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a.k.a. Al-Qaida, Al-Qa'ida
US News and World Report reveals that US intelligence has a growing number of al-Qaeda informants. The magazine comments, “Once thought nearly impossible to penetrate, al-Qaeda is proving no tougher a target than the KGB or the Mafia—closed societies that took the US government years to get inside.” An unnamed US intelligence official says: “We’re getting names, the different camps they trained at, the hierarchy, the infighting. It’s very promising.” Many prisoners have begun to reveal what they know as knowledge of al-Qaeda increases and their interrogations are based on more information about them. One official says, “Now when you go to interrogate people, you know when they’re lying.” (Kaplan 9/22/2002)
During a White House meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, George Bush makes the claim that Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden work together. “They’re both risks, they’re both dangerous,” Bush tells reporters. “The danger is, is that they work in concert,” he says in response to a question from a Reuters reporter. “The difference, of course, is that al-Qaeda likes to hijack governments. Saddam Hussein is a dictator of a government. Al-Qaeda hides, Saddam doesn’t, but the danger is, is that they work in concert. The danger is, is that al-Qaeda becomes an extension of Saddam’s madness and his hatred and his capacity to extend weapons of mass destruction around the world. Both of them need to be dealt with. The war on terror, you can’t distinguish between al-Qaeda and Saddam when you talk about the war on terror. And so it’s a comparison that is - I can’t make because I can’t distinguish between the two, because they’re both equally as bad, and equally as evil, and equally as destructive.” (Hutcheson and Ibarguen 9/25/2002; Allen 9/26/2002; US President 9/30/2002; Center for Public Integrity 1/23/2008) Later in the day, Bush’s comments are downplayed by White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer, who says that Bush did not mean bin Laden and Hussein are working together, but rather that there is the danger that they could work together. He explains: “Clearly, al-Qaeda is operating inside Iraq. In the shadowy world of terrorism, sometimes there is no precise way to have definitive information until it is too late.” (Allen 9/26/2002; White House 9/25/2003) Bush fails to mention that the Defense Intelligence Agency has found no evidence of any such connections (see July 2002), or that eight days before his statement, the director of the CIA, George Tenet, told a Senate committee that no such connections can be shown to exist (see September 17, 2002). (Center for Public Integrity 1/23/2008)
On his way home to Montreal, Maher Arar, a 34-year old IT specialist, makes a stopover at JFK International Airport in New York. He is returning alone from a family holiday with his wife and daughter in Tunisia. At the airport, Arar, who was born in Syria and has dual Syrian and Canadian citizenship, is arrested by officers wearing badges from the FBI and the New York Police Department. Arar happens to be on a terrorist watch list. A US official later says Arar has the names of “a large number of known al-Qaeda operatives, affiliates or associates” on him. (Priest 11/19/2003) Canadian Solicitor General Wayne Easter later admits that Canada contributed information that led to Arar’s arrest. (Priest 11/20/2003) In an interrogation room Arar asks for an attorney, but, as he later publishes on his website, is told he has no right to a lawyer because he is not an American citizen. Subsequent requests for a lawyer are ignored and the interrogation continues until midnight. His interrogators are particularly interested in another Canadian by the name of Abdullah Almalki. Arar says he has worked together with his brother, Nazih Almalki, but knows Abdullah only casually. Then, with his hands and feet in shackles, he is taken to a nearby building and put in a cell around 1 a.m. “I could not sleep,” Arar later writes. “I was very, very scared and disoriented.” (Amnesty International 8/19/2003; Arar 11/6/2003; CBS News 1/22/2004; Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004; CBC News 11/26/2004; Maher Arar 1/15/2005)
An unnamed Pentagon official tells USA Today that the hawks’ recent assertions regarding Iraq-al-Qaeda ties are “exaggeration[s]. The USA Today article, titled Experts Skeptical of Reports on Al-Qaeda-Baghdad Link, also says that “Other intelligence experts said some of the charges appeared to be based on old information and that there was still no ‘smoking gun’ connecting Iraq with the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States.” (Slavin and Diamond 9/26/2002)
Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) delivers an impassioned speech at Johns Hopkins University raising questions about the upcoming war with Iraq: “I have come here today to express my view that America should not go to war against Iraq unless and until other reasonable alternatives are exhausted,” he says. Kennedy questions the rationale behind the administration’s claims of Iraqi perfidy: “I have heard no persuasive evidence that Saddam is on the threshold of acquiring the nuclear weapons he has sought for more than 20 years. And the administration has offered no persuasive evidence that Saddam would transfer chemical or biological weapons of mass destruction to al-Qaeda.” Kennedy warns of the possible calamitous aftereffects of a US invasion: “War with Iraq before a genuine attempt at inspection and disarmament, without genuine international support, could swell the ranks of al-Qaeda with sympathizers and trigger an escalation in terrorist acts.” Kennedy’s speech is virtually ignored by the mainstream media. Author and media commentator Eric Boehlert later says, “[The] Washington Post gave that speech one sentence. Thirty-six words. I calculated in 2002, the Washington Post probably published 1,000 articles and columns about Iraq. Probably one million words, in excess of one million words. And one of the most famous Democrats in the country raised questions about the war, the Washington Post set aside 36 words.” (CNN 9/27/2002; CommonDreams 9/30/2002; Moyers 4/25/2007)
In his weekly radio address, President Bush tells the nation: “The Iraqi regime possesses biological and chemical weapons, is rebuilding the facilities to make more, and, according to the British government, could launch a biological or chemical attack in as little as 45 minutes after the order is given. The regime has long-standing and continuing ties to terrorist groups, and there are al-Qaeda terrorists inside Iraq. This regime is seeking a nuclear bomb, and with fissile material could build one within a year.” Many Americans are shocked and frightened by Bush’s flat litany of assertions. What they do not know is that none of them are true. The CIA had reluctantly agreed to produce a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on Iraq less than three weeks before (see September 5, 2002); the result is an NIE packed with half-truths, exaggerations, and outright lies (see October 1, 2002). None of Bush’s statements are supported by hard intelligence, and all will later be disproven. (Bush 9/28/2002; Center for Public Integrity 1/23/2008) In 2007, author Craig Unger will write that the conflict seems to have gotten personal with Bush. “There’s no doubt [Saddam Hussein’s] hatred is mainly directed against us,” Bush says during the address. “There’s no doubt he can’t stand us. After all, this is a guy that tried to kill my dad at one time.” (Unger 2007, pp. 264)
Shortly after 9/11, the FBI begins to suspect that Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam to several of the 9/11 hijackers, may have had some connection to the 9/11 plot. They interview him repeatedly, but cannot find enough evidence to charge him, and he cannot be deported since he is a US citizen. Investigators discover he had been arrested more than once for soliciting prostitutes. They learn he is consorting with prostitutes in Virginia, and contemplate jailing him on an obscure law against transporting prostitutes across state lines. However, this plan collapses when he leaves the US unexpectedly in March 2002. (Ragavan 6/13/2004) But on October 10, 2002, he makes a surprise return to the US. His name is on a terrorist watch list and he is detained when his plane lands in New York City. Customs agents notify the FBI, but they are told that his name was taken off the watch list just the day before. He is released after only three hours. It has not been explained why he name was taken off the list. Throughout 2002, al-Awlaki is also the subject of an active Customs investigation into money laundering called Operation Greenquest, but he is not arrested for this either, or for the earlier contemplated prostitution charges. (Sperry 8/16/2003) At the time, the FBI is fighting Greenquest, and Customs officials will later accuse the FBI of sabotaging Greenquest investigations (see After March 20, 2002-Early 2003). While in the US, al-Awlaki visits the Fairfax, Virginia, home of Ali al Timimi, the leader of a nearby Islamic center. According to a later court filing, al-Awlaki attempts to get al Timimi to discuss the recruitment of young Muslims for militant causes, but al Timimi does not show interest. Al Timimi will later be sentenced to life in prison in the US for inciting young Muslims to fight in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11. (Schmidt 2/27/2008) Al-Awlaki then leaves the US again. The FBI will later admit they were “very interested” in al-Awlaki and yet failed to stop him from leaving the country. One FBI source says, “We don’t know how he got out.” (Ragavan 6/13/2004) He will allegedly take part in other militant attacks (see September 15, 2006). By 2008, US intelligence will conclude that he is linked to al-Qaeda (see February 27, 2008).
Beginning on October 2, 2002, a series of bombings take place in and around Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines. This region is a center of Islamist militancy in a majority Christian country. During the month of October, bombs explode outside a restaurant near a military camp (killing four, including a US Green Beret commando), at the entrance to a Catholic shrine, at a bus terminal (killing seven), and inside two department stores (killing seven). A total of 21 are killed and more than 200 are injured.
Arrest of Alleged Mastermind - On November 14, Abdulmukim Edris is arrested and is said to have been the bomb-maker behind all the blasts. Edris is an alleged member of the Abu Sayyaf, a militant group based in the region. Two days after his arrest, he is paraded in front of cameras and stands in handcuffs directly behind Philippine President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo as she calls him “the No. 1 bomber of the Abu Sayyaf.” He admits that he and his team were already casing targets to be bombed later in the month, including the US embassy in Manila. The head of the military says that Edris was trained by two Yemeni “VIPs from al-Qaeda” in the southern Philippines in the month before the 9/11 attacks. It is later reported that another arrested Abu Sayyaf militant, Khair Mundus, received around $90,000 from al-Qaeda militants in Saudi Arabia to fund the bombings. (Teves 11/14/2002; Gomez 5/14/2004)
Mastermind Appears to Be Mole - But in July 2003, Edris will escape from a high-security prison with two other militants (see July 14, 2003). One week after the escape, the Philippine Daily Inquirer will report that Edris has long-time links to the Philippine military and police. A police intelligence source says that he has been a government asset since 1994. (Cruz 7/23/2003) Edris will be killed about two weeks after this report. He allegedly is killed hours after he was arrested while trying to wrestle a gun from a soldier. Some will allege that he was deliberately killed in order to prevent him from revealing what he knew (see October 12, 2003).
Another Dubious Mastermind - Another alleged mastermind of the Zamboanga bombings, Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, is arrested on November 8, 2002, and then quickly deported, despite allegations that he helped fund the 1995 Bojinka plot and had major terrorist links. He is said to have links to Philippine intelligence and high-level government protection (see October 8-November 8, 2002).
Afghan President Hamid Karzai says that Osama bin Laden is “probably” dead, but former Taliban leader Mullah Omar is alive. Karzai makes the comments in a CNN interview on the eve of the anniversary of the start of the US-led military campaign in Afghanistan. “I would come to believe that [bin Laden] probably is dead,” Karzai says. “But still, you never know. He might be alive. Five months ago, six months ago, I was thinking that he was alive. The more we don’t hear of him, and the more time passes, there is the likelihood that he probably is either dead or seriously wounded somewhere.” However, Mullah Omar is alive. “We know of that,” he says. “And we have come close to arresting him several times, but he’s been able to escape.” Karzai adds: “I believe he is most of the time inside Afghanistan. He could go, from time to time, toward our borders, but he stays around the Afghan area, sometimes close to the borders.” (CNN 10/6/2002)
In a televised speech, President Bush presents the administration’s case that Saddam Hussein’s regime is a threat to the security of the nation and insists that regime change would improve lifes for Iraqis. “Some worry that a change of leadership in Iraq could create instability and make the situation worse. The situation could hardly get worse, for world security and for the people of Iraq. The lives of Iraqi citizens would improve dramatically if Saddam Hussein were no longer in power, just as the lives of Afghanistan’s citizens improved after the Taliban.” The speech is widely criticized for including false and exaggerated statements.
Iraq has attempted to purchase equipment used to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons - Bush claims that a shipment of 3,000 aluminum tubes to Iraq, which were intercepted in Jordan by US authorities in July of 2001 (see July 2001), had been destined for use in a uranium enrichment program. But by this time numerous experts and government scientists have already warned the administration against making this allegation. (US President 10/14/2002) Three weeks before Bush’s speech, The Washington Post ran a story on the aluminum tubes. The article summarized a study by the Institute for Science and International Security (ISIS), disputing the administration’s claim that the tubes were to be used for gas centrifuges. The report was authored by the institute’s president and founder, David Albright, a respected nuclear physicist, who had investigated Iraq’s nuclear weapons program after the First Gulf War as a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s inspection team and who has spoken before Congress on numerous occasions. In his study, he concluded that Iraq’s attempts to import the tubes “are not evidence that Iraq is in possession of, or close to possessing, nuclear weapons” and “do not provide evidence that Iraq has an operating centrifuge plant or when such a plant could be operational.” (Warrick 9/19/2002; Borger 10/9/2002; Collier 10/12/2002; Albright 10/9/2003) Soon after the speech, Albright tells The Guardian newspaper that there is still no evidence to substantiate that interpretation. As one unnamed specialist at the US Department of Energy explains to the newspaper, “I would just say there is not much support for that [nuclear] theory around here.” (Borger 10/9/2002) The Washington Post article also reported that government experts on nuclear technology who disagreed with the White House view had told Albright that the administration expected them to remain silent. (Warrick 9/19/2002; Fisk 9/22/2002) Houston G. Wood III, a retired Oak Ridge physicist considered to be “among the most eminent living experts” on gas centrifuges reviewed the tube question in August 2001 (see 1950s) and concluded at that time that it was very unlikely that the tubes had been imported to be used for centrifuges in a uranium enrichment program. He later tells The Washington Post in mid-2003 that “it would have been extremely difficult to make these tubes into centrifuges,” adding that it stretched “the imagination to come up with a way.” He also says that other centrifuge experts whom he knew shared his assessment of the tubes. (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) In addition to the several outside experts who criticized the tubes allegation, analysts within the US intelligence community also doubted the claim. Less than a week before Bush’s speech, the Energy Department and the State Department’s intelligence branch, the INR, had appended a statement to a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq disputing the theory (see October 1, 2002). (Central Intelligence Agency 10/1/2002 Sources: David Albright)
Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue in 1998 - Bush says that US intelligence has information that Saddam Hussein ordered his nuclear program to continue after inspectors left in 1998. “Before being barred from Iraq in 1998, the International Atomic Energy Agency dismantled extensive nuclear weapons-related facilities, including three uranium enrichment sites,” Bush charges. “That same year, information from a high-ranking Iraqi nuclear engineer who had defected revealed that despite his public promises, Saddam Hussein had ordered his nuclear program to continue.” (Collier 10/12/2002; US President 10/14/2002) But Bush’s “high-ranking” source turns out to be Khidir Hamza, who is considered by many to be an unreliable source. Albright, who was president of the Institute for Science and International Security where Hamza worked as an analyst from 1997 to 1999, says that after Hamza defected, “he went off the edge [and] started saying irresponsible things.” (Collier 10/12/2002) And General Hussein Kamel, Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law who was in charge of the dictator’s former weapons program but who defected in 1995, told UNSCOM and IAEA inspectors, as well as US and British intelligence, that Khidir Hamza was “a professional liar.” Kamel explained, “He worked with us, but he was useless and always looking for promotions. He consulted with me but could not deliver anything…. He was even interrogated by a team before he left and was allowed to go.” (United Nations Special Commission 4/16/1998; Hersh 5/12/2003)
Iraq is developing drones that could deploy chemical and biological weapons - The President claims that Iraq is developing drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), which “could be used to disperse chemical or biological weapons across broad areas.” He goes so far as to say, “We’re concerned that Iraq is exploring ways of using these UAVs for missions targeting the United States.” (Borger 10/9/2002; US President 10/14/2002) But this claim comes shortly after US intelligence agencies completed a National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq, in which Air Force intelligence had disputed the drone allegation (see October 1, 2002). Bush’s drone allegation is quickly derided by experts and other sources. The Guardian of London reports two days later that according to US military experts, “Iraq had been converting eastern European trainer jets, known as L-29s, into drones, but… that with a maximum range of a few hundred miles they were no threat to targets in the US.” (Borger 10/9/2002) And the San Francisco Chronicle will cite experts who say that “slow-moving unmanned aerial vehicles would likely be shot down as soon as they crossed Iraq’s borders” because “Iraqi airspace is closely monitored by US and British planes and radar systems.” The report will also note, “It’s also unclear how the vehicles would reach the US mainland—the nearest point is Maine, almost 5, 500 miles away—without being intercepted.” (Collier 10/12/2002) Anthony Cordesman, a security analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, will say he believes the drone allegation is unrealistic. In an interview with the San Francisco Chronicle, he says, “As a guesstimate, Iraq’s present holdings of delivery systems and chemical and biological weapons seem most likely to be so limited in technology and operational lethality that they do not constrain US freedom of action or do much to intimidate Iraq’s neighbors.” (Collier 10/12/2002) These criticisms of Bush’s claim are validated after the US invasion of Iraq. Two US government scientists involved in the post-invasion hunt for weapons of mass destruction will tell the Associated Press in August 2003 that they inspected the drones and concluded that they were never a threat to the US. “We just looked at the UAVs and said, ‘There’s nothing here. There’s no room to put anything in here,’” one of the scientists will say. “The US scientists, weapons experts who spoke on condition of anonymity, reached their conclusions after studying the small aircraft and interviewing Iraqi missile experts, system designers and Gen. Ibrahim Hussein Ismail, the Iraqi head of the military facility where the UAVs were designed,” the Associated Press will explain in its report. (Linzer and Lumpkin 8/24/2003)
Saddam Hussein could give terrorists weapons of mass destruction - Bush asserts, “Iraq could decide on any given day to provide a biological or chemical weapon to a terrorist group or individual terrorists.” (US President 10/14/2002) But not only have numerous experts and inside sources disputed this theory (see July 2002-March 19, 2003), US intelligence’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq—completed just one week before—concluded that this is an unlikely scenario (see October 1, 2002). “Baghdad, for now, appears to be drawing a line short of conducting terrorist attacks with conventional or CBW against the United States,” the document clearly stated. “Should Saddam conclude that a US-led attack could no longer be deterred he probably would become much less constrained in adopting terrorist actions.” (Collier 10/12/2002)
Iraq rebuilding facilities associated with production of biological and chemical weapons - Bush claims that surveillance photos indicate that Iraq “is rebuilding facilities that it had used to produce chemical and biological weapons.” (US President 10/14/2002) On the following day, photos are published on the White House website showing that Iraq had repaired three sites damaged by US bombs—the Al Furat Manufacturing Facility, the Nassr Engineering Establishment Manufacturing Facility, and Fallujah II. (US President 10/14/2002) But no evidence is provided by the White House demonstrating that these sites have resumed activities related to the production of weapons of mass destruction. Iraqi authorities will give reporters a tour of the facilities on October 10 (see October 10, 2002).
Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases - Bush alleges that Iraq has trained al-Qaeda operatives “in bomb-making and poisons and deadly gases.” (US President 10/14/2002) The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim had not yet been substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recants the claim (see February 14, 2004). A Defense Intelligence Agency report in February 2002 (see February 2002) had also expressed doubt in the claim, going so far as to suggest that al-Libi was “intentionally misleading [his] debriefers.” (CNN 9/26/2002; Jehl 7/31/2004; Isikoff 7/5/2005; Jehl 11/6/2005) And earlier in the month, US intelligence services had concluded in their National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq that this allegation could not be confirmed. (CNN 9/26/2002; Royce 10/10/2002; Collier 10/12/2002; Pincus 6/22/2003)
A very senior al-Qaeda leader received medical treatment in Baghdad - Bush claims: “Some al-Qaeda leaders who fled Afghanistan went to Iraq. These include one very senior al-Qaeda leader who received medical treatment in Baghdad this year, and who has been associated with planning for chemical and biological attacks.” The allegation refers to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian who is the founder of al-Tawhid, an organization whose aim is to kill Jews and install an Islamic regime in Jordan. It was first leaked to the press by an anonymous US official several days before Bush’s speech (see October 2, 2002). The allegation is partly based on intercepted telephone calls in which al-Zarqawi was overheard calling friends or relatives (see December 2001-Mid-2002). But on the same day as Bush’s speech, Knight Ridder Newspapers reports that according to US intelligence officials, “The intercepts provide no evidence that the suspected terrorist was working with the Iraqi regime or that he was working on a terrorist operation while he was in Iraq.” (Strobel, Landay, and Walcott 10/7/2002; US President 10/14/2002) Al-Zarqawi will link with al-Qaeda, but only in 2004, after the start of the war in Iraq (see October 17, 2004).
CIA Director George Tenet sends a letter to Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In the letter, Tenet acknowledges declassifying some “material available to further the Senate’s forthcoming open debate on a joint resolution concerning Iraq” (see October 7, 2002). Tenet says that the declassified information supports the following contentions:
“Our understanding of the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda is evolving and is based on sources of varying reliability. Some of the information we have received comes from detainees, including some of high rank.”
“We have solid reporting of senior level contacts between Iraq and al-Qaeda going back a decade.”
“Credible information indicates that Iraq and al-Qaeda have discussed safe haven and reciprocal nonaggression.”
“Since Operation Enduring Freedom (see October 7, 2001), we have solid evidence of the presence in Iraq of al-Qaeda members, including some that have been in Baghdad.”
“We have credible reporting that al-Qaeda leaders sought contacts in Iraq who could help them acquire WMD capabilities. The reporting also stated that Iraq has provided training to al-Qaeda members in the areas of poisons and gases and making conventional bombs.”
