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a.k.a. Al-Qaida, Al-Qa'ida
US intelligence reports another spike in warnings related to the July 20-22 G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy. The reports include specific threats discovered by the head of Russia’s Federal Bodyguard Service that al-Qaeda will try to kill Bush as he attends the summit. (CNN 3/2002) Two days before the summit begins, the BBC reports: “The huge force of officers and equipment which has been assembled to deal with unrest has been spurred on by a warning that supporters of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden might attempt an air attack on some of the world leaders present.” (BBC 7/18/2001) The attack is called off.
CIA Director Tenet has a special meeting with National Security Adviser Rice and her aides about al-Qaeda. Says one official at the meeting, “[Tenet] briefed [Rice] that there was going to be a major attack.” Another at the meeting says Tenet displays a huge wall chart showing dozens of threats. Tenet does not rule out a domestic attack but says an overseas attack is more likely. (Elliott 8/12/2002)
British intelligence agencies send a report to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other top officials warning that al-Qaeda is in “the final stages” of preparing an attack in the West. The prediction is “based on intelligence gleaned not just from [British intelligence] but also from US agencies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency,” which cooperate with the British. “The contents of the July 16 warning would have been passed to the Americans, Whitehall sources confirmed.” The report states there is “an acute awareness” that the attack is “a very serious threat.” (Evans 6/14/2002) This appears to be similar, but not identical, to a warning to British leaders from MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, 10 days earlier (see July 6, 2001).
An unknown intelligence agency intercepts a telephone call between alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and his associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh. (9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 3/18/2004) In the call, KSM and bin al-Shibh discuss the state of the 9/11 plot, in particular the fact that Ziad Jarrah, one of the proposed pilots, may drop out. They speak in a code, substituting unexceptional words for what they really mean. (9/11 Commission 3/18/2004) KSM instructs bin al-Shibh to send the “skirts,” meaning money forwarded to bin al-Shibh by an associate of KSM, to “Sally,” meaning Moussaoui. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 246) The reason for this is that “Teresa,” meaning Jarrah, is “late,” i.e. he is wavering and may drop out of the plot, due to possible conflicts with lead hijacker Mohamed Atta about Jarrah’s isolation from the conspiracy. It therefore appears that KSM is thinking of Moussaoui as a replacement for Jarrah. According to a 9/11 Commission memo, KSM says something like, “if there is a divorce, it will cost a lot of money.” Bin al-Shibh then tries to reassure him, saying it will be okay. The conversation also mentions “Danish leather,” an apparent reference to failed “20th hijacker” Mohamed al-Khatani (see August 4, 2001). (9/11 Commission 3/18/2004) The agency which intercepts this call is never identified to the public, although the NSA is reportedly intercepting such calls to and from KSM at this time (see Summer 2001). The 9/11 Commission will mention the call in a staff statement and its final report, but will not mention that it was intercepted, merely citing detainee interrogations as the source of information about it. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004, pp. 16-17; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 246, 530)
CIA Director George Tenet will later reveal that on this day, he learns in a briefing that King Abdullah II of Jordan is offering to help the US with troops to defeat bin Laden in a decisive military manner. He offers to send two battalions (roughly between 1,000 and 2,000 soldiers) of “Jordanian Special Forces to go door to door in Afghanistan, if necessary, to deal with al-Qaeda. The offer was a wonderful gesture but would have to have been part of a larger overall strategy in order to succeed. To King Abdullah, bin Laden was the greatest threat in the world to his nation’s security….” (Tenet 2007, pp. 156) There is a claim that al-Qaeda plotted an assassination of King Abdullah II, which was aborted when he learned of the plot in the summer of 2000. (Gunaratna 2003, pp. 133) After 9/11, it will be reported that in July 2001, Jordan warned the US that al-Qaeda was planning an attack inside the US (see July 2001). It will also be reported that in the late summer of 2001, Jordan warned the US of a major al-Qaeda attack inside the US using aircraft. They say it is codenamed “The Big Wedding,” which is al-Qaeda’s codename for the 9/11 attacks (see Late Summer 2001).
High-level al-Qaeda operative Djamel Beghal is arrested in Dubai on his way back from Afghanistan. Earlier in the month the CIA sent friendly intelligence agencies a list of al-Qaeda agents they wanted to be immediately apprehended, and Beghal was on the list (see July 3, 2001).
Information Obtained - Beghal quickly starts to talk, and tells French investigators about a plot to attack the American embassy in Paris. Crucially, he provides new details about the international-operations role of top al-Qaeda deputy Abu Zubaida, whom he had been with a short time before. (Erlanger and Hedges 12/28/2001; Elliott 8/12/2002) One European official says Beghal talks about “very important figures in the al-Qaeda structure, right up to bin Laden’s inner circle. [He] mention[s] names, responsibilities and functions—people we weren’t even aware of before. This is important stuff.” (Elliott 11/12/2001) One French official says of Beghal’s interrogations, “We shared everything we knew with the Americans.” (Elliott 5/19/2002)
Link to 9/11 - The New York Times later will report, “Enough time and work could have led investigators from Mr. Beghal to an address in Hamburg where Mohamed Atta and his cohorts had developed and planned the Sept. 11 attacks.” Beghal had frequently associated with Zacarias Moussaoui. However, although Moussaoui is arrested (see August 16, 2001) around the same time that Beghal is revealing the names and details of all his fellow operatives, Beghal is apparently not asked about Moussaoui. (Erlanger and Hedges 12/28/2001; Elliott 8/12/2002)
Timing of Arrest - Most media accounts place the arrest on July 28. However, in a 2007 book CIA Director George Tenet will say he received a briefing about the arrest on July 24. (Tenet 2007, pp. 156-157)
CBS News reports that Attorney General Ashcroft has stopped flying commercial airlines due to a threat assessment, but “neither the FBI nor the Justice Department… would identify [to CBS] what the threat was, when it was detected or who made it.” (CBS News 7/26/2001) One newspaper reports, “Ashcroft demonstrated an amazing lack of curiosity when asked if he knew anything about the threat. ‘Frankly, I don’t,’ he told reporters.” (Sorensen 6/3/2002) It is later reported that he stopped flying in July based on threat assessments made on May 8 and June 19. In May 2002, it is claimed the threat assessment had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, but Ashcroft walked out of his office rather than answer questions about it. (Associated Press 5/16/2002) The San Francisco Chronicle will later conclude, “The FBI obviously knew something was in the wind.… The FBI did advise Ashcroft to stay off commercial aircraft. The rest of us just had to take our chances.” (Sorensen 6/3/2002) CBS’s Dan Rather will later ask of this warning: “Why wasn’t it shared with the public at large?” (Kurtz 5/27/2002) On July 5, the CIA had warned Ashcroft to expect multiple, imminent al-Qaeda attacks overseas (see July 5, 2001) and on July 12 the FBI warned him about the al-Qaeda threat within the US (see July 12, 2001).
Argentina’s Jewish community receives warnings of a major attack against the United States, Argentina, or France from “a foreign intelligence source.” The warning is then relayed to the Argentine security authorities. It is agreed to keep the warning secret in order to avoid panic while reinforcing security at Jewish sites in the country. Says a Jewish leader, “It was a concrete warning that an attack of major proportion would take place, and it came from a reliable intelligence source. And I understand the Americans were told about it.” Argentina has a large Jewish community that has been bombed in the past, and has been an area of al-Qaeda activity. (Perelman 5/31/2002)
Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil learns that bin Laden is planning a “huge attack” on targets inside America. The attack is imminent, and will kill thousands. He learns this from Tahir Yuldashev, top leader of the rebel Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is allied with al-Qaeda at the time. Yuldashev apparently is worried that a large al-Qaeda attack will lead to a US attack on Afghanistan, which would threaten the IMU’s safe haven there. Muttawakil sends an emissary to pass this information on to the US consul general, and another US official, “possibly from the intelligence services,” also attends the meeting. The message is not taken very seriously; one source blames this on “warning fatigue” from too many warnings. In addition, the emissary supposedly is from the Foreign Ministry, but did not say the message came from Muttawakil himself. The emissary then takes the message to the Kabul offices of UNSMA, the political wing of the UN. They also fail to take the warning seriously. (Clark 9/7/2002; Reuters 9/7/2002)
CBS later reports, in a long story on another topic: “Just days after [Mohamed] Atta return[s] to the US from Spain, Egyptian intelligence in Cairo says it received a report from one of its operatives in Afghanistan that 20 al-Qaeda members had slipped into the US and four of them had received flight training on Cessnas. To the Egyptians, pilots of small planes didn’t sound terribly alarming, but they [pass] on the message to the CIA anyway, fully expecting Washington to request information. The request never [comes].” (CBS News 10/9/2002) This appears to be just one of several accurate Egyptian warnings from their informants inside al-Qaeda. Around this time, word of the upcoming 9/11 attacks is spreading widely in the training camps in Afghanistan. For instance, in a recorded speech played at one of the camps, Osama bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs (see Summer 2001).
David Schippers, the House Judiciary Committee’s chief investigator in the Clinton impeachment trial and the lawyer for FBI agent Robert Wright since September 1999, will later claim that he was warned about an upcoming al-Qaeda attack on lower Manhattan in May 2001 (see May 2001). After May, Schippers continues to get increasingly precise information about this attack from FBI agents in Chicago and Minnesota, and around July he renews efforts to pass the warning to politicians. He will claim, “I tried to see if I could get a Congressman to go to bat for me and at least bring these people [to Washington] and listen to them. I sent them information and nobody cared. It was always, ‘We’ll get back to you,’ ‘We’ll get back to you,’ ‘We’ll get back to you.’” At the same time he is attempting to pass on this warning, he will claim he is also attempting to pass on the work of reporter Jayna Davis and her theory that Middle Easterners were involved in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), and also Wright’s claim that Hamas operatives were operating freely inside the US (see February-March 2001). The three claims put together seem to lead to a bad response; Schippers later comments, “People thought I was crazy.” Around July 15, he attempts to contact Attorney General John Ashcroft. Conservative activist “Phyllis Schlafly finally apparently made some calls. She called me one day and said, ‘I’ve talked to John Ashcroft, and he’ll call you tomorrow.’” The next day, one of Ashcroft’s underlings in the Justice Department calls him back and says, “We don’t start our investigations with the Attorney General. Let me look into this, and I’ll have somebody get back to you right away.” Schippers will say he never did hear back from anyone in the Justice Department. Perhaps coincidentally, on July 26 it will be reported that Ashcroft has stopped flying commercial aircraft due to an unnamed threat (see July 26, 2001). In late August, his FBI agent sources again confirm that an al-Qaeda attack on lower Manhattan is imminent. (Metcalf 10/21/2001; Patterson 5/18/2002; Ahmed 2004, pp. 258-260) In 2003, Wright will say, “In 2000 and in 2001, [Schippers] contacted several US congressmen well before the September 11th attacks. Unfortunately, these congressmen failed to follow through with Mr. Schippers’ request that they investigate my concerns.” It is not clear if Wright was one of the Chicago FBI agents that Schippers claims gave warnings about a Manhattan attack, or if Wright is only referring to Wright’s investigation into funding for Hamas and other groups that Schippers was also warning politicians about (see February-March 2001). (Federal News Service 6/2/2003)
In 1999, a Moroccan named Hassan Dabou infiltrated al-Qaeda for the Moroccan intelligence agency. He was sent to Afghanistan, posing as an Islamic radical on the run from the Moroccan government. While there, he was able to grow close to bin Laden. He heard bin Laden repeatedly vent his anger at the failure of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 (see February 26, 1993). Bin Laden was “very disappointed” that the towers did not fall. Dabou heard that bin Laden had planned “something spectacular” involving “large scale operations in New York in the summer or fall of 2001.” Moroccan intelligence passed this information to US. Around this time, US intelligence is so interested that they call Dabou to Washington to report on this information in person. Dabout makes the trip in secret, but apparently his cover is blown and he is unable to go back and gather more intelligence. Dabou is still in Washington cooperating with US intelligence agents when 9/11 occurs. After 9/11 he will remain in Washington, get a new identity, and continue to work with US intelligence. (Agence France-Presse 11/22/2001; Cooley 5/21/2002; McGrory 6/12/2002)
Former CIA agent Robert Baer is advising a prince in a Persian Gulf royal family, when a military associate of this prince passes information to him about a “spectacular terrorist operation” that will take place shortly. He is given a computer record of around 600 secret al-Qaeda operatives in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The list includes ten names that will be placed on the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list after 9/11. He is also given evidence that a Saudi merchant family had funded the USS Cole bombing on October 12, 2000, and that the Yemeni government is covering up information related to that bombing. At the military officer’s request, he offers all this information to the Saudi Arabian government. However, an aide to the Saudi defense minister, Prince Sultan, refuses to look at the list or to pass the names on (Sultan is later sued for his complicity in the 9/11 plot in August 2002). Baer also passes the information on to a senior CIA official and the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, but there is no response or action. Portions of Baer’s book describing his experience wil be blacked out, having been censored by the CIA. (Baer 2002, pp. 55-58; Robinson 1/12/2002)
Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar appears to have foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. Ibrahim Diab, a Lebanese national, has recently been recruited into the cell. Diab makes plans to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, and Zammar pays for his travel expenses to the camp. Zammar is generally considered to be the main recruiter for the cell. Diab will later claim that Zammar warns him in August 2001 to leave for the camps as soon as possible because something big is about to happen. (Laabs 1/30/2003) In 2002, the Los Angeles Times will report: “Zammar’s bluster matched his size. In almost any discussion, his was the loudest voice and most radical view.… In part because of Zammar’s outspokenness, authorities tend to discount his role in the Sept. 11 plot. They concluded no one would entrust information to a braggart like him.” (McDermott 9/1/2002) Diab’s confession, made public in 2003, would seem to discredit the idea that Zammar was not trusted with knowledge of the 9/11 plot. And since Zammar is monitored for years before 9/11 (see March 1997-Early 2000), it also raises questions about what German intelligence might have learned from monitoring him. Diab will fly out of Germany on September 10, 2001, just one day before the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). He will attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan, but be arrested in Pakistan in late October and quickly deported back to Germany. He will confess his activities to German intelligence shortly thereafter, and then be released without charge (see October 29, 2001). (Simpson, Swanson, and Crewdson 2/23/2003)
Britain gives the US another warning about an al-Qaeda attack. The previous British warning on July 16, 2001 (see July 16, 2001), was vague as to method, but this warning specifies multiple airplane hijackings. This warning is said to reach President Bush. (Crichton 5/19/2002)
President Bush receives a classified presidential daily briefing (PDB) at his Crawford, Texas ranch indicating that Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. The PDB provided to him is entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” The entire briefing focuses on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the US. (Sanger 5/15/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002) The analysts who drafted the briefing will say that they drafted it on the CIA’s initiative (see July 13, 2004), whereas in 2004 Bush will state that he requested a briefing on the topic due to threats relating to a conference in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001, where Western intelligence agencies believed Osama bin Laden was involved in a plot to crash an airplane into a building to kill Bush and other leaders (see April 13, 2004). The analysts will later explain that they saw it as an opportunity to convey that the threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the US was both current and serious. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260) The existence of this briefing is kept secret, until it is leaked in May 2002, causing a storm of controversy (see May 15, 2002). While National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim the memo is only one and a half pages long, other accounts state it is 11 1/2 pages instead of the usual two or three. (Sanger 5/15/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002; Schrom 10/1/2002) A page and a half of the contents will be released on April 10, 2004; this reportedly is the full content of the briefing. (Pincus and Eggen 4/10/2004) The briefing, as released, states as follows (note that the spelling of certain words are corrected and links have been added):
Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US (see December 1, 1998). Bin Laden implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America” (see May 26, 1998).
After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a -REDACTED-service (see December 21, 1998).
