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a.k.a. Al-Qaida, Al-Qa'ida
Al-Qaeda was a participant or observer in the following events:
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National Security Adviser Sandy Berger asks CIA Director how he would go after al-Qaeda if he were unconstrained by resources and policies. He assigns Cofer Black and the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center to develops a plan for the incoming Bush administration. It is dubbed the “Blue Sky Memo.” The CIA presents it to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke on December 29, 2000. It recommends increased support to anti-Taliban groups and especially a major effort to back Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance, to tie down al-Qaeda personnel before they leave Afghanistan. No action is taken on it in the last few weeks of the Clinton administration; and the new Bush administration does not appear interested in it either. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Tenet, 2007, pp. 130-131] The National Security Council counterterrorism staff also prepares a strategy paper, incorporating ideas from the Blue Sky Memo. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
Entity Tags: Sandy Berger, Richard A. Clarke, Northern Alliance, Osama bin Laden, National Security Council, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Clinton administration, Cofer Black, George J. Tenet, Counterterrorist Center, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
In 2008, Abdelkader Belliraj, a Belgian government informant heading an Islamist militant group in Morocco, will be arrested in Morocco (see February 18, 2008 and February 29, 2008). Moroccan Interior Minister Chakib Benmoussa will claim that in 2001 Belliraj and several of his followers travel to Afghanistan to meet al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Al-Zawahiri gives Belliraj specific instructions to carry out. Belliraj’s followers then train in al-Qaeda camps alongside militants belonging to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group, another al-Qaeda linked Moroccan militant group. That group will later carry out a series of attacks in Casablanca in 2003 (see May 16, 2003) and play a role in the Madrid train bombings in 2004 (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). It is not known if Belliraj meets al-Zawahiri before or after the 9/11 attacks. [Los Angeles Times, 2/27/2008; Het Laatste News, 3/4/2008] Belliraj’s group maintains al-Qaeda links after this. For instance, in 2005 Belliraj visits training camps run by the Algerian militant group the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. One year later, that group will change its name to be Al-Qaeda in the Magreb. [Maghreb Arabe Presse, 3/2/2008]
Donald Kerrick. [Source: White House]Clinton and Bush staff overlap for several months while new Bush appointees are appointed and confirmed. Clinton holdovers seem more concerned about al-Qaeda than the new Bush staffers. For instance, according to a colleague, Sandy Berger, Clinton’s National Security Adviser, had become “totally preoccupied” with fears of a domestic terror attack. [Newsweek, 5/27/2002] Brian Sheridan, Clinton’s outgoing Deputy Defense Secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, is astonished when his offers during the transition to bring the new military leadership up to speed on terrorism are brushed aside. “I offered to brief anyone, any time on any topic. Never took it up.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/30/2004] Army Lieutenant General Donald Kerrick, Deputy National Security Adviser and manager of Clinton’s NSC (National Security Council) staff, still remains at the NSC nearly four months after Bush takes office. He later notes that while Clinton’s advisers met “nearly weekly” on terrorism by the end of his term, he does not detect the same kind of focus with the new Bush advisers: “That’s not being derogatory. It’s just a fact. I didn’t detect any activity but what [Clinton holdover Richard] Clarke and the CSG [Counterterrorism Security Group] were doing.” [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Kerrick submits a memo to the new people at the NSC, warning, “We are going to be struck again.” He says, “They never responded. It was not high on their priority list. I was never invited to one meeting. They never asked me to do anything. They were not focusing. They didn’t see terrorism as the big megaissue that the Clinton administration saw it as.” Kerrick adds, “They were gambling nothing would happen.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/30/2004] Bush’s first Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, Henry Shelton, later says terrorism was relegated “to the back burner” until 9/11. [Washington Post, 10/2/2002]
As part of a new US intelligence effort to prevent al-Qaeda getting weapons of mass destruction, “a third-country national working for the CIA” goes into an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan where chemical weapons are possibly being made. The agent takes soil samples, but later analysis does not show any dangerous chemicals. According to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, the “CIA took pride in the risks the third-country national had run in going to the camp.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 178-179]
The CIA’s Counterterrorist Center completes a report on the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). The report, drafted by CIA officer Clark Shannon, finds that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are circumstantially tied to the attack. However, the report fails to mention details known to the CIA involving figures later connected to the 9/11 plot. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later observe, “The report did not mention [hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s] visa, [hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi’s] travel to the United States or the Khallad [bin Attash] identification from the Kuala Lumpur photographs” (see January 2-5, 2000, March 5, 2000, and January 4, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 283 ]
After the Bush administration takes office in January 2001, it is slow to develop new approaches to Pakistan and Afghanistan. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice orders a new policy review for al-Qaeda, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but sets no deadline for it to be completed. State Department officials will later say that Secretary of State Colin Powell shows little interest in the policy review. It takes four months for the Bush administration to even nominate a new assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs. President Bush and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf exchange formal letters with each other shortly after Bush takes office, but the letters have little impact. In January, US ambassador to Pakistan William Milam prepares two cables to brief the new Bush administration about Pakistan, the Taliban, and al-Qaeda. There is no response from Washington and no request for further information, even though Milam is the point person for meetings with the Taliban. The US embassy is not consulted at all about the new policy review, indicating just how low a priority the review is. A senior US diplomat will later say: “Al-Qaeda was not on the radar screen in Washington. Nobody thought there was any urgency to the policy review. Papers were circulated, dates were made to meet, and were broken—it was the usual bureaucratic approach.” The first significant meeting related to the review takes place in April, but little is accomplished (see April 30, 2001). The first cabinet-level meeting relating to the policy review takes place on September 4, just one week before the 9/11 attacks. US policy towards Pakistan is discussed, but no firm decisions are reached (see September 4, 2001). After 9/11, Rice will say: “America’s al-Qaeda policy wasn’t working because our Afghanistan policy wasn’t working. And our Afghanistan policy wasn’t working because our Pakistan policy wasn’t working. We recognized that America’s counterterrorism policy had to be connected to our regional strategies and our overall foreign policy.… Al-Qaeda was both a client of and patron to the Taliban, which in turn was supported by Pakistan. Those relationships provided al-Qaeda with a powerful umbrella of protection, and we had to sever that.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 56-60]
A secret military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which is tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks around the world, is shut down. Some accounts say the program is shut down in January, some say February, and some say March. [Norristown Times Herald, 6/19/2005; Times Herald (Norristown), 9/12/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005] The unit has identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers as members of an al-Qaeda cell operating in the United States (see January-February 2000). According to James D. Smith, a Pentagon contractor involved with the unit, the inspector general shuts down the operation “because of a claim that we were collecting information on US citizens,” and it is illegal for the military to do this. [WTOP Radio 103.5 (Washington), 9/1/2005] Others familiar with the unit later say it is closed down because it might have led to the exposure of another data mining project that was investigating US citizens allegedly illegally transferring sensitive US technology to the Chinese government. [WTOP Radio 103.5 (Washington), 9/1/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer blames the change in leadership brought by the new Bush administration. “Once the four star [General Schoomaker] went away, it was pretty much like the world closing around us [Schoomaker retired in November 2000, but returned as Army Chief of Staff in 2003]. There was no political will to continue this at that point in time. Plus, my direct leadership: Colonel [Jerry] York and General [Bob] Harding had moved on as well. Therefore, I had a new chain of command above me. They were very risk adverse. This [Able Danger] operation, as with other operations which were very high risk / high gain, some of which are still ongoing—seemed to not be appreciated by the incoming leadership.” [American Forces Press Service, 6/17/2003; Government Security News, 9/2005] For example, Shaffer will say that Col. Mary Moffitt, who replaces Col. Gerry York around this time (“spring 2001”), “dismantled the Defense [human intelligence] support to Able Danger just months before the 9-11 attacks… [and ] became focused on shutting down our support to Able Danger under the guise of ‘reorganization’ and in the end, disestablished Stratus Ivy [the unit Shaffer headed] and its cutting edge focus.” [US Congress, 2/15/2006 ]
Brian Sheridan. [Source: PBS.org]Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke briefs Secretary of State Colin Powell about the al-Qaeda threat. He urges decisive and quick action against the organization. Powell meets with the Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG)—made up of senior counterterrorism officials from many agencies—and sees to it that all members of the group agree al-Qaeda is a serious threat. For instance, Deputy Defense Secretary Brian Sheridan says to Powell, “Make al-Qaeda your number one priority.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 227-30] Clarke will later note that he does not provide this briefing to President Bush because he is prevented from doing so. When Clarke resigns in 2003, he receives an effusive letter of praise from Bush for his service (see January 31, 2003). Clarke will later quote Bush (see March 28, 2004), telling NBC’s Tim Russert: “Let me read another line from the letter… ‘I will always have fond memories of our briefings for you on cybersecurity.’ Not on terrorism, Tim, because they didn’t allow me to brief him on terrorism.” [MSNBC, 3/28/2004]
A white paper is produced, which recommends that federal buildings in Lower Manhattan, where the World Trade Center is located, receive increased protection, due to the threat of terrorism. 9/11 Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste will describe the white paper during a public hearing of the 9/11 Commission in April 2004. It is produced, he will say, by an “interagency group” and urges “greater protection of federal buildings in Lower Manhattan.” It also notes that “Osama bin Laden, his al-Qaeda organization, and affiliated extremist groups currently pose a clear and immediate threat to US interests.” The white paper is produced in response to the concerns of John O’Neill, special agent in charge of the national security division in the FBI’s New York office. [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004] O’Neill is the FBI’s “most committed tracker of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network of terrorists,” the New Yorker magazine will later describe. [New Yorker, 1/14/2002] He has “reiterated since 1995 to any official in Washington who would listen” that he is “sure bin Laden would attack on American soil” and he expects the al-Qaeda leader’s target will be “the Twin Towers again,” according to journalist and author Murray Weiss. [Weiss, 2003, pp. 360]
Dale Watson, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, persuades FBI Director Louis Freeh to approve a meeting where senior FBI agents from around the US can learn about terrorism from Richard Clarke, the White House chief of counterterrorism. Watson wants the event held due to concerns around the general inaction and lack of interest in terrorism. The meeting, which takes place in Tampa, Florida, is attended by 250 special agents in charge and counterterrorism supervisors who come from all 56 FBI field offices. Attorney General Janet Reno also attends. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 218; 9/11 Commission, 1/6/2004 ; Graff, 2011, pp. 272] The meeting will subsequently be nicknamed the “Terrorism for Dummies” seminar. [Weiner, 2012, pp. 406] During it, Clarke gives the attendees a summary of al-Qaeda’s aims, goals, and methods.
One Al-Qaeda Goal Is the Destruction of the US, Clarke Says - “Al-Qaeda is a worldwide political conspiracy masquerading as a religious sect,” he tells them. The terrorist network, he says, “engages in murder of innocent people to grab attention. Its goal is a 14th-century style theocracy in which women have no rights, everyone is forced to be a Muslim, and the Sharia legal system is used to cut off hands and stone people to death.” He explains that the group “uses a global banking network and financial system to support its activities,” and its members “are smart; many trained in our colleges and they have a very long view.” “They think it may take them a century to accomplish their goals,” he says and adds that one of these goals is “the destruction of the United States of America.” He says al-Qaeda members “have good spy tradecraft,” and the network employs “sleeper cells and front groups that plan for years before acting.” He says the group’s members “are our number one enemy and they are amongst us, in your cities.” He then gives the FBI agents the simple instruction, “Find them.”
Watson Says Agents Will Be Evaluated on Their Performance against Terrorists - After Clarke has spoken, Watson addresses the FBI agents. He tells them terrorism is the bureau’s “number one priority.” He says: “You will find [the terrorists]. If you have to arrest them for jaywalking, do it. If the local US attorney won’t prosecute them, call me. If you can’t get your FISA wiretap approved by Justice, call us. Don’t just sit out there and sulk.” Some of the attendees appear to be indifferent about what Watson is telling them, according to Clarke. “People were taking notes, but some looked like they had heard this sort of ‘new priority’ speech before,” he will later recall. Watson ends with one final point. “Your bonus, your promotion, your city of assignment all depend upon how well you do on this mission,” he says, adding: “I mean it. I’ve got [Freeh’s] backing. If you don’t believe me, try me.” After Watson and Clarke leave the meeting, Watson explains to Clarke how his agency functions. “The FBI is like an aircraft carrier,” he says. “It takes a long time to get going in one direction and turn around and go in another.” He adds: “These field offices have all had their own way, little fiefdoms, for years. At least I’m starting.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 218-219; Graff, 2011, pp. 272]
Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” for the Clinton administration, briefs National Security Adviser Rice and her deputy, Steve Hadley, about al-Qaeda. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Outgoing National Security Adviser Sandy Berger makes an unusual appearance at the start of the meeting, saying to Rice, “I’m coming to this briefing to underscore how important I think this subject is.” He claims that he tells Rice during the transition between administrations, “I believe that the Bush administration will spend more time on terrorism generally, and on al-Qaeda specifically, than any other subject.” Clarke presents his plan to “roll back” al-Qaeda that he had given to the outgoing Clinton administration a couple of weeks earlier. [Time, 8/12/2002] He gets the impression that Rice has never heard the term al-Qaeda before. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 227-30; Guardian, 3/25/2004] Clarke is told at the meeting that he will keep his job but the position is being downgraded and he will no longer have direct access to the president (see January 3, 2001).