“Iraq’s increasing support to extremist Palestinians coupled with growing indications of a relationship with al-Qaeda, suggest that Baghdad’s links to terrorists will increase, even absent US military action.” (Senate Intelligence Committee 10/7/2002; Tenet 10/9/2002)
In 2007, former CIA analyst Valerie Plame Wilson will write that in the weeks and months preceding the invasion of Iraq, “Congress, just like the general public, was being bombarded with dreadful scenarios of what would happen if the perceived imminent threat from Iraq was not stopped in its tracks.” Plame Wilson will note that little strong evidence exists in CIA analyses to support Tenet’s contentions. (Wilson 2007, pp. 121)
Visa applications for the 15 Saudi Arabian hijackers are made public, and six separate experts agree: “All of them should have been denied entry [into the US].” Joel Mowbray, who first breaks the story for the conservative National Review, says he is shocked by what he saw: “I really was expecting al-Qaeda to have trained their operatives well, to beat the system. They didn’t have to beat the system, the system was rigged in their favor from the get-go.” A former US consular officer says the visas show a pattern of criminal negligence. Some examples: “Abdulaziz Alomari claimed to be a student but didn’t name a school; claimed to be married but didn’t name a spouse; under nationality and gender, he didn’t list anything.” “Khalid Almihdhar… simply listed ‘Hotel’ as his US destination—no name, no city, no state but no problem getting a visa.” Only one actually gave a US destination, and one stated his destination as “no.” Only Hani Hanjour had a slight delay in acquiring his visa. His first application was flagged because he wrote he wanted to visit for three years when the legal limit is two. When he returned two weeks later, he simply changed the form to read “one year” and was accepted. The experts agree that even allowing for chance, incompetence, and human error, the odds were that only a few should have been approved. (Mowbray 10/9/2002; Mowbray 10/9/2002; Raddatz 10/23/2002) In response to the revelation, the State Department says, “The fact is that with 20/20 hindsight, I’m sure one can always find a reason that you might have turned down a visa.” (Mowbray 10/10/2002; State Department 10/10/2002)
At a Republican fundraiser, President Bush erroneously labels captured Islamic militant Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) as “one of the top three leaders” of al-Qaeda. Senior government officials have long been aware that many intelligence officials believe Zubaida to be little more than a low-level “gofer” for al-Qaeda (see Shortly After March 28, 2002 and April 9, 2002 and After). Bush says, apparently boasting of the deaths of some captured suspects: “I would say we’ve hauled in—arrested, or however you want to put it—a couple of thousand of al-Qaeda. Some of them are former leaders. Abu Zubaida was one of the top three leaders in the organization. Like number weren’t as lucky, they met a different kind of fate. But they’re no longer a problem. We’re slowly but surely rounding them up. The other day we got this guy, [Ramzi b]in al-Shibh. He popped his head up. He’s not a problem (see September 11, 2002). Slowly but surely. And I’m not giving up. There’s not a calendar on my desk that says, okay, on this day, you quit. That’s just not the way I think.” (Bush 10/14/2002)
NSA Director Michael Hayden testifies before the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that the “NSA had no [indications] that al-Qaeda was specifically targeting New York and Washington… or even that it was planning an attack on US soil.” Before 9/11, the “NSA had no knowledge… that any of the attackers were in the United States.” Supposedly, a post-9/11 NSA review found no intercepts of calls involving any of the 19 hijackers. (Reuters 10/17/2002; US Congress 10/17/2002; Diamond 10/18/2002) Yet, in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), the NSA intercepted communications between Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and hijacker Mohamed Atta, when he was in charge of operations in the US. (Gumbel 6/6/2002; Buncombe 9/15/2002) What was said between the two has not been revealed. The NSA also intercepted multiple phone calls from al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida to the US in the days before 9/11 (see Early September 2001). But who was called or what was said has not been revealed. (ABC News 2/18/2002) In addition, Hayden testified three times in secret on June 18, June 19, and July 18, but little is known about what he said, as not much information is disclosed in the media and many sections of the Inquiry’s final report about the NSA are heavily redacted. The main revelations at the time of the summer hearings are that the NSA intercepted two messages apparently pertaining to the forthcoming attack one day before 9/11, and this sparks a controversial leak inquiry by the FBI (see August 2, 2002). (Snow and Bash 6/18/2002; Martin 6/19/2002; Bash, Ensor, and Snow 6/20/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003 )
PBS Newshour reports, “[German authorities] say they’re not getting the cooperation they need from the authorities in the [US], and they’re worried that a political dispute between Washington and Berlin is hampering their ability to protect the public… In Hamburg, the police say that breakdown in communications between the US and German governments has also led to a dramatic reduction in the amount of investigative help they’re getting from the [US]” The Bush administration has not spoken to the German government since it won re-election four months earlier while openly opposing Bush’s planned war on Iraq. Germans say existing prosecutions of 9/11 suspects are now threatened by the information breakdown. (Online NewsHour 10/25/2002) The Germans helped capture suspected al-Qaeda operative Mohamed Heidar Zammar and turned him over to a third country, yet now they’re learning very little from his interrogations, even though he has admitted to being involved in a plot to attack a consulate in Germany. A US State Department official denies there is any problem, aside from a few “bumps in the road.” (Butler 11/4/2002) June 2004, German prosecutor Matthias Krauss, who investigated the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell, will be scheduled to testify before the 9/11 Commission about both pre-9/11 communication problems between German and US intelligence officials and the US government’s cooperation with foreign governments prosecuting suspected terrorists in the post-9/11 period. However, he will unexpectedly cancel at the last minute. (Yen 6/15/2004)
The Observer reports: “America’s most controversial writer Gore Vidal has launched the most scathing attack to date on George W. Bush’s Presidency, calling for an investigation into the events of 9/11 to discover whether the Bush administration deliberately chose not to act on warnings of al-Qaeda’s plans. Vidal’s highly controversial 7,000 word polemic titled ‘The Enemy Within’… argues that what he calls a ‘Bush junta’ used the terrorist attacks as a pretext to enact a preexisting agenda to invade Afghanistan and crack down on civil liberties at home.” Vidal also said, “Apparently, ‘conspiracy stuff’ is now shorthand for unspeakable truth.” (Vidal 10/27/2002)
Four detainees are freed from Guantanamo Bay, the first of the 600 or so detainees there to be released. The four, mostly elderly Afghan men, are released because they were determined not to be involved in al-Qaeda and posed no security threat. (BBC 10/29/2002) 19 more will be released in March 2003. (BBC 3/24/2003) The detainees are supposedly being kept there to be interrogated about what they know of al-Qaeda and the Taliban. But it is reported that virtually none of the prisoners in Guantanamo have any useful information. One US official says, “[Guantanamo] is a dead end” for fresh intelligence information. According to the Washington Post, “Officials realize many of them had little intelligence value to begin with.” (Mintz 10/29/2002) US officials privately concede that “perhaps as many as 100 other captives” are innocent of any connections to al-Qaeda or the Taliban, but most of these still have not been released. Furthermore, not a single detainee has been brought before a US military tribunal. Apparently this is to hide “a sorry fact: the US mostly netted Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters of only low to middling importance, bagging few of the real bad guys.” (McGirk 10/27/2002) At least 59 were deemed to have no intelligence even before being sent to Cuba, but were nonetheless sent there, apparently because of bureaucratic inertia. (Miller 12/22/2002)
When asked about claims that Iraq has ties to al-Qaeda, British Foreign Minister Jack Straw responds: “It could well be the case that there were links, active links, between al-Qaeda and the Iraqi regime before Sept. 11. What I’m asked is if I’ve seen any evidence of that. And the answer is: I haven’t.” (Rotella 11/4/2002)
Some of the 9/11 victims’ relatives hold a rally at the US Capitol to protest what they fear are plans by the Bush administration to delay or block their lawsuit against prominent Saudi individuals for an alleged role in financing al-Qaeda. (Guggenheim 11/1/2002) US officials say they have not decided whether to submit a motion seeking to block or restrict the lawsuit, but they are concerned about the “diplomatic sensitivities” of the suit. Saudis have withdrawn hundreds of billions of dollars from the US in response to the suit. The Guardian previously reported that “some plaintiffs in the case say the Bush administration is pressuring them to pull out of the lawsuit in order to avoid damaging US-Saudi relations, threatening them with the prospect of being denied any money from the government’s own compensation scheme if they continue to pursue it. Bereaved relatives who apply to the federal compensation scheme must, in any case, sign away their rights to sue the government, air carriers in the US, and other domestic bodies—a condition that has prompted some of them to call the government compensation ‘hush money.’ The fund is expected, in the end, to pay out $4 billion. They remain, however, free to sue those they accuse of being directly responsible for the attacks, such as bin Laden, and—so they thought—the alleged financers of terrorism.” (Burkeman 9/20/2002)
A CIA-operated Predator drone fires a missile that destroys a truck of suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen. The target of the attack is Qaed Salim Sinan al-Harethi, a top al-Qaeda operative, but five others are also killed, including American citizen Kamal Derwish. (Pincus 11/4/2002; Lumpkin 12/3/2002) Al-Harethi is said to have been involved in the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole. Bush administration officials say Derwish was the ringleader of a sleeper cell in Lackawanna, New York (see September 13, 2002). (Powell and Priest 11/9/2002; Thomas and Hosenball 11/11/2002) A former high-level intelligence officer complains that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants “to take guys out for political effect.” Al-Harethi was being tracked for weeks through his cell phone. (Hersh 12/16/2002) The attack happens one day before mid-term elections in the US. Newsweek will note that timing of the strike “was, at the very least, fortuitous” for the Bush administration. (Thomas and Hosenball 11/11/2002) New Yorker magazine will later report, “The Yemeni government had planned to delay an announcement of the attack until it could issue a joint statement with Washington. When American officials released the story unilaterally, in time for Election Day, the Yemenis were angry and dismayed.” (Hersh 12/16/2002) Initial reports suggest the truck was destroyed by a car bomb. But on November 5, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz will brag about the strike on CNN, thus ruining the cover story and revealing that the truck was destroyed by a US missile (see November 5, 2002). (Thomas and Hosenball 11/11/2002) US intelligence appears to have learned of al-Harethi’s whereabouts after interrogating Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, captured the month before (see Early October 2002).
David Shayler, a member of the British intelligence agency MI5, is convicted of divulging British intelligence secrets. Shayler claims that British intelligence paid an al-Qaeda agent to assassinate Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi in 1996 (see 1996). Under strict secrecy laws, the British press is not allowed to report Shayler’s claims. The press is not even allowed to report that the government won a gag order on the press. (Daley 10/10/2002) Shayler is not allowed to argue that he acted in the public interest by releasing the information, and the veracity of his claims is not challenged in court. (Norton-Taylor and Wadham 11/6/2002) Shayler is sentenced to six months in prison, but only serves seven weeks, then is released on parole. (BBC 12/23/2002)
Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz confirms that the assassination of Qaed Senyan al-Harethi in Yemen two days earlier (see November 3, 2002) was done with a US Predator drone that struck the truck carrying al-Harethi and five others. Initial reported suggested that the truck was destroyed by a car bomb, but this cover story is blown when Wolfowitz brags about the success of the operation on CNN, revealing US involvement. Newsweek reports that “The CIA, which ran the operation, was furious with the Defense Department for blowing its cover story.” US procedures required that the Yemeni government had to give approval of the strike in advance, and the revelation of such approval is highly embarrassing to the Yemeni government. (Pincus 11/6/2002; Thomas and Hosenball 11/11/2002) There are widespread protests in Yemen and the US Embassy has to be closed for a period of time following Wolfowitz’s revelation. (Davis 8/13/2004) A knowledgeable source tells Newsweek that Yemen’s President Ali Abdallah Saleh is “highly pissed” about the leak. CIA officials worry the leak will discourage other countries from allowing Predator strikes within their borders. A former senior CIA official says, “The Pentagon view seems to be, this is good, it shows we can reach out and touch ‘em. The CIA view is, you dumb bastards, this means no other country will cooperate with us!” (Thomas and Hosenball 11/11/2002) Yayha Almutawakel, deputy secretary general of the ruling party in Yemen, says, “This is why it is so difficult to make deals with the United States. This is why we are reluctant to work closely with them. They don’t consider the internal consequences in Yemen. In security matters you don’t want to alert the enemy.” (Davis 8/13/2004) Wolfowitz’s leak also starts a debate about the morality and legality of the strike, especially since a US citizen was killed (see November 5- December, 2002).
The US tightens immigration restrictions for 18 countries. All males over age 16 coming to the US from Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Qatar, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, or Yemen must register with the US government and be photographed and fingerprinted at their local INS office. (Sheridan 11/7/2002; Frank 11/23/2002) Two countries not included are: Pakistan (the home country of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and many other al-Qaeda members) and Saudi Arabia (the home country of bin Laden and 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers). After criticism that they were not included, these two countries are added to the list on December 13, 2002. (Lichtblau and Miller 12/19/2002)
Three men are arrested in London and charged under the Terrorism Act 2000 for the possession of articles for the preparation, instigation, and commission of terrorism acts. The Sunday Times breaks the story and claims that MI5 and police have foiled a major plot to release cyanide gas on the London Underground (the Tube), which is used by three million commuters each day. The men, all of North African origin, are also alleged to have links with al-Qaeda. They are Rabah Chekat-Bais, 21, Rabah Kadris, in his mid-30s, and Karim Kadouri, 33, all unemployed and of no fixed address. Kadris is the librarian at Finsbury Park Mosque, which is perceived by many officials to be a hotbed of radicalism. (BBC 11/17/2002) Magnus Ranstorp, an expert in international terrorism at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland says “cyanide has surfaced a number of times surrounding al-Qaeda’s chemical program.” Video obtained by CNN in August shows tests of a chemical agent, presumed to be cyanide, on dogs at a camp in Afghanistan. Documentation recovered in Afghanistan also reveals al-Qaeda’s interest in chemical weapons. The Ministry of Defense simulated biological attacks on the underground in the early 1960s, during the Cold War. Scientists mixed harmless spores of the anthrax analogue Bacillus globigii with talcum powder and released them on the Northern Line. They found that the spores dispersed to every one of the several dozen stations on that line. The Defense scientists projected disastrous consequences in the event of a genuine attack. A London Underground spokeswoman, addressing the alleged cyanide threat, refused to comment on the counter measures currently in place but says, “we are always speaking to police and reviewing what we can do,” adding, “all our staff are well trained to look out for the unusual.” Governments around the world warn their citizens of possible terrorist attacks, and Prime Minister Tony Blair urges the public to be vigilant. (Knight 11/18/2002) In fact, no such plot has been discovered. The government moves quickly to play down connections between the arrest of the three men and a threat to the Tube. It is disclosed to the press that the men had been in contact with British residents in London and that the charges related to false passports and credit cards, but not explosives or chemicals. A police source says there was “no bomb-making paraphernalia” in their possession. Three other men arrested at the same time are released later in the week. (Wilson and Norton-Taylor 11/18/2002) Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, commenting on the Times story, says the arrests had “excited the press.” He adds “as the Prime Minister reminds us, we get an awful lot of intelligence which we have to make judgments about. In this case it does not appear there is any evidence whatsoever there was going to be a gas attack or use of bombs regarding the three people who have been arrested.” A Home Office spokesman says, “The Prime Minister has made it clear that there are threat reports every day and these are assessed. If the government or police thought it was necessary to give the public a specific warning about any venue, including the Underground, it would do it without hesitation.” (BBC 11/17/2002) Security sources indicate that separate intelligence from abroad points to Islamist extremists planning such an attack. Sources say that there is “a clear intention” to attack the underground and other targets in Britain and Western Europe. Whitehall sources say the arrests of the three men reflect a determination among the security services to disrupt suspect terrorists and networks “at an early stage.” (Wilson and Norton-Taylor 11/18/2002) The three arrested men make a 15-minute appearance in court on November 18. The court hears that the three have never been questioned by police about the alleged plot. According to lawyers for the three men, the details of the alleged plot had not been disclosed to them and had only emerged in the press over the last few days. The three suspects are remanded in custody for four weeks by district judge Timothy Workman and appear again on December 16. Two of the suspects subsequently plead guilty, under ordinary criminal laws, to passport offenses. (Allen 11/18/2002)
The release of an audio message by a man thought to be Osama bin Laden (see November 12, 2002) sparks several publications to run stories about the authentication of the voice on the tape. These articles make several points about voice analysis of apparent bin Laden recordings:
Machine analysis: Some aspects of voice identification are done my machine. Voice authentication software measures the acoustic qualities of a person’s voice, such as pitch, loudness, basic resonances, frequency, and amplitude. (Knight 11/13/2002; Kenneally 11/15/2002) This produces spectrographic information and can also be used to look for specific features of a voice, such as a nasal quality. In addition, every person creates the same sounds using a slightly different set of basic pitches, so the set of frequencies in bin Laden’s vowels, like those in “ea” from “fear,” will be marginally different from anyone else’s. By examining this frequency detail for every vowel and comparing them to previous examples, a machine analysis can tell if they are the same and were all said by him. (Kenneally 11/15/2002) However, “People hardly ever pronounce the same word the same way twice, even in the same utterance,” says Robert Berkovitz, a speech analyst with Sensimetrics Corp. (CBS News 11/13/2002)
Human analysis: Some aspects of voice identification are done by humans, who are, according to Slate, “very good at doing the kind of thing most people do subconsciously—telling if someone comes from a particular region by recognizing basic vowel and consonant qualities.” For example, a human analyst can tell whether the “Ye” sound in “Yemen” is of the right length and stress for bin Laden’s dialect. (Kenneally 11/15/2002) Experts listen to previous recordings of bin Laden, and compare them syllable by syllable. (Knight 11/13/2002; Kenneally 11/15/2002) Experts can also verify whether words on a tape generally match those uttered by someone of bin Laden’s age and educational background. (Kenneally 11/15/2002)
Quality of tape: According to Slate, the November tape is “allegedly very noisy and possibly went down a phone line at some point.” (Kenneally 11/15/2002) However, the New Scientist reports, “Voice analysis experts say the quality of the recording appears good enough to determine if the recording is genuine.” It also quotes Steve Cain of Forensic Tape Analysis, a company that received snippets of the tape from US media, who says, “It seems like it is at least clear enough and there’s enough amplitude of that unknown speaker’s voice that if you had a known sample of bin Laden it would be possible.” (Knight 11/13/2002)
Splicing: Analysis can determine whether a tape is spliced together. Potential red flags include hitches in timing and rhythm, removal of background noise, and different pitch to accommodate for differences in background noise. (Kenneally 11/15/2002)
It makes no difference to voice analysis what language a recording is in. (CBS News 11/13/2002)
Uncertainty: The New Scientist quotes Tomi Kinnunnen, an expert in computer analysis of speech at the University of Joensuu, Finland, as saying: “There is always the possibility of error.… But if you have a clean sample with little noise, you can quite reliably say [who it is].” (Knight 11/13/2002) However, according to Slate, human and machine analyses can be “formidable,” but “neither type of analysis can say with 100 percent certainty that the speaker on the tape is bin Laden or anyone else.” (Kenneally 11/15/2002) CBS finds that intelligence analysts are convinced the tape is from bin Laden, but “they will never be sure,” because “Computer voice analysis lacks the accuracy of fingerprint or DNA identification and can be hamstrung by a skilled impersonator or low-quality recording.” “You can say with some probability, but you can never be sure,” says Kenneth Stevens, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology expert on speech analysis and synthesis. “Where there’s a combination of strong motivation and relatively weak science, there’s an opportunity for deception,” adds Berkovitz. “You can’t put the voice in a slot and have it come out saying, ‘This is Joe Smith.’” (CBS News 11/13/2002)
One analyst, Matsumi Suzuki of Japan Acoustic Lab, Tokyo, says that, although the recording seems genuine, the speaker sounds ill. (Knight 11/13/2002)
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld says that if there is to be a war with Iraq, it will be short and relatively painless: “The idea that it’s going to be a long, long, long battle of some kind, I think is belied by the fact of what happened in 1990 (see August 7, 1990). Five days or five weeks or five months, but it certainly isn’t going to last any longer than that. It won’t be a World War III.”
Invasion about Iraqi WMDs, Not Oil - Rumsfeld refuses to say directly what the US will do if Iraq uses chemical or biological weapons on US invasion forces: “The United States government, the president and others, are communicating with people in Iraq, in the military, very forcefully that they ought not to use those weapons. Anyone in any way connected with weapons of mass destruction and their use will be held accountable, and people who helped avoid that would be advantaged.” If UN weapons inspectors find no weapons of mass destruction, Rumsfeld says that would prove only that “the inspections process had been successfully defeated by the Iraqis.” The upcoming invasion is entirely about WMD, he insists: “It has nothing to do with oil, literally nothing to do with oil. It has nothing to do with the religion.” (US Department of Defense 11/14/2002; CBS News 11/15/2002; Unger 2007, pp. 267-268)
Iraq and 9/11 - Rumsfeld then directly conflates the upcoming invasion with September 11. Interviewer Steve Kroft asks how he would explain the invasion to a family whose son or daughter is in the military and about to be placed in harm’s way. Rumsfeld replies: “What would I say to you? Well, I would look you in the eye and I would say, go back before September 11th and ask yourself this question, was the attack that took place on September 11th an imminent threat the month before, or two months before, or three months before, or six months before? When did the attack on September 11th become an imminent threat? When was it sufficiently dangerous to our country that had we known about it that we could have stepped up and stopped it and saved 3,000 lives? Now, transport yourself forward a year, two years, or a week, or a month, and if Saddam Hussein were to take his weapons of mass destruction and transfer them, either use them himself, or transfer them to the al-Qaeda, and somehow the al-Qaeda were to engage in an attack on the United States, or an attack on US forces overseas, with a weapon of mass destruction you’re not talking about 300, or 3,000 people potentially being killed, but 30,000, or 100,000 of human beings. So the question is, when is it such an immediate threat that you must do something, is a tough question. But if you think about it, it’s the nexus, the connection, the relationship between terrorist states and weapons of mass destruction with terrorist networks that has changed our lives, and changed the security environment in the world.… Our task, your task as a mother, and as a citizen, as a voter, and my task, is to try to connect the dots before something happens, not afterwards. People say, well where’s the smoking gun? Well, we don’t want to see a smoking gun from a weapon of mass destruction.” (US Department of Defense 11/14/2002)
German intelligence officials are able to interview Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg with some of the 9/11 hijackers, while he is being secretly held in a Syrian prison. Zammar was born and raised in Syria but later became a German citizen. He was arrested in Morocco in late 2001 and sent by the US to Syria for torture and interrogation (see October 27-November 2001 and December 2001).
Secret Deal between Syria and Germany - In July 2002, German officials met with Syrian officials at the German Federal Chancellery in Berlin. The Syrians were led by Assef Shawkat, a trusted associate and relative of Syrian President Bashar Assad. The Germans included the heads of the Federal Intelligence Service (BND) and the Federal Office of Criminal Investigation (BKA). The Syrians wanted the Germans to call off a German legal case that had charged two Syrians, one of them an employee at the Syrian embassy, with espionage. The Syrians also wanted Germany to call off an investigation into President Assad’s uncle, Faisal Sammak, for storing explosives at a diplomatic residence, which resulted in a 1983 bombing in Berlin that killed one person. The Germans in return wanted the Syrians to disband their network of spies in Germany, and they wanted access to Zammar. The Germans and Syrians struck a deal based on these demands. Shortly thereafter, German prosecutors dropped the charges against the two Syrians accused of espionage. In return, German officials are allowed to meet with Zammar as long as the meeting and all information from it remain secret.
Meeting with Zammar - On November 20, 2002, six German intelligence officials, including those from the BND and BKA, plus those from the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), go to Damascus, Syria, to see Zammar. The prison is notorious for frequently using torture, and the German officials cannot miss that Zammar has been ill-treated and tortured. In fact, Zammar used to weigh about 300 pounds, and he has lost around 100 pounds. Zammar speaks with surprising candor, perhaps feeling confident that the Germans will never be able to use his confession in any criminal case because he has been so clearly tortured by the Syrians. Zammar admits that he attended a militant training camp in Afghanistan in 1991. He attended another Afghan camp in 1994, where he learned how to use poison and various weapons. In the summer of 1995, he fought with the Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs. In September 2000, he says he brought money to Afghanistan for al-Qaeda and even had a face-to-face meeting with Osama bin Laden (see September-October 2000).
Zammar's Link to the 9/11 Plotters - Zammar claims that he met 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta at the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg in 1996, and met hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh soon thereafter. He met hijacker Marwan Alshehhi in 1998, and had more contact with him. Zammar claims he helped Atta, bin al-Shibh, Alshehhi, and hijacker Ziad Jarrah get to Afghanistan in late 1999. However, when they returned, he only heard a general account of their training and he was not told anything about the 9/11 plot. Zammar had a sense that something big was happening, because in early September 2001, many of the members of the Hamburg cell left Germany for Afghanistan around the same time. For instance, when cell member Said Bahaji left Germany (see September 3-5, 2001), Zammar and some other friends (including Mounir El Motassadeq and Abdelghani Mzoudi) accompanied him to the airport to say goodbye. The German officials realize that Zammar may not be as honest about his knowledge of the 9/11 plot as he is with other details, but they are fairly certain from their intelligence investigation that he supported the hijackers in a general way without having detailed foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. (Stark 11/21/2005) However, in 2003 it will emerge that another al-Qaeda operative told investigators that Zammar told him in August 2001 to leave Germany very soon because something big was about to happen (see August 2001). So Zammar may not have been honest on his knowledge of the 9/11 plot. (Laabs 1/30/2003)
Intelligence Cannot Be Used - The German officials show Zammar a series of photographs of suspected German militants and ask him to identify them. He does identify and discuss some of them, including German businessman Mamoun Darkazanli. Discussions with Zammar continue for three days. However, none of his confession will subsequently be used in any court cases. Der Spiegel will later comment, “The six officials [who questioned Zammar] and their agencies know full well that no court operating under the rule of law would ever accept an interrogation conducted in a Damascus prison notorious for its torture practices.”
