision bombing, special operations forces, and Afghan forces that had driven the Taliban from northern Afghanistan might not work in the heartland of the country’s dominant Pashtun tribe.” (Knight Ridder 10/30/2004) Author Peter Bergen asserts, “There is plenty of evidence that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and no evidence indicating that he was anywhere else at the time.” Bergen cites after-action US intelligence reports and interviews with US counterterrorism officials that express confidence bin Laden was at Tora Bora. He notes that bin Laden discussed his presence at the Tora Bora battle in a audio message released in 2003. (Bergen 10/28/2004) In 2005, Gary Berntsen, who was in charge of an on-the-ground CIA team trying to find bin Laden (see September 26, 2001), will claim that he gave Franks definitive evidence that bin Laden was trapped in Tora Bora (see Late October-Early December 2001). (Spiegel 1/3/2006) In 2006, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will comment, “Yes, we know [bin Laden] absolutely was there.… And yes, he did escape. And Gen. Franks and the president can deny it until the cows come home, but they made a mistake. They did let him go away.” (Clarke 6/20/2006) In late 2006, it will be reported that the CIA possesses a video showing bin Laden walking out of Afghanistan at the end of the Tora Bora battle. It has not been reported if the CIA was aware of this video in 2004 or not (see Mid-December 2001).
The Telegraph reports that US military intelligence agents in Iraq believe that the role of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, has been greatly exaggerated. The Bush administration has used al-Zarqawi as a villain to blame post-invasion troubles in the Iraq war and to connect the Iraqi insurgency to al-Qaeda (see February 9, 2004). (Blomfield 10/4/2004) For instance, in April 2004, US military spokesman Maj. Gen. Rick Lynch said that more than 90 percent of the suicide attacks in Iraq were carried out by terrorists recruited and trained by al-Zarqawi. (DeYoung and Pincus 6/10/2006) The Telegraph reports: “US military intelligence agents in Iraq have revealed a series of botched and often tawdry dealings with unreliable sources who, in the words of one source, ‘told us what we wanted to hear… We were basically paying up to $10,000 a time to opportunists, criminals, and chancers who passed off fiction and supposition about al-Zarqawi as cast-iron fact, making him out as the linchpin of just about every attack in Iraq… Back home this stuff was gratefully received and formed the basis of policy decisions. We needed a villain, someone identifiable for the public to latch on to, and we got one.’” Millitary intelligence officials believe that the insurgency is dominated by Iraqis and that the number of foreign fighters such as al-Zarqawi could be as low as 200. However, some of these officials complain that their reports to US leaders about this are largely being ignored. (Blomfield 10/4/2004) In 2006, leaked classified US military documents will show that the US military ran a propaganda campaign from at least early 2004 to exaggerate al-Zarqawi’s importance in the US and Iraqi media (see April 10, 2006).
Knight Ridder Newspapers reports on a leaked CIA assessment that undercuts the White House claim of links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. The assessment, requested some months ago by Vice President Cheney, finds no evidence to show that Saddam’s regime ever harbored Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an independent colleague of Osama bin Laden (see April 2002), and finds no evidence of any “collaborative relationship” between the former Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda (see October 2, 2002). In February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Council that al-Zarqawi went to Baghdad for medical treatment and, while there, helped establish a terrorist base in Baghdad (see February 5, 2003). The assessment now shows that claim was incorrect. So was the administration’s claim that al-Zarqawi received safe haven from Hussein. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who in September 2002 called the evidence of links between Hussein and al-Qaeda “bulletproof” (see September 26, 2002), now says, “To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two.” Rumsfeld continues, “I just read an intelligence report recently about one person [al-Zarqawi] who’s connected to al-Qaeda who was in and out of Iraq and there’s the most tortured description of why he might have had a relationship and why he might not have had a relationship.” In June 2003, President Bush called al-Zarqawi “the best evidence of connection” between Iraq and al-Qaeda; after the assessments are leaked, Bush insists that al-Zarqawi “was in and out of Baghdad,” apparently continuing to press the idea that Saddam and al-Qaeda were connected. Al-Zarqawi did spend a lot of time in Iraq, but almost always in the northern sections of Iraq where Saddam’s control did not reach. (Strobel, Landay, and Walcott 10/4/2004) The day after the Knight Ridder report, Vice President Cheney will say during a debate with vice-presidential opponent John Edwards (D-NC) that al-Zarqawi was based in Baghdad both before and after the March 2003 invasion, a claim that is demonstrably false (see October 5, 2004).