Alain Chouet. [Source: La Repubblica]A five page summary French intelligence report dated on this day is entitled “Hijacking of an Airplane by Radical Islamists.” The report details tactical discussions since early 2000 between bin Laden, Chechen rebels, and the Taliban about a hijacking against US airlines (Early 2000 and October 2000). The plot considers hijacking a US airliner flying from Frankfurt to the US or hijacking a French or German airliner. The French intelligence comes from Uzbek spies who have infiltrated the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), a militant group based in Uzbekistan next door to Afghanistan and closely tied to bin Laden and the Taliban. Some of the spies ended up in al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. The French report makes clear that the information was independently verified from other sources, including satellite telephone intercepts and possibly spies recruited in France. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007; Associated Press, 4/16/2007; Le Monde (Paris), 4/17/2007] When this French report will be leaked to the press in 2007, French officials will insist that the information in it would have been forwarded to the CIA at the time. For instance, Pierre-Antoine Lorenzi, responsible at the time for communications between French and other foreign intelligence services, will say the information would have gone to Bill Murray, chief of the CIA Paris station. Lorenzi says, “That, typically, is the kind of information that would certainly have been forwarded to the CIA. It would even have been an error not to have done it.” [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007] Alain Chouet, head of the French intelligence subdivision tracking terrorist movements, also says the information was certainly passed to the CIA. “We transmitted everything to our American counterparts, everything that could have posed a threat, and they did the same with us.” Chouet thinks it is possible the information was deliberate misdirection by al-Qaeda, because it does not mention multiple hijackings or suicide pilots. No CIA officials have gone on record saying that they received the warning. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007; Associated Press, 4/16/2007] However, the Chechens are likely connected to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab, who has a long history of collaboration with bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002), and by April 2001 an FBI report says that Ibn Khattab and bin Laden are seriously planning an attack together, possibly against US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). In May 2001, President Bush will be given a warning entitled, “Terrorist Groups Said Cooperating on US Hostage Plot,” which could involve a hijacking to free al-Qaeda prisoners in the US (see May 23, 2001). The plot described by French intelligence is also designed to free al-Qaeda prisoners in the US, though this may just be coincidence as the terrorist groups in Bush’s warning have not been publicly named. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/17/2007]
National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice later testifies to the 9/11 Commission that in the first eight months of Bush’s presidency before 9/11, “the president receive[s] at these [Presidential Daily Briefings] more than 40 briefing items on al-Qaeda, and 13 of those [are] in response to questions he or his top advisers posed.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2004] The content of the warnings in these briefings are unknown. However, CIA Director George Tenet claims that none of the warnings specifically indicates terrorists plan to fly hijacked commercial aircraft into buildings in the US. [New York Times, 4/4/2004] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later emphasize, “Tenet on 40 occasions in… morning meetings mentioned al-Qaeda to the president. Forty times, many of them in a very alarmed way, about a pending attack.” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] These briefings are normally given in person by CIA Director George Tenet, and are usually attended by Vice President Cheney and National Security Adviser Rice. In the Clinton administration, up to 25 officials recieved the PDB. But in the Bush adminisration before 9/11, this was sharply reduced to only six people (see After January 20, 2001). Other top officials have to make due with an Senior Executive Intelligence Brief generally released one day later, which is similar to the PDB but often contains less information (see August 7, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256, 533]
Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley (R) and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz (L) speak to reporters in Moscow after taking part in negotiations with Russia regarding an anti-ballistic missile shield on May 11, 2001. [Source: Yuri Kochetkov/ Corbis]While still campaigning to become president, George W. Bush frequently argued the US should build an anti-ballistic missile shield (see October 12, 2000). After Bush is made president, the development of such a shield and getting out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty the US has signed that would prevent such a shield, becomes the top US security priority (see May 26, 1972 and December 13, 2001). Senior officials and cabinet members make it their top agenda item in meetings with European allies, Russia, and China. Five Cabinet-level officials, including Condoleezza Rice, travel to Moscow to persuade Russia to abandon the ABM Treaty. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith is there on September 10 to make the same case. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/5/2004]
Ballistic Missiles 'Today's Most Urgent Threat' - In a major speech given on May 1, 2001, Bush calls the possible possession of missiles by rogue states “today’s most urgent threat.” [New York Times, 5/2/2001] In a June 2001 meeting with European heads of state, Bush names missile defense as his top defense priority and terrorism is not mentioned at all (see June 13, 2001). It will later be reported that Rice was scheduled to give a major speech on 9/11, in which, according to the Washington Post, she planned “to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and [made] no mention of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, or Islamic extremist groups.” However, the speech will be cancelled due to the 9/11 attacks (see September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/1/2004]
Criticism and Controversy - Bush’s missile shield stance is highly controversial. For instance, in July 2001 a Guardian article is titled, “US Defies Global Fury Over Missile Shield.” [New York Times, 5/2/2001] Domestic critics suggest the missile shield could start a new arms race and cost over $500 billion. [Reuters, 5/3/2001]
Diverting Attention from Terrorism - Some argue that Bush’s missile focus is diverting attention from terrorism. For instance, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) tells Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a June 2001 hearing that the US is spending too much money on missile defense and not “putting enough emphasis on countering the most likely threats to our national security… like terrorist attacks.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/5/2004] On September 5, 2001, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes: “And why can George W. Bush think of nothing but a missile shield? Our president is caught in the grip of an obsession worthy of literature” and notes that “sophisticated antimissile interceptors can’t stop primitive, wobbly missiles from rogue nations, much less germ warfare from terrorists.” [New York Times, 9/5/2001] On September 10, 2001, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) warns that if the US spends billions on missile defense, “we will have diverted all that money to address the least likely threat, while the real threats come into this country in the hold of ship, or the belly of a plane.” In 2004, a San Francisco Chronicle editorial will suggest that if the Bush administration had focused less on the missile shield and had “devoted more attention, more focus and more resources to the terrorist threat, the events of Sept. 11 might have been prevented.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/5/2004]
Italian intelligence hears an interesting wiretapped conversation eerily similar to one from August 12, 2000 (see August 12, 2000). This conversation occurs between al-Qaeda operatives Mahmoud Es Sayed (see Summer 2000) and Ben Soltane Adel, two members of al-Qaeda’s Milan cell. Adel asks, in reference to fake documents, “Will these work for the brothers who are going to the United States?” Sayed responds angrily, saying: “[D]on’t ever say those words again, not even joking!… If it’s necessary… whatever place we may be, come up and talk in my ear, because these are very important things. You must know… that this plan is very, very secret, as if you were protecting the security of the state.” This will be one of many clues found from the Italian wiretaps and passed on to US intelligence in March 2001 (see March 2001). However, they apparently will not be properly understood until after 9/11. Adel will later be arrested and convicted of belonging to a terrorist cell, and Es Sayed will flee to Afghanistan in July 2001. [Los Angeles Times, 5/29/2002; Guardian, 5/30/2002]
Richard Clarke. [Source: Robert Flores/ Defense Information Systems Agency]Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a proposal to National Security Adviser Rice and “urgently” asks for a Cabinet-level meeting on the al-Qaeda threat. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 230-31] He forwards his December 2000 strategy paper and a copy of his 1998 “Delenda Plan”
(see August 27, 1998). He lays out a proposed agenda for urgent action:
Approve covert assistance to Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
Significantly increase funding for CIA counterterrorism activity. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
Respond to the USS Cole bombing with an attack on al-Qaeda. (The link between al-Qaeda and that bombing had been assumed for months and is confirmed in the media two days later.) According to the Washington Post, “Clarke argue[s] that the camps [are] can’t-miss targets, and they [matter]. The facilities [amount] to conveyor belts for al-Qaeda’s human capital, with raw recruits arriving and trained fighters departing either for front lines against the Northern Alliance, the Afghan rebel coalition, or against American interests somewhere else. The US government had whole libraries of images filmed over Tarnak Qila and its sister camp, Garmabat Ghar, 19 miles farther west. Why watch al-Qaeda train several thousand men a year and then chase them around the world when they left?” No retaliation is taken on these camps until after 9/11. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002]
Go forward with new Predator drone reconnaissance missions in the spring and use an armed version when it is ready (see January 10-25, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
Step up the fight against terrorist fundraising. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
Be aware that al-Qaeda sleeper cells in the US are not just a potential threat, but are a “major threat in being.” Additionally, more attacks have almost certainly been set in motion (see January 25, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Rice’s response to Clarke’s proposal is that the Cabinet will not address the issue until it has been “framed” at the deputy secretary level. However, this initial deputy meeting is not given high priority and it does not take place until April 2001. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 230-31] Henry Shelton, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman until 9/11, says, “The squeaky wheel was Dick Clarke, but he wasn’t at the top of their priority list, so the lights went out for a few months. Dick did a pretty good job because he’s abrasive as hell, but given the [bureaucratic] level he was at” there was no progress. [Benjamin and Simon, 2002, pp. 335-36; Los Angeles Times, 3/30/2004] Some counterterrorism officials think the new administration responds slowly simply because Clarke’s proposal originally came from the Clinton administration. [Time, 8/12/2002] For instance, Thomas Maertenson, on the National Security Council in both the Clinton and Bush administrations, says, “They really believed their campaign rhetoric about the Clinton administration. So anything [that administration] did was bad, and the Bushies were not going to repeat it.” [New York Times, 3/24/2004; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 3/25/2004] The Bush administration will finally address the gist of Clarke’s plan at a cabinet-level meeting on September 4, 2001, just one week before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001). Clarke will later comment that the plan adopted “on Sept. 4 is basically… what I proposed on Jan. 25. And so the time in between was wasted.”
Entity Tags: Henry Hugh Shelton, Northern Alliance, Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice, Clinton administration, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Thomas Maertenson, Taliban, Ahmed Shah Massoud
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s plan to deal with al-Qaeda is given to National Security Adviser Rice on this day. It includes a warning that al-Qaeda cells already exist in the US. The plan was outlined in a document he prepared in December 2000 (see January 25, 2001), which stated that US intelligence believes there are al-Qaeda “sleeper cells” in the US and that they’re not just a potential problem but “a major threat in being.” Clarke noted in the document that two key al-Qaeda members involved in the Millennium plot were naturalized US citizens (presumably a reference to Raed Hijazi and Khalil Deek) and that one suspect in the 1998 embassy bombings had “informed the FBI that an extensive network of al-Qaeda ‘sleeper agents’ currently exists in the US” (see August 12-25, 1998). It also said that Ahmed Ressam’s attempted December 1999 attack revealed al-Qaeda supporters in the US (see December 15-31, 1999). Finally, the Clarke warned that more attacks have almost certainly been set in motion. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260, 535]
The Washington Post reports that the US has confirmed the link between al-Qaeda and the October 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). [Washington Post, 1/27/2001] This conclusion is stated without hedge in a February 9 briefing for Vice President Cheney. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] In the wake of that bombing, Bush stated on the campaign trail, “I hope that we can gather enough intelligence to figure out who did the act and take the necessary action.… There must be a consequence.” [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz later complains that by the time the new administration is in place, the Cole bombing was “stale.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld concurs, stating that too much time had passed to respond. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The new Bush administration fails to resume the covert deployment of cruise missile submarines and gunships on six-hour alert near Afghanistan’s borders that had begun under President Clinton. The standby force gave Clinton the option of an immediate strike against targets in Afghanistan harboring al-Qaeda’s top leadership. This failure makes a possible assassination of bin Laden much more difficult. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002]
Four members of the American delegation to the “First Conference on Jerusalem” (from right to left): Ahmed Yusef, Abdurrahman Alamoudi, Yaser Bushnaq, and Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad. [Source: Minaret of Freedom Institute] (click image to enlarge)Hundreds of the world’s most extreme Islamic militants attend an unprecedented conference in Beirut, Lebanon called “The First Conference on Jerusalem.” Participants include leaders of al-Qaeda, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and militants from Egypt, Pakistan, Jordan, Algeria, Sudan, Qatar, and Yemen. The conference is held with the purpose of uniting militant groups for holy war against Israel and the US. The participants create a new organization called “the Jerusalem Project,” with the goal of winning total Muslim control over Jerusalem. The participants produce a document which calls for a boycott on US and Israeli products and states, “The only decisive option to achieve this strategy [to regain Jerusalem] is the option of jihad [holy war] in all its forms and resistance… America today is a second Israel.” [Jerusalem Post, 6/22/2001; Fox News, 5/17/2002] At least four of the attendees come from the US. One of them, Abdurahman Alamoudi, is a prominent lobbyist in the US for Muslim causes. Yet there is no indication Alamoudi faces any investigation in the US after attending this conference. In fact, in June 2001, Alamoudi will apparently take part in a meeting with Vice President Cheney at the White House for a briefing on the Bush administration’s domestic and foreign policies of interest to the American Muslim community. [Jerusalem Post, 6/22/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 3/11/2003; Minaret of Freedom Institute, 2/8/2005] Another participant in the conference is Ahmad Huber, a director of the Al Taqwa Bank, which will be shut down in the months after 9/11 for suspected terrorism ties. Huber is known for his connections to both neo-Nazi and radical Muslim groups (see 1988). After 9/11, Huber will claim that he met some al-Qaeda leaders in this conference and will praise them for being “very discreet, well-educated, and very intelligent people.” [Financial Times, 11/8/2001; Playboy, 2/1/2002] Huber says that in the five years before 9/11, the bin Laden family sponsors Al Taqwa’s attendance at several international Muslim conferences, possibily including this one. He nonetheless claims the family is estranged from Osama bin Laden. [Le Monde (Paris), 5/3/2002] It has not been reported if Alamoudi met with Huber or any al-Qaeda leaders while at the conference. Alamoudi will later be sentenced to 23 years in prison in the US for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004).
Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Jerusalem Project, Al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, Air Cess, Ahmad Huber, Al Taqwa Bank, Ariana Airlines, Abdurahman Alamoudi, Hamas, Bin Laden Family
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
According to Time magazine, “The US was all set to join a global crackdown on criminal and terrorist money havens [in early 2001]. Thirty industrial nations were ready to tighten the screws on offshore financial centers like Liechtenstein and Antigua, whose banks have the potential to hide and often help launder billions of dollars for drug cartels, global crime syndicates—and groups like Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization. Then the Bush administration took office.”