Secret Deal Falls Apart - German officials plan to return to Syria and question Zammar some more. However, this never happens because the Syrians renege on their part of the deal, after they fail to cut back on their spying efforts in Germany. One anonymous German official will later say, “The [deal] was an attempt, but we now know that it was a mistake.” (Stark 11/21/2005)
9/11 victims’ relatives add nearly 50 defendants to their $1 trillion lawsuit against mostly Saudi citizens and organizations (see August 15, 2002). The suit alleges the defendants knowingly provided money and other aid to terrorists, which enabled the 9/11 attacks and other attacks to occur. There are now a total of 186 defendants named in the suit. (Geyelin 11/22/2002; Weinstein 11/23/2002) Newly-named defendants include:
Saudi Interior Minister Prince Nayef. The suit claims he was engaged in payoffs to al-Qaeda. Additionally, as interior minister he controls the activities of numerous Islamic charities said to help finance al-Qaeda. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) (Geyelin 11/22/2002; Weinstein 11/23/2002)
Minister of Defense and Aviation Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud. The suit claims he also was engaged in payoffs to al-Qaeda. (His name will later be dismissed from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) (Geyelin 11/22/2002)
The Saudi American Bank, that nation’s second largest financial institution. The suit alleges that this bank, partly owned and managed by Citibank, financed development projects in Sudan benefiting bin Laden in the early 1990s when he was living there. (This bank will later be dismissed from the suit (see November 14, 2003-September 28, 2005).) (Geyelin 11/22/2002)
Bank Al Taqwa, for raising, managing, investing, and distributing funds for al-Qaeda. (Weinstein 11/23/2002)
Mohamed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law. (Third Amended Complaint. Thomas E. Burnett, Sr., et al. v. Al Baraka Investment and Development Corporation, et al. 11/22/2002 )
Yassin al-Qadi. (Third Amended Complaint. Thomas E. Burnett, Sr., et al. v. Al Baraka Investment and Development Corporation, et al. 11/22/2002 )
Saleh Kamel and the Dallah al-Baraka Group. (Third Amended Complaint. Thomas E. Burnett, Sr., et al. v. Al Baraka Investment and Development Corporation, et al. 11/22/2002 )
Individual members of the bin Laden family, including Bakr bin Laden, Tarek bin Laden, Omar bin Laden, Abdullah Awad bin Laden, and Yeslam Binladin. The suit claims that in the early 1990s, Tarek bin Laden was the general supervisor of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO), a Saudi charity suspected of terrorist ties (see October 12, 2001). (Third Amended Complaint. Thomas E. Burnett, Sr., et al. v. Al Baraka Investment and Development Corporation, et al. 11/22/2002 )
In the wake of news that two Saudis living in San Diego, California, may have helped two of the 9/11 hijackers, reports surface that the US has a secret, short list of wealthy individuals who are the alleged key financiers of al-Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups. The Washington Post claims there are nine names on the list: seven Saudis, plus one Egyptian, and one Pakistani. (Farah 11/26/2002) ABC News claims the list consists of 12 names, all Saudis, and says they were financing al-Qaeda through accounts in Cyprus, Switzerland, and Malaysia, among other countries. (ABC News 11/25/2002) They also claim the Saudi government has a copy of the list. US officials privately say all the people listed have close personal and business ties with the Saudi royal family. (ABC News 11/26/2002) A secret report by French investigator Jean-Charles Brisard names seven prominent Saudi financiers of terror; the number matches the seven Saudis mentioned in the Washington Post article, though it’s not known if all the names are the same. The Saudis mentioned by Brisard include Yassin al-Qadi, Adel Batterjee, and Wael Hamza Julaidan (who has had his assets frozen by the US.) (US Department of State 9/6/2002) Brisard says al-Qaeda has received between $300 million and $500 million over the last ten years from wealthy businessmen and bankers. He claims that the combined fortunes of these men equal about 20 percent of Saudi Arabia’s GDP (gross domestic product). (Brisard 12/19/2002 ; Rottela 12/24/2002) However, Brisard’s study has been mistakenly described as a United Nations report. While he submitted the study to the UN, the UN didn’t request it. (Ruehsen 10/2003) It is also reported that a National Security Council task force recommends that the US demand that Saudi Arabia crack down on al-Qaeda’s financiers within 90 days of receiving evidence of misdeeds and if they do not, the US should take unilateral action to bring the suspects to justice. However, the US government denies this report and calls Saudi Arabia a “good partner in the war on terrorism.” (Farah 11/26/2002) Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says: “I think the fact that many of the hijackers came from that nation [Saudi Arabia] cannot and should not be read as an indictment of the country.” (Tully 11/27/2002)
Three suicide bombers detonate their explosives outside a resort hotel in Mombasa, Kenya. Militants also fire shoulder-launched missiles unsuccessfully at a passenger jet. (Filkins 11/30/2002) The death toll reaches 16. (CNN 12/1/2002) Al-Qaeda purportedly claims responsibility a few days later. (CNN 12/2/2002)
The Bush administration successfully convinces the UN International Maritime Organization to pass a new law of the sea requiring ships around the world to install communications equipment, security personnel, computers, and surveillance cameras, all to thwart possible terrorist attacks that could be launched with equipment shipped to the US via cargo ships. Unfortunately, the administration allocates no funds to implement any of the new standards; most foreign ports in developing nations cannot afford the upgrades, but neither can many US ports. The cost to US ports is estimated at $7 billion, a figure 152 times the amount the administration will allocate for port security in 2005. Terrorism experts will estimate in September 2003 that al-Qaeda may have ties to as many as 300 vessels, from small fishing trawlers to full-sized freighters. (Carter 2004, pp. 16)
In 2006, journalist Ron Suskind will report that by late 2002, the CIA had developed “a source from within Pakistan who was tied tightly into al-Qaeda management.” He gives him the alias “Ali.” He claims that many within al-Qaeda like Ali thought the 9/11 attacks were a mistake, and that as a result US intelligence began “working a few potential informants.” He claims that by early 2003, Ali’s reports over the previous six months “had been almost always correct, including information that led to several captures.” Ali also warned of a new chemical bomb al-Qaeda has developed and revealed the name of the top al-Qaeda operative in Saudi Arabia (see February-Late March 2003). But Suskind will give no further details about Ali or what becomes of him, and no details about the other “potential informants” that he hints at. However, he will comment, “It has been generally acknowledged that the United States does not have any significant human sources… inside al-Qaeda. That is not true.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 216-218)
Thousands of al-Qaeda-linked militants have been regrouping in the Pakistan tribal region of South Waziristan (see Late May 2002 and June 2002). By late 2002, these forces begin regularly attacking US outposts, also known as firebases, just across the border in Afghanistan. In December 2002, the US is forced to abandon the Lawara firebase after phosphorus rockets fired on the base burn US Special Forces vehicles. US military officials begin to complain that the Pakistani government’s Frontier Corps is not only turning a blind eye to these attacks, but is actually helping al-Qaeda forces cross the border and providing covering fire for their attacks. US forces are not allowed to pursue al-Qaeda forces across the Pakistan border (see Early 2002 and After). In January 2003, US commander Lieutenant General Dan McNeill publicly speaks out about the situation despite orders from his superiors not to. He says, “US forces acknowledge the internationally recognized boundaries of Afghanistan, but may pursue attackers who attempted to escape into Pakistan to evade capture or retaliation.” Around the same time, the US media begins to report that the Pakistani government is allowing militants to attack US positions across the border (see December 2002-February 2003). Pakistan comes under increasing pressure to do something, but takes no action. Confident of their position, militants begin killing tribal elders who they suspect are not loyal to them, further cementing their control and causing many to flee. Some fleeing locals claim that the Pakistani ISI is frequently meeting with al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders there, such as Taliban leader Jalaluddin Haqqani, and apparently supporting them. (Rashid 2008, pp. 440) The Pakistani army commander in the region, Lieutenant General Ali Jan Orakzai, is considered a close friend of Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. It is believed he intensely hates the US and NATO, and has sympathy for the Taliban. He will later call them a “national liberation movement.” (Rashid 2008, pp. 277, 384) The Pakistani army will finally launch its first limited attack against al-Qaeda in October 2003 (see October 2, 2003).
Nabil al-Marabh is serving an eight-month prison sentence for illegally entering the US. A Jordanian in prison with al-Marabh earlier in 2002 informs against him, claiming that al-Marabh tells him many details of his terrorism ties. The informant, who shows “a highly detailed knowledge of his former cell-mate’s associations and movements” (Freeze 6/4/2004) , claims that al-Marabh:
admitted he sent money to a former roommate, Raed Hijazi, who is later convicted of trying to blow up a hotel in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), and that he aided Hijazi’s flight from authorities. (Solomon 6/3/2004)
planned to die a martyr by stealing a gasoline truck, driving it into either the Lincoln or Holland tunnels in New York City, turning it sideways, opening its fuel valves and having an al-Qaeda operative shoot a flare to ignite a massive explosion. The plan was cancelled when Hijazi was arrested in Jordan in October 2000. (Godfrey 10/16/2001; Solomon 6/3/2004)
trained on rifles and rocket-propelled grenades at militant camps in Afghanistan. (Solomon 6/3/2004)
boasted about getting drunk with two 9/11 hijackers. (Freeze 6/4/2004)
asked his uncle to hide an important data CD from Canadian police. (Freeze 6/4/2004)
claimed he took instructions from a mysterious figure in Chicago known as “al Mosul” which means “boss” in Arabic. (Solomon 6/3/2004)
acknowledged he distributed as much as $200,000 a month to training camps in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. (Solomon 6/3/2004) FBI agents are able to confirm portions of the informant’s claims. US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, after being denied permission to indict al-Marabh, uses the informant’s information to press again for an indictment. But the Justice Department continues to refuse to allow an indictment, and al-Marabh will eventually be deported to Syria (see January-2002-December 2002). (Solomon 6/3/2004)
The Associated Press reports that suicide squads are being trained in Pakistan by al-Qaeda operatives to hit targets in Afghanistan. The bombers’ families are being promised $50,000. The Pakistani government denies the presence of any such camps. “But privately, some officials in Pakistan’s intelligence community and Interior Ministry say they believe there is such bomb training and that it is protected by Pakistani militants and Taliban sympathizers in the Pakistan military.” (Associated Press 12/12/2002) Al-Qaeda is mostly based in the tribal region of South Waziristan, launching border attacks form there with the assistance from Pakistan’s ISI and the Frontier Corps (see December 2002-February 2003). In February 2003, the Wall Street Journal claims, “Western diplomats in Islamabad and Kabul, Afghan officials, and US army officers [in Afghanistan] now strongly believe that elements of Pakistan’s intelligence services and its religious parties are allowing the Taliban to regroup on the Pakistani side of the border. US officers say 90 percent of attacks they face are coming from groups based in Pakistan. Simply put, Pakistan’s strategy appears to be to continue hunting down non-Afghan members of al-Qaeda hiding in Pakistan, so a level of cooperation with the US continues, while at the same time allowing the Pashtun Taliban and others to maintain their presence in Pakistan. The US has not raised this issue publicly, fearing that it would destabilize [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf’s government.… [W]hile promising support to [Afghan leader Hamid Karzai], Pakistan is undermining him and the effort to erase terrorism from Afghanistan. American silence is only encouraging Pakistan’s Islamic parties, who now govern the North West Frontier Province, to extend an even greater helping hand to Afghan and Pakistani extremists. The Pakistani army has willingly played into their hands, rigging last October’s general elections so that the Islamic parties were unprecedently successful, releasing from jail leaders of banned terrorist groups, and encouraging them to mount pro-Iraq demonstrations. All this is part of a larger power play where Gen. Musharraf can claim to the Americans that he needs greater US support because he is threatened by fundamentalists. This is a game that every Pakistani regime since the 1980s has played with Washington, and it has always worked.” (Rashid 2/11/2003)
A federal judge in New York rules that Jose Padilla, a US citizen who has been accused of being an al-Qaeda “dirty bomber,” has the right to meet with a lawyer (see June 10, 2002; June 9, 2002). Judge Michael Mukasey agrees with the government that Padilla can be held indefinitely as an “enemy combatant” even though he is a US citizen. But he says such enemy combatants can meet with a lawyer to contest their status. However, the ruling makes it very difficult to overturn such a status. The government only need show that “some evidence” supports its claims. (Fainaru and Eggen 12/5/2002; Washington Post 12/11/2002) In Padilla’s case, many of the allegations against him given to the judge, such as Padilla taking his orders from al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, have been widely dismissed in the media. (Washington Post 9/1/2002) As The Guardian puts it, Padilla “appears to be little more than a disoriented thug with grandiose ideas.” (Borger 10/10/2002) After the ruling, Vice President Cheney sends Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement to see Mukasey on what Justice Department lawyers call “a suicide mission.” Clement, speaking for Cheney, tells Mukasey that he has erred so grossly that he needs to immediately retract his decision. Mukasey rejects the government’s “pinched legalism” and adds that his order is “not a suggestion or request.” (Gellman and Becker 6/25/2007) The government continues to challenge this ruling, and Padilla will continue to be denied access to a lawyer (see March 11, 2003).
US commanders have rejected as too risky many special operations missions to attack Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan. After Army Green Beret A-Teams received good intelligence on the whereabouts of former Taliban leader Mullah Omar, commanders turned down the missions as too dangerous. Soldiers traced the timidity to an incident in June 2002 called Operation Full Throttle, which resulted in the death of 34 civilians. (Scarborough 12/9/2002)
On December 12, 2002, the Washington Post publishes a front-page story by reporter Barton Gellman entitled “US Suspects Al-Qaeda Got Nerve Agent From Iraqis.” It states: “The Bush administration has received a credible report that Islamic extremists affiliated with al-Qaeda took possession of a chemical weapon in Iraq last month or late in October, according to two officials with firsthand knowledge of the report and its source. They said government analysts suspect that the transaction involved the nerve agent VX and that a courier managed to smuggle it overland through Turkey.” (Gellman 12/12/2002) The story proves so controversial that the Post’s ombudsman Michael Getler writes a column about in on December 22. Getler notes that, “[B]eginning with the second paragraph, which started out, ‘If the report proves true…’ the story contains an extraordinary array of flashing yellow lights.” He asks, “[W]hat, after all, is the use of this story that practically begs you not to put much credence in it? Why was it so prominently displayed, and why not wait until there was more certainty about the intelligence?” However, he says the Post stands by publishing the story. (Getler 12/12/2002) Slate will comment in 2004, “[T]he Gellman scoop withered on the vine.… nobody advanced or refuted the story—not even Gellman.” Gellman will later admit that he should have run a follow-up story, if only to point out that no confirming evidence had come out. (Shafer 4/28/2004) He will later admit the story was incorrect. But he will continue to defend the story, claiming that “it was news even though it was clear that it was possible this report would turn out to be false.” (Kurtz 8/12/2004)
A Pakistani court frees Maulana Masood Azhar, a member of the militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed, from prison. (Baldauf 12/16/2002) Two weeks later, he is freed from house arrest. He was held for exactly one year without charge, the maximum allowed in Pakistan. (Associated Press 12/29/2002) He was arrested shortly after an attack on the Indian Parliament that was blamed on his organization. In December 1999, he and Saeed Sheikh were rescued by al-Qaeda from an Indian prison, and he has ties to al-Qaeda and possibly the 9/11 attacks. Pakistan frees several other high-level militant leaders in the same month. It is believed they are doing this so they can fight in a secret proxy war with India over Kashmir. US officials have remained silent about the release of Azhar and others Pakistani militant leaders. (Baldauf 12/16/2002) The US froze the funds of Jaish-e-Mohammed in October 2001, but the group simply changed its name to al-Furqan, and the US has not frozen the funds of the “new” group. (Bokhari and Luce 2/8/2003; Lancaster and Khan 2/8/2003)
The CIA makes a fake video of al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, although the video is apparently never used. The video shows bin Laden and some associates of his sitting around a campfire, swigging bottles of liquor and talking about having had sex with boys, according to a former CIA official. The actors are drawn from “some of us darker-skinned employees,” the official will say. The timing of this effort is unclear, although it is apparently linked to discussions about making similar videos, including one of a fake Saddam Hussein having sex with a boy, prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion (see Before March 20, 2003). According to another former officer, the projects grind to a halt as nobody can come to an agreement on them. In particular, they are opposed by Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt and his deputy, Hugh Turner, who keeps “throwing darts at it.” The officer will say that the ideas are ridiculous and, “They came from people whose careers were spent in Latin America or East Asia,” and do not understand the cultural nuances of the region. “Saddam playing with boys would have no resonance in the Middle East—nobody cares,” a third former official will say. “Trying to mount such a campaign would show a total misunderstanding of the target. We always mistake our own taboos as universal when, in fact, they are just our taboos.” After the CIA abandons the projects, they are apparently revived by the military. “The military took them over,” one former official will say. “They had assets in psy-war down at Ft. Bragg,” at the Army’s Special Warfare Center. The projects will be revealed in the Washington Post in 2010. (Stein 5/25/2010)
According to NBC News, at some point in early 2003, the US learns about an al-Qaeda target in Yemen, and US officials want to strike the target with a Predator missile. However, due to the Iraq war there are no Predators available and the target gets away. (Myers and Roston 7/29/2003)
In early 2003, the Treasury Department draws up a list of 300 individuals, charities, and corporations in Southeast Asia believed to be funding al-Qaeda and its suspected Indonesian affiliate Jemaah Islamiya. “Due to inter-agency politics, the list [is] winnowed down to 18 individuals and 10 companies.” (Abuza 8/1/2003) Later, the number of suspected financiers is narrowed down even further, and on September 5, 2003, only 10 individuals, all connected to Jemaah Islamiya, have their assets frozen. (Joshi 9/5/2003) The assets of Jemaah Islamiya itself were frozen shortly after the October 2002 Bali bombings was blamed on the group (see October 12, 2002), though ties between the group and al-Qaeda were first publicly reported in January 2002. (Iqbal 1/18/2002; Iqbal 1/25/2003) Hambali, a notorious leader of both al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asia operations and Jemaah Islamiya, only had his assets frozen in January 2003, even though he was publicly mentioned as a major figure as far back as January 2001. (New Straits Times 1/25/2001; Cerkez-Robinson 1/18/2002)
In early 2003, the British intelligence agency MI5 is tracking a suspected al-Qaeda leader living in Britain known as Mohammed Quayyum Khan (a.k.a. “Q”) (see March 2003 and After), and they see him repeatedly meeting with a Pakistani-Briton named Omar Khyam. Quayyum is believed to be an aide to al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. (BBC 5/1/2007) By around March or April 2003, investigators begin monitoring Khyam, and soon discover he is a ringleader in a fertilizer bomb plot on unknown targets in Britain. (Taylor 4/30/2007)
Surveillance Intensifies - By the beginning of February 2004, surveillance intensifies. Thousands of hours of audio are recorded on dozens of suspects. The investigation soon focuses on a smaller group of Khyam’s close associates who are originally from Pakistan and had attended training camps in mountainous regions of Pakistan in recent years. Most of these men have links to Al-Muhajiroun, a banned Islamist group formed by radical London imam Omar Bakri Mohammed. The plotters are monitored discussing various targets, including nightclubs, pubs, and a network of underground high-pressure gas pipelines. In February 2004, MI5 intercepts a phone conversation between Khyam talking to his associate Salahuddin Amin, in Pakistan, about the quantities of different ingredients needed to construct a fertilizer bomb. An al-Qaeda operative in Pakistan had encouraged Amin to bomb targets in Britain.
Fertilizer Found and Replaced - Later in February, employees at a self storage depot in London call police after discovering a large amount of ammonium nitrate fertilizer being stored and suspecting it might be used for a bomb. Investigators discover the fertilizer belongs to Khyam and his group, and has been stored there since November 2003. The fertilizer is covertly replaced with an inert substance so a bomb cannot be successfully made from it.
Arrests Made - Investigators discover that Khyam is planning to fly to Pakistan on April 6, and the decision is made to arrest the suspects before he leaves the country. On March 29, a bomb plotter named Momin Khawaja is arrested where he is living in Canada. Weapons and a half-built detonator are found in his house. The next day, Khyam and seventeen others are arrested in England (see March 29, 2004 and After). Aluminum powder, a key bomb ingredient, is found in a shed owned by Khyam. Amin, still living in Pakistan, turns himself in to authorities there a few days later. Another key member of the group, Mohammed Junaid Babar, is not arrested and flies to the US on April 6. But he is arrested there four days later and quickly agrees to reveal all he knows and testify against the others (see April 10, 2004).
Five Convicted in Trial - The suspects will be put on trial in 2006 and Babar will be the star prosecution witness. Five people, including Khyam, will be sentenced to life in prison in 2007. Trials against Khawaja in Canada and Amin in Pakistan have yet to be decided. Curiously, Quayyum, who has been alleged to the mastermind of the plot and the key al-Qaeda link, is never arrested or even questioned, and continues to live openly in Britain (see March 2003 and After). (Cobain and Norton-Taylor 5/1/2007)
President Bush receives a highly classified “President’s Summary” from the intelligence community’s National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002), focusing on whether or not Saddam Hussein would launch an unprovoked attack on the US, either directly or in conjunction with terrorist groups. The consensus of all 16 intelligence agencies is that such an attack would be highly unlikely unless “ongoing military operations risked the imminent demise of his regime,” or if Hussein intends to “extract revenge” for such an assault. The State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) goes even farther, stating that Hussein is “unlikely to conduct clandestine attacks against the US homeland even if [his] regime’s demise is imminent” as the result of a US invasion. The same conclusion is circulated in Senior Executive Intelligence Briefs for senior White House officials, their senior staff members, and Congress’s intelligence oversight committees. Bush and his senior officials, specifically including Vice President Dick Cheney, have received at least four other reports since the spring of 2002 drawing the same conclusion, that Saddam Hussein is not a likely threat to the US.
'Imminent Threat' - However, Bush, Cheney, and other government officials have continued, and will continue, to assert that Hussein was ready and willing to use chemical or biological weapons against the US, either on his own or through a terrorist group such as al-Qaeda, unless stopped by force. The argument that Hussein is an “imminent threat” is a major rationale in the administration’s case for war.
