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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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Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) discloses that internal FBI documents that show information about the FBI’s use of incendiary tear-gas canisters during the 1993 Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), have been available in Justice Department files for years and were given to Congress no later than 1995. The FBI was embarrassed by recent revelations that its agents fired such canisters near the Davidian compound during the assault (see August 25, 1999 and After), though the bureau and the Justice Department both deny that the canisters had anything to do with the fires that consumed the compound and killed almost 80 Davidians. Two weeks ago, the Justice Department sent US Marshals to the FBI’s headquarters in Washington to seize infrared videotapes that contain references to the tear-gas rounds, but did not reveal that it contained FBI records in its own files regarding the use of those rounds. Attorney General Janet Reno ordered the seizure, saying she was angered by the revelations after spending six years denying the FBI ever used such incendiary devices. Reno says she did not see the internal FBI documents until two weeks ago. From the documents that have been made public, there is no indication that FBI officials explained to Reno or other Justice Department officials the potential dangers surrounding the use of such canisters (see April 17-18, 1993). A senior Justice Department official says the documents will likely be scrutinized by investigators with the Danforth inquiry (see September 7-8, 1999). Waxman, the ranking minority member of the House Oversight Committee, says he released the documents because the committee chairman, Dan Burton (R-IN), has said Reno failed to tell Congress about the incendiary canisters. Burton accused Reno of failing to inform Congress about the canisters after learning that an incomplete copy of a FBI lab report was sent to his committee in 1995 (see August 10, 1999 and After). [New York Times, 9/14/1999]
The Texas Rangers release a report to Congress that says they found spent cartridges from two different makes of sniper rifles carried by FBI agents during the final assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). The cartridges indicate that FBI agents may have fired shots at the compound during the final assault on the Davidian compound, an assertion the FBI has long denied. Officials of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) say that the cartridges may have come from shots their agents fired during the initial BATF raid on the compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993). Federal law enforcement officials say the cartridges were collected by FBI agents after they arrived in Waco (see March 1, 1993). [New York Times, 9/14/1999]
Special counsel John Danforth, heading the government’s probe into the 1993 Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and September 7-8, 1999), asks the judge presiding over a civil lawsuit filed by some of the Davidian survivors (see April 1995) for a delay in the suit’s proceedings. In a filing for Judge Walter Smith, Danforth explains that the government inquiry seeks to depose witnesses who will also testify in the civil suit, and wants to interview those witnesses before they testify for the lawsuit, saying: “It is my firm belief that our inquiry will benefit by interviewing witnesses prior to their preparation for testimony in a civil trial. Because a civil trial inherently involves advocacy, testimony tends to be very well-rehearsed and coordinated with the testimony of other witnesses.” Danforth wants to find out if the FBI deliberately covered up its use of incendiary gas grenades during the April 19, 1993 siege (see August 25, 1999 and After), and whether agents fired shots during the assault on the Davidian compound. One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys has volunteered to postpone taking depositions from Attorney General Janet Reno and two key FBI agents for two weeks, but is reluctant to delay the depositions for 30 days; another lawyer intends to resist the request completely. [Associated Press, 9/17/1999]
An expert retained by a House committee looking into the events of the FBI assault that led to the destruction of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), says that the FBI fired gunshots during the assault. The FBI has said it fired no shots during the assault. The expert says that his examination of videotape taken during the final assault shows FBI agents did indeed fire shots into the compound. The expert’s testimony is taken up by the plaintiffs in a $675 million civil suit against the government (see April 1995), who will propose recreating aspects of the siege’s final hours. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000] Experts for the civil suit will come to a different conclusion, saying that the videotape shows sunlight reflecting off debris and not muzzle flashes (see May 10, 2000).
A CIA officer whose first name is “Albert” drafts a series of incorrect cables about a plan by Islamist militants to carry out attacks in Jordan around the millennium (see December 15-31, 1999). One cable alleges that the group of terrorists, some of whom are al-Qaeda operatives, is backed by Iran. Ali Soufan, an FBI agent working against the plotters in Jordan, sends a series of parallel cables back to Washington, and his and Albert’s superiors notice the discrepancies. An investigation into who is correct ensues, and Soufan is proved right. In all, 12 cables drafted by Albert have to be withdrawn. Soufan will say that Albert’s problem was that he had a “tendency to jump to conclusions without facts.” The link to Iran was because some of the plotters had trained in the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, an area controlled by Hezbollah, which is backed by Iran. [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ; Soufan, 2011, pp. 138-139] After 9/11, Albert will be involved in the rendition of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi to Egypt, where he falsely confesses to a link between al-Qaeda and Iraq (see January 2002 and After).
Nelson DeMille. [Source: Sandy DeMille]Members of the New York Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF) tell a best-selling author that they believe the next terrorist attack in the United States will involve suicide pilots deliberately flying planes into the World Trade Center. [Demille, 2010, pp. xii; Connecticut Post, 8/3/2010] The New York JTTF has exclusive jurisdiction over local terrorism investigations. [City Journal, 10/2001] It has over 140 members, including personnel from the FBI, the New York City Police Department, the Port Authority Police Department, the Secret Service, and the CIA. The task force is “on the forefront of the war against terrorism,” according to the FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin. [FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 3/1/1999; Washington Post, 10/23/2002] Thriller writer Nelson DeMille interviews some of its members while carrying out research for his novel The Lion’s Game, which he writes in 1999 and is published in January 2000. [Demille, 2010, pp. xi-xii; Al-Masry Al-Youm, 4/27/2010]
Author Told that 'Suicide Pilots' Will Fly Learjets into the WTC - DeMille will later recall that while he is at 26 Federal Plaza, where the New York JTTF is located, “Just in passing we were talking about the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center” (see February 26, 1993). DeMille wonders if there will be another terrorist attack in the United States. He asks the JTTF personnel: “What do you think the next attack would be? Will there be another attack?” They reply: “Yeah. It’s gonna be the World Trade Center again. They missed it.” [Sirius XM Book Radio, 6/16/2010] (Presumably, when the JTTF personnel say, “They missed it,” they mean that the terrorists failed to cause the WTC to collapse when they bombed it in 1993.) DeMille then asks, “What’s gonna happen?” The JTTF personnel say the next attack will involve “two or three or four Learjets, private jets full of aviation fuel and explosives, flying into the towers.” [WOR, 6/14/2010] The planes, they say, will be “flown into the North and South Towers of the Trade Center” by “suicide pilots.” [Demille, 2010, pp. xii; Connecticut Post, 8/3/2010] The suicide pilots will be “guys who know how to fly and not [how] to land” a plane. [New York Daily News, 9/11/2011]
Terrorists Will Want to Cause 'Maximum Death' - DeMille asks the JTTF personnel why they think the terrorists will specifically target the WTC again. He says: “Why not any other iconic landmark? Why not the Empire State Building?” They tell him it is because the terrorists will be “looking for maximum death.” [WOR, 6/14/2010] This discussion, according to DeMille, takes place “almost two years before the actual events of September 11, 2001.” [Demille, 2010, pp. xii]
JTTF Knows about Arabs Learning to Fly in the US - DeMille will tell the New York Times that the members of the New York JTTF “were all obsessed with the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, and they were convinced we’d be attacked again.” [New York Times, 11/9/2006] He will say that JTTF personnel “knew” the target of the next terrorist attack in the US would be the WTC. “They were pretty, pretty definite about that,” he will add. [WOR, 6/14/2010] They also “knew that Arabs were training in the United States to fly small planes,” according to DeMille. [Newsweek, 1/23/2002]
