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Profile: Central Intelligence Agency (CIA)
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) was a participant or observer in the following events:
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US Intelligence obtains information that Iraq has formed a suicide pilot unit that it plans to use against British and US forces in the Persian Gulf. The CIA comments that this report is highly unlikely and is probably disinformation. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
President Bill Clinton rewrites a memo authorizing the CIA to use the Northern Alliance in an operation to assassinate Osama bin Laden. This memo follows another one signed by Clinton the previous year that allowed the agency to use a group of tribal fighters to kill bin Laden (see December 24, 1998). The draft February memo contains similar language to the earlier one, but applies to the Northern Alliance, not just the tribal assets. However, Clinton himself deletes the wording authorizing an operation to simply kill bin Laden. Clinton will later tell the 9/11 Commission that he does not recall why he gives the CIA permission to kill bin Laden through the tribal assets, but not through the Northern Alliance. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 360]
Following the issue of another directive governing a set of operations against Osama bin Laden, the CIA is said to become confused over whether it can mount an operation to assassinate him. In December, President Bill Clinton authorized the CIA to kill bin Laden using a group of tribal leaders in Afghanistan (see December 24, 1998), but a few weeks later he issued another memo governing relations between the CIA and the Northern Alliance that did not contain authorization to kill bin Laden (see February 1999). The CIA will later say that the reason it does not take advantage of the authorization to kill him using the tribal leaders is because it is confused by the second memo. The CIA’s inspector general will comment: “Given the law, executive order, and past problems with covert action programs, CIA managers refused to take advantage of the ambiguities that did exist.” The 9/11 Commission will also say that “the limits of the available authority were not tested.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 133; Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xxi ]
A classified report discusses responses to an anthrax attack through the mail. The report, precipitated by a series of false anthrax mailings, is written by William Patrick, inventor of the US anthrax weaponization process, under a CIA contract. [New York Times, 12/3/2001] The report was commissioned by Steven Hatfill, a good friend of Patrick. [Baltimore Sun, 6/27/2002] The report describes what the US military could do and what a terrorist might be able to achieve. [New York Times, 12/3/2001] The similarities between what the report predicts and the anthrax attacks that eventually happen after 9/11 are startling (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The BBC later suggests the “possibility that there was a secret CIA project to investigate methods of sending anthrax through the mail which went madly out of control” and that the anthrax attacker knew of this study or took part in it. The CIA and William Patrick will deny the existence of this report, even though copies have been leaked to the media. [BBC, 3/14/2002; Baltimore Sun, 6/27/2002]
Monitored al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar temporarily lives with future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and 9/11 hijacker associates Said Bahaji and Ramzi bin al-Shibh. They live in a four bedroom apartment at 54 Marienstrasse, in Hamburg, Germany (see November 1, 1998-February 2001). This is according to a September 2001 memo from the BfV (Germany’s domestic intelligence agency), so it may come from surveillance conducted before 9/11. It is not known why Zammar lives here at this time, since he has his own wife and family in Hamburg; nor is it known how many days he stays at the apartment. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Zammar is under surveillance by the BfV at this time (see March 1997-Early 2000), and he is likely under surveillance by the CIA as well (see Shortly After September 16, 1998 and Summer 1999).
German intelligence gives the CIA the first name of 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi and his telephone number of a phone registered in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The Germans learned the information from the surveillance of al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar (see March 1997-Early 2000). They tell the CIA that Alshehhi, who is living in Bonn, Germany, at the time, may be connected to al-Qaeda. He is described as a UAE student who has spent some time studying in Germany. The conversation is short, but a known alias of Mamoun Darkazanli is mentioned. The CIA is very interested in Darkazanli and will try to recruit him as an informant later in the year (see Late 1998 and December 1999). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 8/13/2003; New York Times, 2/24/2004; McDermott, 2005, pp. 73, 278-279]
No Response from CIA - The Germans consider this information “particularly valuable” and ask the CIA to track Alshehhi, but the CIA never responds until after the 9/11 attacks. The CIA decides at the time that this “Marwan” is probably an associate of bin Laden but never track him down. It is not clear why the CIA fails to act, or if they learn his last name before 9/11. [New York Times, 2/24/2004] The Germans monitor other calls between Alshehhi and Zammar, but it isn’t clear if the CIA is also told of these or not (see September 21, 1999).
Could the Number Be Traced? - CIA Director George Tenet will later dismiss the importance of this information in a statement to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry. He will say that all the CIA had to go on was a first name and an impossible to trace unlisted number. But author Terry McDermott will later comment, “At least a portion of that statement is preposterous. The UAE mobile telephone business was, until 2004, a state monopoly. The UAE number could have been traced in five minutes, according to senior security officials there. The United States never asked.” McDermott will add, “Further, the CIA told the [9/11 Congressional Inquiry] it had a long-standing interest in Zammar that pre-dated these recordings. In other words, the CIA appears to have been investigating the man who recruited the hijackers at the time he was recruiting them.” [McDermott, 2005, pp. 73, 278-279]
Former President George H. W. Bush, a former director of the CIA, speaks at the dedication ceremony of the new intelligence center bearing his name. In the course of his speech, Bush says: “We need more human intelligence. That means we need more protection for the methods we use to gather intelligence and more protection for our sources, particularly our human sources, people that are risking their lives for their country.… I have nothing but contempt and anger for those who betray the trust by exposing the name of our sources. They are, in my view, the most insidious, of traitors.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 4/26/1999] These remarks will later be unearthed in conjunction with the White House’s leaking of the identity of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, and Before July 14, 2003), and the publication of her name and status by conservative columnist Robert Novak (see July 14, 2003).
The US-led NATO alliance begins bombing Serbia in March, pressuring it to withdraw from Kosovo, which is part of Serbia but ethnically dominated by Albanians (see March 24, 1999). During the war, the US publicly denies working with the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), the dominant political group in Kosovo. However, it will later be revealed that the CIA works closely with the KLA, starting at least from late April 1999. At that time, the CIA and US Special Forces troops begin working with the KLA to defeat the Serbians. The KLA passes on useful information about Serbian positions, allowing NATO forces to bomb them. But since the KLA has a reputation for drug running, civilian atrocities, and links to al-Qaeda, the US military generally uses the Albanian army as an intermediary. KLA representatives meet daily with Albanian military officers in Albania, but CIA and US Army officers are usually present as well. In addition, there is a secret NATO operations center in the town of Kukes, Albania, near the border with Kosovo. Most of the KLA liaison work takes place there. US officials begin considering using the KLA as a light-infantry force if NATO needs to invade Kosovo with ground troops. But the war ends in June 1999 before that becomes necessary (see June 9, 1999). [Washington Post, 9/19/1999] The same month that the CIA begins working closely with the KLA, a European intelligence report indicates the KLA is being funded by al-Qaeda and drugs from Afghanistan (see April 1999).
US intelligence obtains detailed reporting on where bin Laden is located for five consecutive nights. CIA Director Tenet decides against acting three times, because of concerns about collateral damage and worries about the veracity of the single source of information. Frustration mounts. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, writes to a colleague in the field, “having a chance to get [bin Laden] three times in 36 hours and foregoing the chance each time has made me a bit angry…” [Coll, 2004, pp. 450; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 140] An unnamed senior military officer later complains, “This was in our strike zone. It was a fat pitch, a home run.” However, that month, the US mistakenly bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, due to outdated intelligence. It is speculated Tenet was wary of making another mistake. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] There is one more opportunity to strike bin Laden in July 1999, but after that there is apparently no intelligence good enough to justify considering a strike. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
The CIA decides to increase its links with Ahmed Shah Massoud, an Afghan commander fighting the Taliban in northern Afghanistan. The decision is pushed through by Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, and Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. According to author Steve Coll, Black and Blee see Massoud “as his admirers in Europe [do], as an epochal figure, extraordinarily skillful and determined,” and believe that Massoud is the key to capturing bin Laden. However, the CIA’s Near East Division is skeptical of the potential for this liaison, partly because they remember problems they had with Massoud during the Soviet-Afghan War. Near East officers also think Massoud can only be of limited usefulness against bin Laden because of the geographical distance between Massoud’s forces in the north of Afghanistan and bin Laden’s base in the country’s south. [Coll, 2004, pp. 460-1] The CIA will soon send more personnel into Afghanistan to meet Massoud and discuss co-operation (see October 1999). However, a plan to make the increase substantial will be rejected in late 2000 and Massoud will still not be receiving much aid by 9/11 (see December 20, 2000).
In the summer of 1999, the CIA asks border-control agencies in the Middle East to question anyone who may be returning from a training camp in Afghanistan, according to a 2004 Vanity Fair article. This is said to occur about six months before future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah is stopped and questioned at the airport in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, either because he is on a US watch list or because he shows signs of having come from Afghanistan, or both (see January 30, 2000 and December 14, 2001-September 28, 2005). [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Also in 1999, the CIA specifically works out an arrangement with immigration officials at the Dubai airport to monitor or question suspected militants passing through (see 1999).
[Source: Publicity photo]CIA Director George Tenet removes Michael Scheuer as head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Scheuer had headed the unit since its inception in 1996 (see February 1996), and was known as a strong advocate for more government action against bin Laden. The full name of the new head of the unit has not been released and little is known about his performance. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Deputy Director of Operations Jack Downing tells Scheuer he is being fired because he is “mentally burned out” and because of a recent disagreement with the FBI over whether the deputy chief of Alex Station, who was detailed to the CIA from the FBI, could release information to the FBI without Scheuer’s approval. Downing tells Scheuer he was in the right, but that the criticism of his subordinate “should not have been put on paper”, and the FBI’s management is angry with him. Downing says he will get a medal and a monetary award, but should tell his subordinates he has resigned. Scheuer refuses to lie to his officers, signs a memo saying he will not accept a monetary award, and tells Downing “where he should store the medal.” [Scheuer, 2005, pp. 263-4; Wright, 2006, pp. 313] According to author Steve Coll, Scheuer’s CIA colleagues “could not be sure exactly [why Scheuer left] but among at least a few of them a believe settled in that [he] had been exiled, in effect, for becoming too passionate about the bin Laden threat…” In particular, he was angry about two recent missed opportunities (see 1997-May 29, 1998 and February 11, 1999) to assassinate bin Laden. [Coll, 2004, pp. 449-450] Scheuer will write in 2004 that, “On moving to a new position, I forwarded a long memorandum to the Agency’s senior-most officers—some are still serving—describing an array of fixable problems that were plaguing America’s attack on bin Laden, ones that the bin Laden unit had encountered but failed to remedy between and among [US intelligence agencies]… The problems outlined in the memorandum stood in the way of attacking bin Laden to the most effective extent possible; many remain today.” Problems include poor cooperation between agencies and a lack of experienced staff working on the bin Laden issue. Scheuer never receives a response to his memo. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004]
Richard Blee. The only known public photo of Blee is this one taken from a school yearbook, when he was nine years old. [Source: Public domain]Following the firing of Michael Scheuer, the founding head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see June 1999), a new chief of the station is appointed. The chief, Richard Blee, worked in Algeria as a case officer during the civil war there in the early 1990s (see January 11, 1992) and prior to his appointment as station chief was an executive assistant to CIA management. [Coll, 2004, pp. 456] He also served on an Iraqi task force attempting to destabilize Saddam Hussein’s regime in the mid-1990s. [Harper's, 1/28/2007] According to author Steve Coll: “Since he came directly from [CIA Director George] Tenet’s leadership group, his arrival was seen as a signal of renewed high-level interest in the bin Laden case. The new chief’s connections presumably would help attract resources to the cause and smooth decision-making.” In addition, “He [knows] the bin Laden issue, he [knows] the Third World and he [does] not mind high-risk travel.”