An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told -REDACTED- service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.
The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden’s first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself (see December 14, 1999), but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaida encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaida was planning his own US attack (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001).
Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993 (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.
Al-Qaeda members—including some who are US citizens—have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks (see January 25, 2001). Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US citizens (see September 15, 1998), and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s (see November 1989 and September 10, 1998).
A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks (see October-November 1998).
“We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [REDACTED] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and other US-held extremists” (see 1998, December 4, 1998, and May 23, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223) According to the Washington Post, this information came from a British service. (Woodward and Eggen 5/18/2002)
Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York (see May 30, 2001).
The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related (see August 6, 2001). CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives (see May 16-17, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223)
In retrospect, the briefing is remarkable for the many warnings that apparently are not included (see for instance, from the summer of 2001 prior to August alone: May 2001, June 2001, June 12, 2001, June 19, 2001, Late Summer 2001, July 2001, July 16, 2001, Late July 2001, Late July 2001, Summer 2001, June 30-July 1, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Early August 2001). According to one account, after the PDB has been given to him, Bush tells the CIA briefer, “You’ve covered your ass now” (see August 6, 2001). Incredibly, the New York Times later reports that after being given the briefing, Bush “[breaks] off from work early and [spends] most of the day fishing.” (Rich 5/25/2002) In 2002 and again in 2004, National Security Adviser Rice will incorrectly claim under oath that the briefing only contained historical information from 1998 and before (see May 16, 2002 and April 8, 2004).
The CIA’s Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) given to President Bush on this day (see August 6, 2001) contains the important line, “The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related.” Bush will state in 2004 that, based on this, “I was satisfied that some of the matters were being looked into.” National Security Adviser Rice will explain that since the FBI had 70 “full-field investigations under way of cells” in the US, “there was no recommendation [coming from the White House] that we do something about” the large number of warnings coming in. However, the number and content of the FBI investigations appears grossly exaggerated. The FBI later will reveal that the investigations are not limited to al-Qaeda and do not focus on al-Qaeda cells. Many were criminal investigations, which typically are not likely to help prevent future terrorist acts. An FBI spokesman will say the FBI does not know how that number got into Bush’s PDB. The 9/11 Commission will later conclude, “The 70 full-field investigations number was a generous calculation that included fund-raising investigations. It also counted each individual connected to an investigation as a separate full-field investigation. Many of these investigations should not have been included, such as the one that related to a dead person, four that concerned people who had been in long-term custody, and eight that had been closed well before August 6, 2001.” (Royce and Brune 4/10/2004; Associated Press 4/11/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 262, 535)
The 9/11 Commission will later state that after the now famous “bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” memo is given to President Bush on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001), “We have found no indication of any further discussion before September 11 among the president and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the United States.” (Isikoff and Hosenball 4/28/2005) 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey will later state to CNN,“[B]y the way, there’s a credible case that the president’s own negligence prior to 9/11 at least in part contributed to the disaster in the first place.… [I]n the summer of 2001, the government ignored repeated warnings by the CIA, ignored, and didn’t do anything to harden our border security, didn’t do anything to harden airport country, didn’t do anything to engage local law enforcement, didn’t do anything to round up INS and consular offices and say we have to shut this down, and didn’t warn the American people. The famous presidential daily briefing on August 6, we say in the report that the briefing officers believed that there was a considerable sense of urgency and it was current. So there was a case to be made that wasn’t made.… The president says, if I had only known that 19 Islamic men would come into the United States of America and on the morning of 11 September hijack four American aircraft, fly two into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and one into an unknown Pennsylvania that crashed in Shanksville, I would have moved heaven and earth. That’s what he said. Mr. President, you don’t need to know that. This is an Islamic Jihadist movement that has been organized since the early 1990s, declared war on the United States twice, in ‘96 and ‘98. You knew they were in the United States. You were warned by the CIA. You knew in July they were inside the United States. You were told again by briefing officers in August that it was a dire threat. And what did you do? Nothing, so far as we could see on the 9/11 Commission.” (CNN 11/8/2004)
One day after President Bush receives a Presidential Daily Briefing entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US,” a version of the same material is given to other top government officials. However, this Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) does not contain the most important information from Bush’s briefing. It does not mention that there are 70 FBI investigations into possible al-Qaeda activity, does not mention a May 2001 threat of US-based explosives attacks, and does not mention FBI concerns about recent surveillance of buildings in New York City. The Associated Press will report that this type of memo “goes to scores of Cabinet-agency officials from the assistant secretary level up and does not include raw intelligence or sensitive information about ongoing law enforcement matters” due to fear of media leaks. SEIBs were sent to many more officials during the Clinton administration. The Associated Press will also state that “some who saw the memo said they feared it gave policy-makers and members of the congressional intelligence committees a picture of the domestic threat so stale and incomplete that it didn’t provide the necessary sense of urgency one month before the Sept. 11 attacks.” (Solomon 4/13/2004) Attorney General John Ashcroft will later say he does not recall seeing the SEIB before 9/11 (see Between August 7 and September 10, 2001).
At some point between these dates, Israel warns the US that an al-Qaeda attack is imminent. (Cameron 5/17/2002) Reportedly, two high-ranking agents from the Mossad come to Washington and warn the FBI and CIA that from 50 to 200 terrorists have slipped into the US and are planning “a major assault on the United States.” They say indications point to a “large scale target,” and that Americans would be “very vulnerable.” They add there could be Iraqi connections to the al-Qaeda attack. (Wastell and Jacobson 9/16/2001; Hunter 9/17/2001; Serrano and Dahlburg 9/20/2001) The Los Angeles Times later retracts its story after a CIA spokesperson says, “There was no such warning. Allegations that there was are complete and utter nonsense.” (Los Angeles Times 9/21/2001) Other newspapers do not retract it.
Some time before 9/11, ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed learns that two prominent Pakistani nuclear scientists met with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan in mid-August 2001. Bin Laden revealed to the two scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, that he had acquired nuclear material and wanted their help to turn it into a weapon (see Mid-August 2001). ISI Director Mahmood is said to have learned about this through military contacts, as several Pakistani generals sit on the board of directors of a charity run by the two scientists that assists the Taliban. For instance, Hamid Gul, a former director of the ISI, is the charity’s honorary patron and was in Afghanistan at the time of the meeting. However, the ISI does not warn the US or take any action against the scientists or their charity. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 310-311)
Walid Arkeh, a Jordanian serving time in a Florida prison, is interviewed by FBI agents after warning the government of an impending al-Qaeda attack. He had been in a British jail from September 2000 to July 2001, and while there had befriended three inmates, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Adel Abdel Bary, and Ibrahim Eidarous. US prosecutors charge, “The three men ran a London storefront that served as a cover for al-Qaeda operations and acted as a conduit for communications between bin Laden and his network.” (Bloodsworth 10/30/2002) Al-Fawwaz was bin Laden’s press agent in London, and bin Laden had called him over 200 times before al-Fawwaz was arrested in 1998. (Huband 11/29/2001; Fielding and Gadhery 3/24/2002) The other two had worked in the same office as al-Fawwaz (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). All three had been indicted as co-conspirators with bin Laden in the August 1998 US embassy bombings. Arkeh tells the FBI that he had learned from these three that “something big [is] going to happen in New York City,” and that they call the 1993 attack on the WTC “unfinished business.” Tampa FBI agents determine that he had associated with these al-Qaeda agents, but nonetheless they do not believe him. According to Arkeh, one agent responds to his “something big” warning by saying: “Is that all you have? That’s old news.” The agents fail to learn more from him. On September 9, concerned that time is running out, a fellow prisoner will try to arrange a meeting, but nothing will happen before 9/11. The Tampa FBI agents will have a second interview with him hours after the 9/11 attacks, but even long after 9/11 they will claim that he cannot be believed. On January 6, 2002, the Tampa FBI will issue a statement: “The information [was] vetted to FBI New York, the Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Tampa Division and the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida. All agreed the information provided by this individual was vague and unsubstantiated… Mr. Arkeh did not provide information that had any bearing on the FBI preventing September 11.” (Bloodsworth 1/6/2002; Bloodsworth 10/30/2002) However, a different group of FBI agents will interview him in May 2002 and find his information credible (see May 21-22, 2002).
Counterterrorism expert John O’Neill retires from the FBI. He says it is partly because of the recent power play against him, but also because of repeated obstruction of his investigations into al-Qaeda. (Wright 1/14/2002) In his last act, he signs papers ordering FBI investigators back to Yemen to resume the USS Cole investigation, now that Barbara Bodine is leaving as ambassador (they arrive a couple days before 9/11). He never hears the CIA warning about hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar sent out just one day later. He also apparently is not told about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui on August 15, 2001 (PBS 10/3/2002) ; nor does he attend a June meeting when the CIA reveals some of what it knows about Alhazmi and Almihdhar. (Gilmore and Wiser 10/3/2002) ABC News reporter Chris Isham will later say, “John had heard the alarm bells, too, and we used to talk about it. And he knew that there was a lot of noise out there and that there were a lot of warnings, a lot of red flags, and that it was at a similar level that they were hearing before the millennium, which was an indication that there was something going on. And yet he felt that he was frozen out, that he was not in a capacity to really do anything about it anymore because of his relationship with the FBI. So it was a source of real anguish for him.” (PBS 10/3/2002)
The 9/11 Commission later will note that at this time, an unnamed foreign intelligence “service report[s] that [al-Qaeda deputy leader] Abu Zubaida [is] considering mounting terrorist attacks in the United States, after postponing possible operations in Europe. No targets, timing or method of attack [are] provided.” Newsweek will suggest that most or all of this information may have come from a US debriefing of al-Qaeda bomber Ahmed Ressam in May 2001 (see May 30, 2001). Newsweek will note that it is a common occurrence for foreign intelligence agencies to “simply rereport to the CIA what it had originally learned from the FBI through separate channels.” Still, even “the multiple channels for Ressam’s warnings [do] little to change thinking within the FBI or CIA…” (Isikoff and Hosenball 4/28/2005; US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 6 ) However, it is possible the information could be more than a mirror of what Ressam said, since a number of Western intelligence agencies are monitoring Zubaida’s phone calls before 9/11 (see October 1998 and After).
Spanish police tape a series of cryptic, coded phone calls from a caller in Britain using the codename “Shakur” to Barakat Yarkas (also known as Abu Dahdah), the leader of a Spanish al-Qaeda cell presumably visited by Mohamed Atta in July. A Spanish judge will claim that a call by a man using the alias “Shakur” on this day shows foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. “Shakur” says that he is “giving classes” and that “in our classes, we have entered the field of aviation, and we have even cut the bird’s throat.” Another possible translation is, “We are even going to cut the eagle’s throat,” which would be a clearer metaphor for the US. (Harris 11/25/2001; Gillan et al. 2/14/2002) Spanish authorities later claim that detective work and voice analysis shows “Shakur” is Farid Hilali, a young Moroccan who had lived mostly in Britain since 1987. The Spanish later will charge him for involvement in the 9/11 plot, claiming that, in the 45 days preceding 9/11, he travels constantly in airplanes “to analyse them and to be prepared for action.” It will be claimed that he is training on aircraft in the days leading up to 9/11. It will further be said that he is connected to the Madrid train bombing in 2003. (Kennedy, Ford, and Tendler 6/30/2004; Hurst 7/15/2004; Kennedy 7/16/2004) The Spanish Islamic militant cell led by Yarkas is allegedly a hub of financing, recruitment, and support services for al-Qaeda in Europe. Yarkas’s phone number will later also be found in the address book of Said Bahaji, and he had ties with Mohammed Haydar Zammar and Mamoun Darkazanli. All three are associates of Atta in Hamburg. (Rotella 11/23/2001) Yarkas also “reportedly met with bin Laden twice and was in close contact with” top deputy Muhammad Atef. (Finn and Rolfe 11/19/2001) On November 11, 2001, Yarkas and ten other Spaniards will be arrested and charged with al-Qaeda activity. (Dillon 11/20/2001)
In April 2001, the CIA analyzed some “intriguing information associated with a person known as ‘Mukhtar.’” The CIA didn’t know who this was at the time, only that he was associated with top al-Qaeda deputy Abu Zubaida and that he seemed to be involved in planning al-Qaeda activities. On August 28, 2001, the CIA receives a cable reporting that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) has the nickname of Mukhtar (which means “brain” in Arabic). However, apparently no one at the CIA’s bin Laden unit makes the connection between this new information and the April 2001 information. The 9/11 Commission writes, “Only after 9/11 would it be discovered that Muhktar/KSM had communicated with a phone that was used by [Ramzi] bin al-Shibh, and that bin al-Shibh had used the same phone to communicate with [Zacarias] Moussaoui [who is in US custody by this time.]” (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 322; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 277)
A Cayman Islands radio station receives an unsigned letter claiming that three men from either Pakistan or Afghanistan who are living in the Cayman Islands are agents of Osama bin Laden. These three men were briefly arrested in June 2001 for discussing hijacking attacks in New York City (see June 4, 2001). The letter’s anonymous author warns that the men “are organizing a major terrorist act against the US via an airline or airlines.” On September 6, the letter will be forwarded to a Cayman government official, but no action will be taken until after 9/11. When the Cayman government notifies the US is unknown. Many criminals and/or businesses use the Cayman Islands as a safe, no tax, no-questions-asked haven to keep their money. The author of the letter will meet with the FBI shortly after 9/11 and will claim his information was a “premonition of sorts.” The three men will later be arrested. What happens to them after their arrest is unclear. (Whitefield 9/20/2001; Serrano and Dahlburg 9/20/2001; Hansen 9/23/2001)
According to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian intelligence warns American officials that bin Laden’s network is in the advanced stages of executing a significant operation against an American target, probably within the US. (Panossian 12/7/2001; Tyler and MacFarquhar 6/4/2002) He says he learned this information from an agent working inside al-Qaeda. US officials will deny receiving any such warning from Egypt. (News 6/4/2002)
Al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Zakariya Essabar allegedly travels to Pakistan and delivers a message to al-Qaeda leaders about the timing of the 9/11 attacks. Hamburg cell member Ramzi bin al-Shibh will later be arrested and interrogated, and according to a 2005 report about his interrogations, Essabar delivers the simple message “eleven nine.” Most countries around the world, including Muslim countries, put the day before the month, so this is a reference to September 11, the date of the upcoming 9/11 attacks. This message is supposed to be sent to someone with the name Mukhtar in Pakistan. Mukhtar is a commonly used alias of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) (see August 28, 2001), and he is in Karachi, Pakistan, at the time (see Early September 2001), so this is likely a reference to him. But Essabar apparently is unable to quickly find KSM, and he calls bin al-Shibh in Germany to say he is having trouble finding him. Presumably, bin al-Shibh loses contact with Essabar after this, so it is unclear what happens to the message. (Whitlock 5/24/2005) However, it is unclear how reliable bin al-Shibh’s claims may be, especially since he may be tortured later. Bin al-Shibh will give conflicting information about Essabar. At one point, he claims he knows nothing about Essabar at all. At another point, he claims that al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef told Essabar to try to acquire a US visa, but did not explain why, and Essabar had no foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. But at another point, he claims that Essabar was told the get the US visa so he “could travel to the United States to take part in the planned attacks.” (Reuters 5/21/2005; Whitlock 5/24/2005) While it may be uncertain if Essabar delivers a message on the timing of the 9/11 attacks, it is highly likely that he does flee to Afghanistan at this time. Others will later say they see him at an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan in late September 2001 (see September 10, 2001). His whereabouts after then will be unknown.