JTTF Has 'Foreknowledge' or 'Forethought' of 9/11 - DeMille will write that because of what he is told by the JTTF personnel: “[W]hen the events of the morning of September 11, 2001, unfolded, I was not taken completely unaware. And neither were the people who had spent years investigating terrorist threats to this country.” [Demille, 2010, pp. xii] He will note that the JTTF personnel he talks to are “close to right” about the nature of the next attack in the US. He will say, “They knew the target and they knew the method” the terrorists would use. [Sirius XM Book Radio, 6/16/2010] DeMille will also say that when he sees the attacks on the WTC on September 11, he finds it “just chilling to think that [members of the JTTF] had some, if not foreknowledge, at least some forethought of this.” [77WABC, 5/22/2010] Radio host Glenn Beck will comment that what the JTTF personnel tell DeMille shows that the US government “knew specifically” what the 9/11 attacks would involve. [Premiere Radio Networks, 6/9/2010]
US Postal Inspection Service logo. [Source: Center for Regulatory Effectiveness]Special counsel John Danforth, heading the government’s probe into the 1993 Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993 and September 7-8, 1999), names a group of US postal inspectors to investigate claims that the FBI tried to cover up its use of incendiary devices during the final assault on the Davidian compound. Preferring not to use FBI agents to investigate allegations against the bureau, Danforth said from the outset that he would use investigators from outside the Justice Department. “My basic thought is, the FBI should not be investigating the FBI,” Danforth said. Reporters laughed when someone suggested—facetiously—that US Postal Service “cops” could conduct the investigation. Now Danforth is bringing aboard some 80 postal inspectors to look into the allegations. The use of postal inspectors may indicate Justice Department officials could be targeted by the probe. Postal Inspection Service spokesman Robert Bethel acknowledges the choice of postal inspectors may seem odd to Americans unfamiliar with the agency. “A lot of people don’t know what a postal inspector is,” he says. “If they hear of postal inspectors, they think, is that someone who inspects post offices?” Postal inspectors have been investigating federal crimes involving the mails since 1772, and often investigate crimes such as extortion, child pornography, and on occasion murder, if they involve Postal Service employees. “We’ve always been called the ‘silent service,’ because we go about our business and don’t seek publicity,” Bethel says. The specific inspectors have not yet been chosen. In 1996, postal inspectors helped FBI investigators look into the events of the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff (see August 31, 1992) and found evidence that an FBI official had obstructed justice. [All Points Broadcasting News, 10/2/1999]
Copies of FBI infrared surveillance tapes taken during the first hours of the FBI assault against the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), clearly show repeated bursts of rhythmic flashes from agents’ positions and from the compound; two experts hired by the surviving Davidians say the flashes must be gunfire. A third expert retained by the House Government Reform Committee, Carlos Ghigliotti, an expert in thermal imaging and videotape analysis, says he, too, believes the flashes to be gunfire. “The gunfire from the ground is there, without a doubt,” he says. FBI officials have long maintained that no agent fired a shot during either the 51-day standoff or during the final assault. Michael Caddell, the lead lawyer for the Davidians in their lawsuit against the government (see April 1995), says he has shown the tapes and the expert analysis to John Danforth, the former senator who is leading a government investigation into the FBI’s actions during the siege and the assault (see September 7-8, 1999). Caddell says his two experts are former Defense Department surveillance analysts. One of Caddell’s two experts also says the FBI’s infrared videotapes that have been released to the public, Congress, and the courts may have been altered. “There’s so much editing on this tape, it’s ridiculous,” says Steve Cain, an audio and video analysis expert who has worked with the Secret Service and the Internal Revenue Service. Cain says his analysis is preliminary because he has not been granted access to the original tapes. But, he says, the tapes appear to have been erased. There are significant erasures during the 80-minute period before the compound began burning. Cain says: “It’s just like the 18-minute gap on the Watergate tape. That was erased six times by Rose Mary Woods (see November 21, 1973). That’s why we’re trying to get to the originals.” Cain also says that he believes images were inserted into the videotapes, perhaps from different video cameras. Caddell says, “I think at this point, it’s clear that the whole investigation, and particularly the fire investigation, was garbage in-garbage out.” The videotapes were used in a 1993 Treasury Department review of the siege (see Late September - October 1993) and as evidence in a 1994 criminal trial against some of the surviving Davidians (see January-February 1994), both of which concluded that the Davidians themselves set the fires that consumed the compound. [Associated Press, 10/6/1999; Dallas Morning News, 10/7/1999]
A former Army colonel tells a Dallas reporter that the FBI overheard Branch Davidian leader David Koresh ordering the fires that consumed the Davidian compound and killed almost 80 of Koresh’s followers (see April 19, 1993). For years, many have accused the FBI of causing the fires that culminated the April 19, 1993 assault on the Davidian compound. Now, Colonel Rodney Rawlings, a former military adviser, says that he was in the FBI monitoring room outside the compound on the day of the assault, and he and several FBI agents overheard Koresh give the orders to fire the compound. The FBI had surveillance “bugs” in several places inside the compound, but FBI and Justice Department officials, including Attorney General Janet Reno, have said that they did not know if Koresh ordered the fires. In recent weeks, the FBI has come under heavy criticism for having to admit that its agents fired incendiary tear gas rounds at a bunker near the compound during the assault (see August 25, 1999 and After). Rawlings tells the Dallas Morning News that as the Army’s senior liaison to the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), he was in the monitoring room during the assault. He says: “You could hear everything from the very beginning, as it was happening. Anyone who says you couldn’t at the time is being less than truthful.” Rawlings says the FBI surveillance bugs picked up Koresh’s orders to set the fires. Shortly afterwards, he says, the bugs picked up the sound of gunfire. The bugs then recorded Koresh declaring that God did not want him to die, and Koresh’s chief lieutenant, Steve Schneider, saying that Koresh “wasn’t going to get out of this.” Both Koresh and Schneider were later found dead in a room of the compound, both dead of gunshot wounds. FBI officials have previously testified that transmissions from the eavesdropping devices were too garbled to allow agents to hear discussions about spreading fuel and setting fires. Rawlings says that the FBI’s denials bother him “to no end. They’ve had the opportunity to say, ‘We knew.’ We’ve not gotten a straightforward answer.” [Reuters, 10/8/1999]
The US deports Hani El-Sayegh, a Saudi National who is a suspect in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing (see June 25, 1996), back to Saudi Arabia. [Grey, 2007, pp. 247] The deportation is approved by a US judge. [Washington Post, 10/29/2000]
History - In 1996, el-Sayegh, who had been living in Iran, moved to Kuwait. He later went to Canada, where he cut a deal with American officials that called for him to plead guilty in an unrelated plot against Americans in Saudi Arabia that was never carried out. In 1997, Canada expelled el-Sayegh for suspected terrorist activity. Attorney General Janet Reno allowed him into the United States solely for prosecution under the pact. But after arriving, he said he had not understood the accord, knew nothing about the Khobar attack, and was out of Saudi Arabia when the bombing occurred. Despite this, the Saudis suspected him of being present at the bombing and his brother was held in connection with it, and allegedly tortured in a Saudi jail. [New York Times, 10/12/1999]
Agreement - The deportation follows an agreement between FBI Director Louis Freeh and Prince Naif, Saudi Arabia’s interior minister. Under the agreement, el-Sayagh is returned to Saudi Arabia, and, according to officials familiar with the arrangement, FBI agents will be allowed to watch his interrogation through a one-way mirror and submit questions to his Saudi inquisitors. Washington Post journalist David Vine will comment, “Such practices are sharply at odds with Freeh’s oft-stated message about the FBI’s need to respect human dignity and the tenets of democracy while fighting crime.” Although FBI officials will say a year later they have not seen any indication that el-Sayegh has been tortured, Vine will add, “But agents say privately that when entering a foreign culture to do police work they do not have control over how prisoners are treated and must tread lightly.” [Washington Post, 10/29/2000]
Khobar Towers Attack Could Have Been Prosecuted in US - The Khobar Towers attacks may have been in Saudi Arabia, but were against US nationals, so suspects can be prosecuted in the US. Tony Karon of Time magazine will express surprise at the deportation: “Run that one by again: The United States doesn’t want to try a man suspected of a bomb attack that killed Americans—and they’re sending him home?!” However, the Justice Department apparently thinks there is not enough evidence to try him in the US, and, according to Time correspondent William Dowell, “Clearly, there’s a lower standard of proof in Saudi courts,” so, “It may be easier for Washington if the Saudis handle the trial—and the execution, which would likely follow.”