Criticism of Management Style - However, Blee’s management style will attract some criticism. Coll will say that he is “intense and sometimes emotional and combative” and that he is seen by some colleagues as “typical of the unyielding zealots” at Alec Station. [Coll, 2004, pp. 456, 540] Author James Bamford will comment, “But the most serious problem was [Blee]‘s lack of management, his myopic obsession with bin Laden, and his focus on the fun and adventure part of the job.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 218-9] Journalist Ken Silverstein will say: “[S]ources have told me that [Blee] has frequently been divisive and ineffective in previous positions.… His reputation and relationship with the military, especially the special-ops community, is very bad, based on substantive issues that arose during his time [in Afghanistan and Pakistan] post-9/11.… Another former official called [Blee] a ‘smart guy‘…, but described him as a terrible manager.” [Harper's, 1/28/2007]
In testimony before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and in a briefing to House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence staffers one month later, the chief of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center describes reports that bin Laden and his associates are planning attacks in the US. [US Congress, 9/18/2002]
Following the replacement of Michael Scheuer by Richard Blee as chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see June 1999 and June 1999), the relationship between Alec Station and its FBI counterpart headed by John O’Neill does not improve. The relationship between Scheuer and O’Neill was extremely stormy, but Blee’s arrival does nothing to calm matters. As O’Neill is the FBI manager most knowledgeable about al-Qaeda, the combative nature of the relationship may hamper interagency counterterrorism efforts. Author James Bamford will write, “The epicenter of the clash between the two cultures [of the FBI and CIA] was the relationship between [Blee] and John P. O’Neill, the flashy, outspoken chief of the FBI’s National Security Division in New York.” An associate of O’Neill’s will say of Alec Station staff, “They despised the FBI and they despised John O’Neill.” A CIA officer will add, “The working relationships were very difficult at times.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 217-8]
A large group of Islamic Jihad operatives are sentenced in Cairo in what becomes known as the “Trial of the Albanian Returnees.” Various disclosures are made at the trial about the way Islamic Jihad operated and how it provided support to al-Qaeda by forging travel documents, transferring money, and arranging communications. One of the revelations is that al-Qaeda has a key communication hub in Yemen. Despite this revelation (see Late 1998-Early 2002), al-Qaeda will continue to use it through 2001 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). The defendants were arrested not only in Egypt, but also in Albania, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, and the United Arab Emirates. In 1995, the CIA arranged a deal with Egypt to capture Islamic Jihad operatives around the world and send them to Egypt to be tortured and prosecuted (see Summer 1995). Eighty-seven of the defendants are convicted and ten are sentenced to death, including al-Zawahiri, who is tried in absentia. [New York Times, 11/21/2001] One of the convicted is Khaled Abu el-Dahab, who was operating a sleeper cell in California with double agent Ali Mohamed throughout the 1990’s (see 1987-1998). El-Dahab is sentenced to fifteen years in prison (see September 10, 1998). There are credible reports that many of the defendants confessed after being tortured in Egypt and Albania. [New York Times, 11/21/2001; Wright, 2006, pp. 269] The trial nearly eradicates the remnants of Islamic Jihad in Egypt and, according to some of the defendants, leaves only about forty members outside of Egypt. Al-Zawahiri and the other remaining members end up allying even closer to al-Qaeda. The two organizations will formally merge in early 2001 (see June 2001). [Wright, 2006, pp. 336]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson, who has spent much of his political career representing the US in West Africa, visits Niger at the behest of the CIA to investigate what a Senate investigation (see July 9, 2004) will later call “uranium-related matters.” Wilson is chosen in part because his wife, covert CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson, suggested that since he was going to Niger on business in the near future, he “might be willing to use his contacts in the region” to obtain information. The CIA is interested in a meeting between Niger’s former prime minister, Ibrahim Mayaki, and a delegation from Iraq to discuss “expanding commercial relations” between the two nations. Wilson will later say that the subject of uranium never comes up in a meeting he has with Mayaki (see May 2, 2004). However, CIA analysts will interpret Wilson’s information to mean that Mayaki “interpreted ‘expanding commercial relations’ to mean that the [Iraqi] delegation wanted to discuss uranium yellowcake sales.” The CIA will believe that Wilson’s report bolsters its own suspicions that Iraq is attempting to buy yellowcake uranium from Niger. An intelligence officer will later report that Mayaki indicated that the Iraqis had expressed an interest in buying uranium from Niger. [FactCheck (.org), 7/26/2004; FactCheck (.org), 7/22/2005]
’The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism.’ [Source: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress]A report prepared for US intelligence titled the “Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why” is completed. It states: “Al-Qaeda’s expected retaliation for the US cruise missile attack… could take several forms of terrorist attack in the nation’s capital. Al-Qaeda could detonate a Chechen-type building-buster bomb at a federal building. Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaeda’s Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and Semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House. Whatever form an attack may take, bin Laden will most likely retaliate in a spectacular way.” [Associated Press, 4/18/2002] The report discusses the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and includes a picture of the WTC towers. [Hudson, 1999, pp. 4 ; Los Angeles Times, 5/17/2002] It was prepared by the Federal Research Division, an arm of the Library of Congress, for the National Intelligence Council, which advises the president and US intelligence on emerging threats. Its author is Rex A. Hudson. [Associated Press, 4/18/2002; Hudson, 2005] The Bush administration will later claim to have never heard of this report until May 2002, despite the fact that it had been publicly posted on the Internet since 1999, and “widely shared within the government,” according to the New York Times. [CNN, 5/18/2002; New York Times, 5/18/2002]
German intelligence is periodically tapping suspected al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar’s telephone, and on this day investigators hear Zammar call 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi. Officials initially claim that the call also mentions hijacker Mohamed Atta, but only his first name. [Daily Telegraph, 11/24/2001; New York Times, 1/18/2003] However, his full name, “Mohamed Atta Al Amir,” is mentioned in this call and in another recorded call. [Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (Frankfurt), 2/2/2003] Alshehhi makes veiled references to plans to travel to Afghanistan. He also hands the phone over to Said Bahaji (another member of the Hamburg cell under investigation at the time), so he can talk to Zammar. [Stern, 8/13/2003] German investigators still do not know Alshehhi’s full name, but they recognize this “Marwan” also called Zammar in January, and they told the CIA about that call. Alshehhi, living in the United Arab Emirates at the time, calls Zammar frequently. German intelligence asks the United Arab Emirates to identify the number and the caller, but the request is not answered. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 2/3/2003]
Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer. [Source: Sandy Schaeffer]Capt. Scott Phillpott, head of the Able Danger program, asks Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer to talk to a representative of CIA Director George Tenet and attempt to convince him that the new Able Danger program is not competing with the CIA. Shaffer later recalls the CIA representative replying, “I clearly understand the difference. I clearly understand. We’re going after the leadership. You guys are going after the body. But, it doesn’t matter. The bottom line is, CIA will never give you the best information from ‘Alex Base’ [the CIA’s covert action element targeting bin Laden] or anywhere else. CIA will never provide that to you because if you were successful in your effort to target al-Qaeda, you will steal our thunder. Therefore, we will not support this.” Shaffer claims that for the duration of Able Danger’s existence, “To my knowledge, and my other colleagues’ knowledge, there was no information ever released to us because CIA chose not to participate in Able Danger.” [Government Security News, 9/2005]
The CIA readies an operation to capture or kill bin Laden, secretly training and equipping approximately 60 commandos from the Pakistani ISI. Pakistan supposedly agrees to this plan in return for the lifting of economic sanctions and more economic aid. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001] Pakistan proposed the plan in December 1998 (see December 2, 1998). US officials were said to be “deeply cynical” of the plan, knowing that Pakistani intelligence was allied with bin Laden (see Autumn 1998). They figured that if Pakistan really wanted bin Laden captured or killed, they could just tell the US when and where he would be, but Pakistan never revealed this kind of information. But the US went ahead with the plan anyway, figuring it held little risk and could help develop intelligence ties with Pakistan. [Coll, 2004, pp. 442-444] After months of training, the commando team is almost ready to go by this month. However, the plan is aborted because on October 12, General Musharraf takes control of Pakistan in a coup (see October 12, 1999). Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ties to use the commando team to protect himself during the coup, but the team dissolves rather than fight on what they judge to be the losing side. Musharraf refuses to reform the team or continue any such operation against bin Laden despite the promise of substantial rewards. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001; Coll, 2004, pp. 442-444, 478-480] Some US officials later say the CIA was tricked, that the ISI just feigned to cooperate as a stalling tactic, and never intended to get bin Laden. [New York Times, 10/29/2001]
Ahmed Shah Massoud.
[Source: French Ministry of Foreign Affairs]Worried about intercepts showing a growing likelihood of al-Qaeda attacks around the millennium, the CIA steps up ties with Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. The CIA sends a team of agents, led by bin Laden unit chief Richard Blee, to Massoud’s headquarters in a remote part of northern Afghanistan, seeking his help to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. The CIA team and Massoud meet twice, and Blee tells him, “We have a common enemy.” Massoud complains that the US is too focused on bin Laden, and is not interested in the root problems of Taliban, Saudi, and Pakistani support for terrorism that is propping him up. He agrees to help nonetheless, and the CIA gives him more aid in return. However, the US is officially neutral in the Afghan civil war and the agents are prohibited from giving any aid that would “fundamentally alter the Afghan battlefield.” The CIA team will later be reported to admire Massoud greatly. They see him as “a Che Guevara figure, a great actor on history’s stage,” and “a poet, a military genius, a religious man, and a leader of enormous courage who defied death and accepted its inevitability.” Author Steve Coll will write: “The CIA team had gone into the Panjshir [Valley, where Massoud’s headquarters is located] as unabashed admirers of Massoud. Now their convictions deepened even as they recognized that the agency’s new partnership with the Northern Alliance would be awkward, limited, and perhaps unlikely to succeed.” Perhaps because of this, the team members agree with Massoud’s criticism of US policy and agree to lobby for a policy change in his favor in Washington. [Coll, 2004, pp. 469-472; Washington Post, 2/23/2004] DIA agent Julie Sirrs, newly retired, is at Massoud’s headquarters at the same time as the CIA team (see October 1998). She gathers valuable intelligence from captured al-Qaeda soldiers while the CIA agents stay in their guesthouse. She will publish much of what she learns on this trip and other trips in the summer of 2001. [Washington Post, 2/28/2004]
A CIA officer whose first name is “Albert” drafts a series of incorrect cables about a plan by Islamist militants to carry out attacks in Jordan around the millennium (see December 15-31, 1999). One cable alleges that the group of terrorists, some of whom are al-Qaeda operatives, is backed by Iran. Ali Soufan, an FBI agent working against the plotters in Jordan, sends a series of parallel cables back to Washington, and his and Albert’s superiors notice the discrepancies. An investigation into who is correct ensues, and Soufan is proved right. In all, 12 cables drafted by Albert have to be withdrawn. Soufan will say that Albert’s problem was that he had a “tendency to jump to conclusions without facts.” The link to Iran was because some of the plotters had trained in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, an area controlled by Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran. [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ; Soufan, 2011, pp. 138-139] After 9/11, Albert will be involved in the rendition of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi to Egypt, where he falsely confesses to a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq (see January 2002 and After).
Nelson DeMille. [Source: Sandy DeMille]Members of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) tell a best-selling author that they believe the next terrorist attack in the United States will involve suicide pilots deliberately flying planes into the World Trade Center. [Demille, 2010, pp. xii; Connecticut Post, 8/3/2010] The New York JTTF has exclusive jurisdiction over local terrorism investigations. [City Journal, 10/2001] It has over 140 members, including personnel from the FBI, the New York City Police Department, the Port Authority Police Department, the Secret Service, and the CIA. The task force is “on the forefront of the war against terrorism,” according to the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. [FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 3/1/1999; Washington Post, 10/23/2002] Thriller writer Nelson DeMille interviews some of its members while carrying out research for his novel The Lion’s Game, which he writes in 1999 and is published in January 2000. [Demille, 2010, pp. xi-xii; Al-Masry Al-Youm, 4/27/2010]
Author Told that 'Suicide Pilots' Will Fly Learjets into the WTC - DeMille will later recall that while he is at 26 Federal Plaza, where the New York JTTF is located, “Just in passing we were talking about the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center” (see February 26, 1993). DeMille wonders if there will be another terrorist attack in the United States. He asks the JTTF personnel: “What do you think the next attack would be? Will there be another attack?” They reply: “Yeah. It’s gonna be the World Trade Center again. They missed it.” [Sirius XM Book Radio, 6/16/2010] (Presumably, when the JTTF personnel say, “They missed it,” they mean that the terrorists failed to cause the WTC to collapse when they bombed it in 1993.) DeMille then asks, “What’s gonna happen?” The JTTF personnel say the next attack will involve “two or three or four Learjets, private jets full of aviation fuel and explosives, flying into the towers.” [WOR, 6/14/2010] The planes, they say, will be “flown into the North and South Towers of the Trade Center” by “suicide pilots.” [Demille, 2010, pp. xii; Connecticut Post, 8/3/2010] The suicide pilots will be “guys who know how to fly and not [how] to land” a plane. [New York Daily News, 9/11/2011]
Terrorists Will Want to Cause 'Maximum Death' - DeMille asks the JTTF personnel why they think the terrorists will specifically target the WTC again. He says: “Why not any other iconic landmark? Why not the Empire State Building?” They tell him it is because the terrorists will be “looking for maximum death.” [WOR, 6/14/2010] This discussion, according to DeMille, takes place “almost two years before the actual events of September 11, 2001.” [Demille, 2010, pp. xii]
JTTF Knows about Arabs Learning to Fly in the US - DeMille will tell the New York Times that the members of the New York JTTF “were all obsessed with the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, and they were convinced we’d be attacked again.” [New York Times, 11/9/2006] He will say that JTTF personnel “knew” the target of the next terrorist attack in the US would be the WTC. “They were pretty, pretty definite about that,” he will add. [WOR, 6/14/2010] They also “knew that Arabs were training in the United States to fly small planes,” according to DeMille. [Newsweek, 1/23/2002]
JTTF Has 'Foreknowledge' or 'Forethought' of 9/11 - DeMille will write that because of what he is told by the JTTF personnel: “[W]hen the events of the morning of September 11, 2001, unfolded, I was not taken completely unaware. And neither were the people who had spent years investigating terrorist threats to this country.” [Demille, 2010, pp. xii] He will note that the JTTF personnel he talks to are “close to right” about the nature of the next attack in the US. He will say, “They knew the target and they knew the method” the terrorists would use. [Sirius XM Book Radio, 6/16/2010] DeMille will also say that when he sees the attacks on the WTC on September 11, he finds it “just chilling to think that [members of the JTTF] had some, if not foreknowledge, at least some forethought of this.” [77WABC, 5/22/2010] Radio host Glenn Beck will comment that what the JTTF personnel tell DeMille shows that the US government “knew specifically” what the 9/11 attacks would involve. [Premiere Radio Networks, 6/9/2010]
John O’Neill, special agent in charge of the FBI’s national security division in New York, tells a group of CIA officials of his concern that al-Qaeda is going to try to bring down the World Trade Center. Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, a member of the CIA’s Senior Intelligence Service—the leadership team that guides CIA activities globally—arranges a “high-level liaison delegation visit” to New York and Washington, DC. While his group is in New York, it meets O’Neill and is treated by him to a lavish dinner at an upmarket Manhattan restaurant. During the meal, O’Neill talks of his concern that al-Qaeda will make another attempt to bring down the WTC, after the bombing there in 1993 failed to achieve this (see February 26, 1993). Mowatt-Larssen is struck by his certainty that an al-Qaeda attack on the US is imminent. At one point, O’Neill gets so unsettled by the possibility of another terrorist attack on the WTC that he mentions his ambition to become chief of security at the Trade Center after he retires from the FBI. As the group is reaching the end of the dinner, he repeatedly states his concern that al-Qaeda is unhappy about its failed first attempt to bring down the WTC and will in time return to finish the job. This is “the first time I had heard a clear articulation of the threat that terrorists presented to the homeland,” Mowatt-Larssen will later comment. [Mowatt-Larssen, 2020; Russia Matters, 10/7/2020] O’Neill is “the FBI’s top expert on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden,” according to New York magazine. [New York Magazine, 12/17/2001] He has, since 1995, repeatedly warned that he is “sure bin Laden would attack on American soil” and he expects the al-Qaeda leader “to target the Twin Towers again,” according to journalist and author Murray Weiss. [Weiss, 2003, pp. 360] After retiring from the FBI, he will start work as chief of security at the WTC less than three weeks before 9/11 (see August 23, 2001) and die in the collapse of the WTC on September 11. [New York Times, 9/23/2001; New Yorker, 1/14/2002]
Iraqi defector “Curveball.” [Source: ABC News]“Curveball,” an Iraqi in his late 20s later identified as Rafid Ahmed Alwan (see November 4, 2007), travels to Germany on a tourist visa and applies for political asylum, telling German immigration officials that he embezzled money from the Iraqi government and fears prison or worse if he returns home. The Germans send him to Zirndorf, a refugee center near Nuremberg, where other Iraqi exiles seeking German visas are being held. There, he changes his story, telling German intelligence (BND) officers that he was a chemical engineer (see 1994) who had been promoted to direct a secret mobile biological weapons plant at Djerf al Nadaf, just outside of Baghdad. The plant masqueraded as a “seed purification plant,” he claims. Curveball tells the Germans that in Iraq, he designed laboratory equipment to convert trucks into biological weapons laboratories. He offers the names of six sites where Iraq might be hiding them, three of which, he says, are already in operation. He also says that a farm program to boost crop yields is a front for Hussein’s new biological weapons production program. He tells the Germans of a warehouse at the plant that housed trucks; the trucks had been equipped to create and transport biological weapons. His story dovetails with the long-held fears by Western intelligence agencies that Saddam Hussein was cooking up biological and chemical weapons; the Germans stash him away, nickname him “Curveball,” and interrogate him every few days for the next eighteen months (see January 2000-September 2001). Curveball refuses to meet with Americans; therefore, only summaries of his debriefings will be sent to Washington. CIA analysts will be mesmerized by Alwan’s information. Former senior CIA official Tyler Drumheller recalls in late 2007, “Curveball was the one piece of evidence where they could say, ‘Look at this. If they have this capability, where they can transport biological weapons, anthrax, all these horrible weapons, they can attack our troops with them. They can give them to terrorist groups.’” Most arresting is Curveball’s story that in 1998 he saw an accidental release of a biological weapon that killed 12 people. His story is almost entirely false. [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005; CBS News, 11/4/2007] Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, will tell the New Yorker in 2004 that the CIA believes that Aras Habib, the INC intelligence chief later accused of providing US intelligence to Iran, played a part in Curveball’s going to Germany. “The CIA is positive of it,” he says. [New Yorker, 6/7/2004]
Bob Drogin, author of the 2007 book Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, will write that Curveball gives the Germans detailed diagrams of germ-making equipment, fermenters, mixing vats, controllers, and other items, which appear “plausible,” even though they can’t be reverse-engineered to “brew anthrax” or “build a bio-lab in a garage.” Instead, he will write, Curveball’s inconsistent information will be “interpreted, summarized, reformatted and analyzed at every stage,” but will never be verified. Drogin will call the entire affair “the dark side of intelligence,” and will write that, to the CIA’s top officials, the risk of going so far on uncorroborated evidence would take care of itself once US forces found the fabled Iraqi WMDs. Once the weapons were in hand, Drogin will write, they will figure “no one would remember a bogus defector.” As a CIA supervisor will later e-mail to a frustrated agency whistleblower, “Let’s keep in mind the fact that this war’s going to happen regardless of what Curveball said or didn’t say, and that the Powers That Be probably aren’t terribly interested in whether Curveball knows what he’s talking about.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2007]
The June 9, 1999 Military Technical Agreement between the International Security Force (KFOR), Yugoslavia, and Serbia, ending NATO’s bombing campaign, creates a ground safety zone (GSZ), which is closed to the Yugoslav army and heavy weapons, and is five kilometers wide along the Serbia-Kosova border. The majorities in the nearby Serbian counties of Presheva, Bujanovic, and Medvegja are Albanian historically, though Albanians will not be the majority in Medvegja a few years later. The Liberation Army of Presheva, Medvegja, and Bujanovic, known by its Albanian acronym, the UCPMB (Ushtria Clirimtare e Presheves, Medvegjes dhe Bujanovcit), organizes to join the region with Kosova and uses the GSZ as a refuge. British journalist John Phillips will later suggest that the UCPMB was a provocation to help Slobodan Milosevic regain power or provoke a coup by the Yugoslav military. Others say that the UCPMB was created by the CIA or US State Department to destabilize Yugoslavia prior to the overthrow of Milosevic on October 6, 1999, but it is now out of control. According to a paper presented to the Conflict Studies Research Center at Sandhurst, England, the guerrillas show signs of American training: their method of marching, what they sing on the march, and their tactics—tactics that did not develop over the three years fighting in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Albanian scholar Paulin Kola will later quote an unnamed UCPMB officer who says, “If [the US military] ask us to fire three rounds tomorrow, that’s what we do.” The UCPMB also says it can get in touch with NATO. The guerillas are strong and publish their newspaper in US-occupied Gjilan, Kosova. At one point US forces will lose track of an alleged Albanian CIA operative originally arrested by the British and charged with bombing a bus. Nonetheless, Kola will say the UCPMB acts out of local Albanians’ historical desire to be included in Kosova and fear of Yugoslav vengeance. The UCPMB will emerge officially in January 2000. [Kola, 2003, pp. 372-375; Phillips, 2004, pp. 1-3, 10]
Entity Tags: Yugoslavia, John Phillips, Conflict Studies Research Centre, Central Intelligence Agency, Bosnia-Herzegovina, North Atlantic Treaty Organization, Paulin Kola, Republic of Kosova, Slobodan Milosevic, Yugoslav Army, United Kingdom, United States of America, UCPMB, US State Department DUPLICATE
Timeline Tags: Kosovar Albanian Struggle
Hussein al-Zawahiri, brother of al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri, is rendered to Egypt. Hussein, an engineer, is captured in Malaysia, although, according to author Stephen Grey, he has “no known involvement with terrorism,” other than his familial link. Nevertheless, the CIA takes him back to Egypt, where he is interrogated for six months. He will be released in 2000, but, according to Grey, “Years later he remained effectively under house arrest, banned from any contact with anyone but his family.” [Grey, 2007, pp. 129, 247]
Rep. Curt Weldon later claims that while he never learns about Able Danger prior to 9/11, he does become aware of the Land Information Warfare Activity’s (LIWA) similar data mining efforts in 1999 and is very impressed. He says that on this day, he is part of a meeting with the deputy directors of the FBI and the CIA and others. Using LIWA as a model, Weldon proposes a national collaborative center that would use open source data as well as classified information from 33 government agencies “to basically assess emerging transnational terrorists threats. The CIA, two years before 9/11, said, we don’t need that. We’ve put language in three successive defense bills, in spite of that, calling for a national collaborative capability. Prior to 9/11, we didn’t have that capability, and we were hit.” [US Congress, 2/15/2006]
Prince Turki al-Faisal, Saudi intelligence minister until shortly before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001), will later claim that around this time its external intelligence agency tells the CIA that hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar have been put on a Saudi terror watch list. The Saudis have been tracking the two men, as well as Nawaf’s brother Salem, for some time (see March 21, 1999, April 4, 1999, April 6, 1999, and After Early April 1999). Saeed Badeeb, Turki’s chief analyst, and Nawaf Obaid, a security consultant to the Saudi government, support Turki’s account though Turki himself will later back away from it after becoming Saudi ambassador to the US (see August 21, 2005). In 2003, Prince Turki will say, “What we told [the CIA] was these people were on our watch list from previous activities of al-Qaeda, in both the  embassy bombings and attempts to smuggle arms into the kingdom in 1997,” (see 1997 and October 4, 2001). However, the CIA strongly denies any such warning, although it begins following Almihdhar and Alhazmi around this time (see January 2-5, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000). [Associated Press, 10/16/2003; Salon, 10/18/2003; Wright, 2006, pp. 310-311, 448] The US will not put Almihdhar and Alhazmi on its watch list until August 2001 (see August 23, 2001).