[Time, 10/15/2001] After pressure from the powerful banking lobby, the Treasury Department under Paul O’Neill halts US cooperation with these international efforts begun in 2000 by the Clinton administration. Clinton had created a Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center in his last budget, but under O’Neill no funding for the center is provided and the tracking of terrorist financing slows down. Spurred by the 9/11, attacks, the center will finally get started three days after 9/11 (see October 2000-September 14, 2001). [Foreign Affairs, 7/2001; Time, 10/15/2001] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later claim that efforts to track al-Qaeda’s finances began to make significant headway in 2000, after Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin stepped down and was replaced by Larry Summers. But, Clarke will claim, “When the Bush administration came into office, I wanted to raise the profile of our efforts to combat terrorist financing, but found little interest. The new President’s economic advisor, Larry Lindsey, had long argued for weakening US anti-money laundering laws in a way that would undercut international standards. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O’Neill, was lukewarm at best toward the multilateral effort to ‘name and shame’ foreign money laundering havens, and allowed the process to shut down before the status of Saudi Arabian cooperation was ever assessed.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 195-196]
A former CIA counterterrorism expert later claims that an allied intelligence agency sees “two of Osama’s sisters apparently taking cash to an airport in Abu Dhabi [United Arab Emirates], where they are suspected of handing it to a member of bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization.” This is cited as one of many incidents showing an “interconnectedness” between bin Laden and the rest of his family. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001]
A trial is held in New York City for four defendants charged with involvement in the 1998 US African embassy bombings. All are ultimately convicted. Testimony reveals that two bin Laden operatives had received pilot training in Texas and Oklahoma and another had been asked to take lessons. One bin Laden aide becomes a government witness and gives the FBI detailed information about a pilot training scheme. This new information does not lead to any new FBI investigations into the matter. [Washington Post, 9/23/2001]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke briefs Vice President Cheney about the al-Qaeda threat. He urges decisive and quick action against al-Qaeda. Cheney soon visits CIA headquarters for more information about al-Qaeda. However, at later high-level meetings Cheney fails to bring up al-Qaeda as a priority issue. [Time, 8/12/2002; Clarke, 2004, pp. 227-30]
CIA map showing alleged Iraqi WMD sites. [Source: CIA] (click image to enlarge)CIA director George Tenet testifies to Congress that Iraq possesses no weapons of mass destruction and poses no threat to the United State. He says, “We do not have any direct evidence that Iraq has used the period since [Operation] Desert Fox to reconstitute its WMD programs, although given its past behavior, this type of activity must be regarded as likely.… We assess that since the suspension of [UN] inspections in December of 1998, Baghdad has had the capability to reinitiate both its [chemical and biological weapons] programs… without an inspection monitoring program, however, it is more difficult to determine if Iraq has done so.” He continues, “Moreover, the automated video monitoring systems installed by the UN at known and suspect WMD facilities in Iraq are still not operating. Having lost this on-the-ground access, it is more difficult for the UN or the US to accurately assess the current state of Iraq’s WMD programs.” Rumsfeld also discusses al-Qaeda, calling it "the most immediate and serious threat" to US interests (see February 7, 2001). [Scoop, 6/27/2003]
CIA Director Tenet warns Congress in open testimony that the “threat from terrorism is real, it is immediate, and it is evolving.” He says Osama bin Laden and his global network remains “the most immediate and serious threat” to US interests. “Since 1998 bin Laden has declared that all US citizens are legitimate targets,” he says, adding that bin Laden “is capable of planning multiple attacks with little or no warning.” [Associated Press, 2/7/2001; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/23/2001]
US officials claim significant progress in defeating bin Laden’s financial network, despite significant difficulties. It is claimed that “bin Laden’s financial and operational networks has been ‘completely mapped’ in secret documents shared by the State Department, CIA, and Treasury Department, with much of the mapping completed in detail by mid-1997.” [United Press International, 2/9/2001] While it is unclear exactly how much the US knew about bin Laden’s finances before 9/11, it is known that the names and details of many organizations funding bin Laden were known as far back as 1996 (see January 1996). Shortly after 9/11, Richard Palmer, head of the CIA’s Moscow station in the 1990s, will say of al-Qaeda, “We could have starved the organization if we put our minds to it. The government has had the ability to track these accounts for some time.” [New York Times, 9/20/2001] The New York Times will later conclude that by 9/11, “The American government had developed a good deal of information about al-Qaeda’s finances, but it was not widely shared among agencies.” [New York Times, 12/10/2001] Ironically, this development comes right as the new Bush administration institutes a new policy prohibiting investigators from looking closely into the sources of bin Laden’s financing (see Late January 2001).
In a series of articles for UPI, journalist Richard Sale reveals many details about the NSA’s electronic surveillance of al-Qaeda. “The United States has scored notable successes in an information war against the organization of terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden. US hackers have gone into foreign bank accounts and deleted or transferred money and jammed or blocked the group’s cell or satellite phones.” It is also mentioned that “Bin Laden is surrounded by US listening posts.” The articles discuss the extent to which the NSA’s Echelon satellite network is monitoring al-Qaeda, and even seems to make an oblique reference to monitoring the al-Qaeda safe house in Yemen that enabled the NSA to discover valuable information on hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see December 29, 1999). The articles also reveal that since 1995, bin Laden tried to protect his communications with a “full suite of tools,” but “codes were broken.” An expert adds that “you don’t use your highest level of secure communications all the time. It’s too burdensome, and it exposes it to other types of exploitation.” The articles also imply that Echelon is used in illegal ways. An anonymous former senior US intelligence official says, “This isn’t about legality. This is about trying to protect American lives.” [United Press International, 2/9/2001; United Press International, 2/13/2001; United Press International, 2/21/2001] While bin Laden’s communications were certainly thoroughly monitored before 9/11 (see November 1996-Late August 1998), no evidence has come to light since 9/11 that the US was hacking into bank accounts or jamming signals.
After being convicted for his part in al-Qaeda’s failed millennium attacks (see December 14, 1999), Ahmed Ressam tells US authorities that London-based radical cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri is an important figure in al-Qaeda. Ressam says that he heard many stories about Abu Hamza when he was in Afghanistan and that Abu Hamza has the power to refer recruits to other senior al-Qaeda figures. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 28] Abu Hamza already has a relationship with British security services (see Early 1997).
The Italian government gives the US information about possible attacks based on apartment wiretaps in the Italian city of Milan. [Fox News, 5/17/2002] Presumably, the information includes a discussion between two al-Qaeda agents talking about a “very, very secret” plan to forge documents “for the brothers who are going to the United States” (see January 24, 2001). The warning may also mention a wiretap the previous August involving one of the same people, who discussed a massive strike against the enemies of Islam involving aircraft (see August 12, 2000) and another of his monitored conversations in which he discusses travel by al-Qaeda operatives to the US (see February 2001).
An intelligence source claims that a group of al-Qaeda operatives is planning to conduct an unspecified attack inside the US in April. One of the operatives allegedly resides in the US. There are also reports of planned attacks in California and New York State for the same month, though whether this is reference to the same plot is unclear. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
Chris Isham. [Source: Viewimages.com]In March 2001, the ISI learns that one of bin Laden’s operatives, who is working on a sensitive al-Qaeda job in Afghanistan, has been providing information to the CIA at the US consulate in Peshawar, Pakistan. The operative, whose CIA codename is “Max,” becomes worried that the ISI will disclose to al-Qaeda his dealings with the CIA. The next month, ABC News reporters Chris Isham and John Miller meet with Max and help him defect to the US and talk to the FBI. Max tells the reporters that in 1999 and 2000 he was trained as part of a small group by Saif al-Adel, one of al-Qaeda’s top leaders. Asked by Isham and Miller whether al-Qaeda is planning any operations targeting the US, he describes a plan to hijack an airplane carrying a US senator or ambassador and then use the dignitary to bargain for the release of the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. US intelligence learned of the same basic plot idea in 1998 (see 1998). Max does defect and will be extensively debriefed by the FBI. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 282] In May 2001, a Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) will be sent to top White House officials warning that “terrorist groups [are] cooperating on [a] US hostage plot”(see May 23, 2001). It is not known for how long Max was talking to the CIA or what he told them before he was exposed, but his account contradicts assertions that US intelligence did not have any well placed informants in al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. An Afghan named “Ahmed” defects around the same time and there are similarities between his case and that of Max, but it is unknown if they are in fact the same person or not (see April 2001).
Britain officially bans al-Qaeda and 20 other alleged terrorist groups, including the Pakistani militant groups Lashkar-e-Toiba, Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, and Jaish-e-Mohammed. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 414] Britain is behind the US on al-Qaeda, as the US officially declared al-Qaeda a foreign terrorist organization in 1999 (see October 8, 1999). However, the US will not declare Harkat ul-Mujahedeen a terrorist organization until September 25, 2001, Lashkar-e-Toiba until December 20, 2001, and Jaish-e-Mohammed until December 26, 2001 (see December 20, 2001).
Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley chairs an informal meeting of some counterparts from other agencies to discuss al-Qaeda. They begin a broad review of the government’s approach to al-Qaeda and Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, the approach is “two-pronged and included a crisis warning effort to deal with immediate threats and longer-range planning by senior officials to put into place a comprehensive strategy to eradicate al-Qaeda.” Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke again pushes for immediate decisions on assisting Ahmed Shah Massoud and his Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Hadley suggests dealing with this as part of the broad review. Clarke supports a larger program, but he warns that delay risks the Alliance’s defeat. Clarke also advocates using the armed Predator drone. However, despite an increasing number of alarming warnings following this meeting, there is little follow-up. “By June, a draft of a presidential directive authorizing an ambitious covert action plan is circulating through the upper echelons of the administration, but there seem[s] little urgency about putting the plan into effect.” [New York Times, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; New York Times, 4/4/2004]
The Russian Permanent Mission at the United Nations secretly submits “an unprecedentedly detailed report” to the UN Security Council about bin Laden, his whereabouts, details of his al-Qaeda network, Afghan drug running, and Taliban connections to Pakistan and the ISI. The report provides “a listing of all bin Laden’s bases, his government contacts and foreign advisers,” and enough information to potentially locate and kill him. It is said to contain an “astonishing degree of information.” The US fails to use the information in any noticable manner. Alex Standish, the editor of the highly respected Jane’s Intelligence Review, concludes that the attacks of 9/11 were less of an American intelligence failure than the result of “a political decision not to act against bin Laden.” [Jane's Intelligence Review, 10/5/2001; Times of India, 10/8/2001] In May 2002, Jane’s will further comment,“it is becoming clear that this was only the most high profile of a number of attempts by the Russians to alert the US and other members of the Security Council to the extent of the inter-dependence between the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the ISI. According to [our] Russian sources, there was a regular flow of information from Moscow to the US dating back to the last years of the Clinton presidency. It seems apparent, however, that although this intelligence was being received by the CIA and other US agencies, there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm within political - as opposed to military - circles for the launch of pre-emptive strikes against either the Taliban or al-Qaeda. However, given the detailed intelligence being provided by the Russians - and the fact that bin Laden was making very clear threats to launch further strikes against US targets - it seems bizarre, to say the least, that no high-level political decision was taken to focus US intelligence efforts on al-Qaeda and its international network…” [Jane's Intelligence Digest, 5/28/2002]
In December 2000, the US and Russia cosponsored a United Nations Security Council resolution requiring member states to “freeze without delay” the funds of those on a list of designated terrorists. The resolution passed, and the UN and European Union (EU) release the list on this day. It contains the names of five alleged al-Qaeda leaders, including bin Laden’s security coordinator, brother-in-law, and financial handler. Yet strangely, the US itself does not freeze the assets of these five leaders, and will only so one month after 9/11 (see October 12, 2001). [United Nations, 3/8/2001; Los Angeles Times, 10/15/2001] The Guardian will report after 9/11, “Members of Congress want to know why treasury officials charged with disrupting the finances of terrorists did not follow” the UN and EU. [Guardian, 10/13/2001]
A surveillance program known as Catcher’s Mitt is curtailed, and ten to twenty al-Qaeda wiretaps, as well as some Hamas wiretaps, are not renewed. This follows the discovery of errors in applications for warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) related to both al-Qaeda and Hamas and the introduction of new procedures (see Summer 2000-September 11, 2001, Summer-October 2000, October 2000, and March 2001). [New York Times, 9/19/2001; Newsweek, 5/27/2002; Newsweek, 3/29/2004] In addition, other similar programs such as Able Danger and Monarch Passage are shut down at the same time (see (February-March 2001) and January-March 2001).