Possible Geopolitical Motive - According to Karon, an alternative explanation is that geopolitics may be behind the decision: “Sending el-Sayegh… back to Saudi Arabia could solve another touchy problem for Washington.” This is because President Clinton said the US would retaliate against any government that was involved in the attacks, and an Iranian hand is suspected in the bombing. However, according to Time Middle East bureau chief Scott Macleod: “the attack occurred before the election of President Khatami, who has clearly demonstrated a commitment to end state terrorism and normalize Iran’s relations with the rest of the world. Given Washington’s desire to strengthen his reformist government against its hard-line opponents, the US would be unlikely to take military action against Iran unless there were fresh acts of terrorism.” [Time, 10/5/1999]
The FBI releases its report on what it calls “Project Megiddo,” an examination of what it calls “the potential for extremist criminal activity in the United States by individuals or domestic groups who attach special significance to the year 2000.” The report is released to law enforcement agencies throughout the country, but not to the public. A statement accompanying the report reads in part: “The threat posed by extremists as a result of perceived events associated with the year 2000 (Y2K) is very real. The volatile mix of apocalyptic religious and [New World Order] conspiracy theories (see February 4, 1999) may produce violent acts aimed at precipitating the end of the world as prophesied in the Bible.” The report is based on nine months of intelligence and data collection by the domestic terrorism unit of the FBI. Soon after its release, the Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) will obtain a copy and release it on the Internet. The report’s executive summary notes that “Megiddo,” a hill in northern Israel, is the site of a number of Biblical-era battles, and the Hebrew word “armageddon” derives from a Hebrew phrase meaning “hill of Megiddo.” The Bible’s depiction of “Armageddon” is, the report states, “the assembly point in the apocalyptic setting of God’s final and conclusive battle against evil. The name ‘Megiddo’ is an apt title for a project that analyzes those who believe the year 2000 will usher in the end of the world and who are willing to perpetrate acts of violence to bring that end about.” While much of the media-fueled debate about the upcoming “end of the millennium” focuses on technological issues, such as the anticipated widespread disabling of computer networks and the like, the FBI report focuses more specifically on the religious connotations of the time as viewed by far-right “Christian Identity” (see 1960s and After) and related white supremacist, separatist, and militia organizations. The report, the summary states, “is intended to analyze the potential for extremist criminal activity in the United States by individuals or domestic extremist groups who profess an apocalyptic view of the millennium or attach special significance to the year 2000.” It is difficult to say what groups may pose a threat as 1999 comes to a close, the report states, as it is difficult to anticipate which groups will follow through on their rhetoric and which will not. Moreover, the report notes, many domestic extremist groups are not traditionally structured in a hierarchical fashion; the possibility of “lone wolf” strikes by individuals operating outside a militia or extremist group may in some cases outweigh the likelihood of violent assaults carried out by such groups. The report notes that the worst domestic terrorist event in US history, the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), was carried out by two “lone wolves,” Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols. The report finds few indications of what it calls “specific threats to domestic security,” but focuses more on suspicious activities by a variety of militia groups who are arming themselves, stockpiling food, raising money through illegal means, and other actions which may serve as a warning of future violence. Problems caused by “Y2K glitches” such as power outages and computer failures may be interpreted by some extremist groups as the first actions of a government assault on the citizenry, the FBI warns, and may precipitate violent responses. [Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance, 10/1999; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/20/1999; Washington Post, 10/31/1999] The right-wing news blog WorldNetDaily will accuse the FBI of issuing the report to “set up” militia groups as patsies for the government’s own terrorist activities (see December 9, 1999).
Two Saudis, Hamdan al Shalawi and Mohammed al-Qudhaeein, are detained for trying twice to get into the cockpit on a passenger airplane flying from Phoenix, Arizona, to Washington, D.C. They claim they thought the cockpit was the bathroom, and sue the FBI for racism. After 9/11, the FBI will consider the possibility that this was a “dry run” for the 9/11 attacks, but apparently does not come to a definite conclusion. In late 1999, it is discovered that the two were traveling to Washington to attend a party at the Saudi embassy and their ticket had been paid by the Saudi government. Apparently influenced by their government ties, the FBI decides not to prosecute or investigate the men. Al-Qudhaeein leaves the US. In 2000, intelligence information will be received indicating al-Qudhaeein had received explosives and car bomb training in Afghanistan. As a result, his name is added to a no-fly watch list. In April 2000, FBI agent Ken Williams is investigating Zacaria Soubra, a suspected radical militant attending a flight school in Phoenix, and discovers that the car Soubra is driving is actually owned by al-Qudhaeein. Soubra is friends with al Shalawi and al-Qudhaeein. This and other evidence will influence Williams to write his later-famous July 2001 memo warning about potential terrorists training in Arizona flight schools (see July 10, 2001). In August 2001, al-Qudhaeein applies for a visa to reenter the US, but is denied entry. It has not been revealed why al-Qudhaeein wanted to reenter the US, or if Williams or anyone else in US intelligence knew about his attempted reentry, or if anyone took action as a result of it. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 43-44; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 521; Arizona Monthly, 11/2004] Al Shalawi, the other Saudi involved in the cockpit incident, also has a radical militant background. In November 2000, US intelligence discovers he is training in a camp in Afghanistan, learning how to conduct a car bomb attack. One of his friends in Arizona is Ghassan al Sharbi, an al-Qaeda operative who will be captured in Pakistan with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. Al Sharbi is one of the targets of Williams’ July 2001 memo. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 521]
Rep. Curt Weldon later claims that while he never learns about Able Danger prior to 9/11, he does become aware of the Land Information Warfare Activity’s (LIWA) similar data mining efforts in 1999 and is very impressed. He says that on this day, he is part of a meeting with the deputy directors of the FBI and the CIA and others. Using LIWA as a model, Weldon proposes a national collaborative center that would use open source data as well as classified information from 33 government agencies “to basically assess emerging transnational terrorists threats. The CIA, two years before 9/11, said, we don’t need that. We’ve put language in three successive defense bills, in spite of that, calling for a national collaborative capability. Prior to 9/11, we didn’t have that capability, and we were hit.” [US Congress, 2/15/2006]
The special counsel’s office investigating the Branch Davidian tragedy (see April 19, 1993) asks for court-supervised tests to determine if flashes recorded by FBI infrared cameras during the final assault on the Davidian compound were made by gunshots fired by FBI agents (see October 7, 1999). The FBI has always insisted that its agents fired no shots during the assault. The Justice Department has refused similar requests from lawyers representing surviving Davidians in a lawsuit against the government (see April 1995). Justice Department officials say that such testing would be without critical data that the government has chosen to withhold under the rubric of national security. However, deputy special counsel Edward L. Dowd believes otherwise. In a letter to Judge Walter Smith, presiding over the civil suit, Dowd writes: “Both the trust of the public and the truth-seeking process are not best served by the course of events as they are unfolding. We propose therefore that the court supervise a neutral FLIR [forward-looking infrared] re-creation.” The Justice Department is facing growing criticism over what some perceive as its lack of cooperation in providing documents and other evidence relating to the Davidian siege and final assault. Even some FBI officials have privately complained that the department’s handling of the matter has further damaged the bureau’s credibility. Experts hired by lawyers in the suit have determined that the flashes captured by FBI cameras may well have been gunfire. Michael Caddell, lead lawyer for the Davidians in the civil suit, says that the special counsel’s request “forces the issue.” Caddell adds: “The procedure that’s been proposed is clearly designed to protect any legitimate security concerns by the FBI and the Department of Justice. They’ve taken away the one legitimate reason that they could have for refusing. Any refusal now is because they already know what the answer is going to be. I think that would be the most damning admission of liability they could possibly make. It’s clear now that the office of special counsel, the courts, and the plaintiffs are all interested in getting to the truth of what happened on April 19. The question that’s lingering out there is, is the government interested in getting at the truth?” FBI officials have offered to secretly conduct an examination of the FLIR videotapes for the special counsel’s investigation. [Dallas Morning News, 11/10/1999; Dallas Morning News, 11/16/1999] Smith will order the tests (see November 15, 1999).