In the winter of 1999, a covert four-man CIA and NSA team arrives in the part of Afghanistan controlled by the Northern Alliance. They set up a listening post within range of al-Qaeda’s tactical radios. The Northern Alliance is shown how to run it, and then the team leaves. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; Miniter, 2003, pp. 197-198] In March 2000, CIA agent Gary Berntsen leads a small CIA team into Northern Alliance territory (see March 2000). While there, they improve the existing listening post and set up a new one closer to Taliban-controlled territory. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 57-61] The US makes little use of the intelligence gained from these intercepts, leading Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud to conclude that the US is “not serious” about getting bin Laden. [Miniter, 2003, pp. 197-198]
The Clinton administration issues more instructions to the CIA governing operations against Osama bin Laden, but these instructions do not include wording allowing the CIA to assassinate him. Following the 1998 embassy bombings, Clinton allowed the CIA to mount an operation aimed at killing bin Laden with one group of assets (see December 24, 1998), but not another (see February 1999). These new instructions, drafted by administration lawyers, do not cover the ground of the two previous sets of instructions, but deal with “a wider set of contingencies,” and they authorize the use of force only within the context of a capture operation, not an assassination attempt. The CIA is therefore allowed to try to kill bin Laden only using one specific group of assets—tribal leaders tracking bin Laden in Afghanistan, still based on the earlier instructions. But the CIA does not test “the limits of available legal authority,” apparently because the CIA’s bin Laden unit is not told of the kill authorization (see December 26, 1998 and After) and due to confusion (see February 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 133]
[Source: Interpol]The CIA begins “persistent” efforts to recruit German businessman Mamoun Darkazanli as an informant. Darkazanli knows 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and the other members of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. US and German intelligence had previously opened investigations into Darkazanli in September 1998. Agents occasionally followed him, but Darkazanli obviously noticed the tail on him at least once. More costly and time-consuming electronic surveillance is not done however, and by the end of 1999, the investigation has produced little of value. German law does not allow foreign governments to have informants in Germany. So this month, Thomas Volz appears at the headquarters of the Hamburg state domestic intelligence agency, the LfV, responsible for tracking terrorists and domestic extremists. [Chicago Tribune, 11/17/2002; Stern, 8/13/2003] Volz’s business card identifies him as “consul of the United States of America” at the US consulate general in Hamburg, but he actually is an undercover CIA agent. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 12/12/2005] Volz tells them the CIA believes Darkazanli has knowledge of an unspecified terrorist plot and encourages that he be “turned” against his al-Qaeda comrades. A source later recalls he says, “Darkazanli knows a lot.” Efforts to recruit him will continue in the spring next year. The CIA has not admitted this interest in Darkazanli. [Chicago Tribune, 11/17/2002; Stern, 8/13/2003]
Ahmed Ressam. [Source: Public domain]The CIA learns from the Jordanian government about an al-Qaeda millennium bombing plot in that country (see November 30, 1999). Further, the CIA concludes more attacks are likely soon, including some inside the US (see December 8, 1999). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told of this, and he implements a plan to neutralize the threat. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 205, 211] The plan, approved by President Clinton, focuses on harassing and disrupting al-Qaeda members throughout the world. The FBI is put on heightened alert, counterterrorism teams are dispatched overseas, a formal ultimatum is given to the Taliban to keep al-Qaeda under control, and friendly intelligence agencies are asked to help. There are Cabinet-level meetings nearly every day dealing with terrorism [Washington Post, 4/2/2000; Associated Press, 6/28/2002] All US embassies, military bases, police departments, and other agencies are given a warning to be on the lookout for signs of an al-Qaeda millennium attack. One alert border agent responds by arresting terrorist Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), which leads to the unraveling of several bombing plots (see December 15-31, 1999). No terror attacks occur. However, Clarke claims the FBI generally remains unhelpful. For example, around this time the FBI says there are no websites in the US soliciting volunteers for training in Afghanistan or money for terrorist front groups. Clarke has a private citizen check to see if this is true, and within days, he is given a long list of such websites. The FBI and Justice Department apparently fail to do anything with the information. [Newsweek, 3/31/2004]
A presentation by the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center to the National Security Council’s Small Group emphasizes the importance of rendition operations in the CIA’s fight against al-Qaeda. The briefing says: “We will continue with disruptions of operations and renditions… but with an increased emphasis on recruiting sources; at this time, we have no penetrations inside [Osama bin Laden]‘s leadership.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 388 ] The Small Group was formed by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and includes members of Clinton’s cabinet cleared to know about the most sensitive counterterrorism issues. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 120]
The CIA’s Counterterrorism Center sends a cable reminding all its personnel about various reporting obligations. The cable clearly states that it is important to share information so suspected members of US-designated terrorist groups can be placed on watch lists. The US keeps a number of watch lists; the most important one, TIPOFF, contains about 61,000 names of suspected terrorists by 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 9/22/2002; Knight Ridder, 1/27/2004] The list is checked whenever someone enters or leaves the US. “The threshold for adding a name to TIPOFF is low,” and even a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is connected with a US-designated terrorist group warrants being added to the database. [US Congress, 9/20/2002] Within a month, two future hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, will be identified as al-Qaeda operatives (see December 29, 1999), but the cable’s instructions will not be followed for them. The CIA will initially tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that no such guidelines existed, and CIA Director Tenet will fail to mention the cable in his testimony to the Inquiry. [New York Times, 5/15/2003; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ]
Hijackers threaten the Indian Airlines plane, under Taliban supervision. [Source: Agence France-Presse/ Getty Images]Indian Airlines Flight 814 is hijacked and flown to Afghanistan where 155 passengers are held hostage for eight days. They are freed in return for the release of three militants held in Indian prisons. One of the hostages is killed. One of the men freed in the exchange is Saeed Sheikh, who will later allegedly wire money to the 9/11 hijackers (see Early August 2001). [BBC, 12/31/1999] Another freed militant is Maulana Masood Azhar. Azhar emerges in Pakistan a few days later, and tells a crowd of 10,000, “I have come here because this is my duty to tell you that Muslims should not rest in peace until we have destroyed America and India.” [Associated Press, 1/5/2000] He then tours Pakistan for weeks under the protection of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] The ISI and Saeed help Azhar form a new Islamic militant group called Jaish-e-Mohammed, and Azhar is soon plotting attacks again. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002; Guardian, 7/16/2002; Washington Post, 2/8/2003] The hijacking plot is blamed on Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (also known as Harkat ul-Ansar), a Pakistani militant group originally formed and developed in large part due to Pervez Musharraf in the early 1990s, and led by Azhar and Sheikh before their arrests in India (see Early 1993). Musharraf has just taken power in Pakistan in a coup two months earlier (see October 12, 1999). The Indian government publicly blames the ISI for backing the hijacking. Such claims are not surprising given the longstanding animosity between Pakistan and India; however, US officials also privately say the ISI backed the hijacking and may even have helped carry it out. The US and Britain demand that Pakistan ban Harkat ul-Mujahedeen and other similar groups, but Pakistan takes no action. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 48] The five hijackers, all Pakistanis and members of Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, are released and return to Pakistan. They are never arrested. One of them will later be revealed to be Amjad Farooqi, a leader of both al-Qaeda and Pakistani militant groups who will be killed in mysterious circumstances in 2004 (see September 27, 2004). India is furious with the US for refusing to condemn Pakistan or pressure it to take action against the hijackers. According to some sources, al-Qaeda planned the hijacking in conjunction with Harkat ul-Mujahedeen. [Washington Post, 9/27/2004; Rashid, 2008, pp. 112-113] In 2001, the flight’s captain, Devi Sharan, will say that the hijackers of his plane used techniques similar to the 9/11 hijackers, suggesting a common modus operandi. The hijackers praised Osama bin Laden, had knives and slit the throat of a passenger, herded the passengers to the back of the plane where some of them used cell phones to call relatives, and one hijacker said he had trained on a simulator. [CNN, 9/26/2001]
Entity Tags: Indian Airlines Flight 814, Devi Sharan, Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, Central Intelligence Agency, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Al-Qaeda, Amjad Farooqi, Saeed Sheikh, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Maulana Masood Azhar
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The NSA, monitoring a telephone in an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002), has listened in on phone calls revealing that hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi are to attend an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 (see Shortly Before December 29, 1999). Almihdhar’s full name was mentioned, as well as the first names of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi. On this day, the NSA shares this information with the CIA’s Alec Station bin Laden unit. Other US intelligence agencies, including FBI headquarters and the FBI’s New York field office, are told as well. Although Khalid Almihdhar’s full name was mentioned in one call, the NSA only passes on his first name. Also, the NSA has already learned from monitoring the Yemen hub that Nawaf’s last name is Alhazmi and that he is long-time friends with Almihdhar (see Early 1999). However, they either don’t look this up in their records or don’t pass it on to any other agency. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 239 ; Wright, 2006, pp. 310] An NSA analyst makes a comment that is shared between US intelligence agencies, “Salem may be Nawaf’s younger brother.” This turns out to be correct. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] A CIA officer will later tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that information from the Africa embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) was reviewed in late 1999 during a worldwide effort to disrupt millennium attack plots (see December 15-31, 1999) and “a kind of tuning fork… buzzed when two [of the hijackers] reportedly planning a trip to [Malaysia] were linked indirectly to what appeared to be a support element… involved with the Africa bombers.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] The fact that they are connected to the Yemen communication hub already indicates some importance within al-Qaeda. It is learned they are connected to the embassy bombings in some way (see October 4, 2001 and Late 1999). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] The NSA report about them on this day is entitled, “Activities of Bin Laden Associates,” showing the clear knowledge of their ties to bin Laden. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] The CIA will track Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to the Malaysia summit (see January 2-5, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000).
Entity Tags: Salem Alhazmi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI New York Field Office, Khalid Almihdhar, FBI Headquarters, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed al-Hada, National Security Agency, Nawaf Alhazmi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The NSA has been monitoring a telephone in an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). According to Vanity Fair, “Amid the storm of pre-millennial ‘chatter,’ the [NSA] intercepted communications among three Arabic men, each of whom bore some connection to the East Africa bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) and to al-Qaeda.” The men are hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Apparently, the NSA listens in on a phone call between al-Qaeda figure Khallad bin Attash and hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who is staying at the hub. Attash mentions Almihdhar’s full name, as well as the first names of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi. He says he wants the three of them to come to an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). The NSA has already heard the names of the three hijackers mentioned repeatedly in 1999 while monitoring the Yemen hub (see Early 1999). Apparently, US intelligence does not yet know bin Attash’s full name or role in al-Qaeda and won’t figure it out until late 2000 (see Early December 2000). [Wright, 2006, pp. 310] At the same time, US officials in Pakistan intercept Nawaf Alhazmi in Karachi calling Almihdhar at the Yemen hub. They learn Nawaf is planning a trip to Malaysia on January 4, 2000. The NSA is also monitoring Nawaf calling his brother Salem (the location of Salem at this time has not been revealed). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 143-144 ; Asia Times, 3/19/2004] The NSA will share details of these calls with the CIA and other agencies on December 29, 1999 (see December 29, 1999) and the CIA will eventually track Almihdhar to the Malaysia summit (see January 2-5, 2000).
During the investigation of the Millennium plots to attack targets in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), the local intelligence service gives the chief of the CIA station in Amman a box of evidence to examine. However, the station chief, apparently called “Hendrik V.,” ignores the box; he dumps it in a corner of his office and fails to inform his FBI colleagues of it. A few days later, FBI agent Ali Souofan is in Hendrik V.‘s office and asks what is in the box. Hendrik V. replies that it is just “junk” the Jordanians gave him. Soufan starts to go through the box and finds key evidence, such as a map of the proposed bomb sites. The evidence is then returned to the Jordanians, so they can start following the leads. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “Soufan’s success embarrassed the CIA.” [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ; Soufan, 2011, pp. 139-140] Hendrik V. will later be promoted to run the Sunni Extremist Group at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (see (Between Summer and Winter 2001)).
