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Profile: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was a participant or observer in the following events:
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A confidential FBI bulletin states a “badly damaged” commercially manufactured cigarette lighter with a concealed knife blade has been recovered at the Flight 93 crash scene. The knife was about two and three-fourths inches long, with a knife blade of about two and a half inches. [Los Angeles Times, 9/18/2001] A 9/11 Commission staff report in 2004 will also mention this knife. [9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 104]
The Detroit house where Nabil al-Marabh used to live and where Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan, and Farouk Ali-Haimoud are arrested. [Source: BBC]Federal agents looking for Nabil al-Marabh fail to find him at an old Detroit address, but they accidentally discover three other possible operatives there. Karim Koubriti, Ahmed Hannan, and Farouk Ali-Haimoud are arrested. They were working as dishwashers at the Detroit airport. Investigators initially believe they were casing the airport for possible security breaches. [Boston Globe, 11/15/2002] An associate of theirs named Abel Ilah Elmardoudi will be arrested in North Carolina in November 2002. [Boston Globe, 11/15/2002] All four men will be put on trial. Initially, the evidence against them appears strong. For instance, a notebook is found that seems to show a plot to assassinate ex-Defense Secretary William Cohen during a visit to Turkey. [Washington Post, 9/20/2001; Associated Press, 11/17/2001] A stash of false documents is also found, and the men have false passports, Social Security cards, and immigration papers. Some of these documents connect them to al-Marabh. [Boston Herald, 9/20/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002; Boston Globe, 11/15/2002] Al-Marabh had moved out of the Detroit address and the men moved in about two years earlier. [Local 4 News (Detroit), 9/22/2001] In June 2003, Elmardoudi and Koubriti will be convicted of conspiring to provide material support to terrorists and Hannan will be convicted of document fraud. However, the case against them will later fall apart amidst charges of prosecutorial misconduct. The so-called assassination plot on Cohen, for instance, appears to have been based on random doodles by a mentally unstable friend. All convictions will eventually be overturned and the men will be freed (see June 2003-August 2004).
On September 18, 2001, a scientist in Milwaukee tells police that he is building an anthrax delivery system in his basement. The unnamed scientist is drunk and having a dispute with a neighbor when he makes the comments to the police. On September 28, FBI agents arrive with a search warrant but find no anthrax or any sign of an anthrax delivery system. The man is said to work in a bowling alley, but had worked as a senior research scientist at Battelle Memorial Institute, a private contractor working with the US government on bioweapons programs including anthrax. He was fired from Battelle in 1996 and again in 1999. He is said to have specialties “in the areas of radio chemistry, military ordnance and munitions, and decontamination.” After being fired in 1999, his house was searched and chemicals were found in his basement that were not illegal to possess but which could have been used to make a lethal concoction. The story will first be reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on October 5, 2001, right when the real anthrax attacks are first becoming public (see October 4, 2001 and Shortly Afterwards). [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 10/5/2001] ABC News will revive the story on December 20, 2001, and say the unnamed scientist is under investigation for a role in the anthrax attacks. ABC will claim the FBI did find suspicious chemicals in his basement, but not anthrax. [ABC News, 12/20/2001] However, the next day it will be reported that the ABC story was wrong. US Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) will say he talked to FBI Director Robert Mueller after hearing the ABC New report, and Mueller “said the ABC News report was not true, that ‘The network did not check with us, we have no investigation and no one with or formerly with Battelle is a suspect.’” [Columbus Dispatch, 12/21/2001]
After being briefly detained in July 2001, Nabil al-Marabh went Chicago and spent the next two months working for an uncle there. [Knight Ridder, 5/23/2003] In early September, he got a job working the late shift at a quickie market and liquor store. On September 19, his uncle shows up at the store to tell al-Marabh that his face has been on television and that he is wanted by the FBI. He and his uncle are still discussing this when the FBI arrives a few minutes later and takes him away. [New York Times, 10/14/2001] He has $22,000 in cash and $25,000 worth of amber jewels in his possession when arrested, despite holding only a sporadic series of low-paying jobs. [National Post, 9/4/2002] Al-Marabh appears to have been working on some kind of plot involving hazardous materials and trucks since at least August 2000 (see August 2000-January 2001). He had just received another duplicate of his Michigan hazardous materials driver’s license on September 16 and apparently is waiting for another duplicate to arrive. [New York Times, 9/21/2001; Local 4 News (Detroit), 9/22/2001] He has applied for a job at a local trucking company but is arrested before completing the application process. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] In the days after his arrest, about ten Middle Eastern men across the US will be arrested for having similar hazardous materials licenses that have been fraudulently obtained. Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, an al-Qaeda operative and friend of al-Marabh, began applying for a hazardous materials license in Minnesota in August 2001 (see Mid-August 2001). [WCVB 5 (Boston), 9/27/2001] In January 2002, it will be reported that “federal authorities now believe al-Qaeda had planted [al-Marabh in Chicago] to help prepare for the next volley of terrorist attacks.” [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002]
The FBI claims on this day that there were six hijacking teams on the morning of 9/11. [New York Times, 9/19/2001; Guardian, 10/13/2001] A different report claims investigators are privately saying eight. [Independent, 9/25/2001] However, the reports below suggest there may have been as many as nine aborted flights, leading to a potential total of 13 hijackings:
Knives of the same type used in the successful hijackings were found taped to the backs of fold-down trays on a Continental Airlines flight from Newark. [Guardian, 9/19/2001]
The FBI is investigating American Airlines Flight 43, which was scheduled to leave Boston about 8:10 a.m. bound for Los Angeles but was canceled minutes before takeoff due to a mechanical problem. [BBC, 9/18/2001; Chicago Tribune, 9/18/2001; Guardian, 9/19/2001] Another version claims the flight left from Newark and made it as far as Cincinnati before being grounded in the nationwide air ban. [New York Times, 9/19/2001]
Knives and box cutters were found on two separate canceled Delta Airlines planes later that day, one leaving Atlanta for Brussels and the other leaving from Boston. [Time, 9/22/2001; Independent, 9/25/2001]
On September 14, two knives were found on an Air Canada flight that would have flown to New York on 9/11 if not for the air ban. [CNN, 10/15/2001]
Two men arrested on 9/11 may have lost their nerve on American Airlines Flight 1729 from Newark to San Antonio via Dallas that was scheduled to depart at 8:50 a.m., and was later forced to land in St. Louis. Alternately, they may have been planning an attack for September 15, 2001. Their names are Mohammed Azmath and Ayub Ali Khan, whose real name according to later reports is Syed Gul Mohammad Shah. [New York Times, 9/19/2001]
There may have been an attempt to hijack United Airlines Flight 23 flying from JFK Airport, New York to Los Angeles around 9:00 a.m. Shortly after 9:00 a.m., United Airlines flight dispatcher Ed Ballinger sent out a warning about the first WTC crash to the flights he was handling (see 9:19 a.m. September 11, 2001). Because of this warning, the crew of Flight 23 told the passengers it had a mechanical problem and immediately returned to the gate. Ballinger was later told by authorities that six men initially wouldn’t get off the plane. When the men finally disembarked, they disappeared into the crowd and never returned. Later, authorities checked their luggage and found copies of the Koran and al-Qaeda instruction sheets. [Associated Press, 9/14/2001; Chicago Daily Herald, 4/14/2004] In mid-2002, a NORAD deputy commander says “we don’t know for sure” if Flight 23 was to have been hijacked. [Globe and Mail, 6/13/2002]
According to anonymous FAA officials, a plane bound for Chicago, home of the Sears Tower, could have been another target for hijacking. The plane landed unexpectedly at the Cleveland airport after the FAA initiated a national ground stop. Four Middle Eastern men had deplaned and left the airport before officials could detain them for questioning. [Freni, 2003, pp. 81]
A box cutter knife was found under a seat cushion on American Airlines Flight 160, a 767 that would have flown from San Diego to New York on the morning of 9/11 but for the air ban. [Chicago Tribune, 9/23/2001]
The FBI is said to be seeking a number of passengers who failed to board the same, rescheduled flights when the grounding order on commercial planes in the US was lifted. [BBC, 9/18/2001] The Independent points out suspicions have been fueled “that staff at US airports may have played an active role in the conspiracy and helped the hijackers to circumvent airport security.” They also note, “It is possible that at least some of the flights that have come under scrutiny were used as decoys, or as fallback targets.” [Independent, 9/25/2001]
The FBI hires Turkish-American Sibel Edmonds as a contract translator for Turkish, Azerbaijani, and Farsi. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the FBI is desperately seeking qualified individuals to translate backlogged wiretaps and help authorities interview detained suspects. [Anti-War (.com), 7/1/2004] Before 9/11, there was not a single Turkish-language specialist at the bureau. [Vanity Fair, 9/2005] Fluent in both Turkish and Azerbaijani, Edmonds works as a “linguist” in those languages. For Farsi, which Edmonds hasn’t spoken in 25 years, she is only a “monitor.” (An FBI translator is either a “linguist” or a “monitor” for any given language. Linguists are more qualified and consequently have broader roles. For example, while linguists can do verbatim translations, monitors may only produce summaries. [Anti-War (.com), 7/1/2004] ) As a contract translator, Edmonds is given a flexible schedule. On average she will work four evenings a week logging between 10 and 25 hours weekly. Almost 75 percent of her work will relate to pre-9/11 intelligence. [Anti-War (.com), 7/1/2004] The work of FBI translators is very important because the translator is often the bureau’s first filter that incoming intelligence must pass through. It is the responsibility of translators to decide what needs to be translated verbatim, what can simply be summarized, and what can be dismissed as not pertinent. In making these decisions, translators are not required to consult field agents or analysts. [Anti-War (.com), 7/1/2004] In fact, agents can’t even access the translation area unless they are escorted by a translator. [WorldNetDaily, 1/7/2004; United Press International, 3/31/2004] A translator’s decision to mark a wiretap as “not pertinent” is usually final. Though all documents and transcripts are supposed to be reviewed by at least two translators, this never actually happens, according to Edmonds, even after 9/11. [Anti-War (.com), 7/1/2004]
A private plane picks up Saudis who have gathered in Boston and flies them to Paris, then ultimately to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Because most of the passengers on board are relatives of Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 Commission calls this the “so-called bin Laden flight.” The commission claims there are 26 passengers on board, three of them security personnel. They further report that “22 of the 26… were interviewed by the FBI. Many were asked detailed questions.” However, the commission does not answer how many were not asked detailed questions, or were not questioned at all. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 557] However, Craig Unger, author of the book House of Bush, House of Saud, publishes the flight manifest during the same week as the 9/11 Commission’s final report is released, and this list contains 29 names (including the three security personnel), not 26. [Craig Unger website, 7/22/2004] The 2005 book Al-Qaeda Will Conquer by Guillaume Dasquié also makes note of this three-person discrepancy. [Financial Times, 4/27/2005]
A few weeks after the attacks, US investigators say the hijackers appeared to have spent about $500,000 while in the US. An official says, “This was not a low-budget operation. There is quite a bit of money coming in, and they are spending quite a bit of money.” [Washington Post, 9/29/2001; Guardian, 10/1/2001; Washington Post, 10/7/2001] In a detailed analysis published in the summer of 2002, the FBI will again report that the hijackers had access to a total of $500,000 to $600,000, of which $325,000 flowed through their SunTrust accounts. [New York Times, 7/10/2002; CNN, 7/10/2002 Sources: Dennis Lormel] The same figure is provided by John S. Pistole, FBI Assistant Director, Counterterrorism Division, when he testifies before the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs. “[T]he 9/11 hijackers utilized slightly over $300,000 through formal banking channels to facilitate their time in the US. We assess they used another $200-300,000 in cash to pay for living expenses.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 133 ] However, officials later back away from this figure and in August 2004 the 9/11 Commission says that the hijackers’ spending in the US was only “more than $270,000.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 143 ] In addition, the number of bank accounts the hijackers are said to have opened varies. Shortly after the attacks, investigators believe they had about a dozen accounts at US banks. In July 2002, Dennis Lormel, chief of the FBI unit investigating the money behind the attacks, tells the New York Times they had 35 accounts, including 14 with the SunTrust Bank. [Washington Post, 10/7/2001; New York Times, 7/10/2002 Sources: Dennis Lormel] However, a year after the attacks, FBI Director Robert Mueller tells the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, “In total, the hijackers opened 24 bank accounts at four different US banks.” [US Congress, 9/26/2002] Not only is Mueller’s assertion contradicted by Lormel’s previous statement, but it is also demonstrably false, as the hijackers had at least 25 US bank accounts with at least 6 different banks (SunTrust Bank, Hudson United Bank, Dime Savings Bank, First National Bank of Florida, Bank of America, and First Union National Bank) (see February 4, 2000, June 28-July 7, 2000, Early September 2000, May 1-July 18, 2001, and June 27-August 23, 2001). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia; Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 19 ] The 9/11 Commission’s Report and its Terrorist Financing Monograph focus on some of the transfers made to the hijackers (see January 15, 2000-August 2001, June 13-September 25, 2000, June 29, 2000-September 18, 2000, and December 5, 2000), but ignore others (see June 2000-August 2001, May 2001, Early August-August 22, 2001, Summer 2001 and before, and Late August-Early September 2001). Neither the report nor the monograph gives the total number of bank accounts the hijackers opened. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004 ] In addition, the identities of the hijackers’ financiers reportedly change over time (see September 24, 2001-December 26, 2002).
A report in the Washington Times suggests, “Federal investigators may have video footage of the deadly terrorist attack on the Pentagon. A security camera atop a hotel close to the Pentagon may have captured dramatic footage of the hijacked Boeing 757 airliner as it slammed into the western wall of the Pentagon. Hotel employees sat watching the film in shock and horror several times before the FBI confiscated the video as part of its investigation. It may be the only available video of the attack. The Pentagon has told broadcast news reporters that its security cameras did not capture the crash. The attack occurred close to the Pentagon’s heliport, an area that normally would be under 24-hour security surveillance, including video monitoring.” [Washington Times, 9/21/2001] In a later report, an employee at a gas station across the street from the Pentagon that services only military personnel says the gas station’s security cameras should have recorded the moment of impact. However, he says, “I’ve never seen what the pictures looked like. The FBI was here within minutes and took the film.” [Richmond Times-Dispatch, 12/11/2001] In late 2006, the FBI will release the footage from the gas station’s cameras, along with footage from atop the Doubletree Hotel near the Pentagon. Whether the Doubletree is the hotel referred to in the Washington Times report is unknown. Neither of the videos will show the impact on the Pentagon, though the Doubletree video shows the subsequent explosion (see September 13, 2006-Early December 2006). Footage taken by the Pentagon’s security cameras and released earlier in 2006 will show that the Pentagon’s claim—that its own cameras did not capture the impact on 9/11—was untrue (see May 16, 2006).
Lofti Raissi. [Source: Amnesty International]Lotfi Raissi, an Algerian pilot living in Britain, is arrested and accused of helping to train four of the hijackers. An FBI source says, “We believe he is by far the biggest find we have had so far. He is of crucial importance to us.” [Las Vegas Review-Journal, 9/29/2001] However, in April 2002, a judge dismisses all charges against him, calling the charges “tenuous.” US officials originally said, “They had video of him with Hani Hanjour, who allegedly piloted the plane that crashed into the Pentagon; records of phone conversations between the two men; evidence that they had flown a training plane together; and evidence that Raissi had met several of the hijackers in Las Vegas. It turned out, the British court found, that the video showed Raissi with his cousin, not Mr. Hanjour, that Raissi had mistakenly filled in his air training logbook and had never flown with Hanjour, and that Raissi and the hijackers were not in Las Vegas at the same time. The US authorities never presented any phone records showing conversations between Raissi and Hanjour. It appears that in this case the US authorities handed over all the information they had…” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/27/2002; Guardian, 9/26/2005] Raissi later says he will sue the British and American governments unless he is given a “widely publicized apology” for his months in prison and the assumption of “guilty until proven innocent.” [Reuters, 8/14/2002] In September 2003, he does sue both governments for $20 million. He also wins a undisclosed sum from the British tabloid Mail on Sunday for printing false charges against him. [Guardian, 9/16/2003; BBC, 10/7/2003; Arizona Republic, 10/14/2003] Declassified documents will later reveal that the British arrested Raissi only days after the FBI requested that the British discretely monitor and investigate him, not arrest him. [Guardian, 9/26/2005] Raissi perfectly matches the description of an individual mentioned in FBI agent Ken Williams’ “Phoenix memo” (see July 10, 2001), whom the FBI had attempted to investigate in May 2001 (see 1997-July 2001).
Immediately after beginning her job as an FBI translator, Sibel Edmonds encounters a pattern of deliberate failure in her department. Her supervisor, Mike Feghali, allegedly says, “Let the documents pile up so we can show it and say that we need more translators and expand the department.” She claims that if she was not slowing down enough, her supervisor would delete her work. Meanwhile, FBI agents working on the 9/11 investigation would call and ask for urgently needed translations. In January 2002, FBI officials will tell government auditors that translator shortages are resulting in “the accumulation of thousands of hours of audio tapes and pages” of material that has not been translated. [Washington Post, 6/19/2002] After she discloses this in an October 2002 interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) says of her charges, “She’s credible and the reason I feel she’s very credible is because people within the FBI have corroborated a lot of her story.” He points out that the speed of such translation might make the difference between an attack succeeding or failing. [CBS News, 10/25/2002; New York Post, 10/26/2002] An investigation by the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s Office (see (July 8, 2004)) will also find Edmonds credible.