US District Judge Walter Smith overrides Justice Department objections and orders independent field testing to help determine whether government agents fired at the Branch Davidian compound in the last hours of a 1993 siege (see April 19, 1993 and November 5, 1999). In a three-page ruling, Smith writes that he has been “persuaded” by arguments from Branch Davidian lawyers and the office of special counsel John Danforth that the tests are needed to resolve whether flashes of light recorded by FBI infrared cameras were caused by government gunfire. FBI officials have consistently denied allegations that any of their agents fired gunshots during the final assault. Flashes recorded by an airborne FBI infrared camera just before the compound began burning are inexplicable electronic “anomalies,” the FBI claims. Michael Caddell, the lead lawyer for the Davidians in their civil suit against the government (see April 1995), says: “It again demonstrates that Judge Smith wants to get at the truth. If they [the FBI] really believe that’s not gunfire on that video, then the government’s lawyers should embrace this test with open arms.” [Dallas Morning News, 11/16/1999] The special counsel’s office also requests the actual guns carried by FBI agents during the assault. Examination of the weapons may help determine if agents fired during the six-hour assault. [Associated Press, 11/16/1999] FBI officials have secretly offered to conduct private tests for Danforth’s investigators, though Justice Department lawyers have rejected a proposal from Caddell and the Branch Davidian lawyers for a joint public test. These actions, along with a warning from Justice Department lawyers that they intended to use national security exemptions to withhold data needed to ensure accurate public tests, impelled Danforth’s office to ask for the public tests. Smith rules, “The court is persuaded that one FLIR [infrared] test should be conducted, with participation and observation by the parties and the OSC [office of special counsel].” [Dallas Morning News, 11/16/1999]
On December 5, 1999, a Jordanian raid discovers 71 vats of bomb making chemicals in this residence. [Source: Judith Miller]Jordanian officials successfully uncover an al-Qaeda plot to blow up the Radisson Hotel in Amman, Jordan, and other sites on January 1, 2000. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] The Jordanian government intercepts a call between al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida and a suspected Jordanian terrorist named Abu Hoshar. Zubaida says, “The training is over.” [New York Times, 1/15/2001] Zubaida also says, “The grooms are ready for the big wedding.” [Seattle Times, 6/23/2002] This call reflects an extremely poor code system, because the FBI had already determined in the wake of the 1998 US embassy bombings that “wedding” was the al-Qaeda code word for bomb. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 214] Furthermore, it appears al-Qaeda fails to later change the system, because the code-name for the 9/11 attack is also “The Big Wedding.” [Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002] Jordan arrests Hoshar while he’s still on the phone talking to Zubaida. In the next few days, 27 other suspects are charged. A Jordanian military court will initially convict 22 of them for participating in planned attacks, sentencing six of them to death, although there will be numerous appeals (see April 2000 and After). In addition to bombing the Radisson Hotel around the start of the millennium, the plan calls for suicide bombings on two border crossings with Israel and a Christian baptism site. Further attacks in Jordan are planned for later. The plotters had already stockpiled the equivalent of 16 tons of TNT, enough to flatten “entire neighborhoods.” [New York Times, 1/15/2001] Key alleged plotters include:
Raed Hijazi, a US citizen who is part of a Boston al-Qaeda cell (see June 1995-Early 1999). He will be arrested and convicted in late 2000 (see September 2000 and October 2000). [New York Times, 1/15/2001]
Khalid Deek, who is also a US citizen and part of an Anaheim, California al-Qaeda cell. He will be arrested in Pakistan and deported to Jordan, but strangely he will released without going to trial.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He will later be a notorious figure in the Iraq war starting in 2003. [Washington Post, 10/3/2004]
Luai Sakra. The Washington Post will later say he “played a role” in the plot, though he is never charged for it. Sakra apparently is a CIA informant before 9/11, perhaps starting in 2000 (see 2000). [Washington Post, 2/20/2006]
The Jordanian government will also later claim that the Al Taqwa Bank in Switzerland helped finance the network of operatives who planned the attack. The bank will be shut down shortly after 9/11 (see November 7, 2001). [Newsweek, 4/12/2004]
Entity Tags: Raed Hijazi, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Al Taqwa Bank, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Khalil Deek, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Abu Hoshar, Jordan, Luai Sakra
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Because of concerns that al-Qaeda will launch attacks during the millennium celebrations (see Early December 1999, December 15-31, 1999 and December 14, 1999), the Justice Department and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court alter the set of procedures known as the “wall,” which governs the sharing of intelligence inside the FBI and between the FBI and prosecutors. As a result of these changes, it becomes easier for the FBI to obtain wiretap warrants from the court, so the court itself becomes the wall with the authority to determine what information can be released to prosecutors. [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, 5/17/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 32, 149, 194 ] Nonetheless, US attorney Patrick Fitzgerald, working with the I-49 squad on al-Qaeda cases at the time, will later complain about the lack of information prosecutors receive around the millennium, “Criminal prosecutors received information only in part and with lag time so as not to breach the ‘wall’. The persons who determined what could be shared with the prosecutors were on the other side of the ‘wall,’ making their best guess as to what would be helpful. This was no way to defend our country from imminent attack.” [US Congress, 10/21/2003] Fellow attorney Andrew McCarthy will say this change was not that unusual, and that the “wall” “could be raised or lowered based on Justice’s perception of the threat environment at any given time.” [National Review, 4/13/2004]
Following a government-wide review of intelligence operations, a major reorganization of the FBI is approved by the Clinton administration. The Bureau’s National Security Division is split into two new divisions, the counterterrorism division and the counterintelligence division. The change is the outcome of an interagency review of US counterintelligence involving the FBI, the CIA, and the Department of Defense. The new counterterrorism division will focus on preventing attacks rather than merely investigating them after the fact. Soon upon taking office, Dale Watson, the new division’s head, will order all field offices to become more engaged in counterterrorism by recruiting informants, hiring more Arabic translators, and establishing a joint terrorism task force with local police departments modeled after the unit created in New York in the 1980s. However, a 2001 evaluation report of these efforts will find them insufficient (see Summer 2001). [New York Times, 6/26/1999; BBC News, 11/12/1999; New York Times, 12/30/2001]
Ahmed Ressam. [Source: Public domain]The CIA learns from the Jordanian government about an al-Qaeda millennium bombing plot in that country (see November 30, 1999). Further, the CIA concludes more attacks are likely soon, including some inside the US (see December 8, 1999). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told of this, and he implements a plan to neutralize the threat. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 205, 211] The plan, approved by President Clinton, focuses on harassing and disrupting al-Qaeda members throughout the world. The FBI is put on heightened alert, counterterrorism teams are dispatched overseas, a formal ultimatum is given to the Taliban to keep al-Qaeda under control, and friendly intelligence agencies are asked to help. There are Cabinet-level meetings nearly every day dealing with terrorism [Washington Post, 4/2/2000; Associated Press, 6/28/2002] All US embassies, military bases, police departments, and other agencies are given a warning to be on the lookout for signs of an al-Qaeda millennium attack. One alert border agent responds by arresting terrorist Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), which leads to the unraveling of several bombing plots (see December 15-31, 1999). No terror attacks occur. However, Clarke claims the FBI generally remains unhelpful. For example, around this time the FBI says there are no websites in the US soliciting volunteers for training in Afghanistan or money for terrorist front groups. Clarke has a private citizen check to see if this is true, and within days, he is given a long list of such websites. The FBI and Justice Department apparently fail to do anything with the information. [Newsweek, 3/31/2004]
Kevin Ray Patterson and Charles Dennis Kiles, both members of California’s San Joaquin Militia, are charged for plotting to blow up two 12 million gallon propane tanks in Elk Grove, California, along with a television tower and an electrical substation, in hopes of setting off a large-scale insurrection. The tanks are a few hundred yards from heavily traveled state Highway 99 and a half-mile from a subdivision. The FBI has dubbed the case the “Twin Sisters” trial, after the two’s nickname for the propane tanks. A threat assessment report by the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory estimates that, if successful, the explosion would have killed up to 12,000 people, set off widespread fires, and badly injured people within a five-mile radius of the explosion. Patterson has said he intended to use a fertilizer bomb similar to that used to destroy a federal building in Oklahoma City (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). A search of Patterson’s and Kiles’s homes reveals guns, ammunition, bomb chemicals, and methamphetamine ingredients. The San Joaquin Militia has been under observation by the Sacramento Joint Terrorism Task Force since 1996. The perpetrators called the propane tanks a “target of opportunity” that are susceptible to sabotage and, if destroyed, would cause a major disturbance and cause the government to declare martial law. The “Twin Sisters” plot is part of a larger conspiracy by militia groups to undermine and destabilize the federal government. Militia leader Donald Rudolph, also involved in the plot, will plead guilty to plotting to kill a judge, and will cooperate with the FBI in the investigation. Kiles’s son Jason Kiles tells a reporter: “My father ain’t no terrorist. I don’t care what they say.” Patterson and Kiles will receive 21-year prison terms for the threatened use of a weapon of mass destruction. Rudolph receives a five-year term. [Associated Press, 12/7/1999; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2009; FBI Sacramento Division, 2011]
Joseph Farah, the publisher of the right-wing news blog WorldNetDaily, blasts the FBI for issuing its “Project Megiddo” report, which warns of possible domestic terror activities centering on the transition into the “new millennium” at year’s end (see October 20, 1999). Farah calls the report “more than slanderous, bigoted, and inciteful,” and accuses the FBI of “set[ting] up a system of self-fulfilling prophecies that permits the government to scapegoat groups of people who are enticed into committing illegal acts or conspiring about them by agents provocateur.” Farah claims that his assertions are proven by his belief that the federal government carried out the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) to discredit the far right. “Remember this the next time you hear about a so-called ‘terrorist incident,’” Farah concludes. “And, tell your representatives and senators it’s time to rein in the mad bombers and provocateurs in our own government.” [WorldNetDaily, 12/9/1999]
From left to right: Mokhtar Haouari, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, Abdel Ghani Meskini. The picture of Meskini is from an ATM camera. [Source: Public domain, public domain, and Seattle Times]In the wake of the arrest of Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), FBI investigators work frantically to uncover more millennium plots before the end of the year. US authorities also make a number of arrests.
A telephone number found in Ressam’s pocket leads to Abdel Ghani Meskini, an Algerian living in New York City who had gone to Seattle to meet Ressam. Meskini is monitored and arrested in New York on December 30.