Earlier in December, the CIA estimated that al-Qaeda would launch between five and 15 attacks against American targets around the world over the New Year’s weekend, and that several targets would likely be inside the US (see December 8, 1999). Since late 1999, there has been intelligence that targets in Washington and New York would be attacked at this time. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] There in fact are a number of planned attacks, including bomb attacks on the Boston and Los Angeles airports (see December 14, 1999 and December 15-31, 1999), a hotel in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), and a naval ship in Yemen (see January 3, 2000). However, all of the attacks are foiled, thanks to alerts and luck. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002]
In the wake of disrupting Ahmed Ressam’s millennium bomb plot at the end of 1999 and arresting his cohorts (see December 14, 1999)
(see December 15-31, 1999), US intelligence remains concerned that al-Qaeda sleeper cells remain in the US (see March 10, 2000). However, Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger later claims that the FBI still repeatedly assures the Clinton White House that al-Qaeda lacks the ability to launch a domestic strike. [New York Times, 9/22/2002] He says, “Until the very end of our time in office, the view we received from the [FBI] was that al-Qaeda had limited capacity to operate in the US and any presence here was under surveillance.” No analysis is done before 9/11 to investigate just how big that presence might be. [Washington Post, 9/20/2002]
Al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra apparently begins working as an informant for the CIA, Syrian intelligence, and Turkish intelligence. Sakra, a young Syrian whose parents were Turkish, attended the Khaldan training camp in Afghanistan in 1997. He developed a bond with Abu Zubaida, the al-Qaeda leader who was logistics manager for the camp. Zubaida will later be captured and interrogated by the CIA and will reportedly confirm a link with Sakra. Zubaida tasked Sakra with building up an al-Qaeda network in Turkey. In 1999, the Syrian government began hunting him for his role in a revolt in a Lebanon refugee camp. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/24/2005] The Turkish newspaper Zaman will report shortly after his capture in 2005, “Sakra has been sought by the secret services since 2000.” The CIA interrogated him twice in 2000. “Following the interrogation, the CIA offered him employment. He also received a large sum of money by the CIA. However the CIA eventually lost contact with him. Following this development, in 2000 the CIA passed intelligence about Sakra through a classified notice to Turkey, calling for the Turkish (intelligence) to capture him. [They] caught Sakra in Turkey and interrogated him.” [Zaman, 8/14/2005] Sakra was then apparently let go again. He will then move Germany and assist some of the 9/11 hijackers (see September 2000-July 24, 2001), then reveal details about the 9/11 attacks to Syrian intelligence the day before 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). He also will later claim to have trained some 9/11 hijackers in Turkey starting in late 1999 (see Late 1999-2000). In 2007, former CIA Director George Tenet will write in his book “At the Center of the Storm” that “a source we were jointly running with a Middle Eastern country went to see his foreign handler and basically told him something big was about to go down.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 160] This is very likely a reference to Sakra, since no one else comes close to matching the description of telling a Middle Eastern government about the 9/11 attacks one day in advance, not to mention working as an informant for the CIA at the same time. Tenet’s revelation strongly supports the notion that Sakra in fact accepted the CIA’s offers in 2000 and had been working with the CIA and other intelligence agencies at least through 9/11.
The CIA sends an officer from its Counterterrorist Center (CTC) to the NSA to review raw transcripts of intercepted communications between terrorists. However, the officer is only there for a “brief period” and is subsequently withdrawn and not replaced, damaging the CIA’s ability to exploit the information gleaned from the intercepts. The CIA only previously received summaries of intercepted calls, not the transcripts themselves, and had been arguing for years that it needed the actual transcripts to better understand the material (see February 1996-May 1998, December 1996, After December 1996, After December 1996, and Late August 1998). After the single officer leaves the NSA, which intercepts calls between the US-based 9/11 hijackers and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen around this time (see Early 2000-Summer 2001), the reason the CIA gives for not replacing him is “resource constraints.” In 2005, the CIA’s Office of Inspector General will regard this failure as so serious that it will recommend an accountability board be convened to review the performance of the CTC managers responsible, and will suggest that officers should have been detailed to the NSA “on a consistent, full-time basis.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xxiii ] The CIA and NSA are obtaining information about people in the US from phone companies to support “black ops” at this time (see After July 11, 1997).
Abderazek Mahdjoub. [Source: Associated Press]Abderazek Mahdjoub, an Algerian living in Hamburg, Germany, attends the Al-Quds mosque, and has ties to some of the 9/11 hijackers. According to a senior German intelligence official, Mahdjoub is under observation by German domestic intelligence since at least this year. However, he is also connected to the al-Qaeda cell in Milan and in fact is believed to be the head of that cell. There is considerable evidence that the Milan cell has foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot. The cell is under heavy surveillance by Italian intelligence before 9/11 (see August 12, 2000)
(see January 24, 2001). But apparently the connection between the Milan and Hamburg cells through Mahdjoub is not made. He is also tied to Mohamed Daki, another alleged member of the Milan cell periodically living in Hamburg before 9/11 (see December 1997-November 1998). He apparently will continue to be a major organizer after 9/11, and the Italian and German governments will fail to share information about him. He is suspected of leading European recruitment of those who want to fight the US in Iraq. In late 2003, he will finally be arrested trying to cross the border into Iraq. He is put in German custody. [New York Times, 11/29/2003; New York Times, 3/22/2004]
Treasury Department official Richard Newcomb has been to Saudi Arabia with other US officials in an attempt to pressure the Saudis to crack down on financing al-Qaeda, but no action has resulted (see June 1999). He had threatened to freeze the assets of certain individuals and groups funding al-Qaeda if not action is taken, and now he starts to act on that threat. As head of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, he submits names for sanctions. But imposing sanctions requires approval from an interagency committee, and the permission to go ahead is never given. CIA and FBI officials are “lukewarm to the idea, worried that sanctions would chill what little cooperation they had with their Saudi counterparts.” But the State Department puts up the most opposition. One official will later recall, “The State Department always thought we had much bigger fish to fry.” [US News and World Report, 12/15/2003]
National Security Adviser Sandy Berger will later say that in early 2000 the National Security Council (NSC), the US military, and the CIA develops a “new technique for detecting Bin Laden.” Berger calls it “very promising as a way of determining where he would be if we had one strand of human intelligence.” The Los Angeles Times will comment, “But whether the new technique was some sort of high-tech homing device or silent surveillance craft is a question left to future generations.” The next two and a half pages of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report discussing this technique are completely censored. [Los Angeles Times, 7/27/2003] Despite Berger’s implication that the US does not have human intelligence on bin Laden’s movements at this time, other accounts indicate that it does (see March-April 2001 and April 2001).
Models of the biological weapons facility described by Curveball. [Source: CBS News]Two German intelligence (BND) case officers debrief Iraqi defector “Curveball” with help from a team of chemists, biologists, and other experts. Curveball claims to have knowledge of a clandestine Iraqi biological weapons program (see November 1999). He speaks to his BND debriefers in Arabic through a translator, and also in broken English and German. Curveball says that he worked for Iraq’s Military Industrial Commission after graduating first in his class from engineering school at Baghdad University in 1994. (He actually graduated last—see 1994.) A year later, he says, he was assigned to work for “Dr. Germ,” British-trained microbiologist Rihab Rashid Taha, to construct mobile biological weapons labs. But Curveball never says that he actually produced biological weapons or witnessed anyone else doing so and the BND is unable to verify his claims. Curveball’s statements are recorded in German, shared with a local Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) team, and sent to the US, where they are translated into English for analysis at the DIA’s directorate for human intelligence in Clarendon, Virginia, though CIA agents are not allowed to talk to Curveball themselves. “This was not substantial evidence,” one senior German intelligence official later recalls in an interview with the Los Angeles Times. “We made clear we could not verify the things he said.” The reports are then sent to the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation and Arms Control Center (WINPAC), whose experts analyze the data and share it with artists who use Curveball’s accounts to render sketches. The Clarendon office sends a total of 95 reports to WINPAC during this period. US spy satellites are directed to take pictures of sites named by Curveball as biological weapons facilities. According to a later investigation by the Los Angeles Times, “At the CIA, bio-warfare experts viewed [Curveball’s] reports as sophisticated and technically feasible. They also matched the analysts’ expectations.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005] The Germans also share some of Curveball’s allegations with the British. However, according to Robin Butler, head of the British inquiry into prewar intelligence, what the Germans provided was “incomplete.” For instance, German intelligence misled them to believe that the alleged mobile weapon labs were capable of producing weapons-grade bio-agents such as anthrax spores, when Curveball’s actual statements only suggested they had the capability to produce a liquid slurry that would not be suitable for bombs or warheads. [Los Angeles Times, 11/20/2005]
In 2007, reporter Bob Drogin, author of Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, will write extensively of the tensions between the BND and the CIA that lead to the Germans’ reluctance to provide the CIA direct access to Curveball, and result in the CIA building a huge case for Iraqi bioweapons on Curveball’s unsubstantiated, unverified assertions. The Germans repeatedly state that Curveball speaks no English, and hates Americans; in fact, Curveball speaks better English than he does German, and likes Americans. The fault lies with both agencies, Drogin will write, saying the CIA routinely refuses to allow other agencies to meet with their sources, either. “The CIA won’t even let other US intelligence agencies interview a CIA source,” Drogin will note. “The fact is the US went to war after relying in part on information from a guy they had never met, so they’ve tried really hard to blame others.” [Alternet, 10/22/2007]
According to some reports, 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is put under surveillance by the CIA while living in Germany during this time. [Agence France-Presse, 9/22/2001; Focus (Munchen), 9/24/2001; Berliner Zeitung (Berlin), 9/24/2001] He is “reportedly observed buying large quantities of chemicals in Frankfurt, apparently for the production of explosives [and/or] for biological warfare.” “The US agents reported to have trailed Atta are said to have failed to inform the German authorities about their investigation,” even as the Germans are investigating many of his associates. “The disclosure that Atta was being trailed by police long before 11 September raises the question why the attacks could not have been prevented with the man’s arrest.” [Observer, 9/30/2001] A German newspaper adds that Atta is able to get a visa into the US on May 18. According to some reports, the surveillance stops when he leaves for the US at the start of June. However, “experts believe that the suspect [remains] under surveillance in the United States.” [Berliner Zeitung (Berlin), 9/24/2001] A German intelligence official also states, “We can no longer exclude the possibility that the Americans wanted to keep an eye on Atta after his entry in the US.” [Focus (Munchen), 9/24/2001] This correlates with a Newsweek claim that US officials knew Atta was a “known [associate] of Islamic terrorists well before [9/11].” [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ] However, a congressional inquiry later reports that the US “intelligence community possessed no intelligence or law enforcement information linking 16 of the 19 hijackers [including Atta] to terrorism or terrorist groups.” [US Congress, 9/20/2002] In 2005, after accounts of the Able Danger program learning Atta’s name become news, newspaper accounts will neglect to mention this prior report about Atta being known by US intelligence. For instance, the New York Times will report, “The account [about Able Danger] is the first assertion that Mr. Atta, an Egyptian who became the lead hijacker in the plot, was identified by any American government agency as a potential threat before the Sept. 11 attacks”(see August 9, 2005) . [New York Times, 8/9/2005]
9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, who is under CIA surveillance at this time, begins sending e-mails to US flight schools, inquiring about their pilot training programs. One e-mail states, “We are a small group (2-3) of young men from different Arab [sic] countries.” “Now we are living in Germany since a while for study purposes. We would like to start training for the career of airline professional pilots. In this field we haven’t yet any knowledge, but we are ready to undergo an intensive training program.” Apparently, multiple e-mails are sent from the same Hotmail account. Some e-mails are signed “M. Atta,” while others are signed “Mahmoud Ben Hamad.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/25/2003] According to the 9/11 Commission, Atta e-mails 31 different US flight schools, and requests details on the cost of training, sources of financing, and accommodation. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 168] On March 23, he e-mails the Airman Flight School in Norman, Oklahoma and requests information about their flight training. One recently arrested al-Qaeda operative had trained at this school (see February 23-June 2001), and Zacarias Moussaoui will train there one year later (see February 23-June 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 57 ]
US intelligence is aware from monitored phone calls that Nawaf Alhazmi is travelling to an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Alhazmi is known to be in Karachi, Pakistan, with a ticket to Malaysia for January 2, 2000. CIA and Pakistani officials plan to have his passport scrutinized as he passes through the airport, but he changes his ticket departure date twice. Officials get confused and are not there when he leaves the country, so they still don’t learn his last name. [Stern, 8/13/2003] The 9/11 Commission later notes that “officials could have worked on logical flight itineraries and perhaps realized that Nawaf could and probably did keep to his original plan.” But not only is this not done at the time, apparently the flight manifests are not checked after the fact to see in anyone with the name Nawaf had boarded. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] Even after being monitored for several days in Malaysia, US intelligence supposedly still will not learn his last name (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After).
A photocopy of Nawaf Alhazmi’s passport. No image of Khalid Almihdhar’s passport has been released, but it would have looked similar to this one. [Source: FBI]The CIA is aware that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is staying at a highly monitored al-Qaeda communication hub (see Late 1998-Early 2002) and is planning to travel to an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia. He is closely watched as leaves the hub and flies from Sana’a, Yemen, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on his way to Malaysia. Agents from eight CIA offices and six friendly foreign intelligence services are all asked to help track him, in the hopes he will lead them to bigger al-Qaeda figures. [Stern, 8/13/2003; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] The CIA and local authorities are running an operation to track militants transiting Dubai airport (see 1999), and United Arab Emirates officials secretly make copies of his passport as he is passing through it, immediately reporting this to the CIA. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224] Another account suggests CIA agents break into Almihdhar’s Dubai hotel room and photocopy the passport there. Either way, the information is immediately faxed to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. [Wright, 2006, pp. 311] The CIA not only learns his full name, but also discovers the vital fact that he has a multiple entry visa to the US that is valid from April 1999 to April 2000. But even though the CIA now knows about this US visa which indicates he plans to go to New York City, they do not place him on a terror watch list and they fail to tell the FBI about the visa. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ]
Mary Deborah Doran. [Source: Havecamerawilltravel.com]Al-Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash possibly flies to the US around this time. In 2011, former FBI agent Ali Soufan will write in a book that in late 2003, he and some other FBI officials plus some CIA officials briefed the 9/11 Commission about al-Qaeda. In the course of that briefing, an FBI official named Mary Deborah Doran said, “[W]e found that Salah bin Saeed bin Yousef—this is the alias Khallad [bin Attash] traveled under—was listed as having traveled to LAX [Los Angeles Airport] during the millennium.” A CIA analyst present denies that bin Attash ever went to the US. Doran replied, “You may be right, but if he wasn’t there, why is his alias on the flight manifest?” Apparently, the CIA analyst has no response to this. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 303] This is all that is publicly known, since even though this information is presented to the 9/11 Commission, the Commission never even mentions bin Attash going to the US as a possibility in its final report.
When Exactly Could This Occur? - If bin Attash does go to Los Angeles, it is unclear exactly when this takes place. Bin Attash appears to be busy in Malaysia for most of late December 1999, recovering from surgery there (see Mid-December 1999). Then he makes a series of test flights from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok to Hong Kong and back from December 31, 1999 to January 2, 2000 (see December 31, 1999-January 2, 2000). One logical possibility is that he continues these test flights to the US and back from January 2 to 5, returning to Malaysia in time for the al-Qaeda summit he attends there from January 5 to 8 (see January 5-8, 2000). After the summit, it is known he goes to Bangkok, Thailand, and stays there until he flies to Karachi, Pakistan, on January 20 (see January 8, 2000 and January 20, 2000). But it is also possible he could fly to Los Angeles and back during his time in Thailand, since many of his days there are not accounted for. Future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khallad Almihdhar attend the Malaysia summit with bin Attash and then fly to Los Angeles on January 15 (see January 15, 2000) and start living in California, so it could be that bin Attash goes to Los Angeles to prepare the way for the two hijackers, or to help them start living there.