Omar al-Bayoumi, suspected al-Qaeda advance man and possible Saudi agent, is arrested, and held for one week in Britain. He moved from San Diego to Britain in late June 2001 (see June 23-July 2001) and is a studying at Aston University Business School in Birmingham when he is taken into custody by British authorities working with the FBI. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/27/2001; Washington Post, 12/29/2001; MSNBC, 11/27/2002] During a search of al-Bayoumi’s Birmingham apartment (which includes ripping up the floorboards), the FBI finds the names and phone numbers of two employees of the Saudi embassy’s Islamic Affairs Department. [Newsweek, 11/24/2002] “There was a link there,” a Justice Department official says, adding that the FBI interviewed the employees and “that was the end of that, in October or November of 2001.” The official adds, “I don’t know why he had those names.” Nail al-Jubeir, chief spokesperson for the Saudi embassy in Washington, says al-Bayoumi “called [the numbers] constantly.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/24/2002] They also discover jihadist literature, and conclude he “has connections to terrorist elements,” including al-Qaeda. [Washington Post, 7/25/2003] However, he is released after a week. [Los Angeles Times, 11/24/2002; Newsweek, 11/24/2002] British intelligence officials are frustrated that the FBI failed to give them information that would have enabled them to keep al-Bayoumi in custody longer than the seven days allowed under British anti-terrorism laws. [London Times, 10/19/2001; KGTV 10 (San Diego), 10/25/2001] Even FBI officials in San Diego appear to have not been told of al-Bayoumi’s arrest by FBI officials in Britain until after he is released. [Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, UK), 10/21/2001] Newsweek claims that classified sections of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry indicate the Saudi Embassy pushed for al-Bayoumi’s release—
“another possible indicator of his high-level [Saudi] connections.” [Newsweek, 7/28/2003] A San Diego FBI agent later secretly testifies that supervisors fail to act on evidence connecting to a Saudi money trail. The FBI is said to conduct a massive investigation of al-Bayoumi within days of 9/11, which shows he has connections to individuals who have been designated by the US as foreign terrorists. [Sunday Mercury (Birmingham, UK), 10/21/2001; US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; Newsweek, 7/28/2003] But two years later witnesses connecting him to Saudi money apparently are not interviewed by the FBI. Al-Bayoumi continues with his studies in Britain and is still there into 2002, and yet is still not rearrested. [Newsweek, 10/29/2001; Washington Post, 12/29/2001] He disappears into Saudi Arabia by the time he reenters the news in November 2002. [San Diego Magazine, 9/2003]
Fox News claims that up to 12 other Middle Eastern men dressed in pilot uniforms were on other flights scheduled to take off on the morning of 9/11. Hijackings on all these flights were foiled when an unexpected ban on new flights prevented them from taking off. An FBI source says they had been invited into the cockpits under the impression that they were guest pilots from other airlines. It is standard practice to give guest pilots the spare seat in the cockpit known as the jump seat. [Fox News, 9/24/2001] Flight 93’s cockpit voice recording has apparently shown that “one of the four hijackers had been invited into the cockpit area before the flight took off.” Many pilot uniforms had gone missing prior to 9/11. It is claimed that Mohamed Atta was given a guided tour of Boston’s Logan Airport the week before 9/11 when he turned up in a pilot uniform saying he was with Saudi Airlines. [Herald Sun (Melbourne), 9/25/2001]
Mustafa Ahmed Alhawsawi. [Source: FBI]In 2000, the 9/11 hijackers receive money from a man using “Mustafa Ahmed al-Hisawi” and other aliases. On September 8-11, 2001, the hijackers send money to a man in the United Arab Emirates who uses the aliases “Mustafa Ahmed,”
“Mustafa Ahmad,” and “Ahamad Mustafa.” Soon the media begins reporting on who this 9/11 “paymaster” is, but his reported names and identities will continually change. The media has sometimes made the obvious connection that the paymaster is Saeed Sheikh—a British financial expert who studied at the London School of Economics, undisputedly sent hijacker Mohamed Atta money the month before the attacks, made frequent trips to Dubai (where the money is sent), and is known to have trained the hijackers. However, the FBI consistently deflects attention to other possible explanations, with a highly confusing series of names vaguely similar to Mustafa Ahmed or Saeed Sheikh:
September 24, 2001: Newsweek reports that the paymaster for the 9/11 attacks is someone named “Mustafa Ahmed.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] This refers to Mustafa Mahmoud Said Ahmed, an Egyptian al-Qaeda banker who was captured in Tanzania in 1998 then later released. [Sydney Morning Herald, 9/28/2001; Newsday, 10/3/2001]
October 1, 2001: The Guardian reports that the real name of “Mustafa Mohamed Ahmad” is “Sheikh Saeed.” [Guardian, 10/1/2001] A few days later, CNN confirms from a “senior-level US government source” that this “Sheik Syed” is the British man Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh rescued from an Indian prison in 1999. [CNN, 10/6/2001; CNN, 10/8/2001] However, starting on October 8, the story that ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed ordered Saeed to give Mohamed Atta $100,000 begins to break. References to the 9/11 paymaster being the British Saeed Sheikh (and the connections to the ISI Director) suddenly disappear from the Western media (with one exception [CNN, 10/28/2001] ).
October 2001: Other articles continue to use “Mustafa Mohammed Ahmad” or “Shaykh Saiid” with no details of his identity, except for suggestions that he is Egyptian. There are numerous spelling variations and conflicting accounts over which name is the alias. There is an Egyptian al-Qaeda financier leader named Mustafa Abu al-Yazid who uses some variant of Saeed Sheikh as an alias. [Evening Standard, 10/1/2001; BBC, 10/1/2001; Newsday, 10/3/2001; Associated Press, 10/6/2001; Washington Post, 10/7/2001; Sunday Times (London), 10/7/2001; Knight Ridder, 10/9/2001; New York Times, 10/15/2001; Los Angeles Times, 10/20/2001]
October 16, 2001: CNN reports that the 9/11 paymaster “Sheik Sayid” is mentioned in a May 2001 trial of al-Qaeda members. However, this turns out to be a Kenyan named Sheik Sayyid el Masry. [Day 7. United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., 2/20/2001; United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 8, 2/21/2001; CNN, 10/16/2001]
November 11, 2001: The identity of 9/11 paymaster “Mustafa Ahmed” is suddenly no longer Egyptian, but is now a Saudi named Sa’d Al-Sharif, who is said to be bin Laden’s brother-in-law. [United Nations, 3/8/2001; Newsweek, 11/11/2001; Associated Press, 12/18/2001]
December 11, 2001: The federal indictment of Zacarias Moussaoui calls the 9/11 paymaster “Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi a/k/a ‘Mustafa Ahmed,’” and gives him Sa’d’s nationality and birth date. [MSNBC, 12/11/2001] Many articles begin adding “al-Hawsawi” to the Mustafa Ahmed name. [Washington Post, 12/13/2001; Washington Post, 1/7/2002; Los Angeles Times, 1/20/2002]
January 23, 2002: As new information is reported in India, the media returns to the British Saeed Sheikh as the 9/11 paymaster. [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2002; Daily Telegraph, 1/24/2002; Independent, 1/24/2002; Daily Telegraph, 1/27/2002] While his role in the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl is revealed on February 6, many articles connect him to 9/11, but many more do not. Coverage of Saeed’s 9/11 connections generally dies out by the time of his trial in July 2002.
June 4, 2002: Without explanation, the name “Shaikh Saiid al-Sharif” begins to be used for the 9/11 paymaster, presumably a combination of Saeed Sheikh and S’ad al-Sharif. [Associated Press, 6/5/2002; Independent, 9/15/2002; Associated Press, 9/26/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/15/2002] Many of the old names continue to be used, however. [New York Times, 7/10/2002; Time, 8/4/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002; Knight Ridder, 9/8/2002; Knight Ridder, 9/9/2002; Washington Post, 9/11/2002; Los Angeles Times, 12/24/2002]
June 18, 2002: FBI Director Mueller testifies that the money sent in 2000 is sent by someone named “Ali Abdul Aziz Ali” but the money in 2001 is sent by “Shaikh Saiid al-Sharif.” The 9/11 Commission will later identify Aziz Ali as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s nephew and agree with Mueller that he sent the money in 2000. [US Congress, 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 1]
September 4, 2002: Newsweek says “Mustafa Ahmad Adin al-Husawi,” presumably Saudi, is a deputy to the Egyptian “Sayyid Shaikh Al-Sharif.” However, it adds he “remains almost a total mystery,” and they are unsure of his name. [Newsweek, 9/4/2002]
December 26, 2002: US officials now say there is no such person as Shaikh Saiid al-Sharif. Instead, he is probably a composite of three different people: “[Mustafa Ahmed] Al-Hisawi, Shaikh Saiid al-Masri, al-Qaeda’s finance chief, and Saad al-Sharif, bin Laden’s brother-in-law and a midlevel al-Qaeda financier.” [Associated Press, 12/27/2002] Shaikh Saiid al-Masri is likely a reference the Kenyan Sheik Sayyid el Masry. Note that, now, al-Hisawi is the assistant to Shaikh Saiid, a flip from a few months before. Saiid and/or al-Hisawi still haven’t been added to the FBI’s official most wanted lists. [London Times, 12/1/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2002; Wall Street Journal, 6/17/2002] Despite the confusion, the FBI isn’t even seeking information about them. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2/14/2002] Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi is said to be arrested with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Pakistan in 2003, but no photos of him are released, and witnesses of the supposed arrest did not see al-Hawsawi or Mohammed there (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). [Reuters, 3/3/2003] A few weeks later, it will be reported that “the man US intelligence officials suspected of being al-Qaeda’s financial mastermind, Sheik Said al-Masri, remains at large.” [Business Week, 3/17/2003]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Daniel Pearl, Mohamed Atta, Al-Qaeda, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Khalid el-Masri, Ahamad Mustafa, Mustafa, Mahmood Ahmed, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Sayyid Shaikh Al-Sharif, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Mustafa Ahmad Adin al-Husawi, Sa’d Al-Sharif, Saeed Sheikh, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hisawi, Osama bin Laden, Robert S. Mueller III
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
An operating branch of the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank photographed in Sudan in October 2004. [Source: Wayne Madsen]On September 24, 2001, the US freezes the bank accounts of a number of people and businesses allegedly linked to al-Qaeda (see September 24, 2001). However, no accounts at the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in Sudan are frozen, despite a 1996 State Department report that bin Laden co-founded the bank and capitalized it with $50 million (see August 14, 1996). As the Chicago Tribune will later note, bin Laden has been more closely linked to this bank than to any other bank in the world. [Chicago Tribune, 11/3/2001] On September 26, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) publicly notes that Al-Shamal was able to obtain correspondent accounts with three US banks, as well as many European and Middle East banks, giving Al-Shamal direct or indirect access to US banking. [Senator Carl Levin, 9/26/2001] Al-Shamal claims that it cut ties with bin Laden long ago. However, tipped off by Levin’s comments, one day later a group of computer hackers claim to have hacked into Al-Shamal’s computers, found evidence of existing al-Qaeda-linked bank accounts, and then turned the information over to the FBI. The FBI neither confirms nor denies getting such information. [Washington Post, 10/12/2001] Several days later, it is reported that European banks are quietly cutting off all dealings with Al-Shamal despite the lack of any formal blacklisting of it. [Associated Press, 10/1/2001] The Los Angeles Times will later report that after 9/11, the Sudanese government greatly increased their cooperation with US intelligence in hopes of improving relations with the US. In November 2001, some FBI agents including Jack Cloonan go to Sudan and are allowed to interview the manager at Al-Shamal. Bank records are made available to US investigators as well. Cloonan will later say, “Until then, the Sudanese had a credibility problem with the US, but they gave us everything we asked for.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2005] But multiple sources will later report that, as of late 2002 at least, Saudi multimillionaire Adel Batterjee heads Al-Shamal and is one of its largest shareholders. [National Review, 10/28/2002; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 112; Chicago Tribune, 2/22/2004] Batterjee had long been suspected of al-Qaeda ties and was even detained by the Saudi government over his al-Qaeda links in 1993 (see 1993). The US will officially designate him a terrorist financier in 2004 (see December 21, 2004). The Chicago Tribune notes that an official US blacklisting of the bank “could well have diplomatic repercussions that the White House… would rather avoid.” A Saudi financial services conglomerate, Dar Al-Maal Al-Islami Trust (DMI), has a major stake in Al-Shamal, and DMI is headed by Prince Mohammed al-Faisal al-Saud, a cousin of the Saudi King Fahd. (His accountant will later be arrested in Spain and accused of being an important al-Qaeda financier (see April 23, 2002).) Other Saudi royals and prominent businesspeople are also invested in DMI. [Chicago Tribune, 11/3/2001] Furthermore, one of the bank’s three founding members and major shareholders is Saleh Abdullah Kamel, a Saudi billionaire and chairman of the Dallah al-Baraka Group. [In These Times, 12/20/2002] Al-Shamal apparently continues to operate and the US apparently has not taken any action against it. It is unclear if Batterjee continues to run it.
FBI spokesman Rex Tomb says that it will take time for criminal proceedings to commence against the people thought to be responsible for 9/11: “There’s going to be a considerable amount of time before anyone associated with the attacks is actually charged.” He continues, “To be charged with a crime, this means we have found evidence to confirm our suspicions, and a prosecutor has said we will pursue this case in court.” In mid-August 2007 Zacarias Moussaoui will be the only person charged in connection with 9/11 in the US, being sentenced to life in prison in spring 2006 (see May 3, 2006), but it is unclear if he was involved in the 9/11 plot or a planned follow up plot (see January 30, 2003). Osama bin Laden will not be charged in connection with his alleged participation (see June 6, 2006 and August 28, 2006). [Wired News, 9/27/2001]
Mohamed Abdi, a 44-year-old Somali immigrant whose phone number was found in a car belonging to one the 9/11 hijackers, is detained without bail in Alexandria, Va. On September 12, 2001, FBI investigators discovered a car registered to 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi at Dulles Airport (see September 11-13, 2001). In the car, they found a Washington-area map with the name “Mohumad” and a Virginia phone number belonging to Mohamed Abdi. At the court hearing, an FBI investigator says that Abdi has not explained the finding and is suspected of being linked to the hijackers. FBI Special Agent Kevin W. Ashby also testifies that an article on Ahmed Ressam was found in Abdi’s clothing. Ressam was convicted of trying to bomb Los Angeles Airport in 2000 (see December 14, 1999). According to press reports, Abdi is not cooperating with police. He came to the United States in 1993 as a refugee. He later brought his wife and four children to the US and obtained US citizenship. Shortly after his arrival, Abdi worked for Caterair, a food service company at Reagan National Airport. At the time of his arrest, Abdi had been working as a low-paid security guard for Burns Security for seven years. Burns does not provide airport security services, however, a Burns subsidiary called Globe Aviation Services provides screening services at several US airports, including the American Airlines concourse at Boston’s Logan Airport, from which one of the hijacked flights took off (see October 10, 2001). Abdi, who has had financial difficulties for some time, is charged with check forgery. He is accused of forging his landlord’s signature to obtain a government housing subsidy. No terrorism charges are filed. [US District Court Eastern District of Virginia, 9/23/2001 ; Washington Post, 9/27/2001 ; Human Events, 10/15/2001; Human Events, 10/15/2001] In January 2002, Abdi will receive a four-month sentence for forgery. Any link he may have had with the hijackers will remain unclear. [Washington Post, 1/12/2002]
A newspaper front page announcing the release of the hijacker photos. [Source: History Channel]The photos of all 19 of the 9/11 hijackers are released by the FBI for the first time. Some photos have been released by the media already; for instance, a photo of Mohammed Atta became very well known a couple of days after the 9/11 attacks. But this is the first time all of the hijackers are seen. The FBI also gives out some details about the hijackers, but these details are scanty. For instance, the only detail mentioned for Ahmed Alhaznawi is, “Possibly lived in Delray Beach, Florida.” Interestingly, one detail mentioned for Khalid Almihdhar is, “May be an assumed name; there are reports he is still alive.” It also is noted that the identities of Waleed Alshehri, Wail Alshehri, Abdulaziz Alomari, Mohand Alshehri, Salem Alhazmi, and Saeed Alghamdi are in dispute, and some of the information about them may be confused with other people with similar names. [CNN, 9/27/2001]
Entity Tags: Ahmed Alnami, Salem Alhazmi, Satam Al Suqami, Wail Alshehri, Waleed Alshehri, Ziad Jarrah, Abdulaziz Alomari, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Nawaf Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi, Mohamed Atta, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohand Alshehri, Hamza Alghamdi, Khalid Almihdhar, Marwan Alshehhi, Ahmed Alghamdi, Majed Moqed, Hani Hanjour
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The first page of a letter attributed to Mohamed Atta. [Source: Federal Bureau of Investigation]The text of a handwritten, five-page document found in Mohamed Atta’s luggage is made public. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/28/2001; Washington Post, 9/28/2001; Observer, 9/30/2001] The next day, the London Independent will strongly question if the note is genuine. It points out that the “note suggests an almost Christian view of what the hijackers might have felt,” and is filled with “weird” comments that Muslims would never say, such as “the time of fun and waste is gone.” If the note “is genuine, then the [hijackers] believed in a very exclusive version of Islam—or were surprisingly unfamiliar with their religion.” [Independent, 9/29/2001] Another copy of the document was discovered in a vehicle parked by a Flight 77 hijacker at Washington’s Dulles airport. A third copy of essentially the same document was found in the wreckage of Flight 93. Therefore, the letter neatly ties most of the hijackers together. [CBS News, 9/28/2001] The Guardian comments, “The finds are certainly very fortunate, though some might think them a little too fortunate.” [Guardian, 10/1/2001]
It is reported that Boston’s Logan Airport has no cameras in its terminals, gate areas, or concourses. It is possibly the only major airport in the US not to have such cameras. The two other airports used by the hijackers to launch the 9/11 attacks had security cameras, but only some footage of the hijackers in the Washington airport is leaked to the press in 2004. [Boston Herald, 9/29/2001] It was previously reported that FBI agents had “examined footage from dozens of cameras at the three airports [including Logan] where the terrorists boarded the aircraft.”