French intelligence gives a general terrorist warning to the US; apparently, its contents echo an Israeli warning from earlier in the month (see August 8-15, 2001). The warning allegedly says that many al-Qaeda operatives have slipped into the US and are planning “a major assault on the United States.” Indications point to a “large scale target.” (Cameron 5/17/2002)
A provocative article written by CIA Hezbollah analysts is published, which claims that Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, is a greater threat to the United States than al-Qaeda. The article appears in the National Intelligence Digest, a classified publication for senior government officials, just one or two weeks before 9/11. In it, the analysts point out that “[d]uring the past two decades, Hezbollah units had bombed American facilities in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Lebanon,” according to journalist and author Steve Coll. “The death toll from Hezbollah attacks since the 1980s was higher than the death toll from al-Qaeda strikes,” the article states. Hezbollah analysts at the Counterterrorist Center at CIA headquarters will initially claim, on the morning of September 11, that the day’s hijackings were committed by members of the Lebanese group (see After 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Coll 2018, pp. 33-34)
According to British inside sources, “shortly before September 11,” bin Laden contacts an associate thought to be in Pakistan. The conversation refers to an incident that will take place in the US on, or around 9/11, and discusses possible repercussions. In another conversation, bin Laden contacts an associate thought to be in Afghanistan. They discuss the scale and effect of a forthcoming operation; bin Laden praises his colleague for his part in the planning. Neither conversation specifically mentions the WTC or Pentagon, but investigators have no doubt the 9/11 attacks were being discussed. The British government has obliquely made reference to these intercepts: “There is evidence of a very specific nature relating to the guilt of bin Laden and his associates that is too sensitive to release.” These intercepts will not be made public in British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s presentation of al-Qaeda’s guilt because “releasing full details could compromise the source or method of the intercepts.” (Sunday Times (London) 10/7/2001)
According to a senior Defense Department source quoted in the book “Intelligence Failure” by David Bossie, Defense Department personnel become aware of a Milan newspaper interview with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, a self-designated spokesman for al-Qaeda. In the interview, he brags about al-Qaeda recruiting “kamikaze bombers ready to die for Palestine.” Mohammed boasts of training them in Afghanistan. According to this source, the Defense Department seeks “to present its information [to the FBI], given the increased ‘chatter,’ of a possible attack in the United States just days before [9/11]. The earliest the FBI would see the [Defense Department] people who had the information was on September 12, 2001.” (Bossie 5/2004) In 1998, Bakri had publicized a fax bin Laden sent him that listed the four objectives al-Qaeda had in their war with the US. First on the list was: “Bring down their airliners.” (see Summer 1998) The main focus of FBI agent Ken Williams’s July 2001 memo, warning about Middle Eastern students training in Arizona flight schools, was a member of Bakri’s organization (see July 10, 2001). In 2004, the US will charge Bakri with 11 terrorism-related crimes, including attempting to set up a terror training camp in Oregon and assisting in the kidnapping of two Americans and others in Yemen. (MSNBC 5/27/2004)
CIA Director George Tenet will claim in his 2007 book that “a group of assets from a Middle Eastern service” is unknowingly working for the CIA by this time. Out of the more than twenty people in this group, one third are working against al-Qaeda. By September 2001, two assets have successfully penetrated al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. (Tenet 2007, pp. 145) The name of the Middle Eastern country is not known. It is also not known when this group first started working for the CIA nor when the assets first penetrated the camps. Nor has it been reported what information these assets may have shared with the CIA before 9/11. It is known that bin Laden was dropping hints about the upcoming 9/11 attacks to training camp trainees in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001). Further, US citizen John Walker Lindh was told details of the 9/11 attacks within weeks of joining a training camp that summer (see May-June 2001).
Binyam Mohamed, a young Ethiopian with British citizenry, is in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. He later tells a journalist that he wants nothing more than to leave for London before the West can retaliate against al-Qaeda and the Taliban (see May-September, 2001). But Mohamed is unable to leave before the US-led coalition launches its attacks in November. According to Mohamed, he is caught among the tide of refugees, and in early 2002 makes his way across the Afghan-Pakistan border and into the city of Karachi. On April 3, he books a flight to London, but officials turn him away, saying his passport looks wrong (Mohamed entered the region using a friend’s passport). On April 9, he tries again to book a flight with the same passport, and is detained by Pakistani authorities. This is the beginning of almost seven years of incarceration, interrogation, and torture (see February 24, 2009). (Rose 3/8/2009) Apparently some of the details of Mohamed’s recollections will differ from the recounting of his story as later told by his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith.
At least one member of the al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy, apparently uses steganography, a method of encoding messages within computerized photographs. In Milan’s Via Quaranta mosque in Milan, frequented by Egyptian al-Qaeda operative Mahmoud Es Sayed, pictures of the World Trade Center that have steganographic messages in them are saved on a computer. A number of other pictures of world leaders and pornography are also manipulated in a similar manner. These pictures will not be discovered until months after 9/11, but they help suggest that some in the Milan cell had foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot. Es Sayed had been wiretapped on previous occasions, and was heard making comments suggesting he had such foreknowledge (see August 12, 2000) (see January 24, 2001). His current whereabouts are unknown. (Salomon 5/8/2003)
President Bush’s cabinet-rank advisers discuss terrorism for the second of only two times before 9/11. (Gellman 5/17/2002) National Security Adviser Rice chairs the meeting; neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney attends. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says that in this meeting, he and CIA Director Tenet speak passionately about the al-Qaeda threat. No one disagrees that the threat is serious. Secretary of State Powell outlines a plan to put pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting al-Qaeda. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld appears to be more interested in Iraq. The only debate is over whether to fly the armed Predator drone over Afghanistan to attack al-Qaeda (see September 4, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 237-38) Clarke’s earlier plans to “roll back” al-Qaeda first submitted on January 25, 2001 (see January 25, 2001) have been discussed and honed in many meetings and are now presented as a formal National Security Presidential Directive. The directive is “apparently” approved, though the process of turning it into official policy is still not done. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) There is later disagreement over just how different the directive presented is from Clarke’s earlier plans. For instance, some claim the directive aims not just to “roll back” al-Qaeda, but also to “eliminate” it altogether. (Elliott 8/12/2002) However, Clarke notes that even though he wanted to use the word “eliminate,” the approved directive merely aims to “significantly erode” al-Qaeda. The word “eliminate” is only added after 9/11. (Eggen and Pincus 3/25/2004) Clarke will later say that the plan adopted “on Sept. 4 is basically… what I proposed on Jan. 25. And so the time in between was wasted.” (Clarke 4/8/2004) The Washington Post will similarly note that the directive approved on this day “did not differ substantially from Clinton’s policy.” (Milbank and Eggen 3/27/2004) Time magazine later comments, “The fight against terrorism was one of the casualties of the transition, as Washington spent eight months going over and over a document whose outline had long been clear.” (Elliott 8/12/2002) The primary change from Clarke’s original draft is that the approved plan calls for more direct financial and logistical support to the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban groups. The plan also calls for drafting plans for possible US military involvement, “but those differences were largely theoretical; administration officials told the [9/11 Commission’s] investigators that the plan’s overall timeline was at least three years, and it did not include firm deadlines, military plans, or significant funding at the time of the September 11, 2001, attacks.” (Milbank and Eggen 3/27/2004; Holland 4/2/2004)
White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke sends a memo to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in which he warns that hundreds of Americans could die in an attack by al-Qaeda and complains that the Bush administration is not doing enough to combat the threat posed by the terrorist network. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; Eggen and Pincus 3/25/2004) The National Security Council’s principals committee—a group of senior officials who advise the president on issues of national security policy—is set to meet today to discuss al-Qaeda. Before the meeting takes place, Clarke sends a memo to Rice in which he criticizes US counterterrorism efforts.
Al-Qaeda Could Kill 'Hundreds of Americans' - The “real question” before the members of the principals committee, Clarke writes in the memo, is, “[A]re we serious about dealing with the al-Qaeda threat?” He suggests: “Decision makers should imagine themselves on a future day when the [White House Counterterrorism Security Group] has not succeeded in stopping al-Qaeda attacks and hundreds of Americans lay dead in several countries, including the US. What would those decision makers wish that they had done earlier?” “That future day could happen at any time,” he adds.
Clarke Complains about the Lack of Response to the USS Cole Bombing - Clarke criticizes the US military for failing to respond to the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). “Many in al-Qaeda and the Taliban may have drawn the wrong lesson from the Cole: that they can kill Americans without there being a US response, without there being a price,” he writes. He states that he cannot understand “why we continue to allow the existence of large-scale al-Qaeda bases where we know people are being trained to kill Americans.”
Clarke Warns of a Possible 'Big Attack, with Lots of Casualties' - Clarke complains that without adequate funding: “You are left with a modest effort to swat flies, to try to prevent specific al-Qaeda attacks by using [intelligence] to detect them, and friendly governments’ police and intelligence officers to stop them. You are left waiting for the big attack, with lots of casualties, after which some major US retaliation will be in order.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 212-213)
Rice Later Says Memo Is 'Not a Warning about September 11th' - Rice will later say of Clarke’s memo: “It would not be appropriate or correct to characterize what Dick [Clarke] wrote to me on September 4th as a warning of an impending attack. What he was doing was, I think, trying to buck me up so that when I went into this principals meeting, I was sufficiently on guard against the kind of bureaucratic inertia that he had fought all of his life.” The memo, she will say, “was a warning to me not to get dragged down by the bureaucracy, not a warning about September 11th.” (9/11 Commission 4/8/2004) The principals committee’s meeting today is the committee’s first meeting on al-Qaeda issues. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 212) Clarke had “urgently” called for such a meeting back in January this year (see January 25, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 237)
At a wedding in Todi, Italy, Father Jean-Marie Benjamin is told of a plot to attack the US and Britain using hijacked airplanes as weapons. He is not told specifics regarding time or place. He immediately passes what he knows to a judge and several politicians. He later will state, “Although I am friendly with many Muslims, I wondered why they were telling me, specifically. I felt it my duty to inform the Italian government.” Benjamin has been called “one of the West’s most knowledgeable experts on the Muslim world.” Two days after 9/11, he will meet with the Italian Foreign Minister on this topic. He will say he learned the attack on Britain failed at the last minute. (Zenit (Vatican) 9/16/2001) An al-Qaeda cell based in nearby Milan, Italy, appears to have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see August 12, 2000) and (see January 24, 2001). It is not known if the Italian government warns the US government of this latest warning before 9/11.
The State Department issues a little noticed warning, alerting against an attack by al-Qaeda. However, the warning focuses on a threat to American citizens overseas, and particularly focuses on threats to US military personnel in Asia. (US Department of State 9/7/2001) In the one-page alert, the State Department says it received information in May 2001 “that American citizens may be the target of a terrorist threat from extremist groups with links to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization. Such individuals have not distinguished between official and civilian targets.… As always, we take this information seriously. US Government facilities worldwide remain on heightened alert.” Such warnings are issued periodically and usually are so vague that few pay them serious attention. In any event, most airlines and officials will claim that they did not see this warning until after 9/11. (Matier and Ross 9/14/2001)
French author Bernard-Henri Levy claims to know an anonymous manager at a Dubai, United Arab Emirates, bank who gives him astute and accurate tips on Arab banking. The manager tells Henri-Levy in 2002, “We know a bank here that made [a put option] transaction between the 8th and 10th of September on certain Dow Jones blue-chip stocks for accounts linked to bin Laden. I know the name of a bank that, by shorting 8,000 shares of United Airlines on the 7th of September, then 1,200 shares of American Airlines on the morning of the 10th, allowed the attack to finance itself.” The manager won’t name the bank, but he quotes bin Laden from a late September 2001 interview, stating, “al-Qaeda is full of young, modern, and educated people who are aware of the cracks inside the Western financial system, and know how to exploit them. These faults and weaknesses are like a sliding noose strangling the system.” (Laden 9/28/2001; Levy 2003, pp. 312-313) The timing and amount of type of stock speculation mentioned in this account is similar to, but not the same as, previously published reports (see September 6-10, 2001). Levy suspects the al-Qaeda agent making these transactions is the financially astute Saeed Sheikh, graduate of the London School of Economics. An al-Qaeda agent using the alias Mustafa Ahmad is captured by a surveillance camera entering the Bank of Dubai on September 10, Dubai time, to pick up money sent by Mohamed Atta in previous days, but this video footage has never been publicly released. Levy and others argue that Mustafa Ahmad and Saeed Sheikh are one and the same (see September 5-10, 2001). (Levy 2003, pp. 312-313)
Just two days before 9/11, the New York Times publishes an article on their website examining the threat of an al-Qaeda attack on US interests. The article focuses on a videotape made by bin Laden which was released in June 2001 (see June 19, 2001). The article notes that “When the two-hour videotape surfaced last June, it attracted little attention, partly because much of it was spliced from previous bin Laden interviews and tapes. But since then the tape has proliferated on Islamic Web sites and in mosques and bazaars across the Muslim world.” It further notes that in the video, bin Laden “promises more attacks.” Referring to the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, he says, “The victory of Yemen will continue.” He promises to aid Palestinians fighting Israel, an important shift in emphasis from previous pronouncements. He also praises the Taliban, suggesting that previous reports of a split between bin Laden and the Taliban were a ruse. The article comments, “With his mockery of American power, Mr. bin Laden seems to be almost taunting the United States.” (Burns 9/9/2001) Curiously, shortly after 9/11, the New York Times will remove the article from their website archive and redirect all links from the article’s web address, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/09/international/asia/09OSAM.html, to the address of another article written by the same author shortly after 9/11, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/12/international/12OSAM.html. (Note the dates contained within the addresses.)
General Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, is assassinated by two al-Qaeda agents posing as Moroccan journalists. (Elliott 8/12/2002) A legendary mujaheddin commander and a brilliant tactician, Massoud had pledged to bring freedom and democracy to Afghanistan. The BBC says the next day, “General Massoud’s death might well have meant the end of the [Northern] alliance” because there clearly was no figure with his skills and popularity to replace him. (Clark 9/10/2001; NPA 9/10/2001) “With Massoud out of the way, the Taliban and al-Qaeda would be rid of their most effective opponent and be in a stronger position to resist the American onslaught.” (Martin 9/9/2002) It appears the assassination was supposed to happen earlier: the “journalists” waited for three weeks in Northern Alliance territory to meet Massoud. Finally on September 8, an aide says they “were so worried and excitable they were begging us.” They were granted an interview after threatening to leave if the interview did not happen in the next 24 hours. Meanwhile, the Taliban army (together with elements of the Pakistani army) had massed for an offensive against the Northern Alliance in the previous weeks, but the offensive began only hours after the assassination. Massoud was killed that day but Northern Alliance leaders pretend for several days that Massoud was only injured in order to keep the Northern Alliance army’s morale up, and they are able to stave off total defeat. The timing of the assassination and the actions of the Taliban army suggest that the 9/11 attacks were known to the Taliban leadership. (Elliott 8/12/2002) Though it is not widely reported, the Northern Alliance releases a statement the next day: “Ahmed Shah Massoud was the target of an assassination attempt organized by the Pakistani [intelligence service] ISI and Osama bin Laden” (see September 10, 2001). (Wesolowsky 9/10/2001; Gardiner and Rayman 9/15/2001; Reuters 10/4/2001) This suggests that the ISI may also have had prior knowledge of the attack plans.