If He Goes to the US, Does the CIA Know? - Since the CIA knows bin Attash is using the Salah bin Saeed bin Yousef alias for all his plane flights around this time, and flies with Alhazmi and Almihdhar to Thailand using this alias on January 8, and Alhazmi and Almihdhar fly to Los Angeles one week later, it would be logical for the agency to check if bin Attash ever goes to the US under that name as well. But it is unknown if the CIA checks for this information before 9/11.
Acting on the behalf of the CIA, Malaysian intelligence videotapes the attendees of an al-Qaeda summit. Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later claim that the attendees were “videotaped by a Malaysian surveillance team on January 5, 2000.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 261] But this is only the first of four days of meetings, all held at the same location (see January 5-8, 2000), and the attendees are secretly photographed on the other days (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). The Los Angeles Times will similarly note that Malaysian intelligence made a single surveillance videotape “that shows men arriving at the meeting, according to a US intelligence official. The tape, he said, has no sound and [isn’t] viewed as very significant at the time.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] The contents of the videotape remain murky, but one account claims Ramzi bin al-Shibh was one of the attendees videotaped at the summit. [Newsweek, 11/26/2001] Further, a US Treasury press release in 2003 will state that “[Hambali] was videotaped in a January 2000 meeting in Malaysia with two of the September 11, 2001 hijackers of AA Flight 77 - Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi.” [US Department of the Treasury, 1/24/2003 ] Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, an Iraqi, is also videotaped at the meeting. [Newsweek, 11/5/2001; Washington Times, 11/6/2001] US intelligence officials consider the summit so important that CIA Director George Tenet, FBI Director Robert Mueller, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, and other high-ranking officials are given daily briefings about it while it is taking place (see January 6-9, 2000). So it is unclear why only the first day would be videotaped and why such video would not be considered more important. Malaysia will give the CIA a copy of the tape about one month after the summit ends (see February 2000). By 1999, the FBI had connected Hambali to the 1995 Bojinka plot and also obtained a photo of him (see May 23, 1999). Yet the CIA will not share this video footage with the FBI nor will they warn Malaysian intelligence about Hambali’s Bojinka plot connection (see Shortly After January 8, 2000).
Hazel Evergreen Park, located on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, is the condominium complex where the terror summit was held. [Source: FBI]After being alerted by the CIA that top al-Qaeda leaders plan to meet in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the local security service, Malaysia’s Special Branch, monitors the operatives there (see January 5-8, 2000). The surveillance begins with the arrival of Khalid Almihdhar from Dubai on January 5, when he is met at the airport by a militant named Hikmat Shakir Ahmad (see January 12, 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 144 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502] A video recording is made (see January 5, 2000), photographs are taken (see (January 5-8, 2000)), and, when the attendees visit an internet café, the hard drives of the computers they use are searched (see January 7, 2000 or Shortly After). All this information is passed to the CIA (see January 5-9, 2000). However, it will later be reported that, despite the heavy surveillance, no audio recordings are made of what the attendees actually talk about. [Ottawa Citizen, 9/17/2001; Observer, 10/7/2001; New Yorker, 1/14/2002; CNN, 3/14/2002; Newsweek, 6/2/2002; Stern, 8/13/2003; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/29/2003] Apparently, Malaysian officials are not informed what to look for, and focus more on monitoring the local Malaysian and Indonesian hosts who serve as drivers than the visitors attending the summit. [Associated Press, 9/20/2002]
The Malaysian Special Branch sends the CIA material it gathers about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). The information is sent progressively, so that Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit coordinating surveillance of the operatives at the summit, can brief CIA leaders and other top security officials in the US (see January 6, 2000 and January 6-9, 2000). The material includes reports on the attendees’ movements and actions (see (January 5-8, 2000)) and photographs (see (January 5-8, 2000)). A video recording made of the attendees on the first day will also be sent, but not until February (see January 5, 2000 and February 2000). However, no audio recording is made. [Ottawa Citizen, 9/17/2001; Observer, 10/7/2001; New Yorker, 1/14/2002; CNN, 3/14/2002; Newsweek, 6/2/2002; Stern, 8/13/2003; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/29/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181-2, 502-3] All the material except the video is passed to the CIA by January 9. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ; Stern, 8/13/2003]
A CIA officer known only as “James,” who knows that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa, twice briefs FBI officials about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, but fails to mention the visa.
First Briefing - On the night of January 5, 2000, James, who has been assigned to the FBI’s Strategic Information Operations Center (SIOC) to deal with problems “in communicating between the CIA and the FBI,” briefs an FBI agent who works in the FBI’s bin Laden unit, which is part of the SIOC at that time, about a number of cables he has received regarding the al-Qaeda summit that is just starting in Malaysia and one of the people attending it, Almihdhar. The FBI agent will later say he does not know why James chooses to brief him, as he is not a designated contact point for the CIA.
Documented by E-mail - James will later write an e-mail to several other CIA officers and detail “exactly” what he briefed this person on. Although the CIA should inform the FBI of a terrorist like Almihdhar having a US visa, he does not mention discussing the visa with the FBI agent, even though he had just seen several CIA cables talking about it.
Second Briefing - Overnight, another CIA cable comes in to him providing new details about Almihdhar and the Malaysia summit. An FBI agent then asks another CIA officer detailed to the FBI for an update on Almihdhar. This second CIA officer asks James for the update, so he can pass it on. James’s response to this request is to brief a third FBI agent in the SIOC about the new information. Again, records will indicate he fails to mention anything about Almihdhar’s US visa. This FBI agent will also say he does not know why he was briefed on the matter, as he is not a designated contact point for the CIA. James then tells his CIA colleague he has already provided the FBI with an update, so this second officer does not have to do so.
Informing Other Agents - James also sends an e-mail to other CIA agents describing “exactly” what he told both of the FBI agents. One section of his e-mail reads: “Thus far, a lot of suspicious activity has been observed [in Malaysia] but nothing that would indicate evidence of an impending attack or criminal enterprise. [I told the first FBI agent] that as soon as something concrete is developed leading us to the criminal arena or to known FBI cases, we will immediately bring FBI into the loop. Like [the first FBI agent] yesterday, [the second FBI agent] stated that this was a fine approach and thanked me for keeping him in the loop.”
Refuses to Be Interviewed - After 9/11, James will refuse to talk to the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, but will tell the CIA’s inspector general that he has no recollection of these events. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 241-247 ; Tenet, 2007, pp. 195]
Attendees of the Malaysian summit. Top row, from left: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Middle row, from left: Khallad bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hambali. Bottom row, from left: Yazid Sufaat, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abu Bara al-Taizi. [Source: FBI]About a dozen of Osama bin Laden’s trusted followers hold a secret, “top-level al-Qaeda summit” in the city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. [CNN, 8/30/2002; San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/27/2002] According to an unnamed senior CIA official, before the summit started, the CIA learned that “11 young guys” were going to attend, and “young guys” is slang for operatives traveling. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 18] Plans for the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the 9/11 attacks are discussed. [USA Today, 2/12/2002; CNN, 8/30/2002] At the request of the CIA, the Malaysian Secret Service monitors the summit and then passes the information on to the US (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). Attendees of the summit are said to include:
Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar - The CIA and FBI will later miss many opportunities to foil the 9/11 plot through Alhazmi and Almihdhar and the knowledge of their presence at this summit. The CIA already knows many details about these two by the time the summit begins (see January 2-4, 2000), and tracked Almihdhar as he traveled to it (see January 2-5, 2000).
Yazid Sufaat - Sufaat is a Malaysian who owns the condominium where the summit is held. He is also a trained biologist and is said to be a leading figure in al-Qaeda’s attempts to get a biological or chemical weapon. [New York Times, 1/31/2002; Newsweek, 6/2/2002] Malaysian officials also recognize Sufaat from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). [New Straits Times, 2/10/2002] A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through Sufaat’s presence at this summit will later be missed in September 2000 (see September-October 2000). Sufaat will travel to Afghanistan in June 2001 and be arrested by Malaysian authorities when he returns to Malaysia in late 2001 (see December 19, 2001). [Australian, 12/24/2002] He will be released in 2008 (see December 4, 2008).
Hambali - An Indonesian militant known as Hambali, or Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin [BBC, 8/15/2003] , was heavily involved in the Bojinka plot, an early version of the 9/11 plot (see January 6, 1995 and June 1994). [CNN, 3/14/2002; CNN, 8/30/2002] The FBI was aware of who he was and his connections to the Bojinka plot at least by 1999 and identified a photograph of him by that time (see May 23, 1999). He will be arrested by Thai authorities in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003). [CNN, 8/14/2003; CBS News, 8/15/2003] Malaysian officials recognize Hambali from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident. But the US does not tell them of his Bojinka connections, so they will not know to arrest him after the summit is over (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). [New Straits Times, 2/10/2002]
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - Mohammed is sometimes referred to as “KSM,” an al-Qaeda leader and the alleged “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks. The US has known KSM is an Islamic militant since the exposure of Operation Bojinka in January 1995 (see January 6, 1995), and knows what he looks like. US officials will state that they only realized the summit was important in 2001, but the presence of KSM should have proved its importance. [Los Angeles Times, 2/2/2002] Although the possible presence of KSM at this summit will be disputed by US officials, one counterterrorism expert will testify before the 9/11 Commission in 2003 that he has access to transcripts of KSM’s interrogations since his capture, and that KSM has admitted leading this summit and telling the attendees about a planes-as-weapons plot targeting the US (see July 9, 2003). [Newsweek, 7/9/2003; New York Post, 7/10/2003] Many other media reports will identify him as being there. [Independent, 6/6/2002; CNN, 8/30/2002; CNN, 11/7/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/29/2003] For instance, according to Newsweek: “Mohammed’s presence would make the intelligence failure of the CIA even greater. It would mean the agency literally watched as the 9/11 scheme was hatched—and had photographs of the attack’s mastermind… doing the plotting.” [Newsweek, 7/9/2003] In Hambali’s 2008 Guantanamo file, it will be mentioned that KSM stays a week at Sufaat’s condominium with Alhazmi and Almihdhar, which would seem to make clear that KSM is there for the entire duration of the summit (see Early January 2000). [US Department of Defense, 10/30/2008]
Khallad bin Attash - Khallad bin Attash, a “trusted member of bin Laden’s inner circle,” is in charge of bin Laden’s bodyguards, and serves as bin Laden’s personal intermediary at least for the USS Cole bombing. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ] He is also thought to be a “mastermind” of that attack. Attash is reportedly planning to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but will be unable to get a US visa. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004, pp. 8] US intelligence had been aware of his identity as early as 1995. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through bin Attash’s presence at this summit will be missed in January 2001 (see January 4, 2001). Bin Attash had been previously arrested in Yemen for suspected terror ties, but was let go (see Summer 1999). [Contemporary Southeast Asia, 12/1/2002] He will be captured in Pakistan by the US in April 2003 (see April 29, 2003). In 2008, Newsweek will report that bin Attash confessed during interrogation that, while staying at Sufaat’s condominium, he and Alhazmi talked “about the possibility of hijacking planes and crashing them or holding passengers as hostages.” [Newsweek, 12/16/2008]
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri - Al-Nashiri is one of al-Qaeda’s top field commanders and operates out of Malaysia while 9/11 is being prepared. [Los Angeles Times, 10/10/2001; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 188; Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 59] He was involved in an arms smuggling plot (see 1997) and the East African embassy bombings (see August 22-25 1998), in which his cousin was martyred (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He also organized the attack against the USS The Sullivans (see January 3, 2000), and will be involved in the attacks against the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the Limburg (see October 6, 2002). He will be arrested in the United Arab Emirates in November 2002 (see Early October 2002). An al-Qaeda operative identified a photo of al-Nashiri for the FBI in late 1998 (see August 22-25 1998). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3] (Note: in the sources, al-Nashiri is referred to by two of his aliases: Muhammad Omar al-Harazi and Al Safani.) [CNN, 12/11/2000; Central Intelligence Agency, 9/6/2006]
Ramzi bin al-Shibh - Investigators believe he wants to be the 20th 9/11 hijacker. His presence at the summit may not be realized until after 9/11, despite the fact that US intelligence has a picture of him next to bin Attash, and has video footage of him. [Newsweek, 11/26/2001; Washington Post, 7/14/2002; Time, 9/15/2002; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; CNN, 11/7/2002] German police will have credit card receipts indicating bin al-Shibh is in Malaysia at this time. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Ulrich Kersten, director of Germany’s federal anticrime agency, the Bundeskriminalamt, will later say, “There are indications that Ramzi bin al-Shibh was in Kuala Lumpur for the meeting.” [New York Times, 8/24/2002] Another account noting he was photographed at the summit will further note that he enters and leaves Thailand three times in the first three weeks of January 2000. [Los Angeles Times, 10/17/2001] Anonymous Malaysian officials will later claim he is at the summit, but US officials will deny it. Two local militants who serve as drivers for the attendees will later be arrested in Malaysia. They will be shown photos of the attendees, and confirm that bin al-Shibh was at the summit. [Associated Press, 9/20/2002] One account will say he is recognized at the time of the summit, which makes it hard to understand why he is not tracked back to Germany and the Hamburg cell with Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] Another opportunity to expose the 9/11 plot through bin al-Shibh’s presence at this summit will be missed in June. It appears bin al-Shibh and Almihdhar are directly involved in the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 (see October 10-21, 2000). [Guardian, 10/15/2001; Washington Post, 7/14/2002; Newsweek, 9/4/2002]
Salem Alhazmi - Alhazmi, a 9/11 hijacker and brother of Nawaf Alhazmi, is possibly at the summit, although very few accounts will mention it. [Australian, 12/24/2002] US intelligence intercepts from before the summit indicate that he at least had plans to attend. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 ]
Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said) - A Yemeni al-Qaeda operative, al-Taizi is reportedly meant to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but will be unable to enter the US due to greater scrutiny for Yemenis. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004, pp. 8] Al-Taizi will be captured in Pakistan in February 2002, and then sent to the US prison in Guantanamo a few months later (see February 7, 2002). According to his 2008 Guantanamo file, he traveled from Afghanistan to Malaysia with bin Attash about two weeks before the summit. Bin Attash was missing a leg, and he had a prosthetic leg fitted and then stayed in the hospital to recover from the surgery. Bin Attash and al-Taizi stay at Sufaat’s house for the duration of the summit. Al-Taizi then flies to Yemen to visit his family there. [US Department of Defense, 10/25/2008]
Others - Unnamed members of the Egyptian-based Islamic Jihad are also said to be at the summit. [Cox News Service, 10/21/2001] Islamic Jihad merged with al-Qaeda in February 1998. [ABC News, 11/17/2001] However, according to the Wall Street Journal, bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso are suspected of being Islamic Jihad members at one point, so this may just be a reference to them. [Wall Street Journal, 10/8/2001] Note that there are a total of 10 names mentioned above, and it will be reported that the CIA learned that 11 operatives were to attend, so either not all of them make it, or some names of attendees will remain unknown.