Refusal to Release - The Bush administration will refuse to release the Presidential Summary to Congressional investigators who wish to know the basis for the Bush administration’s assertions about the alleged threat from Iraq. Bush and other senior officials will insist for months that they were never told of the intelligence community’s judgment that Hussein had no intention of launching an unprovoked attack on the US. By refusing to release the summary memo, the White House may be withholding the proof that Bush and his officials deliberately misled the public on the issue. (Waas 3/2/2006)
The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry is originally expected to release its complete and final report in January 2003, but the panel spends seven months negotiating with the Bush administration about what material can be made public, and the final report is not released until July 2003. In late March 2003, the US launches an attack on Iraq, beginning a long war. (Schmidt 7/27/2003) The administration originally wanted two thirds of the report to remain classified. (Associated Press 5/31/2003) The inquiry concluded in July 2002 that Mohamed Atta never met with an Iraqi agent in Prague, as some have claimed, but it is unable to make that conclusion public until now (see Late July 2002). Former Senator Max Cleland (D-GA), a member of the 9/11 Commission, will later claim: “The administration sold the connection [between Iraq and al-Qaeda] to scare the pants off the American people and justify the war. There’s no connection, and that’s been confirmed by some of bin Laden’s terrorist followers.… What you’ve seen here is the manipulation of intelligence for political ends. The reason this report was delayed for so long—deliberately opposed at first, then slow-walked after it was created—is that the administration wanted to get the war in Iraq in and over… before [it] came out. Had this report come out in January  like it should have done, we would have known these things before the war in Iraq, which would not have suited the administration.” (Waterman 7/25/2003) Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), one of the inquiry’s chairmen, also suspects that the administration deliberately does not hurry the declassification process along. However, he thinks this is because there is a “direct line between the terrorists and the government of Saudi Arabia.” According to author Philip Shenon, Graham thinks the administration wants to keep this material from the public because of its “determination to keep Saudi oil flowing to the United States.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 50-51)
Spanish police arrest 16 alleged al-Qaeda operatives in Barcelona, Girona, and other cities in northeastern Spain. Officials say the men may have links to the recent alleged ricin plot in Britain (see January 5, 2003). (CBC News 1/24/2003) Police allegedly discover large quantities of bomb-making material, manuals on chemical warfare, and equipment to manufacture false credit cards and identity documents, as well as a cache of timers, fuses and remote-control devices. (Gibson, Israely, and Walker 1/26/2003) Spanish Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar says the people arrested “were preparing to commit attacks”; other officials say that a major attack has been foiled. Since the 9/ 11 attacks, 35 suspected Islamic terrorists have been arrested in Spain. (CBC News 1/24/2003) The British media quickly identifies chemicals confiscated by Spanish police as ricin. However, it soon emerges that the Spanish police report refers to “resina” (resin). Other “evidence” gathered in the raid soon proves to be equally useless. The chemicals discovered by police are comprised of “two drums with liquids which in the first analysis contain aliphatic hydrocarbons, and a bottle, also with liquid, in which appear substances present in resins and synthetic rubber.” Subsequent tests prove that the liquids are harmless. Tests by US experts on the alleged ricin powder reveal it to be detergent. The electronic equipment proves to be equally innocuous (mobile phones, wires, etc.). It is also revealed that the raid was instigated by a French examining magistrate, Jean-Louis Bruguiere, dubbed Europe’s leading al-Qaeda investigator. Bruguiere had claimed that four of the Algerians arrested by French police in December in connection with the planned bombing of Strasburg cathedral had been in contact with the suspects. But when Guillermo Ruiz Polanco—the Spanish examining magistrate in charge of the case—asks to see the French court’s evidence, he is met with bureaucratic delay. Then, a month after the arrests, Bruguiere communicates he will not be asking for the extradition of any of the 16. Even Mohamed Amine Benaboura, who allegedly lived with one of the French al-Qaeda suspects, or Mohamed Tahraoui, who was found with a false French passport, arouse no interest from Paris. By April, all the suspects will be released, the court citing lack of evidence. “Very weak,” is Polanco’s view of the evidence the police have presented so far against the Algerians and Moroccans accused of plotting mass murder. (Webster 4/14/2003)
The Los Angeles Times reports that an al-Qaeda cell may still exist in Hamburg, Germany, and al-Qaeda sympathizers are threatening witnesses in a trial there. The CIA told the German government in late 2002 that it suspects an al-Qaeda cell is still present in Hamburg. It is known that a criminal investigation of at least eight suspected cell members is continuing in Germany. Mounir El Motassadeq is on trial for a role in the 9/11 plot. According to the Times, police have taped “telephone conversations of people—who never identify themselves—telling El Motassadeq’s wife that they would give her money if she needs it, implying that El Motassadeq will be assisted as long as he remains quiet.” One witness withdrew his statement to police after he was told he might need to testify publicly. Another witness named Shahid Nickels, who lived with hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh at one point, has told investigators that after 9/11, a man named Mohammed Rajih urged him to destroy any phone number or other contact information he might have for the Hamburg cell. Rajih soon moved to Morocco. He is suspected of being involved with the cell, and was under investigation even before 9/11. (Laabs 1/30/2003) In 2009, a group of ten men who regularly attend the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg—the same mosque attended by three of the 9/11 hijackers—will depart for militant training camps in Pakistan. One of the men, Naamen Meziche, will turn out to have been a member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell even before 9/11 (see March 5, 2009 and August 9, 2010).
Katharine Gun, a 29-year old translator for British intelligence’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), leaks the National Security Agency memo documenting the NSA’s electronic and physical surveillance of numerous UN delegates to the Security Council (see January 31, 2003). Gun will be arrested on March 8 and charged with violating the Official Secrets Act (see March 9, 2003). Gun leaks the memo, (Davies 9/15/2004) written by the NSA’s Frank Koza and sent to several US allies via its ECHELON global surveillance system, to Britain’s Observer, which spends weeks verifying the document’s veracity before running the story on March 2. Former NSA intelligence officer Wayne Madsen, now of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the leak illustrates the deep unhappiness among several US allies’ intelligence agencies over US and British attempts to allege ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda. “My feeling is that this was an authorized leak,” Madsen says. “I’ve been hearing for months of people in the US and British intelligence community who are deeply concerned about their governments ‘cooking’ intelligence to link Iraq to al-Qaeda.’ While surveillance of delegates and other officials at the UN is a violation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, (Bright, Vulliamy, and Beaumont 3/9/2003) intelligence experts acknowledge that the US and other nations routinely conduct at least some sort of surveillance on UN members. “One would have to have the innocence of an unborn child to believe that espionage doesn’t go on every day at the United Nations,” says one such expert, Loch Johnson. “From a purist point of view, it’s unfortunate in a way, because after all, we’re the host nation for the United Nations. But the reality is, Europeans and everyone else engages in espionage in New York City, much of it focused on the United Nations.” Experts say what is unprecedented is the leak itself, especially in its timeliness and detail. (Shane and Sabar 3/4/2003)
Vietnam-era whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg, who leaked the so-called “Pentagon Papers” to the New York Times, writes in January 2004, “I can only admire the more timely, courageous action of Katherine Gun…who risked her career and freedom to expose an illegal plan to win official and public support for an illegal war, before that war had started. Her revelation of a classified document urging British intelligence to help the US bug the phones of all the members of the UN security council to manipulate their votes on the war may have been critical in denying the invasion a false cloak of legitimacy.…She did what she could, in time for it to make a difference, as indeed others should have done, and still can. I have no doubt that there are thousands of pages of documents in safes in London and Washington right now—the Pentagon Papers of Iraq—whose unauthorized revelation would drastically alter the public discourse on whether we should continue sending our children to die in Iraq.…Exposing governmental lies carries a heavy personal risk, even in our democracies. But that risk can be worthwhile when a war’s-worth of lives is at stake.” (Ellsberg 1/27/2004)
Saddam Hussein gives a rare interview, with former Labour MP Tony Benn for Channel 4 News and flatly denies supporting al-Qaeda. He says, “If we had a relationship with al-Qaeda and we believed in that relationship, we wouldn’t be ashamed to admit it.” (BBC 2/4/2003)
When asked on CNN if there is a clear connection between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda, National Security Adviser Rice replies: “There is no question in my mind about the al-Qaeda connection. It is a connection that has unfolded, that we’re learning more about as we are able to take the testimony of detainees, people who were high up in the al-Qaeda organization. And what emerges is a picture of a Saddam Hussein who became impressed with what al-Qaeda did after it bombed our embassies in 1998 in Kenya and Tanzania, began to give them assistance in chemical and biological weapons, something that they were having trouble achieving on their own, that harbored a terrorist network under this man [Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi, despite the fact that Saddam Hussein was told that al-Zarqawi was there.” (CNN 2/5/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform 3/16/2004)
US Secretary of State Colin Powell presents the Bush administration’s case against Saddam to the UN Security Council, in advance of an expected vote on a second resolution that the US and Britain hope will provide the justification to use military force against Iraq. (Powell 2/5/2003) At the insistence of Powell, CIA Director George Tenet is seated directly behind him to the right. “It was theater, a device to signal to the world that Powell was relying on the CIA to make his case that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction,” Vanity Fair magazine will later explain. (Bamford 2004, pp. 371-2; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 232) In his speech before the Council, Powell makes the case that Iraq is in further material breach of past UN resolutions, specifically the most recent one, UN Resolution 1441 (see November 8, 2002). Sources cited in Powell’s presentation include defectors, informants, communication intercepts, procurement records, photographs, and detainees. (Powell 2/5/2003) Most of the allegations made by Powell are later demonstrated to be false. “The defectors and other sources went unidentified,” the Associated Press will later report. “The audiotapes were uncorroborated, as were the photo interpretations. No other supporting documents were presented. Little was independently verifiable.” (Hanley 8/9/2003)
Iraq's December 7 Declaration Was Inaccurate - Powell contends that Iraq’s December 7 declaration was not complete. According to UN Resolution 1441 the document was supposed to be a “currently accurate, full and complete declaration of all aspects” of its programs to develop weapons of mass destruction. But Saddam has not done this, says Powell, who explains that Iraq has yet to provide sufficient evidence that it destroyed its previously declared stock of 8,500 liters of anthrax, as it claimed in the declaration. Furthermore, notes the secretary of state, UNSCOM inspectors had previously estimated that Iraq possessed the raw materials to produce as much as 25,000 liters of the virus. (Chivers 2/5/2003; Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/6/2003)
Iraq Has Ties to Al-Qaeda - Powell repeats earlier claims that Saddam Hussein’s government has ties to al-Qaeda. Powell focuses on the cases of the militant Islamic group Ansar-al-Islam and Abu Musab Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, who had received medical treatment in Baghdad during the summer of 2002 (see December 2001-Mid-2002). (Powell 2/5/2003) However, just days before Powell’s speech, US and British intelligence officials—speaking on condition of anonymity—told the press that the administration’s allegations of Iraqi-al-Qaeda ties were based on information provided by Kurdish groups, who, as enemies of Ansar-al-Islam, should not be considered reliable. Furthermore, these sources unequivocally stated that intelligence analysts on both sides of the Atlantic remained unconvinced of the purported links between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see February 3-4, 2003). (Sengupta 2/3/2003; Smith and Rennie 2/4/2003) Powell also claims that Iraq provided “chemical or biological weapons training for two al-Qaeda associates beginning in December 2000.” The claim is based on a September 2002 CIA document which had warned that its sources were of “varying reliability” and that the claim was not substantiated (see September 2002). The report’s main source, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda operative who offered the information to CIA interrogators while in custody, later recounts the claim (see February 14, 2004). (CNN 9/26/2002; Jehl 7/31/2004; Isikoff 7/5/2005) Larry Wilkerson, Powell’s chief of staff, will later say that neither he nor Powell ever received “any dissent with respect to those lines… indeed the entire section that now we know came from [al-Libi].” (Isikoff and Hosenball 11/10/2005) Senior US officials will admit to the New York Times and Washington Post after the presentation that the administration was not claiming that Saddam Hussein is “exercising operational control” of al-Qaeda. (Gordon 2/6/2003; Pincus 2/7/2003)
Iraq Has Missiles Capable of Flying Up to 1,200 Kilometers - Describing a photo of the al-Rafah weapons site, Powell says: “As part of this effort, another little piece of evidence, Iraq has built an engine test stand that is larger than anything it has ever had. Notice the dramatic difference in size between the test stand on the left, the old one, and the new one on the right. Note the large exhaust vent. This is where the flame from the engine comes out. The exhaust vent on the right test stand is five times longer than the one on the left. The one of the left is used for short-range missiles. The one on the right is clearly intended for long-range missiles that can fly 1,200 kilometers. This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Chivers 2/5/2003) But according to the Associated Press, “… UN missile experts have reported inspecting al-Rafah at least five times since inspections resumed Nov. 27, have studied the specifications of the new test stand, regularly monitor tests at the installation, and thus far have reported no concerns.” (Hanley 2/7/2003) Similarly, Reuters quotes Ali Jassem, an Iraqi official, who explains that the large stand referred to in Powell’s speech is not yet in operation and that its larger size is due to the fact that it will be testing engines horizontally. (Ladki 2/7/2003; Steele 2/15/2003) Several days later, Blix will report to the UN that “so far, the test stand has not been associated with a proscribed activity.” (Steele 2/15/2003)
Iraqis Attempted to Hide Evidence from Inspectors - Powell shows the UN Security Council satellite shots depicting what he claims are chemical weapons bunkers and convoys of Iraqi cargo trucks preparing to transport ballistic missile components from a weapons site just two days before the arrival of inspectors. “We saw this kind of housecleaning at close to 30 sites,” Powell explains. “We must ask ourselves: Why would Iraq suddenly move equipment of this nature before inspections if they were anxious to demonstrate what they had or did not have?” (Powell 2/5/2003) But the photos are interpreted differently by others. An unnamed UN official and German UN Inspector Peter Franck both say the trucks in the photos are actually fire engines. (Stober 3/18/2003; Agence France-Presse 6/6/2003)
'Literally Removed the Crust of the Earth' - Another series of photos—taken during the spring and summer of 2002—show that Iraqis have removed a layer of topsoil from the al-Musayyib chemical complex. This piece of evidence, combined with information provided by an unnamed source, leads Powell to draw the following conclusion: “The Iraqis literally removed the crust of the earth from large portions of this site in order to conceal chemical weapons evidence that would be there from years of chemical weapons activity.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/6/2003) Showing another series of pictures—one taken on November 10 (before inspections) and one taken on December 22—Powell says that a guard station and decontamination truck were removed prior to the arrival of inspectors. Powell does not explain how he knows that the truck in the photograph was a decontamination truck. (Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/6/2003; DeYoung and Pincus 2/6/2003) AP reporter Charles Hanley says that some of Powell’s claims that Iraq is hiding evidence are “ridiculous.” Powell says of a missile site, “This photograph was taken in April of 2002. Since then, the test stand has been finished and a roof has been put over it so it will be harder for satellites to see what’s going on underneath the test stand.” Hanley later says, “What he neglected to mention was that the inspectors were underneath, watching what was going on.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
Communication Intercepts Demonstrate Iraqi Attempts to Conceal Information from Inspectors - Powell plays recordings of three conversations intercepted by US intelligence—one on November 26, another on January 30, and a third, a “few weeks” before. The conversations suggest that the Iraqis were attempting to hide evidence from inspectors. (Chivers 2/5/2003; Powell 2/5/2003; Reid 2/6/2003; Sydney Morning Herald 2/7/2003) Senior administration officials concede to the Washington Post that it was not known “what military items were discussed in the intercepts.” (Priest and Pincus 2/13/2003) Some critics argue that the intercepts were presented out of context and open to interpretation. (Sydney Morning Herald 2/7/2003; Sydney Morning Herald 2/9/2003) Others note that the conversations were translated from Arabic by US translators and were not analyzed or verified by an independent specialist. (Breslin 2/6/2003)
Biological Weapons Factories - Colin Powell says that US intelligence has “firsthand descriptions” that Iraq has 18 mobile biological weapons factories mounted on trucks and railroad cars. Information about the mobile weapons labs are based on the testimonies of four sources—a defected Iraqi chemical engineer who claims to have supervised one of these facilities, an Iraqi civil engineer (see December 20, 2001), a source in “a position to know,” and a defected Iraqi major (see February 11, 2002). Powell says that the mobile units are capable of producing enough dry biological agent in a single month to kill several thousand people. He shows computer-generated diagrams and pictures based on the sources’ descriptions of the facilities. Powell says that according to the chemical engineer, during the late 1990s, Iraq’s biological weapons scientists would often begin the production of pathogens on Thursday nights and complete the process on Fridays in order to evade UNSCOM inspectors whom Iraq believed would not conduct inspections on the Muslim holy day. (Chivers 2/5/2003; Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/6/2003; Marshall 2/11/2003) Powell tells the delegates, “The source was an eyewitness, an Iraqi chemical engineer, who supervised one of these facilities. He actually was present during biological agent production runs. He was also at the site when an accident occurred in 1998. Twelve technicians died from exposure to biological agents.” He displays models of the mobile trucks drawn from the source’s statements. (CBS News 11/4/2007) Responding to the allegation, Iraqi officials will concede that they do in fact have mobile labs, but insist that they are not used for the development of weapons. According to the Iraqis, the mobile labs are used for food analysis for disease outbreaks, mobile field hospitals, a military field bakery, food and medicine refrigeration trucks, a mobile military morgue and mobile ice making trucks. (Plesch 2/5/2003; ABC News 5/21/2003) Iraq’s explanation is consistent with earlier assessments of the UN weapons inspectors. Before Powell’s presentation, Hans Blix had dismissed suggestions that the Iraqis were using mobile biological weapons labs, reporting that inspections of two alleged mobile labs had turned up nothing. “Two food-testing trucks have been inspected and nothing has been found,” Blix said. And Ewen Buchanan, spokesman for the UN Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission, said, “The outline and characteristics of these trucks that we inspected were all consistent with the declared purposes.” (Plesch 2/5/2003; ABC News 5/21/2003)
'Curveball' Primary Source of Claims - Powell’s case is further damaged when it is later learned that one of the sources Powell cited, the Iraqi major, had been earlier judged unreliable by intelligence agents at the Defense Intelligence Agency (see February 11, 2002). In May 2002, the analysts had issued a “fabricator notice” on the informant, noting that he had been “coached by [the] Iraqi National Congress” (INC) (see May 2002). But the main source for the claim had been an Iraqi defector known as “Curveball,” who was initially believed to be the brother of a top aide to Ahmed Chalabi. The source claimed to be a chemical engineer who had helped design and build the mobile labs. His information was passed to Washington through Germany’s intelligence service, the Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND), which had been introduced to the source by the INC. In passing along the information, the BND noted that there were “various problems with the source.” And only one member of the US intelligence community had actually met with the person—an unnamed Pentagon analyst who determined the man was an alcoholic and of dubious reliability. Yet both the DIA and the CIA validated the information. (Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity 8/22/2003; Drogin and Miller 3/28/2004; Landay and Brown 4/4/2004; Newsweek 4/19/2004; Isikoff 7/19/2004) Powell says that the US has three other intelligence sources besides Curveball for the mobile bioweapons labs. Powell will be infuriated to learn that none of those three sources ever corroborated Curveball’s story, and sometimes their information contradicted each other. One of the three had failed a polygraph test and was determined to have lied to his debriefers. Another had already been declared a fabricator by US intelligence community, and had been proven to have mined his information off the Internet. (Drogin and Karlin 11/27/2007) In November 2007, Curveball is identified as Rafid Ahmed Alwan. Serious questions about Curveball’s veracity had already been raised by the time of Powell’s UN presentation. He will later be completely discredited (see November 4, 2007).
Further Problems with Mobile Lab Claims - In addition to the inspectors’ assessments and the dubious nature of the sources Powell cited, there are numerous other problems with the mobile factories claim. Raymond Zilinskas, a microbiologist and former UN weapons inspector, argues that significant amounts of pathogens such as anthrax, could not be produced in the short span of time suggested in Powell’s speech. “You normally would require 36 to 48 hours just to do the fermentation…. The short processing time seems suspicious to me.” He also says: “The only reason you would have mobile labs is to avoid inspectors, because everything about them is difficult. We know it is possible to build them—the United States developed mobile production plants, including one designed for an airplane—but it’s a big hassle. That’s why this strikes me as a bit far-fetched.” (Warrick 2/6/2003) After Powell’s speech, Blix will say in his March 7 report to the UN that his inspectors found no evidence of mobile weapons labs (see March 7, 2003). (CNN 3/7/2003; Agence France-Presse 3/7/2003; King et al. 3/7/2003) Reporter Bob Drogin, author of Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, says in 2007, “[B]y the time Colin Powell goes to the UN to make the case for war, he shows the world artists’ conjectures based on analysts’ interpretations and extrapolations of Arabic-to-German-to-English translations of summary debriefing reports of interviews with a manic-depressive defector whom the Americans had never met. [CIA director George] Tenet told Powell that Curveball’s information was ironclad and unassailable. It was a travesty.” (Holland 10/22/2007)
'Four Tons' of VX Toxin - Powell also claims that Iraq has “four tons” of VX nerve toxin. “A single drop of VX on the skin will kill in minutes,” he says. “Four tons.” Hanley later notes, “He didn’t point out that most of that had already been destroyed. And, on point after point he failed to point out that these facilities about which he was raising such alarm were under repeated inspections good, expert people with very good equipment, and who were leaving behind cameras and other monitoring equipment to keep us a continuing eye on it.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
Iraq is Developing Unmanned Drones Capable of Delivering Weapons of Mass Destruction - Powell asserts that Iraq has flight-tested an unmanned drone capable of flying up to 310 miles and is working on a liquid-fueled ballistic missile with a range of 745 miles. He plays a video of an Iraqi F-1 Mirage jet dispersing “simulated anthrax.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Chivers 2/5/2003; Graham 2/6/2003) But the Associated Press will later report that the video was made prior to the 1991 Gulf War. Apparently, three of the four spray tanks shown in the film had been destroyed during the 1991 military intervention. (Hanley 8/9/2003)
Imported Aluminum Tubes were Meant for Centrifuge - Powell argues that the aluminum tubes which Iraq had attempted to import in July 2001 (see July 2001) were meant to be used in a nuclear weapons program and not for artillery rockets as experts from the US Energy Department, the INR, and the IAEA have been arguing (see February 3, 2003) (see January 11, 2003) (see August 17, 2001) (see January 27, 2003). To support the administration’s case, he cites unusually precise specifications and high tolerances for heat and stress. “It strikes me as quite odd that these tubes are manufactured to a tolerance that far exceeds US requirements for comparable rockets,” he says. “Maybe Iraqis just manufacture their conventional weapons to a higher standard than we do, but I don’t think so.” Powell also suggests that because the tubes were “anodized,” it was unlikely that they had been designed for conventional use. (Powell 2/5/2003; Warrick 2/5/2003; Warrick 3/8/2003) Powell does not mention that numerous US nuclear scientists have dismissed this claim (see August 17, 2001) (see September 23, 2002) (see December 2002). (Albright 10/9/2003) Powell also fails to say that Iraq has rockets identical to the Italian Medusa 81 mm rockets, which are of the same dimensions and made of the same alloy as the 3,000 tubes that were intercepted in July 2001 (see After January 22, 2003). (Gellman and Pincus 8/10/2003) This had been reported just two weeks earlier by the Washington Post. (Richburg 1/24/2003) Moreover, just two days before, Powell was explicitly warned by the US State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research not to cite the aluminum tubes as evidence that Iraq is pursuing nuclear weapons (see February 3, 2003). (Wetzel 7/29/2003)
Iraq Attempted to Acquire Magnets for Use in a Gas Centrifuge Program - Powell says: “We… have intelligence from multiple sources that Iraq is attempting to acquire magnets and high-speed balancing machines. Both items can be used in a gas centrifuge program to enrich uranium. In 1999 and 2000, Iraqi officials negotiated with firms in Romania, India, Russia and Slovenia for the purchase of a magnet production plant. Iraq wanted the plant to produce magnets weighing 20 to 30 grams. That’s the same weight as the magnets used in Iraq’s gas centrifuge program before the Gulf War.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Gordon 2/6/2003) Investigation by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] will demonstrate that the magnets have a dual use. IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei said a little more than a week before, on January 27, in his report to the Security Council: “Iraq presented detailed information on a project to construct a facility to produce magnets for the Iraqi missile program, as well as for industrial applications, and that Iraq had prepared a solicitation of offers, but that the project had been delayed due to ‘financial credit arrangements.’ Preliminary investigations indicate that the specifications contained in the offer solicitation are consistent with those required for the declared intended uses. However, the IAEA will continue to investigate the matter….” (see January 27, 2003) (Annan 1/27/2003 ) On March 7, ElBaradei will provide an additional update: “The IAEA has verified that previously acquired magnets have been used for missile guidance systems, industrial machinery, electricity meters and field telephones. Through visits to research and production sites, reviews of engineering drawings and analyses of sample magnets, IAEA experts familiar with the use of such magnets in centrifuge enrichment have verified that none of the magnets that Iraq has declared could be used directly for a centrifuge magnetic bearing.” (see March 7, 2003) (CNN 3/7/2003)
Iraq Attempted to Purchase Machines to Balance Centrifuge Rotors - Powell states: “Intercepted communications from mid-2000 through last summer show that Iraq front companies sought to buy machines that can be used to balance gas centrifuge rotors. One of these companies also had been involved in a failed effort in 2001 to smuggle aluminum tubes into Iraq.” (Powell 2/5/2003; Gordon 2/6/2003)
Powell Cites Documents Removed from Home of Iraqi Scientist Faleh Hassan - Powell cites the documents that had been found on January 16, 2003 by inspectors with the help of US intelligence at the Baghdad home of Faleh Hassan, a nuclear scientist. Powell asserts that the papers are a “dramatic confirmation” that Saddam Hussein is concealing evidence and not cooperating with the inspections. The 3,000 documents contained information relating to the laser enrichment of uranium (see January 16, 2003). (Coughlin 1/18/2003; Jahn 1/18/2003; BBC 1/19/2003; Powell 2/5/2003) A little more than a week later, in the inspectors’ February 14 update to the UN Security Council (see February 14, 2003), ElBaradei will say, “While the documents have provided some additional details about Iraq’s laser enrichment development efforts, they refer to activities or sites already known to the IAEA and appear to be the personal files of the scientist in whose home they were found. Nothing contained in the documents alters the conclusions previously drawn by the IAEA concerning the extent of Iraq’s laser enrichment program.” (Steele 2/15/2003; BBC 2/17/2003; Hanley 8/9/2003)
Iraq is Hiding Missiles in the Desert - Powell says that according to unidentified sources, the Iraqis have hidden rocket launchers and warheads containing biological weapons in the western desert. He further contends that these caches of weapons are hidden in palm groves and moved to different locations on a weekly basis. (Powell 2/5/2003) It will later be suggested that this claim was “lifted whole from an Iraqi general’s written account of hiding missiles in the 1991 war.” (Hanley 8/9/2003)
Iraq Has Scud Missiles - Powell also says that according to unnamed “intelligence sources,” Iraq has a few dozen Scud-type missiles. (Hanley 8/9/2003)
Iraq Has Weapons of Mass Destruction - Secretary of State Colin Powell states unequivocally: “We… have satellite photos that indicate that banned materials have recently been moved from a number of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction facilities. There can be no doubt that Saddam Hussein has biological weapons and the capability to rapidly produce more, many more.” Elsewhere in his speech he says: “We know that Saddam Hussein is determined to keep his weapons of mass destruction, is determined to make more.” (Powell 2/5/2003; CNN 2/5/2003)
Governments, Media Reaction Mixed - Powell’s speech will fail to convince many skeptical governments, nor will it impress many in the European media. But it will have a tremendous impact in the US media (see February 5, 2003 and After).