[Los Angeles Times, 9/13/2001]
Police in the Midwest stop six men carrying suspicious documents. They possess photos and descriptions of a nuclear power plant in Florida and the Trans-Alaska pipeline, and have “box cutters and other equipment.” All six have Israeli passports. They are released the same day after their passports are shown to be valid, but before anyone interviews them. The FBI is reportedly furious about their release. [Miami Herald, 10/3/2001; Knight Ridder, 10/31/2001; London Times, 11/2/2001] The six men may have been Mossad agents. In addition to snooping on the DEA and Islamic militants, some Mossad agents in the “art student spy ring” have been caught trying to break into military bases and other top-secret facilities (see March 23, 2001). [Salon, 5/7/2002]
Journalist Seymour Hersh will write in the New Yorker in late September 2001, “After more than two weeks of around-the-clock investigation into the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the American intelligence community remains confused, divided, and unsure about how the terrorists operated, how many there were, and what they might do next. It was that lack of solid information, government officials told me, that was the key factor behind the Bush Administration’s decision last week not to issue a promised white paper listing the evidence linking Osama bin Laden’s organization to the attacks” (see September 23-24, 2001). An unnamed senior official tells Hersh, “One day we’ll know, but at the moment we don’t know.” Hersh further reports, “It is widely believed that the terrorists had a support team, and the fact that the FBI has been unable to track down fellow-conspirators who were left behind in the United States is seen as further evidence of careful planning. ‘Look,’ one person familiar with the investigation said. ‘If it were as simple and straightforward as a lucky one-off oddball operation, then the seeds of confusion would not have been sown as they were.’” The hijackers left a surprisingly obvious trail of clues, even regularly paying for delivered pizzas using credit cards in their own name (see September 11-13, 2001). Hersh further reports, “Many of the investigators believe that some of the initial clues that were uncovered about the terrorists’ identities and preparations, such as flight manuals, were meant to be found. A former high-level intelligence official told me, ‘Whatever trail was left was left deliberately—for the FBI to chase.’” [New Yorker, 10/8/2001] Many newspaper reports in late September 2001 indicate doubt over the identities of many hijackers (see September 16-23, 2001). The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s 2003 report will strongly suggest that the hijackers at least had numerous accomplices in the US (see July 24, 2003). But the 9/11 Commission’s 2004 report will downplay any suggestions of US accomplices and will indicate no doubts about the hijackers’ identities. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 231, 238-9]
The New York Police and FBI are investigating the theft of over 250 tons of steel from the remains of the collapsed WTC towers. Apparently, the steel was hauled away by trucks involved in the official clear-up operation (see September 12-October 2001), but instead of being taken to Fresh Kills—the FBI-controlled dump on Staten Island where it was intended to go—the steel was driven to three independently-owned scrapyards, two in New Jersey and one on Long Island. The London Telegraph says the scrap metal value of the stolen steel would have been roughly $17,500. Investigators believe the theft was organized by one of New York’s Mafia families. [Daily Telegraph, 9/29/2001] Consequently, on November 26, 2001, the city initiates use of an in-vehicle Global Positioning System (GPS), to monitor the locations of nearly 200 trucks removing steel from the WTC collapse site, at a cost of $1,000 per unit. This system sends out alerts if any truck travels off course or arrives late at its destination. One driver involved with the clear-up operation is subsequently dismissed simply for taking an extended lunch break. [Access Control and Security Systems, 7/2002]
Reports this month indicate that many hijacker e-mails have been recovered. USA Today reports many unencrypted e-mails coordinating the 9/11 plans written by the hijackers in Internet cafes have been recovered by investigators. [USA Today, 10/1/2001] FBI sources say, “[H]undreds of e-mails linked to the hijackers in English, Arabic and Urdu” have been recovered, with some messages including “operational details” of the attack. [Washington Post, 10/4/2001]
“A senior FBI official says investigators have obtained hundreds of e-mails in English and Arabic, reflecting discussions of the planned September 11 hijackings.”
[Wall Street Journal, 10/16/2001] However, in April 2002, FBI Director Mueller says no documentation of the 9/11 plot has been found. By September 2002, the Chicago Tribune reports, “Of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of e-mails sent and received by the hijackers from public Internet terminals, none is known to have been recovered.”
[Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002] The texts of some e-mails sent by Mohamed Atta from Germany are published a few months later. [Chicago Tribune, 2/25/2003]
The FBI hires Kevin Taskasen as a Turkish translator, despite him having failed language-proficiency tests for English. The FBI will later send Taskasen to Guantanamo to be the detention center’s only Turkish translator. Some time after his return, he is promoted to head of the Turkish department in the FBI translations center. [Anti-War (.com), 7/1/2004]
The FBI hires Hadia Roberts, the daughter of a former Pakistani general who is thought to have worked as a spy in the US, despite objections by the FBI agent that vets her. John Cole, manager of the FBI national counter-intelligence program for India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, says he is alerted to her by the personnel security officer, who thinks the woman might not be suitable as an Urdu translator.
Alarming Information - Cole examines the file and “it stuck out a mile: she was the daughter of a retired Pakistani general who had been their military attaché in Washington.” Cole is aware that “[e]very single military attaché they’ve ever assigned has been a known intelligence officer.” [Vanity Fair, 9/2005; Antiwar (.com), 10/8/2005; Sunday Times (London), 1/6/2008] In addition, several hits appear for her father’s name when it is run through the FBI’s computer and at one time he had been the subject of an FBI investigation, which is “an alarming piece of information that was somehow overlooked in the preliminary background check.” Further, the former attaché spends six months in the US a year, and Cole will later comment, “He’s got a lot of friends that are still there in military intelligence, and he more than likely talks to them frequently, living there as he does six months out of the year.” What is more, the results of Roberts’ polygraph examination are inconclusive, so Cole recommends she not be hired.
Hired Anyway - However, a week later she is given a job, top secret security clearance, and access to sensitive compartmentalized information. Colleagues say that Roberts frequently boasts her father is a retired general and say she is such an Islamic “zealot” that she tries to convert her colleagues to Islam. [Sperry, 2005, pp. 155-8] A few weeks later, an FBI field office finds that classified information has been provided to Pakistanis, but it is not known who leaked it, although an investigation will determine that it must have been either the technical agent or one of the Urdu translators. Roberts will still be translating Urdu for the FBI in July 2005, when this incident is first mentioned in the press. [Sperry, 2005, pp. 155-8; Vanity Fair, 9/2005; Antiwar (.com), 10/8/2005] Around this time the FBI is investigating a nuclear technology smuggling ring headed by Pakistani intelligence and allegedly assisted by top US officials (see Mid-Late 1990s, (1997-2002), and 2000-2001).
A poster to help law enforcement officers locate the missing ‘black boxes’ in the WTC debris. [Source: FBI / Smithsonian Institution]Three of the four black boxes from Flight 11 and Flight 175 are found this month, according to two men who work extensively in the wreckage of the World Trade Center, but the public is not told. New York City firefighter Nicholas DeMasi will mention the discovery of the black boxes in a book published in 2003. He will claim to have driven federal agents on an all-terrain vehicle during their search and state that they found three of the four missing black boxes. The Philadelphia Daily News will report on the story in 2004 when another recovery worker, volunteer Mike Bellone, backs up DeMasi’s account and claims to have seen one of the black boxes. Spokesmen for the FBI and the New York City Fire Department will deny the claims of these two workers. [Swanson, 2003, pp. 108; Philadelphia Daily News, 10/28/2004] But in 2005, CounterPunch will report: “A source at the National Transportation Safety Board, the agency that has the task of deciphering the data from the black boxes retrieved from crash sites—including those that are being handled as crimes and fall under the jurisdiction of the FBI—says the boxes were in fact recovered and were analyzed by the NTSB. ‘Off the record, we had the boxes,’ the source says. ‘You’d have to get the official word from the FBI as to where they are, but we worked on them here.’” An NTSB spokesperson will deny that the FBI ever gave the NTSB the black boxes. [CounterPunch, 12/19/2005] On September 18, it was reported that investigators had detected a signal from one of the black boxes in the debris at Ground Zero (see September 18, 2001). [New York State Emergency Management Office, 9/18/2001 ] But the 9/11 Commission Report will state that the black boxes from Flight 11 and Flight 175 “were not found.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 456]
Ayaad Assaad. [Source: Salon]Three days before the anthrax attacks are first made public, a letter is received by the FBI in Quantico, Virginia, warning that Dr. Ayaad Assaad, employed until 1997 (see May 9, 1997) as an anthrax researcher at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland, is a “‘a potential terrorist,’ with a grudge against the United States and the knowledge to wage biological warfare against his adopted country.” This is the latest in a series of verbal attacks against Assaad since the early 1990s, which includes anonymous, long hateful and derogatory poems about him (see 1991-1992). The author of the letter says he is a former colleague of Assaad. The letter seems like a not-very-subtle attempt to frame Assaad for the anthrax attacks about to come. The letter strongly suggests the attacks could have been by someone at USAMRIID with a long time grudge against Assaad. [Hartford Courant, 12/9/2001; Salon, 1/26/2002] The FBI questions Assaad about the letter one day later (see October 3, 2001).
A classified FBI report on this date indicates that alleged hijacker associate Osama Basnan has long-time links to both the bin Laden family and the Saudi government. The report states that Basnan has “been determined to have known Osama bin Laden’s family in Saudi Arabia and to have telephonic contact with members of bin Laden’s family who are currently in the US.” It also states, “The possibility of [Basnan] being affiliated with the Saudi Arabian Government or the Saudi Arabian Intelligence Service is supported by [Basnan] listing his employment in 1992 as the—.” Unfortunately, the rest of that sentence remains redacted. The report further notes that the fact that in July 2001 Basnan moved into the same San Diego apartment building where hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and hijacker associate Omar al-Bayoumi lived right after al-Bayoumi moved away “could indicate he succeeded Omar al-Bayoumi and may be undertaking activities on behalf of the Government of Saudi Arabia” (see June 23-July 2001). The FBI report, which will be obtained by the website Intelwire.com in 2008, is heavily redacted, and all mentions of Basnan’s name appear to be redacted. However, one can sometimes determine when Basnan is being referred to. For instance, the same paragraph that mentions his link to the bin Laden family also says the same person with that link hosted a party for Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman in 1992, and press reports have indicated that person was Basnan (see October 17, 1992). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/3/2001 ]
Scientist Ayaad Assaad is interviewed by the FBI. Just one day before, the FBI received a letter that was mailed to an FBI office on September 26 (see September 26, 2001) and seems to point the blame for the upcoming anthrax attacks at Assaad. He is living in Washington, DC, at the time, and is interviewed by FBI agents Mark Buie and Gregory Leylegian at the FBI’s Washington field office. His lawyer, Rosemary McDermott, is also present. The agents read him the entire letter aloud and briefly show it to him, but will not allow him to make a copy of it.
The one page, single-spaced letter says “Dr. Assaad is a potential biological terrorist,” and he is planning to mount a biological attack against the US. It adds he has the “means and will” to succeed.
It continues, “I have worked with Dr. Assaad, and I heard him say that he has a vendetta against the US government and that if anything happens to him, he told his sons to carry on.”
Assaad worked at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapon laboratory, until he was laid off in 1997, and the letter gives accurate details about Assaad’s security clearances when he worked there.
Since 1997, Assaad has worked at the Environmental Protection Agency, and the letter gives accurate details about his job there as well.
The letter mentions slightly inaccurate details about Assaad’s commute from his home in Frederick, Maryland, to his EPA job in Virginia.
It states that Assaad is a “religious fanatic.” (Assaad is a Christian but many assume he is Muslim due to his Egyptian ancestry.) [Washington Times, 2/26/2002; Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/28/2002; Hartford Courant, 2/17/2004]
It makes reference to “further terrorist activity” by Assaad without mentioning what his supposed previous terrorist activity was. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003]
The letter is not signed.
Several days later, after the anthrax attacks are made public, Assaad contacts the FBI and gives a list of the former co-workers he suspects could have been behind the letter. It is not clear if the FBI does anything with this however, as they rebuff his repeated attempts to be interviewed. Despite the obvious potential connection to the anthrax attacks, which first become known two days after this interview, the FBI will not interview Assaad again on the matter until May 2004 (see May 11, 2004). [Washington Times, 2/26/2002; Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/28/2002]
A confidential list of people suspected of helping the al-Qaeda terrorist network leaks out on the Internet. The list of 370 individuals was put together by the FBI and European security agencies, and had been circulated to central banks and government financial authorities cooperating in the fight against terrorism. The 22-page document is posted on the website of Finland’s Financial Supervision Authority, RATA. [Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2001; United Press International, 10/11/2001] It is the most extensive list of its kind yet made public by authorities anywhere in the world. [Helsingin Sanomat, 10/5/2001] Some of its entries include only a name. [United Press International, 10/11/2001] But, in many cases, aliases, last known addresses, dates of birth, and sometimes phone numbers are given. Many of the addresses are in the United States—with Florida featuring extensively—or Germany, particularly Hamburg. [Helsingin Sanomat, 10/4/2001; Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2001] More than 300 of the names on the list came from US sources, and are listed with US addresses or Social Security numbers. Out of the 370 individuals, all of whom have Arab names, the FBI and other security authorities have identified the nationalities of 163. Saudi Arabians form the largest group, with 59 being on the list. The FBI has been unable to identify the nationality of the other 207 individuals. According to UPI: “With the exception of the two Americans [on the list], all of those listed would have had to apply for American visas in their home countries to enter the United States legally. Yet the spreadsheet’s sparse information seemed to indicate that the FBI apparently had been unable to locate the information that these applications normally would contain.” At least 77 of those on the list lived near flight schools. Many of the individuals have aliases, with some having up to 20. [United Press International, 10/11/2001] The list includes all 19 of the alleged 9/11 hijackers, who are mostly listed as “possibly deceased.” It also includes al-Qaeda conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui. It will be removed from the RATA website within 24 hours, at the recommendation of the Finnish data protection commissioner. The London Daily Telegraph cautions, “Like any police intelligence file,” the list “is based on hearsay and unverified leads, and should have been kept strictly confidential to protect those falsely accused. It is far from clear whether the telephone numbers or email addresses are reliable.” For example, “A random call to a suspect in Vero Beach, Florida, was answered by the receptionist of a commercial law firm, who angrily slammed down the receiver.” [RATA, 10/3/2001 ; Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2001; Helsingin Sanomat, 10/5/2001]
The five fatal victims of the anthrax attacks, from to right: Josep Curseen Jr., Thomas Morris, Ottilie Lundgren, Robert Stevens, and Kathy Nguyen. [Source: Reuters and Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)Two waves of letters containing anthrax are received by media outlets including NBC and the New York Post (see September 17-18, 2001), and Democratic senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy (see October 6-9, 2001). The letters sent to the senators both contain the words “Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is Great.” Five people die:
October 5: Robert Stevens, 63, an employee at the Sun, a tabloid based in Florida.
October 21: Thomas Morris Jr., 55, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
October 22: Joseph Curseen Jr., 47, a postal worker in Washington, DC.
October 31: Kathy Nguyen, 61, a hospital employee in New York City.
November 21: Ottilie Lundgren, 94, of Oxford, Connecticut.