Summit Associates - The following individuals are probably not at the summit meetings, but are in the region and assisting or linked with the attendees at this time:
Fahad Al-Quso - Al-Quso is a top al-Qaeda operative who is involved in the bombing of the USS Cole. Some sources will indicate al-Quso is present in Malaysia, and a person who looks like him will later be seen in a photograph of the meeting (see June 11, 2001). [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ] However, other sources will say al-Quso did not reach Kuala Lumpur, but met with bin Attash around this time in Bangkok, Thailand (see January 5-6, 2000 and January 8-15, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 159; Wright, 2006, pp. 330] Although al-Quso apparently is not at the summit, there are a series of phone calls during the time of the summit between his hotel in Bangkok, a phone booth near the condominium where the summit is held, and his family home in Yemen (see (January 5-8, 2000)). Al-Quso will be arrested by Yemeni authorities in the fall of 2000 (see Late October-Late November 2000), but the FBI will not be given a chance to fully interrogate him before 9/11. He will escape from prison in 2003. [CNN, 5/15/2003]
Ahmad Sajuli Abdul Rahman - An operative of Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, Sajuli takes the visiting Arabs around Kuala Lumpur, but apparently does not attend the summit meetings. [US Congress, 10/17/2002] According to the later Guantanamo file of summit attendee al-Taizi, one of the attendees Sajuli escorts around town is future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Sajuli also helps arrange al-Taizi’s transportation at the end of the summit. [US Department of Defense, 10/25/2008] Sajuli will be arrested in Malaysia in December 2001 (see December 29, 2001).
Ahmad Hikmat Shakir - A suspected al-Qaeda agent of Iraqi nationality, Shakir is a greeter at Kuala Lumpur airport. He meets Almihdhar there and travels with him to the apartment where the summit is held, but he probably does not attend the summit meetings. [Associated Press, 10/2/2002; Newsweek, 10/7/2002; Australian, 12/24/2002; Knight Ridder, 6/12/2004] After 9/11, he will be linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Bojinka plot. Jordan will arrest him and let him go after the US says it doesn’t want to take custody of him (see September 17, 2001).
Dhiren Barot - Dhiren Barot (a.k.a. Abu Eissa al-Hindi) is a British citizen of Indian descent. According to a 2006 Observer article, Barot “is not believed to have been present” at the summit meetings. However, he does go to Kuala Lumpur during the time of the summit with summit attendee bin Attash. And shortly after the summit, Barot holds meetings with Hambali. It will later be reported that Barot is sent by KSM to New York City in early 2001 to case potential targets there, although whether this is part of the 9/11 plot or some other plot is unclear (see May 30, 2001). Barot will be arrested in 2004 in Britain for plotting attacks there, and sentenced to 30 years in prison (see August 3, 2004). [Observer, 12/12/2006]
Another Unnamed Local Militant - Malaysian officials will say that two local Jemaah Islamiyah act as drivers for the attendees. These drivers apparently have no idea who the attendees are or what they are doing; they are just tasked to drive them around. In a 2002 Associated Press article, officials will not name these drivers, but will say that they are among the dozens of alleged Jemaah Islamiyah militants arrested in December 2001 and January 2002. Since Sajuli mentioned above is arrested at that time, he presumably is one of these drivers. It is not known who the other driver is. (Sufaat will be arrested at that time as well, but the Associated Press article will make clear Sufaat is not one of the drivers.) [Associated Press, 9/20/2002]
Probably Not Involved: Mohamed al-Khatani - A Saudi, he allegedly will confess to attending the summit while being held in the US Guantanamo prison (see July 2002). He apparently will unsuccessfully attempt to enter the US in August 2001 to join the 9/11 plot (see August 4, 2001). However, al-Khatani will later recant his testimony and say he lied to avoid torture (see October 26, 2006). Furthermore, his 2008 Guantanamo file, leaked to the public in 2011, contains no hint of him even possibly attending the summit. The contents of the file must be treated with extreme caution, especially since he is repeatedly and brutally tortured (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and January 14, 2009). But according to the general narrative of the file, al-Khatani had no involvement with Islamist militancy in early 2000, only starts to get involved with militants in mid-2000, and first attends a militant training camp in Afghanistan in late 2000. [US Department of Defense, 10/30/2008]
Entity Tags: Hambali, Abu Bara al-Taizi, Dhiren Barot, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, Ahmad Sajuli Abdul Rahman, Al-Qaeda, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Islamic Jihad, Jemaah Islamiyah, Fahad al-Quso, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Ulrich Kersten, Yazid Sufaat, Khalid Almihdhar, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Salem Alhazmi, Mohamed al-Khatani, Malaysian Secret Service, Khallad bin Attash, Nawaf Alhazmi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Although Malaysian authorities video the militants attending al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit on its first day (see January 5, 2000), photos of the meeting’s attendees are later circulated and must be taken during the meeting as well.
One account says that, in general: “As the terrorists left the [condominium where the summit was held], the Malaysian police clicked away with their cameras. There was enough material for a whole photo series.” [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] As of March 2008, none of the photos have been made public, and information about them is scanty. However, it is known that the photos include:
Three high-quality surveillance photos later shown to the FBI (see June 11, 2001). One is shot from a low angle and shows 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi standing by a tree. The two others in this set appear to show Almihdhar and Alhazmi individually, and will also later be shown to Yemeni authorities and an FBI asset in Pakistan (see Mid-Late December 2000, Early January 2001, January 3, 2001, and January 4, 2001). [Wright, 2006, pp. 341]
More photos of Almihdhar “meeting with other al-Qaeda operatives.” He is also “photographed in various locations meeting with several different people.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 234, 243 ] The photos of Almihdhar include ones taken at his hotel, which is discovered by the Malaysians, and more coming and going from the condominium where the meeting is held. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ; Observer, 10/7/2001]
A picture of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, apparently standing by Alhazmi and Almihdhar. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 285 ; Wright, 2006, pp. 342]
Photos of USS Cole bomber Fahad al-Quso, or a person who looks like him, standing next to Almihdhar. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ]
A picture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh next to bin Attash. [Los Angeles Times, 10/17/2001; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
Hambali, head of an al-Qaeda affiliate in Southeast Asia, is in some photos, and is immediately recognized by Malaysian intelligence (see Shortly After January 8, 2000).
Yazid Sufaat, the summit’s host, is also in some photos, and also is recognized by Malaysian intelligence. [New Straits Times, 2/10/2002]
On January 8, the CIA will be told that an unnamed new person has just joined Almihdhar and the others, and that additional photographs have been taken. It is not mentioned who the new person is. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 247 ]
The total number of photos taken and then passed to the CIA is not known. It is also unclear why only two or three of the photos are circulated within the within some US intelligence agencies before 9/11 (see Early January 2001, January 3, 2001, Late May, 2001, and June 11, 2001).
A series of calls by al-Qaeda operatives, some of whom are under surveillance by the CIA and the Malaysian Special Branch at this time, links three sites involved in the bombing of the USS Cole. Even though the CIA is aware of the calls, it will later say it is unable to find the hijackers in Bangkok, the location of one of the call sites. The calls made by the operatives are between the following three locations:
A payphone in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, near an apartment where about a dozen al-Qaeda operatives are holding a summit (see January 5-8, 2000);
The Washington Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. Al-Qaeda operatives Ibrahim al-Thawar and Fahad al-Quso are staying at the hotel around this time (see January 5-6, 2000). They will go on to be involved in the Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). They are later joined in the hotel by summit attendees Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Khallad bin Attash;
Al-Quso’s house in Yemen. The calls from the payphone to this location are made by bin Attash.
Although bin Attash and possibly others call the Washington Hotel while they are under surveillance, the CIA will be unable to locate them there during the week they spend in Bangkok, from January 8-15 (see January 13, 2000). Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “Although the CIA later denied that it knew anything about the phone, the number was recorded in the Malaysians’ surveillance log, which was given to the agency.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 156-160, 181-2; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] The FBI team investigating the Cole bombing will later learn some of this information before 9/11 and ask the CIA for details. However, the CIA will fail to disclose what it knows about the Malaysia summit or that it looks for the hijackers and associates in Thailand after January 8 (see July 2001).
Victims’ family members Lorie Van Auken (right) and Kristen Breitweiser (left) are shocked to learn Tom Wilshire blocked a cable to the FBI about Khalid Almihdhar’s visa. [Source: Banded Artists]Doug Miller, an FBI agent assigned to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, reads CIA cables reporting that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa and drafts a cable to the FBI to inform it of this. The CIA obtained the information through a tap on Almihdhar’s phone in Yemen (see December 29, 1999) and by monitoring him as he passed through Dubai (see January 2-5, 2000) on his way to an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000).
Draft Cable - Miller writes that Almihdhar has a US visa (see April 3-7, 1999) and that the visa application states his destination is New York and he intends to stay for three months. The draft cable mentions the tap on Almihdhar’s phone, his planned travel to Malaysia, and the links between his phone and the 1998 East African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and October 4, 2001). It also says that the CIA has obtained photographs of Almihdhar and these will be sent separately. Miller asks the FBI for feedback resulting from an FBI investigation.
Blocked - Another CIA officer named Michael Anne Casey accesses Miller’s draft about an hour after he writes it. The cable is then blocked on the orders of the station’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire, as a few hours after Miller drafts the cable Casey attaches a message to it saying, “pls hold off on [cable] for now per [Tom Wilshire].” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 240 ] Miller is also told, “This is not a matter for the FBI.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 311]
'No Reason to Kill the Message' - Author James Bamford will later comment: “A potential terrorist and member of al-Qaeda was heading for the US, the FBI’s jurisdiction—its turf—and he [Miller] was putting the FBI on notice so it could take action. There was no reason to kill the message.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 19] Miller will later say he has no “rational answer” as to why the cable was blocked, but will speculate that Alec Station officers were annoyed he had encroached on their territory. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] Casey drafts a cable falsely saying that the information about Almihdhar’s visa has been shared with the FBI (see Around 7:00 p.m. January 5, 2000) and there will be a discussion the next day about whether the cable should be sent (see January 6, 2000). The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later call the failure to pass the information to the FBI a “significant failure” but will be unable to determine why the information was not passed on. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 250 ] The 9/11 Commission will know of the incident, but will relegate it to an endnote in its final report, omitting Wilshire’s role entirely. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502] The CIA inspector general will falsely claim that the cable is not sent, “[a]pparently because it was in the wrong format or needed editing.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xv ]
CIA officer Michael Anne Casey sends out a cable saying the information that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa has been sent to the FBI “for further investigation.” The cable does not state how the visa information was passed or by whom. Casey is with Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. The cable, which is lengthy and summarizes information about Almihdhar and three other operatives planning an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia, is sent to some overseas CIA stations, but not the FBI. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 243 ] The CIA, which will be criticized for its apparent failure to tell the FBI of Almihdhar’s visa after 9/11, will repeatedly tout this cable as evidence that it had actually informed the FBI of Almihdhar’s visa, or at least thought it had done so. [US Congress, 9/20/2002; New York Times, 10/17/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 146 ; Tenet, 2007, pp. 195] However, this appears not to be true, as after 9/11 the FBI will be unable to find any record of receiving such information and the CIA will be unable to find any record of having sent it. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 249-252 ] In addition, as Casey blocked the relevant notification to the FBI on this day (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000) and insists it not be passed the next day (see January 6, 2000), she must know the claim the information about Almihdhar’s visa had been passed is false. Casey will apparently lie about this cable to the Justice Department’s inspector general (see February 2004) and CIA Director George Tenet (see Before October 17, 2002 and Shortly Before April 30, 2007).
Two of the operatives attending al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit make short trips to neighboring countries, returning to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, within 24 hours. The two operatives are Nawaf Alhazmi and Khallad bin Attash and the two countries they visit are Thailand and Singapore, but it is not definitively known which operative goes to which country. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 4 ] However, an associate of bin Attash’s, Fahad al-Quso, arrives in Thailand around this day (see January 5-6, 2000). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 269 ] In addition, Alhazmi will later be said to have visited Singapore. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/4/2003] Presumably, therefore, it is bin Attash that travels to Thailand, whereas Alhazmi goes to Singapore. The 9/11 Commission will later say of these two trips, “After the fact, efforts were made to track them. US officials in Kuala Lumpur wondered if one of these Arabs was the still mysterious Nawaf. Both returned to Kuala Lumpur within the next 24 hours, though the authorities did not know it at the time.” [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 4 ] Khalid Almihdhar is also said to visit Singapore, and both he and Alhazmi are said to travel to Indonesia around this time as well, but the circumstances of these additional trips, if they are actually made, are not known. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 1/4/2003] Almihdhar’s passport was copied by intelligence services on the way to Malaysia (see January 2-5, 2000) and a similar operation to obtain Alhazmi’s passport details failed (see January 2-4, 2000). These two trips represent opportunities to obtain Alhazmi and bin Attash’s passport details, but this is apparently not done, even though the two are under surveillance at this point (see January 5-8, 2000).
Mark Rossini. [Source: Fox News]Mark Rossini, an FBI agent on loan to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, protests in vain against a decision to deliberately withhold information about one of the future 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). One of his colleagues, Doug Miller, had tried to inform the FBI that Almihdhar had a US visa the day before, but had been blocked by a 29-year-old female CIA officer named Michael Anne Casey and the unit’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire. According to author James Bamford, Rossini was “perplexed and outraged that the CIA would forbid the bureau’s notification on a matter so important.” Rossini will later say: “So the next day I went to her and said: ‘What’s with Doug’s cable? You’ve got to tell the bureau about this.’ She put her hand on her hip and said: ‘Look, the next attack is going to happen in Southeast Asia—it’s not the bureau’s jurisdiction. When we want the FBI to know about it, we’ll let them know. But the next bin Laden attack’s going to happen in Southeast Asia.’” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 19-20] Rossini protests, saying, “They’re here!” and, “It is FBI business,” but to no avail. Even though he is an FBI agent, he cannot pass on notification to the bureau without permission from his superiors at Alec Station. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] Casey will be promoted after 9/11. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 16] In the run-up to the 9/11 attacks, Wilshire will write an e-mail expressing his fear of an al-Qaeda attack in Southeast Asia, specifically Malaysia (see July 5, 2001), and will give this as a reason he does not communicate information about Almihdhar and his partner Nawaf Alhazmi to the FBI in May 2001 (see May 15, 2001). It will be alleged after 9/11 that the notification may be withheld to stop the FBI interfering with an illegal CIA-linked operation to monitor the hijackers in the US (see 2006 and After).
FBI Director Louis Freeh and other top FBI officials are briefed about the ongoing al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) as part of their regular daily update. They are told the CIA is in the lead and that the CIA promises to let the FBI know if an FBI angle to the case develops. But they are not told that the CIA has just found out that one of the participants, Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] It is unclear who the other top FBI officials that are briefed are. However, Dale Watson, the assistant director of the counterterrorism division, and Thomas Pickard, the FBI’s deputy director at this time and its acting director in the summer of 2001, will also learn of the summit by July 2001, although it is unclear exactly when they are informed (see July 12, 2001). [Pickard, 6/24/2004] According to Vanity Fair, Richard Blee, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, “provided surveillance updates for [the CIA’s] top officers, the FBI, and the White House” while the summit is in progress. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] One FBI official familiar with the case will later complain: “[The CIA] purposely hid [Almihdhar] from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau.… The thing was, they didn’t want John O’Neill and the FBI running over their case. And that’s why September 11 happened.… They have blood on their hands.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224] Jack Cloonan, an FBI agent in the I-49 squad that focuses on al-Qaeda, will later say: “If that information [got] disseminated, would it have had an impact on the events of 9/11? I’m telling you that it would have.” [ABC News, 5/10/2004]
On January 6, 2000, the CIA station in Malaysia begins passing details from the Malaysian government’s surveillance of the al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to the CIA Counterterrorist Center (CTC) (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). Cofer Black, head of the CTC, orders that he be continually informed about the meeting. CIA Director George Tenet is frequently informed as well. They are given continual updates until the meeting ends on January 8. [Stern, 8/13/2003] National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, FBI Director Louis Freeh, and other top officials are briefed, but apparently President Clinton is not. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 225-26] However, it appears that the CIA deliberately and repeatedly fails to tell the FBI that one attendee, future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, has an active visa to visit the US (see Mid-July 2004, January 6, 2000, and January 5-6, 2000). No evidence will be presented suggesting anyone else outside the CIA is told this crucial fact either. The Malaysia summit ends on January 8. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237] Officially, the CIA will later claim to have lost future hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar as they left the meeting (see January 8, 2000). However, Almihdhar will later report back to al-Qaeda that he thought he was followed to the US (see Mid-July 2000). It will not be reported whether any of the other attendees are monitored after leaving the meeting.