US officials later will admit American agents had infiltrated al-Qaeda cells in the US, though how many agents and how long they had been in al-Qaeda remains a mystery. On this day, electronic intercepts connected to these undercover agents hear messages such as, “Watch the news” and “Tomorrow will be a great day for us.” When asked why these messages did not lead to boosted security or warnings the next day, officials will refer to them as “needles in a haystack.” What other leads may have come from this prior to this day will not be revealed. (Diamond 6/4/2002) At least until February 2002, the official story will be that the “CIA failed to penetrate al-Qaeda with a single agent.” (ABC News 2/18/2002)
Three hijackers, Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi, check into the same hotel as a prominent Saudi government official, Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen. (Schmidt 10/2/2003) Hussayen originally stayed at a different nearby hotel, but moved to this hotel on the same day the hijackers checked in. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 45) Investigators have not found any evidence that the hijackers met with Hussayen, and stress it could be a coincidence. (Rennie 3/10/2003) However, one prosecutor working on a related case will assert, “I continue to believe it can’t be a coincidence.” (Barrett and Simpson 10/2/2003) An FBI agent will later say that Hussayen “may have had some connection to the attacks and is likely to have met with those funding the hijackers if not the hijackers themselves.” (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 45) Hussayen is interviewed by the FBI shortly after 9/11, but according to testimony from an FBI agent, the interview is cut short when Hussayen “feign[s] a seizure, prompting the agents to take him to a hospital, where the attending physicians [find] nothing wrong with him.” The agent recommends that Hussayen “should not be allowed to leave until a follow-up interview could occur.” (Schmidt 10/2/2003) The agent returns to the hotel the next day, but finds Hussayen unhelpful. After she leaves, Hussayen calls the Saudi embassy, which contacts the FBI. Another, less aggressive agent is sent to talk to Hussayen and finds no additional information, so the FBI says he can leave the US. The first agent does not want him to go without answering her questions, but, according to authors Joe and Susan Trento, “Because of pressure from [Saudi ambassador to the US] Prince Bandar on the Bush administration… the agent’s superiors overruled her.” The superiors are not named. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 45) For most of the 1990s, Hussayen was director of the SAAR Foundation, a Saudi charity that is being investigated for terrorism ties and will be raided in early 2002 (see March 20, 2002). A few months after 9/11 he is named a minister of the Saudi government and put in charge of its two holy mosques. Hussayen had arrived in the US in late August 2001 planning to visit some Saudi-sponsored charities. Many of the charities on his itinerary, including the Global Relief Foundation, Muslim World League, IIRO (International Islamic Relief Organization), IANA (Islamic Assembly of North America), and World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), have since been shut down or investigated for alleged ties to Islamic militant groups. (Schmidt 10/2/2003) His nephew, Sami Omar Hussayen, will be indicted in early 2004 for using his computer expertise to assist militant groups, and will be charged with administering a website associated with IANA, an organization which expressly advocated suicide attacks and using airliners as weapons in the months before 9/11. Investigators also will claim the nephew was in contact with important al-Qaeda figures. (Schmidt 10/2/2003; Seattle Post-Intelligencer 1/10/2004) The nephew will be acquitted later in 2004 of the terrorism-related charges. The defense will not dispute that he posted messages advocating suicide bombings, but will argue that he had the Constitutional right to do so. The jury will deadlock on most of the counts. (Schmidt 6/11/2004) IANA apparently will remain under investigation, as well as the flow of money from the uncle to nephew. (Rennie 3/10/2003) The uncle is not charged with any crime. (Barrett and Simpson 10/2/2003)
At least two messages in Arabic are intercepted by the NSA. One states, “The match is about to begin” and the other states, “Tomorrow is zero hour.” Later reports translate the first message as, “The match begins tomorrow.” (Zakaria 9/9/2002) The messages were sent between someone in Saudi Arabia and someone in Afghanistan. The NSA will claim that they are not translated until September 12, and that even if they had been translated in time, “they gave no clues that authorities could have acted on.” (ABC News 6/7/2002; Zakaria 6/19/2002) Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Bob Graham will later confirm that the messages were from al-Qaeda sources—a location or phone number—that made them a high priority, but that they were not from bin Laden or one of his top commanders. (Graham and Nussbaum 2004, pp. 139) On the morning of September 12, 2001, the CIA will tell President Bush that a recently intercepted message from al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida referred to the 9/11 attacks as “zero hour,” but it is not clear if this is the same message or a different message (see September 12, 2001). These messages turn out to be only two of about 30 pre-9/11 communications from suspected al-Qaeda operatives or other militants referring to an imminent event. An anonymous official will say of these messages, including the “Tomorrow is zero hour” message: “You can’t dismiss any of them, but it does not tell you tomorrow is the day.” (Zakaria 9/9/2002) There will be a later attempt to explain the messages away by suggesting they referred to the killing of Afghan opposition leader Ahmed Shah Massoud the day before (see September 9, 2001). (Reuters 10/17/2002)
In a major post-9/11 speech, British Prime Minister Tony Blair will claim that “shortly before September 11, bin Laden told associates that he had a major operation against America under preparation, [and] a range of people were warned to return back to Afghanistan because of action on or around September 11.” His claims will come from a British document of telephone intercepts and interrogations revealing al-Qaeda orders to return to Afghanistan by September 10. (NPA 10/4/2001; Waller 10/5/2001) Would-be hijacker Ramzi bin al-Shibh will later claim that his message on what day the 9/11 attacks would happen reached bin Laden on September 6, 2001. If that is true, bin Laden would only have had a few days to warn others (see September 6, 2001). (Fouda 9/9/2002)
The US military never uses its elite units to hunt Osama bin Laden or any other al-Qaeda leaders before 9/11. US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) is said to have less than 1000 operatives, mainly Navy Seals and Army Delta Force, which are the most trained and qualified personnel in the US for hunting fugitives. Professor Richard Shultz at Tufts University’s Fletcher School will be commissioned by the Pentagon shortly after 9/11 to research why such special forces were not used before 9/11 to hunt bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders. He will find that US military leaders always said they needed better intelligence. They did a lot of planning but took no action. Shultz will say, “It’s your strike force, and yet it was never used once for its primary mission before Sept. 11.” JSOC forces will have more successes after 9/11, including playing roles in the capture of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and the killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in 2006 (see June 8, 2006). (San Francisco Examiner 3/2/2007)
Two peripheral members of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, leave Germany to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. Ibrahim Diab, a Lebanese national, and Bechim Ademi, a naturalized German, are said to be recent al-Qaeda recruits. They have been attending the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg also attended by many of the cell members. They will later claim that cell members Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Mohammed Haydar Zammar convinced them to go to Afghanistan for training (and Zammar paid for at least Diab’s ticket (see August 2001). By September 23, 2001, they will have reached a training camp near Kabul and begun weapons training. They will recognize Hamburg cell members Zakariya Essabar and Said Bahaji at the camp. Bahaji left Germany for Afghanistan in early September 2001 (see September 3-5, 2001) and Essabar made a similar trip around the same time (see Late August 2001). Essabar stays with the camp’s leaders and seems to have an important position. Diab and Ademi will be arrested in Pakistan in October 2001 (see October 29, 2001). (Simpson, Swanson, and Crewdson 2/23/2003) They will be sent back to Germany in November 2001, after pressure by the German government. They will be interrogated by German officials and reveal the information mentioned above. However, they will be released and not charged with any crime. (Australian Broadcasting Corporation 7/20/2004) It is unclear if the timing of their departure from Germany one day before the 9/11 attacks shows foreknowledge of the attacks or if it is just a coincidence.
The Northern Alliance releases a statement, saying, “Ahmed Shah Massoud was the target of an assassination attempt organized by the Pakistani [intelligence service] ISI and Osama bin Laden.” Massoud was the head leader of the Northern Alliance, the main group fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, until he was assassinated the previous day (see September 9, 2001). (Wesolowsky 9/10/2001; Gardiner and Rayman 9/15/2001; Reuters 10/4/2001) In June 2002, the New Yorker will report that there has been little to no investigation in Afghanistan into who was responsible for Massoud’s assassination. Even though the Northern Alliance has taken power, one of the figures some suspect of a role in the assassination is Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a warlord with radical Islamist ties but who also has gained power in the new Afghan government. However, Afghan Defense Minister and Northern Alliance leader Mohammad Qasim Fahim will tell the New Yorker that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was at ISI headquarters hours after Massoud was assassinated, possibly celebrating the assassination with ISI officials there (see September 9, 2001). (Anderson 6/10/2002) If Fahim had been immediately aware of this intelligence, it could help explain how quickly the Northern Alliance blamed the ISI.
A report is issued to Congress that warns of the danger Osama bin Laden poses to US interests and states that his al-Qaeda network “wants to strike within the United States.” (MacAskill and Whitaker 9/14/2001; News24 9/18/2001; CNN 9/28/2001) The report, titled “Terrorism: Near Eastern Groups and State Sponsors, 2001,” is “an annual analysis of Near Eastern terrorist groups and countries on the US ‘terrorism list’”—countries that the secretary of commerce and the secretary of state have determined “provide repeated support for international terrorism.”
Al-Qaeda 'Wants to Strike within the United States' - The report warns of the increasing threat posed by al-Qaeda. “Signs continue to point to… a rise in the scope of threat posed by the independent network of exiled Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden,” it states. It continues: “Osama bin Laden’s network, which is independently financed and enjoys safe haven in Afghanistan, poses an increasingly significant threat to US interests in the Near East and perhaps elsewhere. The primary goals of bin Laden and his cohort are to oust pro-US regimes in the Middle East and gain removal of US troops from the region.” Furthermore, the report warns, “US allegations of past plotting by the bin Laden network suggest that the network wants to strike within the United States itself.” (Katzman 9/10/2001 )
Al-Qaeda Has Been Looking for 'Ways to Attack US Interests' - The report was written by Kenneth Katzman, a former CIA analyst who is now the Congressional Research Service’s resident expert on Middle Eastern terrorism. (Weiner 8/21/1998; CNN 9/28/2001) It is based on information from numerous sources, including the State Department’s annual report on international terrorism, titled Patterns of Global Terrorism: 2000; press reports; and conversations with US counterterrorism officials, experts, investigative journalists, and foreign diplomats. (Katzman 9/10/2001, pp. 1 ) Shortly after 9/11, Katzman will say his report’s conclusions about the danger al-Qaeda poses were based on “an assessment that they were continuing to plot against the United States and look for ways to attack US interests.” He will also say, “It was apparent in my research that there was a continued pattern of plotting, a continued pattern of looking for opportunities to hit the United States, either military forces or civilians.”
Author Is Like a 'Prophet Who Could Foretell the Future' - In light of what is written in the report, CNN news anchor Aaron Brown will comment that Katzman “may well be official Washington’s closest present-day parallel to an ancient prophet who could foretell the future.” (CNN 9/28/2001) But the Congressional Research Service will state that the fact that his report was issued the day before 9/11 is merely a coincidence. (News24 9/18/2001)
In June 2004, future 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey will say that before 9/11, “There’s no question the Taliban was getting money from the Saudis… and there’s no question they got much more than that from the Pakistani government. Their motive is a secondary issue for us.” He claims this finding is based almost entirely on information known to the US government before 9/11. “All we’re doing is looking at classified documents from our own government, not from some magical source. So we knew what was going on, but we did nothing.” (Meyer 7/16/2004) However, the 9/11 Commission will leave such material out of its final report and in fact make the claim in its last staff statement, “There is no convincing evidence that any government financially supported al-Qaeda before 9/11.” (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004)
By the 1980s, a high-tech global electronic surveillance network shared between the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand is gathering intelligence all over the world. The BBC describes Echelon’s power as “astounding,” and elaborates: “Every international telephone call, fax, e-mail, or radio transmission can be listened to by powerful computers capable of voice recognition. They home in on a long list of key words, or patterns of messages. They are looking for evidence of international crime, like terrorism.” (Bomford 11/3/1999) One major focus for Echelon before 9/11 is al-Qaeda. For instance, one account mentions Echelon intercepting al-Qaeda communications in Southeast Asia in 1996 (see Before September 11, 2001). A staff member of the National Security Council who regularly attends briefings on bin Laden states, “We are probably tapped into every hotel room in Pakistan. We can listen in to just about every phone call in Afghanistan.” However, he and other critics will claim one reason why US intelligence failed to stop terrorism before 9/11 was because there was too much of a focus on electronic intelligence gathering and not enough focus on human interpretation of that vast data collection. (Brzezinski 2/2/2002)
Just prior to 9/11, the CIA and FBI do not have enough staff working on al-Qaeda. Only 17 to 19 people are working in the FBI’s special unit focusing on bin Laden and al-Qaeda. (US Congress 9/18/2002) The FBI has a $4.3 billion anti-terrorism budget, but of its 27,000 employees, just 153 are devoted to terrorism analysis. (Alcorn 6/8/2002) The FBI’s “analytic expertise has been ‘gutted’ by transfers to operational units” and only one strategic analyst is assigned full time to al-Qaeda. The FBI office in New York is very aware of the threat from bin Laden, but many branch offices remain largely unaware. (US Congress 9/18/2002) A senior FBI official later tells Congress that there are fewer FBI agents assigned to counterterrorism on this day than in August 1998, when the US embassy bombings in Africa made bin Laden a household name. (Risen 9/22/2002) The CIA has only about 35 to 40 people assigned to their special bin Laden unit. It has five strategic analysts working full time on al-Qaeda. (US Congress 9/18/2002) The CIA and FBI later complain that some of these figures are misleading. (Risen 9/18/2002) “Individuals in both the CIA and FBI units… reported being seriously overwhelmed by the volume of information and workload prior to September 11, 2001.” Despite numerous warnings that planes could be used as weapons, such a possibility was never studied, and a congressional report later blames lack of staff as a major reason for this. (US Congress 9/18/2002) Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) also notes, “Between the Department of Justice and the FBI, they had a whole task force working on finding a couple of houses of prostitution in New Orleans. They had one on al-Qaeda.” (CBS News 9/25/2002)
Newsweek will report in 2006, “The intelligence community generally agrees that the number of true A-list al-Qaeda operatives out there around the time of 9/11 was no more than about 1,000, perhaps as few as 500, most in and around Afghanistan.” (Hirsh 6/28/2006) John Arquilla, a Special Operations expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, makes a higher end estimate, claiming “there were probably 3,000 core al-Qaeda operatives” around the time of 9/11. (Thomas 8/28/2007) US intelligence will later conclude that about 20,000 people passed through al-Qaeda training camps from 1996 to 9/11, and many of them will keep some level of affiliation with the group. However, only about 180 operatives have pledged loyalty to Osama bin Laden by 9/11. Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will say, “Al-Qaeda is an elite organization that takes very few members.” (Risen and Filkins 9/10/2002; Kaplan et al. 6/2/2003) Ali Soufan, an FBI agent focusing on al-Qaeda before 9/11, will later claim that at the time of 9/11, al-Qaeda had about 400 members. (Soufan 2011, pp. xxiii) Author Terry McDermott will later comment: “Over 20-plus years, tens of thousands of men went through the Afghan training camps. In the same period, nearly a dozen attacks attributed to Islamic fundamentalists occurred around the world. But most of these men and most of these attacks had little, other than overlapping intent, to do with al-Qaeda. Most were independent groups running independent, often local, operations. In the attacks that were instigated by al-Qaeda, the same handful of people were involved in virtually every one. Even foot soldiers were recycled to new operations. The organization was so small that almost everybody in it at one time or another had personal interactions with top leadership.” (McDermott 2005, pp. 194, 201-202)
Another deputies meeting further considers policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, and makes further revisions to the National Security Presidential Directive regarding al-Qaeda. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) By the end of the meeting, a formal, three-phase strategy is agreed upon. An envoy is to go to Afghanistan and give the Taliban another chance to expel Osama bin Laden. If this fails, more pressure will be put on the Taliban, including more support for the Northern Alliance and other groups. If the Taliban still refuse to change, the US will try to overthrow them through more direct action. The time-frame for this strategy is about three years. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) CIA Director George Tenet is formally tasked to draw up new authorities for the covert action program envisioned and request funding to implement it. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The directive is then to be sent to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice for approval. President Bush is apparently aware of the directive and prepared to sign it (though he hasn’t attended any of the meetings about it), but he will not sign it until October. (MSNBC 5/16/2002; Drogin 5/18/2002; Wright 4/1/2004)
In a 2007 book, CIA Director George Tenet will say, “As a result of the intelligence community’s efforts, in concert with our foreign partners, by September 11, Afghanistan was covered in human and technical operations.” Tenet claims:
The CIA is working with eight separate Afghan tribal networks.