One of Ressam’s credit cards leads to the arrest of Mokhtar Haouari, an Algerian living in Montreal, Canada. Meskini later cooperates with US investigators and is never charged, while Haouari will be sentenced to 24 years in prison. [Time, 2/7/2000; CNN, 1/16/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 298]
Another Algerian associate of Ressam’s, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, escapes to Afghanistan, but will eventually be caught by the Algerian government and convicted in Algeria. [PBS Frontline, 10/25/2001]
Investigators believe that Mohamedou Ould Slahi, an al-Qaeda operative whose cousin is a top al-Qaeda leader, went to Canada to give the go-ahead for Ressam’s attack. Slahi is arrested several times overseas, but never charged (see January-April 2000). [CNN, 3/6/2002]
Khalid Deek, a US citizen, is arrested around this time for masterminding another al-Qaeda millennnium plot (see December 11, 1999). But counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later say Deek was a suspected mastermind of Ressam’s Los Angeles airport plot, too. [Orange County Register, 9/12/2005] Deek’s name and phone number is found in Ressam’s telephone book. Ressam knew Deek from bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan. Both of them, like most of Ressam’s group, have links to the GIA, an Algerian militant group associated with al-Qaeda. [Newsweek (International), 3/13/2000]
Others escape the US after hearing media reports of Ressam’s arrest. However, enough people are caught to stop additional millennium attacks. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says, “I think a lot of the FBI leadership for the first time realized that… there probably were al-Qaeda people in the United States. They realized that only after they looked at the results of the investigation of the millennium bombing plot.” [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] Yet Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger later claims that the FBI will still repeatedly assure the Clinton White House until Clinton leaves office that al-Qaeda lacks the ability to launch a domestic strike (see 2000).
The FBI misses a chance to learn about Zacarias Moussaoui after a raid in Dublin, Ireland. On December 14, 1999, Ahmed Ressam was arrested trying to smuggle explosives into the US (see December 14, 1999). On December 21, Irish police arrest Hamid Aich and several other North African immigrants living in Dublin. [New York Times, 1/22/2000] During the arrests, police seize a large amount of documents relating to citizenship applications, identities, credit cards, and airplane tickets. A diagram of an electrical switch that could be used for a bomb is found that is identical to a diagram found in Ressam’s apartment in Vancouver, Canada. [Irish Times, 7/31/2002] The suspects are released about a day later, but, “Within days, authorities in Ireland and the United States began to realize that they might have missed a chance to learn more about a terrorist network.” [New York Times, 1/22/2000] It is discovered that Aich lived with Ressam in Montreal, and then later lived with him in Vancouver. Investigators conclude there has been an al-Qaeda cell in Dublin since the early 1990s, when the charity Mercy International opened an office there (this charity has several known al-Qaeda connections by this time (see 1988-Spring 1995 and Late 1996-August 20, 1998) and also an alleged CIA connection (see 1989 and After)). The cell is mainly involved in providing travel and identity documents for other cells committing violent acts. Investigators also connect Aich to the Islamic Jihad. But the US and Canada do not seek Aich’s extradition, and instead have the Irish police keep him under surveillance. He will escape from Ireland shortly before 9/11 (see June 3, 2001-July 24, 2001). [New York Times, 1/22/2000; Irish Times, 7/31/2002] Apparently, many of the documents seized in the raid will only be closely examined after 9/11. Documents will show that in 1999 and 2000, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, a top al-Qaeda financier, worked with the Dublin cell to finance Moussaoui’s international travel. Aich made travel arrangements and possibly provided fake identification for Moussaoui. [Fox News, 7/30/2002; Irish Times, 7/31/2002] Presumably, had these links been discovered after the 1999 raid instead of after 9/11, events could have gone very differently when Moussaoui was arrested in the US in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001).
The NSA, monitoring a telephone in an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002), has listened in on phone calls revealing that hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi are to attend an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 (see Shortly Before December 29, 1999). Almihdhar’s full name was mentioned, as well as the first names of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi. On this day, the NSA shares this information with the CIA’s Alec Station bin Laden unit. Other US intelligence agencies, including FBI headquarters and the FBI’s New York field office, are told as well. Although Khalid Almihdhar’s full name was mentioned in one call, the NSA only passes on his first name. Also, the NSA has already learned from monitoring the Yemen hub that Nawaf’s last name is Alhazmi and that he is long-time friends with Almihdhar (see Early 1999). However, they either don’t look this up in their records or don’t pass it on to any other agency. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 239 ; Wright, 2006, pp. 310] An NSA analyst makes a comment that is shared between US intelligence agencies, “Salem may be Nawaf’s younger brother.” This turns out to be correct. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] A CIA officer will later tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that information from the Africa embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) was reviewed in late 1999 during a worldwide effort to disrupt millennium attack plots (see December 15-31, 1999) and “a kind of tuning fork… buzzed when two [of the hijackers] reportedly planning a trip to [Malaysia] were linked indirectly to what appeared to be a support element… involved with the Africa bombers.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] The fact that they are connected to the Yemen communication hub already indicates some importance within al-Qaeda. It is learned they are connected to the embassy bombings in some way (see October 4, 2001 and Late 1999). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] The NSA report about them on this day is entitled, “Activities of Bin Laden Associates,” showing the clear knowledge of their ties to bin Laden. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] The CIA will track Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to the Malaysia summit (see January 2-5, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000).
Entity Tags: Salem Alhazmi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI New York Field Office, Khalid Almihdhar, FBI Headquarters, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed al-Hada, National Security Agency, Nawaf Alhazmi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Ziyad Khaleel in Missouri in 1996. [Source: Evan Kohlmann]Police in Jordan detain Ziyad Khaleel, who the FBI calls a Florida-based “procurement agent” for Osama bin Laden. The FBI says Khaleel’s role is to “procure computers, satellite telephones, and covert surveillance equipment” for al-Qaeda leaders. [Newsweek, 2/7/2000] In 1995, Khaleel started studied at Columbia College in Kansas City. The following year, using money sent by others, the FBI monitored him as he helped bin Laden buy a satellite phone (see November 1996-Late December 1999 and November 1996-Late August 1998). He continued to buy new minutes and parts for the phone at least through 1998 (see July 29-August 7, 1998). [Knight Ridder, 9/20/2001] While living in the US, he also was helping Hamas, the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), and working as a regional director for the Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA), which was directly funding bin Laden (see November 1996-Late December 1999). US intelligence also linked him to the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in 1994, a charity front with ties to both bin Laden and the CIA (see 1986-1993). Once in custody, Khaleel cooperates with the FBI and is said to provide “crucial evidence about bin Laden’s US operations.” But he is quickly released. He will graduate from Columbia College later in 2000. [Newsweek, 2/7/2000; Knight Ridder, 9/20/2001] He will continue to raise money in the US for Palestinian groups the US government will later say are terrorist-related. He will leave the US around early 2001 and apparently dies in a car crash in Saudi Arabia in 2002. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/22/2003; Newsweek, 10/20/2004]
During the investigation of the Millennium plots to attack targets in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), the local intelligence service gives the chief of the CIA station in Amman a box of evidence to examine. However, the station chief, apparently called “Hendrik V.,” ignores the box; he dumps it in a corner of his office and fails to inform his FBI colleagues of it. A few days later, FBI agent Ali Souofan is in Hendrik V.‘s office and asks what is in the box. Hendrik V. replies that it is just “junk” the Jordanians gave him. Soufan starts to go through the box and finds key evidence, such as a map of the proposed bomb sites. The evidence is then returned to the Jordanians, so they can start following the leads. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “Soufan’s success embarrassed the CIA.” [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ; Soufan, 2011, pp. 139-140] Hendrik V. will later be promoted to run the Sunni Extremist Group at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (see (Between Summer and Winter 2001)).
Following a raid on suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Dublin, Ireland, on December 21, 1999 (see December 21, 1999), FBI investigators begin monitoring the al-Qaeda cell there. The cell is believed to specialize in providing travel and identity documents for others committing violent acts. It will later be reported that “further investigation led to the tracing of telephone calls between Dublin and the Yemen in the period before al-Qaeda launched” its attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). [Irish Times, 7/31/2002] Additional details such as what was said in these calls have not been reported. The calls to Yemen may well have been to a Yemeni al-Qaeda communications hub that was under US surveillance since at least 1998 (see Late August 1998).