Although the CIA passes information to the FBI about the attendance of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, it repeatedly fails to mention that Almihdhar has a US visa (see January 6, 2000, 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, January 5-6, 2000). It also fails to check that the FBI has received this information. The CIA’s inspector general will say it “found no indication that anyone in [the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center] checked to ensure FBI receipt of the information, which, a few [Osama bin Laden] Station officers said, should have been routine practice.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xv ]
The al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) ends and the participants leave. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar fly to Bangkok, Thailand, with al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see January 8, 2000). Other attendees depart to other locales. There have been no media reports that any of the others were followed by intelligence agents. [Associated Press, 9/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 ] Before the summit started the CIA knew one attendee was named Khalid Almihdhar and that another had the first name Nawaf. At the end of the summit the CIA appears to have learned little more, and still does not know Nawaf’s last name is Alhazmi. Around this time, on January 7 and 10, the CIA searches for their names in their databases but get no hits. Yet they don’t ask for a search of the much larger NSA databases, which had vital information on them (see Early 1999). CIA headquarters asks the NSA to put Almihdhar on their watch list so they can pass on more information about him (see Mid-January 2000). However, neither Alhazmi nor Almihdhar are placed on the State Department’s watch list, which would actually prevent them from coming to the US. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] The CIA still fails to tell the FBI that Almihdhar has a valid US visa, and in fact seems to go out of their way not to tell the FBI about it (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, January 6, 2000, Mid-July 2004, and January 5-6, 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 ; Stern, 8/13/2003]
The al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) ends and the participants leave. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar fly to Bangkok, Thailand, traveling under their real names. Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash also travels with them and the three sit side by side in the airplane, but bin Attash travels under the false name “Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf” (see After January 8, 2000). [Associated Press, 9/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 ] Malaysian intelligence and the CIA are aware of this flight (see January 8, 2000).
The CIA’s station in Bangkok, Thailand, is informed that future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has departed Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where he was meeting other top al-Qaeda operatives, en route to Bangkok (see January 8, 2000). Almihdhar is known to be traveling with two companions, who turn out to be Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 5 ] Some sources state that a message about this is passed from the Malaysian authorities monitoring the three men to the CIA station in Kuala Lumpur and then to the CIA station in Bangkok. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 226; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 5 ] It is not known exactly how promptly this message is sent, but it is sent five hours after another one about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit dispatched the same day. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 247 ] However, author Lawrence Wright will later say that the Malaysians notify the CIA station chief in Thailand, implying that the notification is direct and possibly faster. [Wright, 2006, pp. 311] The 9/11 Commission will say that this notification comes too late for the three to be picked up at the airport. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181] A flight from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok usually takes about two hours. [AirlineMeals (.net), 4/29/2008]
After learning that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has flown from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Bangkok, Thailand, with two companions (see January 8, 2000 and January 8, 2000), the CIA obtains more information about the two men. Based on the flight manifest, it learns that one of them was traveling under the name “Alhazmi,” a reference to 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi. The CIA knows that one of the people Almihdhar associated with in Kuala Lumpur was named Nawaf, but, apparently, does not connect the first name Nawaf to the second name Alhazmi. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 227; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 5 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 353, 502] The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will say that the CIA could have put the two names together and that this could have led to his watchlisting, but this does not happen (see January 8, 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 145 ] The 9/11 Commission will add that, if the State Department were asked about Nawaf Alhazmi, it would discover that he had been issued a US visa in Jeddah around the same time as Almihdhar (see April 3-7, 1999). The NSA has been intercepting Alhazmi’s calls to Almihdhar for at least a year (see Early 1999) and could promptly put Nawaf and Alhazmi together, but it is not asked (see January 9, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 353-4] The second companion is al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, who is initially reported to travel under the name “Salahsae.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181] The CIA will learn that this is part of the name Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, one of bin Attash’s aliases, no later than March 2000. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 ] Bin Attash previously used this alias to apply for a US visa in Yemen (see April 3, 1999), but the CIA does not realize this (see After January 8, 2000). Bin Attash will leave Thailand in mid-January (see January 20, 2000).
On January 8, 2000, hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar plus al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash fly from Malaysia to Thailand together, sitting next to each other. Malaysian intelligence soon informs the CIA that Almihdhar was on the flight, sitting next to someone with the last name of Alhazmi and someone with the name Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf (see January 8, 2000). This is an alias for bin Attash, and in fact is the same alias he used when applying for a US visa in 1999 (see April 3, 1999). Two months later, the CIA learns that several days later, Nawaf Alhazmi flew from Thailand to the US, which means he had to have had a US visa (see March 5, 2000 and March 6, 2000 and After). In fact, Almihdhar, Alhazmi, and bin Attash, using the “bin Yousaf” alias, all applied for US visas within days of each other (see April 3-7, 1999). Alhazmi and bin Attash even applied on the same day. However, apparently no check of visa application records is made that would reveal this. US intelligence also suspects that Alhazmi has a militant brother named Salem, which he does, and Salem Alhazmi also applied for and received a US visa from the same consulate on nearly the same day as his brother Nawaf, but this is not discovered either. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 155-6, 181-2, 492; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 9 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 ] The US will miss other opportunities to learn more about this alias (see After December 16, 2000 and After August 23, 2001).
The CIA fails to ask the NSA for information about Nawaf Alhazmi. The CIA is monitoring a summit of al-Qaeda operatives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, along with local authorities there (see January 5-8, 2000), and is aware that one of the attendees is sometimes referred to by the first name Nawaf, and one is sometimes referred to by the last name Alhazmi. However, it apparently fails to put these two names together (see January 8-9, 2000). If asked, the NSA, which has been monitoring Alhazmi’s calls for at least a year (see Early 1999), could easily have realized “Nawaf” and “Alhazmi” were the same person. The 9/11 Commission will comment, “NSA’s analysts would promptly have discovered who Nawaf was, that his full name might be Nawaf Alhazmi, and that he was an old friend of Khalid [Almihdhar].” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 145 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 353-4] The CIA does actually tell the NSA about Almihdhar and ask for information about him (see January 10, 2000 and Mid-January 2000), but, according to author James Bamford, “inexplicably” does not do this for Alhazmi. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 156 ; Bamford, 2004, pp. 227] According to NSA director Michael Hayden, had the NSA been asked at this point, it may also have been able to identify Nawaf Alhazmi’s brother Salem, another of the hijackers. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 145 ]
Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, sends the CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, a NIACT cable about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and two associates, who turn out to be 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. NIACT means the cable is a very high priority and has to be immediately acted on by the duty officer, even if it is received at night. Almihdhar and his two associates arrived in Bangkok the previous day, but the CIA in Thailand had apparently been unable to track them (see January 8, 2000 and January 8, 2000). Alec Station wants the Bangkok station to identify Almihdhar and his associates, although the precise contents of the cable and the response to it are unknown. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 227; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 5 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 247 ]
The CIA sends the NSA some information about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, including information about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), which Almihdhar attended, as well as the name of a person who helped him in Kuala Lumpur, where the summit was held. The NSA is also told Almihdhar’s primary purpose for coming to Malaysia was to meet with other people. The CIA knows Almihdhar has a US visa (see January 2-5, 2000), but it is unclear whether the NSA is informed of this. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 156 ] At this time, the NSA has some information about Almihdhar, whose calls it has been intercepting for at least a year (see Early 1999, Summer 1999, Late Summer 1999, and Shortly Before December 29, 1999), that has not been disseminated. In particular, the NSA seems to have overheard something in early 1999 that should have been disseminated, but was not. This new information from the CIA does not cause the NSA to re-examine its material on Almihdhar or disseminate any important information to other US agencies. However, Almihdhar is subsequently put on the NSA watchlist (see Mid-January 2000) and the NSA intercepts calls between his home in Yemen and him in the US (see Spring-Summer 2000), but fails to alert the FBI to his presence in the US (see (Spring 2000)).
Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, gives an incorrect briefing to his CIA superiors about surveillance of al-Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia. He claims that Malaysian authorities and the CIA are continuing to monitor al-Qaeda operatives who gathered for a summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). In actual fact, three of the summit’s attendees, 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, have already left Kuala Lumpur for Bangkok, Thailand, and have disappeared there (see January 8, 2000). The 9/11 Commission will say that Blee is “unaware at first even that the Arabs had left Kuala Lumpur, let alone that their trail had been lost in Thailand” and that he “may not have known that in fact Almihdhar and his companions had dispersed and the tracking was falling apart.” These statements will be sourced to an interview with Blee in December 2003 and contemporary CIA documents. However, Alec Station is well aware of the departure of the three men, as it was notified of this and sent a follow-up cable on January 9 telling the CIA station in Bangkok to find them there (see January 9, 2000). It is unclear why Blee gives such an inaccurate briefing, but he gives a similar one two days later (see January 14, 2000), after Alec Station is again reminded that the three radicals are in Thailand, not Malaysia (see January 13, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 354, 502]
Doug Miller, an FBI agent detailed to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, writes to Tom Wilshire, the unit’s deputy chief, about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Miller had drafted a cable eight days before to tell the FBI that Almihdhar has a US visa, but Wilshire and another CIA officer had blocked the cable (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and January 6, 2000). Miller asks Wilshire, “Is this a no go or should I remake it in some way?” However, Wilshire does not respond. This is apparently Miller’s last attempt to inform the FBI of Almihdhar’s visa. About a month later, Miller will have some draft cables in the CIA’s computer system deleted, but will ensure that this draft cable is saved. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 241 ] The Justice Department’s inspector general will criticize Miller for not following up more and ensuring the information is passed to the FBI. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 356 ] However, Miller will say that he has a relatively low rank at the CIA at this time, and that he could not have passed the information without CIA approval, as he would have been fired. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008]
Acting on a tipoff by the CIA, Thai intelligence puts 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi on its watch list. In addition, it puts an alias al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash is using (Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf) on the watch list (see January 20, 2000). The CIA is aware that the three men arrived in Bangkok on January 8 (see January 8, 2000), but seems to be unable to locate them in Thailand (see January 13, 2000). The Thai authorities will note their departure from Bangkok on January 15, but will not stop them and apparently will not inform the CIA of this for some time (see January 15, 2000 and March 5, 2000). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 230; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] The CIA is apparently unaware of Alhazmi’s full name at this point (see January 8-9, 2000), but this does not prevent the watchlisting. The CIA will not add the three to the US watch list until late August 2001 (see August 23, 2001).
The CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, sends a cable to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, saying that it is unable to locate 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and two companions, who turn out to be 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, in Bangkok. The three had been under surveillance in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), but the CIA’s Bangkok station had been unable to pick them up at the airport when they flew to Thailand on January 8 (see January 8, 2000 and January 8, 2000). According to an official, this was because “when they arrived we were unable to mobilize what we needed to mobilize.” Despite the high priority allocated to the search by CIA headquarters (see January 9, 2000) and the fact bin Attash was under surveillance in Malaysia when he called the hotel where the three are staying in Bangkok (see (January 5-8, 2000)), they cannot be found. The precise steps taken to locate them are unknown. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004 ; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 502; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 247 ]
Following a request by the CIA, the NSA puts hijacker 9/11 Khalid Almihdhar on its watch list. This means that the NSA should pass details of any new monitored communications involving him to the CIA. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] The CIA is looking for Almihdhar and knows he has a US visa (see January 13, 2000), but fails to add him to the State Department’s watch list until 19 months later (see August 23, 2001). The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later state: “In mid-January 2000, NSA queried its databases for information concerning Khaled [redacted]. These queries remained active until May 2000, but did not uncover any information.” In fact, the NSA intercepts eight of Almihdhar’s calls from San Diego to Yemen during this time and even gives some details about some of the calls to the FBI (see Spring-Summer 2000). However, they do not tell the CIA everything about them, despite the watch list requirement to provide the information. It is not clear why the NSA failed to share this with the CIA. It is also not known if or when Almihdhar was removed from the NSA watch list before 9/11. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ]
Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, again wrongly informs his CIA superiors about surveillance of al-Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia. Repeating a claim made in a briefing two days previously (see January 12, 2000), he says that Malaysian authorities and the CIA are continuing to monitor al-Qaeda operatives who gathered for a summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). In actual fact, three of the summit’s attendees, 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, have already left Kuala Lumpur for Bangkok, Thailand (see January 8, 2000). Alec Station is well aware of the departure of the three men, as it was notified of their departure and sent a follow-up cable on January 9 telling the CIA station in Bangkok to find them there (see January 9, 2000). In addition, one day before this briefing the CIA station in Bangkok sent Alec Station a cable saying it was unable to locate the men in Thailand (see January 13, 2000). The 9/11 Commission will also point out that “there is no evidence of any tracking efforts actually being undertaken by anyone after the Arabs disappeared into Bangkok.” It is unclear why Blee gives such an inaccurate briefing. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 354]
Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, stops operations linked to the monitoring of al-Qaeda Malaysia’s summit. The summit had been attended by leaders of the organization and two or three 9/11 hijackers (see January 5-8, 2000), and had been monitored by the CIA, which briefed leading administration officials on it (see January 6-9, 2000). However, Alec Station appears to lose interest in it in mid-January, after three of the attendees apparently disappear in Thailand (see January 8, 2000). The 9/11 Commission will say that apart from watchlisting the three in Thailand: “No other effort was made to create other opportunities to spot these Arab travelers in case the screen in Bangkok failed. Just from the evidence in [Khalid] Almihdhar’s passport, one of the logical possible destinations and interdiction points would have been the United States. Yet no one alerted the INS or the FBI to look for these individuals.” Author James Bamford will call this “incredible” and compare Alec Station’s performance to “a train wreck in slow motion.” He will also comment that Alec Station chief Richard Blee “completely dropped the ball,” and say that once “al-Qaeda members dispersed and things began falling apart, he simply paid no attention.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 228-230; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 354]
A week after attending the al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar fly together from Bangkok, Thailand, to Los Angeles, California. [MSNBC, 12/11/2001] The passports of both men have indicators of their terrorist affiliation placed there by Saudi authorities to track them (see March 21, 1999 and April 6, 1999), but the indicators are apparently not noticed by US immigration officials, as they have not been informed of their significance (see Around February 1993). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 10 ] The CIA will later claim that it lost track of them when they arrived in Bangkok and that it did not receive notification from the Thai government that Almihdhar and Alhazmi entered the US until March 2000 (see March 5, 2000). However, Almihdhar will later tell 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed that he and Alhazmi think they were watched and followed from Bangkok to Los Angeles by unknown individuals (see Mid-July 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 215] One San Diego friend of the two hijackers, Mohdar Abdullah, will later allegedly claim that he was told in advance they were coming to Los Angeles to carry out an attack in the US (see Early 2000).