At least 22 more people get sick but survive. Thirty-one others test positive for exposure. As a result of these deaths and injuries, panic sweeps the nation. On October 16, the Senate office buildings are shut down, followed by the House of Representatives, after 28 congressional staffers test positive for exposure to anthrax (see October 16-17, 2001). A number of hoax letters containing harmless powder turn up, spreading the panic further. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001; Associated Press, 8/7/2008] Initially it is suspected that either al-Qaeda or Iraq are behind the anthrax letters (see October 14, 2001, October 15, 2001, October 17, 2001, and October 18, 2001). [Observer, 10/14/2001; BBC, 10/16/2001] However, by November, further investigation leads the US government to conclude that, “everything seems to lean toward a domestic source.… Nothing seems to fit with an overseas terrorist type operation (see November 10, 2001).” [Washington Post, 10/27/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 11/10/2001]
In August 2008, the New York Daily News will report that after Robert Stevens is the first to die in the anthrax attacks on October 5, 2001 (see October 5-November 21, 2001), White House officials repeatedly press FBI Director Robert Mueller to prove the attacks were conducted by al-Qaeda. According to an unnamed retired senior FBI official, Mueller was verbally “beaten up” during President Bush’s daily intelligence briefings for not producing proof linking the attacks to al-Qaeda. “They really wanted to blame somebody in the Middle East,” this FBI official will say. But within days, the FBI learned the anthrax was a difficult to make weapons-grade strain. “Very quickly, [experts at Fort Detrick, Maryland] told us this was not something some guy in a cave could come up with. [Al-Qaeda] couldn’t go from box cutters one week to weapons-grade anthrax the next.” But several days after this conclusion is reached, Bush and Cheney nonetheless make public statements suggesting al-Qaeda was the culprit (see October 15, 2001 and October 12, 2001). [New York Daily News, 8/2/2008]
On this day, Zeljko E., a Kosovar Serb, enters a Hamburg, Germany, police station and says he wants to turn himself in. He tells the police that he has robbed a business and stolen piles of paper written in Arabic, with the hopes of selling them. A friend of his told him that they relate to the 9/11 attacks. The 44 pounds of papers are translated and they prove to be a “treasure trove.” The documents come from Mamoun Darkazanli’s files, which were not in Darkazanli’s apartment when police raided it two days after 9/11. “It makes for a great story. A petty thief pilfers files containing critical information about the largest terrorist attack in history and dutifully turns them over to the police. [But German] agents do not buy this story for a minute; they suspect that some other Secret Service was trying to find a way of getting evidence into [their] hands. The question is, whose Secret Service?” Some German investigators later suggest that the CIA was responsible; there are also reports that the FBI illegally monitored Darkazanli after 9/11. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 10/27/2001; Der Spiegel, 2002, pp. 166-67; Chicago Tribune, 11/17/2002]
The on-line Wall Street Journal article discussing the connections between Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, Saeed Sheikh, and Mohamed Atta. [Source: Public domain]ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed is replaced in the face of US pressure after links are discovered between him, Saeed Sheikh, and the funding of the 9/11 attacks. Mahmood instructed Saeed to transfer $100,000 into hijacker Mohamed Atta’s bank account prior to 9/11. This is according to Indian intelligence, which claims the FBI has privately confirmed the story. [Press Trust of India, 10/8/2001; Times of India, 10/9/2001; India Today, 10/15/2001; Daily Excelsior (Jammu), 10/18/2001] The story is not widely reported in Western countries, though it makes the Wall Street Journal. [Australian, 10/10/2001; Agence France-Presse, 10/10/2001; Wall Street Journal, 10/10/2001] It is reported in Pakistan as well. [Dawn (Karachi), 10/8/2001] The Northern Alliance also repeats the claim in late October. [Federal News Service, 10/31/2001] In Western countries, the usual explanation is that Mahmood is fired for being too close to the Taliban. [London Times, 10/9/2001; Guardian, 10/9/2001] The Times of India reports that Indian intelligence helped the FBI discover the link, and says, “A direct link between the ISI and the WTC attack could have enormous repercussions. The US cannot but suspect whether or not there were other senior Pakistani Army commanders who were in the know of things. Evidence of a larger conspiracy could shake US confidence in Pakistan’s ability to participate in the anti-terrorism coalition.” [Times of India, 10/9/2001] There is evidence some ISI officers may have known of a plan to destroy the WTC as early as July 1999. Two other ISI leaders, Lt. Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan and Lt. Gen. Muzaffar Usmani, are sidelined on the same day as Mahmood (see October 8, 2001). [Fox News, 10/8/2001] Saeed had been working under Khan. The firings are said to have purged the ISI of its fundamentalists. However, according to one diplomat, “To remove the top two or three doesn’t matter at all. The philosophy remains.… [The ISI is] a parallel government of its own. If you go through the officer list, almost all of the ISI regulars would say, of the Taliban, ‘They are my boys.’” [New Yorker, 10/29/2001] It is believed Mahmood has been living under virtual house arrest in Pakistan (which would seem to imply more than just a difference of opinion over the Taliban), but no charges have been brought against him, and there is no evidence the US has asked to question him. [Asia Times, 1/5/2002] He also has refused to speak to reporters since being fired [Associated Press, 2/21/2002] , and outside India and Pakistan, the story has only been mentioned infrequently in the media since. [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 2/24/2002; London Times, 4/21/2002] He will reemerge as a businessman in 2003, but still will not speak to the media (see July 2003).
Entity Tags: Muzaffar Usmani, Mohamed Atta, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Northern Alliance, Mohammed Aziz Khan, Taliban, Saeed Sheikh, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Mahmood Ahmed, India, World Trade Center
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
It is reported that the FBI and Justice Department have ordered FBI agents across the US to cut back on their investigation of the September 11 attacks, so as to focus on preventing future, possibly imminent, attacks. According to the New York Times, while law enforcement officials say the investigation of 9/11 is continuing aggressively, “At the same time… efforts to thwart attacks have been given a much higher priority.” Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller “have ordered agents to drop their investigation of the [9/11] attacks or any other assignment any time they learn of a threat or lead that might suggest a future attack.” Mueller believes his agents have “a broad understanding of the events of September 11,” and now need “to concentrate on intelligence suggesting that other terrorist attacks [are] likely.” The Times quotes an unnamed law enforcement official: “The investigative staff has to be made to understand that we’re not trying to solve a crime now. Our number one goal is prevention.” [New York Times, 10/9/2001] At a news conference the previous day, Ashcroft stated that—following the commencement of the US-led attacks on Afghanistan—he had placed federal law enforcement on the highest level of alert. But he refused to say if he had received any specific new threats of terrorist attacks. [US Department of Justice, 10/8/2001] The New York Times also reports that Ashcroft and Mueller have ordered FBI agents to end their surveillance of some terrorist suspects and immediately take them into custody. However, some agents have been opposed to this order because they believe that “surveillance—if continued for days or weeks—might turn up critical evidence to prove who orchestrated the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.” [New York Times, 10/9/2001] Justice Department communications director Mindy Tucker responds to the New York Times article, saying it “is not accurate,” and that the investigation into 9/11 “has not been curtailed, it is ongoing.” [United Press International, 10/9/2001]
It is reported that Globe Aviation Services Corp., in charge of the baggage handlers for Flight 11 and all other American Airlines Flights at Boston’s Logan Airport, have been cleared of any wrongdoing. Globe Aviation supervisors claim that none of the employees working that day was in the US illegally. Supposedly, no weapons were detected, but a baggage handler for Globe Aviation and American Airlines has told the FBI that one of the hijackers—believed to be either Wail or Waleed Alshehri—was carrying one wooden crutch under his arm when he boarded Flight 11. Crutches are apparently routinely scanned through X-ray machines. [Boston Globe, 10/10/2001]
The FBI releases a list of its 22 most wanted terrorists. The US government offers up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of anyone of the list. The men are:
Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden, who was indicted by a grand jury in 1998 (see June 8, 1998), Ayman al-Zawahiri, linked to a 1995 bombing in Pakistan (see November 19, 1995), and Mohammed Atef, who provided training to Somali fighters before the Black Hawk Down incident (see Late 1992-October 1993);
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), for his role in the 1995 Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995). KSM is actually the mastermind of 9/11, although the US intelligence community has allegedly not yet pieced this information together (see (November 7, 2001));
Several other operatives suspected of involvement in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998): Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (see August 2, 2008), Mustafa Fadhil, Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam (see August 6-7, 1998)), Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (see July 25-29, 2004), Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan (see July 11, 2002), Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (see September 10, 2002), Anas al-Liby (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002), Saif al-Adel (see Spring 2002), Ahmed Mohammed Hamed Ali, and Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah (see April 12, 2006);
Abdul Rahman Yasin, a US-Iraqi involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see March 4-5,1993);
Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Mughassil, Ali Saed Bin Ali El-Houri, Ibrahim Salih Mohammed Al-Yacoub, and Abdelkarim Hussein Mohamed Al-Nasser, for their alleged part in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996);
Imad Mugniyah, Hassan Izz-Al-Din, and Ali Atwa for the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in June 1985. [CNN, 10/10/2001]
Entity Tags: Mohammed Atef, Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah, Mustafa Fadhil, Osama bin Laden, Saif al-Adel, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Usama al-Kini, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, Imad Mugniyah, Mohammed Hamed Ali, Hassan Izz-Al-Din, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Abdul Rahman Yasin, Abdelkarim Hussein Mohamed Al-Nasser, Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Mughassil, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Ibrahim Salih Mohammed Al-Yacoub, Ali Saed Bin Ali El-Houri, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ali Atwa, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Anas al-Liby
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
The FBI allows the original batch of the Ames strain of anthrax to be destroyed, making tracing the type of anthrax used in the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) more difficult. The Ames strain actually originates from a dead cow in Texas, but Iowa State University in Ames has kept many vials of Ames and other anthrax strains collected over more than seven decades. This entire collection is destroyed. It is unclear who wanted the collection destroyed or why. The FBI learned the anthrax used in the attack letters was the Ames strain on October 5 (see October 5, 2001), but this will not be publicly confirmed until October 25. The FBI denies it approved the destruction and say they only did not oppose it, but university officials say the FBI gave explicit approval. [New York Times, 11/9/2001; South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/8/2001] The Ames strain is one of 89 known varieties of anthrax and is commonly used in US military research. The Washington Post will later report that “The [Ames strain identification], as compelling as a human fingerprint, shifted suspicion away from al-Qaeda and suggested another disturbing possibility: that the anthrax attacks were the work of an American bioweapons insider.” The identification of the Ames strain focuses much attention on two top US Army bioweapons laboratories in particular that have heavily used Ames: USAMRIID in Maryland and Dugway Proving Ground in Utah (see Late 2001). [Washington Post, 9/14/2003]
According to an FBI report, “FBI investigators have officially concluded that 11 of the 19 terrorists who hijacked the aircraft on September 11 did not know they were on a suicide mission.”
“Unlike the eight ‘lead’ attackers, who were all trained pilots, they did not leave messages for friends and family indicating they knew their lives were over,” and they did not have copies of Mohamed Atta’s final prayer note (see September 28, 2001). Personal items found suggest the men thought they were taking part in a conventional hijacking and were preparing for the possibility of prison. [Observer, 10/14/2001] This is later contradicted by video filmed in Afghanistan in March 2001 showing several of the 11 non-lead hijackers proclaiming their willingness to die on an upcoming suicide mission (see (December 2000-March 2001)).
The US and Britain freeze the assets of 39 additional individuals and organizations designated by the US as connected to terrorism. $24 million is seized. The British also freeze the assets of 27 other entities named by the US in late September 2001 (see September 24, 2001). The new list includes 33 individuals and six organizations. Twenty-two of the individuals appeared on the FBI’s latest “most wanted terrorists” list. Saudi multimillionaire businessman Yassin al-Qadi is named (see October 12, 2001). So is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who will later be identified as the mastermind of 9/11. Five of the names were al-Qaeda leaders on a United Nations list published in March 8, 2001, with a recommendation that all nations freeze their assets. Other countries froze the assets of those on that list before 9/11, but the US did not (see March 8, 2001).
[Associated Press, 10/12/2001; Guardian, 10/13/2001; Los Angeles Times, 10/15/2001]
Pier 25 on the Hudson River. [Source: Larry Lerner / FEMA]Recovery workers find what appears to be one of the black boxes from Flight 11 or Flight 175—the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11—while they are working near Ground Zero, but FBI agents who inspect the object deny that it is one of these devices. [Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 94-96] The two black boxes carried by all commercial aircraft—the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder—can provide valuable information about why a plane crashed. Although they are called “black” boxes, they are in fact painted bright orange. [CBS News, 2/25/2002; PBS, 2/17/2004] Since the initial days of the recovery effort at Ground Zero, finding the black boxes from Flight 11 and Flight 175 has been a priority, due to the critical information they might hold. Many posters with photos of a plane’s black boxes have been put up around the WTC site so workers will recognize these devices if they turn up in the debris.
Operating Engineer Thinks He Has Found a Black Box - Today, an operating engineer notices an object that looks like it could be one of the black boxes while he is scraping up a load of debris at Pier 25 on the Hudson River. [Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 94] At Pier 25, near Ground Zero, debris from the WTC site is being loaded onto barges and transported to the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. [New York Daily News, 1/6/2002; APWA Reporter, 3/2004] The operating engineer thinks the object is the same shape as a black box. It is too blackened and charred, though, for him to determine if it is painted orange, like a plane’s black boxes are. He stops operations at the pier so he can get the opinion of the crane operator there. The crane operator agrees that the object looks like a plane’s black box and says its discovery should be reported. The operating engineer therefore makes a call to report the find and is put through to Lieutenant Ed Moss of the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD).
Police Officers Think the Unearthed Object Is a Black Box - After the operating engineer tells him about the discovery, Moss heads to Pier 25 with his colleague, Lieutenant Bill Doubrawski. He examines the object and he too thinks it is one of the black boxes. Excitedly, he contacts Lieutenant William Keegan, who is in charge of the PAPD’s nighttime rescue and recovery operation at Ground Zero. Talking over a secure phone line, Moss tells Keegan: “I think we found one of these things. I’m looking at the diagram. I think this is it.” Moss says Doubrawski agrees with his assessment. He describes the object as being “[h]ard as a rock, not orange,” and looking “like it was torched, all blackened.” Keegan says he wants to see the object and heads to Pier 25 to examine it.
Senior Police Officer Agrees with His Colleagues' Assessment - When he arrives there, he compares the object to some photos of a plane’s black boxes and agrees that it appears to be one of these devices. “The object found on the pier was absolutely close enough to the pictures available to us to notify the FBI without delay,” Keegan will later write. The PAPD officers arrange for some FBI agents who are working at Ground Zero to come to the PAPD command post to see the object.
FBI Agents Think the Object Is a Black Box but Then Change Their Minds - Around 20 to 30 minutes later, two FBI agents arrive at the command post. The agents examine the object that has been discovered and compare it to a diagram of a plane’s black box. They then say words to the effect of “Wow, this looks like it” and “It’s the same shape,” according to Keegan. However, after looking at the object for a few more minutes, they apparently change their minds. “We don’t think it’s a black box,” one of them tells the PAPD officers. In response, Keegan asks: “So it’s okay to throw it back on the barge? You’re clearing it?” The other agent quickly replies, “No, no, we’re going to take it with us.” The two FBI agents then leave the command post, taking the object with them. Keegan and his colleagues will subsequently never receive any information from the FBI, regarding whether the object really is one of the black boxes. [Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 94-96] The 9/11 Commission Report will state that the black boxes from the planes that crashed into the WTC “were not found.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 456] But firefighter Nicholas DeMasi, who works extensively in the wreckage of the WTC, will say he helped federal agents recover three black boxes at Ground Zero (see October 2001). [Swanson, 2003, pp. 108; Philadelphia Daily News, 10/28/2004]
Yassin al-Qadi, a Saudi multimillionaire businessman, was officially declared a terrorist financier in October 2001 (see October 12, 2001). [Arab News, 9/26/2002] That same month, a number of employees at Ptech, a Boston-based computer company that al-Qadi and other individuals suspected of financing officially designated terrorist groups invested in (see 1994), tell the Boston FBI about the connections between Ptech and al-Qadi. However, FBI agents do little more than take their statements. A high-level government source later will claim the FBI does not convey the Ptech-al-Qadi link to Operation Greenquest, a Customs Department investigation into al-Qadi and other suspected financiers, and none of the government agencies using Ptech software are warned about the possible security threat Ptech represents. [Boston Globe, 12/7/2002; WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002] According to a private counterterrorism expert involved in investigating Ptech at the time, “Frighteningly, when an employee told [Ptech president Oussama Ziade] he felt he had to contact the FBI regarding al-Qadi’s involvement in the company, the president allegedly told him not to worry because Yaqub Mirza, who was on the board of directors of the company and was himself a target of a [Greenquest] terrorist financing raid in March 2002 (see March 20, 2002), had contacts high within the FBI.” [National Review, 5/27/2003] A Ptech investigation will finally begin in 2002 after more whistleblowers come forward (see May-December 5, 2002).