Mamoun Darkazanli, under investigation for ties to al-Qaeda long before 9/11, is finally arrested in Germany. The Chicago Tribune calls him “one of the most elusive and mysterious figures associated with al-Qaeda and the Sept. 11 hijackers.” He has been living openly in Germany since the 9/11 attacks. The reason for the timing of the arrest is unclear, but there is speculation it may be to preempt an attempt by Darkazanli to apply for asylum in Syria, the nation of his birth. Because German anti-terrorism laws were so weak until after 9/11, he cannot even be convicted of financing terrorism. However, he is also wanted in Spain where prosecutors have been building a case against him and his associates. Germany says it intends to extradite him to Spain, but Darkazanli claims he’s innocent and is going to fight the extradition. (Crewdson 10/15/2004)
The Washington Post reports that President Bush remains focused on the capture of top al-Qaeda leaders and has shown little interest in other counterterrorism efforts. The Post reports, “Bush conducts the war on terrorism above all as a global hunt for a cast of evil men he knows by name and photograph. He tracks progress in daily half-hour meetings that Richard A. Falkenrath, who sometimes attended them before departing recently as deputy homeland security adviser, described as ‘extremely granular, about individual guys.’” Falkenrath says, “This is a conversation he’s been having every day, more or less, with his senior advisers since September 11th.” It covers “the same people, over and over again.”
"Decapitate the Beast" - In 2002, the CIA identified about 30 al-Qaeda leaders known as “high-value targets,” and the Bush administration believed al-Qaeda would collapse without them. White House counterterrorism adviser Frances Townsend similarly says Bush’s strategy since 9/11 has been to “decapitate the beast.” She says the men on the list have “unique expertise, experience, or access.” Al-Qaeda may replace them, “but does that person have the same strength and leadership and capability? The answer is no. Maybe he acquires it on the job, but maybe not.” However, many counterterrorism experts increasingly believe that al-Qaeda has turned into more of an ideology than a hierarchical structure, and that the movement can easily survive the loss of its top leaders.
Crossing Names Off a List - Since shortly after 9/11, Bush has had a card containing a list of the names of the top al-Qaeda leaders, and he likes to personally cross them off the card whenever any are captured or killed. The Post says that Bush “mentions little else, save the Taliban’s expulsion from power, when describing progress against al-Qaeda. According to people who have briefed him, Bush still marks changes by hand” on his copy of list of leaders. He sees the issue largely in terms of a battle of wills between himself and al-Qaeda leaders, although he also focuses on removing the governments of countries he believes are state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iraq.