Thai authorities note that 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi depart Bangkok, Thailand, for the US (see January 15, 2000). They had been put on a Thai watch list shortly before this at the CIA’s request (see January 13, 2000), but the watchlisting only means the Thais note their departure from Thailand—they are not stopped at the airport. The reason for the watchisting was that the CIA was unable to locate them in Thailand, and wanted to be notified of the two future 9/11 hijackers’ departure, so it could start tracking them again. However, it is unclear whether this information is passed to the CIA at this time. One possibility is that the Thais do not pass this information on and, according to author James Bamford, “[What’s] worse, the CIA didn’t bother to ask for it until months later.” When the CIA asks for the information in February, only one of the names, Alhazmi’s, is allegedly passed to CIA headquarters (see March 5, 2000). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 230; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ]
Fifty to sixty CIA officers read cables reporting on travel by 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. The cables are generated in connection with al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, which Almihdhar and Alhazmi attend and the CIA monitors (see January 5-8, 2000). Even though some of the cables state that Almihdhar has a US visa and Alhazmi has arrived in the US, the FBI is not informed of this (see, for example, January 6, 2000 and March 5, 2000), and the two men are not watchlisted until the summer of 2001 (see August 23, 2001). The cables are drafted at four field offices and at headquarters and are read by overseas officers, headquarters personnel, operations officers, analysts, managers, junior employees, CIA staff, and officers on attachment from the NSA and FBI. The CIA’s inspector general will comment: “Over an 18-month period, some of these officers had opportunities to review the information on multiple occasions, when they might have recognized its significance and shared it appropriately with other components and agencies.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xiv ]
The FBI’s most senior representative at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, develops cancer and is forced to resign, meaning no FBI agent assigned to Alec Station has the power to release information from the CIA for months. A key cable informing the FBI that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa will fail to be released to the FBI around this time (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). The representative, who is referred to in documents as “Eric”, is deputy chief of Alec Station. He has the power to release information to the FBI having acquired this power in a row with former Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer (see June 1999). The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will say Eric left the unit in mid-January, which would have given him over a week to give the FBI information about Almihdhar discovered during the surveillance of an al-Qaeda summit held from January 5-8 (see January 5-8, 2000). It is known Eric accessed a cable related to the Malaysia summit on January 5 and discussed surveillance photos taken of the summit with CIA officer Tom Wilshire (see (Mid-January 2000)). Author Lawrence Wright will comment: “None of the… FBI agents remaining in Alec had the seniority to release information, and consequently had to rely on the agency to give them permission for any transfer of classified cable traffic.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 241, 320 ; Wright, 2006, pp. 313]
Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is involved in a reorganization at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) and is merged into a larger group within the CTC. Precise details of the reorganization are not known. When FBI agent Charles Frahm is detailed to the CIA in July 2000 to replace an FBI agent who had previously been deputy manager of Alec Station (see Mid-January 2000), due to the reorganization Frahm is made deputy chief of the larger unit. Presumably therefore, Alec Station chief Richard Blee is now the head of the larger unit. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 229, 231-232, 320 ] The 9/11 Commission Report will refer to Blee as “head of the section that included the bin Laden unit,” and “a group chief with authority over the bin Laden unit,” indicating that his position is indeed upgraded. (Note: this first quote from the 9/11 Commission Report refers to an event in mid-1999. Presumably, there is an error in the timing here by the Commission, as at this time Blee was head of the bin Laden unit (see June 1999), not the larger group. His position appears not to be upgraded until around the spring of 2000.) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 142, 204] Journalist Ken Silverstein will say that at one point Blee holds the number four position at the CTC, chief of operations, which may be at this time. [Harper's, 1/28/2007]
Deputy Chief of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit Tom Wilshire discusses al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit with another deputy unit chief who is on loan from the FBI. Wilshire mentions that surveillance photos have been taken, but apparently fails to mention that one of the extremists attending the summit, 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 254 ] Wilshire blocks passage of the information about Almihdhar’s US visa to the FBI around this time (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000).
Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash leaves Thailand and returns to Karachi, Pakistan. Bin Attash had come to Thailand with 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 8, 2000), who had departed for the US five days previously (see January 15, 2000). Bin Attash, Alhazmi, and Almihdhar had been under surveillance in Malaysia shortly before (see January 5-8, 2000) and were watchlisted around January 13 by the Thai authorities (see January 13, 2000), which are supposed to inform the US of the departure of the three men from Thailand. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 159, 181; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 ] The CIA is informed of bin Attash’s departure in early March, but he is traveling under an alias and the CIA does not connect the alias to bin Attash. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] Under interrogation after being captured by the US, bin Attash will say that after leaving Karachi he travels to Kandahar to meet Osama bin Laden. However, such statements are considered unreliable due to the methods used to extract them (see June 16, 2004). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 159, 494]
While the 9/11 hijackers are in the US, the NSA intercepts several calls between them and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by Ahmed al-Hada, who is hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father-in-law (see August 4-25, 1998).
Summary of Calls -
The first calls are made by Almihdhar and are intercepted during the spring and summer of 2000 (see Spring-Summer 2000).
More calls are made by hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi after the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000 (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001).
The final call from the US is intercepted just a few weeks before 9/11 (see (August 2001)).
The NSA intercepted the hijackers’ calls outside the US before this (see Early 1999 and December 29, 1999) and continues to do so in 2000 (see Summer 2000) after Almihdhar returns to Yemen (see June 10, 2000 and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)).
Calls' Content - Some of the calls may only contain non-operational information, as they are reportedly between Almihdhar and his wife. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 343] However, the calls are also used to relay messages to the 9/11 hijackers. [Embassy of Yemen (Washington), 2/13/2002; MSNBC, 2/14/2002; MSNBC, 5/2005]
Agencies' Roles - The CIA is the lead agency monitoring the communications hub. It has planted bugs inside it and is wiretapping all calls (see Late August 1998). Intercepts of calls to and from the hub are a major plank of the US intelligence community’s effort to fight al-Qaeda. Also involved is the FBI, which is using phone records to plot these calls on a map (see Late 1998-Early 2002). Some of the calls intercepted by US intelligence come from Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone in Afghanistan (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late August 1998). After 9/11, counterterrorism officials will say that the number was one of the hottest targets being monitored by the NSA and was an “intelligence bonanza.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Wright, 2006, pp. 343]
Importance of Failure - Also after 9/11, counterterrorism officials will agree that the failure to follow leads to the US from this number was a huge missed opportunity to stop the 9/11 plot. For instance, FBI agent Kenneth Maxwell will say: “Two al-Qaeda guys living in California—are you kidding me? We would have been on them like white on snow: physical surveillance, electronic surveillance, a special unit devoted entirely to them.” [MSNBC, 7/21/2004; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
Discussed after 9/11 - The failure to roll up the plot based on these communications intercepts will be discussed following 9/11 (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004 and March 15, 2004 and After).
Future 9/11 hijacker pilot Ziad Jarrah is briefly detained and questioned at the Dubai airport (see January 30-31, 2000), and some reports will suggest this is because he is already on a US watch list. It is not known when he may have been put on a watch list or why. The only information about this will come from conflicting accounts as to why Jarrah is stopped and questioned by immigration officials for several hours in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE) on January 30.
Did the US Tell the UAE to Stop Jarrah? - According to one version, UAE officials claim Jarrah is stopped based on a tip-off from the US. A UAE source will tell author Jane Corbin: “It was at the request of the Americans and it was specifically because of Jarrah’s links with Islamic extremists, his contacts with terrorist organizations. That was the extent of what we were told.” [Corbin, 2003] In 2002, CNN will also report that Jarrah is stopped because he is on a US watch list. It claims this is sourced not only from UAE sources, but from other governments in the Middle East and Europe. However, US officials will claim no such tip-off was ever given. [CNN, 8/1/2002]
Passport and Religious Material Version - Other versions of the story will claim that Jarrah first raises suspicion because of an overlay of the Koran in his passport and because he is carrying religious tapes and books. This is what the 9/11 Commission will claim. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 496] Other accounts, such as one in Vanity Fair in late 2004, will support this version. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
UAE Has Existing Program to Track Militants for the CIA - There may be a middle version of sorts, that Jarrah may be stopped because the CIA wants people with a profile just like his to be stopped. According to CNN: “The questioning of Jarrah in Dubai fits the pattern of a CIA operation described to CNN by UAE and European sources. Those sources say that in 1999, the CIA began an operation to track suspected al-Qaeda operatives, as they transited there. One of those sources provided [a] drawing showing the airport layout and describes how people wanted for questioning were intercepted, most often at a transit desk. As was the case with Ziad Jarrah, CNN sources say UAE officials were, often, told in advance by American officials who was coming in and whom they wanted questioned.” [CNN, 8/1/2002] It will also be reported that in the summer of 1999, the CIA asked immigration officials all over the region to question anyone who may have been returning from training camps in Afghanistan, and Jarrah fits that profile (see Summer 1999). [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
Ziad Jarrah, in an undated family photo taken in Lebanon. [Source: Getty Images]The UAE wants to arrest future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah, but US officials say they will track him instead, according to United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials. It is unknown if the US officials actually do so. On January 30, 2000, Jarrah is stopped and questioned as he is transiting through the airport in Dubai, UAE. Officials at the airport have agreed to help the CIA by monitoring or questioning suspicious militants passing through there (see 1999).
Conflicting Accounts - There will be some controversy about what happens next. According to a January 2002 FBI memo, “UAE authorities stopped Jarrah, apparently, because he had the Koran superimposed on part of his passport and he was carrying other religious materials.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/24/2004] But according to UAE officials, Jarrah is stopped because he is on a US watch list (see January 30, 2000).
Jarrah's Admissions - Regardless of why he is stopped, Jarrah is questioned and he all but admits he has just been to training camps in Afghanistan. A UAE official will later say, “When we questioned him, he said he spent two months and five days in Pakistan, some part of it in Afghanistan.” Furthermore, Jarrah says that he is going to the US to preach Islam and learn to fly airplanes.
UAE Officials Want to Arrest Him, but US Says No - While Jarrah is being held at the airport, UAE officials contact US officials and ask what they should do with him. (Note that there is some controversy about this as well, but FBI and German documents indicate the US is contacted while Jarrah is still being held (see January 30, 2000).) A UAE official will later say: “What happened was we called the Americans. We said: ‘We have this guy. What should we do with him?‘… [T]heir answer was, ‘Let him go, we’ll track him.’ We were going to make him stay. They told us to let him go. We weren’t feeling very happy in letting him go.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/24/2004; McDermott, 2005, pp. 186-187, 294-295] According to another account, UAE officials have a discussion with officials at the US embassy in Dubai on what to do with Jarrah. After some discussion, they conclude they do not actually have any charge to arrest him with, so it is decided to let him go. [Chicago Tribune, 9/28/2005]
UAE Officials Track Him to Hamburg; They Notify US Intelligence - After several hours of questioning, Jarrah is let go. He is allowed to board a flight for Amsterdam, Netherlands, but the flight does not leave until the next day, giving officials more time to prepare to track him if they want to. UAE officials are aware that after Jarrah arrives in Amsterdam, he changes planes for Hamburg, Germany. A UAE official will later say, “Where he went from there, we don’t know.” In fact, Jarrah lives in Hamburg and is part of the al-Qaeda cell there with fellow 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and others. According to the FBI memo, this information about Jarrah’s detention and questioning “was reported to the US government.” UAE officials are cautious about mentioning which part of the US government is informed, but the implication is that it is the CIA. [Associated Press, 12/14/2001; Chicago Tribune, 2/24/2004; McDermott, 2005, pp. 186-187] However, it is unknown if US intelligence does track Jarrah.
A US satellite photo of the Darunta camp. [Source: US military]By the start of 2000, US intelligence has had a particular focus on Darunta Camp, one of al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan. This simple camp near Jalalabad draws attention because of intelligence gathered during the last year indicating that al-Qaeda is experimenting with poisons and chemical weapons. The CIA has inserted a special device in the vicinity that can take high quality photographs of the camp from over ten miles away. Sometime in late January, the CIA learns that bin Laden has arrived in the camp. They pass this information on to Ahmed Shah Massoud and his Northern Alliance, who are fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Massoud dispatches a small team on mules to get near the camp and fire rockets at bin Laden. However, when Massoud tells the CIA about this, the CIA’s lawyers are alarmed. They don’t want the CIA legally complicit if the operation kills innocent civilians and they order Massoud to withdraw his team. But due to poor communications the team goes ahead anyway and apparently shells the camp. However, bin Laden is not hurt and the incident passes without notice. Some US intelligence officials are upset at the legal policy that led to the order for Massoud’s team to withdraw. A new policy is drawn up allowing the CIA to assist Massoud on an operation if the primary purpose of the operation is to kill bin Laden or one of his top assistants. Otherwise, the US officially remains neutral in the war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. [Coll, 2004, pp. 487-490]
The CIA and United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials apparently fail to warn German intelligence about future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah. On January 30, 2000, Jarrah was questioned at Dubai airport in the UAE, and the CIA was involved in a decision to not arrest him (see January 30-31, 2000). But even though Jarrah’s flight from Dubai was tracked to Hamburg, Germany, apparently neither US nor UAE officials warn German intelligence about Jarrah. During Jarrah’s brief detention he confessed that he had just come from Pakistan and Afghanistan, and he had a large number of jihadist propaganda videos in his luggage, leading UAE officials to strongly suspect he had just been to a militant training camp in Afghanistan. He also revealed that he has plans to learn how to fly airplanes in the US. An unnamed top German intelligence official will later say: “If we had been given the information that Jarrah had been to Afghanistan and was planning to go to flight school, we might have asked the Americans whether they thought this was normal.… If they had asked us, ‘Who is this guy who is learning to fly?’ then perhaps there might have been a different outcome.” He will suggest German intelligence might have started monitoring Jarrah, and thus discovered the 9/11 plot. However, this official will complain: “But it was one-way traffic [with the CIA]. You gave information, and you got no response.” The CIA will later deny that it has any knowledge of Jarrah before 9/11. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Note that a UAE official claims that the CIA said it would secretly track Jarrah from Dubai airport (see January 30-31, 2000). If this is true, it could explain why neither the UAE nor CIA told Germany about Jarrah.
About a month after the Malaysia al-Qaeda summit (see January 5-8, 2000), “The CIA obtain[s] a surveillance videotape” from Malaysian intelligence “that shows men arriving at the meeting, according to a US intelligence official. The tape, he said, has no sound and [isn’t] viewed as very significant at the time.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] Apparently, only the first day of the summit was videotaped (see January 5, 2000). Contents of the tape, which might definitively prove who was at the meeting, have never been made public, but the US Treasury will later mention that al-Qaeda leader Hambali and 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar were on the tape. [US Department of the Treasury, 1/24/2003 ] There is no evidence the CIA shares the videotape with any other agency before 9/11, and it has never been made public.
The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later report, “[I]n February 2000, CIA rejected a request from foreign authorities to become involved [in the search for and/or monitoring of 9/11hijacker Khalid Almihdhar] because CIA was in the middle of an investigation ‘to determine what the subject is up to.’” However, the CIA will later say it has no idea where Almihdhar is at this point (see January 13, 2000). The identity of the “foreign authorities” and the nature of the proposed assistance is not known. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 147 ]
The condominium complex where the Malaysia summit was held. [Source: Fox News] (click image to enlarge)After the al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), the CIA has Malaysian intelligence stop monitoring the condominium where the summit was held. The condominium is owned by al-Qaeda operative Yazid Sufaat, who plays a key role in al-Qaeda search for biological weapons (see December 19, 2001). According to a later Newsweek account, after the summit, “Malaysian intelligence continued to watch the condo at the CIA’s request, but after a while the agency lost interest.” It is unclear when the surveillance stops exactly, but it stops some time before al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui visits Malaysia in September 2000. Moussaoui stays in Sufaat’s condominium, but the CIA misses a chance to learn about this (see September-October 2000). The Malaysians will later say they were surprised by the CIA’s lack of interest. “We couldn’t fathom it, really,” Rais Yatim, Malaysia’s Legal Affairs minister, will tell Newsweek. “There was no show of concern.” [Newsweek, 6/2/2002]
The CIA station in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, asks the CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, what is happening with surveillance of future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. The CIA station in Kuala Lumpur had monitored the three when they were in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and passed the surveillance over to Bangkok when they flew there in early January (see January 8, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 502; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 247 ] Although, according to the 9/11 Commission, Bangkok station probably already knows that Alhazmi has departed for the US, it fails to respond for two weeks, when it claims it does not know what has happened (see (February 25, 2000)).
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