With Secretary of State Colin Powell at his side, President Bush speaks about Iraq in the Roosevelt Room, repeating many of the allegations that were made in Powell’s speech to the UN the day before (see February 5, 2003). (US President 2/10/2003)
'Vast Arsenal' of WMDs - “The regime has never accounted for a vast arsenal of deadly biological and chemical weapons. …. The Iraqi regime has actively and secretly attempted to obtain equipment needed to produce chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. Firsthand witnesses have informed us that Iraq has at least seven mobile factories for the production of biological agents, equipment mounted on trucks and rails to evade discovery. Using these factories, Iraq could produce within just months hundreds of pounds of biological poisons.… Iraq has never accounted for thousands of bombs and shells capable of delivering chemical weapons. The regime is actively pursuing components for prohibited ballistic missiles. And we have sources that tell us that Saddam Hussein recently authorized Iraqi field commanders to use chemical weapons—the very weapons the dictator tells the world he does not have.” (US President 2/10/2003)
WMD Delivery Systems - “The Iraqi regime has acquired and tested the means to deliver weapons of mass destruction. All the world has now seen the footage of an Iraqi Mirage aircraft with a fuel tank modified to spray biological agents over wide areas. Iraq has developed spray devices that could be used on unmanned aerial vehicles with ranges far beyond what is permitted by the Security Council. A UAV launched from a vessel off the American coast could reach hundreds of miles inland.” (US President 2/10/2003)
Iraq and al-Qaeda - “One of the greatest dangers we face is that weapons of mass destruction might be passed to terrorists, who would not hesitate to use those weapons. Saddam Hussein has longstanding, direct and continuing ties to terrorist networks. Senior members of Iraqi intelligence and al-Qaeda have met at least eight times since the early 1990s. Iraq has sent bomb-making and document forgery experts to work with al-Qaeda. Iraq has also provided al-Qaeda with chemical and biological weapons training.” (US President 2/10/2003; Isikoff and Hosenball 11/10/2005)
Harboring Terrorists - “We also know that Iraq is harboring a terrorist network, headed by a senior al-Qaeda terrorist planner. The network runs a poison and explosive training center in northeast Iraq, and many of its leaders are known to be in Baghdad. The head of this network traveled to Baghdad for medical treatment and stayed for months. Nearly two dozen associates joined him there and have been operating in Baghdad for more than eight months.” (US President 2/10/2003)
Choice of Freedom - “[W]e can give the Iraqi people their chance to live in freedom and choose their own government.… Saddam Hussein has made Iraq into a prison, a poison factory, and a torture chamber for patriots and dissidents.” (US President 2/10/2003)
Journalist Jason Burke writes in the Observer about recent interviews he has conducted with prisoners held by Kurdish rebels in northern Iraq. One prisoner, Mohammed Mansour Shahab, claims to have been an Iraqi government agent who repeatedly met with Osama bin Laden over a several year period. The New Yorker published an article in March 2002 largely based on Shahab’s allegations and concluded, “the Kurds may have evidence of [Saddam Hussein’s] ties to Osama bin Laden’s terrorist network.” But Burke is able to find a number of inconsistencies and falsehoods in Shahab’s account, and after he points them out, Shahab does not deny that he was lying. Burke suggests that Shahab, like other prisoners being held by the Kurds, was lying in hopes of getting his prison sentence reduced since his Kurdish captors are looking to promote propaganda against their enemy, the Hussein government. Burke also interviews a number of prisoners belonging to the Ansar al-Islam militant group that is allegedly linked to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He does not see evidence of any link between that group and Hussein’s government and concludes, “Saddam may well have infiltrated the Ansar al-Islam with a view to monitoring the developments of the group (indeed it would be odd if he had not) but that appears to be about as far as his involvement with the group, and incidentally with al-Qaeda, goes.” (Burke 2/9/2003)
Newsweek reports: “In recent weeks a small group of CIA analysts have been meeting as part of a ‘predictive analysis project’ to divine if and when Saddam might strike the United States with a weapon of mass destruction. The theory is that Saddam might slip one of his chem-bio or radiological weapons to al-Qaeda or some other terrorist group to create a massive diversion, a crisis in the American homeland that could stall an attack on Iraq.” The CIA has no hard evidence supporting this idea, but the CIA has calculated the odds, and in a report obtained by Newsweek, these analysts predict “that under the stipulated scenario there is a 59 percent probability that an attack on the US homeland involving WMD would occur before March 31, 2003, a 35 percent probability an attack would occur at a later date, and a 6 percent probability an attack would never occur.” But Newsweek will comment that “it is important to remember that the odds are determined by averaging a bunch of guesses, informed perhaps, but from experts whose careers can only be ruined by underestimating the threat.” (Klaidman and Thomas 2/17/2003) No such attack occurs.
Mounir El Motassadeq, an alleged member of Mohamed Atta’s Hamburg al-Qaeda cell, is convicted in Germany of accessory to murder in the 9/11 attacks. His is given the maximum sentence of 15 years. (Associated Press 2/19/2003) El Motassadeq admitted varying degrees of contact with Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Said Bahaji, Ziad Jarrah, and Zakariya Essabar; admitted he had been given power of attorney over Alshehhi’s bank account; and admitted attending an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan from May to August 2000 (see May 22 to August 2000); but he claimed he had nothing to do with the 9/11 plot. (Butler 10/24/2002) The conviction is the first one related to 9/11, but as the Independent puts it, “there are doubts whether there will ever be a second.” This is because intelligence agencies have been reluctant to turn over evidence, or give access to requested witnesses. In El Motassadeq’s case, his lawyers tried several times unsuccessfully to obtain testimony by two of his friends, bin al-Shibh and Mohammed Haydar Zammar—a lack of evidence that will later become grounds for overturning his conviction. (Gumbel 2/20/2003)
Popular Science magazine carries a rare interview with Tom Owen, a voice analyst who has worked on identifying Osama bin Laden in recordings allegedly released by the al-Qaeda leader. Owen worked for US media on the identification of bin Laden’s voice in a November 2002 recording (see November 12, 2002), assisted by a captain of the Saudi Interior Ministry’s forensics department he had apparently been teaching at the time. Owen, one of only eight forensic voice analysts certified by the American Board of Recorded Evidence, and other US experts identified the voice as bin Laden’s, although a Swiss facility disagreed (see November 29, 2002). The interview describes Owen’s lab and how he works, pivoting off the November recording. Owen criticizes the Swiss analysis, saying that the advanced biometrics software the Swiss used cannot work with the noise on the tape, as it is “designed to work with perfect samples.” Cleaning up the tape would not help, as this would remove the high and low frequencies a biometric system needs to make its identification.
Voice Identification Methodology - To identify voices, Owen uses a spectrograph, which produces spectrograms—“a kind of graphic speech rendering that has changed little since the 1940s”—that are then compared. His favorite tool for analyses is a “piece of vintage equipment—a reel-to-reel Voice Identification 700 spectrograph built in 1973,” which “differs little from the analog machines US Army intelligence officers built to identify and track German radio operators during World War II.” When analyzing a new recording thought to be from bin Laden, Owen compares the spectrograms it produces with spectrograms from a known bin Laden interview, such as one he granted to ABC in 1998 (see May 28, 1998). According to the magazine, there are “only a half-dozen words in common between the November tape and the ABC interview,” although the standards of the American Board of Recorded Evidence demand 20 identical words, preferably spoken in the same order.
Listening for 'Quirky Mannerisms' - However, Owen also listens for “the multitude of quirky mannerisms and pronunciation foibles peculiar to each voice,” because a trained ear can detect “the subtle whistle caused by a missing tooth, a person’s tendency to swallow in the middle of a sentence, even the way someone sets his or her jaw when speaking.” Owen plays the reporter what he calls a short-term memory tape, apparently a crucial tool in aural voice identifications. The spliced tape toggles between 2.5-second segments of bin Laden’s ABC interview and the November tape; Owen uses the tape to listen for peculiarities in a voice, especially when vowels are spoken. According to Owen, who says bin Laden’s voice is what the magazine calls “plenty peculiar,” the tape proves it is the “same guy” on the November tape and in the 1998 interview. However, the reporter comments: “To my untrained ear, it could be Darth Vader behind the static.… This is the sort of gray area that tends to make legal observers worry about the state of forensic science.”
Comments on NSA - According to the magazine, Owen’s technology is similar to that which the NSA probably uses to analyze voices, although Owen thinks the NSA has samples of bin Laden’s voice he does not. However, he does not think it has made biometric breakthroughs in analysis despite its advanced technology, which is “mostly devoted to listening.” (Sachs 2/24/2003)
An article in the New Republic claims that “President Bush has repeatedly stifled efforts to strengthen domestic safeguards against further terrorist attacks. As a consequence, homeland security remains perilously deficient.” The article cites numerous examples to support this contention, and comments: “Bush’s record on homeland security ought to be considered a scandal. Yet, not only is it not a scandal, it’s not even a story, having largely failed to register with the public, the media, or even the political elite.” It points out numerous examples where the administration has opposed the spending of more money to protect against an attack and argues: “The White House appears to grasp that Bush’s standing on national security issues, especially after September 11, is so unassailable that he does not need to shore it up. Instead, the administration seems to view his wartime popularity as a massive bank of political capital from which they can withdraw and spend on other, unrelated causes. In the short run, this strategy is a political boon for Bush and his party. But, in the long run, it divides and weakens the nation against its external threats.” (Chait 3/3/2003) Here are some of the examples of evidence supporting this article’s arguments pointed out in this and subsequent articles:
Airports are said to be unacceptably vulnerable to terrorism. (Miller 6/8/2004)
Terrorist watch lists remain unconsolidated. (Waterman 4/30/2003)
Basic background checks on air security personnel remain undone. (Donnelly 7/8/2003)
The Treasury Department has assigned five times as many agents to investigate Cuban embargo violations as it has to track al-Qaeda’s finances. (Solomon 4/30/2004)
The White House has spurned a request for 80 more investigators to track and disrupt the global financial networks of US-designated terrorist groups. (New York Times 4/4/2004)
Cases involving “international terrorism” have been fizzling out in US courts. (Schmitt 12/9/2003)
Experts have concluded that the Iraq War has diverted resources from the war on terrorism and made the US less secure. (Myers and Roston 7/29/2003; Boehlert 7/31/2003)
Investigations have shown that most chemical plants across the US remain dangerously vulnerable to a guerilla-style attack. Some plants have virtually no security at all, often not even locked gates. Explosions at some of these plants could kill more than a million people. Yet the Bush administration has so far successfully opposed strengthening security regulations, apparently at the behest of chemical industry lobbyists. (Chait 3/3/2003; Lane 1/28/2005)
There has been a huge increase in government spending to train and respond to terrorist attacks, but Time magazine reports that the geographical spread of “funding appears to be almost inversely proportional to risk.” (Ripley 3/21/2004)
Several high-profile studies have concluded that despite its frequent “bear any burden” rhetoric, the Bush administration has grossly underfunded domestic security. (Chait 3/3/2003; Lichtblau 7/25/2003)
Community-based “first responders” lack basic equipment, including protective clothing and radios. (Chait 3/3/2003; Lichtblau 7/25/2003)
Spending on computer upgrades, airport security, more customs agents, port security, border controls, chemical plant security, bioweapon vaccinations, and much more, is far below needed levels and often below Promised levels. (Chait 3/3/2003)
The Justice Department sends a legal memorandum to the Pentagon that claims federal laws prohibiting torture, assault, maiming, and other crimes do not apply to military interrogators questioning al-Qaeda captives because the president’s authority as commander in chief overrides the law. The 81-page memo, written by the Office of Legal Counsel’s John Yoo, is not publicly revealed for over five years (see April 1, 2008).
President Can Order Maiming, Disfigurement of Prisoners - Yoo writes that infractions such as slapping, shoving, and poking detainees do not warrant criminal liability. Yoo goes even farther, saying that the use of mind-altering drugs can be used on detainees as long as they do not produce “an extreme effect” calculated to “cause a profound disruption of the senses or personality.” (John C. Yoo 3/14/2003 ; Eggen and White 4/2/2008) Yoo asks if the president can order a prisoner’s eyes poked out, or if the president could order “scalding water, corrosive acid or caustic substance” thrown on a prisoner. Can the president have a prisoner disfigured by slitting an ear or nose? Can the president order a prisoner’s tongue torn out or a limb permanently disabled? All of these assaults are noted in a US law prohibiting maiming. Yoo decides that no such restrictions exist for the president in a time of war; that law does not apply if the president deems it inapplicable. The memo contains numerous other discussions of various harsh and tortuous techniques, all parsed in dry legal terms. Those tactics are all permissible, Yoo writes, unless they result in “death, organ failure, or serious impairment of bodily functions.” Some of the techniques are proscribed by the Geneva Conventions, but Yoo writes that Geneva does not apply to detainees captured and accused of terrorism. (Eggen 4/6/2008)
'National Self-Defense' - Yoo asserts that the president’s powers as commander in chief supersede almost all other laws, even Constitutional provisions. “If a government defendant were to harm an enemy combatant during an interrogation in a manner that might arguably violate a criminal prohibition, he would be doing so in order to prevent further attacks on the United States by the al-Qaeda terrorist network,” Yoo writes. “In that case, we believe that he could argue that the executive branch’s constitutional authority to protect the nation from attack justified his actions.… Even if an interrogation method arguably were to violate a criminal statute, the Justice Department could not bring a prosecution because the statute would be unconstitutional as applied in this context.” Interrogators who harmed a prisoner are protected by a “national and international version of the right to self-defense.” He notes that for conduct during interrogations to be illegal, that conduct must “shock the conscience,” an ill-defined rationale that will be used by Bush officials for years to justify the use of waterboarding and other extreme interrogation methods. Yoo writes, “Whether conduct is conscience-shocking turns in part on whether it is without any justification,” explaining that that it would have to be inspired by malice or sadism before it could be prosecuted.