Bush Not Interested in Root Causes of Terrorism - Bush is uninterested in polls showing sharply rising anti-US sentiment overseas, particularly in Muslim countries. One high high-ranking national security official says of the increasing Muslim hostility to the US, “I don’t think it matters.” Many counterterrorism experts and officials disagree. Wayne Downing, Bush’s counterterrorism “tsar” from late 2001 until early 2004, says that Osama bin Laden has worked effectively to “convince the Islamic world the US is the common enemy.… We have done little or nothing [to combat this perception]. That is the big failure.” The Post says that “strong majorities of several dozen officers and officials who were interviewed… cite a long list of proposals to address terrorism at its roots that have not been carried out.” (Gellman and Linzer 10/22/2004)
Newsweek reports that US intelligence sources believe “al-Qaeda operatives [are] plotting a ‘big bomb’ attack against a major landmark in Britain—but [have] no active plans for strikes in the United States…” The article continues: “Some US law enforcement officers based in London… have become extremely concerned about evidence regarding possible active al-Qaeda plots to attack targets in Britain. According to a US government official, fears of terror attacks have prompted FBI agents based in the US Embassy in London to avoid traveling on London’s popular underground railway (or tube) system, which is used daily by millions of commuters. While embassy-based officers of the US Secret Service, Immigration and Customs bureaus, and the CIA still are believed to use the underground to go about their business, FBI agents have been known to turn up late to crosstown meetings because they insist on using taxis in London’s traffic-choked business center.” (Isikoff and Hosenball 11/17/2004; Koppelman 11/18/2004)
Classified files stolen from a US army base in Afghanistan and sold in a local market that date from this time include maps marking the location of al-Qaeda training camps and leaders in Pakistan. One map shows the location of four al-Qaeda training camps in the tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghan border. This map also shows the location in Pakistan of al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri. Other maps and documents indicate 16 al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders in Pakistan. This includes Mullah Omar, the top Taliban leader. But bin Laden is not mentioned. (Ross 6/22/2006) One document dated October 2004 indicates two of the Taliban’s main leaders, Mullah Akhter Osmani and Mullah Obaidullah, are in Pakistan, while top leader Mullah Omar and four others are in southern Afghanistan. (Watson 4/10/2006)
A secret FBI report issued this month and later leaked to the press states, “Al-Qaeda leadership’s intention to attack the United States is not in question. However, their capability to do so is unclear, particularly in regard to ‘spectacular’ operations. We believe al-Qaeda’s capability to launch attacks within the United States is dependent on its ability to infiltrate and maintain operatives in the United States. To date, we have not identified any true ‘sleeper’ agents in the US.… Limited reporting since March indicates al-Qaeda has sought to recruit and train individuals to conduct attacks in the United States, but is inconclusive as to whether they have succeeded in placing operatives in this country. US Government efforts to date also have not revealed evidence of concealed cells or networks acting in the homeland as sleepers” ABC News notes that this seemingly contradicts the sleeper cell depiction seven men arrested in Lackawanna, New York, in 2002. It also differs from warnings by FBI Director Robert Mueller and other US officials, who have warned that sleeper cells are probably in place. (Scott 3/9/2005) In 2002, it was also reported that no sleeper cells can be found in the US (see March 10, 2002).
The Pakistani government signs a little-noticed agreement with Baitullah Mahsud, the chieftain of the Mahsud tribe in South Waziristan. Waziristan is in the tribal region of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border, and numerous media accounts suggest that Osama bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders may be hiding out there. The deal, signed in the town of Sararogha and known as the Sararogha peace pact, prohibits forces in South Waziristan led by Abdullah Mahsud, another member of the same tribe as Baitullah Mahsud, from attacking the Pakistani army and giving shelter to foreign terrorists. However, it does not prevent these forces from attacking US troops across the border in Afghanistan. It also does not require these forces to surrender or register foreign terrorists in Waziristan. Abdullah Mahsud is a wanted fugitive in Pakistan and has pledged his loyalty to Taliban leader Mullah Omar. But as part of the deal his forces are even given some money to repay debts owed to al-Qaeda-linked foreign militants. As a result of this deal, the Pakistan army soon leaves South Waziristan entirely. A similar deal will be made with North Waziristan in September 2006 (see September 5, 2006). The area becomes a Taliban base to attack US and NATO troops across the border in Afghanistan. The number of Taliban attacks there will rise from 1,600 in 2005 to more than 5,000 in 2006. (Mir 5/4/2005; Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 433) Abdullah Mahsud was held by the US in the Guantanamo prison from December 2001 to March 2004 (see March 2004). In July 2007, renewed fighting between the Pakistani army and tribal militants will cause the Waziristan truce to collapse (see July 11-Late July, 2007). He will blow himself up to avoid capture a few days after the truce ends. (Masood 7/25/2007) The CIA will later claim that Baitullah Mahsud was involved in the assassination of former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. (Warrick 1/18/2008)