Not long after people start dying from the anthrax attacks in October 2001 (see October 5-November 21, 2001), future suspect Bruce Ivins works with the FBI team investigating the attacks. Ivins works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. He and about 90 USAMRIID colleagues work long hours to test thousands of samples of suspect powder to see if they contain real anthrax. [New York Times, 8/7/2008; Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008] There are about 100 people in USAMRIID’s bacteriological division, including technicians and assistants. [New York Times, 8/9/2008] Within days of the attacks being discovered, there are about six people crowded at Ivins’s desk working on the anthrax, and other desks at USAMRIID are similarly crowded. Ivins helps analyze one of the letters containing real anthrax, the one sent to Senator Tom Daschle (D-SD), and goes to the Pentagon to discuss the results of his testing with officials there. Court documents will later claim that Ivins also repeatedly offers the FBI names of colleagues at USAMRIID who might be potential suspects in the attacks. The FBI will later claim he was attempting to mislead the investigation. [New York Times, 8/7/2008; Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008]
Mohammed Azmath, left, and Syed Gul Mohammad Shah/ Ayub Ali Khan, right. [Source: Associated Press]The New York Times reports that, although 830 people have been arrested in the 9/11 terrorism investigation (a number that eventually exceeds between 1,200 and 2,000 (see November 5, 2001), there is no evidence that anyone now in custody was a conspirator in the 9/11 attacks. Furthermore, “none of the nearly 100 people still being sought by the [FBI] is seen as a major suspect.” Of all the people arrested, only four, Zacarias Moussaoui, Ayub Ali Khan, Mohammed Azmath, and Nabil al-Marabh, are likely connected to al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 10/21/2001] Three of those are later cleared of ties to al-Qaeda. After being kept in solitary confinement for more than eight months without seeing a judge or being assigned a lawyer, al-Marabh pleads guilty to the minor charge of entering the United States illegally (see September 3, 2002) and is deported to Syria (see January 2004). There is considerable evidence al-Marabh did have ties to al-Qaeda and even the 9/11 plot (see September 2000; January 2001-Summer 2001; January 2001-Summer 2001; Spring 2001; Early September 2001). [Washington Post, 6/12/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 8/27/2002] On September 12, 2002, after a year in solitary confinement and four months before he was able to contact a lawyer, Mohammed Azmath pleads guilty to one count of credit card fraud, and is released with time served. Ayub Ali Khan, whose real name is apparently Syed Gul Mohammad Shah, is given a longer sentence for credit card fraud, but is released and deported by the end of 2002. [Village Voice, 9/25/2002; New York Times, 12/31/2002] By December 2002, only 6 are known to still be in custody, and none have been charged with any terrorist acts (see December 11, 2002). On September 24, 2001, Newsweek reported that “the FBI has privately estimated that more than 1,000 individuals—most of them foreign nationals—with suspected terrorist ties are currently living in the United States.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001]
A Washington Post article hints at the US government’s use rendition and torture. It refers to four suspects out of the hundreds arrested in the US—Zacarias Moussaoui, Nabil al-Marabh, Ayub Ali Khan, and Mohammed Azmath—who may actually have links to al-Qaeda (see October 20, 2001). The article quotes an “experienced FBI agent involved in the investigation,” who says: “We are known for humanitarian treatment, so basically we are stuck.… Usually there is some incentive, some angle to play, what you can do for them. But it could get to that spot where we could go to pressure… where we won’t have a choice, and we are probably getting there.” The article goes on to mention: “Among the alternative strategies under discussion are using drugs or pressure tactics, such as those employed occasionally by Israeli interrogators, to extract information. Another idea is extraditing the suspects to allied countries where security services sometimes employ threats to family members or resort to torture.” [Washington Post, 10/21/2001] Although it is little known in the US at the time, the CIA has already been renditioning suspects to countries known for practicing torture (see September 23, 2001), and has made arrangements with NATO countries to increase the number of such renditions (see October 4, 2001). Azmath and Khan will later be cleared of al-Qaeda ties and released (see October 20, 2001). Al-Marabh will be deported to Syria under mysterious circumstances and rearrested by the Syrian government (see Spring 2004). Moussaoui will be sentenced to life in prison in the US (see May 3, 2006).
The US government no longer thinks al-Qaeda is behind the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The Washington Post reports in a front-page story: “Top FBI and CIA officials believe that the anthrax attacks… are likely the work of one or more extremists in the United States who are probably not connected to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist organization, government officials said yesterday.” An unnamed senior official adds, “Everything seems to lean toward a domestic source… Nothing seems to fit with an overseas terrorist type operation.” The Post suggests neo-Nazi and/or right-wing hate groups could be behind it. [Washington Post, 10/27/2001] Not long after, the FBI releases a profile of the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks. He is suspected of being a lone, male domestic terrorist, with a scientific background and laboratory experience who could handle hazardous materials. [St. Petersburg Times, 11/10/2001]
Attorney General John Ashcroft issues a second terror alert for the month (see October 11-29, 2001). The intelligence received by the FBI does not, he says, “contain specific information as to the type of attack or specific targets.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 36]
Melek Can Dickerson begins working for the FBI as a Turkish translator with top security clearance. She joins Sibel Edmonds and Kevin Taskasen (see September 20, 2001 and Early October 2001, respectively) as the FBI’s only Turkish translators. The FBI hired Dickerson without verifying that the information she provided on her application was correct. Had the bureau done this they would have learned that she spent two years working as an intern for the American-Turkish Council (ATC), a group that is being investigated by the FBI’s own counterintelligence unit and whose phone calls she will be listening in on as an FBI translator. [Anti-War (.com), 7/1/2004] On her application, Dickerson failed to disclose that she had worked for the organization. She also hid her tie to the group when she was interviewed as part of her background security check. [Vanity Fair, 9/2005] According to Sibel Edmonds, it’s not clear that Dickerson’s background check was ever completed. [Anti-War (.com), 7/1/2004]
Thomas Wales. [Source: FBI]Newly appointed US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) begins investigating the murder of Thomas C. Wales, an Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) in the office. Wales, a popular AUSA and a strong advocate of gun control, was murdered three weeks before McKay took office, when someone shot and killed him through his basement window. Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis had recused the office from investigating the crime, because, McKay will later state, the Justice Department (DOJ) had no confidence in the prosecutor initially assigned to the case. Moreover, as the case was a likely candidate for a death penalty prosecution, he will tell a reporter that the office is recused because “[y]ou couldn’t have Tom’s friends in the office making those kinds of decisions.”
Begins Pressuring Justice Department - Shortly after taking office, McKay begins pressuring Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Larry Thompson to replace the prosecutor on the Wales case. McKay will recall having several “tense conversations” with Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Christopher Wray concerning this issue. In March 2002, the DOJ assigns a more experienced prosecutor to the case. The DOJ sends no additional manpower to Seattle to help with the case, and initially offers a $25,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the killer, an amount FBI Special Agent Charles Mandigo will later call “insultingly small.” (After McKay’s intervention, the DOJ later raises the reward to $1 million.) McKay later says that while he is not directly involved in the investigation, he pushed hard for the DOJ to commit more resources to the investigation, and felt it was his responsibility to act as a conduit between the Seattle FBI office and the DOJ regarding resources for the case. He will say that while he was assertive, he remained professional and appropriate in his conduct; no one in the DOJ ever complained to him about his actions, he will say. “My mistake was that I assumed ‘recusal’ was ‘recusal’,” he will say. “I had erred in assuming that I was completely recused from even asking questions about the allocation of resources. I assumed it would have the highest priority within the Department of Justice. I once worked at the FBI for a year, and during that time an agent was killed in Las Vegas. They deploy like crazy when an agent is killed. Agents got off the airplane that night from DC to investigate. The director of the FBI flew out. That was not the reaction we were getting from the Department of Justice after Tom Wales was killed. Over 2002, I decided that really it should be my job to advocate for appropriate resources to be devoted to the Wales case.”
Speculation as to Politicization of Investigation - Many involved in the investigation believe that the Wales murder is a low priority for the DOJ because his liberal politics clash with the rightward tilt of the senior officials appointed by the Bush administration.
Aggressive but Appropriate - A 2008 Justice Department investigation of the 2006 US Attorney firings (see September 29, 2008) will find no reason to dispute McKay’s recollection of events. Both Thompson and Wray will describe McKay as being aggressive about making sure the investigation has adequate resources. Thompson will recall no tension between himself and McKay, though he will recall some of his then-staff members complaining about McKay’s pressure and demands for resources. Thompson will admit to becoming irritated with McKay on occasion, but will emphasize that McKay conducted himself in an appropriate manner at all times. It was “not new in the annals of the Department of Justice [that] a DAG got aggravated with a US Attorney,” he will say. He will not recall discussing the matter with Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the architect of the plan to fire the US Attorneys (see November 15, 2006). Wray will recall that some in the DOJ considered McKay to be “high maintenance,” in regard to the Wales investigation and with other issues. While some in the DAG’s office informally discussed McKay’s behavior among themselves, Wray will recall, no formal review of his conduct was ever undertaken. Wray will also not recall any discussions with Sampson, though he will say he kept Gonzales’s office apprised of the events surrounding the Wales investigation. Margolis will recall McKay being somewhat emotional about the Wales case and extremely pushy, he found his conduct entirely justifiable considering the situation. Margolis will say that he doubts Sampson would have listed McKay for removal because of his interactions with Thompson. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Remains Unsolved - The Wales murder will remain unsolved. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007]
Entity Tags: D. Kyle Sampson, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Christopher Wray, Charles Mandigo, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John L. McKay, Thomas C. Wales, David Margolis, Larry D. Thompson
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Dennis Saccher, the FBI’s special agent in charge of Turkish counter-intelligence, develops suspicions about Melek Can Dickerson, a translator in his department who has lost information on several wiretaps and who he believes has forged signatures on certain documents. He reports his concerns to the FBI headquarters and his boss, Supervisory Special Agent Tom Frields. [Anti-War (.com), 8/22/2005]
FBI agent Jack Cloonan arrives in Sudan with several other FBI agents and is given permission by the Sudanese government to interview some al-Qaeda operatives living there. The interviews were conducted at safe houses arranged by Sudanese intelligence. Cloonan interviews Mubarak al Duri, an Iraqi. He lived in Tuscon, Arizona, in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was al-Qaeda’s chief agent attempting to purchase weapons of mass destruction (see 1986). Cloonan will later claim that al Duri and a second Iraqi al-Qaeda operative laughed when asked about possible bin Laden ties to Saddam Hussein’s government. “They said bin Laden hated Saddam.” Bin Laden considered Hussein “a Scotch-drinking, woman-chasing apostate.” Cloonan also interviews Mohammed Loay Bayazid, an American citizen and founding member of al-Qaeda (see August 11-20, 1988), who ran an al-Qaeda charity front in the US (see December 16, 1994). [Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2005] The CIA will interview them in 2002, but they apparently remain free in Sudan (see Mid-2002).
Mohamed Alanssi, a Yemeni currently in the US on business, goes to the FBI’s New York field office to offer his services as an informant against al-Qaeda. He offers the bureau information on alleged al-Qaeda financers working in Yemen and quickly becomes an important mole. His case is handled by Robert Fuller, an FBI agent who failed to locate the 9/11 hijackers in the US before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001, September 4-5, 2001, and September 4-5, 2001). Alanssi travels to Yemen to gather intelligence on occasions, and will film a key terrorism financier, Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad, making incriminating statements in 2003 (see January 2003). In an affidavit supporting Moayad’s arrest warrant, Fuller will say that he has been working with a Yemeni informant, apparently Alanssi, since November 2001 and that the informant has provided reliable information and “contributed, in part, to the arrests of 20 individuals and the seizure of over $1 million.” However, the relationship between Alanssi and the bureau will later go sour and Alanssi will immolate himself in front of the White House (see November 15, 2004). [Washington Post, 11/16/2004]
A classified report by the FBI’s Investigative Services Division says: “In addition to frequent and sustained interaction between and among the hijackers of the various flights before September 11, the group maintained a web of contacts both in the United States and abroad. These associates, ranging in degrees of closeness, include friends and associates from universities and flight schools, former roommates, people they knew through mosques and religious activities, and employment contacts. Other contacts provided legal, logistical, or financial assistance, facilitated US entry and flight school enrollment, or were known from [Osama bin Laden]-related activities or training.” [Sperry, 2005, pp. 67-68] But in June 2002, FBI Director Robert Mueller will contradict this, saying: “To this day we have found no one in the United States except the actual hijackers who knew of the plot.… As far as we know, they contacted no known terrorist sympathizers in the United States” (see June 18, 2002).
Juma al-Dosari. [Source: PBS]In November 2001, al-Qaeda operative Juma al-Dosari is captured in Afghanistan. He is soon transferred to the Guantanamo prison. During interrogation in the spring of 2002, he reveals several aliases and that he was trying to recruit a group of US citizens in New York state known as the “Lackawanna Six.” Based on the aliases, US intelligence realizes they have already intercepted communications between him and Osama bin Laden’s son Saad bin Laden, and also him and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. They learn he has a long history with al-Qaeda, having fought in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Chechnya. He was arrested in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia on different occasions for involvement in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombings (see June 25, 1996). He first went to the US in 1999, staying several months in Indiana. Then he got a job at a mosque in Bloomington, Indiana, in the autumn of 2000. He began traveling around the US as a visiting imam, but investigators believe this was just his cover while he worked to recruit for al-Qaeda. In April 2001, he visited Buffalo, New York, and helped convince the “Lackawanna Six” to go to Afghanistan (see April-August 2001). He left the US for Afghanistan in late September 2001. The FBI gets this information in May 2002 and begins monitoring the “Lackawanna Six,” as they are all back in the US. Investigators suspect al-Dosari recruited others in other cities, but they do not know who. [PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003; PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003] In 2007, al-Dosari will be released from Guantanamo without explanation and set free in Saudi Arabia (see July 16, 2007).
Mohammed Junaid Babar. [Source: London Times]In early November 2001, a young man using the name Mohammad Junaid appears in several print interviews in Pakistan. He appears unmasked in video interviews shown on CNN in the US and ITN in Britain. He says that he is going to fight US soldiers in Afghanistan with the Taliban even though he is a US citizen and his mother was in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and barely survived the attack. He says, “I will kill every American that I see in Afghanistan, and every American I see in Pakistan.” In fact, his full name is Mohammed Junaid Babar. [Boston Globe, 11/6/2001; London Times, 5/3/2007] He is a long-time member of Al-Muhajiroun, a radical Islamist group based in Britain but which also has a New York branch that Babar is involved with. [Guardian, 4/30/2007]
Placed on Watch List and Monitored - Babar is immediately placed on no-fly watch lists and monitored by intelligence agencies. The Washington Post will later report, “US counterterrorism officials said Babar first hit their radar screen in late 2001…” [Washington Post, 7/25/2005] Jon Gilbert, who interviews him in Pakistan in November 2001, will later say, “The authorities had been diligently tracking him since the day our first interview had been aired.” Babar left the US shortly after the 9/11 attack, and apparently had no ties with Islamist militants prior to his departure.
Babar Lives in Pakistan, Works with Al-Qaeda - He does not return there for some time. Instead, he lives in Pakistan and frequently makes trips to Britain (but is not stopped from coming or going, despite being on the watch list). He becomes increasingly involved in helping al-Qaeda with logistics, such as fund-raising, supplying equipment from overseas, and helping to set up training camps in Pakistan’s tribal regions. He also becomes actively involved in a fertilizer bomb plot in Britain. in 2002, he sometimes he attends talks by radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri with other members of the fertilizer plot in London’s Finsbury Park mosque. [Washington Post, 7/25/2005; Guardian, 4/30/2007; London Times, 5/3/2007]
Monitored Meeting with Key Militants - Meanwhile, intelligence agencies continue to monitor him. Details on such surveillance are scanty, but he apparently is monitored meeting with lead 7/7 London bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan in England in 2003 (see 2003). Newsweek will also later mention that “Babar was tracked flying off [in early 2004] to South Waziristan in Pakistan, where he attended what some analysts believe was a terror summit that included the notorious al-Qaeda operative Adnan Shukrijumah and Dhiren Barot, the operative suspected of casing New York financial institutions a few years earlier” (see March 2004). His Internet use at a public library is also monitored, and he is said to exchange messages with al-Qaeda operatives. [Newsweek, 1/24/2005]
Arrested in US - Babar finally returns to the US on April 6, 2004, although why he does this is a mystery since his confederates in the fertilizer bomb plot had been arrested in Canada, Britain, and Pakistan just days earlier, and their arrests had been immediately publicized (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). Babar is arrested by the FBI four days after his arrival, and quickly begins completely cooperating with the authorities (see April 10, 2004).