The CIA has “more than 100 recruited sources inside Afghanistan.”
Satellites are repositioned over Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda training camps are systematically mapped.
Efforts are stepped up to closely monitor news about al-Qaeda in the media around the world.
“Major collection facilities” are placed on the borders of Afghanistan.
Other “conventional and innovative collection methods” are used to penetrate al-Qaeda worldwide.
According to Tenet, “Leadership of the FBI [is] given full transparency” into the CIA’s efforts. (Tenet 2007, pp. 120-121) Tenet has not explained how the CIA managed to miss learning about the 9/11 attacks if this is so, given that a major attack was being widely discussed in Afghanistan training camps in the months before 9/11 (see Summer 2001).
State Department official Hillary Mann, walking home after being evacuated from the United Nations building after the two World Trade Center attacks, is contacted by a senior Iranian diplomat on her personal cell phone. Mann and the Iranian, whom she will refuse to name but will describe as a cultured man in his fifties with salt-and-pepper hair, have been secretly meeting in a small conference room at the UN. He says the attacks were most likely the work of al-Qaeda, and then says, “I hope that we can still work together.” In the following weeks, the Iranian official will maintain contact with Mann, offering backchannel support for the US and the chance for more full-fledged, open diplomatic contacts. (Richardson 10/18/2007)
National Security Adviser Rice is scheduled to deliver a speech claiming to address “the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday.” The speech is never given due to the 9/11 attacks earlier in the day, but the text is later leaked to the media. The Washington Post calls the speech “telling Insight into the administration’s thinking” because it promotes missile defense and contains no mention of al-Qaeda, bin Laden, or Islamic extremist groups. The only mention of terrorism is in the context of the danger of rogue nations such as Iraq. In fact, there are almost no public mentions of bin Laden or al-Qaeda by Bush or other top Bush administration officials before 9/11, and the focus instead is on missile defense. (Wright 4/1/2004; unknown 4/1/2004)
Sometime during this period, the 9/11 hijackers pass through airport security checkpoints at the various airports. The FAA has a screening program in place called the Computer Assisted Passenger Prescreening System (CAPPS). CAPPS automatically targets passengers for additional screening based on suspicious behavior such as buying one-way tickets or paying with cash. If a passenger is selected, their bags are thoroughly screened for explosives, but their bodies are not searched. (Goo and Eggen 1/28/2004) CAPPS selects three of the five Flight 11 hijackers. Since Waleed Alshehri checked no bags, his selection had no consequences. Wail Alshehri and Satam Al Suqami have their bags scanned for explosives, but are not stopped. No Flight 175 hijackers are selected. Only Ahmed Alhaznawi is selected from Flight 93. His bag is screened for explosives, but he is not stopped. The 9/11 Commission later concludes that Alhaznawi and Ahmed Alnami, also headed to Flight 93, have suspicious indicators and that they could have been linked to al-Qaeda upon inspection, but it has not been explained why or how. (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004; Sullivan 1/27/2004) Screening of the Flight 77 hijackers is described below.
According to the 9/11 Commission, between 7:03 a.m. and 7:39 a.m. the four alleged Flight 93 hijackers check in at the United Airlines ticket counter at Newark (New Jersey) Liberty International Airport. Only Ahmad Alhaznawi is selected for additional scrutiny by airport security under the FAA’s CAPPS program (see (6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The only consequence is that his checked bag is screened for explosives, and not loaded onto the plane until it is confirmed that he has boarded. (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 4; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 35) On their way to boarding the plane, all four would pass through a security checkpoint, which has three walk-through metal detectors, two X-ray machines, and explosive trace detection equipment. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 97) The 9/11 Commission later claims Newark Airport has no video cameras monitoring its security checkpoints, so there is no documentary evidence showing when the hijackers passed through the checkpoint or what alarms may have been triggered. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 4; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 35) However, Michael Taylor, the president of a security company, who has done consulting work for the New York Port Authority (which operates the airport), claims that Newark does use security cameras at the time of 9/11. (Hanchett and Washington 9/29/2001) All of the screeners on duty at the checkpoint are subsequently interviewed, and none report anything unusual or suspicious having occurred. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 4; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 35) The 9/11 Commission later concludes that the passports of Ahmad Alhaznawi and fellow Flight 93 hijacker Ahmed Alnami have suspicious indicators and could have been linked to al-Qaeda, but it does not elaborate on this. (Sullivan 1/27/2004)
Around 7:15 a.m., Flight 77 hijackers Majed Moqed and Khalid Almihdhar check in at the American Airlines ticket counter at Washington’s Dulles International Airport. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 2-3; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 27) The FAA has a computer system in place, called CAPPS, which identifies those passengers most likely requiring additional scrutiny by airport security (see (6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). CAPPS selects both men, but the only consequence is that Moqed’s luggage is not loaded onto Flight 77 until after his boarding is confirmed. (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 27-28) Dulles Airport has surveillance cameras monitoring its security checkpoints, and video later viewed by the 9/11 Commission shows the two passing through the Main Terminal’s west security screening checkpoint at 7:18 a.m. When they go through, their carry-on bags fail to set off any alarms, but both men set off the alarm when they pass through the first metal detector. They are directed to a second metal detector, where Almihdhar passes, but Moqed fails again. He is subjected to a personal screening with a metal detection hand wand. This time he is cleared and permitted to pass through the checkpoint. (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 3) The other three Flight 77 hijackers pass through the security checkpoint about 20 minutes later (see (7:25 a.m.-7:36 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The 9/11 Commission later concludes that Almihdhar’s passport was “suspicious” and could have been linked to al-Qaeda, but it does not explain why or how. (Sullivan 1/27/2004)
Flight 77 hijacker Hani Hanjour checks in at the American Airlines ticket counter at Washington’s Dulles International Airport some time between 7:25 a.m. and 7:35 a.m., the 9/11 Commission will later estimate. (American Airlines will be unable to locate information confirming his check-in time.) (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 93)
Hanjour Almost Stopped? - Hanjour is selected for additional scrutiny by airport security under the FAA’s CAPPS program (see (6:20 a.m.-7:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001), but this has no consequences. (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 3; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 27-28) In 2003, former CIA official Vincent Cannistraro will claim: “This person goes through the metal detection machine and it starts buzzing.… They call the person out so that they can do a hand search. Just as the person was beginning to do that, a pretty woman walks by and the guard looks at her and waves the guy on. Well, that person happened to be Hani Hanjour, and he basically had box cutters and razor blades in his pockets.” (Fouda and Fielding 2003, pp. 143) It is unclear how Cannistraro may have known this, and presumably he is speculating as to what Hanjour has in his pockets.
Alhazmi Brothers Seem Suspicious - The final two Flight 77 hijackers, brothers Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi, check in at approximately 7:29 a.m. The customer service representative makes both of them CAPPS selectees, because one of them cannot provide photo identification and seems unable to understand English, and he finds both of them suspicious. However, the only consequence is that Salem Alhazmi’s luggage is not loaded onto the plane until it is confirmed that he has boarded. Surveillance cameras monitor the security checkpoints at Dulles Airport. According to the 9/11 Commission’s review of security footage, Hanjour passes through the main terminal’s west security screening checkpoint at 7:35 a.m. He proceeds through the metal detector without setting off the alarm, and his two carry-on bags set off no alarms when placed on the X-ray belt. The Alhazmis arrive at the same checkpoint a minute later. Salem Alhazmi successfully clears the metal detector and is permitted through the checkpoint. Nawaf Alhazmi sets off the alarms for both the first and second metal detectors, and is subsequently subjected to a personal screening with a metal detection hand wand before being passed. His shoulder bag is swiped by an explosive trace detector and returned without further inspection. (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 3; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 27-28) Immediately after the attacks, when the FAA’s local civil aviation security office investigates the security screening at Dulles on 9/11, it will find the airport’s screeners recall nothing out of the ordinary, and cannot recall any of the passengers they screened having been CAPPS selectees. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 3; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 93) The 9/11 Commission will later conclude that the Alhazmi brothers’ passports are “suspicious” and could have been linked to al-Qaeda, but it will not explain why or how. (Sullivan 1/27/2004)
CIA Director George Tenet is eating breakfast with his mentor, former Senator David Boren (D-OK), at the St. Regis Hotel, three blocks north of the White House. According to journalist Bob Woodward, Boren asks Tenet, “What are you worried about these days?” Tenet replies, “Bin Laden,” and says he is convinced the al-Qaeda leader is going to do something big. Boren asks him how could one person without the resources of a foreign government be such a threat? Tenet responds, “You don’t understand the capabilities and the reach of what they’re putting together.” (Woodward 2002, pp. 1 and 3; Neal 12/6/2002) When, shortly afterwards, Tenet learns of the first attack on the World Trade Center, he will immediately say he thinks bin Laden is responsible (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Richard Blee, chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, immediately thinks Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist network are to blame when he sees the coverage on television of the crash at the World Trade Center. Blee is in the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, this morning. After Flight 11 crashes into the WTC (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), he goes across the hall to Alec Station’s cluster of cubicles. He points to a television, which is showing the coverage of what has happened in New York, and says, “That’s bin Laden or al-Qaeda.” One of his colleagues disagrees. “You can’t say that; it could be an accident,” they say. “Every time something happens, you can’t say that it’s al-Qaeda,” they add. Opinion is divided among the Alec Station analysts at the CTC, but most of them think the crash was an accident. Blee is resolute, though. “It’s bin Laden,” he says. Blee and his colleagues will still be arguing about the cause of the crash when, at 9:03 a.m., the second hijacked plane crashes into the WTC (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Coll 2018, pp. 30)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is driving up to a gate outside the White House when Lisa Gordon-Hagerty—a member of his staff who is already at the White House—calls and tells him, “The other tower was just hit.” He responds: “Well, now we know who we’re dealing with. I want the highest level person in Washington from each agency on-screen now, especially the FAA.” He ordered Gordon-Hagerty to set up a secure video conference about five minutes earlier. A few minutes later, according to his own recollections, Clarke finds Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in Cheney’s White House office. Clarke tells Cheney: “It’s an al-Qaeda attack and they like simultaneous attacks. This may not be over.” Rice asks Clarke for recommendations and he says, “We’re putting together a secure teleconference to manage the crisis.” He also recommends evacuating the White House. (A slow evacuation of the White House will begin around 9:20-9:25 (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001).) Rice notes the Secret Service wants them to go to the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, and as Clarke leaves the other two, he sees Cheney gathering up his papers. In Cheney’s outer office, Clarke will recall, he sees eight Secret Service agents instead of the usual two, ready to move to the PEOC. (Clarke 2004, pp. 1-2; Australian 3/27/2004)
The National Security Agency (NSA) reportedly intercepts a phone call from one of bin Laden’s operatives in Afghanistan to a phone number in the Republic of Georgia. The caller says he has “heard good news” and that another target is still to come (presumably, the target Flight 93 is intended to hit). (CBS News 9/4/2002) The caller is also supposed to say that the attackers are following through on “the doctor’s program.” This is said to be a reference to al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, who has a doctorate in medicine. (Wright 9/9/2002) Since the 9/11 crisis began, NSA translators have been told to focus on Middle Eastern intercepts and translate them as they are received instead of oldest first, as is the usual practice. This call is translated in the next hour or two, and Defense Secretary Rumsfeld hears about it just after noon. (CBS News 9/4/2002; Bamford 2004, pp. 54)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told in private by Dale Watson, the head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division: “We got the passenger manifests from the airlines. We recognize some names, Dick. They’re al-Qaeda.” Clarke asks, “How the f_ck did they get on board then?” Watson replies: “Hey, don’t shoot the messenger, friend. CIA forgot to tell us about them.” As they are talking about this, they see the first WTC tower collapse on television. (Clarke 2004, pp. 13-14) Some hijacker names, including Mohamed Atta’s, were identified on a reservations computer over an hour earlier (see (Shortly After 8:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
According to Newsweek, “shortly after the suicide attacks,” US intelligence picks up communications among bin Laden associates relaying the message: “we’ve hit the targets.” (Hirsh 9/13/2001)
Alexander Haig, the former secretary of state, indicates during a television interview that al-Qaeda could be behind this morning’s terrorist attacks. During a live interview on Fox News, Haig is asked how America can respond to the attacks “with the proper amount of caution and yet with whatever force needs to be applied.” He replies that while the nation needs to stay “united and calm,” it also has to be “ready to take resolute action, which sometimes we have failed to do in the recent past.” He then states that while the identities of the perpetrators of the attacks are as yet unknown, “we have many, many indicators of precisely who they are.” He adds, “This was too broadly based a terrorist act to be just a few crazies.” He says the responsible party “is a terrorist movement and we know where they are located today, and obviously as a nation we are going to have to take action against them.” He continues, “I think we know where to send our armed [forces]” and then indicates that al-Qaeda could be involved, saying, “Look, all we have to do is look at the world today, with the Palestinian and bin Laden groups.” However, when the interviewer subsequently asks, “Who are the terrorists that you think are the most likely suspects?” he replies, “Well, I’m not going to speculate, because I don’t have inside knowledge and it would be rather foolish to do that.” (Fox News 9/11/2001) Haig has held a number of influential positions in the US military and government. He was White House chief of staff under President Richard Nixon and secretary of state under President Ronald Reagan. He also served as vice chief of staff of the Army and as NATO’s supreme allied commander in Europe. (Hohmann 2/21/2010; Liverpool Daily Post 2/23/2010) After leaving the government, he turned to business and has been a director of a number of major companies. (Jackson 2/20/2010; Daily Telegraph 2/21/2010) Shortly after 9:30 a.m., a White House official, like Haig, indicated that al-Qaeda is likely to blame for this morning’s catastrophic events, telling a reporter it was being assumed that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks on the World Trade Center (see Shortly After 9:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001; CNN 9/11/2001)
General Wesley Clark, former Supreme Commander of NATO, says on television, “This is clearly a coordinated effort. It hasn’t been announced that it’s over.… Only one group has this kind of ability and that is Osama bin Laden’s.” (Ottawa Citizen 9/11/2001)
A few hours after the attacks, German intelligence intercepts a phone conversation between followers of bin Laden that leads the FBI to search frantically for two more teams of suicide hijackers, according to US and German officials. The Germans overhear the operatives refer to “the 30 people traveling for the operation.” The FBI scours flight manifests and any other clues for more conspirators still at large. (Tagliabue and Bonner 9/29/2001) Two days later, authorities claim to have identified teams of as many as 50 infiltrators who supported or carried out the strikes. About 40 are accounted for as dead or in custody; ten are missing. They also believe a total of 27 suspected operatives received some form of pilot training. This corresponds with many analyses that the attacks required a large support network. (Rempel and Serrano 9/13/2001) Yet there is no evidence that any accomplices in the US shortly before 9/11 have since been arrested or charged.
The director of the Defense Intelligence Agency informs military leaders in the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon that al-Qaeda is responsible for the morning’s attacks. General Richard Myers, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, will later describe: “At noon, Vice Admiral Tom Wilson, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, confirmed what everybody at the conference table had already surmised: The attacks had undoubtedly come from al-Qaeda.” (Myers 2009, pp. 156) Later in the day, Wilson will inform General Henry Shelton, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, of a single piece of intelligence that had suggested a terrorist attack may have been imminent (see 5:40 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Myers 2009, pp. 159)
CIA Director Tenet tells Defense Secretary Rumsfeld about an intercepted phone call from earlier in the day at 9:53 a.m. An al-Qaeda operative talked of a fourth target just before Flight 93 crashed. Rumsfeld’s assistant Stephen Cambone dictates Rumsfeld’s thoughts the time, and the notes taken will later be leaked to CBS News. According to CBS, “Rumsfeld felt it was ‘vague,’ that it ‘might not mean something,’ and that there was ‘no good basis for hanging hat.’ In other words, the evidence was not clear-cut enough to justify military action against bin Laden.” (CBS News 9/4/2002) A couple of hours later, Rumsfeld will use this information to begin arguing that Iraq should be attacked, despite the lack of verified ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq (see (2:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001).