Memo Buttresses Administration's Justifications of Torture - The Justice Department will tell the Defense Department not to use the memo nine months later (see December 2003-June 2004), but Yoo’s reasoning will be used to provide a legal foundation for the Defense Department’s use of aggressive and potentially illegal interrogation tactics. The Yoo memo is a follow-up and expansion to a similar, though more narrow, August 2002 memo also written by Yoo (see August 1, 2002). Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will suspend a list of aggressive interrogation techniques he had approved, in part because of Yoo’s memo, after an internal revolt by Justice Department and military lawyers (see February 6, 2003, Late 2003-2005 and December 2003-June 2004). However, in April 2003, a Pentagon working group will use Yoo’s memo to endorse the continued use of extreme tactics. (John C. Yoo 3/14/2003 ; Eggen and White 4/2/2008; Mazzetti 4/2/2008)
Justice Department Claims Attorney General Knows Nothing of Memo - Yoo sends the memo to the Pentagon without the knowledge of Attorney General John Ashcroft or Ashcroft’s deputy, Larry Thompson, senior department officials will say in 2008. (Eggen and White 4/4/2008)
Jamal Naseer, an 18-year old newly recruited Afghan soldier, dies in US custody, apparently as a result of beating and torture. Naseer dies after several days in detention at a US Special Forces “firebase,” a small, outlying military base set up to support advancing troops, at Gardez, Afghanistan. (CBS News 9/21/2004) Naseer and seven other detainees were taken into custody about a week before by Special Forces troops attempting to secure the area from the depredations of a local warlord, Pacha (or Bacha) Khan. Naseer’s brother Ahmad insists that he, his brother, and the other detainees are allies of the Americans, and never participated in Taliban- or al-Qaeda-led attacks against American forces. (Sack and Pyes 9/25/2006) It is unclear why the men were detained in the first place, but Los Angeles Times reporters Craig Pyes and Mark Mazzetti report that according to an Afghan intelligence report. “the action was requested by a provincial governor feuding with local military commanders.” (Pyes and Mazzetti 9/21/2004) Naseer’s death will be officially recorded as resulting from “natural causes,” but fellow detainees will say that Naseer’s death was caused by abuse suffered at the hands of US Army Special Forces soldiers near Gardez. Ahmad Naseer will later describe how he and his brother were beaten and abused while in custody, subjected to electric shocks, immersed in cold water, forced to assume stress positions, thrashed with cables, suffered the forcible tearing off of their toenails, and made to lie for hours in the snow. The last time he spoke with his brother, he says Jamal was “moaning about the pain in his kidneys and back” from being repeatedly beaten. (Sack and Pyes 9/25/2006) Jamal died shortly thereafter while being helped outside to relieve himself by two Afghan kitchen workers. (Pyes and Mazzetti 9/21/2004) After Naseer’s death, the unit holds a meeting to discuss the incident. The team is told that Naseer died of a sex-related infection that shut down his kidneys. According to one soldier in the meeting, the point of discussion is “to make sure everybody’s on the same sheet of paper—this is what happened to the man”—in case there’s ever an investigation. Captain Craig Mallak, medical examiner for the US armed forces, says that Naseer’s death is never reported to his office (any death of a detainee is required to be reported unless the detainee is determined to have died of natural causes). Naseer’s body is transferred to a civilian hospital where no autopsy is performed. One hospital worker who prepares the body for burial will later tell the Times that Naseer’s body was “completely black” from bruising and injuries, and was “completely swollen, as were his palms, and the soles of his feet were swollen double in size.” (Sack and Pyes 9/25/2006) Asked about such injuries, Dr. Michael Baden, a prominent forensic pathologist who works for the New York State Police, says the descriptions are inconsistent with death by organ failure. “You can’t confuse those. It sounds very much like blunt trauma.” A local physician who examined the survivors later confirmed that all of the men were suffering from similar trauma, with extensive bruising and seeping, and unbandaged wounds. (Sack and Pyes 9/25/2006) Eventually, Ahmad Naseer and his comrades are secretly transferred to a civilian prison in Kabul, still without any formal charges. Afghan military prosecutors immediately launch an investigation into their unexplained detention. That inquiry eventually produces a 117-page report asserting that the detainees had been tortured and that there is a “strong probability” that one of the men had been “murdered.” The report speculates that the prolonged imprisonment was intended to give the detainees’ wounds time to heal. Fifty-eight days later, all of the prisoners are released; no charges are ever filed. (Sack and Pyes 9/25/2006)
A suspicious substance is discovered in a train station locker at the Gare de Lyon in central Paris. Agents find two vials of powder, a bottle of liquid, and two other vials with liquid. The Interior Ministry says the contents of the vials are “traces of ricin in a mixture which has proven to be a very toxic poison.” (Newsday 4/12/2003) Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy calls for greater public vigilance and says there could be a connection with a network of Islamic extremists who were detained around the capital in December. Officials have in the past linked ricin production to al-Qaeda and Iraq. On January 5, British police claimed to find traces of ricin in a raid on a London flat during which five men of North African origin with alleged al-Qaeda connections were arrested (see January 5, 2003). (BBC 4/11/2003)
Terrorism Scare - The discovery sparks widespread terrorism concerns just two days before the invasion of Iraq. French authorities double the number of soldiers in the streets to 800 and order increased surveillance in train stations and ports. Flights are temporarily banned over nuclear power plants, chemical, petrochemical and other sensitive facilities. (Newsday 4/12/2003) Ricin, which is derived from castor beans, is relatively easy to make and stockpile. If added to food or drinks, or injected into a victim, it causes severe and rapid bleeding to the stomach and intestines. If the poison gets into the bloodstream, it can attack the liver, kidneys and spleen, often leading to death. It may be inhaled, ingested or injected. There is no treatment or antidote. (Tagliabue 4/12/2003)
Alleged al-Qaeda link - US officials said in August that the Islamic extremist group Ansar al-Islam tested ricin along with other chemical and biological agents in northern Iraq, territory controlled by Kurds, not Saddam Hussein. The group is allegedly linked to al-Qaeda. UN weapons inspectors, who left Iraq in 1998 after a first round of inspections, listed ricin among the poisons they believed Saddam produced and later failed to account for. (Newsday 4/12/2003)
False alarm - The ministry soon downgrades the assessment, saying the traces of suspected ricin are too minute to be lethal. In fact, the substance later proves to be entirely harmless. Further Defense Ministry laboratory tests show the vials contain a mixture of ground barley and wheat germ. “Preliminary tests pointed towards ricin but they were not confirmed by more complete analysis,” an official says. (BBC 4/11/2003) They said the grain was mistakenly identified as ricin because it consists of protein whose structure is similar to that of ricin. (Tagliabue 4/12/2003) However, French officials are still not entirely satisfied that the substances found are not in some way related to a planned terrorist attack. A senior Interior Ministry says the substances may be “the product of an experiment” or the remains of an effort to produce a toxic weapon. Antiterrorism police agents will continue to investigate the incident, the officials says. (Tagliabue 4/12/2003)
On March 17, 2003, the National Alert Level is raised to orange. The FBI warns of terror strikes directed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein or “allied or sympathetic terrorist organizations, most notably the al-Qaeda network.” This warning clearly attempts to establish a connection between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist activities of al-Qaeda. Interestingly, this third orange alert comes three days before President Bush invades Iraq, opening what he calls the “central front of the War on Terror.” The attack claim is debunked by future CIA director Porter Goss, then the chair of the House intelligence committee. He states that there is no intelligence which suggests a new attack. (Dreyfuss 9/21/2006 ) The next day, the Arizona National Guard is alerted and sent to an Arizona nuclear plant because “an attack by al-Qaeda agents [is] imminent.” No attack materializes. (News Hounds 10/9/2004)
President George Bush sends a “formal determination” on Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction to Congress in the form of a letter to Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and Senate President Robert Byrd (D-WV). Congress had required, in its October 2002 authorization of military force (see October 10, 2002), that Bush affirm that diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iraq WMD crisis were no longer possible, and that Iraq had tangible ties to the 9/11 attackers or similar terrorists. The letter provides neither. Instead, it merely reiterates the language of the statute itself, using that language as the determination. The determination says that Congress itself had found evidence of Iraq’s diplomatic intransigence and of Iraq’s connections to the 9/11 terrorists, when Congress has found neither. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will comment: “Bush, like a dog chasing his tail who gets ahold of it, relied on information the White House provided Congress for its draft resolution; then he turned around and claimed that this information (his information) came from Congress. From this bit of sophistry, he next stated that these congressional findings were the basis of his ‘determination.’” The only additional information Bush provides is a citation from Colin Powell’s presentation to the United Nations (see February 5, 2003), where Powell noted the supposed existence of a terrorist training camp in the Salman Pak military facility (see April 6, 2003), a training camp that does not exist. Bush also cites “public reports” indicating that Iraq is harboring al-Qaeda terrorist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (see October 2, 2002), and that Iraq has “provided training in document forgery and explosives to [al-Qaeda].” Bush provides no evidence of his claims. Dean writes that the law has stringent requirements for such “presidential determinations,” mandating solid evidence, legal citations, and so forth, but Bush’s “determination” contains none of this. “If there is a precedent for Bush’s slick trick to involve America in a bloody commitment, where the Congress requires as a condition for action that the president make a determination, and the president in turn relies on a whereas clause… and a dubious public report… I am not aware of it and could not find anything even close.” (Dean 2004, pp. 148-152)
The New York Times reveals that CIA analysts acknowledge being pressured to shape their intelligence reports on Iraq to conform to Bush administration policies. In particular, they were pressured to find or create evidence that Iraq had links to al-Qaeda. (Risen 3/23/2003) In 2004, Times editor Daniel Okrent will admit that the story was “completed several days before the invasion (see March 19, 2003) and unaccountably held for a week,” not appearing until three days after the war began, when it “was interred on Page B10.” (Okrent 5/30/2004; Rich 2006, pp. 192) For months, some CIA analysts have privately expressed concerns over the forcible shaping of their reports to colleagues and Congressional officials, but until now have not revealed those concerns to reporters. “A lot of analysts have been upset about the way the Iraq-al-Qaeda case has been handled,” a senior intelligence official says. The revelation that the claims of Iraq’s attempt to buy uranium from Niger were false (see March 7, 2003) sparked some analysts to come forward. One government official says, “The forgery heightened people’s feelings that they were being embarrassed by the way Iraqi intelligence has been handled.” The intelligence official says: “As we have become an integral component informing the debate for policy makers, we have been asked a lot of questions. I’m sure it does come across as a pressured environment for analysts. I think there is a sense of being overworked, a sense among analysts that they have already answered the same questions. But if you talk to analysts, they understand why people are asking, and why policy makers aren’t accepting a report at face value.” Other analysts have discussed leaving the agency over their frustration with the way intelligence is being manipulated by the Bush administration. Another government official says, “Several people have told me how distraught they have been about what has been going on.” A CIA official says no analysts have resigned in protest over the management of Iraqi intelligence. (Risen 3/23/2003)
The Los Angeles Times reports that, ironically, the man in charge of security for the nation where the US bases its headquarters for the Iraq war is a supporter of al-Qaeda. Sheik Abdullah bin Khalid al-Thani is the Interior Minister of Qatar. US Central Command and thousands of US troops are stationed in that country. In 1996, al-Thani was Religious Minister and he apparently let 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) live on his farm (see January-May 1996). Mohammed was tipped off that the US was after him. Some US officials believe al-Thani was the one who helped KSM escape, just as he had assisted other al-Qaeda leaders on other occasions. (Meyer and Goetz 3/28/2003) Another royal family member has sheltered al-Qaeda leaders and given over $1 million to al-Qaeda. KSM was even sheltered by Qatari royalty for two weeks after 9/11 (see Late 2001). (Tyler 2/6/2003) Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, who has ties to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993), the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), and also attended the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), was sheltered by al-Thani’s religious ministry in 2000. (Isikoff and Klaidman 9/30/2002) Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says al-Thani “had great sympathy for Osama bin Laden, great sympathy for terrorist groups, was using his personal money and ministry money to transfer to al-Qaeda front groups that were allegedly charities.” However, the US has not attempted to apprehend al-Thani or take any other action against him. (Meyer and Goetz 3/28/2003)
Former CIA Director James Woolsey says the US is engaged in a world war, and that it could continue for years: “As we move toward a new Middle East, over the years and, I think, over the decades to come… we will make a lot of people very nervous.” He calls it World War IV (World War III being the Cold War according to neoconservatives like himself ), and says it will be fought against the religious rulers of Iran, the “fascists” of Iraq and Syria, and Islamic extremists like al-Qaeda. He singles out the leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia, saying, “We want you nervous.” This echoes the rhetoric of the PNAC, of which Woolsey is a supporter, and the singling out of Egypt and Saudi Arabia echoes the rhetoric of the Defense Policy Board, of which he is a member. In July 2002 (see July 10, 2002), a presentation to that board concluded, “Grand strategy for the Middle East: Iraq is the tactical pivot. Saudi Arabia the strategic pivot. Egypt the prize.” (Feldman and Wilson 4/3/2003; CNN 4/3/2003)
US forces overrun the Iraqi military training facility at Salman Pak, just south of Baghdad. The facility has been identified by several Iraqi National Congress defectors as a training facility for foreign terrorists, possibly aligned with al-Qaeda (see November 6-8, 2001). (Hersh 5/12/2003; Landay and Strobel 11/2/2005) The day of the raid, Brigadier General Vincent Brooks attempts to give the impression that US forces have found evidence that the camp was used to train terrorists, telling reporters that the camp was hit “in response to information that had been gained by coalition forces from some foreign fighters that we encountered from other country, not Iraq, and we believe that this camp had been used to train these foreign fighters in terror tactics…. The nature of the work being done by some of those people that we captured, their inferences to the type of training that they received, all of these things give us the impression that there was terrorist training that was conducted at Salman Pak.” Brooks says that tanks, armored personnel carriers, buildings used for “command and control and… morale and welfare” were destroyed. “All of that when you roll it together, the reports, where they’re from, why they might be here tell us there’s a linkage between this regime and terrorism and that’s something that we want to break…. There’s no indications of specific organizations that I’m aware of inside of that. We may still find it as with all operations that we conduct into a place, we look for more information after the operation is complete. We’ll pull documents out of it and see what the documents say, if there’s any links or indications. We’ll look and see if there’s any persons that are recovered that may not be Iraqi.” (CNN 4/6/2003) However, US forces find no evidence whatsoever of any terrorists training activities at the camp. The story had a sensational effect in the media, and helped feed the public impression that the regime of Saddam Hussein was connected in some way with the 9/11 terrorists, but others, from Iraqi spokespersons to former US intelligence officials, asserted before the March 2003 invation that the Salman Pak facility was built, not for training terrorists, but for training Iraqi special forces to combat passenger jet hijackers. The facility formerly housed an old fuselage, generally identified as being from a Boeing 707, used in the training, and has been used in counter-terrorism training since the mid-1980s. A former CIA station chief says the agency assisted the Iraqis in their training: “We were helping our allies everywhere we had a liaison.” The former station chief adds that it is unlikely that the Iraqis, or anyone else, would train for terrorist strikes in an open facility easily spotted by satellite surveillance and human observers. “That’s Hollywood rinky-dink stuff,” he says. “They train in basements. You don’t need a real airplane to practice hijacking. The 9/11 terrorists went to gyms. But to take one back you have to practice on the real thing.” The US forces comb through Salman Pak, and find nothing to indicate that the facility was used for anything except counter-terrorism training. (Hersh 5/12/2003; Landay and Strobel 11/2/2005) In 2004, a senior US official will say of the claims about Salman Pak as a terrorist training facility, “We certainly have found nothing to substantiate that.” (Landay and Wells 3/15/2004) In 2006, the Senate Intelligence Committee will report similar findings (see ISeptember 8, 2006). The CIA doubted reports of Salman Pak being used as a terrorist training camp as early as 2003 (see January 2003). And former UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter was debunking those stories in 2002 (see August 2002).
One of a group of 25 al-Qaeda members captured in Pakistan, Tawfiq bin Attash (see April 29, 2003), is taken into US custody and sent to a CIA-run detention facility in Afghanistan. Years later, after being transferred to Guantanamo, he will discuss his experiences and treatment with officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC—see October 6 - December 14, 2006), who will identify him as “Walid bin Attash” in their documents.
'Forced Standing' - Bin Attash will recall his introduction to detention in Afghanistan as follows: “On arrival at the place of detention in Afghanistan I was stripped naked. I remained naked for the next two weeks. I was put in a cell measuring approximately [3 1/2 by 6 1/2 feet]. I was kept in a standing position, feet flat on the floor, but with my arms above my head and fixed with handcuffs and a chain to a metal bar running across the width of the cell. The cell was dark with no light, artificial or natural. During the first two weeks I did not receive any food. I was only given Ensure [a liquid nutritional supplement] and water to drink. A guard would come and hold the bottle for me while I drank.… The toilet consisted of a bucket in the cell.… I was not allowed to clean myself after using the bucket. Loud music was playing 24 hours each day throughout the three weeks I was there.” Author Mark Danner, writing of the ICRC report in 2009 (see March 15, 2009), will note that the “forced standing” technique. with arms shackled above the head, was a favorite technique of the Soviets, who called it “stoika.” Bin Attash, who had lost a leg fighting in Afghanistan, found the technique particularly painful: “After some time being held in this position my stump began to hurt so I removed my artificial leg to relieve the pain. Of course my good leg then began to ache and soon started to give way so that I was left hanging with all my weight on my wrists. I shouted for help but at first nobody came. Finally, after about one hour a guard came and my artificial leg was given back to me and I was again placed in the standing position with my hands above my head. After that the interrogators sometimes deliberately removed my artificial leg in order to add extra stress to the position.” He is checked periodically by a doctor. The doctor does not object to the ‘forced standing,’ even though the treatment causes intense pain in bin Attash’s leg; neither does the doctor object to the suspension from shackles, even though the shackles cut and abrade his wrists.
Cold Water, Physical Beatings - Bin Attash will tell ICRC officials that he is “washed down with cold water every day.” Every day he is also subjected to beatings: “Every day for the first two weeks I was subjected to slaps to my face and punches to my body during interrogation. This was done by one interrogator wearing gloves.… Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks a collar was looped around my neck and then used to slam me against the walls of the interrogation room. It was also placed around my neck when being taken out of my cell for interrogation and was used to lead me along the corridor. It was also used to slam me against the walls of the corridor during such movements. Also on a daily basis during the first two weeks I was made to lie on a plastic sheet placed on the floor which would then be lifted at the edges. Cold water was then poured onto my body with buckets.… I would be kept wrapped inside the sheet with the cold water for several minutes. I would then be taken for interrogation.”
Moved to Second Facility - It remains unclear where bin Attash is moved to after his initial detention in Afghanistan, but he will tell ICRC officials that his captors there—also Americans—“were rather more sophisticated than in Afghanistan because they had a hose-pipe with which to pour the water over me.” Danner will later note that the methods used to interrogate and torture bin Attash are somewhat more refined than those used on an experimental basis with another al-Qaeda suspect, Abu Zubaida (see April - June 2002). For example, a towel was wrapped around Zubaida’s neck and used to slam him into walls, while bin Attash was given a plastic collar. (Danner 3/15/2009)
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld announces that the 8,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan have ended major combat operations there and will now shift their focus to rebuilding the country. The US talks about reducing the number of troops in 2004 and replacing them with newly trained Afghan soldiers. Rumsfeld’s announcement comes on the same day that President Bush declares that combat operations have ended in Iraq (see May 1, 2003). Rumsfeld says that small-scale combat operations will continue to mop up pockets of Taliban and al-Qaeda resistance. (Loeb 5/2/2003) Over two years later, in June 2005, the New York Times will report that despite periodic predictions of the Taliban’s collapse, recent intense fighting “reveals the Taliban to be still a vibrant fighting force supplied with money, men and weapons.” While the Taliban may not be able to hold ground in the “almost forgotten war,” they have enough personnel and weapons to “continue their insurgency indefinitely” and render parts of the country ungovernable. (Gall 6/4/2005)
In the wake of the US-led conquest of Iraq, the government of Iran worries that they will be targeted for US invasion next. Sadegh Kharrazi, Iran’s ambassador to France and the nephew of Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi, drafts a bold proposal to negotiate with the US on all the outstanding conflicts between them. (Porter 5/21/2006) Diplomats refer to the proposal as “the grand bargain.” The US sends neoconservative Zalmay Khalilzad, a senior National Security Council official, to talk with Iran’s UN ambassador, Javad Zarif. (Unger 3/2007) The proposal was reviewed and approved by Iran’s top leaders Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Mohammad Khatami, and Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi. Tim Guldimann, the Swiss ambassador to Iran, is used as an intermediary since the US and Iran do not have formal diplomatic relations. (Kessler 2/14/2007)
According to the language of the proposal, it offers “decisive action against any terrorists (above all, al-Qaeda) in Iranian territory” and “full cooperation and exchange of all relevant information.” In return, Iran wants “pursuit of anti-Iranian terrorists, above all [the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK)],” a dissident Iranian group which the US officially lists as a terrorist organization.
Iran also offers to accept much tighter controls by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in exchange for “full access to peaceful nuclear technology.” It proposes “full transparency for security [assurance] that there are no Iranian endeavors to develop or possess WMD” and “full cooperation with IAEA based on Iranian adoption of all relevant instruments (93+2 and all further IAEA protocols).” That is a references to IAEA protocols that would guarantee the IAEA access to any declared or undeclared facility on short notice.
The proposal also offers a dramatic change in Iranian policy towards Israel. Iran would accept an Arab league declaration approving a land-for-peace principle and a comprehensive peace with Israel in return for Israel’s withdrawal to 1967 lines, a softening of Iran’s usual policy.
The proposal further offers to stop any Iranian support of Palestinian opposition groups such as Hamas and proposes to convert Hezbollah into “a mere political organization within Lebanon.” It further offers “coordination of Iranian influence for activity supporting political stabilization and the establishment of democratic institutions and a nonreligious government” in Iraq.
In return, Iran wants a democratic government in Iran, which would mean its Shiite allies would come to power since the Shiites make up a majority of the Iraqi population. The proposal wants the US to remove Iran from its “axis of evil” and list of terrorism sponsors. (Porter 5/21/2006)
US Rejects Offer - The US flatly rejects the idea. “We’re not interested in any grand bargain,” says Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security John Bolton. (Unger 3/2007) The American Prospect will later comment that “Iran’s historic proposal for a broad diplomatic agreement should have prompted high-level discussions over the details of an American response.” State Department counterterrorism expert Flynt Leverett will later call it a “respectable effort” to start negotiations with the US. But within days, the US rejects the proposal without even holding an interagency meeting to discuss its possible merits. Guldimann, the Swiss intermediary, is reprimanded for having passed the proposal to the US. (Porter 5/21/2006) Larry Wilkerson, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, will later say that it was a significant proposal for beginning “meaningful talks” between the US and Iran but that it “was a non-starter so long as [Dick] Cheney was Vice President and the principal influence on Bush.” (Hirsh 2/8/2007) He will also say that the State Department supported the offer, “[b]ut as soon as it got to the Vice President’s office, the old mantra of ‘We don’t talk to evil‘… reasserted itself” and Cheney’s office turned the offer down. (BBC 1/18/2007) Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will later claim that, “We couldn’t determine what was the Iranians’ and what was the Swiss ambassador’s,” and says that he though the Iranians “were trying to put too much on the table.” National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will say of the proposal, “Perhaps somebody saw something of the like” but “I just don’t remember ever seeing any such thing.” (Hirsh 2/8/2007) Colin Powell will later say that President Bush simply didn’t want to negotiate with an Iranian government that he believed should not be in power. “My position… was that we ought to find ways to restart talks with Iran… But there was a reluctance on the part of the president to do that.” He also says, “You can’t negotiate when you tell the other side, ‘Give us what a negotiation would produce before the negotiations start.’” (Hirsh and Bahari 2/12/2007) Days later, Iran will propose a more limited exchange of al-Qaeda prisoners for MEK prisoners, but the US will reject that too (see Mid-May 2003). Author Craig Unger will later write, “The grand bargain was dead. Flush with a false sense of victory, Bush, Cheney, and [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld felt no need to negotiate with the enormous oil-rich country that shared a border with the country America had just invaded.” (Unger 2007, pp. 308-309)
Proposal Echoed Four Years Later - In 2007, the BBC will note, “Observers say the Iranian offer as outlined nearly four years ago corresponds pretty closely to what Washington is demanding from Tehran now.” (BBC 1/18/2007)
Saudi Arabia is attacked by three suicide bombings in the capital of Riyadh. At least 34 people are killed. Some evidence suggests that elements within the Saudi government were complicit with or behind the attacks (see May 12, 2003). The Saudi government had taken very little action against al-Qaeda prior to this. However, it appears to more aggressively combat al-Qaeda afterward. (Meyer 7/16/2004) In early 2006, it will be reported that the Saudis aggressively combat al-Qaeda within Saudi Arabia, but do next to nothing to stop al-Qaeda or its financing outside of the country (see January 15, 2006).
The Bush administration blames Iran for helping al-Qaeda bomb three foreign worker compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia (see May 12, 2003). Though the US has no evidence of Iranian complicity in the bombings, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Vice President Dick Cheney insist that Iran must have been involved, and prevail upon President Bush to shut down the informal backchannel discussions between Iranian and US officials (see September 11, 2001). (Scoblic 2008, pp. 249)
Around May 4, 2003, Iran attempted to start negotiations in an attempt to resolve all outstanding issues between Iran and the US. The US completely rejected the offer within days. Iran immediately comes back with a more limited proposal, offering to hand over a group of al-Qaeda leaders being held in Iran in return for the US to hand over leaders of the Mujahedeen of Iran (MEK). The US had already officially listed MEK as a terrorist group. (Porter 5/21/2006) Iran is believed to be holding a number of top al-Qaeda leaders, including military commander Saif al-Adel and Osama bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden (see Spring 2002). The US had captured about 4,000 members of MEK in Iraq the month before, in bases where they had been staging attacks against Iran. Iran pledges to grant amnesty to most of the MEK prisoners, try only 65 leaders, forgo the death penalty on them, and allow the Red Cross to supervise the transfer. (Ignatius 7/9/2004) Iran proposes to start with an exchange of information, offering to share the list of names of al-Qaeda operatives they are detaining in return for the US to share the list of names of MEK operatives US forces has captured in Iraq. This exchange of names is discussed at a White House meeting. Hardliners in favor of regime change in Iran argue that MEK is different than al-Qaeda. President Bush is said to respond, “But we say there is no such thing as a good terrorist.” (Porter 5/21/2006) And he initially seems in favor of a prisoner exchange, saying about the MEK, “Why not? They’re terrorists.” (Ignatius 7/9/2004) But Bush does not immediately approve the exchange of names, although he does approve the disarming of MEK who have surrendered to US troops and he allows the State Department to continue secret negotiations on the issue of exchanging names and prisoners in Switzerland. But on May 12, 2003, a bombing in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia kills a number of US citizens (see May 12, 2003). Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Vice President Cheney, and other neoconservatives argue that the bombing was planned by al-Qaeda leaders being held in Iran. (Porter 5/21/2006) The Washington Post will report in 2007 that, “US intelligence officials said there are suspicions, but no proof, that one of [the al-Qaeda leaders in Iran] may have been involved from afar in planning” the Riyadh bombing. Some of Bush’s top advisers argue in favor of trading the prisoners, suggesting that directly interrogating the al-Qaeda leaders could result in important new intelligence leads. But Cheney and Rumsfeld argue that any deal would legitimize Iran’s government. Bush ultimately offers to accept information about the al-Qaeda leaders without offering anything in return. Not surprisingly, Iran refuses. (Linzer 2/10/2007) A planned meeting between US and Iranian officials on May 21 is canceled and negotiations come to a halt. The American Prospect will later comment, “In a masterstroke, Rumsfeld and Cheney had shut down the only diplomatic avenue available for communicating with Iran and convinced Bush that Iran was on the same side as al-Qaeda.” (Porter 5/21/2006) Flynt Leverett, a State Department official dealing with Middle East policy, will later say, “Why we didn’t cut this deal is beyond me.” (Ignatius 7/9/2004) One anonymous senior US official will later say, “One reason nothing came of it was because we knew that there were parts of the US government who didn’t want to give them the MEK because they had other plans for them… like overthrowing the Iranian government.” (Windrem 6/24/205)
Twelve suicide bombers attack five targets in Casablanca, Morocco, including a Jewish cultural center. Forty-five people are killed, including most of the bombers. Moroccan authorities link the bombers to the Moroccan Islamic Combatant Group (MICG), which is allegedly linked to al-Qaeda. After the attacks, Moroccan officials sentence two surviving bombers to death and round up thousands of people suspected of having ties to terrorism. (Johnson 1/25/2005) The suspected mastermind, Saad al-Houssaini, has extensive al-Qaeda ties and lived in Afghanistan for four years before 9/11. He will be captured in 2007. (Whitlock 7/7/2007) The leader of the MICG is said to be Amer el-Azizi, who has links to the 9/11 attacks and the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see Before July 8, 2001 and Before March 11, 2004). (Wright 7/26/2004) Some of the other leaders of the bombings are also said to be linked to the 2004 Madrid bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Also, Mohammed Fazazi, a radical imam who preached at the Hamburg mosque attended by some of the 9/11 hijackers, will be convicted for a role in the bombings (see 1993-Late 2001). (Irujo 2005, pp. 241-242)
Ali Saleh Kahlah Al-Marri, a Qatari citizen and former US college student charged with bank fraud and alleged to be an al-Qaeda sleeper agent (see December 12, 2001), pleads innocent in an Illinois federal court. His court date is set for July 21, but before that can happen, President Bush will designate al-Marri an “enemy combatant” and send him into military custody, where he will be denied access to the US court system (see June 23, 2003). Al-Marri has been in detention in New York City while federal investigators probe his alleged connections to 9/11 hijackers. Al-Marri is charged with credit card fraud (see February 8, 2002) based on his alleged possession of at least 15 unauthorized and counterfeit credit cards; he is alleged to have been part of the al-Qaeda finance network. He is also charged with lying to FBI agents over alleged overseas phone calls to a number associated with an al-Qaeda figure in the United Arab Emirates, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a known al-Qaeda facilitator linked to the 9/11 attacks (see Early-Late June, 2001). Al-Marri is not charged with being personally linked to the attacks. US Attorney Jan Paul Miller says al-Marri has not been charged with a terrorist crime. (Dennis 5/29/2003)
CIA officials ask for reauthorization of the controversial harsh interrogation methods (see April 2002 and After and August 1, 2002) that had been withdrawn (see December 2003-June 2004) after the revelation of abuse and torture at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison (see November 5, 2003). The CIA has captured a new al-Qaeda suspect in Asia, and top agency officials ask the National Security Council Principals Committee—Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell, and Attorney General John Ashcroft—for permission to use extreme methods of interrogation against the new detainee. Rice, who chairs the Principals Committee, says: “This is your baby. Go do it.” (Greenburg, Rosenberg, and de Vogue 4/9/2008) The name of the new suspect captured in Asia is not mentioned, but Hambali is captured in Thailand in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003), and he is the only prominent al-Qaeda figure arrested that summer. He is considered one of al-Qaeda’s most important leaders. There are some reports that he is one of only about four prisoners directly waterboarded by the US (see Shortly After August 12, 2003).