At some point during this year, an FBI internal memo states that a Middle Eastern nation has been trying to purchase a flight simulator in violation of US restrictions. The FBI refuses to disclose the date or details of this memo. [Los Angeles Times, 5/30/2002]
In the wake of disrupting Ahmed Ressam’s millennium bomb plot at the end of 1999 and arresting his cohorts (see December 14, 1999)
(see December 15-31, 1999), US intelligence remains concerned that al-Qaeda sleeper cells remain in the US (see March 10, 2000). However, Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger later claims that the FBI still repeatedly assures the Clinton White House that al-Qaeda lacks the ability to launch a domestic strike. [New York Times, 9/22/2002] He says, “Until the very end of our time in office, the view we received from the [FBI] was that al-Qaeda had limited capacity to operate in the US and any presence here was under surveillance.” No analysis is done before 9/11 to investigate just how big that presence might be. [Washington Post, 9/20/2002]
According to a New York Times report, al-Qaeda documents found in Kabul in 2001 will include a list of Florida flight schools taken out of an aviation magazine (see November 2001). The list includes Walkawitz Aviation of Titusville and Phoenix East Aviation of Daytona Beach. The Times reports: “Greg Nardi, the manager of Walkawitz Aviation, said that several Arab students had approached the school in the last year and that the FBI had visited the school on more than five occasions since the Sept. 11 attacks, taking away the records of a number of these Arabs.… He recalled one conversation with an Arab visitor a year ago that seemed particularly strange. The Arab man, with a thick accent, asked him whether it was possible to jump safely out of a jet using a parachute. He also asked how far the parachute would carry him. ‘At the time you just pass it off,’ Mr. Nardi said of the questions. His staff told the prospective student that it would be difficult to open the door of a pressurized jet and that the plane would have to be reconfigured for such an endeavor.” [New York Times, 11/17/2001]
A 1998 presidential directive gave the National Security Council authority to designate important upcoming events as National Special Security Events (NSSEs) (see May 22, 1998). The US Secret Service is in charge of planning and implementing security for NSSEs, and the FBI and FEMA also have major security roles. [CSO Magazine, 9/2004; Scripps Howard News Service, 1/11/2005] Louis Freeh, director of the FBI for much of the 1990s until June 2001, will later tell the 9/11 Commission that in the years 2000 and 2001, the subject of “planes as weapons” was always one of the considerations in the planning of security for “a series of these, as we call them, special events,” and “resources were actually designated to deal with that particular threat.” He confirms that “the use of airplanes, either packed with explosives or otherwise, in suicide missions” was “part of the planning” for NSSEs. [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004] According to the Secret Service, “there is a tremendous amount of advance planning and coordination” for NSSEs, sometimes taking months or even years. Various training initiatives are conducted, including “simulated attacks and medical emergencies, inter-agency tabletop exercises, and field exercises.” [United States Secret Service, 2002; US Congress, 7/9/2002] Presumably the use of airplanes in suicide missions is incorporated into some of these simulated attacks.
Treasury Department official Richard Newcomb has been to Saudi Arabia with other US officials in an attempt to pressure the Saudis to crack down on financing al-Qaeda, but no action has resulted (see June 1999). He had threatened to freeze the assets of certain individuals and groups funding al-Qaeda if not action is taken, and now he starts to act on that threat. As head of the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, he submits names for sanctions. But imposing sanctions requires approval from an interagency committee, and the permission to go ahead is never given. CIA and FBI officials are “lukewarm to the idea, worried that sanctions would chill what little cooperation they had with their Saudi counterparts.” But the State Department puts up the most opposition. One official will later recall, “The State Department always thought we had much bigger fish to fry.” [US News and World Report, 12/15/2003]
Byron Sage, the chief FBI negotiator during the Waco, Texas, siege that claimed the lives of almost 80 Branch Davidians (see April 19, 1993), now says the FBI’s strategy during the siege was wrong. “We played right into the hands of David Koresh,” the leader of the Branch Davidians, Sage tells a television interviewer. “He had an apocalyptic end in mind, and he used us to fulfill his own prophecy.” [San Antonio Express-News, 2/27/2000]
The Saudi Arabia Royal Consulate in Los Angeles. [Source: InfoUSA]According to Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL), co-chair of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, during this time Omar al-Bayoumi has an “unusually large number of telephone calls with Saudi government officials in both Los Angeles and Washington.” Graham will note this increased communication corresponds with the arrival of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar into al-Bayoumi’s life. He will see this as evidence of Saudi government involvement in the 9/11 plot. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 168-169] An FBI report obtained by the Intelwire.com website in 2008 will specify that from January through May 2000, al-Bayoumi calls the Saudi embassy in Washington 32 times, the Saudi Cultral Mission in Washington 37 times, and the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles 24 times. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/15/2002 ] Al-Bayoumi is in contact with Fahad al Thumairy during this time, and the two call each other’s private phone numbers many times (see December 1998-December 2000). Al Thumairy is an official at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles and a known Islamic radical (see January 15-February 2000).
A nuclear proliferation network operating in the US penetrates the Pentagon and related institutions, according to FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds. Edmonds will later leave the FBI and say she knows this based on telephone conversations she translated as a part of an FBI investigation. The network, which is run by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan, but also includes Turkish and Israeli elements, is allegedly helped by a number of senior officials in the Pentagon. Edmonds will later say: “The [senior officials] provided lists of potential moles from Pentagon-related institutions who had access to databases concerning this information. The handlers, who were part of the diplomatic community, would then try to recruit those people to become moles for the network. The lists contained all their ‘hooking points,’ which could be financial or sexual pressure points, their exact job in the Pentagon and what stuff they had access to.” One of the Pentagon figures that is a target of the FBI investigation is Larry Franklin, an analyst who will be jailed in 2006 for passing US defense information to lobbyists and sharing classified information with an Israeli diplomat. According to Edmonds, Franklin is “one of the top people providing information and packages during 2000 and 2001.” [Sunday Times (London), 1/6/2008]
Mary Deborah Doran. [Source: Havecamerawilltravel.com]Al-Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash possibly flies to the US around this time. In 2011, former FBI agent Ali Soufan will write in a book that in late 2003, he and some other FBI officials plus some CIA officials briefed the 9/11 Commission about al-Qaeda. In the course of that briefing, an FBI official named Mary Deborah Doran said, “[W]e found that Salah bin Saeed bin Yousef—this is the alias Khallad [bin Attash] traveled under—was listed as having traveled to LAX [Los Angeles Airport] during the millennium.” A CIA analyst present denies that bin Attash ever went to the US. Doran replied, “You may be right, but if he wasn’t there, why is his alias on the flight manifest?” Apparently, the CIA analyst has no response to this. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 303] This is all that is publicly known, since even though this information is presented to the 9/11 Commission, the Commission never even mentions bin Attash going to the US as a possibility in its final report.
When Exactly Could This Occur? - If bin Attash does go to Los Angeles, it is unclear exactly when this takes place. Bin Attash appears to be busy in Malaysia for most of late December 1999, recovering from surgery there (see Mid-December 1999). Then he makes a series of test flights from Kuala Lumpur to Bangkok to Hong Kong and back from December 31, 1999 to January 2, 2000 (see December 31, 1999-January 2, 2000). One logical possibility is that he continues these test flights to the US and back from January 2 to 5, returning to Malaysia in time for the al-Qaeda summit he attends there from January 5 to 8 (see January 5-8, 2000). After the summit, it is known he goes to Bangkok, Thailand, and stays there until he flies to Karachi, Pakistan, on January 20 (see January 8, 2000 and January 20, 2000). But it is also possible he could fly to Los Angeles and back during his time in Thailand, since many of his days there are not accounted for. Future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khallad Almihdhar attend the Malaysia summit with bin Attash and then fly to Los Angeles on January 15 (see January 15, 2000) and start living in California, so it could be that bin Attash goes to Los Angeles to prepare the way for the two hijackers, or to help them start living there.
If He Goes to the US, Does the CIA Know? - Since the CIA knows bin Attash is using the Salah bin Saeed bin Yousef alias for all his plane flights around this time, and flies with Alhazmi and Almihdhar to Thailand using this alias on January 8, and Alhazmi and Almihdhar fly to Los Angeles one week later, it would be logical for the agency to check if bin Attash ever goes to the US under that name as well. But it is unknown if the CIA checks for this information before 9/11.
A CIA officer known only as “James,” who knows that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa, twice briefs FBI officials about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, but fails to mention the visa.
First Briefing - On the night of January 5, 2000, James, who has been assigned to the FBI’s Strategic Information Operations Center (SIOC) to deal with problems “in communicating between the CIA and the FBI,” briefs an FBI agent who works in the FBI’s bin Laden unit, which is part of the SIOC at that time, about a number of cables he has received regarding the al-Qaeda summit that is just starting in Malaysia and one of the people attending it, Almihdhar. The FBI agent will later say he does not know why James chooses to brief him, as he is not a designated contact point for the CIA.
Documented by E-mail - James will later write an e-mail to several other CIA officers and detail “exactly” what he briefed this person on. Although the CIA should inform the FBI of a terrorist like Almihdhar having a US visa, he does not mention discussing the visa with the FBI agent, even though he had just seen several CIA cables talking about it.