Suspicions He Was US Agent Since 2001 - The London Times will later comment, “Some suggest that he may have already been an FBI agent” before he was arrested. [London Times, 5/3/2007] The BBC will similarly say, “Inevitably there were suspicions that he’d been an FBI agent all along.” [BBC, 5/25/2007] But while that issue remains unclear, he proves to be an increasingly valuable source of information about al-Qaeda as more is learned about what he knows. One US law enforcement official will say in late 2005, “This guy’s connection to different cells and plots just seems to be expanding. He is the fish that is getting bigger.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2005]
The FBI alerts InfraGard members (see 1996-2008) of a potential terrorist threat to bridges in California. Officials of Enron are also notified. However, the FBI does not immediately notify California governor Gray Davis, who learns of the threat from his brother, Barry Davis, an employee of the financial firm Morgan Stanley. Davis’s press secretary, Steve Maviglio, later recalls: “[Governor Davis] said his brother talked to him before the FBI. And the governor got a lot of grief for releasing the information. In his defense, he said, ‘I was on the phone with my brother, who is an investment banker. And if he knows, why shouldn’t the public know?‘… You’d think an elected official would be the first to know, not the last.” [Progressive, 2/7/2008]
Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline. [Source: PBS]An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Sperzel, Newsweek, Saddam Hussein, Taliban, New York Times, Sabah Khodada, Washington Post, United Nations, Vanity Fair, Nabeel Musawi, Public Broadcasting System, Mother Jones, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, Chris Hedges, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Mukhabarat, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Francis Brooke, Lowell Bergman, Michael Isikoff, Mohammed al-Zubaidi, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Jamal al-Ghurairy, Jack Fairweather, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Buchanan, Iraqi National Congress
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
Attorney General John Ashcroft announces that the Justice Department is now on what he calls a “wartime footing.” The agency is revamping its priorities to refocus its efforts on battling terrorism. According to Ashcroft, a plan, which he intends to submit to Congress, mandates a reorganization of the Justice Department, as well as component agencies such as the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), both of which will be overhauled to take a more aggressive stance in the effort to ward off terrorism. The plan will take five years to fully implement. Ashcroft is reticent about the details of the plans, but some proposals include:
Allowing federal prison authorities to eavesdrop on prisoners conferring with their attorneys, effectively voiding the attorney-client privilege, if those prisoners are considered to be a threat to national security;
Redirecting 10 percent of the Justice Department’s budget, or about $2.5 billion, to counterterrorism efforts;
Restructuring the INS to focus on identifying, deporting, and prosecuting illegal aliens, with a special focus on potential terrorists.
The eavesdropping privilege causes an immediate stir among civil libertarians and Constitutional scholars. Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker notes that the order has already been published in the Federal Register and is, essentially, the law. Information gathered by authorities during such eavesdropping sessions would not be used in criminal prosecutions of the suspects, Tucker promises. “The team that listens is not involved in the criminal proceedings,” she says. “There’s a firewall there.” Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says he agrees with the general idea of refocusing the agency on terrorism, but suggests Ashcroft’s plan be reviewed by an existing commission that is now examining the FBI’s counterintelligence operations. That commission is headed by former FBI Director William Webster. Leahy’s fellow senator, Charles Grassley (R-IA), says: “As with any reorganization, the devil will be in the details. I hope for new accountability measures, not just structural changes.” Ashcroft says: “Defending our nation and defending the citizens of America against terrorist attacks is now our first and overriding priority. To fulfill this mission, we are devoting all the resources necessary to eliminate terrorist networks, to prevent terrorist attacks, and to bring to justice all those who kill Americans in the name of murderous ideologies.” [New York Times, 11/3/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 35] “It is amazing to me that Ashcroft is essentially trying to dismantle the bureau,” says a former FBI executive director. “They don’t know their history and they are not listening to people who do.” [Harper's, 12/4/2001]
Th Los Angeles Times reports, “The FBI is increasingly convinced that the person behind the recent anthrax attacks is a lone wolf within the United States who has no links to terrorist groups but is an opportunist using the Sept. 11 hijackings to vent his rage…” The FBI is said to base this conclusion on “case studies, handwriting and linguistic analysis, forensic data and other evidence.” FBI investigators say they are looking for “an adult male with at least limited scientific expertise who was able to use laboratory equipment easily obtained for as little as $2,500 to produce high-quality anthrax.” They believe he is an “anti-social loner” who “has little contact with the public and carries deep-seated resentments but does not like direct confrontation.” However, these investigators admit that psychological profiling is a rough science, especially since they have little more than a small number of words written on the anthrax-laced letters. The letters appear to have tried to frame Muslims for the attacks. For instance, each letter contains the phrase “Allah is great.” Investigators say they are not completely ruling out an overseas connection to the letters, such as an Iraqi or Russian connection, but they consider it very unlikely. Investigators have not explained why they are so confident the attacks were caused by only one person. [Los Angeles Times, 11/10/2001]
Aysel Senguen. [Source: CBC]Authorities in the US discover a letter apparently written by Flight 93 hijacker Ziad Jarrah. It is believed the four-page letter, dated September 10, was written just hours before the 9/11 attacks. It is part of a package Jarrah mailed from the US to his Turkish girlfriend Aysel Senguen, a medical student living in the western German city of Bochum. The letter says, “I have done what I had to do.… You should be very proud, because it is an honor and in the end you will see that everyone will be happy.” It adds, “Hold on to what you have until we see each other again.” The package arrived in Germany shortly after September 11. However, due to Jarrah having made an error in writing the address, it was returned to the US and ended up in the hands of the FBI. Oddly, considering the letter is supposedly Jarrah’s farewell to Senguen, the rest of his package reportedly includes papers about his flight training and scuba-diving instructions. It is believed to also contain some small presents. Ziad’s uncle Jamal Jarrah says he thinks the letter is fabricated, and that it is suspicious that the address on it contained a mistake, as Ziad had known his girlfriend for five years and would not have made such an error. [Associated Press, 11/17/2001; Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001; Observer, 11/18/2001; Daily Telegraph, 11/18/2001; BBC, 11/19/2001]
Asif Kasi. [Source: New York Times / Jessica Kourkounis]The FBI investigates three Pakistani-born city officials in Chester, Pennsylvania, for possible roles in the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The three are Asif Kazi, an accountant in the city’s finance department, Dr. Irshad Shaikh, the city’s health commissioner, and his brother Dr. Masood Shaikh, who runs the city’s lead-abatement program. Kazi is in his city hall office when FBI agents burst in and interrogate him. He is questioned for hours about an unknown liquid he had been seen carrying out of his house. In fact, the dishwasher had broken down and he was bailing out his kitchen. Meanwhile, agents with drawn guns knock down the front door to his house while his wife is cooking in the kitchen. Dozens of boxes are carried out of the house. Agents in bioprotection suits also search the Shaikh brothers’ house and carry away their computers. None of the three ever had any connection to anthrax and none of them are arrested. The searches are national news for several days, severely damaging their reputations. Three days after the raid, an FBI agent tells the Washington Post that the raid did not pan out. The FBI learns that a disgruntled employee had called in a bogus tip. But the FBI never publicly clears them. [Washington Post, 11/15/2001; Newsweek, 8/4/2002; New York Times, 8/9/2008] Even a year later, an FBI spokesperson says the raids are still “a pending matter.” [Associated Press, 9/5/2002] Trouble for the three men will continue. The Shaikh brothers’ applications for US citizenship is blocked, their visas run out, and they both eventually have to leave the US. Kazi is already a US citizen, but he is put on a no-fly watch list. He is searched and interrogated for a couple of hours every time he travels in or out of the US. His name will finally be taken off the list in 2007. [New York Times, 8/9/2008]
For the first time, a major newspaper publishes an article strongly suggesting Flight 93 was shot down. The Philadelphia Daily News quotes numerous eyewitnesses who believe the plane was shot down. The FBI has reported a half-ton piece of an engine was found “a considerable distance” from the main crash site. “That information is intriguing to shootdown theory proponents, since the heat-seeking, air-to-air Sidewinder missiles aboard an F-16 would likely target one of the Boeing 757’s two large engines.” The article concludes, “No one has fully explained why the plane went down, or what exactly happened during an eight-minute gap from the time all cell phone calls from the plane stopped and the time it crashed.” [Philadelphia Daily News, 11/15/2001]
Atif Ahmed, an alleged co-conspirator of Zacarias Moussaoui, is arrested in London, but is released soon after. Ahmed was named as an associate by Moussaoui in August (see August 17, 2001) and the arrest follows a search of his flat, which produces enough evidence for an arrest warrant. The FBI works closely on the case with the New York Police Department and London police, and evidence about Ahmed comes from various parts of the FBI’s 9/11 investigation. Investigators also find a phone call that suggests Ahmed and Moussaoui were working together. [ABC News, 11/14/2001] However, Ahmed is released a few days later and British security sources will later describe Ahmed as a minor figure in the London Islamist underground. [Financial Times, 9/19/2002] Moussaoui will later claim that Ahmed is a British agent and had foreknowledge of 9/11 (see July 25, 2002).
In mid-November 2001, a second anthrax letter appears in Senator Tom Daschle’s office. According to a later Washington Post article, “This [letter] had passed through irradiation equipment to kill anthrax spores, and the powdery material packed in the envelope tested benign.” Details about the letter are scanty, but it is known that it is postmarked in mid-November from London. The white powder apparently is harmless talc. The letter contains similar language to the real anthrax letters, except the phrase “Stop the bombing” is added. Scientist Steven Hatfill, who is already starting to come under suspicion for the anthrax attacks (see Late 2001), is in Britain at the time, attending a specialized training course to become a UN weapons inspector in Iraq. The course takes place about 70 miles from London. This increases suspicions on Hatfill and the FBI asks British police to help retrace his every move. But it is never shown that he had anything to do with the letter. It is unknown if the letter contains any writing or other clues that would match the deadly anthrax letters. [Associated Press, 1/4/2002; Washington Post, 9/14/2003]
Oded Ellner, one of the five Israelis arrested on 9/11. [Source: Public domain via Israeli television]The five Israelis arrested on 9/11 for videotaping the WTC attack and then cheering about it (see 3:56 p.m. September 11, 2001) are released and deported to Israel. Some of the men’s names had appeared in a US national intelligence database, and the FBI has concluded that at least two of the men were working for the Mossad, according to ABC News. However, the FBI says that none of the Israelis had any advanced knowledge of the 9/11 attacks, and they were released as part of a deal between the US and the Israeli government. After their release, they claim to have been tortured. [Forward, 3/15/2002; ABC News, 6/21/2002]
The remains of all but one of the people on board Flight 77, including the hijackers, are identified. However, the identities of the hijackers have still not been confirmed through their remains, and the FBI does not provide DNA profiles of the hijackers to medical examiners for identification. [NFPA Journal, 11/1/2001; Washington Post, 11/21/2001; Mercury, 1/11/2002] As of mid-2004, there still have been no reports that the hijackers’ remains have been identified by their DNA, except possibly for two unnamed hijackers.
Salim Hamdan is captured in Afghanistan. [Guantanamo Military Commissions, 11/20/2007 ] Hamdan is an Arab who has lived in Afghanistan for some time and has some knowledge about al-Qaeda and its operations there. He will later become well known after he is transferred to Guantanamo and engages in a series of legal battles to gain his freedom (see November 8, 2004 and June 30, 2006). [USA Today, 7/24/2008; Reuters, 7/24/2008] At some point, he is handed over to the FBI. However, agents for the bureau do not read him his Miranda rights. “Our policy at the time was not to read Miranda rights,” FBI special agent Robert Fuller will say in testimony at a US military commission hearing for Hamdan. Reuters will later write, “Similar warnings must be given to suspects in US military custody, and suspects overseas who may face US charges commonly receive warnings.” FBI special agent Stewart Kelley will say, “If they are a suspect, and they are detained, a Miranda is usually given.” [Reuters, 7/24/2008]
Salim Hamdan, a detainee with some knowledge about al-Qaeda who was captured in late November, takes FBI agents on two tours of facilities associated with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Hamdan and the agents twice drive around Kandahar in the months after his capture and he points out compounds owned by Osama bin Laden, including Tarnak Farms, and guest houses where al-Qaeda members could safely stay, which the agents take pictures of. Robert Fuller, one of the agents who accompanies Hamdan, will later say: “The first compound, when we arrived to it, it was destroyed. No roof was left.” The second compound is intact, and “in great shape,” according to Fuller. Hamdan also tells the FBI of his time at a training camp, but says he only stayed for a month and then returned to a guest house to be with his family. In addition, he identifies several high-ranking al-Qaeda officials and describes visits by bin Laden and other al-Qaeda figures to the camp. They gave speeches and “offered words of encouragement,” according to FBI agent Craig Donnachie. [USA Today, 7/24/2008; Reuters, 7/24/2008] Despite this co-operation, Hamdan will be transferred to Guantanamo, held there for years, and prosecuted in a military commission (see June 30, 2006).
The newly adopted USA Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001) allows FBI field offices to issue, without court orders, so-called “national security letters,” or NSLs, that require recipients—telecommunications firms, employers, libraries, anyone—to provide detailed information on their clients, employees, and patrons. The FBI’s Office of General Counsel warns each field office of the potential for abuse inherent in such powerful and relatively unrestricted instruments, writing in part: “NSLs are powerful investigative tools in that they can compel the production of substantial amounts of relevant information. However, they must be used judiciously.… In deciding whether or not to re-authorize the broadened authority, Congress certainly will examine the manner in which the FBI exercised it. Executive Order 12333 and the FCIG [Attorney General Guidelines for FBI Foreign Intelligence Collection and Counterintelligence Investigations] require that the FB[I] accomplish its investigations through the ‘least intrusive’ means. Supervisors should keep this in mind when deciding whether or not a particular use of NSL authority is appropriate. The greater availability of NSLs does not mean that they should be used in every case.” This warning not to overuse NSLs is not always heeded (see February 2005 and Before Mid-March, 2007). [Wired News, 7/10/2007]
Former FBI director William Webster and eight former FBI officials publicly criticize Attorney General John Ashcroft’s post-9/11 policies (see Spring 2001, September 12, 2001, October 9, 2001, October 11, 2001, and November 9, 2001). The criticisms come less over Ashcroft’s civil liberties abrogations and more because Ashcroft’s policies violate law-enforcement common sense. By capturing suspected low-level terrorists in public sweeps, the Justice Department and the FBI lose the ability to track those suspects to their superiors in their organizations and groups. (None of the 900 or so suspects rounded up in the Ashcroft sweeps will be charged with any 9/11-related crimes—see October 20, 2001 and November 5, 2001.) [Rich, 2006, pp. 35-36] Webster says that long-term surveillance and undercover operations are much more effective than mass arrests. [Harper's, 12/4/2001] The former FBI officials also ridicule Ashcroft’s idea of interviewing 5,000 Middle Eastern men (none of whom will ever be convicted of a terrorism-related crime). Kenneth Walton, who founded the FBI’s first Joint Terrorism Task Force, says: “It’s the Perry Mason school of law enforcement, where you put them in there and they confess. Well, it just doesn’t work that way. You say, ‘Tell me everything you know,’ and they give you the recipe to Mom’s chicken soup.… It is ridiculous.” Most of those “invited” to interview never showed up, the officials note, and those who did merely answered “yes” or “no” to rote questions. [Time, 11/29/2001; Rich, 2006, pp. 35-36] Many local police officers are reluctant to participate in Ashcroft’s public sweeps. Eugene, Oregon police spokeswoman Pam Alejandere tells reporters, “Give us some legitimate reason to talk to the people—other than that they’re from the Middle East—and we’ll be glad to.” [Time, 11/29/2001]
The National Security Agency begins sending data—consisting of telephone numbers, e-mail addresses, and names—to the FBI that was obtained through surveillance of international communications originating within the US (see After September 11, 2001 and October 2001). The NSA sends so much data, in fact, that hundreds of agents are needed to investigate the thousands of tips per month that the data is generating. However, virtually all of this information leads to dead ends and/or innocent people. FBI officials repeatedly complain that the unfiltered information is bogging down the bureau: according to over a dozen current and former law enforcement and counterterrorism officials, the flood of tips provide them and their colleagues with very few real leads against terrorism suspect. Instead, the NSA data diverts agents from more productive work. Some FBI officials view the NSA data as pointless and likely illegal intrusions on citizens’ privacy. Initially, FBI director Robert Mueller asks senior administration officials “whether the program had a proper legal foundation,” but eventually defers to Justice Department legal opinions. One former FBI agent will later recall, “We’d chase a number, find it’s a schoolteacher with no indication they’ve ever been involved in international terrorism—case closed. After you get a thousand numbers and not one is turning up anything, you get some frustration.” A former senior prosecutor will add, “It affected the FBI in the sense that they had to devote so many resources to tracking every single one of these leads, and, in my experience, they were all dry leads. A trained investigator never would have devoted the resources to take those leads to the next level, but after 9/11, you had to.” Former NSA director Bobby Ray Inman says that the problem between the FBI and the NSA may stem in part from their very different approaches. Signals intelligence, the technical term for the NSA’s communications intercepts, rarely produces “the complete information you’re going to get from a document or a witness” in a traditional FBI investigation, he says. And many FBI officials are uncomfortable with the NSA’s domestic operations, since by law the NSA is precluded from operating inside US borders except under very specific circumstances. [New York Times, 1/17/2006]
The Forward, a popular Jewish weekly in the US, will later report that at the end of 2001, the Israeli government admits to having conducted a large-scale spying operation in the US before 9/11, using art students and moving vans as cover stories. The Forward quotes an anonymous former US official said to have been regularly briefed about the US investigation into Israeli spying: “The assessment was that Urban Moving Systems was a front for the Mossad and operatives employed by it. The conclusion of the FBI was that they were spying on local Arabs but that they could [be deported] because they did not know anything about 9/11.” He further claims that US officials confront the Israeli government at this time and Israel privately admits the operation while continuing to publicly deny it. Israel privately apologizes for violating a secret gentlemen’s agreement between the two countries under which espionage on each other’s soil is coordinated in advance. The Forward notes, “Most experts and former officials interviewed for this article said that such so-called unilateral or uncoordinated Israeli monitoring of radical Muslims in America would not be surprising.” [Forward, 3/15/2002] In 2007, Mark Perelman, the author of the 2002 Forward story that made these claims, will say he still stands by his story and his sources in the Mossad don’t deny it. CounterPunch also will claim to independently confirm Israel’s admission through two former CIA officers. [CounterPunch, 2/7/2007]
Security records indicate that Bruce Ivins, a scientist at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, extensively uses a “hot suite” laboratory in the evenings and at weekends around the times when the 2001 anthrax attacks letters are mailed (see Mid-August-October 2001). The security records are based on swipes of magnetized plastic access cards, and Ivins is the only one out of a handful of anthrax researchers at USAMRIID make such use of the laboratory. The Los Angeles Times will later note that these records were easily available to investigators in late 2001, but it is unknown when investigators first make note of them. [Los Angeles Times, 8/15/2008] Ivins will not be questioned about his after hours lab work until 2005 (see March 31, 2005).