A report by the 9/11 Commission on the FAA and 9/11 is publicly released. The fact that the report reveals nearly half of all FAA daily briefings between April and early September 2001 mentioned al-Qaeda, bin Laden, or both causes headlines (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). However, the report was actually completed in August 2004 but was held up by the Bush administration. Some speculate that the publication of the report was delayed until after the November 2004 presidential election to help Bush get reelected. For instance, 9/11 victim’s relative Carol Ashley states, “I’m just appalled that this was withheld for five months. That contributes to the idea that the government knew something and didn’t act, it contributes to the conspiracy theories out there.” Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) asks for a hearing on whether the Bush administration played politics with the report’s release, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives does not allow such a hearing. (Associated Press 2/11/2005) Additionally, the released version of this report is heavily censored in some areas. The 9/11 Commission asserts that the whole report should be released, but the Bush administration is blocking their efforts to release the censored portions. Politicians, 9/11 victims’ relatives, open-government advocates, and others call for the release of the entire report, but to no avail. (Lichtblau 2/11/2005)
Dietrich Snell, the 9/11 Commission’s lead investigator into the origins and role of the Hamburg cell in the 9/11 plot, testifies in the German retrial of Mounir El Motassadeq. Snell tells a panel of judges that the 9/11 Commission concluded the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell members such as Mohamed Atta did not develop the idea of the 9/11 plot on their own, but were recruited by bin Laden during a visit to Afghanistan in late 1999. He claims, “Ultimately, we did not arrive at the conclusion that there was solid evidence of any contact” between the Hamburg cell members and al-Qaeda leaders about the plot before the Hamburg group’s trip to Afghanistan. These findings contradict the prosecutor’s case against El Motassadeq and also run counter to media accounts suggesting the Hamburg cell was involved in the plot before that time. According to German law, prosecutors must prove that important elements of the conspiracy took place in Germany in order to get a conviction. Snell largely fails to explain how the Commission came to that conclusion, saying the sources remain classified. (Whitlock 3/9/2005)
A top-secret British government memo warns that Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war means that Britain will be a likely al-Qaeda target “for many years to come.” The memo, written by the Joint Intelligence Committee, the senior intelligence body in Britain which issues threat assessments, is entitled International Terrorism: Impact of Iraq. It is approved by the heads of Britain’s main intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6. The memo states: “There is a clear consensus within the [British] extremist community that Iraq is a legitimate jihad and should be supported. Iraq has re-energized and re-focused a wide range of networks in [Britain].… We judge that the conflict in Iraq has exacerbated the threat from international terrorism and will continue to have an impact in the long term. It has reinforced the determination of terrorists who were already committed to attacking the West and motivated others who were not.… Iraq is likely to be an important motivating factor for some time to come in the radicalization of British Muslims and for those extremists who view attacks against [Britain] as legitimate.” It also says that Iraq is being used as a “training ground and base” for terrorists, and that terrorists are freely moving between Iraq and Britain. The memo is written in April 2005, but will not be leaked to the press until April 2006. It is circulated to Prime Minister Tony Blair and other top British officials before the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). But after those bombings, Blair will repeatedly contradict the memo’s conclusions in public statements, denying any link between the Iraq war and an increase in terrorist activity in Britain. Blair will say that an “evil ideology,” not the war, has motivated suicide bombers, and, “The people who are responsible for terrorist attacks are terrorists.” (Leppard 4/2/2006)
British-Pakistani militant Rashid Rauf becomes “al-Qaeda’s director of European operations,” according to the Sunday Times. This apparently occurs some time around April 2005. Although Rauf soon becomes known to the authorities, the Times will say in 2009 that his real importance has been underestimated for some time. (Leppard 4/12/2009) Perhaps the best-known plot Rauf will be involved in is a plan to bomb transatlantic airliners (see August 10, 2006).