FBI translators Sibel Edmonds and Behrooz Sarshar will later claim to know of an important warning given to the FBI at this time. In their accounts, a reliable informant on the FBI’s payroll for at least ten years tells two FBI agents that sources in Afghanistan have heard of an al-Qaeda plot to attack the US and Europe in a suicide mission involving airplanes. Al-Qaeda agents, already in place inside the US, are being trained as pilots. By some accounts, the names of prominent US cities are mentioned. A report on the matter is filed with squad supervisor Thomas Frields, but it’s unclear if this warning reaches FBI headquarters or beyond. The two translators will later privately testify to the 9/11 Commission. [WorldNetDaily, 3/24/2004; Salon, 3/26/2004; WorldNetDaily, 4/6/2004; Village Voice, 4/14/2004] Sarshar’s notes of the interview indicate that the informant claimed his information came from Iran, Afghanistan, and Hamburg, Germany (the location of the primary 9/11 al-Qaeda cell). However, anonymous FBI officials will claim the warning was very vague and doubtful. [Chicago Tribune, 7/21/2004] In reference to this warning and apparently others, Edmonds will say, “President Bush said they had no specific information about September 11, and that’s accurate. However, there was specific information about use of airplanes, that an attack was on the way two or three months beforehand, and that several people were already in the country by May of 2001. They should’ve alerted the people to the threat we were facing.” [Salon, 3/26/2004] She will add, “There was general information about the time-frame, about methods to be used but not specifically about how they would be used and about people being in place and who was ordering these sorts of terror attacks. There were other cities that were mentioned. Major cities with skyscrapers.” [Independent, 4/2/2004]
The charters of the Bahamas branch of the Al Taqwa Bank and the related Akida Bank are revoked. Al Taqwa’s headquarters in Switzerland will be shut down after 9/11 following accusations that it helped fund al-Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups (see November 7, 2001). [Randal, 2005, pp. 225] The US Treasury Department will later state that the Bahamas branch of “Al Taqwa and Akida Bank are not functional banking institutions in the conventional sense. They are shell companies lacking a physical presence and sharing the same address in the Bahamas where they were licensed.” [US Department of the Treasury, 8/29/2002] Press reports at the time say the closure is the result of Jordanian, French, and US intelligence reports indicating al-Qaeda money coming from Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates had been channeled through Al Taqwa. [Forward, 10/17/2003] Journalist Jonathan Randal will later note that US intelligence on Al Taqwa was solid enough before 9/11 to lead to this closure. “Egyptian, US, and other Western specialists had long suspected this well-known Muslim Brotherhood bank had ties to al-Qaeda as well as to radical Algerian, Egyptian, and Palestinian Islamist groups. One persistent rumor suggested Osama had been bugged telephoning the bank in Nassau, [Bahamas,] in 1996 to discuss rearranging his finances at the time of his departure from Khartoum, [Sudan.]” [Randal, 2005, pp. 225]
A source with al-Qaeda connections speculates to US intelligence that Osama “bin Laden would be interested in commercial pilots as potential terrorists.” The source warns that the US should not focus only on embassy bombings, because al-Qaeda is seeking “spectacular and traumatic” attacks along the lines of the WTC bombing in 1993. Because the source is offering personal speculation and not hard information, the information is not disseminated widely. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; New York Times, 9/18/2002]
CIA managers Gary Schroen, of the Near East division, and Richard Blee, responsible for Alec Station, the agency’s bin Laden unit, meet Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud in Paris, France. [Coll, 2004, pp. 560] Massoud, who is in Europe to address the European Parliament (see April 6, 2001), tells Schroen and Blee “that his own intelligence had learned of al-Qaeda’s intention to perform a terrorist act against the United States that would be vastly greater than the bombings of the American embassies in East Africa.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 337] Declassified Defense Intelligence Agency documents from November 2001 will say that Massoud has gained “limited knowledge… regarding the intentions of [al-Qaeda] to perform a terrorist act against the US on a scale larger than the 1998 bombing of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.” They will further point out he may have been assassinated two days before 9/11 (see September 9, 2001) because he “began to warn the West.” [PakTribune (Islamabad), 9/13/2003; Agence France-Presse, 9/14/2003] Blee hands Massoud a briefcase full of cash. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Schroen and Blee assure Massoud that, although he has been visited less by the CIA recently, they are still interested in working with him, and they will continue to make regular payments of several hundred thousand dollars each month. Commenting on the military situation in Afghanistan, Massoud says his defenses will hold for now, but the Northern Alliance is doing badly and no longer has the strength to counterattack. [Coll, 2004, pp. 561-2]
In 2005 (see February 10, 2005), it will be revealed that of the FAA’s 105 daily intelligence summaries between these dates, 52 mention bin Laden, al-Qaeda, or both. Most of the mentions are “in regard to overseas threats.” None of the warnings specifically predict something similar to the 9/11 attacks, but five of them mention al-Qaeda’s training for hijackings and two reports concern suicide operations unconnected to aviation. [Associated Press, 2/11/2005] One of the warnings mentions air defense measures being taken in Genoa, Italy, for the July 2001 G-8 summit to protect from a possible air attack by terrorists (see July 20-22, 2001). However, the New Jersey Star-Ledger is virtually the only newspaper in the US to report this fact. [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 2/11/2005] Despite all these warnings, the FAA fails to take any extra security measures. They do not expand the use of in-flight air marshals or tighten airport screening for weapons. A proposed rule to improve passenger screening and other security measures ordered by Congress in 1996 has held up and is still not in effect by 9/11. The 9/11 Commission’s report on these FAA warnings released in 2005 (see February 10, 2005) will conclude that FAA officials were more concerned with reducing airline congestion, lessening delays, and easing air carriers’ financial problems than preventing a hijacking. [Associated Press, 2/11/2005] The FAA also makes no effort to expand its list of terror suspects, which includes only a dozen names by 9/11 (see April 24, 2000). The former head of the FAA’s civil aviation security branch later says he wasn’t even aware of TIPOFF, the government’s main watch list, which included the names of two 9/11 hijackers before 9/11. Nor is there any evidence that a senior FAA working group responsible for security ever meets in 2001 to discuss “the high threat period that summer.” [New York Times, 2/10/2005]
The US State Department issues its annual report on terrorism. The report cites the role of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and notes the Taliban “continued to provide safe haven for international terrorists, particularly Saudi exile Osama bin Laden and his network.” However, as CNN describes it, “Unlike last year’s report, bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization is mentioned, but the 2001 report does not contain a photograph of bin Laden or a lengthy description of him and the group. A senior State Department official told CNN that the US government made a mistake last year by focusing too tightly on bin Laden and ‘personalizing terrorism… describing parts of the elephant and not the whole beast.’” [CNN, 4/30/2001] The report is unusually critical of Pakistan, noting, “Pakistan increased its support to the Taliban and continued its support to militant groups active in Indian-held Kashmir, such as the Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (HUM), some of which engaged in terrorism.… Credible reporting indicates that Pakistan is providing the Taliban with materiel, fuel, funding, technical assistance, and military advisers. Pakistan has not prevented large numbers of Pakistani nationals from moving into Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban. [Pakistan] also failed to take effective steps to curb the activities of certain madrassas, or religious schools, that serve as recruiting grounds for terrorism.” However, despite this criticism and a further critique that Afghanistan has been the “primary hub” for militants “involved in most major terrorist plots or attacks against the United States in the past 15 years and now engaged in international militant and terrorist acts around the world,” neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan is placed on the official list of countries sponsoring terrorism. The report merely hints that both of them could be added to the list in the next year unless their behavior improves. [US Department of State, 4/30/2001; CNN, 4/30/2001] In 1999, an unnamed Western diplomat explained to Human Rights Watch that if Pakistan were designated a terrorist state, it would mean the termination of international financial assistance. This would result in the near-collapse of the Pakistani economy, since two-thirds of Pakistan’s budget is funded by international loans and credits. [Human Rights Watch, 7/1/2001]
The US State Department’s 2000 annual report states in its section on state-sponsored terrorism that the Iraqi government’s “terrorist” activities consist primarily of its use of violence to silence dissident exiles. The report also notes that Iraq has not supported any militant operations against the West “since its failed plot to assassinate former President Bush in 1993 in Kuwait.” Significantly the report does not tie Iraq to international Islamic militant groups like al-Qaeda. [US Department of State, 4/30/2001; US Department of State, 4/30/2001; Newsday, 12/24/2001]
The Bush administration finally has its first Deputy Secretary-level meeting on terrorism. [Time, 8/12/2002] According to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, he advocates that the Northern Alliance needs to be supported in the war against the Taliban, and the Predator drone flights need to resume over Afghanistan so bin Laden can be targeted. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 231] Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says the focus on al-Qaeda is wrong. He states, “I just don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden,” and “Who cares about a little terrorist in Afghanistan?” Wolfowitz insists the focus should be Iraqi-sponsored terrorism instead. He claims the 1993 attack on the WTC must have been done with help from Iraq, and rejects the CIA’s assertion that there has been no Iraqi-sponsored terrorism against the US since 1993 (see April 30, 2001). (A spokesperson for Wolfowitz later calls Clarke’s account a “fabrication.”) [Clarke, 2004, pp. 30, 231; Newsweek, 3/22/2004] Wolfowitz repeats these sentiments immediately after 9/11 and tries to argue that the US should attack Iraq. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage agrees with Clarke that al-Qaeda is an important threat. Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley, chairing the meeting, brokers a compromise between Wolfowitz and the others. The group agrees to hold additional meetings focusing on al-Qaeda first (in June and July), but then later look at other terrorism, including any Iraqi terrorism. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 30, 231-32] Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin also attend the hour-long meeting. [Time, 8/12/2002]
Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Richard Armitage, Richard A. Clarke, Taliban, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, John E. McLaughlin, Northern Alliance, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
David Schippers, the House Judiciary Committee’s chief investigator in the Clinton impeachment trial, was hired to represent FBI agent Robert Wright in September 1999 (see August 3, 1999). After 9/11, Schippers will claim that he began privately informing congresspeople about Wright’s investigation into terrorism financing in the US in early 2001, but found little interest (see February-March 2001). Schippers appears to have had different sources than Wright who began telling him about attack warnings. Supposedly, the first warning was based on a secret February 1995 report which stated that bin Laden was planning three attacks on the US: the bombing of a federal building in the heartland of the US, shooting down or blowing up an airplane, and a massive attack in lower Manhattan. Schippers believes the first warning was a prediction of the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) and the second was a prediction of the 1996 explosion of TWA Flight 800 (see July 17, 1996-September 1996). In some versions of this warning, the Manhattan attack was meant to be caused by a “dirty bomb” - explosives mixed with radioactive materials - but other accounts described the use of planes as weapons instead. He says one of his sources for this early warning was Yossef Bodansky, director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. Schippers will claim that his sources continued to uncover further information. The Manhattan warning “had started out just a general threat, but they narrowed it and narrowed it, more and more with time,” until the “same people who came out with the first warning” tell him in May 2001 that “an attack on lower Manhattan is imminent.” Schippers speaks to several FBI agents directly, and hears that “there are [other agents] all over the country who are frustrated and just waiting to come out.” They are frustrated by “a bureaucratic elite in Washington short-stopping information,” which gives “terrorism a free reign in the United States.” Schippers later claims that some FBI agents later told him that before 9/11, “they had [Mohamed] Atta in their sights.” They also had attempted to “check out” the names and activities of “very strange characters training at flight schools.” He will claim that “FBI agents in Chicago and Minnesota” tell him “there [is] going to be an attack on lower Manhattan.” Schippers will later claim that he will attempt to contact Attorney General John Ashcroft and other politicians about this warning in coming months, but that they will show little interest (see July-Late August 2001). [WorldNetDaily, 10/21/2001; Indianapolis Star, 5/18/2002; Ahmed, 2004, pp. 258-260]
US intelligence obtains information that al-Qaeda is planning to infiltrate the US from Canada and carry out an operation using high explosives. The report does not say exactly where, when, or how an attack might occur. Two months later, the information is shared with the FBI, the INS, the US Customs Service, and the State Department, and it will be shared with President Bush in August. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; Washington Post, 9/19/2002] This information could come from captured al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam, who warns around this month that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida has been seeking Canadian passports as part of a plot to attack the US, possibly by planting explosives in several US cities (see May 30, 2001 and May 2001). [Calgary Herald, 4/3/2002]
The Washington Post will later report, “In May 2001, the CIA learned supporters of bin Laden were planning to infiltrate the United States; that seven were on their way to the United States, Canada and Britain; that his key operatives ‘were disappearing while others were preparing for martyrdom,’ and that bin Laden associates ‘were planning attacks in the United States with explosives.’” [US Congress, 9/18/2002; Washington Post, 9/19/2002] This information may be related to a warning given by captured al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam this month that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is seeking Canadian passports for himself and five other top militants in order to plant explosives in US cities (see May 30, 2001 and May 2001). [Calgary Herald, 4/3/2002] It is not known if the seven traveling to the US, Canada, and Britain refer to any of the 9/11 hijackers, but 11 of the hijackers travel to the US in May and June (see April 23-June 29, 2001), stopping in Britain along the way (see January-June 2001). Investigators will later say that they are not sure if the aliases Zubaida wanted on the Canadian passports could have been used by some of the 9/11 hijackers. [Calgary Herald, 4/3/2002]
Gen. William F. Kernan (2002) [Source: Wikipedia]General William Kernan, commander in chief of the Joint Forces Command, later mentions: “The details of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan which fought the Taliban and al-Qaeda after the September 11 attacks, were largely taken from a scenario examined by Central Command in May 2001.” [Agence France-Presse, 7/23/2002] This seems to contradict other accounts suggesting the military made no Afghanistan invasion plans or preparations after Bush took office (see December 2000).
“Massoud,” a 22-year-old Afghan, tells ABC News that al-Qaeda is “planning to hijack aircraft as a means of attacking the West,” according to journalist Edward Girardet. Girardet will write in a 2011 book that “ABC never used this information because of pressure brought about by a certain intelligence agency, presumably the CIA.” Massoud is employed by journalist Peter Jouvenal as a “runner” between Kabul and Pakistan, as a “means of tracking potential stories for the BBC, CNN, and other networks.” Jouvenal is Girardet’s source for Massoud’s story. Massoud also claims to work for the Pakistani ISI, the CIA, and al-Qaeda. He travels with Jouvenal to meet ABC in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as part of an effort to get asylum. [Girardet, 2011, pp. 333]
Around this time, intercepts from Afghanistan warn that al-Qaeda could attack an American target in late June or on the July 4 holiday. However, the White House’s Cabinet-level principals group does not meet to discuss this prospect. This group also fails to meet after intelligence analysts overhear conversations from an al-Qaeda cell in Milan suggesting that bin Laden’s agents might be plotting to kill Bush at the European summit in Genoa, Italy, in late July (see July 20-22, 2001). In fact, the group will only hold one meeting on terrorism before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001). [New York Times, 12/30/2001] According to 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer, before 9/11 the principals group met 32 times on other issues, such as Iraq, Russia, China, the Middle East, and missile defense. [Editor & Publisher, 10/1/2006] By comparison, the principals group met to discuss terrorism around once a week between 1998 and 2000 under Clinton (see Late August 1998-November 2000). [New York Times, 12/30/2001]
John Walker Lindh.
[Source: Alexandria, Virginia, Sheriff's Department]John Walker Lindh, a young Caucasian man from California who has converted to Islam, travels to Peshawar, Pakistan, in an attempt to fight for Islamic causes. He had been studying the Koran for about six months elsewhere in Pakistan, but otherwise had no particularly special training, qualifications, or connections. Within days, he is accepted into al-Qaeda and sent to the Al Farooq training camp in Afghanistan. Seven other US citizens are already training there (see April-August 2001). He inadvertently learns details of the 9/11 attacks. In June, he is told by an instructor that “bin Laden had sent forth some fifty people to carry out twenty suicide terrorist operations against the United States and Israel.” He learns that the 9/11 plot is to consist of five attacks, not the four that actually occur. The other fifteen operations are to take place later. He is asked if he wants to participate in a suicide mission, but declines. [Mahoney, 2003, pp. 162, 216; Bamford, 2004, pp. 234-36]
News of Upcoming Attacks Are Widespread in Camps - Although Lindh does not tell this information to any US officials, the fact that he learns this much so quickly is indicative of how widely news of the upcoming attacks are spreading in the al-Qaeda training camps. For instance, early 2001, bin Laden gave a speech at one of the camps talking about an attack on the US that would kill thousands (see Early 2001). In the summer, bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs (see Summer 2001). By July, a source will tell the CIA that (see July 2001)
What Could an Informant in the Camps Learn? - Author James Bamford comments, “The decision to keep CIA employees at arm’s length from [al-Qaeda] was a serious mistake. At the same moment the CIA was convinced al-Qaeda was impenetrable, a number of American citizens were secretly joining al-Qaeda in Afghanistan—and being welcomed with open arms.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 161]
The FAA conducts 27 briefings for airline companies in this time period. However, each briefing only addresses hijacking threats overseas. This is despite the fact that from March to May, the FAA conducted briefings for US airports that raised concerns about hijackings in the domestic US, and even told airports that if hijackers wanted to end a hijacking with a suicidal “spectacular explosion” it would make more sense to do it in the domestic US (see March-May 2001). Also during roughly the same May to September time period, about half of the FAA’s daily intelligence briefings mention bin Laden or al-Qaeda, and one of those specifically referred to an al-Qaeda plot using planes as weapons. Even though some of these mentions are connected to domestic threats, airlines are only briefed about the overseas threats (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 2/11/2005; Newsday, 2/11/2005]
During a regularly scheduled weekly meeting between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet, CIA official Richard Blee describes a “truly frightening” list of warning signs of an upcoming terrorist attack. He says that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is working on attack plans. CIA leaders John McLaughlin and Cofer Black are also present at this meeting, as is counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and Mary McCarthy, a CIA officer serving as National Security Council senior director. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 145] Just the day before, Clarke suggested that Tenet and Rice discuss what could be done to stop Zubaida from launching “a series of major terrorist attacks,” so presumably this discussion is in response to that (see May 29, 2001). Tenet will later recall: “Some intelligence suggested that [Zubaida’s] plans were ready to be executed; others suggested they would not be ready for six months. The primary target appeared to be in Israel, but other US assets around the world were at risk.” Rice asks about taking the offensive against al-Qaeda and asks how bad the threat is. Black estimates it to be a seven on a one-to-10 scale, with the millennium threat at the start of 2000 ranking an eight in comparison. Clarke tells her that adequate warning notices have been issued to the appropriate US entities. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 145-146]
Steven Emerson. [Source: Publicity photo]Steven Emerson and Daniel Pipes, both experts on the Middle East and Islamist terrorism, write in the Wall Street Journal that al-Qaeda is “planning new attacks on the US.” Their article is written as a response to the recent guilty verdicts in a New York court against four men accused of planning the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). “Unfortunately,” Emerson and Pipes write, “the trial does almost nothing to enhance the safety of Americans.… Indeed, recent information shows that al-Qaeda is not only planning new attacks on the US but is also expanding its operational range to countries such as Jordan and Israel.”