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld aide Stephen Cambone is taking notes on behalf of Rumsfeld in the National Military Command Center. These notes will be leaked to the media nearly a year later. According to the notes, although Rumsfeld has already been given information indicating the 9/11 attacks were done by al-Qaeda (see 12:05 p.m. September 11, 2001) and he has been given no evidence so far indicating any Iraqi involvement, he is more interested in blaming the attacks on Iraq. According to his aide’s notes, Rumsfeld wants the “best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time. Not only UBL [Osama bin Laden].… Need to move swiftly.… Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” (CBS News 9/4/2002; Bamford 2004, pp. 285) In a 2004 book, author James Moore will write, “Unless Rumsfeld had an inspired moment while the rest of the nation was in shock, the notes are irrefutable proof that the Bush administration had designs on Iraq and Hussein well before the president raised his hand to take the oath of office.” (Moore 3/15/2004, pp. 18)
At Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, President Bush convenes the first meeting of the National Security Council since the attacks occurred. (Woodward 2002, pp. 26) He begins the video conference call from a bunker beneath the base. He and Chief of Staff Andrew Card visually communicate directly with Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, CIA Director Tenet, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and others. (Langley 12/16/2001; ABC News 9/11/2002; Sammon 10/8/2002) According to Clarke, Bush begins the meeting by saying, “I’m coming back to the White House as soon as the plane is fueled. No discussion.” But according to Condoleezza Rice, he begins with the words, “We’re at war.” Clarke leads a quick review of what has already occurred, and issues that need to be quickly addressed. Bush asks CIA Director Tenet who he thinks is responsible for the day’s attacks. Tenet later recalls, “I told him the same thing I had told the vice president several hours earlier: al-Qaeda. The whole operation looked, smelled, and tasted like bin Laden.” Tenet tells Bush that passenger manifests show that three known al-Qaeda operatives had been on Flight 77. According to Tenet, when he tells the president in particular about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (two of the alleged Flight 77 hijackers), Bush gives Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, “one of those ‘I thought I was supposed to be the first to know’ looks.” (Other evidence indicates the third al-Qaeda operative whose name is on the passenger manifest would be Salem Alhazmi (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).) Tenet tells the meeting that al-Qaeda is “the only terrorist organization capable of such spectacular, well-coordinated attacks,” and that “Intelligence monitoring had overheard a number of known bin Laden operatives congratulating each other after the attacks. Information collected days earlier but only now being translated indicated that various known operatives around the world anticipated a big event. None specified the day, time, place or method of attack.” Richard Clarke later corroborates that Tenet had at this time told the president he was certain that al-Qaeda was to blame. Yet only six weeks later, in an October 24, 2001 interview, Rice will claim differently. She will say, “In the first video conference, the assumption that everybody kind of shared was that it was global terrorists.… I don’t believe anybody said this is likely al-Qaeda. I don’t think so.” Tenet also relays a warning the CIA has received from French intelligence, saying another group of terrorists is within US borders and is preparing a second wave of attacks. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld briefs on the status of US forces, and states that about 120 fighters are now above US cities. (Woodward 2002, pp. 26-27; Clarke 2004, pp. 21-22; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326 and 554; Tenet 2007, pp. 169) The meeting reportedly ends around 4:00-4:15 p.m. (Langley 12/16/2001; Sammon 10/8/2002)
After President Bush leaves his video conference, other top leaders continue to discuss what steps to take. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke asks what to do about al-Qaeda, assuming they are behind the attacks. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage states, “Look, we told the Taliban in no uncertain terms that if this happened, it’s their ass. No difference between the Taliban and al-Qaeda now. They both go down.” Regarding Pakistan, the Taliban’s patrons, Armitage says, “Tell them to get out of the way. We have to eliminate the sanctuary.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 22-23)
Mike Morell, President Bush’s CIA briefer, passes on to Bush all the information the CIA currently has relating to today’s terrorist attacks, which includes a warning the agency received about the possibility that a group of al-Qaeda terrorists is in the United States, preparing for a second wave of attacks. (Tenet 2007, pp. 169; Bush 2010, pp. 136; Graff 9/9/2016) While he was at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Bush conducted a meeting of the National Security Council in a secure video teleconference (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). During the meeting, CIA Director George Tenet said the CIA had information linking al-Qaeda to today’s attacks. (Woodward 2002, pp. 26-27; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326; Priess 2016, pp. 243) Before the meeting ended, Morell slipped out to phone Ted Gistaro, Tenet’s executive assistant, at the CIA’s operations center and asked to have the information Tenet provided to Bush sent to Air Force One. (Tenet 2007, pp. 169; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 57)
Fax Includes All of the CIA's Information on the Attacks - A few minutes after Air Force One took off from Offutt, heading for Washington, DC (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Morell received a six-page fax that included all the intelligence the CIA had relating to the attacks. It included the talking points Tenet used to brief Bush during the teleconference, along with a lot of information Tenet was unable to cover in the meeting. Morell read through the material several times and highlighted several passages.
Briefer Goes Over the CIA's Information with Bush - Now, about 30 minutes later, Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, comes to the staff cabin and tells Morell that Bush will see him to go through the information. Morell therefore accompanies Card to the conference room on the plane and the two men meet with Bush there. Morell goes over the material he has been sent with the president, allowing Bush to read as much of it as he wants. (Morell 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 57; Graff 9/9/2016)
Briefer Reports the Possibility of a Second Wave of Attacks - The material includes information provided by French intelligence, explaining that it has detected signs that al-Qaeda has “sleeper cells” in the US that are planning a second wave of attacks. Bush is concerned when he learns this. He will later describe receiving the information as “one of the darkest moments of the day.” “I believed America could overcome the September 11 attacks without further panic,” he will write. “But,” he will add, “a follow-on strike would be very difficult to bear.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 169; Bush 2010, pp. 136; Graff 9/9/2016) After Morell has finished briefing the president, Bush thanks him and he returns to his seat in the staff cabin. This meeting apparently takes place at around 5:20 p.m., since Morell will comment that Building 7 of the World Trade Center collapses while he is briefing the president and this incident occurs at 5:20 p.m. (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Morell 9/2006 ; National Institute of Standards and Technology 11/2008, pp. 15)
President Bush meets with his full National Security Council. According to journalist Bob Woodward, this meeting turns out to be “unwieldy.” So at 9:30 p.m., Bush follows it with a meeting with a smaller group of his most senior principal national security advisers in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) beneath the White House. Bush and his advisers have already decided bin Laden is behind the attacks. As the president later recalls, in these meetings, “That’s when we first got the indication… we’ve identified, we think it’s al-Qaeda.” He says the FBI now thinks that “it’s al-Qaeda, and we start to develop our plans to get them. I mean, there wasn’t any hesitation. We’re starting the process of coalition-building and how to get ‘em.” (According to other accounts, though, the CIA had informed Bush hours earlier that it was virtually certain al-Qaeda was to blame for the attacks (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001).) CIA Director George Tenet says that al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan are essentially one and the same. Tenet says, “Tell the Taliban we’re finished with them.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 133; Woodward 2002, pp. 31-33; Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002) The president says, “I want you all to understand that we are at war and we will stay at war until this is done. Nothing else matters. Everything is available for the pursuit of this war. Any barriers in your way, they’re gone. Any money you need, you have it. This is our only agenda.” When, later in the discussion, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld points out that international law only allows force to prevent future attacks and not for retribution, Bush yells, “No. I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 23-24) Bush will subsequently announce a new US doctrine of preemptive attack the following June (see June 1, 2002). (Elliott 6/23/2002) During the meeting, the president refers to the present political situation as a “great opportunity” (see (Between 9:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). By the time the meeting ends, it is after 10 p.m. (Sammon 2002, pp. 133)
It is later reported that FBI officials believe that a second grouping or cell of “perhaps 20 al-Qaeda terrorists [are] in the United States on Sept. 11 to carry out another attack. Members of this second cell, one official [says], apparently [abandon] apartments they… rented in Paterson, New Jersey, and Fairfax, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., after Sept. 11, leaving rented furniture and other possessions behind in their haste.” (Walcott 10/7/2002) Another article notes, “Police always have had concerns about sleeper agents in the [Brooklyn, New York] area. They particularly were concerned by a story… from several NYPD sources about an abandoned rental car that was parked in front of a mosque only a few blocks from New Utrecht. The car had been rented under the phony name ‘Bomkr’ from Logan International Airport in Boston shortly before the attacks. Investigators thought the name sounded a lot like ‘bomb car.’ The anonymous party rented several other cars from Logan, all of which either have disappeared or been abandoned. Police suspect the cars were used by al-Qaeda operatives to return to their home bases after the attacks.” (Shapiro 9/10/2002)
After concluding a National Security Council meeting (see September 12, 2001), President Bush continues meeting with about six top principal cabinet members. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld poses the question, “Do we focus on bin Laden and al-Qaeda or terrorism more broadly?” Secretary of State Colin Powell suggests the US should focus on terrorism generally, but focus first on al-Qaeda. Vice President Cheney brings up the issue of state sponsorship. “To the extent we define our task broadly, including those who support terrorism, then we get at states. And it’s easier to find them than it is to find bin Laden.” President Bush concludes, “Start with bin Laden, which Americans expect. And then if we succeed, we’ve struck a huge blow and can move forward.” He called the terrorism threat “a cancer” and adds, “We don’t want to define [it] too broadly for the average man to understand.” This is according to journalist Bob Woodward, who later interviews some participants in the meeting. (Woodward 2002, pp. 43) The main alleged state sponsor that interests many top Bush officials is Iraq. For instance, five days later Bush will state he believes Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks, but that an attack on Iraq will have to wait (see September 17, 2001).
Neoconservative academic and author Laurie Mylroie, who has argued that Saddam Hussein was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see October 2000), publishes an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal blaming Hussein for the 9/11 bombings. Though Mylroie has been thoroughly discredited (one former journalist, Peter Bergen, will call her a “crackpot”—see December 2003), and though US intelligence analysts are already telling journalists and White House officials that Iraq had nothing to do with the bombings, Mylroie’s assertions receive major coverage from many US and British media outlets. In a follow-up interview on CBS News, she says, “In my view, yesterday’s events were the latest in Saddam’s war against the United States.” Author Craig Unger later notes that Mylroie’s baseless charges may be considered harmless eccentricity except for two things:
Her claims perfectly parallel the policy aims of her neoconservative colleagues and associates in the White House; and
while few Americans have ever heard of Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, and few find it credible that such devastation could be wrought by a small group of cave-dwelling fanatics, Saddam Hussein is a familiar name to most Americans, “a villain,” Unger will write, “straight out of central casting.” Mylroie’s specious claims will help fix the blame for 9/11 in Americans’ minds directly on Hussein and Iraq, Unger will claim. (Unger 2007, pp. 215-216)
CIA Director George Tenet arrives at the White House to give the president his daily intelligence briefing. With him is Mike Morell, the president’s regular CIA briefer. They meet with Bush at 8 a.m. in the Oval Office, joined by Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) on this day is about ten to twelve pages long, and a further twelve pages includes full reports from case officers, the Directorate of Intelligence, and the National Security Agency. The PDB includes a review of the available intelligence tracing the previous day’s attacks back to Osama bin Laden and his top al-Qaeda associates. Among the evidence presented:
Several reports identify Capitol Hill and the White House as intended targets of the attacks.
One report says a bin Laden associate incorrectly “gave thanks for the explosion in the Congress building.”
A key figure in the al-Qaeda charity front the Wafa Humanitarian Organization had initially claimed that “The White House has been destroyed,” but then had to correct himself.
A report shows that al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan had said at 9:53 a.m. the previous day that the attackers were following through with “the doctor’s program” (see 9:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). This is thought to be a reference to the second-ranking member of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician often referred to as “the Doctor.”
The CIA and the FBI have evidence connecting at least three of the alleged hijackers to Osama bin Laden and his training camps in Afghanistan. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Salem Alhazmi were quickly linked to al-Qaeda on the day of 9/11, as two of them were on a US watch list even before 9/11 (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001). The attacks were also consistent with intelligence reports throughout the summer that indicated bin Laden was planning “spectacular attacks” against US targets.
A report out of Kandahar, Afghanistan shows the attacks were “the results of two years’ planning.”
Another report says the attacks were “the beginning of the wrath.”
A key piece of evidence involves Abu Zubaida, who has been identified as the chief field commander for the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. A supposedly reliable report received after the 9/11 attacks stated that Zubaida had referred to September 11 as “zero hour.” It is not known is an intercepted message from before 9/11 saying “tomorrow is zero hour,” or some other message (see September 10, 2001).
According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, “For Tenet, the evidence on bin Laden was conclusive—game, set, match.” Though Tenet, along with Rice and other officials, has already spent several months working on a plan to vastly expand covert action in Afghanistan and worldwide, he tells Bush that an even more extensive plan will soon be presented for approval, and this will be very expensive. The president tells him, “Whatever it takes.” (Woodward 2002, pp. 39-41; Woodward and Balz 1/28/2002; Kessler 2003, pp. 231-233; Tenet 2007, pp. 165) Bush will approve Tenet’s plan by the following Monday (see September 17, 2001).
Congress explicitly refuses to grant the Bush administration the authority to conduct warrantless wiretaps and surveillance operations against US citizens in its resolution authorizing the use of military force (AUMF) against terrorists (see September 14-18, 2001). Tom Daschle (D-SD), the Senate Majority Leader, will write in December 2005 (after his ouster from Congress in November 2004) that the White House and the Justice Department will claim, falsely, that the AUMF grants the right for the NSA to conduct such a program (see Early 2002 and December 15, 2005). Instead, Daschle will write, the NSA merely usurps the authority, with the president’s approval, to conduct such an extralegal surveillance program (see December 21-22, 2005). (Gellman 12/22/2005)
Administration Efforts to Rewrite AUMF - In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Daschle will observe that the AUMF authorizes Bush “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons” who “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks. But, Daschle will write, “Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words ‘in the United States and’ after ‘appropriate force’ in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas—where we all understood he wanted authority to act—but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.”
No Vote for Domestic Surveillance - Daschle will also write that the White House attempted to add draft language to the AUMF resolution that would give the administration new and sweeping authority to use force to “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States,” even against nations and organizations not responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Bush officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney will claim that the AUMF “granted authority by the Congress to use all means necessary to take on the terrorists, and that’s what we’ve done.” But Daschle will write that Cheney is mistaken. “As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel’s office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al-Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance.” On September 12, six days before the September 18 AUMF vote, Bush officials demand that Congress authorize the use of military force to, in their words, “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States.” But Congress refuses, feeling that the request is “too broad and ill defined.” Instead, on September 14, Congress choses to use language that authorizes Bush to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks. Daschle later writes, “With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.… The shock and rage we all felt in the hours after the attack were still fresh. America was reeling from the first attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor. We suspected thousands had been killed, and many who worked in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not yet accounted for. Even so, a strong bipartisan majority could not agree to the administration’s request for an unprecedented grant of authority.” Instead, Daschle will write, the administration simply takes the authority anyway, and will argue in hindsight that the AUMF actually gives the administration the right to wiretap US citizens. However, Daschle will write, “at the time, the administration clearly felt they [didn’t have the authority] or it wouldn’t have tried to insert the additional language.”