A month before he is slated to go on trial for bank and credit card fraud charges (see February 8, 2002), the federal government drops all criminal charges against Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who has been held without legal representation, and in solitary confinement, since 2001 (see December 12, 2001). (CBS News 6/23/2003; CBS News 6/23/2003; Hirschkom 12/13/2005; Thompson 3/2007)
'Grave Danger' - President Bush says al-Marri “represents a continuing, present, and grave danger” to the country, and the government designates al-Marri as an “enemy combatant,” alleging that he helped al-Qaeda operatives settle in the US. “Mr. Al-Marri possesses intelligence, including intelligence about personnel and activities of al-Qaeda,” Bush continues, and adds that gaining access to it “would aid US efforts to prevent attacks by al-Qaeda.” (Simpson 6/24/2003; Thompson 3/2007) The presidential order says he “engaged in conduct that constituted hostile and war-like acts, including conduct in preparation for acts of international terrorism.” His detention is necessary, the order claims, to prevent him from participating in terrorist activities against the US. The order in effect precludes a pretrial hearing scheduled for July 2 and the start of a formal trial on July 22. (CNN 6/24/2003)
Alleged Sleeper Agent - The government declaration for al-Marri says he worked as an “al-Qaeda sleeper agent” who was planning to “hack into the computer systems of US banks,” and possibly facilitate a follow up to the 9/11 attacks. For its part, the Defense Department says al-Marri trained at a terror camp in Afghanistan before 9/11, personally met Osama bin Laden, and volunteered for an unspecified “martyr mission.” (Hirschkom 12/13/2005) Attorney General John Ashcroft will later claim that al-Marri refused repeated offers to cooperate with the FBI; “consequently,” Ashcroft will write, Bush declares him an enemy combatant. Ashcroft will claim that under the laws of war, an enemy combatant can be killed out of hand. Instead, the government will hold al-Marri “without charge or trial until the end of the war.” (Bazelon 11/30/2006)
Transferred to Navy Brig - Instead, the “enemy combatant” designation takes al-Marri, a Qatari citizen and legal US resident, out of the civilian criminal justice system and places him under the control of the Defense Department, which immediately transfers him into detention at a Navy brig in South Carolina. He could face a military tribunal or remain in detention indefinitely, without trial. He is only the third person to be publicly named as an enemy combatant, along with US citizens Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi.
Fingered by KSM - According to a Justice Department official, al-Marri was “positively identified” as being part of a planned second wave of al-Qaeda terrorist attacks by an “al-Qaeda detainee in a position to know.” Justice officials imply that the detainee to finger al-Marri is senior 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. (CBS News 6/23/2003) Another suspected al-Qaeda operative, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (see Early-Late June, 2001), is also said to have mentioned him. (Hirschkom 12/13/2005) Alice Fisher, the deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s criminal division, says the department did not drop the criminal charges against al-Marri because the case was weak: “We are confident we would have prevailed on the criminal charges. However, setting the criminal charges aside is in the best interests of our national security.” The criminal charges—lying to banks, lying to the FBI, and credit card fraud—could have given al-Marri up to 60 years in prison and $1.75 million in fines. (CBS News 6/23/2003)
Pleaded Not Guilty - Al-Marri’s lawyer Mark Berman says that his client pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges (see May 29, 2003), and the case was proceeding to trial. “I definitely got the sense they were reluctant to try the case in court,” Berman says. “They’d rather be in a forum where defendants aren’t represented by counsel.” Al-Marri’s wife and five children have left the US. The Saudi Arabian government granted the family passports in February, in spite of a State Department request not to issue the passports, as department officials wanted al-Marri’s wife, who is Saudi, to be available to the FBI for questioning. (McCaffrey 6/23/2003) Al-Marri’s lawyers say they are preparing a legal challenge to Bush’s decision. (Simpson 6/24/2003)
At a joint Camp David press conference with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraaf, President Bush declares that al-Qaeda’s leadership is largely defunct. He says, “Thanks to President Musharraf’s leadership, on the al-Qaeda front we’ve dismantled the chief operators of al-Qaeda.” Although bin Laden is still at large, “the people reporting to him, the chief operators, people like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed are no longer a threat to the United States or Pakistan, for that matter.” He adds that, “[S]lowly but surely, we’re dismantling the networks.” (Bush 6/24/2003; Whitlock 9/9/2007) But the declaration is premature, as al-Qaeda’s leadership eventually revives in Pakistan’s tribal region near the Afghanistan border. (Whitlock 9/9/2007)
Members and staff of the 9/11 Commission are skeptical about testimony to the commission by Laurie Mylroie on this day. Mylroie is a scholar with the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute and is considered by many to be one of the academic architects of the recent Iraq invasion (see April 27, 1987 and October 2000).
Support from Zelikow - Mylroie’s testimony is arranged by the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, who places her in a prominent place at the witness table for the day’s testimony at a public hearing. Mylroie expounds her theory that Iraq was secretly behind 9/11 and other al-Qaeda attacks. Some commission staffers are surprised that she is testifying at all, as they think her testimony will work in concert with the White House’s efforts to convince the public that Iraq and al-Qaeda are, in essence, one and the same, which they strongly doubt. Zelikow will later say he had never met Mylroie before the hearings, and was skeptical of her theories himself, but because at least one unnamed commissioner wanted her testimony aired before the commission, he felt impelled to grant her a place in the hearings. Zelikow must have been aware of Mylroie’s popularity with, and her access to, the highest levels of the Bush administration and the Pentagon. Most of the commissioners do not fully understand the full import of Mylroie’s testimony, or that by allowing her to testify so early in the proceedings, the commission may appear to endorse her views.
"Batty" - If Mylroie’s testimony is an attempt to influence the commission, it falls flat; after her testimony, several see her as “batty,” if not entirely disconnected from reality. Several members of the commission and its staff are dubious about Mylroie’s claims (see July 9, 2003). Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, one of those who believes her appearance is part of the administration’s efforts to justify the war with Iraq, forces her to admit that “95 percent” of Middle East experts do not accept her theories about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Testimony later the same day by Judith Yaphe, a CIA expert on Iraq, further discredits Mylroie’s theories (see July 9, 2003). Both Yaphe and Ben-Veniste feel that Mylroie’s theories are shown to be little more than wild speculation with no evidence to bolster them, but the media coverage of her testimony is far different. She is given great credence by almost all of the mainstream media reports of her appearance before the commission. (Shenon 2008, pp. 130-134) Additionally, many of those who lost family members in the attacks are angered by Mylroie’s testimony (see July 9, 2003). Shortly after her testimony, Mylroie’s new book Bush vs. the Beltway will be published, expounding further on her theories. (Bergen 12/2003)
While some find neoconservative author Laurie Mylroie’s testimony before the 9/11 Commission of a terrorist conspiracy between Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda to be compelling (see July 9, 2003), others do not. One group that is not convinced is the so-called “Jersey Girls,” the group of widows who lost their husbands in the 9/11 attacks and then worked to force the Bush administration to create the Commission (see 9:15 a.m. - 9:45 a.m. March 31, 2003). They lambast Commission director Philip Zelikow for allowing Mylroie to testify. “Jersey Girl” Lorie Van Auken, who has learned a great deal about Mylroie’s theories in her research, confronts Zelikow shortly after the hearings. “That took a lot of nerve putting someone like that on the panel,” she tells Zelikow. “Laurie Mylroie? This is supposed to be an investigation of September 11. This is not supposed to be a sales pitch for the Iraq war.” Van Auken later recalls “a sly smile” crossing Zelikow’s face, as he refuses to answer. “He knew exactly what he was doing,” Van Auken will say. “He was selling the war.” After the hearing, Zelikow informs the staff that he wants them to aggressively pursue the idea of a link between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Author Philip Shenon will later write, “To some members of the staff, Zelikow seemed determined to demonstrate that whatever the evidence to the contrary, Iraq and al-Qaeda had a close relationship that justified the toppling of Saddam Hussein.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 130-134)
Judith Yaphe testifies before the 9/11 Commission. Yaphe, a CIA veteran who now teaches at the Pentagon’s National Defense University, is considered one of the agency’s most experienced and knowledgeable Iraq analysts. Yaphe states that while Saddam Hussein was indeed a sponsor of terrorism, it is improbable, based on what is currently known, that Hussein and Iraq had any connections to the 9/11 attacks, nor that a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda is believable. (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States 7/9/2003) Yaphe is disturbed by the commission’s apparent acceptance of the testimony of Laurie Mylroie (see July 9, 2003), whose theories about connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda have long been discredited by both intelligence analysts and outside experts. She wonders why Mylroie’s “crazed theories” were being heard at all, and why the commission would risk its credibility by giving Mylroie this kind of exposure. She even speculates that Mylroie’s testimony is some sort of setup by the commission or the staff, and hopes that her own testimony can offset Mylroie’s theories and help discredit Mylroie before the commission. (Shenon 2008, pp. 130-134) Yaphe tells the commission, in apparent reference to Mylroie, that the use of circumstantial evidence is “troubling” and that there is a “lack of credible evidence to jump to extraordinary conclusions on Iraqi support for al-Qaeda.” She also calls Mylroie’s theories of Iraqi spies using false identities to help execute the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see February 26, 1993) worthy of a fiction novel and completely unsupported by fact. (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States 7/9/2003)
The 9/11 Commission holds its first set of public hearings on al-Qaeda and its connections to other nations and terrorist groups. (Shenon 2008, pp. 130-134)
'Political Theater' - The first person to testify is Laurie Mylroie, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Mylroie’s testimony is, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “a bizarre bit of political theater.” Mylroie, considered by some to be “one of the most influential political academics of her generation, whose research was cited by the United States government to justify a war,” sits in front of the Commission, “spouting what would later be shown to be—and what many experts in the field already knew to be—nonsense.” Mylroie says that both the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993) and 9/11 were planned and carried out by Iraqi intelligence agents, and the planner of the 1993 attacks, Ramzi Yousef (see December 1991-May 1992 and Late July or Early August 2001), and the chief 9/11 planner, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see 1987-1991), were both Iraqi spies. Iraq had planted phony identification documents—“legends”—in Kuwaiti government offices during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990, she says. (Shenon 2008, pp. 130-134) “The odds are high that these people are not whom they claim to be, and demonstrating that would constitute a clear link between Iraq and the 9/11 attack, as reasonably only Iraq could have created these legends while it occupied Kuwait,” she states. Al-Qaeda was a front group for Iraq in the same way that Hezbollah is a front group for Syria, she claims, and tells the Commission, “We went to war because senior administration officials believe Iraq was involved in 9/11” (see July 31, 2002). (Shenon 2008, pp. 130-134)
Discrediting Mylroie - Several members of the Commission and its staff are dubious about Mylroie’s claims (see July 9, 2003). Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, one of those who believes her appearance is part of the Bush administration’s efforts to justify the war with Iraq, forces her to admit that “95 percent” of Middle East experts do not accept her theories about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Testimony later the same day by CIA expert Judith Yaphe further discredits Mylroie’s theories (see July 9, 2003). Both Yaphe and Ben-Veniste feel that Mylroie’s theories are shown to be little more than wild speculations with no evidence to bolster them, but the media coverage of her testimony is far different. She is given great credence by almost all of the mainstream media reports of her appearance before the Commission. (Shenon 2008, pp. 130-134) Additionally, many of those who lost family members in the attacks are angered by Mylroie’s testimony (see July 9, 2003). Shortly after her testimony, Mylroie’s new book Bush vs. the Beltway will be published, expounding further on her theories. (Bergen 12/2003)
Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna claims to know what was discussed at the al-Qaeda summit held in Malaysia in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). Gunaratna has been described as an “ad hoc adviser to US intelligence officials,” and it is believed he has seen top secret transcripts of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s (KSM) recent interrogations in CIA prisons. It has not been explained how he saw such transcripts, but the CIA has not disputed the assertion that he saw them. (Kelly 7/10/2003) In public testimony before the 9/11 Commission, Gunaratna says that “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed chaired that meeting [in Malaysia]. The first two hijackers to enter the United States, they were present at that meeting. So the 9/11 operation is an extension of old Plan Bojinka (see January 6, 1995). So the players of old plan Bojinka, they were not all arrested.… If you read the interrogation of [KSM], who is now in US custody, he has very clearly stated how 9/11 was planned, that it originated from [Bojinka].” However, the 9/11 Commissioners do not ask him any follow-up questions about this. (9/11 Commission 7/9/2003 ) In the 9/11 Commission’s final report, there will be no mention of any suggestions KSM was at the Malaysia summit or any clear accounting as to who all the attendees were. Their report will also downplay any connections between the 1995 Bojinka plot and the 9/11 plot, which they will claim began in 1999. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 153-154) However, later on the same day as his testimony, Gunaratna will give more details of what he claims to have learned from KSM’s interrogations in an interview with a reporter. He says that at the summit KSM said al-Qaeda operatives would need to learn to fly commercial airliners in the US as part of a “suicide operation.” However, although KSM had already agreed on the targets with bin Laden, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not mentioned at the summit. KSM “was careful not to discuss all the specific plans at that meeting.” The reporter who interviewed Gunaratna notes that “some US intelligence officials” have “pooh-poohed the significance of the Malaysian meeting as a link to Sept. 11,” and if KSM was at the meeting, that “further underscores how the CIA missed an opportunity” to stop the 9/11 attacks. (Kelly 7/10/2003) The CIA had Malaysian intelligence photograph and film the attendees of the summit as they were coming and going, but apparently there was no attempt to monitor what was said in the summit meetings (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). If Gunaratna is correct, it suggests that the CIA and 9/11 Commission may have withheld some details of KSM’s interrogations to the public that are embarrassing to US intelligence agencies. Note also that doubts have been expressed about the reliability of KSM’s testimony, which was at least partly obtained through the use of torture (see June 16, 2004).
When asked about the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (see October 1, 2002) and whether Bush knew of the dissenting views among US intelligence agencies regarding the now-infamous aluminum tubes supposedly being used by Iraq to produce nuclear weapons, national security adviser Condoleezza Rice says that in preparation for his February 2003 speech to the UN (see February 5, 2003), Secretary of State Colin Powell chose to “caveat,” or mention, the dissents. “The only thing that was there in the NIE was a kind of a standard INR footnote, which is kind of 59 pages away from the bulk of the NIE. That’s the only thing that’s there. And you have footnotes all the time in CIA—I mean, in NIEs. So if there was a concern about the underlying intelligence there, the president was unaware of that concern and as was I.… Now, if there were any doubts about the underlying intelligence to that NIE, those doubts were not communicated to the president, to the vice president, or to me.” Rice is incorrect. The President’s Summary from that NIE (see Early October 2002) specifically told Bush of the dissenting views, and the much lengthier NIE went into far more detail about the dissenting views. Rice, along with Vice President Cheney and other senior White House officials, received a memo months before giving them the same material, including the dissents (see January 10, 2003). (Cheney, as a matter of course, receives essentially the same intelligence information as Bush receives.) And the NIE itself contained the following caveat: “In [the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, or INR]‘s view, Iraq’s efforts to acquire aluminum tubes is central to the argument that Baghdad is reconstituting its nuclear weapons program, but INR is not persuaded that the tubes in question are intended for use as centrifuge rotors. INR accepts the judgment of technical experts at the US Department of Energy (DOE) who have concluded that the tubes Iraq seeks to acquire are poorly suited for use in gas centrifuges to be used for uranium enrichment and finds unpersuasive the arguments advanced by others to make the case that they are intended for that purpose. INR considers it far more likely that the tubes are intended for another purpose, most likely the production of artillery rockets.” This passage, among other sections of the NIE, will be declassified on July 18, one week from Rice’s denials.
A Pattern of Deception - There are numerous examples of Bush and Cheney citing the “imminent threat” of Saddam Hussein against the US and the Middle East. Some of those include: Cheney’s assertion that Hussein “now has weapons of mass destruction [and] is amassing them to use against our friends, against our allies, and against us” (see August 26, 2002); Bush’s assertion to the UN that Iraq has WMDs and is likely to share them with terrorists (see September 12, 2002); a farrago of assertions from Bush that includes assertions about Iraq’s fleet of manned and unmanned aerial vehicles ready to disperse chemical and biological weapons, perhaps over the US, its consorting with al-Qaeda, and more (see October 7, 2002); a State of the Union address loaded with false, misleading, and incorrect allegations (see October 7, 2002); and a speech on the eve of the Iraq invasion that asserted “[t]he danger is clear” that Iraq will “kill thousands or hundreds of thousands of innocent” Americans (see March 17, 2003). (White House 7/11/2003; US House Committee on Government Reform 3/16/2004; Waas 3/2/2006)
Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, said to be an important operative for both al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, escapes from Camp Crame, the highest security prison in the Philippines. Two Abu Sayyaf figures, Omar Opik Lasal and Abdulmukim Edris, escape with him. There are many oddities about their escape:
The three men apparently have a spare set of keys, unlock their cell door, relock it, walk out of the jail building and through the prison gates, and then use a small guardhouse to vault over a compound wall. Additionally, the cell door was so rusted that it could simply be lifted by its hinges and moved aside. The nearest guards are either sleeping or out shopping. A prisoner left behind tries to notify the guards about the escape, but is ignored. Only when the guards are changed five hours later is the escape discovered, and many more hours pass before Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other top leaders are notified. All four guards on duty at the time of the escape will later fail lie detectors tests. One will say they were set up by higher-ups to take the fall. (Garrido 7/26/2003)
The janitor in the prison at the time is Cosain Ramos (a.k.a. Abu Ali). Ramos worked with major al-Qaeda figure, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law, and was part of Konsonjaya, a front company run by Hambali used to fund the 1995 Bojinka plot. He had given al-Ghozi explosives which were used in a 2000 bombing. After he was arrested in 2002, not only was he not charged, but he was made a protected witness and given the janitor job (see Shortly Before December 24, 2000). (Ressa 2003, pp. 136; Gulf News 6/10/2003; Lyall 7/18/2003)
Lasal will be rearrested on October 8, 2003, and will admit, “I am a government asset, a deep penetration agent.” He will say he helped the Philippine military track al-Ghozi after the escape. He says he joined Abu Sayyaf in 1992 and soon began informing on the group. He claims he has a brother and a cousin who were informants on Abu Sayyaf as well. “Wherever we went, the military knew our whereabouts, because I was giving them the information.” He is seen after his rearrest walking into Manila’s Hall of Justice without any handcuffs on and only one escort. (Alipala 10/15/2003) He will be arrested in 2007 and then let go after it is reported he was confused with his cousin and in fact is in a witness protection program. (Alipala 3/20/2007)
One week after the escape, the Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that Edris, the alleged leader of the Abu Sayyaf’s explosives team, has long-time links to the Philippine military and police. A police intelligence source says that he has been a government asset since 1994. He had been arrested in November 2002 and proclaimed “the No. 1 bomber of the Abu Sayyaf” by the Philippine president. Edris was implicated by other captured Abu Sayyaf suspects as the mastermind of a series of bombings in Zamboanga City in October and November 2002 that killed over a dozen people, including a US Green Beret. (Cruz 7/23/2003)
Supt. Reuben Galban, chief of the police Intelligence Group’s Foreign Intelligence Liaison Office, is fired after failing a lie detector test about the escape. He fails questions about planning the escape and getting paid for it. An intelligence source will claim that Galban and Senior Supt. Romeo Ricardo were in on the escape as handlers for Edris, one of the escapees and an alleged government informant. Ricardo does not take a lie detector test. The source claims: “Edris was deliberately delivered to Al-Ghozi for them to develop trust and confidence. It’s what we call in the intelligence community as human agents manipulation but what is so wrong in this case was the fact that they did it at the expense of the national security.” A police investigator admits that this angle is being pursued as a theory to explain the escape, but “no target would justify the humiliation brought about by this incident.” (Esguerra and Cruz 7/23/2003) Galban was at the prison outside of his usual hours during the escape, which took place in the middle of the night. He also had recently moved al-Ghozi from a secure floor in the prison to the least secure floor. (Garrido 7/26/2003)
Six officers of the Philippine National Police’s Intelligence Group are charged with graft and gross negligence in relation to the escape. Galban is one of those charged but Ricardo is not. (Sinfuego 7/25/2003) However, about one month after the escape, an investigative team concludes there was no collusion between any officials and the escapees. Apparently the charges against the six officers are quietly dropped. Twenty police or intelligence officers are fired, but no higher-up officials. (Garrido 7/26/2003; Manila Sun Star 8/28/2003)
Intelligence agents from the Armed Forces Anti-Crime Task Force (ACTAF) will later implicate police director Eduardo Matillano in the escape. Two intelligence agents will be caught monitoring Matillano’s house one week after the escape. Armed Forces chief Gen. Narciso Abaya will say of the agents, “Somebody gave them a license plate number of a car allegedly connected with the escape of al-Ghozi and they traced it to the home of Matillano.” Mantillano threatens to press charges against the ACTAF, but apparently does not do so. He also is not fired. (Asia Pulse 7/22/2003)
Edris and al-Ghozi will be shot and killed in August and October 2003 respectively by Philippine authorities (see October 12, 2003). Supposedly they are killed while resisting being rearrested. But many, including Aquilino Pimentel, president of the Philippines Senate, will suggest they were both summarily executed after being arrested in order to silence them from potentially revealing their confederates in the escape. (Manila Bulletin 10/18/2003)
Some elements in the Philippine military are so suspicious about the circumstances of the escape that two weeks later they stage a mutiny to protest this and other issues. They claim the Philippine government has been manipulating rebel groups and even staging or allowing terrorist bombings to manipulate the population (see July 27-28, 2003).