Al-Qaeda Is 'the Most Lethal Terrorist Organization Anywhere in the World' - Emerson and Pipes also write that tens of thousands of pages from the trial transcript “provide a full and revealing picture of al-Qaeda, showing it to be the most lethal terrorist organization anywhere in the world.” The transcript shows that “al-Qaeda sees the West in general, and the US in particular, as the ultimate enemy of Islam. Inspired by their victory over the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the leaders of al-Qaeda aspire to a similar victory over America, hoping ultimately to bring Islamist rule here.”
Al-Qaeda Personnel Have Been Taught 'How to Destroy Large Buildings' - The article states that Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, has “set up a tightly organized system of cells in an array of American cities, including Brooklyn, NY; Orlando, Fla.; Dallas; Santa Clara, Calif.; Columbia, Mo.; and Herndon, Va.” Furthermore, according to Emerson and Pipes, court documents show that “[o]fficials of the Iranian government helped arrange advanced weapons and explosives training for al-Qaeda personnel in Lebanon, where they learned, for example, how to destroy large buildings.”
America Must Fight Al-Qaeda 'as We Would in a War' - Emerson and Pipes conclude that the recent trial “shows that trials alone are not enough” when dealing with al-Qaeda. They suggest that al-Qaeda operatives “are better thought of as soldiers, not criminals.” Therefore, they write, “To fight al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups… we must fight them as we would in a war.” This would mean that, “as in a conventional war, America’s armed forces, not its policemen and lawyers, are primarily deployed to protect Americans.” Furthermore, the two men opine: “If a perpetrator is not precisely known, then those who are known to harbor terrorists will be punished. This way, governments and organizations that support terrorism will pay the price, not just the individuals who carry it out.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/31/2001]
Writers Have Been Accused of Anti-Muslim Bias - Emerson and Pipes are controversial figures. Emerson, an award-winning investigative reporter, has been called “the nation’s foremost journalistic expert on terrorism” by the New York Post. [Harvard Crimson, 10/22/1999] And White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke called him “sort of the Paul Revere of terrorism.” But according to Brown University’s alumni magazine, he spent the 1990s “fighting to be taken seriously, and fending off charges of racism and anti-Muslim bias.” [Brown Alumni Magazine, 11/2002] Pipes, a foreign policy analyst, and commentator on terrorism and Islam, “appears regularly in the US media, where he is regarded as an authority on the Middle East,” The Guardian will report. Arab-Americans, however, “regard him as a Muslim basher and a staunch supporter of Israel.” According to The Nation, he “labored in comparative obscurity during the 1990s, writing a series of books and articles that advanced a hard line on Arab countries… and darkly warning that Muslim Americans posed a threat to the United States.” [Guardian, 9/10/2001; Nation, 4/22/2004]
The FBI shares information on terrorist threats with state and local law enforcement entities through National Law Enforcement Threat System (NLETS) reports. However, at this time, the heightened state of alert for an attack in the US is not reflected at all in these NLETS reports. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry notes, “In a May 2001 NLETS report, for example, the FBI assessed the risk of terrorism as ‘low,’ and, in a July 2, 2001 NLETS report, stated that the FBI had no information indicating a credible threat of terrorist attack in the United States, although the possibility of such an attack could not be discounted.” Further reports focus only on the potential of attacks against US interests overseas. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] On July 5 and 6, 2001, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke specifically warns FBI officials that al-Qaeda is planning “something spectacular,” and says, “They may try to hit us at home. You have to assume that is what they are going to do.” Yet apparently the FBI doesn’t pass any of Clarke’s warnings or sense of urgent emergency to the state and local emergency responders (see July 5, 2001)
(see July 6, 2001).
After 9/11, Secretary of State Colin Powell will claim that the Bush administration received a “lot of signs” throughout the summer of 2001 that Islamic militants were plotting US attacks. These include al-Qaeda mentions of an impending “Hiroshima” on US soil. [USA Today, 10/15/2001] The 2002 book The Cell also describes an intercepted al-Qaeda message in the summer of 2001 talking about a “Hiroshima-type” event coming soon. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 288] So this appears to be a different warning than an intercepted communication in 2000 warning of a “Hiroshima-type event” (see (August 2000)), or perhaps a repeat of that.
Ahmed Said Khadr. [Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]The Pakistani ISI allows an al-Qaeda leader to escape arrest. Egyptian investigators are looking for Ahmed Said Khadr, because he is wanted for funding the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, in 1995 (see November 19, 1995). [Time, 5/6/2002; National Post, 10/14/2003] Khadr, a Canadian citizen, had been arrested in Pakistan shortly after the bombing but was then let go after a hunger strike and an appeal by the Canadian government. He runs the Pakistan office of a Canadian charity called Human Concern International. [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 4/20/2006] A 1996 CIA report that referred to Khadr called this a charity front that funds radical militants (see January 1996). Khadr’s name appeared on a list of top al-Qaeda suspects issued by the United Nations in 1999. [Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 3/3/2004] Egyptians surround the safe house in Pakistan where Khadr is hiding. They notify the ISI to help arrest him, and ISI Director Mahmood Ahmed promises swift action. Instead, a car sent by the ISI filled with Taliban and having diplomatic plates arrives, grabs Khadr, and drives him to safety in Afghanistan. Time magazine will later comment: “It was no surprise to foreign spooks that the ISI let [him] escape from Peshawar. He knew too much, they say, about the ISI’s alleged ties with al-Qaeda.” [Time, 5/6/2002] Khadr will be killed in an October 2003 shootout with the Pakistani Army (see October 2, 2003). After his death, a sympathetic jihadist group will refer to him as a “founding member” of al-Qaeda. [National Post, 10/14/2003; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 4/20/2006]
A police officer with the Mountain View Police Department in California uncovers a pattern of suspicious electronic probing of the computer systems of public utilities and government offices in the San Francisco Bay area. He notifies the FBI’s computer intrusion squad. The investigation reveals that the intruders are operating from the Middle East and South Asia. They are targeting the computer systems used to control the physical infrastructure of water systems and power plants throughout the US, suggesting a plan for a cyber attack. For many experts who have long warned against cyber terrorism or warfare, the “Mountain View case” as it is called, should be seen as a wake-up call for the government as well as the private sector (see 1996-2008). In a later interview, Richard Clarke, the national presidential adviser on cyberspace security from 2001 to 2003, will say: “The bottom line on the Mountain View case is the ease with which people can do virtual reconnaissance from overseas on our physical infrastructure and our cyber infrastructure.… We were lucky… that there were good people watching.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2002] Despite fears that al-Qaeda may be behind the intrusions (see 2002), the identity of the hackers will not be established. In 2003, Ron Dick, who was the head of the FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) at the time, will say that the “case is still pending.… We never were… able to tie it back to any terrorist organizations.” [PBS Frontline, 3/18/2003]
Word begins to spread within al-Qaeda that an attack against the US is imminent, according to later prison interrogations of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Many within al-Qaeda are aware that Mohammed has been preparing operatives to go to the US. Additionally, bin Laden makes several remarks hinting at an upcoming attack, spawning rumors throughout Muslim extremist circles worldwide.
In a recorded speech at the Al Farooq training camp in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004]
Members of the “Lackawanna Six” see bin Laden give a recorded speech at the Al Farooq camp in which he urges trainees to pray for 40 en route on a very important mission. It is not known if this is the same as the other Al Farooq speech or a separate one (see (June 2001)).
A bin Laden bodyguard later will claim that in May 2001 or earlier in the year he heard bin Laden tell people in Afghanistan that the US would be hit with an attack, and thousands would die (see Early 2001). [Guardian, 11/28/2002]
In mid-June 2001, bin Laden tells training camp trainees there will be an attack in the near future. US intelligence soon learns of this (see Mid-June 2001).
In June 2001, the CIA hears that Arabs in Afghanistan are said to be anticipating as many as eight celebrations, and al-Qaeda operatives are being told to await important news within days (see June 2001).
John Walker Lindh learns details of the 9/11 attack despite being a Caucasian and US citizen who only recently converted to Islam (see May-June 2001).
There are other indications that knowledge of the attacks spreads in Afghanistan. The Daily Telegraph later reports that “the idea of an attack on a skyscraper [is] discussed among [bin Laden’s] supporters in Kabul.” At some unspecified point before 9/11, a neighbor in Kabul sees diagrams showing a skyscraper attack in a house known as a “nerve center” for al-Qaeda activity. [Daily Telegraph, 11/16/2001] US soldiers will later find forged visas, altered passports, listings of Florida flight schools and registration papers for a flight simulator in al-Qaeda houses in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 12/6/2001]
A confidential informant tells an FBI field office agent that he has been invited to a commando-training course at a training camp operated by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The information is passed up to FBI headquarters, which rejects the idea of infiltrating the camp. An “asset validation” of the informant, a routine but critical exercise to determine whether information from the source was reliable, is also not done. The FBI later has no comment on the story. [US News and World Report, 6/10/2002] Around this time, John Walker Lindh, a Caucasian US citizen who recently converted to Islam, goes to one of the training camps for the first time and learns details of the 9/11 in a matter of weeks (see May-June 2001). Also around this time, seven men from Lackawanna, New York, go to a training camp in Afghanistan and hear clues about the 9/11 attacks before they drop out after only a few weeks (see (June 2001)).
The US considers substantially aiding Ahmed Shah Massoud and his Northern Alliance. As one counterterrorism official put it, “You keep [al-Qaeda terrorists] on the front lines in Afghanistan. Hopefully you’re killing them in the process, and they’re not leaving Afghanistan to plot terrorist operations.” A former US special envoy to the Afghan resistance visits Massoud this month. Massoud gives him “all the intelligence he [has] on al-Qaeda” in the hopes of getting some support in return. However, he gets nothing more than token amounts and his organization isn’t even given “legitimate resistance movement” status. [Time, 8/12/2002]
Two major terrorist organizations, al-Qaeda and the Egypt-based Islamic Jihad, formally merged into one. This completes a merging process that had been going on for years (see August 11-20, 1988, December 1, 1996-June 1997, and February 22, 1998). The technical name of the new entity is Qaeda al-Jihad, though it is widely called al-Qaeda. Bin Laden remains in charge, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Islamic Jihad, remains second in command. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002]
US intelligence issues a terrorist threat advisory, warning US government agencies that there is a high probability of an imminent attack against US interests: “Sunni extremists associated with al-Qaeda are most likely to attempt spectacular attacks resulting in numerous casualties.” The advisory mentions the Arabian Peninsula, Israel, and Italy as possible targets for an attack. Afterwards, intelligence information provided to senior US leaders continues to indicate that al-Qaeda expects near-term attacks to have dramatic consequences on governments or cause major casualties. [US Congress, 9/18/2002]
[Source: NATO]Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley circulates a draft presidential directive on policy toward al-Qaeda. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and his staff regard the new approach as essentially the same as the proposal that they developed in December 2000 and presented to the Bush administration in January 2001 (see December 20, 2000 and January 25, 2001). The draft has the goal of eliminating al-Qaeda as a threat over a multi-year period, and calls for funding through 2006. It has a section calling for the development of contingency military plans against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Hadley contacts Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to tell him these contingency plans will be needed soon. However, no such plans are developed before 9/11. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and others later admit that the contingency plans available immediately after 9/11 are unsatisfactory. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The draft is now discussed in three more deputy-level meetings.