Breeding 'Fear and Suspicion' - He concludes, “[T]here are right and wrong ways to defeat terrorists, and that is a distinction this administration has never seemed to accept. Instead of employing tactics that preserve Americans’ freedoms and inspire the faith and confidence of the American people, the White House seems to have chosen methods that can only breed fear and suspicion. If the stories in the media over the past week are accurate [detailing the breadth and apparent illegality of the NSA program], the president has exercised authority that I do not believe is granted to him in the Constitution, and that I know is not granted to him in the law that I helped negotiate with his counsel and that Congress approved in the days after Sept. 11. For that reason, the president should explain the specific legal justification for his authorization of these actions, Congress should fully investigate these actions and the president’s justification for them, and the administration should cooperate fully with that investigation. In the meantime, if the president believes the current legal architecture of our country is insufficient for the fight against terrorism, he should propose changes to our laws in the light of day. That is how a great democracy operates. And that is how this great democracy will defeat terrorism.” (Daschle 12/23/2005)
In 2007, Los Angeles Times journalist Steven Braun, coauthor of a book on arms dealer Victor Bout, will claim, “We now know that one of Bout’s pals approached an American intelligence agent soon after the [9/11] attacks, suggesting that the US use his operation in arming the Northern Alliance against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. We don’t know for sure if the US accepted, but European intelligence officials believe a relationship blossomed. Within two years, Bout was flying for us not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan.” (Silverstein 7/26/2007) The Bout associate Braun refers to is Sanjivan Ruprah. In November 2001, Ruprah contacts an FBI agent and offers a deal. He and Bout will secretly help the US arm the Northern Alliance in its fight against the Taliban, and help the US gain information on al-Qaeda and other militant groups. He and Bout would provide and deliver many millions of dollars’ worth of weapons that the Northern Alliance has already told Bout that they need. It is unclear if the deal ever goes through, and some experts and officials doubt it. However, one European official will later say, “We know Bout had his aircraft near Afghanistan and made them available to the US efforts almost immediately. They needed him and he had the only airlift capacity in the region.… The deal was, if he flew, the US would leave him alone.” Richard Chichakli, a close associate of Bout’s, will later boast that Bout organized three flights carrying US personnel to Afghanistan. (He will later withdraw the claim.) Ruprah twice flies to the US for secret talks with the FBI about such deals, despite being on a UN travel ban list. Such contacts are kept secret from US officials attempting to arrest Bout. Ruprah will be arrested in Belgium in February 2002, and documents found in his possession are the only reason anything is known about his secret talks with the FBI. Two months later, he is freed on bail and immediately skips the country. He is soon arrested in Italy, then curiously freed on bail again, and then escapes again. He has not been rearrested since. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 194-202) Prior to 9/11, Bout was the main arms dealer for the Taliban, greatly assisting al-Qaeda in the process. He had been supplying weapons to the Northern Alliance until about 1996, but switched sides once the Taliban gained the upper hand in the conflict (see October 1996-Late 2001). But despite these alleged US ties, it 2002 it will be reported that Bout has recently been helping al-Qaeda and the Taliban transport gold (see Summer 2002). He will work for the US military in Iraq in 2003 (see Late April 2003-2007).
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the NSA expands surveillance operations, relying on its own authorities; some sources indicate this includes a massive domestic data mining and call tracking program, and some contend that it is illegal. In a 2006 public briefing, NSA Director Michael Hayden will say, “In the days after 9/11, NSA was using its authorities and its judgment to appropriately respond to the most catastrophic attack on the homeland in the history of the nation.” Following an October 1 briefing by Hayden to the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will write to Hayden on October 11, saying, “[Y]ou indicated that you had been operating since the September 11 attacks with an expansive view of your authorities with respect to the conduct of electronic surveillance” (see October 11, 2001). Some evidence indicates NSA domestic surveillance began even before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). (Pelosi 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
No Connection to Bush-Authorized Warrantless Domestic Call Monitoring - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will clearly distinguish between the expansion he initiates under his own authorities, and the warrantless monitoring of calls with one end outside the US authorized later by President Bush (see October 4, 2001), saying, “[E]xcept that they involved NSA, these [Hayden-authorized] programs were not related… to the authorization that the president has recently spoken about.” (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
'Stellar Wind' Is Name of Hayden-Authorized Program - In 2012 interviews, former NSA official William Binney will indicate that “Stellar Wind” is the name of the surveillance program initiated by Hayden. (Bamford 2/15/2012; Binney 4/20/2012) Some sources will refer to the Bush-authorized eavesdropping as being part of the Stellar Wind program. (Isikoff 12/22/2008)
Differing Views on Authority for Surveillance - In his 2006 briefing, Hayden will say the Fourth Amendment only protects Americans against “unreasonable search and seizure,” and that 9/11 changed what was to be considered “reasonable.” Specifically, if communications are believed to have “[i]nherent foreign intelligence value,” interception of these communications is reasonable. In addition to referring to Hayden’s “view of [his] authorities” as “expansive,” Pelosi’s letter will give another indication that the NSA’s new standard is significantly broader than it was previously, stating, “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest.” Hayden will publicly clarify in 2006 that the authority for the NSA’s operational expansion exists under an Executive Order issued by President Reagan, saying, “These decisions were easily within my authorities as the director of NSA under and [sic] executive order; known as Executive Order 12333.” And, he will say, “I briefed the entire House Intelligence Committee on the 1st of October on what we had done under our previously existing authorities” (see October 1, 2001). In her October 11 letter, Pelosi will also write of having concerns about the program that haven’t been resolved due to restrictions on information-sharing with Congress imposed by Bush (see October 11, 2001). Binney, who pioneered the development of certain NSA data mining and surveillance technologies, will come to believe that what the NSA is doing is unconstitutional; he will first take his concerns to Congress (see Before October 31, 2001) and then resign on October 31 (see October 31, 2001). (Pelosi 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
Surveillance Involves Domestic Communications - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will not say the NSA is only targeting foreign communications under his post-9/11 authorization. Rather, the context of his remarks will indicate he is referring to domestic communications. More specifically, Hayden will state: “If the US person information isn’t relevant, the data is suppressed. It’s a technical term we use; we call it ‘minimized.’ The individual is not even mentioned. Or if he or she is, he or she is referred to as ‘US Person Number One’ or ‘US Person Number Two.’ Now, inherent intelligence value. If the US person is actually the named terrorist, well, that could be a different matter.” Hayden will also reveal that information is being passed to the FBI, an investigative agency with a primarily domestic jurisdiction, saying, “[A]s another part of our adjustment, we also turned on the spigot of NSA reporting to FBI in, frankly, an unprecedented way.” (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006) One of Pelosi’s statements in her letter to Hayden may indicate an aspect of the domestic component: “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest,” she will write. (Pelosi 1/6/2006) In a 2011 interview with Jane Mayer published in the New Yorker, Binney will say the NSA was obtaining “billing records on US citizens” and “putting pen registers [call logs] on everyone in the country.” (Mayer 5/23/2011) And in a 2012 Wired article, NSA expert James Bamford will write that Binney “explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US.” Binney’s account is supported by other sources (see October 2001). (Bamford 2/15/2012)
Surveillance Program Is Massive - Bamford, citing Binney, will write: “Stellar Wind… included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts.” It is unclear exactly when this level of surveillance began. According to whistleblower AT&T employee Mark Klein, construction of secret rooms splitting communications traffic does not begin until Fall 2002 (see Fall 2002). Bamford will write that Binney says, “[T]he taps in the secret rooms dotting the country are actually powered by highly sophisticated software programs that conduct ‘deep packet inspection,’ examining Internet traffic as it passes through the 10-gigabit-per-second cables at the speed of light.” (Bamford 2/15/2012) Also, Binney’s remark to Jane Mayer that the NSA was “putting pen registers on everyone in the country” indicates the broad scope of the program. (Mayer 5/23/2011)
CIA Director George Tenet and Cofer Black, the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, meet at 9:30 a.m. in the White House Situation Room with President Bush and the National Security Council. Tenet presents a plan for tracking down Osama bin Laden, toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan, and confronting terrorism worldwide. According to journalist Bob Woodward, the plan involves “bringing together expanded intelligence-gathering resources, sophisticated technology, agency paramilitary teams and opposition forces in Afghanistan in a classic covert action. They would then be combined with US military power and Special Forces into an elaborate and lethal package designed to destroy the shadowy terrorist networks.” A key concept is to utilize the Northern Alliance, which is the main opposition force in Afghanistan. Despite being “a strained coalition of sometimes common interests,” Tenet says that along with the CIA teams “and tons of money, the Alliance could be brought together into a cohesive fighting force.” Black gives a presentation describing the effectiveness of covert action. He says they will need to go after the Taliban as well as al-Qaeda, as the two are joined at the hip. He wants the mission to begin as soon as possible, and adds, “When we’re through with them, they will have flies walking across their eyeballs.” Black claims that once they are on the ground, victory could be achieved in weeks. According to Bob Woodward, “No one else in the room, including Tenet, believed that was possible.” Black also warns the president, “Americans are going to die.… How many, I don’t know. Could be a lot.” Bush responds, “That’s war. That’s what we’re here to win.” This is the second presentation laying out an increasingly detailed set of CIA proposals for expanding its fight against terrorism. (George Tenet had given the first when he met with the president the day before (see September 12, 2001).) Tenet will give a more detailed presentation of the CIA’s covert action plan two days later, at Camp David (see September 15, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 50-53; Balz, Woodward, and Himmelman 1/29/2002; Kessler 2003, pp. 233-234)
ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, extending his Washington visit because of the 9/11 attacks, meets with US officials and negotiates Pakistan’s cooperation with the US against al-Qaeda. On September 12, 2001, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage meets with Mahmood and allegedly demands that Pakistan completely support the US or “or be prepared to live in the Stone Age” (see September 12, 2001). (Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg) 9/12/2001; Japan Economic Newswire 9/17/2001; Rind 11/9/2001) On September 13, Armitage and Secretary of State Powell present Mahmood seven demands as a non-negotiable ultimatum. The demands are that Pakistan:
Gives the US blanket overflight and landing rights for all US aircraft.
Gives the US access to airports, naval bases, and borders for operations against al-Qaeda.
Provides immediate intelligence sharing and cooperation.
Cuts all shipments of fuel to the Taliban and stops Pakistani fighters from joining them.
Publicly condemns the 9/11 attacks.
Ends support for the Taliban and breaks diplomatic relations with them.
Stops al-Qaeda operations on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border, intercepts arms shipments through Pakistan, and ends all logistical support for al-Qaeda.
Pakistan supposedly agrees to all seven. (Balz, Woodward, and Himmelman 1/29/2002; Rashid 2008, pp. 28) Mahmood also has meetings with Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and Secretary of State Powell, regarding Pakistan’s position. (Perlez 9/13/2001; Redden 9/13/2001; Associated Press 9/13/2001; Davies 9/16/2001) On September 13, the airport in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan, is shut down for the day. A government official will later say the airport was closed because of threats made against Pakistan’s “strategic assets,” but will not elaborate. The next day, Pakistan declares “unstinting” support for the US, and the airport is reopened. It will later be suggested that Israel and India threatened to attack Pakistan and take control of its nuclear weapons if Pakistan did not side with the US. (Rind 11/9/2001) It will later be reported that Mahmood’s presence in Washington was a lucky blessing; one Western diplomat saying it “must have helped in a crisis situation when the US was clearly very, very angry.” (Bokhari 9/18/2001) By September 15, Mahmood is back in Pakistan, and he takes part in a meeting with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and other Pakistani leaders, discussing the US ultimatum. That evening, Musharraf announces that it completely agrees to the terms (see September 15, 2001). However, Pakistan soon begins backtracking on much of the agreement. For instance, just four days after agreeing to the ultimatum, Musharraf fails to condemn the 9/11 attacks or the Taliban or al-Qaeda in an important televised speech, even though he explicitly agreed to do so as part of the agreement (see September 19, 2001). The Pakistani ISI also continues to supply the Taliban with fuel, weapons, and even military advisers, until at least November 2001 (see Late September-November 2001). Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar will later describe Pakistan’s policy: “We agreed that we would unequivocally accept all US demands, but then we would express out private reservations to the US and we would not necessarily agree with all the details.” (Rashid 2008, pp. 28)
Following a secret flight inside the US that is in violation of a national private airplane flight ban, members of the bin Laden family and Saudi royalty quietly depart the US. The flights are only publicly acknowledged after all the Saudis have left. (Cullen and Estes 9/21/2001; Tyler 9/30/2001) About 140 Saudis, including around 24 members of the bin Laden family, are passengers in these flights. The identities of most of these passengers are not known. However, some of the passengers include:
The son of the Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan. Sultan is sued in August 2002 for alleged complicity in the 9/11 plot. (Steele 10/5/2001) He is alleged to have contributed at least $6 million since 1994 to four charities that finance al-Qaeda. (Unger 10/2003)
Khalil bin Laden. He has been investigated by the Brazilian government for possible terrorist connections. (Unger 10/2003)
Abdullah bin Laden and Omar bin Laden, cousins of bin Laden. Abdullah was the US director of the Muslim charity World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). The governments of India, Pakistan, Philippines, and Bosnia have all accused WAMY of funding terrorism. These two relatives were investigated by the FBI in 1996 (see February-September 11, 1996) in a case involving espionage, murder, and national security. Their case is reopened on September 19, right after they leave the country. (Unger 10/2003) Remarkably, four of the 9/11 hijackers briefly lived in the town of Falls Church, Virginia, three blocks from the WAMY office headed by Abdullah bin Laden. (BBC 11/6/2001)
Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen. He is a prominent Saudi official who was in the same hotel as three of the hijackers the night before 9/11. He leaves on one of the first flights to Saudi Arabia before the FBI can properly interview him about this. (Schmidt 10/2/2003)
Akberali Moawalla. A Pakistani and business partner of Osama’s brother Yeslam bin Laden. In 2000, a transfer of over $250 million was made from a bank account belonging jointly to Moawalla and Osama bin Laden (see 2000). (Harris and Schmidt 7/22/2004)
There is a later dispute regarding how thoroughly the Saudis are interviewed before they leave and who approves the flights. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says he agrees to the flights after the FBI assures him none of those on board has connections to terrorism and that it is “a conscious decision with complete review at the highest levels of the State Department and the FBI and the White House.” (US Congress 9/3/2003) Clarke says the decision to approve the flights “didn’t get any higher than me.” (Bolton 5/18/2004) According to Vanity Fair, both the FBI and the State Department “deny playing any role whatsoever in the episode.” However, Dale Watson, the head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, says the Saudis on the planes “[are] identified, but they [are] not subject to serious interviews or interrogations” before they leave. (Unger 10/2003) An FBI spokesperson says the bin Laden relatives are only interviewed by the FBI “at the airport, as they [are] about to leave.” (York 9/11/2002) There are claims that some passengers are not interviewed by the FBI at all. (Unger 10/2003) Abdullah bin Laden, who stays in the US, says that even a month after 9/11, his only contact with the FBI is a brief phone call. (Cullen and Estes 9/21/2001; Mayer and Szechenyi 11/5/2001) The FBI official responsible for coordinating with Clarke is Assistant Director Michael Rolince, who is in charge of the Bureau’s International Terrorism Operations Section and assumes responsibility for the Saudi flights. Rolince decides that the Saudis can leave after their faces are matched to their passport photos and their names are run through various databases, including some watch lists, to check the FBI has no derogatory information about them.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 196-197, 209 ) Numerous experts are surprised that the bin Ladens are not interviewed more extensively before leaving, pointing out that interviewing the relatives of suspects is standard investigative procedure. (York 9/11/2002; Unger 10/2003) MSNBC claims that “members of the Saudi royal family met frequently with bin Laden—both before and after 9/11” (Mitchell 9/5/2003) , and many Saudi royals and bin Laden relatives are being sued for their alleged role in 9/11. The Boston Globe opines that the flights occur “too soon after 9/11 for the FBI even to know what questions to ask, much less to decide conclusively that each Saudi [royal] and bin Laden relative [deserve] an ‘all clear,’ never to be available for questions again.” (Connaughton 9/30/2003) Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says of the secret flights: “This is just another example of our country coddling the Saudis and giving them special privileges that others would never get. It’s almost as if we didn’t want to find out what links existed.” (Lichtblau 9/4/2003) Judicial Watch will disclose FBI documents that say, “Osama bin Laden may have chartered one of the Saudi flights.” (Judicial Watch 6/20/2007)
The US Congress adopts a joint resolution, the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), that determines that “the president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.” Congress also states that the “grave acts of violence” committed on the US “continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to [its] national security and foreign policy.” (US Congress 9/14/2001) President Bush signs the resolution into law on September 18. (White House 9/18/2001) The passage of the AUMF served another purpose: to extend presidential power. While the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff intended the AUMF to define the conflict in narrow terms, and authorize the US to move militarily against al-Qaeda and its confederates, and the Taliban, Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, David Addington, had a larger goal. Attorney Scott Horton, who has written two major studies on interrogation of terrorism suspects for the New York City Bar Association, says in 2005 that Cheney and Addington “really wanted [the AUMF defined more broadly], because it provided the trigger for this radical redefinition of presidential power.” Addington helped draft a Justice Department opinion in late 2001, written by lawyer John Yoo (see Late September 2001), that asserted Congress cannot “place any limits on the president’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response.” (Ravagan 5/21/2006)
President Bush meets with his advisers at Camp David for a day of intensive discussions about how to respond to the 9/11 attacks. CIA Director George Tenet has arrived there “with a briefcase stuffed with top-secret documents and plans, in many respects the culmination of more than four years of work on bin Laden, the al-Qaeda network and worldwide terrorism.” With him is his deputy, John McLaughlin, and counterterrorism chief Cofer Black. Also in the conference room with them, among others, are Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell. For his 30-minute presentation, Tenet gives out a briefing packet titled “Going to War.” His presentation covers several key components for the fight against terrorism:
Tenet advocates substantially stepping up “direct support of the Northern Alliance,” the main Afghan opposition group, as part of a strategy to create “a northern front, closing the safe haven” of Afghanistan. His idea is that “Afghan opposition forces, aided by the United States, would move first against the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, try to break the Taliban’s grip on that city and open up the border with Uzbekistan. From there the campaign could move to other cities in the north.” Tenet also explains that the CIA had begun working with a number of tribal leaders in the south of Afghanistan the previous year, and these could be enticed to joint a US-led campaign.