Second Briefing - Overnight, another CIA cable comes in to him providing new details about Almihdhar and the Malaysia summit. An FBI agent then asks another CIA officer detailed to the FBI for an update on Almihdhar. This second CIA officer asks James for the update, so he can pass it on. James’s response to this request is to brief a third FBI agent in the SIOC about the new information. Again, records will indicate he fails to mention anything about Almihdhar’s US visa. This FBI agent will also say he does not know why he was briefed on the matter, as he is not a designated contact point for the CIA. James then tells his CIA colleague he has already provided the FBI with an update, so this second officer does not have to do so.
Informing Other Agents - James also sends an e-mail to other CIA agents describing “exactly” what he told both of the FBI agents. One section of his e-mail reads: “Thus far, a lot of suspicious activity has been observed [in Malaysia] but nothing that would indicate evidence of an impending attack or criminal enterprise. [I told the first FBI agent] that as soon as something concrete is developed leading us to the criminal arena or to known FBI cases, we will immediately bring FBI into the loop. Like [the first FBI agent] yesterday, [the second FBI agent] stated that this was a fine approach and thanked me for keeping him in the loop.”
Refuses to Be Interviewed - After 9/11, James will refuse to talk to the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, but will tell the CIA’s inspector general that he has no recollection of these events. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 241-247 ; Tenet, 2007, pp. 195]
Although Malaysian authorities video the militants attending al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit on its first day (see January 5, 2000), photos of the meeting’s attendees are later circulated and must be taken during the meeting as well.
One account says that, in general: “As the terrorists left the [condominium where the summit was held], the Malaysian police clicked away with their cameras. There was enough material for a whole photo series.” [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] As of March 2008, none of the photos have been made public, and information about them is scanty. However, it is known that the photos include:
Three high-quality surveillance photos later shown to the FBI (see June 11, 2001). One is shot from a low angle and shows 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi standing by a tree. The two others in this set appear to show Almihdhar and Alhazmi individually, and will also later be shown to Yemeni authorities and an FBI asset in Pakistan (see Mid-Late December 2000, Early January 2001, January 3, 2001, and January 4, 2001). [Wright, 2006, pp. 341]
More photos of Almihdhar “meeting with other al-Qaeda operatives.” He is also “photographed in various locations meeting with several different people.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 234, 243 ] The photos of Almihdhar include ones taken at his hotel, which is discovered by the Malaysians, and more coming and going from the condominium where the meeting is held. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ; Observer, 10/7/2001]
A picture of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, apparently standing by Alhazmi and Almihdhar. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 285 ; Wright, 2006, pp. 342]
Photos of USS Cole bomber Fahad al-Quso, or a person who looks like him, standing next to Almihdhar. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ]
A picture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh next to bin Attash. [Los Angeles Times, 10/17/2001; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
Hambali, head of an al-Qaeda affiliate in Southeast Asia, is in some photos, and is immediately recognized by Malaysian intelligence (see Shortly After January 8, 2000).
Yazid Sufaat, the summit’s host, is also in some photos, and also is recognized by Malaysian intelligence. [New Straits Times, 2/10/2002]
On January 8, the CIA will be told that an unnamed new person has just joined Almihdhar and the others, and that additional photographs have been taken. It is not mentioned who the new person is. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 247 ]
The total number of photos taken and then passed to the CIA is not known. It is also unclear why only two or three of the photos are circulated within the within some US intelligence agencies before 9/11 (see Early January 2001, January 3, 2001, Late May, 2001, and June 11, 2001).
Victims’ family members Lorie Van Auken (right) and Kristen Breitweiser (left) are shocked to learn Tom Wilshire blocked a cable to the FBI about Khalid Almihdhar’s visa. [Source: Banded Artists]Doug Miller, an FBI agent assigned to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, reads CIA cables reporting that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa and drafts a cable to the FBI to inform it of this. The CIA obtained the information through a tap on Almihdhar’s phone in Yemen (see December 29, 1999) and by monitoring him as he passed through Dubai (see January 2-5, 2000) on his way to an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000).
Draft Cable - Miller writes that Almihdhar has a US visa (see April 3-7, 1999) and that the visa application states his destination is New York and he intends to stay for three months. The draft cable mentions the tap on Almihdhar’s phone, his planned travel to Malaysia, and the links between his phone and the 1998 East African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and October 4, 2001). It also says that the CIA has obtained photographs of Almihdhar and these will be sent separately. Miller asks the FBI for feedback resulting from an FBI investigation.
Blocked - Another CIA officer named Michael Anne Casey accesses Miller’s draft about an hour after he writes it. The cable is then blocked on the orders of the station’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire, as a few hours after Miller drafts the cable Casey attaches a message to it saying, “pls hold off on [cable] for now per [Tom Wilshire].” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 240 ] Miller is also told, “This is not a matter for the FBI.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 311]
'No Reason to Kill the Message' - Author James Bamford will later comment: “A potential terrorist and member of al-Qaeda was heading for the US, the FBI’s jurisdiction—its turf—and he [Miller] was putting the FBI on notice so it could take action. There was no reason to kill the message.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 19] Miller will later say he has no “rational answer” as to why the cable was blocked, but will speculate that Alec Station officers were annoyed he had encroached on their territory. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] Casey drafts a cable falsely saying that the information about Almihdhar’s visa has been shared with the FBI (see Around 7:00 p.m. January 5, 2000) and there will be a discussion the next day about whether the cable should be sent (see January 6, 2000). The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later call the failure to pass the information to the FBI a “significant failure” but will be unable to determine why the information was not passed on. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 250 ] The 9/11 Commission will know of the incident, but will relegate it to an endnote in its final report, omitting Wilshire’s role entirely. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502] The CIA inspector general will falsely claim that the cable is not sent, “[a]pparently because it was in the wrong format or needed editing.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xv ]
Mark Rossini. [Source: Fox News]Mark Rossini, an FBI agent on loan to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, protests in vain against a decision to deliberately withhold information about one of the future 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). One of his colleagues, Doug Miller, had tried to inform the FBI that Almihdhar had a US visa the day before, but had been blocked by a 29-year-old female CIA officer named Michael Anne Casey and the unit’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire. According to author James Bamford, Rossini was “perplexed and outraged that the CIA would forbid the bureau’s notification on a matter so important.” Rossini will later say: “So the next day I went to her and said: ‘What’s with Doug’s cable? You’ve got to tell the bureau about this.’ She put her hand on her hip and said: ‘Look, the next attack is going to happen in Southeast Asia—it’s not the bureau’s jurisdiction. When we want the FBI to know about it, we’ll let them know. But the next bin Laden attack’s going to happen in Southeast Asia.’” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 19-20] Rossini protests, saying, “They’re here!” and, “It is FBI business,” but to no avail. Even though he is an FBI agent, he cannot pass on notification to the bureau without permission from his superiors at Alec Station. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] Casey will be promoted after 9/11. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 16] In the run-up to the 9/11 attacks, Wilshire will write an e-mail expressing his fear of an al-Qaeda attack in Southeast Asia, specifically Malaysia (see July 5, 2001), and will give this as a reason he does not communicate information about Almihdhar and his partner Nawaf Alhazmi to the FBI in May 2001 (see May 15, 2001). It will be alleged after 9/11 that the notification may be withheld to stop the FBI interfering with an illegal CIA-linked operation to monitor the hijackers in the US (see 2006 and After).