After investigators discover in mid-October 2001 that the anthrax used in the anthrax attacks comes from the Ames strain (see October 10-11, 2001), the FBI investigation largely discards theories that al-Qaeda or Iraq was behind the attacks and begins to focus on domestic suspects. Within weeks, FBI investigators draw up lists of thousands of suspects who have access to anthrax or the scientific knowledge to work with it. Much of the initial investigation focuses on the US military’s bioweapons program, and especially the two US Army bioweapons laboratories, USAMRIID (in Maryland) and the Dugway Proving Ground (in Utah) which have heavily used the Ames strain. Mark Smith, a veteran handwriting analyst, studies the anthrax letters and speculates that the suspect has worked for or had close ties to US military intelligence or the CIA. An FBI agent who is also a microbiologist is sent to the Dugway Proving Ground and spends weeks questioning more than 100 employees there. Scientists there are repeatedly asked who they think could have committed the attacks. Several people suggest Steven Hatfill. There is no actual evidence against Hatfill, but he is a larger than life figure with a curious background. The Washington Post will later comment: “Hatfill was not some mild-mannered, white-coated researcher who’d spent his career quietly immersed in scientific minutiae. With his thick black mustache, intense eyes and muscular, stocky build, he looked—and behaved—more like a character in a Hollywood action flick.” He is a serious scientist, but colleagues call him “flamboyant,” “raunchy,” and “abrasive.” He has worked with a number of US agencies, including the CIA, FBI, DIA, and Defense Department, on classified bioweapons projects. He has a mysterious background working and studying in South Africa and Zimbabwe for a number of years. For instance, a South African newspaper will report that he carried a gun into South African medical laboratories and boasted to colleagues that he had trained bodyguards for a white separatist leader. He is one of a core group of about 50 to 100 people that the FBI begins focusing on. [Washington Post, 9/14/2003]
Abdur Rauf, a Pakistani microbiologist whose letters to Ayman al-Zawahiri were uncovered by coalition forces in Kandahar (see (1999-2001)), is arrested and interrogated by Pakistani police. US officials are initially satisfied by the cooperation they are receiving from Pakistan. Rauf consents to questioning and provides useful information. However, Pakistan resists US efforts to bring criminal charges, including indictment and prosecution in the United States. In 2003, Pakistani authorities will cut off FBI access to Rauf, claiming that there is not enough evidence to charge him. A 2006 report by the Washington Post will find that the scientist has been allowed to return to a normal life and that the FBI investigation is on “inactive status.” [Washington Post, 10/31/2006]
Bruce Ivins handling the Ames strain of anthrax. The timing of the photo is unknown, but he sent this picture to a friend in an e-mail on November 14, 2001. [Source: Associated Press]At some point in the winter of 2001, the FBI has Bruce Ivins take a polygraph test over the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Ivins is a microbiologist with expertise in anthrax, and works at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. The FBI’s investigation soon focuses on the possibility that the anthrax attacks could be caused by a single person working at a US lab such as USAMRIID (see November 10, 2001), so Ivins is a likely suspect. But at the same time, he is also assisting the FBI with the anthrax investigation (see Mid-October 2001). Ivins passes the test and retains his role assisting with the investigation. In 2002, more and more USAMRIID employees are given polygraph tests, but Ivins is not tested again. Gerry Andrews, Ivins’s boss at the time, will later explain that Ivins is already considered to be in the “safety zone” of cleared suspects. According to the Wall Street Journal, Ivins is never polygraphed again. [Wall Street Journal, 8/7/2008] However, WorldNetDaily will claim that Ivins is given a second polygraph test years later, after he becomes a prime suspect, and he passes that as well. The FBI will later grow so frustrated at the polygraph results that in October 2007 they will ask a judge for permission to search his home and cars specifically to look for any materials, such as books, that could have helped him “defeat a polygraph.” FBI handwriting analysts also are unable to match samples of Ivins’s handwriting with the writing on the anthrax letters. When this analysis is made is unknown. [WorldNetDaily, 8/7/2008] Justice Department official Dean Boyd will later say, “[Ivins] was told he had passed [the polygraph] because we thought he did.” But after Ivins comes under increased suspicion, the FBI had experts re-examine the polygraph results and concluded he had used “countermeasures” such as controlled breathing to cheat the test. However, the FBI has not publicly released the polygraph results and details of the testing remain murky. [Newsweek, 8/9/2008]
In December 2001, Germaine Lindsay, one of the suicide bombers in the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), travels to the US to visit his mother in Cleveland, Ohio. He is allegedly monitored by the FBI after spending a month-long holiday with her. It is unknown what causes the surveillance. He is just graduating from high school around this year. [Daily Mail, 7/24/2005] Lindsay will also allegedly come to the US in 2002 or 2003 and make contacts in New Jersey and Ohio, but details are sketchy. [ABC News, 7/15/2005] US intelligence is also given his name by British officials at some point in 2004 after his name comes up in the course of an investigation into a fertilizer bomb plot in Britain early that year (see 2004). At some point, the US places him on a terrorist watch list at the request of Britain. A US official will later say, “He was on the radar, then he was off the radar.” [Daily Mail, 7/16/2005] Shortly after the 7/7 bombings, British authorities will deny they had heard of Lindsay prior to the bombings, but in early 2006 Newsweek will report that they “now concede they may have.” [Newsweek, 2/5/2006]
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is allegedly first linked to the 9/11 plot around this time. According to an unnamed US counterterrorism official speaking to a reporter in June 2002 (see June 4, 2002), when KSM is first publicly identified as the 9/11 mastermind, “within three months” of 9/11, the FBI learns that KSM was involved in some financial transactions related to the funding of the 9/11 attacks. [Associated Press, 6/4/2002] KSM is also connected to the 9/11 hijackers in another way in November 2001 (see (November 2001)).
Shortly after the October 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), suspicions focus on USAMRIID, the US Army’s top biological laboratory, as one of the few places where people would have the skills to make the anthrax. In December 2001, one USAMRIID scientist raises the issue of possible anthrax contamination in the lab. Another USAMRIID scientist, Bruce Ivins, takes it upon himself to investigate. He discovers traces of anthrax near his desk, which is away from the lab facilities where he and others work with anthrax and other dangerous substances. He swabs the area clean and decontaminates it. Then he delays filing a report about this for three months. The FBI is suspicious of this, and begins to consider Ivins as a possible suspect. But in sworn statements to the Army in May 2002, Ivins says he avoided filing a report because he did not want to cause an uproar in the facility with people worrying that they were contaminated. He also suggests that a sloppy lab technician could have spread anthrax from secured work spaces to unsecured ones including the desk area. The Army finishes a 300-plus page report that same month. The report concludes the anthrax contamination was accidental and not potentially deadly, and no discipline is recommended against anyone. But after Ivins’s death in 2008, the unnamed officer who wrote the report will say: “Of course I think [Ivins’s cleaning of the area] was a cover-up.… He was trying to clean up the material” used in the anthrax letters. The report is made available to the FBI, but it is unknown if the FBI makes use of it at the time. By this time, the FBI is more interested in investigating former USAMRIID scientist Steven Hatfill and they put aside their concerns about Ivins. Instead, Ivins remains deeply involved in assisting the FBI’s anthrax investigation (see April 2002). [ABC News, 8/1/2008; Los Angeles Times, 8/15/2008]
On December 3, 2001, New York Times reporter Judith Miller telephones officials with the Holy Land Foundation charity in Texas and asks them to comment about what she says is a government raid on the charity planned for the next day. Then in a December 4, 2001, New York Times article, Miller writes that President Bush is about to announce that the US is freezing the assets of Holy Land and two other financial groups, all for supporting Hamas. US officials will later argue that Miller’s phone call and article “increased the likelihood that the foundation destroyed or hid records before a hastily organized raid by agents that day.” Later in the month, a similar incident occurs. On December 13, New York Times reporter Philip Shenon telephones officials at the Global Relief Foundation in Illinois and asks them to comment about an imminent government crackdown on that charity. The FBI learns that some Global Relief employees may be destroying documents. US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald had been investigating the charities. He had been wiretapping Global Relief and another charity in hopes of learning evidence of criminal activity, but after the leak he changes plans and carries out a hastily arranged raid on the charity the next day (see December 14, 2001). Fitzgerald later seeks records from the New York Times to find out who in the Bush administration leaked information about the upcoming raids to Miller and Shenon. However, in 2005 Fitzgerald will lose the case. It is still not known who leaked the information to the New York Times nor what their motives were. Ironically, Fitzgerald will succeed in forcing Miller to reveal information about her sources in another extremely similar legal case in 2005 involving the leaking of the name of CIA agent Valerie Plame. [New York Times, 12/4/2001; New York Times, 12/15/2001; Washington Post, 9/10/2004; Washington Post, 2/25/2005] The 9/11 Commission will later conclude that in addition to the above cases, “press leaks plagued almost every [raid on Muslim charities] that took place in the United States” after 9/11. [Washington Post, 9/10/2004]
It is reported that in the wake of 9/11, Attorney General John Ashcroft has prevented the FBI from investigating gun-purchase records to discover if any of the hundreds arrested or suspected since 9/11 had bought any guns. The White House supports him, saying they have no intention of changing the law to clarify the FBI’s ability to search gun-purchase records. [CNN, 12/6/2001; New York Times, 12/6/2001] A spokesman for The International Association of Chiefs of Police, the largest group of law enforcement executives in the US, says, “This is absurd and unconscionable. The decision has no rational basis in public safety. It sounds to me like it was made for narrow political reasons based on a right-to-bear-arms mentality.” [New York Times, 12/6/2001] There were reports that the 9/11 hijackers on at least Flight 11 and Flight 93 used guns in the hijacking (see (8:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001 and 9:27 a.m. September 11, 2001).
After two days naked, hungry, in pain and sleepless in the cold container (see December 7-8, 2001, John Walker Lindh is dressed in hospital garb and carried, still blindfolded and handcuffed, to a nearby room or tent. As his blindfold is removed, Lindh finds himself in the presence of an FBI agent. From an “advice of rights” form, the agent begins to read Lindh his Miranda rights. Where the form refers to the right to an attorney, the FBI agent adds, “Of course, there are no lawyers here.” Lindh nevertheless asks if he can see an attorney, but the FBI agent repeats his statement that there are no attorneys present. Lindh then signs a Miranda waiver of his constitutional Fifth Amendment right to remain silent and to consult an attorney, believing he would otherwise return to the conditions to which he was previously subjected, or that a worse fate may await him. The subsequent interrogation by the FBI agent lasts at least three hours. [United States of America v. John Walker Lindh, 6/13/2002 ]
On October 3, 2001, Ayaad Assaad was questioned by the FBI because a letter written by an unnamed former colleague of his said he was a potential biological terrorist who could attack the US (see October 3, 2001). Just days later, the anthrax attacks became publicly known, and there is speculation that the letter may have been an attempt to frame Assaad for the attacks. Assaad worked at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory where many believe the anthrax used in the attacks originated. Before Assaad left USAMRIID in 1997, some of his colleagues in an informal group called the Camel Club harassed him due to his Middle Eastern background (even though he is Christian and a US citizen—see 1991-1992). In the early 1990s, some members of the Camel Club were found to be working on unauthorized projects at USAMRIID even after no longer being employed there, at a time when anthrax and other deadly germs went missing from the lab (see Early 1992). On December 4, 2001, a military spokesman says that FBI investigators are seeking to question current and former USAMRIID employees. However, on December 9, the Hartford Courant reports that most of the members of the (apparently defunct) Camel Club say they have yet to be questioned by the FBI. An FBI spokesman also says that the FBI is not tracking the source of the anonymous letter blaming Assaad. [Hartford Courant, 12/9/2001] Don Foster is a professor and linguistic analyst helping with the FBI’s anthrax investigation. Foster will only find out about the letter after the Courant publishes their December 9 article. He will also discover that many others in the FBI’s investigation know nothing of it, either. For instance, top FBI profiler and threat-assessment expert James Fitzgerald, who hired Foster to work on the investigation, has never heard of it. Foster will later comment, “What, I wondered, has the anthrax task force been doing?” [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003] The FBI will not question some of Assaad’s co-workers until 2004 (see February 11-March 17, 2004), and will not question him again until 2004 as well, even though officials say off the record that the Assaad letter remains intriguing (see May 11, 2004).
Ayaad Assaad. [Source: Public domain]In mid-October 2001, the FBI hires professor Don Foster to help with the anthrax attacks investigation because he is an expert at discovering the authors of unknown texts by an analysis of word usage. He has already helped the FBI with many cases. In early December 2001, he reads a newspaper article about a letter mailed shortly before the anthrax attacks became publicly known that accuses former USAMRIID scientist Ayaad Assaad of planning to launch a biological attack on the US (see October 3, 2001). FBI investigators are largely ignorant of this letter, even though the FBI already strongly suspects that the anthrax used in the attacks came from USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory (see December 9, 2001). Foster asks for and receives a copy of the letter, known as the Quantico letter because it was mailed to a government office in Quantico, Virginia. He looks through documents written by about 40 USAMRIID employees and finds “writings by a female officer that looked like a perfect match.” He writes a report to the FBI about this, but the FBI fails to follow through, as the Quantico letter has already been declared irrelevant even though few FBI investigators are even aware of it yet. Foster will write of his experience with the letter in a September 2003 article in Vanity Fair. [Vanity Fair, 9/15/2003] Apparently, this will lead to a renewed interest in the letter. The FBI will finally question Assaad about the letter in 2004, and will express their knowledge of Foster’s Vanity Fair article when they talk to him. [Associated Press, 5/16/2004] However, it is unknown if the woman Foster identified is ever questioned. The FBI does show particular interest in questioning one person about the letter in early 2004, but that person is a man (see February 11-March 17, 2004).