The plan includes “a full-scale covert attack on the financial underpinnings of the terrorist network, including clandestine computer surveillance and electronic eavesdropping to locate the assets of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”
The CIA and FBI would work together to track down bin Laden supporters in the US.
A key proposal is a recommendation that the president give the CIA “exceptional authorities” to destroy al-Qaeda. Tenet wants a broad intelligence order allowing the agency to conduct covert operations without requiring formal approval for each specific operation, thus authorizing it to operate without restraint. Tenet and his senior deputies would be permitted to approve “snatch” operations abroad. Journalist Bob Woodward calls this “truly exceptional power.”
Tenet has with him a draft of a presidential intelligence order—a “finding”—that would give the CIA power “to use the full range of covert instruments, including deadly force.”
Another proposal is that, with additional hundreds of millions of dollars for new covert action, the CIA could “buy” intelligence services of key Arab nations including Egypt, Jordan, and Algeria. These could act as surrogates for the US. As Bob Woodward points out, this “would put the United States in league with questionable intelligence services, some of them with dreadful human rights records. Some had reputations for ruthlessness and using torture to obtain confessions.”
Tenet calls for the initiation of intelligence contact with certain rogue states, such as Libya and Syria, so as to obtain helpful information about the terrorists. (Subsequently, by early 2002, Syria will have emerged as one of the CIA’s most effective allies in the fight against al-Qaeda (see Early 2002-January 2003).)
He has with him a top-secret document called the “Worldwide Attack Matrix.” This details covert operations in 80 countries that he is recommending or are already underway. “Actions ranged from routine propaganda to lethal covert action in preparation for military attacks.” As Woodward describes, this proposal represents “a striking departure for US policy. It would give the CIA the broadest and most lethal authority in its history.”
The president reportedly is much pleased with Tenet’s proposals, “virtually shouting ‘Great job!’” (Woodward 2002, pp. 74-78; Woodward and Balz 1/31/2002; Kessler 2003, pp. 234) He will grant all Tenet’s requests by the following Monday (see September 17, 2001). Tenet had presented a cruder version of the CIA plan at the White House two days earlier (see September 13, 2001).
On September 15, ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed returns to Pakistan from the US, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf holds a meeting with Mahmood and about a dozen other senior officers to discuss how Pakistan should respond to the 9/11 attacks. Musharraf will later recall that the group “made a dispassionate, military-style analysis of our options,” aware that on his decision hung “the fate of millions of people and the future of Pakistan.” For six hours, Mahmood, Lt. Gen. Muzaffar Usmani, Lt. Gen. Jamshaid Gulzar Kiani, and Lt. Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan argue that Pakistan should not help the US at all in its imminent war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Mahmood states, “Let the US do its dirty work. Its enemies are our friends.” The Guardian will later call this “a stunning display of disloyalty.” However, Sharifuddin Pirzada, Musharraf’s legal counselor, and a high-ranking Pakistani army officer will claim in a 2007 book that Musharraf in fact did not disagree. He tells his advisers, “Pakistan has been deluged by terrorism for decades. We have learned to live with it. The Americans, too, should get used to the taste of blood.” But Musharraf also sees a strategic opportunity to manipulate the situation for Pakistan’s benefit. Pirzada will later recall, “Musharraf saw that for Pakistan it was 1979 all over again.” This is reference to the start of the Soviet-Afghan war, that led to billions of dollars in aid for Pakistan. “‘We should offer up help,’ Musharraf said, ‘and, mark my words, we will receive a clean bill of health.’” (McCarthy 5/25/2002; Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 313-314) Musharraf eventually silences the dissenting generals by suggesting that if Pakistan does not agree to the US demands, Pakistan’s long-time enemy India will gladly take the place of Pakistan in assisting the US. That evening, Musharraf speaks to Wendy Chamberlin, the US ambassador to Pakistan, and tells her that Pakistan has agreed to all of the US demands. However, he strongly hints that Pakistan needs immediate economic relief and an end to US economic sanctions in return. (Rashid 2008, pp. 30-31) Musharraf has already offered the US unconditional help in its fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban (see September 13-15, 2001 and (Between 7:00 and 11:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). But just four days after this meeting, Musharraf gives a speech on Pakistani television implying that Pakistan’s alliance with the US is only a temporary and opportunistic necessity. He says, “I have done everything for Afghanistan and the Taliban when the whole world was against them. We are trying our best to come out of this critical situation without any damage to them” (see September 19, 2001).
A secret meeting takes place between Taliban and US government representatives in the city of Quetta, Pakistan. Afghan-American businessman Kabir Mohabbat serves as a middleman. US officials deny the meeting takes place, but later in the month Mohabbat explains that the US demands the Taliban hand over bin Laden, extradite foreign members of al-Qaeda who are wanted in their home countries, and shut down bin Laden’s bases and camps. Mohabbat claims that the Taliban agrees to meet all the demands. However, some days later he is told the US position has changed and the Taliban must surrender or be killed. Later in the month, the Taliban again agrees to hand over bin Laden unconditionally, but the US replies that “the train had moved.” (CBS News 9/25/2001; Cockburn and Clair 11/1/2004)
Robert Fisk, a veteran journalist who in 1993 was the first Westerner to interview bin Laden (see December 6, 1993), writes an editorial in the Independent entitled “Bush is Walking Into a Trap.” Contrary to the prevailing mood at the time, he writes: “President Bush appears to be heading for the very disaster that Osama bin Laden has laid down for him. Let us have no doubts about what happened in New York and Washington last week. It was a crime against humanity.… But this crime was perpetrated - it becomes ever clearer - to provoke the United States into just the blind, arrogant punch that the US military is preparing.” He argues that unjust US foreign policy in the Middle East is the main reason for widespread Muslim animosity to the US, and that new wars will only exacerbate the problem. He concludes: “I repeat: what happened in New York was a crime against humanity. And that means policemen, arrests, justice, a whole new international court at The Hague if necessary. Not cruise missiles and ‘precision’ bombs and Muslim lives lost in revenge for Western lives. But the trap has been sprung. Mr Bush [is] now walking into it.” (Fisk 9/16/2001)
On September 17, ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed heads a six-man delegation that visits Mullah Omar in Kandahar, Afghanistan. It is reported he is trying to convince Omar to extradite bin Laden or face an immediate US attack. (Press Trust of India 9/17/2001; Bokhari 9/18/2001; Hussain 9/18/2001) Also in the delegation is Lt. Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan, an ex-ISI official who appears to be one of Saeed Sheikh’s contacts in the ISI. (Press Trust of India 9/17/2001) On September 28, Mahmood returns to Afghanistan with a group of about ten religious leaders. He talks with Omar, who again says he will not hand over bin Laden. (Agence France-Presse 9/28/2001) A senior Taliban official later claims that on these trips Mahmood in fact urges Omar not to extradite bin Laden, but instead urges him to resist the US. (Gannon 2/21/2002; McGirk 5/6/2002) Another account claims Mahmood does “nothing as the visitors [pour] praise on Omar and [fails] to raise the issue” of bin Laden’s extradition. (Zielenziger and Tamayo 11/3/2001) Two Pakistani brigadier generals connected to the ISI also accompany Mahmood, and advise al-Qaeda to counter the coming US attack on Afghanistan by resorting to mountain guerrilla war. The advice is not followed. (Shazed 9/11/2002) Other ISI officers also stay in Afghanistan to advise the Taliban.
President Bush signs a directive giving the CIA the authority to kill or capture suspected al-Qaeda members and to set up a global network of secret detention facilities—“black sites”—for imprisoning and interrogating them. (Weissman 8/27/2004)
Secret Prison System - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will later call the sites a “hidden global internment network” designed for secret detentions, interrogations, and ultimately, torture. At least 100 prisoners will be remanded to this secret system of “extraordinary rendition.” The network will have its own fleet of aircraft (see October 4, 2001) and relatively standardized transfer procedures. (Danner 3/15/2009) The directive, known as a memorandum of notification, will become the foundation for the CIA’s secret prison system. The directive does not spell out specific guidelines for interrogations. (Johnston 9/10/2006)
Secret Assassination List - Bush also approves a secret “high-value target list” containing about two dozen names, giving the CIA executive and legal authority to either kill or capture those on the list (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). The president is not required to approve each name added to the list and the CIA does not need presidential approval for specific attacks. Further, a presidential finding gives the CIA broad authority to capture or kill terrorists not on the list; the list is merely the CIA’s primary focus. The CIA will use these authorities to hunt for al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and elsewhere. (Risen and Johnston 12/15/2002)
A militant leader named Kamar Eddine Kherbane is arrested in Morocco, but he has been given political asylum in Britain since 1994 and he is quickly deported to Britain and freed. Agence France-Presse claims that his arrest was “apparently in connection with the [9/11] attacks on the US.” The Moroccan government also questions him about arms smuggling. (Agence France-Presse 9/20/2001) But by sending him back to Britain, the Moroccan government ignores an extradition request by the Algerian government who claim Kherbane is a wanted criminal and an al-Qaeda operative. (Bamford 9/21/2001) Kherbane was a founding member of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an Algerian political party outlawed in the early 1990s. He is also a known al-Qaeda operative said to have met bin Laden on several occasions, most recently in 1998. He appears to have been a key leader of mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia (see 1990 and 1991). (Agence France-Presse 9/20/2001) A Spanish police report will later claim that he was the head of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Zabreb, Croatia, office (see Early 1990s). Al-Kifah was a US-based al-Qaeda charity front until the early 1990s that had ties to both the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the CIA (see 1986-1993). (Goodman 12/8/2002) Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna says Kherbane is “close to both the [Algerian] GIA and al-Qaeda’s leaderships.” (Gunaratna 2003, pp. 183) In an interview shortly after the Moroccan incident, Kherbane claims that he was released there because “Britain put a lot of pressure, which reached the point of threatening to expel the Moroccan ambassador from London.” He also admits to having met bin Laden in the 1990s. (BBC 9/26/2001) It is not known why the British government helps him avoid being sent to Algeria. But a few days after his return to Britain, The London Times will report, “More than 20 Islamic terrorists, including those wanted for the murders of at least 100 people abroad, are living freely in Britain. Many on the global terror ‘wanted list’ have been granted political asylum despite being close to Osama bin Laden’s organization.” (Leppard and Waterhouse 9/23/2001) A 2005 article will indicate Kherbane is still living openly in Britain. (BBC 2/24/2005)
At some point after 9/11, the US government begins compiling a list of “high-value” al-Qaeda linked militant leaders to be killed or captured. President Bush authorizes the assassination of high-value targets on September 17, 2001 (see September 17, 2001), so the creation of the list presumably takes place shortly after that. US intelligence agencies typically propose a name for the list, and prepare a dossier that explains who the target is and why that person deserves to be on the list. Then, a committee of bureaucrats and lawyers from the Justice Department, CIA, Pentagon, and other agencies reviews the dossier. If it finds the evidence convincing, the name is included on the “high-value target” list, which means the person cannot only be captured by US forces, but is legally allowed to be killed. At any one time, there are between 10 and 30 people on the list. Top al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are on the list from the very beginning. In 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will secretly authorize the killing of top targets anywhere in the world (see July 22, 2002), increasing the danger of being named on the list. In 2010, Anwar al-Awlaki will be added to the list. This will be the first time a US citizen is added. (Bohan et al. 5/12/2011) The CIA already had prepared a list of high-value targets it thought deserved to be assassinated before 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).
During President Bush’s presidential daily briefing (PDB), Bush is informed that the US intelligence community has found no evidence linking Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq to the 9/11 attacks, nor any evidence of links between Hussein and al-Qaeda. The briefing has been prepared at the request of Bush, who is said to be eager to learn of any possible connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Yet during the briefing, he is told that the few believable reports of contact between the two were in fact attempts by Hussein to monitor the group, which he considered a threat to his secular regime. Analysts believe that at one point Hussein considered infiltrating al-Qaeda with Iraqi nationals or Iraqi intelligence operatives, so as to learn more about its inner workings. A former US administration official later will state, “What the president was told on September 21 was consistent with everything he has been told since—that the evidence [linking Iraq to 9/11] was just not there.” The existence of the September 21 PDB will not be disclosed to the Senate Intelligence Committee until the summer of 2004, while the committee will be investigating whether the Bush administration misrepresented intelligence information in the period leading up to the March 2003 invasion of Iraq. As of the end of 2005, the Bush administration will still refuse to turn over the briefing, even on a classified basis, and will say nothing more about it other than the fact that it exists. (Waas 11/22/2005; MSNBC 11/22/2005; Agence France-Presse 11/23/2005; Unger 2007, pp. 217) According to journalist Ron Suskind, during the meeting, CIA Director George Tenet tells Bush about the alleged meeting hijacker Mohamed Atta had with an Iraqi agent in Prague, which has been reported in the media in recent days (see September 18, 2001). However, Tenet says: “Our Prague office is skeptical about the report. It just doesn’t add up.” He points out that credit card and phone records place Atta in Virginia during the time in question. (Suskind 2006, pp. 23)
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