Jordanian journalist Fuad Hussein publishes a book that extensively quotes Saif al-Adel, who is believed to be al-Qaeda’s current military commander and possibly lives in Iran (see Spring 2002). Al-Adel claims: “Abu Musab [al-Zarqawi] and his Jordanian and Palestinian comrades opted to go to Iraq.… Our expectations of the situation indicated that the Americans would inevitably make a mistake and invade Iraq sooner or later. Such an invasion would aim at overthrowing the regime. Therefore, we should play an important role in the confrontation and resistance. Contrary to what the Americans frequently reiterated, al-Qaeda did not have any relationship with Saddam Hussein or his regime. We had to draw up a plan to enter Iraq through the north that was not under the control of [Hussein’s] regime. We would then spread south to the areas of our fraternal Sunni brothers. The fraternal brothers of the Ansar al-Islam expressed their willingness to offer assistance to help us achieve this goal.” (Bergen 2006, pp. 120, 361-362) He says “the ultimate objective was to prompt” the US “to come out of its hole” and take direct military action in an Islamic country. “What we had wished for actually happened. It was crowned by the announcement of Bush Jr. of his crusade against Islam and Muslims everywhere.” (Danner 9/11/2005) Al-Adel seems to have served as a liaison between al-Qaeda and al-Zarqawi, and mentions elsewhere in the book that his goal was not “full allegiance” from al-Zarqawi’s group, but “coordination and cooperation” to achieve joint objectives. (Bergen 2006, pp. 120, 353-354)
ABC News says it has obtained video footage of an al-Qaeda training camp in Pakistan. The video shows fighters conducting exercises with automatic weapons. The fighters are identified as coming from nine different countries in Africa and the Middle East. The video also shows the men taking part in an actual operation, attacking a remote army outpost. Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke comments, “Wiping out the training camps in Afghanistan was one of the reasons we went into Afghanistan. It was also one of the reasons we went into Iraq. And yet the whole time there were training camps in an ally, Pakistan.” The Pakistani government continues to deny there are such camps in Pakistan. (Ross and Rackmill 6/8/2005)
In the years since the US declared Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi a terrorism financier (see October 12, 2001), no criminal charges have been brought against him anywhere in the world. But on June 22, 2005, it is announced that Swiss prosecutors are pursuing a formal criminal case against him. The case focuses on a series of transactions made between February and August 1998 that were sent from one of al-Qadi’s companies to a firm owned by Saudi businessman Wael Hamza Julaidan. Julaidan reputedly associated with bin Laden in the 1980s. He was placed on US and UN terrorism financier lists in 2002. Over $1 million of the money in these transactions was sent to a Yemeni charity, but allegedly wound up funding al-Qaeda instead. Al-Qadi denies knowing that the money would go to al-Qaeda. (Isikoff and Hosenball 6/22/2005) It is claimed that some of this money goes to support the 9/11 attacks. However, in December 2005, the Swiss apparently close the case. The Swiss court issues a statement, “Nothing in the file allows one to conclude with sufficient likelihood that Yassin al-Qadi knew or was able to know that the payments he made and for which he is implicated in the Swiss proceedings, could serve to specifically finance the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.” (Mirza 12/25/2005)
According to an article in the London Times, Haroon Rashid Aswat is the mastermind of the 7/7 London bombings. Aswat’s family comes from India, but he was born in the same West Yorkshire town as one of the 7/7 suicide bombers and has British citizenship. He is said to be a long-time al-Qaeda operative and also the right-hand man of radical London imam Abu Hamza al-Masri. He arrives in Britain about two weeks before the bombings from South Africa, where he was being monitored by British and US intelligence. He orchestrates the final planning for the bombing, visiting the towns of all the bombers as well as the bomb targets. “Intelligence sources” also will later claim that there are records of up to twenty calls between Aswat and two of the bombers, lead bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan and his friend Shehzad Tanweer, in the days before the bombings. A senior Pakistani security source will tell the Times, “We believe this man had a crucial part to play in what happened in London.” Khan telephones Aswat on the morning of the bombings. He flies out of Britain just hours before the bombings take place. Pakistani officials will also say that a total of eight men in Pakistan were in telephone contact with Khan and Tanweer, and that Khan, Tanweer, and Aswat were all at the same madrassa (religious boarding school) at the same time when Khan and Tanweer went to Pakistan for training in late 2004. (Hussain, McGrory, and O?Neill 7/21/2005) A later Sunday Times article will confirm that Aswat and some of the bombers talked on the phone. Some of the cell phones used by the bombers will be found and some data will be recovered from them, even though they are badly damaged. This will confirm that at least several calls were made from Aswat’s phone to the bombers in the days before the bombing. British investigators will not deny the phone calls took place, but will “caution that the calls may have been made to a phone linked to Aswat, rather than the man himself.” There is speculation that US intelligence may have been monitoring the calls (see Shortly Before July 7, 2005). (Woods, Leppard, and Smith 7/31/2005) It will later be alleged that Aswat is an informant for British intelligence. Furthermore, the imam he has worked for, Abu Hazma, is also a British informant (see Early 1997).