Army General Tommy Franks raises concerns that al-Qaeda will attack Western facilities in the Middle East using planes loaded with explosives. [Franks, 2004, pp. 235-236; Globe and Mail, 10/9/2004] As commander in chief of the US Central Command (CENTCOM), Franks is in charge of US military operations in an area covering 25 nations in North Africa, Central Asia, and the Middle East. [CNN, 10/24/2001; ABC News, 1/7/2006] “Through the spring of 2001 and into the summer, protecting our deployed troops from terrorists remained an ever-present concern,” he will later write. During the summer, CENTCOM intelligence officers work with the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency, “collecting and analyzing persistent but unspecific indications of planned terrorist activity in the Middle East.” On several occasions, Franks increases CENTCOM’s force protection posture—the “Threatcon”—“but never as a result of a specific threat” (see June 21, 2001). “Something was brewing, but the best minds at the CIA and the National Security Agency could not pin down the threats with any degree of certainty,” he will comment. “Where would we see a terrorist act… and when?” As he reads “the increasingly alarming reports of potential attacks on Western facilities in the region,” it occurs to Franks that al-Qaeda might carry out suicide attacks using aircraft. “Al-Qaeda had used cars, trucks, and boats as suicide bombs,” he will write. “What about small planes loaded with high explosives?” He sends a note—first to the US embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and then to the other US embassies within CENTCOM’s area of responsibility—in which he asks the ambassadors to pass on his concerns to their hosts. He tells them, “We should work to tune the host nations in the region in to this type of threat.” [Franks, 2004, pp. 235-236]
On June 3, 2001, a British newspaper reveals that Hamid Aich, who is on the FBI’s international wanted list, is living in Dublin where he is applying for asylum. [Mirror, 2/18/2001; News of the World, 6/3/2001] Irish intelligence has been monitoring Aich’s movements since 1997, when authorities tied him to the mass murder of 77 tourists in Luxor, Egypt (see November 18, 1997). [Mirror, 10/17/2001; Daily Telegraph, 11/8/2001] He has since been linked to a number of militant groups (see, e.g., December 14, 1999). It is believed that between 1999 and 2001, Aich assisted 22 Islamic terrorist organizations, and even funded non-Islamic groups, for instance giving $200,000 to the ETA, a separatist group in the Basque region of Spain. Aich was also the director of Mercy International’s Ireland branch. (This charity has several known al-Qaeda connections by this time (see 1988-Spring 1995 and Late 1996-August 20, 1998).) Despite these connections, he will continue to live openly in Dublin after the newspaper discloses his location. [Mirror, 9/17/2001] Irish authorities only publicly say, “Aich’s case is at a very delicate stage.” [News of the World, 6/3/2001] Then, on July 24, he leaves Ireland using a false passport. The FBI, which took no action against him while he was living in Dublin, is reportedly “furious” with Irish police for allowing him to escape. He has not been heard of since, and he has not been included in any known lists of wanted al-Qaeda leaders. It is believed that Aich eventually ends up in Afghanistan. After 9/11, Aich will be described as “one of the FBI’s chief targets” and “one of bin Laden’s most trusted men” who ranks seventh in al-Qaeda’s hierarchy. [Mirror, 9/17/2001]
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak later claims that Egyptian intelligence discovers a “communiqué from bin Laden saying he wanted to assassinate President Bush and other G8 heads of state during their summit in Genoa, Italy” on this day. The communiqué specifically mentions this would be done via “an airplane stuffed with explosives.” The US and Italy are sent urgent warnings of this. [New York Times, 9/26/2001] Mubarak will claim that Egyptian intelligence officials informed American intelligence officers between March and May 2001 that an Egyptian agent had penetrated al-Qaeda. Presumably, this explains how Egypt is able to give the US these warnings. [New York Times, 6/4/2002]
At President Bush’s first meeting with NATO heads of state in Brussels, Belgium, Bush outlines his five top defense issues. Missile defense is at the top of the list. Terrorism is not mentioned at all. This is consistent with his other statements before 9/11. Almost the only time he ever publicly mentions al-Qaeda or bin Laden before 9/11 is later in the month, in a letter that renews Clinton administration sanctions on the Taliban. [CNN, 6/13/2001; Washington Post, 4/1/2004] He only speaks publicly about the dangers of terrorism once before 9/11, in May, except for several mentions in the context of promoting a missile defense shield. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002]
Baker Atyani, reporter for the Middle East Broadcasting Company, sits with Ayman al-Zawahiri and bin Laden. [Source: CNN] (click image to enlarge)Baker Atyani, a reporter for the Middle East Broadcasting Company interviews bin Laden. Keeping a promise made to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, bin Laden does not say anything substantive, but Ayman al-Zawahiri and other top al-Qaeda leaders promise that “[the] coming weeks will hold important surprises that will target American and Israeli interests in the world.” [Associated Press, 6/24/2001; Associated Press, 6/25/2001] Atyani says, “There is a major state of mobilization among the Osama bin Laden forces. It seems that there is a race of who will strike first. Will it be the United States or Osama bin Laden?” [Reuters, 6/23/2001] He adds, “I told my channel that his followers were telling me that the coffin business will increase in the states, the United States.” [CNN, 8/23/2006] After 9/11, Aytani will conclude, “I am 100 percent sure of this, and it was absolutely clear they had brought me there to hear this message.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 236] He is also shown a several-months-old videotape in which bin Laden declares, “It’s time to penetrate America and Israel and hit them where it hurts most.” The video is soon made public (see June 21, 2001). [CNN, 6/21/2001] Author James Bamford theorizes that the original 9/11 plot involved a simultaneous attack on Israel and that shoe bomber Richard Reid may have originally wanted to target an Israeli aircraft around this time. For instance, Reid flies to Tel Aviv, Israel on July 12, 2001, to test if airline security would check his shoes for bombs. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 236-39]
The CIA notifies its station chiefs about intelligence suggesting a possible al-Qaeda suicide attack on a US target over the next few days. CIA Director George Tenet asks that all US ambassadors be briefed on the warning. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke warns National Security Adviser Rice and Assistant National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley that six separate intelligence reports show al-Qaeda personnel warning of a pending attack. These include a warning by al-Qaeda leaders that the next weeks “will witness important surprises” (see June 21, 2001) and a new recruitment video making further threats (see June 19, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will say that “Clarke [argues] that this [is] all too sophisticated to be merely a psychological operation to keep the United States on edge…” It is unclear how Rice and Hadley respond, but the CIA agrees with Clarke’s assessment. [Newsweek, 7/22/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 257]
The first Bush administration deputy-secretary-level meeting on terrorism in late April is followed by three more deputy meetings. Each meeting focuses on one issue: one meeting is about al-Qaeda, one about the Pakistani situation, and one on Indo-Pakistani relations. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s plan to roll back al-Qaeda, which has been discussed at these meetings, is worked on some more, and is finally approved by National Security Adviser Rice and the deputies on August 13. It now can move to the Cabinet-level before finally reaching President Bush. The Cabinet-level meeting is scheduled for later in August, but too many participants are on vacation, so the meeting takes place in early September. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
CIA official Richard Blee gives a briefing on the state of the terrorism threat to CIA Director George Tenet and Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black. According to an account by Tenet in his 2007 book, Blee identifies more than 10 specific pieces of intelligence about impending attacks. Tenet claims that experienced analysts call this intelligence “both unprecedented and virtually 100 percent reliable.” Blee specifically mentions:
A key Afghanistan training camp commander was seen weeping with joy because he believed he could see his trainees in heaven, implying a successful suicide attack to come.
For the last three to five months, al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is believed to have been involved in an unprecedented effort to prepare terrorist operations.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of the USS Cole bombing masterminds, has disappeared. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 149] Leaders of the Cole bombing are believed to be planning new attacks against the US. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 147]
Other important operatives around the world are disappearing or preparing for martyrdom. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 149]
Blee concludes by saying: “Based on a review of all source reporting over the last five months, we believe that [Osama bin Laden] will launch a significant terrorist attack against US and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 322; Tenet, 2007, pp. 149] This warning, including the concluding quote, is shared with “senior Bush administration officials” in early July. [US Congress, 9/18/2002]
CIA Director Tenet writes an intelligence summary for National Security Adviser Rice: “It is highly likely that a significant al-Qaeda attack is in the near future, within several weeks.” A highly classified analysis at this time adds, “Most of the al-Qaeda network is anticipating an attack. Al-Qaeda’s overt publicity has also raised expectations among its rank and file, and its donors.” [Washington Post, 5/17/2002] The same day, Tenet is briefed by another CIA official that bin Laden “will launch a significant terrorist attack against US and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities or interests” (see June 28, 2001). [US Congress, 7/24/2003] Apparently, these warnings are partly based on a warning given by al-Qaeda leaders to a reporter a few days earlier (see June 21, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke also later asserts that Tenet tells him around this time, “It’s my sixth sense, but I feel it coming. This is going to be the big one.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 235]
Abu Hamza al-Masri. [Source: BBC]The Italian Secret Service SISDE records a meeting in the Finsbury Park mosque, in northern London, Britain. Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri (an Afghanistan war veteran heading a radical Islamic group), Mustapha Melki (linked to al-Qaeda member Abu Doha—see February 2001), and a man only known as Omar talk to each other. Notes of the meeting state, “Abu Hamza proposed an ambitious but unlikely plot which involved attacks carried by planes.” This is apparently a reference to an attack on the upcoming G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, scheduled in several weeks (see July 20-22, 2001). But unlike other reports of an al-Qaeda attack on that summit, this refers to an attack using more than one plane. The notes of the meeting conclude, “The belief that Osama bin Laden is plotting an attack is spreading among the radical Islamic groups.” [Discovery News, 9/13/2001]
US intelligence learns that an al-Qaeda operative is considering mounting operations in the US. There is no information on the timing or specific targets. [US Congress, 9/18/2002]
The three authors of the book Germs, Judith Miller (left), Stephen Engelberg (top), and William Broad (bottom). This was the book Miller was working on before 9/11; it was published several weeks after 9/11. [Source: Publicity photo]New York Times reporter Judith Miller learns her government counterterrorism sources are worried that al-Qaeda is going to attack a US target on the Fourth of July holiday. There has been an increase in chatter about an impending attack. In 2005, Miller will recall, “Everyone in Washington was very spun-up in the counterterrorism world at that time. I think everybody knew that an attack was coming—everyone who followed this.… I got the sense that part of the reason that I was being told of what was going on was that the people in counterterrorism were trying to get the word to the president or the senior officials through the press, because they were not able to get listened to themselves.”
Conversation Overheard - She has a conversation with a still-anonymous top-level White House source who reveals there is some concern about a top-secret NSA intercept between two al-Qaeda operatives. She explains, “They had been talking to one another, supposedly expressing disappointment that the United States had not chosen to retaliate more seriously against what had happened to the [USS] Cole. And one al-Qaeda operative was overheard saying to the other, ‘Don’t worry; we’re planning something so big now that the US will have to respond.’ And I was obviously floored by that information. I thought it was a very good story: (1) the source was impeccable; (2) the information was specific, tying al-Qaeda operatives to, at least, knowledge of the attack on the Cole; and (3) they were warning that something big was coming, to which the United States would have to respond. This struck me as a major page one-potential story.”
Not Printed - Miller tells her editor Stephen Engelberg about the story the next day. But Engelberg says, “You have a great first and second paragraph. What’s your third?” Miller finds only one other source to confirm these details.
Yemen Connection - She later learns from her first source that the conversation occurred in Yemen. Though the telephone number is never disclosed, some circumstances suggest one of the parties taking part in the call may have been at the al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, that is monitored by US intelligence. One of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, lives there with his wife and children (see Late August 1998), and communicates there will be forthcoming attacks to at least one family member (see Late October 2000-July 4, 2001). The hijackers in the US apparently call the Yemen hub around this time (see (August 2001)). On July 3, the CIA will request the arrest of Djamel Beghal (see July 3, 2001), an al-Qaeda operative whose calls to the hub are apparently being monitored at this time (see Before July 3, 2001).
Regrets - Miller later regrets not following through more because she “had a book coming out” as well as other stories and that there wasn’t a “sense of immediacy” about the information. In 2005, Engelberg will confirm Miller’s story and agree that he wanted more specifics before running the story. Engelberg also later wonders “maybe I made the wrong call,” asking, “More than once I’ve wondered what would have happened if we’d run the piece?” The New York Times has yet to mention the warning in all of their post-9/11 reporting and the 9/11 Commission has never mentioned anything about the warning either. In 2005, Miller will spend 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal a source and then leave the New York Times after widespread criticism about her reporting. [Columbia Journalism Review, 9/2005; AlterNet, 5/18/2006; Editor & Publisher, 5/18/2006]
Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, is detained in Jordan and then let go. According to a German intelligence official speaking in 2002, Zammar is in transit through Jordan. However, the official will not say where Zammar is going, where he is coming from, or why he is held. Zammar is detained for several days and then deported back to Germany. [Washington Post, 6/12/2002] When Zammar is questioned by German intelligence shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11-October 27, 2001), he will mention his detention in Jordan. He will say that Jordanian officials “asked me about Afghanistan, the people there, my beliefs, contacts in Jordan, and my party membership. By party membership that meant whether I was a follower of Hezbollah, Hamas, [Islamic] Jihad, or Osama bin Laden.” [New York Times, 1/18/2003] Interestingly, in the beginning of July, CIA Director George Tenet made an urgent request to allied intelligence agencies to arrest anyone on a list of known al-Qaeda operatives (see July 3, 2001). In 1999, US intelligence determined that Zammar was in contact with one of Osama bin Laden’s senior operational coordinators, and the US notes Zammar’s terrorist links on numerous occasions before 9/11 (see Summer 1999), so Zammar would be a likely candidate for Tenet’s list. Zammar also was the target of a German intelligence investigation that started in 1996 and lasted at least three years (see 1996).
In the summer of 2001, the team officially concludes that the Sudan government no longer has any terrorist ties. However, the US does not take Sudan off its official list of terrorist states (and as of 2007 Sudan has yet to be taken off the list). A few weeks before 9/11, the US team finally agrees to examine Sudan’s files on al-Qaeda. The US has repeatedly been offered the files and turned them down (see March 8, 1996-April 1996, April 5, 1997, and May 2000), but by now the bulk of the files are six years old and date back to when bin Laden lived in Sudan. It is not entirely certain if the files are handed over before 9/11, but one account specifies that the files are handed over in July 2001. Vanity Fair will later note that in any case, “Events suggest that by then it was too late.” [Observer, 9/30/2001; Vanity Fair, 1/2002; Miniter, 2003, pp. 148]
Indian sources claim that “bin Laden, who suffers from renal deficiency, has been periodically undergoing dialysis in a Peshawar military hospital with the knowledge and approval of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), if not of [Pakistani President] Musharraf himself.”
[SAPRA (New Delhi), 7/2/2001] While one might question the bias of an Indian newspaper on this issue, highly respected intelligence newsletter Jane’s Intelligence Digest later reports the story, and adds, “None of [these details] will be unfamiliar to US intelligence operatives who have been compiling extensive reports on these alleged activities.”
[Jane's Intelligence Digest, 9/20/2001] CBS will later report bin Laden had emergency medical care in Pakistan the day before 9/11. [CBS News, 1/28/2002] If these stories are true, it appears Pakistan could have captured bin Laden for the US at any time. The Jane’s Intelligence Digest article adds, “It is becoming clear that both the Taliban and al-Qaeda would have found it difficult to have continued functioning—including the latter group’s terrorist activities—without substantial aid and support from Islamabad [Pakistan].”
[Jane's Intelligence Digest, 9/20/2001]
The FBI’s Counterterrorism Division issues a warning of possible al-Qaeda attacks to law enforcement agencies called “Potential Anti-US Attacks.” It states: “[T]here are threats to be worried about overseas. While we cannot foresee attacks domestically, we cannot rule them out.” It further states, “[T]he FBI has no information indicating a credible threat of terrorist attack in the United States.” It asks law enforcement agencies to “exercise vigilance” and “report suspicious activities” to the FBI. Two weeks later, acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard has a conference call with all field office heads mentioning the heightened threat (see July 19, 2001). However, FBI personnel later fail to recall any heightened sense of threat from summer 2001. Only those in the New York field office take any action or will recall this later. [CNN, 3/2002; 9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
The NSA monitors calls between an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen and one or more operatives involved in a plot to attack the US embassy in Paris. The communications hub in Yemen is run by Ahmed al-Hada, father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who is also involved in the US embassy bombings (see August 4-25, 1998), the USS Cole bombing (see Mid-August 1998-October 2000), and 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). The Paris plot is apparently foiled based on this information, although the details are sketchy. [US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] The name of the operative or operatives who talk to the communications hub in Yemen is unknown. One candidate is Djamel Beghal, who will be arrested on July 28 (see July 24 or 28, 2001) based on a tip-off issued by the CIA to partner agencies on July 3 (see July 3, 2001). Another is Nizar Trabelsi, who will be arrested on September 13, although Trabelsi may be arrested based on information gleaned from Beghal. Both Beghal (see Spring 1998) and Trabelsi (see September 13, 2001) are connected to a plot to destroy an airliner with a shoe bomb, but this is not stopped (see December 22, 2001).
This is one of only two dates that Bush’s national security leadership discusses terrorism. (The other discussion occurs on September 4.) Apparently, the topic is only mentioned in passing and is not the focus of the meeting. This group, made up of the national security adviser, CIA director, defense secretary, secretary of state, Joint Chiefs of staff chairman and others, met around 100 times before 9/11 to discuss a variety of topics, but apparently rarely terrorism. The White House “aggressively defended the level of attention [to terrorism], given only scattered hints of al-Qaeda activity.” This lack of discussion stands in sharp contrast to the Clinton administration and public comments by the Bush administration. [Time, 8/12/2002] Bush said in February 2001, “I will put a high priority on detecting and responding to terrorism on our soil.” A few months earlier, Tenet told Congress, “The threat from terrorism is real, it is immediate, and it is evolving” (see February 7, 2001). [Associated Press, 6/28/2002]
CIA Director Tenet makes an urgent special request to 20 friendly foreign intelligence services, asking for the arrests of anyone on a list of known al-Qaeda operatives. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002] Also in late June, the CIA orders all its station chiefs overseas to share information on al-Qaeda with their host governments and to push for immediate disruptions of al-Qaeda cells. Vice President Cheney asks Saudi
Crown Prince Abdullah for help on July 5, and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke makes appeals to other foreign officials. As a result, several terrorist operatives are detained by foreign governments. According to a later analysis by the 9/11 Commission, this possibly disrupts operations in the Persian Gulf and Italy (see June 13, 2001) and perhaps averts attacks against two or three US embassies. For instance, al-Qaeda operative Djamel Beghal is detained by the French government in July and gives up information about a plot to attack the US embassy in France (see July 24 or 28, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 534] Perhaps as part of Tenet’s request for help, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, is detained in Jordan in July 2001 and then let go (see July 2001).