Qatari citizen Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a computer science graduate student at Illinois’s Bradley University, is arrested as a material witness to the 9/11 attacks. [Peoria Journal Star, 12/19/2001; CNN, 12/13/2005] Al-Marri was interviewed twice by the FBI, once on October 2 and again on December 11. Both times, according to the FBI, he lied in response to their questions. Al-Marri claimed to have entered the US on September 10, 2001, his first visit to the country since 1991, when he earned his undergraduate degree at Bradley. [CBS News, 6/23/2003; CNN, 12/13/2005]
Connections to 9/11 Terrorists Alleged - The FBI says al-Marri has been in the US since 2000. Al-Marri denied calling the United Arab Emirates phone number of Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, an unindicted co-conspirator in the trial of suspected “20th hijacker” Zacarias Moussaoui. Prosecutors say al-Hawsawi provided financial backing to Moussaoui and the 9/11 hijackers, and allegedly helped some of the hijackers travel from Pakistan to the United Arab Emirates and then to the US in preparation for the attacks. [CBS News, 6/23/2003; Progressive, 3/2007] (Al-Hawsawi will be captured in Pakistan in March 2003, and detained in an undisclosed location somewhere outside the US. See Early-Late June, 2001) [CNN, 12/13/2005] The government also alleges that the phone number was a contact number for Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, another unindicted co-conspirator in the Moussaoui indictment. The government says that two calling cards were used to call the number, which was also listed as a contact number on a package it believes was sent by 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta to the UAE on September 8, 2001. The cards were allegedly used to place phone calls from al-Marri’s residence, from his cellphone, and from the Marriott hotel room he was staying in on September 11. However, none of the three calls to the UAE number were made from phones registered to Al-Marri, though, nor is there proof he placed them. Some of the calls made from the card to the UAE were placed to relatives of al-Marri. [Bradley Scout, 3/29/2002] In March 2002, Justice Department official Alice Fisher will say that an unnamed al-Qaeda detainee “in a position to know… positively identified al-Marri as an al-Qaeda sleeper operative who was tasked to help new al-Qaeda operatives get settled in the United States for follow-on attacks after 9/11.” That unidentified tipster brought al-Marri to the attention of federal law enforcement shortly after the attacks. FBI officials have said that al-Marri is not considered to have played any part in the attacks, but is still considered a danger to the US. [Knight Ridder, 6/23/2003] In 2003, the FBI adds that it found “an almanac with bookmarks in pages that provided information about major US dams, reservoirs, waterways and railroads.” [Knight Ridder, 6/24/2003] He is believed to be a relative of Saudi national and future Guantanamo detainee Mohamed al-Khatani, who is said to be an intended 9/11 hijacker (see July 2002). [New York Times, 6/21/2004]
Bank and Credit Card Fraud - According to the FBI, al-Marri obtained a bank account under a false name, rented a motel room under a false name to create a mailing address, and formed a fake company, AAA Carpet, using the motel’s address. The FBI also says al-Marri used a fake Social Security number to open three other bank accounts. Al-Marri was carrying well over 15 fake credit card numbers on him when he was interviewed yesterday, says the US Attorney’s office in Illinois. [CBS News, 6/23/2003; Progressive, 3/2007] There are also allegedly over 1,000 more in his personal computer files. He has missed so many classes, the FBI says, that he is on the verge of flunking out. The FBI says al-Marri’s computer also contains Arabic lectures by Osama bin Laden, photographs of the 9/11 attacks, and a cartoon of planes crashing into the World Trade Center. The computer has a folder labeled “jihad arena,” and another labeled “chem,” which, government officials say, contains industrial chemical distributor websites used by al-Marri to obtain information about hydrogen cyanide, a poisonous gas used in chemical weapons. [CNN, 12/13/2005] Al-Marri consents to the search and the seizure of his computer and other possessions. [Bradley Scout, 3/29/2002] Al-Marri will be charged with financial crimes in 2002 (see February 8, 2002), charges that later will be dropped (see June 23, 2003). [CBS News, 6/23/2003]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Zacarias Moussaoui, Mohamed al-Khatani, Alice Fisher, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohamed Atta, Al-Qaeda, Bradley University, Osama bin Laden, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline
Two stills from Carl Cameron’s Fox News report on potential Israeli spying in the US. [Source: Fox News]Fox News reports: “Investigators within the DEA, INS, and FBI have all told Fox News that to pursue or even suggest Israeli spying… is considered career suicide.… A highly placed investigator says there are ‘tie-ins’ between the spy ring and 9/11. However, when asked for details, he flatly refuses to describe them, saying, ‘evidence linking these Israelis to 9/11 is classified. I cannot tell you about evidence that has been gathered. It’s classified information.’” The report also reveals that Amdocs, an Israeli company, is recording virtually every phone call in the US and could be passing information on to the Israeli government (similar claims were first raised in 2000 [Insight, 5/29/2000] ). Fox News suggests that the position of this company might impede the 9/11 investigation. [Fox News, 12/12/2001]
Dugway Proving Ground. [Source: Public domain]The US Army responds to a journalistic investigation and confirms that it has been making weapons-grade anthrax in recent years, in violation of an international treaty. The US offensive biological weapons program was supposedly closed in 1969 when the US signed an international biological weapons treaty. In 1998, scientists at the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah turned small quantities of wet anthrax into powder (see Spring 1998 and After). This weaponized anthrax appears to be very similar or identical to the anthrax used in the recent attacks. Molecular biologist Barbara Hatch Rosenberg says: “This is very significant.… There’s never been an acknowledgment that any U.S. facility had weaponized anthrax.… The question is, could someone have gotten hold of a very small amount and used it in the letters?” Some argue that this production of anthrax is in violation of an international biological weapons treaty that the US signed while others argue it is not. It is believed about six scientists at Dugway have the expertise to make powdered anthrax. The FBI has intensively questioned those at Dugway who have worked with anthrax. [Baltimore Sun, 12/13/2001; New York Times, 12/13/2001]
The Bush administration solves the dilemma surrounding a request by Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN) for documents from the Clinton administration (see Early September, 2001) by placing secrecy and executive privilege above a chance to potentially attack Clinton. Burton has tucked the request for the Clinton documents in with another request on a far more serious matter, possible malfeasance by an FBI office. President Bush instructs Attorney General John Ashcroft not to turn over the documents on either case, explaining that turning over the documents would violate the “national interest” by giving Congress documents related to “prosecutorial decision making.” Burton, the Republican and Democratic members of the House Government Reform Committee, and editorial writers and commentators around the country criticize the administration over the refusal to turn over the documents, particularly the FBI information. The White House adds fuel to the controversy by claiming, both on this day and in a January 2002 letter from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, that the refusal is consistent with long-standing Justice Department policy (see January 10, 2002). The committee will secure an opinion from eminent Constitutional scholar Professor Charles Tiefer, who will show that the White House’s argument is flatly wrong. [Dean, 2004, pp. 85-88]
'Your Guy's Acting Like a King' - An infuriated Burton confronts a lower-level Justice Department official sent to testify about the government’s position: “We’ve got a dictatorial president and a Justice Department that does not want Congress involved. Your guy’s acting like he’s king.” In his official comments, Burton accuses the Bush administration of setting a “terrible, terrible precedent” in the name of executive power. “This is not a monarchy,” Burton says. “The legislative branch has oversight responsibilities to make sure there is no corruption in the executive branch.” In the Senate, Charles Grassley (R-IA) agrees with Burton. “Anything that limits legitimate Congressional oversight is worrisome,” he says. “This move needs to be carefully scrutinized, particularly in an atmosphere where Congress is giving the Justice Department additional powers and authority.”
Politics over Principles - But the storm of Congressional criticism will have little lasting effect. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write: “[P]olitics defeated… principles. Most Republicans were unwilling to challenge Bush, and many Democrats opposed Burton’s probes of the Clinton campaign fund-raising, so few members of either party were interested in fighting the White House about it. And because Bush’s first invocation of [executive privilege] was done in part to protect Clinton and the Democrats, the gesture seemed principled rather than self-serving. It was tactically brilliant.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 98]
Administration Later Turns Over Documents - After the media controversy, the administration quietly, and without public acknowledgment, will provide the FBI material to the committee. The committee’s final report on the FBI investigation will conclude with six pages of withering criticism of the administration’s fallacious claim to executive privilege. However, as former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will note in 2004, the criticism from the committee is essentially meaningless to the White House, because it will garner no attention from the media and thereby cost the administration no political capital. And while some observers cannot understand why the administration would take such a hardline stand on an issue that lacks any implications for national security, the public interest, or the protection of ongoing criminal investigations, Dean will write that “it makes absolute sense if the administration’s aim is total information control.” He adds: “Accordingly, its policy remains to employ executive privilege aggressively, as long as the political price is not too high. If this administration is given a second term, there will be no price too high to expand this presidential privilege, enabling the executive branch to remain completely unaccountable.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 85-88]
Court Upholds Bush Actions - In 2003, a district court will uphold the Bush administration’s refusal to turn over the documents to Burton’s committee (see March 28, 2003).
US intelligence had been investigating the US-based Global Relief Foundation (GRF) long before 9/11 for links to al-Qaeda and other radical militant groups (see 1997-Late Spring 2001 and March 2000).The plan is to shut down a number of GRF’s overseas offices while continuing to monitor the GRF’s main office in Illinois and see how that office reacts to the overseas shutdowns. But on December 13, 2001, New York Times reporter Philip Shenon calls the Illinois office one day before the planned raids and asks them to comment about an imminent crack down on the charity (see December 3-14, 2001). The FBI quickly decides that the GRF is destroying documents after the tip-off, and they hastily arrange a raid on the Illinois office and the overseas offices the next day. Since the GRF and the Illinois-based Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) are considered to be closely linked, the BIF US office is raided and shut down at the same time, and the houses of GRF executive director Mohammad Chehade and BIF executive director Enaam Arnaout are searched. GRF fund-raiser Rabih Haddad is detained on the basis of overstaying a visa while Arnaout remains free in the US. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 98-100 ] October 18, 2002, the Treasury Department will officially designate GRF a terrorism financier. It will do the same to BIF on November 19, 2002. The UN also soon lists both groups as linked to al-Qaeda. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 98-100 ] Haddad will be imprisoned for 19 months and then deported for the immigration violation. [Metro Times, 3/17/2004]
The FBI claims the anthrax letters were sent from the middle mailbox of these three mailboxes on Nassau Street, Princeton. [Source: Richard Smith]In mid-October 2001, investigators mistakenly believe that the anthrax letters were mailed from somewhere in West Trenton, New Jersey and are said to have narrowed down the location of the mailbox to a one square mile radius. [New York Times, 10/19/2001] But around December 2001, contamination at a New Jersey postal processing center indicates that the letters in the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) had been mailed on one of a limited number of routes near Princeton, New Jersey. However, seven months pass before FBI investigators test hundreds of mailboxes and identify the mailbox where the letters were mailed from. Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), whose congressional district includes the area where the letters were mailed from, will later say that he was surprised by how slow and shoddy the investigation was. He will point out, “Within two days they could have dispatched 50 people to wipe all those mailboxes.” He will also say that he was surprised when anthrax was found in his Congressional office in October 2001, but investigators never returned to conduct systematic testing to trace the path of the anthrax spores. [New York Times, 8/4/2008] The FBI tests about 600 mailboxes for several weeks and finds and removes the right one in early August. It is located in Princeton, New Jersey, on the corner of Nassau and Bank Streets and opposite the Princeton University campus. [New York Times, 8/14/2002] However, there are doubts that the right mailbox was identified (see August 14, 2002).
Abdallah Higazy. [Source: Washington Post]FBI agents arrest Egyptian national Abdallah Higazy in a New York hotel room, and interrogate him over his supposed ownership of an air-band transceiver capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground communications. The FBI suspects Higazy, a student at Brooklyn’s Polytechnic University, of facilitating the 9/11 hijackings. Higazy arrived in New York from Cairo to study engineering under US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Institute for International Education programs, in August 2001. The Institute arranged for Higazy to stay at the Millennium Hilton Hotel, just across the street from the World Trade Center. On September 11, Higazy, along with other hotel residents, was evacuated after the second plane hit the Twin Towers. He was carrying about $100 in cash and his wallet. Higazy does not return to the hotel until December 17, when three FBI agents are waiting for him. Hotel employees had found a transceiver capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground transmissions in his room safe, along with a Koran and his passport. The FBI believes that Higazy may have used the radio as a beacon to guide the hijackers. Higazy denies owning any such transceiver. A federal judge warns the FBI and federal prosecutors that merely finding a radio in a room safe occupied by Higazy does not constitute enough evidence to continue holding the suspect, and absent further evidence he will release Higazy on December 28. Instead, the FBI will browbeat a false confession from Higazy (see December 27, 2001). [Washington Post, 10/25/2007]
On December 17, 2001, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer speaks of the anthrax attacks investigation and says that it is “increasingly looking like it was a domestic source.” On January 13, 2002, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge similarly states, “the primary direction of the investigation is turned inward.” [Salon, 2/8/2002] This is confirmation of earlier reports that the investigation is focusing on the profile of a disgruntled American scientist acting alone (see November 10, 2001).
The Senate Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism holds a hearing on the global reach of al-Qaeda and hears testimony from several intelligence community officers. One of them is Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer on loan to the FBI who was involved in several pre-9/11 failures (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, August 22, 2001, and August 24, 2001). Wilshire is described as the deputy chief of the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section. In his opening remarks, Wilshire describes the “worldwide jihad movement,” which is “considered to be legitimate by many of our allies in terms of defense of Islam,” as a “multibillion effort” active in, for example, Chechnya, Bosnia, and the Philippines. Although some of the “tributaries” to the movement are “somehow legitimate,” al-Qaeda is “one of the most significant off-shoots,” and views the US as “the stabilising mechanism that allows the regimes that [Osama] bin Laden views to be corrupt [such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia] and to stay in power.” Wilshire also says that one of bin Laden’s goals was to provoke a “land war in Afghanistan,” although he perhaps did not anticipate it taking its current form. He discusses how al-Qaeda has changed over the years, the bayat oath of loyalty to bin Laden, and numbers of operatives: he puts the organization’s “elite” in the hundreds, but says it also has “small thousands” fighting in places like Afghanistan and Chechnya, as well as “thousands” more around the world, although perhaps “their skill level is not as high.” He also discusses a recently released videotape in which a man thought to be bin Laden said the “muscle” hijackers did not know they were on a suicide mission until the last minute (see Mid-November 2001), and calls bin Laden “very charismatic.” Wilshire adds that radical Islamists have looked at the possibility of setting up training camps in the US, but that it is easier for them to have introductory training in Europe, which was the case of a group of British citizens arrested in Yemen (see December 23, 1998). Finally, he says that al-Qaeda is linked to Abu Sayyaf, which is not just a local Filipino group and falls under “outside influence.” [US Congress. Senate. Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism, 12/18/2001]
CIA officer Richard Blee, who is now chief of the CIA’s station in Kabul, Afghanistan, objects to the FBI interviewing high-ranking al-Qaeda detainee Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The FBI obtained access to al-Libi after he was handed over to the US, and is obtaining some information from him about Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid, who will be prosecuted in the US (see December 19, 2001). However, according to FBI agent Jack Cloonan, “for some reason, the CIA chief of station in Kabul is taking issue with our approach.” [American Prospect, 6/19/2005] CIA Director George Tenet learns of Blee’s complaints and insists that al-Libi be turned over to the CIA (see January-April 2002), which promptly puts him on a plane to Egypt (see January 2002 and After), where he is tortured and makes false statements (see February 2002). Blee was in charge of the CIA’s bin Laden unit on 9/11 and has only recently become chief of its Kabul station. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 59-60, 297] The FBI, which has long experience interviewing suspects, will continue in its attempts to use rapport-building techniques (see Late March through Early June, 2002), whereas the CIA will employ harsher techniques, despite not having much experience with interviews (see Mid-April 2002).
The FBI reveals that it knows what is on the Flight 93 black boxes, but refuses to release the transcript or audio recording. Families of the victims have requested to hear the cockpit voice recording, but the FBI says, “[W]e do not believe that the horror captured on the cockpit voice recording will console them in any way.”
[CNN, 12/21/2001] Accuracy in Media immediately submits a Freedom of Information Act request to have the transcript released, but the FBI turns it down because a release “could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings.” The Philadelphia Daily News asks, “What enforcement proceedings?” and suggests the FBI may be covering up a shootdown of the plane. [Philadelphia Daily News, 12/28/2001] The recordings are later played, but only in private to victims’ relatives and the 9/11 Commission.
The FBI is now investigating “whether potential profit from the sale of anthrax medications or cleanup efforts may have motivated” the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Battelle, a company doing anthrax work for the CIA, mostly at the Battelle Memorial Institute in Ohio, is the company most discussed in a Washington Post story about this. Dozens of scientists at Battelle have been interviewed by the FBI already because it is one of only a few places where weaponized anthrax has been made. [Washington Post, 12/21/2001] The story comes one day after ABC News reported a Battelle scientist is under investigation for the anthrax attacks, but that story is quickly denied (see September 18-28, 2001).
The New York Times reports, “Shortly after the first anthrax victim died in October, the Bush administration began an intense effort to explore any possible link between Iraq and the attacks and continued to do so even after scientists determined that the lethal germ was an American strain, scientists and government officials said.” However, the effort eventually fizzled out when no evidence was found to back up the claim. A top federal scientist involved in the investigation says, “I know there are a number of people who would love an excuse to get after Iraq.” An unnamed senior intelligence official says: “We looked for any shred of evidence that would bear on this [Iraq connection], or any foreign source. It’s just not there.” As a result of this Iraq focus, only recently have FBI investigators concentrated on suspects within the US. The anthrax used in the attacks was from the Ames strain, which is a strain most commonly used in US bioweapons programs. Initial evidence strongly suggested that the Iraqi government was never able to obtain the Ames strain, but investigators nonetheless spent a considerable amount of time looking into the issue. Investigators promoted the idea that the anthrax spores were coated with bentonite, an additive supposedly used by Iraqi scientists. But the anthrax used in the attacks actually did not have bentonite coating. The Times notes that investigators say they are not close to identifying any suspect, and, “Some senior Bush administration officials have begun to worry privately that the case might take decades to solve…” [New York Times, 12/22/2001]
The FBI administers a polygraph test to Egyptian national Abdallah Higazy, who has been in custody since December 17, 2001, on suspicion of facilitating the 9/11 attacks (see December 17, 2001). Higazy is about to be released by a judge because no real evidence exists that he had any connections to the attacks. The test is administered by FBI agent Michael Templeton; upon its completion, court documents show, Templeton concludes that Higazy is being evasive with his answers. But Templeton’s conclusion raises questions. Towards the end of the session, Higazy asks that the questioning be stopped because he is feeling intense pain in his arm and is having trouble breathing. Instead of releasing Higazy, Templeton calls him “a baby” and says that “a nine-year-old” could endure that kind of pain. It is not clear what is causing Higazy to be in pain, but from the conversation, it is clear that something untoward is occurring. During the questioning, Templeton threatens Higazy’s family. He tells Higazy that the FBI will make his brother “live in scrutiny” and will “make sure that Egyptian security gives [his] family hell.” According to court documents, by this point Templeton is screaming, smashing his fist into the table, and accusing Higazy of lying. Templetom also hints that the FBI might have Higazy’s family turned over to Egyptian intelligence. “[T]heir laws are different than ours,” he says. “[T]hey are probably allowed to do things in that country where they don’t advise people of their rights, they don’t—yeah, probably about torture, sure.” Higazy knows full well what Egyptian agents could do to his family members. Unwilling for his family to be tortured, he confesses to owning a radio the FBI is asking about. He is denied bail and remains in custody awaiting charge. Templeton will not deny coercing the confession from Higazy in subsequent questioning by Higazy’s lawyers. [Washington Post, 10/25/2007]
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