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf says, “I am saying very clearly that al-Qaeda does not exist in Pakistan anymore.” The comment comes after new bombings that experts trace back to al-Qaeda in Pakistan. (BBC 7/25/2005) In 2007, US intelligence will conclude that the leadership of al-Qaeda has slowly rebuilt itself in Pakistan’s tribal region (see July 11, 2007).
In the wake of the 7/7 London bombings earlier in the month (see July 7, 2005), it is revealed that at least some of the suicide bombers in that attack had trained in Pakistan’s tribal regions. For instance, Mohammad Sidique Khan, considered the head of the bomber group, trained in the tribal regions in 2003 and 2004 and met with al-Qaeda leaders. But on July 25, 2005, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf downplays such links. He says, “Our… law enforcement agencies have completely shattered al-Qaeda’s vertical and horizontal links and smashed its communications and propaganda setup.… It no longer has any command, communication, and program structure in Pakistan. Therefore it is absolutely baseless to say that al-Qaeda has its headquarters in Pakistan and that terror attacks in other parts of the world in any way originate from our country.” (Rashid 2008, pp. 279, 442) Director of National Intelligence (DNI) John Negroponte will make those exact claims six months later (see January 11, 2007).
A front page article in the New York Times reveals the existence of a highly classified military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which had identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers as likely members of an al-Qaeda cell operating in the United States more than a year before the attacks. (Jehl 8/9/2005) Members of the unit had recommended that the FBI be called in to take out the cell, but Pentagon lawyers had blocked their request (see September 2000). The incident was first described in a June 2005 speech on the House floor by Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), and in an interview with Weldon around the same time in the Norristown Times Herald, neither of which had garnered much attention. (Phucas 6/19/2005; US Congress. House 6/27/2005) Weldon, who is vice chairman of both the House Armed Services Committee and the House Homeland Security Committee, claims he only recognized the significance of the incident after contacting members of the Able Danger unit during research for a book about terrorism. (Shenon and Jehl 8/10/2005)
In response to new revelations about a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which allegedly identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers more than a year before the attacks, Al Felzenberg—formerly the chief spokesman for the 9/11 Commission—acknowledges that a uniformed officer briefed two of the commission’s staff members about the unit in early July 2004 (see July 12, 2004). He also admits that the officer said the program had identified Mohamed Atta as part of an al-Qaeda cell in Brooklyn. This information was not mentioned anywhere in the commission’s final report. (Jehl 8/11/2005) The existence of the Able Danger program was first revealed two days ago in an August 9 New York Times article (see August 9, 2005). In that article, the Times reported that Felzenberg had confirmed that an October 2003 briefing had taken place which did not include any references to Mohamed Atta or the Brooklyn al-Qaeda cell. But Felzenberg did not tell the newspaper about the July 2004 briefing, which apparently had provided the commission with far more details about the Able Danger program. (Jehl 8/9/2005; Jehl 8/11/2005) It is not clear who exactly in the commission was aware of the program. Former 9/11 Commissioners Tim Roemer and John Lehman say they were never briefed about Able Danger before the 9/11 Commission’s Final Report was published. (Goodwin 8/2005 Sources: Curt Weldon)
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