The American Hospital in Dubai. [Source: American Hospital]Bin Laden, America’s most wanted criminal with a $5 million bounty on his head, supposedly receives lifesaving treatment for renal failure from American specialist Dr. Terry Callaway at the American hospital in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. He is possibly accompanied by Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri (who is said to be bin Laden’s personal physician as well as al-Qaeda’s second-in-command), plus several bodyguards. Callaway supposedly treated bin Laden in 1996 and 1998, also in Dubai. Callaway later refuses to answer any questions on this matter. [Le Figaro (Paris), 10/31/2001; Agence France-Presse, 11/1/2001; London Times, 11/1/2001] During his stay, bin Laden is visited by “several members of his family and Saudi personalities,” including Prince Turki al-Faisal, then head of Saudi intelligence. [Guardian, 11/1/2001] On July 12, bin Laden reportedly meets with CIA agent Larry Mitchell in the hospital. Mitchell apparently lives in Dubai as an Arab specialist under the cover of being a consular agent. The CIA, the Dubai hospital, and even bin Laden deny the story. The two news organizations that broke the story, Le Figaro and Radio France International, stand by their reporting. [Le Figaro (Paris), 10/31/2001; Radio France International, 11/1/2001] The explosive story is widely reported in Europe, but there are only two, small wire service stories on it in the US. [United Press International, 11/1/2001; Reuters, 11/10/2001] The Guardian claims that the story originated from French intelligence, “which is keen to reveal the ambiguous role of the CIA, and to restrain Washington from extending the war to Iraq and elsewhere.” The Guardian adds that during his stay bin Laden is also visited by a second CIA officer. [Guardian, 11/1/2001] In 2003, reporter Richard Labeviere will provide additional details of what he claims happened in a book entitled “The Corridors of Terror.” He claims he learned about the meeting from a contact in the Dubai hospital. He claims the event was confirmed in detail by a Gulf prince who presented himself as an adviser to the Emir of Bahrain. This prince claimed the meeting was arranged by Prince Turki al-Faisal. The prince said, “By organizing this meeting…Turki thought he could start direct negotiations between [bin Laden] and the CIA on one fundamental point: that bin Laden and his supporters end their hostilities against American interests.” In exchange, the CIA and Saudis would allow bin Laden to return to Saudi Arabia and live freely there. The meeting is said to be a failure. [Reuters, 11/14/2003] On July 15, Larry Mitchell reportedly returns to CIA headquarters to report on his meeting with bin Laden. [Radio France International, 11/1/2001] French counterterrorism expert Antoine Sfeir says the story of this meeting has been verified and is not surprising: It “is nothing extraordinary. Bin Laden maintained contacts with the CIA up to 1998. These contacts have not ceased since bin Laden settled in Afghanistan. Up to the last moment, CIA agents hoped that bin Laden would return to the fold of the US, as was the case before 1989.” [Le Figaro (Paris), 11/1/2001] A CIA spokesman calls the entire account of bin Laden’s stay at Dubai “sheer fantasy.” [Reuters, 11/14/2003]
The CIA briefs Attorney General Ashcroft on the al-Qaeda threat. Several senior CIA Counterterrorist Center officials warn him that a significant attack is imminent, preparations for multiple attacks are in the late stages or already complete, and that little additional warning can be expected. He is told the attack is more likely to occur overseas than in the US. He was also briefed by the CIA on the al-Qaeda threat on May 15, 2001. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258-259, 534; Tenet, 2007, pp. 150] CIA Director Tenet will later claim in a book that at the end of the briefing, Ashcroft turned to some FBI personnel and asked them, “Why are they telling me this? Why am I not hearing this from you?” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 150] However, in fact, the FBI did brief Ashcroft for an hour an the al-Qaeda threat one week earlier (see June 28, 2001). One week later, the FBI will brief him again about the al-Qaeada threat and he will reportedly reply, “I do not want to hear about this anymore” (see July 12, 2001). By the end of July, he will stop flying commercial aircraft in the US (see July 26, 2001).
At the request of National Security Adviser Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke leads a meeting of the Counterterrorism Security Group, attended by officials from a dozen federal agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the FAA, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, Customs, the CIA, and the FBI. The CIA and FBI give briefings on the growing al-Qaeda threat. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Time, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258] Then Clarke later recalls saying, “You’ve just heard that CIA thinks al-Qaeda is planning a major attack on us. So do I. You heard CIA say it would probably be in Israel or Saudi Arabia. Maybe. But maybe it will be here. Just because there is no evidence that says that it will be here, does not mean it will be overseas. They may try to hit us at home. You have to assume that is what they are going to do.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 236] Two attendees later recall Clarke stating that “something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon.” One who attended the meeting later calls the evidence that “something spectacular” is being planned by al-Qaeda “very gripping.” [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Time, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256] Clarke directs every counterterrorist office to cancel vacations, defer non-vital travel, put off scheduled exercises, and place domestic rapid-response teams on much shorter alert. However, there is very poor follow up to the meeting and the attendees don’t share the warnings with their home agencies (see Shortly After July 5, 2001). By early August, all of these emergency measures are no longer in effect. [CNN, 3/2002; Washington Post, 5/17/2002]
Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, US Coast Guard, US Customs Service, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Counterterrorism and Security Group, Federal Aviation Administration, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Andrew Card, Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency, US Secret Service
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
In 2002, Newsweek will report: “The White House acknowledged for the first time, [President] Bush was privately beginning to worry about the stream of terror warnings he was hearing that summer, most of them aimed at US targets abroad. On July 5, five days before the Phoenix memo (see July 10, 2001), Bush directed [Condoleezza] Rice to figure out what was going on domestically.” [Newsweek, 5/27/2002] In 2004, President Bush will explain why he requested this: “[T]he 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 [Italy] G8 conference that I was going to attend.” [US President, 4/19/2004] Though he does not mention it, the chief security concern at the late July 2001 conference he mentions is intelligence that al-Qaeda plans to fly an airplane into the conference. This threat is so widely reported before the conference (with some reports before July 5 (see June 13, 2001 and Mid-July 2001) that the attack is called off (see July 20-22, 2001). For instance, in late June, Time magazine mentioned a German intelligence report of an Osama bin Laden plot “to fly remote-controlled model aircraft packed with Semtex into the conference hall and blow the leaders of the industrialized world to smithereens”
(see June 20, 2001). Bush will later claim that this request is specifically for the later-famous August 6, 2001 briefing entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001), although the CIA analysts who draft it will deny this (see July 13, 2004). [US President, 4/19/2004]
On July 5, 2001, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gave a dramatic briefing to representatives from several domestic agencies on the urgent al-Qaeda threat (see July 5, 2001). However, the warnings given generally are not passed on by the attendees back to their respective agencies. The domestic agencies were not questioned about how they planned to address the threat and were not told what was expected of them. According to the 9/11 Commission, attendees later “report that they were told not to disseminate the threat information they received at the meeting. They interpreted this direction to mean that although they could brief their superiors, they could not send out advisories to the field.” One National Security Council official has a different recollection of what happened, recalling that attendees were asked to take the information back to their agencies and “do what you can” with it, subject to classification and distribution restrictions. But, for whatever reason, none of the involved agencies post internal warnings based on the meeting, except for Customs which puts out a general warning based entirely on publicly known historical facts. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 264] The FAA issues general and routine threat advisories that don’t reflect the level of urgency expressed by Clarke and others (see January-August 2001). FAA Administrator Jane Garvey later claims she was unaware of a heightened threat level, but in 2005 it will be revealed that about half of the FAA’s daily briefings during this time period referred to bin Laden or al-Qaeda (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). [New York Times, 4/18/2004] Clarke said rhetorically in the meeting that he wants to know if a sparrow has fallen from a tree. A senior FBI official attended the meeting and promised a redoubling of the FBI’s efforts. However, just five days after Clarke’s meeting, FBI agent Ken Williams sends off his memo speculating that al-Qaeda may be training operatives as pilots in the US (see July 10, 2001), yet the FBI fails to share this information with Clarke or any other agency. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Clarke, 2004, pp. 236-37] The FBI will also fail to tell Clarke about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), or what they know about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see August 23, 2001).
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration, Zacarias Moussaoui, US Customs Service, Nawaf Alhazmi, Al-Qaeda, Counterterrorism and Security Group, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Andrew Card, Ken Williams, Richard A. Clarke, Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The CIA warns the interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) that al-Qaeda members “believe the upcoming attack will be ‘spectacular,’ qualitatively different from anything they have done to date.” [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who leads the CSG, similarly warned the CSG of a “spectacular” al-Qaeda attack the day before (see July 5, 2001).
Sir Stephen Lander. [Source: Public domain]According to an officially authorized book on the MI5 published in 2009, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, MI5, warns top British leaders that a surge in the number of reports of threat information is “sufficient to conclude that [Osama bin Laden] and those that share his agenda are currently well advanced in operational planning for a number of major attacks on Western interests.” Similar MI5 warnings about an imminent attack will continue up until 9/11, including one put out on the morning of 9/11. However, apparently none of these suggest a major attack in the US or an attack using hijacked airplanes. MI6 is Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, and presumably most information about al-Qaeda and attack threats would come from it and not MI5. In fact, MI5 appears to be much less aware of al-Qaeda at this time. Sir Stephen Lander, director general of MI5 from 1996 to 2002, will later say that MI5 was “slow to get going” on the al-Qaeda threat because it was preoccupied with the IRA, and after 9/11 it had a “major set to, sitting around a board room table working out how to move on.” [Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2009] This warning appears similar, but not identical, to a warning 10 days later that is an analysis involving all British intelligence agencies (see July 16, 2001).
About a month after al-Qaeda prisoner Ahmed Ressam told US interrogators new details of al-Qaeda plans to attack the US (see May 30, 2001), he conveys similar information during a public trial. As the Los Angeles Times reports at the time, “Testifying in the New York trial of an accused accomplice, Ressam said his [al-Qaeda] colleagues are intent on exporting violence to US soil. ‘If one is to carry out an operation, it would be better to hit the biggest enemy. I mean America,’ he told a federal jury. Ressam also identified a number of other Algerian terrorists who had been part of his original attack team [to bomb the Los Angeles airport in 2000], most of whom remain at large.” [Los Angeles Times, 7/8/2001]
The CIA receives several pieces of intelligence over a 24-hour period, all of which predict an imminent attack. They include:
Ibn Khattab, a Chechen radical connected to Osama bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002), promises his troops “very big news” (see (July 9, 2001));
Islamic extremists are traveling to Afghanistan in greater numbers;
There have been significant departures of extremist families from Yemen;
There are indications of threats against US interests in Lebanon, Morocco, and Mauritania.
This information will be promptly communicated to CIA Director George Tenet (see July 10, 2001) and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see July 10, 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151]
FBI agent Ken Williams. [Source: FBI]Phoenix, Arizona, FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum warning about suspicious activities involving a group of Middle Eastern men taking flight training lessons in Arizona. The memo is titled: “Zakaria Mustapha Soubra; IT-OTHER (Islamic Army of the Caucasus),” because it focuses on Zakaria Soubra, a Lebanese flight student in Prescott, Arizona, and his connection with a terror group in Chechnya that has ties to al-Qaeda. It is subtitled: “Osama bin Laden and Al-Muhjiroun supporters attending civil aviation universities/colleges in Arizona.” [Fortune, 5/22/2002; Arizona Republic, 7/24/2003] Williams’ memo is based on an investigation of Sorba that Williams had begun in 2000 (see April 2000), but he had trouble pursuing because of the low priority the Arizona FBI office gave terror investigations (see April 2000-June 2001). Additionally, Williams had been alerted to suspicions about radical militants and aircraft at least three other times (see October 1996; 1998; November 1999-August 2001). In the memo, Williams does the following:
Names nine other suspect students from Pakistan, India, Kenya, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] Hijacker Hani Hanjour, attending flight school in Arizona in early 2001 and probably continuing into the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), is not one of the students, but, as explained below, it seems two of the students know him. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ; Washington Post, 7/25/2003]
Notes that he interviewed some of these students, and heard some of them make hostile comments about the US. Additionally, he noticed that they were suspiciously well informed about security measures at US airports. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
Notes an increasing, “inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” taking flight lessons in Arizona. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ]
Suspects that some of the ten people he has investigated are connected to al-Qaeda. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] One person on the list, Ghassan al Sharbi, will be arrested in Pakistan in March 2002 with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Al Sharbi attended a flight school in Prescott, Arizona. He also apparently attended the training camps in Afghanistan and swore loyalty to bin Laden in the summer of 2001. He apparently knows Hani Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). He also is the roommate of Soubra, the main target of the memo. [Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 521]
Discovers that one of them was communicating through an intermediary with Abu Zubaida. This apparently is a reference to Hamed al Sulami, who had been telephoning a Saudi imam known to be Zubaida’s spiritual advisor. Al Sulami is an acquaintance of Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 520-521, 529]
Discusses connections between several of the students and a radical group called Al-Muhajiroun. [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002] This group supported bin Laden, and issued a fatwa, or call to arms, that included airports on a list of acceptable terror targets. [Associated Press, 5/22/2002] Soubra, the main focus of the memo, is a member of Al-Muhajiroun and an outspoken radical. He met with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of Al-Muhajiroun in Britain, and started an Arizona chapter of the organization. After 9/11, some US officials will suspect that Soubra has ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. He will be held two years, then deported to Lebanon in 2004. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001; Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003; Arizona Republic, 5/2/2004; Arizona Monthly, 11/2004] Though Williams doesn’t include it in his memo, in the summer of 1998, Bakri publicized a fax sent by bin Laden to him that listed al-Qaeda’s four objectives in fighting the US. The first objective was “bring down their airliners.”
(see Summer 1998). [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001]
Warns of a possible “effort by Osama bin Laden to send students to the US to attend civil aviation universities and colleges” [Fortune, 5/22/2002] , so they can later hijack aircraft. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
Recommends that the “FBI should accumulate a listing of civil aviation universities and colleges around the country. FBI field offices with these types of schools in their area should establish appropriate liaison. FBI [headquarters] should discuss this matter with other elements of the US intelligence community and task the community for any information that supports Phoenix’s suspicions.” [Arizona Republic, 7/24/2003] (The FBI has already done this, but because of poor FBI communications, Williams is not aware of the report.)