The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s final report comes out. (US Congress 7/24/2003 ; US Congress 7/24/2003) Officially, the report was written by the 37 members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, but in practice, co-chairmen Bob Graham (D-FL) and Porter Goss (R-FL) exercised “near total control over the panel, forbidding the inquiry’s staff to speak to other lawmakers.” (Jacoby, Adair, and Fritz 9/29/2002) Both Republican and Democrats in the panel complained how the two co-chairmen withheld information and controlled the process. (Lipman 9/21/2002) The report was finished in December 2002 and some findings were released then, but the next seven months were spent in negotiation with the Bush administration over what material had to remain censored. The Inquiry had a very limited mandate, focusing just on the handling of intelligence before 9/11. It also completely ignores or censors out all mentions of intelligence from foreign governments. Thomas Kean, the chairman of 9/11 Commission says the Inquiry’s mandate covered only “one-seventh or one-eighth” of what his newer investigation will hopefully cover. (Schmidt 7/27/2003) The report blames virtually every government agency for failures:
Newsweek’s main conclusion is: “The investigation turned up no damning single piece of evidence that would have led agents directly to the impending attacks. Still, the report makes it chillingly clear that law-enforcement and intelligence agencies might very well have uncovered the plot had it not been for blown signals, sheer bungling—and a general failure to understand the nature of the threat.” (Isikoff and Klaidman 7/28/2003)
According to the New York Times, the report also concludes, “the FBI and CIA had known for years that al-Qaeda sought to strike inside the United States, but focused their attention on the possibility of attacks overseas.” (Johnston 7/26/2003)
CIA Director George Tenet was “either unwilling or unable to marshal the full range of Intelligence Community resources necessary to combat the growing threat.” (Schmidt and Drehle 7/25/2003)
US military leaders were “reluctant to use… assets to conduct offensive counterterrorism efforts in Afghanistan” or to “support or participate in CIA operations directed against al-Qaeda.” (Schmidt and Drehle 7/25/2003)
“There was no coordinated… strategy to track terrorist funding and close down their financial support networks” and the Treasury Department even showed “reluctance” to do so. (Schmidt and Drehle 7/25/2003)
According to the Washington Post, the NSA took “an overly cautious approach to collecting intelligence in the United States and offered ‘insufficient collaboration’ with the FBI’s efforts.” (Schmidt and Drehle 7/25/2003) Many sections remain censored, especially an entire chapter detailing possible Saudi support for the 9/11 attackers. The Bush administration insisted on censoring even information that was already in the public domain. (Isikoff 5/25/2003) The Inquiry attempted to determine “to what extent the president received threat-specific warnings” but received very little information. There was a focus on learning what was in Bush’s briefing on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001), but the White House refused to release this information, citing “executive privilege.” (Priest 7/25/2003; Cocco 8/7/2003)
In the wake of the release of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s full report, anonymous officials leak some details from a controversial, completely censored 28-page section that focuses on possible Saudi support for 9/11. According to leaks given to the New York Times, the section says that Omar al-Bayoumi and/or Osama Basnan “had at least indirect links with two hijackers [who] were probably Saudi intelligence agents and may have reported to Saudi government officials.” It also says that Anwar al-Awlaki “was a central figure in a support network that aided the same two hijackers.” Most connections drawn in the report between the men, Saudi intelligence, and 9/11 is said to be circumstantial. (Risen and Johnston 8/2/2003) One key section is said to read, “On the one hand, it is possible that these kinds of connections could suggest, as indicated in a CIA memorandum, ‘incontrovertible evidence that there is support for these terrorists… On the other hand, it is also possible that further investigation of these allegations could reveal legitimate, and innocent, explanations for these associations.’”(see August 2, 2002) Some of the most sensitive information involves what US agencies are doing currently to investigate Saudi business figures and organizations. (Lumpkin and Solomon 8/2/2003) According to the New Republic, the section outlines “connections between the hijacking plot and the very top levels of the Saudi royal family.” An anonymous official is quoted as saying, “There’s a lot more in the 28 pages than money. Everyone’s chasing the charities. They should be chasing direct links to high levels of the Saudi government. We’re not talking about rogue elements. We’re talking about a coordinated network that reaches right from the hijackers to multiple places in the Saudi government.… If the people in the administration trying to link Iraq to al-Qaeda had one-one-thousandth of the stuff that the 28 pages has linking a foreign government to al-Qaeda, they would have been in good shape.… If the 28 pages were to be made public, I have no question that the entire relationship with Saudi Arabia would change overnight.” (Ackerman 8/1/2003) The section also is critical that the issue of foreign government support remains unresolved. One section reads, “In their testimony, neither CIA or FBI officials were able to address definitely the extent of such support for the hijackers, globally or within the United States, or the extent to which such support, if it exists, is knowing or inadvertent in nature. This gap in intelligence community coverage is unacceptable.” (Bender 8/3/2003)
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issues an advisory warning that al-Qaeda is working on plans to hijack airliners flying between international points that pass near or over the continental US. The DHS spokesman states that most of the flights fitting this description would originate in Canada. Reasons for this advisory include concerns regarding the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a recent increase in intelligence information, and threats to aviation that continued through the summer. However, the advisory states that the information is not specific enough to raise the National Alert Level from yellow to orange. The advisory contains non-specific warnings about multiple attacks against “soft” targets in both the US and abroad. (Meserve and Arena 9/5/2003) No such attacks occur.
British government minister Michael Meacher publishes an essay entitled, “The War on Terrorism is Bogus.” Meacher is a long time British Member of Parliament, and served as Environmental Minister for six years until three months before releasing this essay. The Guardian, which publishes the essay, states that Meacher claims “the war on terrorism is a smoke screen and that the US knew in advance about the September 11 attack on New York but, for strategic reasons, chose not to act on the warnings. He says the US goal is ‘world hegemony, built around securing by force command over the oil supplies’ and that this Pax Americana ‘provides a much better explanation of what actually happened before, during and after 9/11 than the global war on terrorism thesis.’ Mr. Meacher adds that the US has made ‘no serious attempt’ to catch the al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden.” (Meacher 9/6/2003) Meacher provides no personal anecdotes based on his years in Tony Blair’s cabinet, but he cites numerous mainstream media accounts to support his thesis. He emphasizes the Project for the New American Century 2000 report (see September 2000) as a “blueprint” for a mythical “global war on terrorism,” “propagated to pave the way for a wholly different agenda—the US goal of world hegemony, built around securing by force command over the oil supplies” in Afghanistan and Iraq. (MacAskill 9/6/2003) Meacher’s stand causes a controversial debate in Britain, but the story is almost completely ignored by the mainstream US media.
An “envoy” of bin Laden’s brother-in-law is accused of running al-Qaeda front companies in the Philippines and is deported. Mahmoud Afif Abdeljalil, a Jordanian, was arrested in the Philippines in early 1995 and accused of supporting the Bojinka plot, but then was let go (see January 6, 1995 and April 1, 1995-Early 1996). He is arrested in the Philippines again on this day while attempting to sell some properties owned by Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law. (Abuza 12/1/2002; Elegant 10/27/2003) Philippine officials call him a suspected al-Qaeda operative who had been in close contact with militants from the Abu Sayyaf and other groups. He is called an “envoy” or “point man” for Khalifa, and reputedly took over some of Khalifa’s business front companies after Khalifa left the country in 1994 (see December 1, 1994). His house was used as a safe-house and meeting place for al-Qaeda operatives. (Gutierrez 10/23/2003; Associated Press 10/23/2003) However, despite all these serious allegations, Abdeljalil is deported back to Jordan in early 2004. (Associated Press 3/1/2004)
On camera, PBS producer Martin Smith asks Iraqi National Congress chief Ahmed Chalabi to produce “documentary evidence of any kind” that proves his contention that Iraq and al-Qaeda have ties (see November 6-8, 2001 and February 5, 2003). Chalabi promises to deliver a document showing “money changing hands between Saddam Hussein’s government and al-Qaeda,” but never produces such a document. (Rich 2006, pp. 106)
Fathur Rohman al-Ghozi, said to be an important operative for both al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, is shot and killed by government forces in the Philippines. Al-Ghozi had escaped from a high-security prison in July 2003, along with two Abu Sayyaf militants. There are many questions about the escape, including suggestions that both of his fellow escapees, Omar Opik Lasal and Abdulmukim Edris, were long-time government informants (see July 14, 2003). Edris was killed in early August 2003. Supposedly he was arrested and then volunteered to show soldiers where al-Ghozi was hiding out. Along the way, he attempted to grab a weapon from a soldier and was shot. (BBC 8/7/2003) His death came about two weeks after it was reported that he was a government informant. (Cruz 7/23/2003) Lasal was rearrested on October 8, 2003. He will later admit that he was an informant and helped the government keep tabs on where al-Ghozi was hiding. (Alipala 10/15/2003) Al-Ghozi is said to be shot while attempting to evade soldiers on a highway near a town in the southern Philippines, a heavily Muslim area. However, police officers and residents in the area say there is no sign of a firefight. The Sydney Morning Herald will later says this “fuel[s] rumors that al-Ghozi had already been captured and then killed at the best time to boost [the Philippines]‘s anti-terrorism image.” The governor of the area, said residents say they didn’t hear any shootout. “There were only two shots heard. There was no firefight.” Al-Ghozi’s death comes just six days before President Bush is scheduled to visit the Philippines, causing some to claim that the killing was timed for maximum political effect. (Paddock, Jacinto, and Allard 10/14/2003) Aquilino Pimentel, president of the Philippines Senate, will suggest that both Edris and al-Ghozi were summarily executed after being arrested in order to silence them from potentially revealing their confederates in their prison escape. (Manila Bulletin 10/18/2003)
An editorial in Britain’s Guardian notes that the downing of a Chinook transport helicopter near Fallujah (see November 2, 2003) is likely to have “a disproportionate psychological impact on US military operations in Iraq and on US public opinion.” The editorial observes that “[t]he perception, in America itself and abroad, is that the security situation in Iraq is deteriorating, rather than improving as President George Bush claims. US-led coalition forces are now being subjected to an average of over 30 attacks daily. Hardly a day passes without news of one or more US fatalities. Far from being accepted as routine, this toll appears to be convincing more and more ordinary Americans that Mr Bush and his officials are not in control of a situation that they, uniquely, created.” Violence in Iraq is escalating on a daily, and deadly, basis, with “soft targets” such as Red Cross and other civilian relief organizations being targeted along with military personnel. Whether foreign terror organizations such as al-Qaeda or native insurgents are responsible for the wave of violence, “[t]he bottom line is relentless violence and mayhem and a US leadership that appears powerless to stop it. This perception that Mr Bush’s Iraq campaign lacks direction and is one over which he is losing control is exemplified, even symbolized, by the dramatic loss of the Chinook. This sense of rudderlessness may prove to be even more damaging to him in the long run than the many controversies that still surround his decision to go to war in the first place.” (Guardian 11/3/2003)
In a series of rulings, a number of defendants are removed from a 9/11 lawsuit filed in August 2002 (see August 15, 2002). The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 9/11 victims’ relatives, accuses a number of individuals and organizations of funding and supporting al-Qaeda and thus helping the 9/11 attacks to occur. A number of Saudi princes are dropped because they work for the Saudi government. One judge writes in a ruling, “Whatever their actions, they were performed in their official (government) capacities.” According to the court ruling, only the US president, not the courts, has the authority to label a foreign nation as a terrorist supporter. Judges rule that the plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient facts to overcome the kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s immunity. Saudi defense minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi ambassador to Britain Prince Turki al-Faisal, and Prince Mohammed Al-Faisal Al-Saud, among others, are dismissed from the lawsuit, but the lawsuit is allowed to proceed against many more defendants, including the Saudi Binladin Group, the multibillion dollar bin Laden family company. (Associated Press 11/16/2003; Bartelme 11/18/2003; Associated Press 1/19/2005; Hamblett 9/28/2005) A judge writes in a ruling that “the Saudi Binladin Group maintained close relationships with Osama bin Laden at certain times” and that it remains “unclear” whether these ties continued since bin Laden became involved in terrorism. (Follath and Mascolo 6/6/2005) The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) is allowed to remain as a defendant, even though this charity has considerable ties to the Saudi government. (Hamblett 9/28/2005) Some of the Saudi princes, such as Prince Sultan and Prince Salman, are represented in the case by the prestigious Dallas-based law firm of Baker Botts. James Baker, former Secretary of State and close associate of the Bush family, is one of the senior partners of the law firm. (Isikoff and Hosenball 4/16/2003; Hamblett 9/28/2005)
On November 15, 2003, two Jewish synagogues are struck by suicide truck bombs in Istanbul, Turkey. Five days later, the British HSBC Bank and British Consulate in Istanbul are hit by more truck bombs. Fifty-eight people are killed in the attacks, including the British consul general, and over 750 are wounded. Turkish investigators believe the attacks were orchestrated by local al-Qaeda operatives after getting approval from Osama bin Laden. (BBC 11/20/2003; BBC 2/16/2007) In 2007, seven people will be sentenced to life in a Turkish prison for their role in the attacks. One of them is Luai Sakra, who confessed to being one of the two masterminds of the attacks (see March 21, 2006-February 16, 2007). Forty-one people receive shorter sentences, and 26 people are acquitted. (BBC 2/16/2007) Evidence will later emerge suggesting that Sakra was an informant for the CIA, Turkey, and Syria at least in 2000 and 2001 (see 2000 and September 10, 2001).
The US government sends a security bulletin to law enforcement and government officials warning that a surge in terrorist violence abroad and the conclusion of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, has increased the possibility of attacks on US citizens and interests abroad. According to a senior law enforcement official, the bulletin states that the spate of bombings in Istanbul and elsewhere signals al-Qaeda’s continued intent to attack US interests abroad. However, the information is not specific enough to warrant an increase of the National Alert Level from yellow to orange. (CBS News 11/21/2003)
According to journalist Ron Suskind, at the end of 2003, “The carefully constructed global network of [al-Qaeda’s] sigint and what can be called finint, or financial intelligence, started to go quiet. In short, al-Qaeda, and its affiliates and imitators, stopped leaving electronic footprints. It started slowly, but then became clear, a definable trend.” Al-Qaeda resorts more to low-tech methods, such as human couriers. One senior US intelligence official will later say, “We were surprised it took them so long” to figure out the dangers of electronic communication. (Suskind 2006, pp. 277-279)
In December 2003, Norwegian intelligence discovers an al-Qaeda treatise on the Internet called “Jihadi Iraq, Hopes and Dangers.” Completed in September 2003, it is dedicated to Yusef al-Ayeri, head of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula until he was killed in May 2003 (see May 31, 2003), and parts of it may have been written by al-Ayeri. The treatise has a series of recommendations on how to undercut US efforts in Iraq. One major idea is to separate the US from its allies in the Iraq war such as Britain, Spain, and Poland by bombing them. It suggests the political utility of an attack in Spain before 2004 elections there, which is what later occurs (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). It will later be determined that Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of the leaders of the Madrid bombings, downloaded the treatise and was presumably influenced by it (it will also be alleged that Fakhet really was a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003). (Elliott 11/25/2007) Interestingly, the treatise focuses on new attacks in Saudi Arabia and Europe, but not in the US. This dovetails with a growing consensus within the US intelligence community that al-Qaeda may not have been trying to attack the US since 9/11. One senior CIA official will later say, “Clearly, they had the capability to attack us in about a hundred different ways. They didn’t. The question was, why?” Journalist Ron Suskind will later comment that the idea “al-Qaeda might not, at this point, actually want to attack America” was “a conclusion that was the last thing anyone in the White House wanted publicized…” Suskind will later note that President Bush’s “central assertion that he should be reelected [in 2004] because he had kept [the US] from being attacked again” would have been severely undercut if the US public was aware of this US intelligence consensus. (Suskind 2006, pp. 302-204)
In December 2003, a US naval vessel stops a small fishing boat in the Arabian Sea. According to a Western anti-narcotics official, a search turns up “several al-Qaeda guys sitting on a bale of drugs.” Later that month, a raid on a drug runner’s house in Kabul, Afghanistan, leads to the discovery of a number of satellite phones. The CIA determines the phones had been used to call numbers linked to suspected al-Qaeda-linked operatives in Turkey, the Balkans, and Western Europe. One official describes this as part of “an incredibly sophisticated network.” In March 2004, US troops raiding a suspected al-Qaeda hideout in remote Afghanistan discover opium with a street value of $15 million. (McGirk 8/2/2004)
Thomas Kean, the chairman of the 9/11 commission, finally gains access to Bill Clinton’s and George W. Bush’s Presidential Daily Briefings (PDBs). Co-chairman Lee Hamilton calls the PDBs the “holy of holies.” They are documents that the Bush administration has worked relentlessly to keep out of the commission’s hands. Kean assumes that the documents are chock full of critical information. “I thought this would be the definitive secrets about al-Qaeda, about terrorist networks, and all the other things that the president should act on,” Kean will later recall. “I was going to find out the most important things that a president had learned.” Kean believes the PDBs should contain “incredibly secretive, precise, and accurate information about anything under the sun.” When he begins reading through the PDBs, he finds that the documents are not what he expected. He finds that they contain almost nothing of use. The realization terrifies him—these digests of the most important, sensitive secrets garnered by the US intelligence community, at a cost of tens of billions of dollars per year, used by the president to base his actions and decisions upon, are, in Kean’s words, “garbage.” He continues, “There really was nothing there—nothing, nothing.” Had his students at Drew University turned in terms papers this poorly researched, he says, “I would have given them an F.” There are a few snippets of solid information among the dross, tidbits about al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. Occasionally, something intriguing catches Kean’s attention, for instance a report of a sighting of Osama bin Laden or a tip from a foreign intelligence service about possible future actions by a terrorist group. But most of the PDB contents could have been gleaned from reading the newspaper. Author Philip Shenon will write: “Perhaps the reason why the White House had fought so hard to block the commission’s access to the PDBs was that they revealed how ignorant the government was of the threats it faced before 9/11. Kean could understand their fear. Imagine the consequences if al-Qaeda and its terrorist allies knew how little the United States really knew about them.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 220-221) 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick also sees the same PDBs around the same time, and while she also is surprised by the lack of detail, she is more surprised at how alarming the warnings about an al-Qaeda attack are (see Early December 2003).
Author and former war correspondent Peter Bergen writes that in the run-up to the Iraq war, most Americans believed wholeheartedly that Saddam Hussein and Iraq were behind the 9/11 attacks. Bergen writes: “[T]he belief that Saddam posed an imminent threat to the United States amounted to a theological conviction within the administration, a conviction successfully sold to the American public. So it’s fair to ask: Where did this faith come from?” One source is the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), a neoconservative think tank who has placed many of its fellows in the Bush administration, including Paul Wolfowitz, Richard Perle, and John Bolton. But, Bergen notes, none of the AEI analysts and writers are experts on either Iraq or the Middle East. None have ever served in the region. And most actual Middle East experts both in and out of government don’t believe that Iraq had any connection to the 9/11 attacks. The impetus for the belief in a 9/11-Iraq connection in part comes from neoconservative academic Laurie Mylroie.
Mylroie Supplies Neoconservatives with Desired Rationale - A noted author with an impressive academic resume, Mylroie, Bergen writes, “was an apologist for Saddam’s regime, but reversed her position upon his invasion of Kuwait in 1990, and, with the zeal of the academic spurned, became rabidly anti-Saddam.” In 1993, Mylroie decided that Saddam Hussein was behind the World Trade Center bombings, and made her case in a 2000 AEI-published book, Study of Revenge: Saddam Hussein’s Unfinished War Against America (see October 2000). Mylroie’s message was evidently quite popular with AEI’s neoconservatives. In her book, Mylroie blamed every terrorist event of the decade on Hussein, from the 1993 WTC bombings (a theory Bergen calls “risible”) to the 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800 into Long Island Sound (see July 17, 1996-September 1996), the 1998 embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the 2000 attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), and even the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Bergen calls her a “crackpot,” and notes that it “would not be significant if she were merely advising say, [conservative conspiracy theorist] Lyndon LaRouche. But her neocon friends who went on to run the war in Iraq believed her theories, bringing her on as a consultant at the Pentagon, and they seem to continue to entertain her eccentric belief that Saddam is the fount of the entire shadow war against America.”
Complete Discrediting - Bergen, after detailing how Mylroie ignored conclusive evidence that both the 1993 and 9/11 attacks were planned by al-Qaeda terrorists and not Saddam Hussein, quotes former CIA counterterrorism chief Vincent Cannistraro, who says Mylroie “has an obsession with Iraq and trying to link Saddam to global terrorism.” Cannistraro is joined by author and former CIA analyst Ken Pollack; Mary Jo White, the US attorney who prosecuted the 1993 WTC bombings and 1998 embassy attacks; and Neil Herman, the FBI official who headed the 1993 WTC investigation, who all dismiss Mylroie’s theories as absolutely baseless and thoroughly disproven by the evidence.
Belief or Convenience? - Apparently such thorough debunking did not matter to the AEI neoconservatives. Bergen writes that they were “formulating an alternative vision of US foreign policy to challenge what they saw as the feckless and weak policies of the Clinton administration. Mylroie’s research and expertise on Iraq complemented the big-think strategizing of the neocons, and a symbiotic relationship developed between them.” Whether the neoconservatives actually believed Mylroie’s work, or if “her findings simply fit conveniently into their own desire to overthrow Saddam,” Bergen isn’t sure. Perle later backed off of supporting Mylroie’s theories, calling them less than convincing and downplaying her role in developing arguments for overthrowing Hussein even as he suggests she should be placed in a position of power at the CIA. It is known that after 9/11, former CIA Director James Woolsey, a prominent neoconservative, went to Britain to investigate some of Mylroie’s claims (see Mid-September-October 2001). And in September 2003, Vice President Cheney called Iraq “the geographic base of the terrorists who have had us under assault for many years, but most especially on 9/11,” an echoing of Mylroie’s own theories. Mylroie’s latest book, Bush vs. the Beltway: How the CIA and the State Department Tried to Stop the War on Terror, accuses those agencies of suppressing information about Iraq’s role in 9/11, again contradicting all known intelligence and plain common sense (see July 2003).
Zeitgeist - Bergen concludes that in part because of Mylroie’s theories and their promulgation by Bush, Cheney, and prominent neoconservatives in and out of the administration, the US has been led into a disastrous war while 70 percent of Americans believe that Hussein had a role in the 9/11 attacks. “[H]er specious theories of Iraq’s involvement in anti-American terrorism have now become part of the American zeitgeist.” Perhaps the most telling statement from Mylroie comes from a recent interview in Newsweek, where she said: “I take satisfaction that we went to war with Iraq and got rid of Saddam Hussein. The rest is details.” Bergen retorts sourly, “Now she tells us.” (Bergen 12/2003; Unger 2007, pp. 216)
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