Recommends that the FBI ask the State Department to provide visa data on flight school students from Middle Eastern countries, which will facilitate FBI tracking efforts. [New York Times, 5/4/2002]
The memo is addressed to the following FBI Agents:
Dave Frasca, chief of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters;
Elizabeth Harvey Matson, Mark Connor and Fred Stremmel, Intelligence Operations Specialists in the RFU;
Rod Middleton, acting chief of the Usama bin Laden Unit (UBLU);
Jennifer Maitner, an Intelligence Operations Specialist in the UBLU;
Jack Cloonan, an agent on the New York FBI’s bin Laden unit, the I-49 squad; (see January 1996 and Spring 2000).
Michael S. Butsch, an agent on another New York FBI squad dealing with other Sunni terrorists. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/10/2001 ; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ]
However, the memo is not uploaded into the FBI’s information system until the end of the month and is apparently not received by all these people (see July 27, 2001 and after). Williams also shares some concerns with the CIA (see (July 27, 2001)). [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002] One anonymous government official who has seen the memo says, “This was as actionable a memo as could have been written by anyone.” [Insight, 5/27/2002] However, the memo is merely marked “routine,” rather than “urgent.” It is generally ignored, not shared with other FBI offices, and the recommendations are not taken. One colleague in New York replies at the time that the memo is “speculative and not very significant.” [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] Williams is unaware of many FBI investigations and leads that could have given weight to his memo. Authorities later claim that Williams was only pursuing a hunch, but one familiar with classified information says, “This was not a vague hunch. He was doing a case on these guys.” [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002]
Entity Tags: Jennifer Maitner, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fred Stremmel, Ghassan al Sharbi, Hani Hanjour, I-49, Jack Cloonan, Elizabeth Matson, Islamic Army of the Caucasus, David Frasca, Michael Butsch, Al-Muhajiroun, Zakaria Mustapha Soubra, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Rod Middleton, Osama bin Laden, Radical Fundamentalist Unit, Mark Connor, Ken Williams, Abu Zubaida
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black and Richard Blee, a manager responsible for the CIA’s bin Laden unit, meet with CIA Director George Tenet and review the latest intelligence about al-Qaeda. Black lays out a case based on communications intercepts and other intelligence suggesting a growing chance that al-Qaeda will attack the US soon. There is no smoking gun per se, but there is a huge volume of data indicating an attack is coming (see July 9-10, 2001). The case is so compelling—Tenet will later say it “literally made my hair stand on end”—that Tenet decides to brief the White House on it this same day (see July 10, 2001). [Washington Post, 10/1/2006; Tenet, 2007, pp. 151]
Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House. This picture is actually taken on October 8, 2001, and President Bush is elsewhere in the room. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]CIA Director George Tenet finds the briefing that counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave him earlier in the day (see July 10, 2001) so alarming that he calls National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from his car as he heads to the White House and says he needs to see her right away, even though he has regular weekly meetings with her. [Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Tenet and Black let a third CIA official, Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, brief Rice on the latest intelligence. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke are also present. [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006]
'Significant Attack' - Blee starts by saying, “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!” He argues that it is impossible to pick the specific day, saying Osama bin Laden “will attack when he believes the attack will be successful.” He mentions a range of threat information including:
A warning related to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see (July 9, 2001)) and seven pieces of intelligence the CIA recently received indicating there would soon be a terrorist attack (see July 9-10, 2001);
A mid-June statement by bin Laden to trainees that there would be an attack in the near future (see Mid-June 2001);
Information that talks about moving toward decisive acts;
Late-June information saying a “big event” was forthcoming;
Two separate bits of information collected “a few days before the meeting” in which people predicted a “stunning turn of events” in the weeks ahead. This may be a reference to intercepts of calls in Yemen, possibly involving the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
Multiple, Simultaneous Attacks in US Possible - Blee says that the attacks will be “spectacular,” they will be designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities and interests, there may be multiple, simultaneous attacks, and they may be in the US itself. He outlines the CIA’s efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda by spreading incorrect word that the attack plans have been compromised, in the hope that this will cause a delay in the attack. But he says this is not enough and that the CIA should go on the attack. Blee also discounts the possibility of disinformation, as bin Laden’s threats are known to the public in the Middle East and there will be a loss of face, funds, and popularity if they are not carried out. Blee urges that the US take a “proactive approach” by using the Northern Alliance. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151-4] Author Bob Woodward will later write: “Black emphasize[s] that this amount[s] to a strategic warning, meaning the problem [is] so serious that it require[s] an overall plan and strategy. Second, this [is] a major foreign policy problem that need[s] to be addressed immediately. They need […] to take action that moment—covert, military, whatever—to thwart bin Laden. The United States ha[s] human and technical sources, and all the intelligence [is] consistent.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Richard Clarke expresses his agreement with the CIA about the threat’s seriousness, and Black says, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”
Rice's Response - There are conflicting accounts about the CIA’s reading of Rice’s response. According to Woodward: “Tenet and Black [feel] they [are] not getting through to Rice. She [is] polite, but they [feel] the brush-off.” They leave the meeting frustrated, seeing little prospect for immediate action. Tenet and Black will both later recall the meeting as the starkest warning they gave the White House on al-Qaeda before 9/11 and one that could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks if Rice had acted on it (see July 10, 2001) and conveyed their urgency to President Bush. (Tenet is briefing Bush on a daily basis at this time, but he will later say that Rice has a much better rapport with the president.) Black will say, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Rice says that Bush will align his policy with the new realities and grant new authorities. Writing in 2007, Tenet will say that this response is “just the outcome I had expected and hoped for,” and recall that as they leave the meeting, Blee and Black congratulate each other on having got the administration’s attention. Nevertheless, Rice does not take the requested action until after 9/11. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 153-4]
Rice Concerned about Genoa - Clarke will recall in 2006 that Rice focuses on the possible threat to Bush at an upcoming summit meeting in Genoa, Italy (see June 13, 2001 and July 20-22, 2001). Rice and Bush have already been briefed about the Genoa warning by this time (see July 5, 2001). Rice also promises to quickly schedule a high-level White House meeting on al-Qaeda. However, that meeting does not take place until September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001). [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006] Rice also directs that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same briefing, and they receive it a short time later (see July 11-17, 2001).
Meeting Not Mentioned in 9/11 Commission Report - The meeting will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (see August 4, 2002), and there will be controversy when it is fully revealed in 2006 (see September 29, 2006, September 30-October 3, 2006, and October 1-2, 2006).
Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Stephen J. Hadley, White House, Osama bin Laden, Richard A. Clarke, George J. Tenet, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Cofer Black, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft receive the same CIA briefing about a likely imminent, multiple, and simultaneous al-Qaeda strike that was given to the White House on July 10, 2001 (see July 10, 2001). In 2006, the State Department will reveal the two were briefed within a week of the White House briefing, at the request of National Security Adviser Rice. One official who helped prepare the briefing later describes it as a “ten on a scale of one to ten” that “connected the dots” to present a stark warning that al-Qaeda is ready to launch a new attack. A Pentagon spokesman says he has no information “about what may or may not have been briefed” to Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld does not answer questions about it. Ashcroft says he was not given any briefing and calls it “disappointing” that he was not briefed. After it is confirmed that Ashcroft was briefed, apparently on July 17, Ashcroft will still claim not to remember the briefing, and will say he only recalls another CIA briefing earlier in the month (see July 5, 2001). Journalist Andrew Cockburn later reports that, “according to several intelligence sources,” Rumsfeld’s reaction to the briefing at the time “was one of vehement dismissal, complete with cutting observations about the CIA falling victim to ‘vast doses of al-Qaeda disinformation’ and ‘mortal doses of gullibility.’” McClatchy Newspapers will comment that these briefings raise “new questions about what the Bush administration did in response, and about why so many officials have claimed they never received or don’t remember the warning.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 9] On July 26, 2001, it will be reported that Ashcroft has stopped flying on commercial airlines within the US (see July 26, 2001).
Thomas Pickard. [Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation]Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard attempts to brief Attorney General John Ashcroft on the al-Qaeda terrorist threat for a second time (see June 28, 2001), but Ashcroft is uninterested and says he does not want to hear about it, according to Pickard’s later account.
'I Don't Want to Hear about It Anymore' - According to a June 24, 2004 letter from Pickard to the 9/11 Commission, Pickard opens the briefing by discussing “counterintelligence and counterterrorism matters.” Pickard’s letter will go on to say: “The fourth item I discussed was the continuing high level of ‘chatter’ by al-Qaeda members. The AG [attorney general] told me, ‘I don’t want to hear about it anymore, there’s nothing I can do about it.’ For a few seconds, I did not know what to say, then I replied that he should meet with the director of the CIA to get a fuller briefing on the matter.… I resumed my agenda but I was upset about [Ashcroft’s] lack of interest. He did not tell me nor did I learn until April 2004 that the CIA briefed him on the increase in chatter and level of threat on July 5, 2001” (see July 5, 2001 and July 11-17, 2001). [Pickard, 6/24/2004] In testimony under oath to the 9/11 Commission in 2004, Pickard will affirm that, “at least on two occasions” he briefed Ashcroft on a rising threat level and concerns about an impending attack, which were being reported by the CIA. Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste will ask Pickard if he has told Commission staff that Ashcroft “did not want to hear about this anymore,” to which Pickard will respond, “That is correct.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004 ] According to Pickard’s later recollection: “Before September 11th, I couldn’t get half an hour on terrorism with Ashcroft. He was only interested in three things: guns, drugs, and civil rights.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 293]
Differing Accounts of What Was Said at the Meeting - According to the 9/11 Commission’s June 3, 2004 record of its interview with Watson, “Pickard told Watson that he was briefing Ashcroft on counterterrorism, and Ashcroft told him that he didn’t want to hear ‘anything about these threats,’ and that ‘nothing ever happened.’” [9/11 Commission, 6/3/2004 ] Author Philip Shenon will write about this meeting in his 2008 book, The Commission, based on interviews with Pickard and “Commission investigators who researched his allegations,” but none of the quotes or representations of fact in Shenon’s text will cite a specific source. Shenon will make reference to Mark Jacobson and Caroline Barnes as being the 9/11 Commission staffers who interviewed Pickard. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 240-248, 433] According to Shenon’s version of the meeting, Ashcroft replies to Pickard: “I don’t want you to ever talk to me about al-Qaeda, about these threats. I don’t want to hear about al-Qaeda anymore.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 247] Ashcroft, in testimony under oath to the 9/11 Commission, will dismiss Pickard’s allegation, saying, “I did never speak to him saying that I did not want to hear about terrorism.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004 ] Pickard will respond to Ashcroft’s testimony in his 2004 letter, saying, “What [Ashcroft] stated to the Commission under oath is correct, but they did not ask him, ‘Did he tell me he did not want to hear about the chatter and level of threat?’ which is the conversation to which I testified under oath.” [Pickard, 6/24/2004] The deputy attorney general at the time of the meeting, Larry D. Thompson, and Ashcroft’s chief of staff, David T. Ayres, will sign a letter to the 9/11 Commission on July 12, 2004, in which they say they are responding to Pickard’s allegation that when he briefed Ashcroft “on the al-Qaeda threat prior to September 11, 2001, the attorney general responded that he did not want to hear such information anymore.” The letter will say Thompson and Ayres were present at that and the other regular meetings between Pickard and Ashcroft, and “the attorney general made no such statement in that or any other meeting.” [Ayres, 7/12/2004] The 9/11 Commission Report will conclude, “We cannot resolve this dispute.” [Commission, 2004]
Differing Accounts of Who Was at the Meeting - Pickard’s 2004 letter will state that Ayres is at the meeting, but has left the room prior to that part of the meeting, as he does not have the required level of security clearance. Pickard’s letter indicated that the FBI Assistant Director for Criminal Investigations, Ruben Garcia, is at the meeting and also witnesses the exchange. [Pickard, 6/24/2004] Shenon’s book puts Garcia at the meeting, but does not make reference to Garcia’s account of what is said there. Also, in the notes to Shenon’s book, it will not say that he interviewed Garcia. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 247-248, 433] According to a June 22, 2004 NBC News report: “Commission investigators also tracked down another FBI witness at the meeting that day, Ruben Garcia… Several sources familiar with the investigation say Garcia confirmed to the Commission that Ashcroft did indeed dismiss Pickard’s warnings about al-Qaeda.” Furthermore, “Pickard did brief Ashcroft on terrorism four more times that summer, but sources say the acting FBI director never mentioned the word al-Qaeda again in Ashcroft’s presence—until after Sept. 11.” [MSNBC, 6/22/2004] According to the 9/11 Commission Report, “Ruben Garcia… attended some of Pickard’s briefings of the attorney general but not the one at which Pickard alleges Ashcroft made the statement.” [Commission, 2004, pp. 536n52]
Ashcroft Denies FBI Requests and Appeals, Cuts Counterterrorism Funding - Following the meeting, on July 18, Ashcroft will reject the FBI’s request for an increase in funding for counterterrorism, and instead propose cuts to that division (see July 18, 2001). Pickard will appeal this decision; Ashcroft will reject the appeal on September 10, 2001 (see September 10, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
Entity Tags: Larry D. Thompson, John Ashcroft, Mark Jacobson, Thomas Pickard, David Ayres, Dale Watson, 9/11 Commission, Caroline Barnes, Central Intelligence Agency, Philip Shenon, Al-Qaeda, Ruben Garcia
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
On July 12, 2001, acting FBI Director Tom Pickard briefs Attorney General Ashcroft a second time about the al-Qaeda threat (see July 12, 2001). In a later letter to the 9/11 Commission discussing the meeting, Pickard will mention, “I had not told [Ashcroft] about the meeting in Malaysia since I was told by FBI Assistant Director Dale Watson that there was a ‘close hold’ on that info. This means that it was not to be shared with anyone without the explicit approval of the CIA.” During the briefing, Pickard also strongly recommends that Ashcroft be briefed by the CIA to learn details that Pickard feels he is not allowed to reveal. The “meeting in Malaysia” is an obvious reference to the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Louis Freeh, the FBI director at the time of the summit, and other unnamed FBI officials were told some about the summit while it was taking place (see January 6, 2000). It is unknown if Pickard and Watson learned about it at that time, but Pickard’s letter shows they both knew about it by the time of this briefing. It is not known why the CIA placed a “close hold” on any mention of the Malaysian summit so strict that even the attorney general could not be told. Since two of the 9/11 hijackers attended that summit, sharing the information about the summit with other agencies may have helped stop the 9/11 attacks. [Pickard, 6/24/2004]
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