FBI Director Louis Freeh and other top FBI officials are briefed about the ongoing al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) as part of their regular daily update. They are told the CIA is in the lead and that the CIA promises to let the FBI know if an FBI angle to the case develops. But they are not told that the CIA has just found out that one of the participants, Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] It is unclear who the other top FBI officials that are briefed are. However, Dale Watson, the assistant director of the counterterrorism division, and Thomas Pickard, the FBI’s deputy director at this time and its acting director in the summer of 2001, will also learn of the summit by July 2001, although it is unclear exactly when they are informed (see July 12, 2001). [Pickard, 6/24/2004] According to Vanity Fair, Richard Blee, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, “provided surveillance updates for [the CIA’s] top officers, the FBI, and the White House” while the summit is in progress. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] One FBI official familiar with the case will later complain: “[The CIA] purposely hid [Almihdhar] from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau.… The thing was, they didn’t want John O’Neill and the FBI running over their case. And that’s why September 11 happened.… They have blood on their hands.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224] Jack Cloonan, an FBI agent in the I-49 squad that focuses on al-Qaeda, will later say: “If that information [got] disseminated, would it have had an impact on the events of 9/11? I’m telling you that it would have.” [ABC News, 5/10/2004]
A newly released surveillance photograph taken during the FBI’s final assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993), casts doubt on theories that FBI agents opened fire on the Davidians during the assault (see September 14, 1999, October 1999, October 7, 1999, November 5, 1999, and November 15, 1999). The photo is part of a batch submitted to the Danforth investigation (see September 7-8, 1999) and to Judge Walter Smith, who is presiding over the wrongful-death lawsuit filed by Davidian survivors against the government (see April 1995). The photograph was taken on April 19, 1993, within seconds of the time when a flash appears on an infrared surveillance videotape at 11:24 a.m. Experts have claimed that such flashes indicate gunfire from FBI agents; however, no one is in the vicinity of the flash as shown in the photograph. Smith has ordered tests to be done to determine if the flashes on the videotapes are, indeed, gunfire. Lawyer Michael Caddell, speaking for the Davidians, says the photograph proves nothing: “Seeing one or two or 10 photographs doesn’t tell you a whole lot.” Two FBI planes were flying over the compound during the attack. One, an FBI Nightstalker, took infrared videotape of the scene and the other took still photographs on film. Until recently, the two had not been compared to one another. The infrared tapes show a tank destroying the back wall of the Davidians’ gymnasium just before 11:30 a.m.; at 11:24, the tape shows a flash off the right rear corner of the tank. The photo was taken almost at that same instance; no one can be seen in the photo, casting doubt on claims that someone was near the tank firing into the compound. Caddell notes that the photographs are not time-stamped, and the times of the photos must be estimated based on the amount of damage done to the gymnasium. “Being able to identify what time it is and whatever the precise moment when someone was firing from the rear of the tank is very suspect unless you’ve got a complete roll of film and you can see the entire sequence,” he says. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/12/2000; Associated Press, 1/13/2000]
Following a request by the CIA, the NSA puts hijacker 9/11 Khalid Almihdhar on its watch list. This means that the NSA should pass details of any new monitored communications involving him to the CIA. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 ] The CIA is looking for Almihdhar and knows he has a US visa (see January 13, 2000), but fails to add him to the State Department’s watch list until 19 months later (see August 23, 2001). The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later state: “In mid-January 2000, NSA queried its databases for information concerning Khaled [redacted]. These queries remained active until May 2000, but did not uncover any information.” In fact, the NSA intercepts eight of Almihdhar’s calls from San Diego to Yemen during this time and even gives some details about some of the calls to the FBI (see Spring-Summer 2000). However, they do not tell the CIA everything about them, despite the watch list requirement to provide the information. It is not clear why the NSA failed to share this with the CIA. It is also not known if or when Almihdhar was removed from the NSA watch list before 9/11. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ]
Omar al-Bayoumi. [Source: Fox News]Omar al-Bayoumi, a suspected Saudi spy, goes to great lengths to help future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar settle in San Diego. Supposedly, al-Bayoumi meets them by chance in a Los Angeles restaurant and encourages them to move to San Diego, but the accounts of the meeting are highly doubtful (see February 1, 2000). The FBI’s “best source” in San Diego will later say that al-Bayoumi “must be an intelligence officer for Saudi Arabia or another foreign power.” A former top FBI official working on the al-Bayoumi investigation claims, “We firmly believed that he had knowledge [of the 9/11 plot], and that his meeting with them that day was more than coincidence.” [Newsweek, 7/28/2003]
When Alhazmi and Almihdhar move into apartment 150 in the Parkwood Apartments in San Diego in early February, they indicate on their rental application that they have been staying at al-Bayoumi’s apartment in the same apartment complex since January 15, the day they arrived in the US (see January 15-February 2, 2000). (This would suggest the alleged accidental restaurant meeting never took place.) [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/3/2001 ]
He is the co-signer and guarantor for their rental application, because they do not have established credit. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/3/2001 ]
He pays $1,500 cash for their first month’s rent and security deposit. Some FBI officials claim the hijackers immediately pay him back, others claim they do not. [Newsweek, 11/24/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
The apartment manager will later claim al-Bayoumi occasionally paid rent for Alhazmi and Almihdhar on other occasions. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/3/2001 ]
Shortly after they arrive in San Diego, al-Bayoumi throws a welcoming party to introduce them to the local Muslim community. [Washington Post, 12/29/2001] One attendee will later say an al-Bayoumi party “was a big deal… it meant that everyone accepted them without question.” [San Diego Union-Tribune, 10/25/2001]
He also introduces hijacker Hani Hanjour to the community a short time later, and Hanjour is seen in his apartment later in the year (see Early 2000). [San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/14/2002]
Cayson Bin Don, a friend of al-Bayoumi, will later say al-Bayoumi “spent a lot of time at Alhazmi and Almihdhar’s apartment.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/8/2001 ]
Al-Bayoumi apparently loans the hijackers his cell phone until they can get phone service in their own apartment. On February 15, 2000, someone trying to call al-Bayoumi on his phone has the call answered by Alhazmi instead. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 516]
He tasks an acquaintance, Mohdar Abdullah, to serve as their translator and help them get driver’s licenses, Social Security cards, information on flight schools, and more. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/14/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
The FBI’s most senior representative at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, develops cancer and is forced to resign, meaning no FBI agent assigned to Alec Station has the power to release information from the CIA for months. A key cable informing the FBI that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa will fail to be released to the FBI around this time (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). The representative, who is referred to in documents as “Eric”, is deputy chief of Alec Station. He has the power to release information to the FBI having acquired this power in a row with former Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer (see June 1999). The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will say Eric left the unit in mid-January, which would have given him over a week to give the FBI information about Almihdhar discovered during the surveillance of an al-Qaeda summit held from January 5-8 (see January 5-8, 2000). It is known Eric accessed a cable related to the Malaysia summit on January 5 and discussed surveillance photos taken of the summit with CIA officer Tom Wilshire (see (Mid-January 2000)). Author Lawrence Wright will comment: “None of the… FBI agents remaining in Alec had the seniority to release information, and consequently had to rely on the agency to give them permission for any transfer of classified cable traffic.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 241, 320 ; Wright, 2006, pp. 313]
Deputy Chief of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit Tom Wilshire discusses al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit with another deputy unit chief who is on loan from the FBI. Wilshire mentions that surveillance photos have been taken, but apparently fails to mention that one of the extremists attending the summit, 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 254 ] Wilshire blocks passage of the information about Almihdhar’s US visa to the FBI around this time (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000).
After getting to know San Diego resident Omar al-Bayoumi, future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi allegedly begins to suspect that he is a Saudi spy. Alhazmi, fellow hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, and al-Bayoumi all live in the Parkwood Apartments in San Diego in early 2000 (see January 15-February 2, 2000 and January 15-February 2000). In discussing why the hijackers move from there, the 9/11 Commission will comment, “They may also have been reconsidering the wisdom of living so close to the video camera-wielding al-Bayoumi, who Alhazmi seemed to think was some sort of Saudi spy.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 219]
Alhazmi Warns Friend Al-Bayoumi Is a Spy - An FBI report from shortly after 9/11 obtained by the website Intelwire.com will similarly mention, “Alhazmi disclosed to _____ [that al-Bayoumi] was a spy for the Saudi government and directed ______ not to socialize too much with him.” (Several names mentioned are redacted, and al-Bayoumi’s name is inferred from other references to him.) [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/15/2002 ] It is unclear what the source for this information is, or when exactly Alhazmi may say this.
Alhazmi Also Tells FBI Informant Al-Bayoumi Is a Spy - From May until December 2000, Alhazmi lives at the house of Abdussattar Shaikh, an FBI informant. In a 2004 interview by the 9/11 Commission, Shaikh will say that Alhazmi told him that al-Bayoumi was an agent for the Saudi government. Alhazmi also told him that he didn’t like al-Bayoumi, and he complained that al-Bayoumi constantly videotaped people at the local mosque, and made comments on the video camera’s microphone as he recorded them. Shaikh already knew al-Bayoumi from the local mosque (the Islamic Center of San Diego) and al-Bayoumi also visited Alhazmi at his house. Shaikh pointed out that he’d noticed this too, and he says he told Alhazmi, “I have heard that al-Bayoumi is an agent (of the Saudis).” Later, Shaikh warned someone he knew not to help al-Bayoumi after being requested to do so, because he feared al-Bayoumi was an intelligence agent. [9/11 Commission, 4/23/2004]
Others Concur Al-Bayoumi Was a Spy - Many US investigators will later conclude that al-Bayoumi is in fact a Saudi spy (see August 1-3, 2003 and September 7, 2004). Furthermore, some FBI officials will allegedly conclude that Alhazmi and Almihdhar also are connected to Saudi intelligence (see 2006 and After and August 6, 2003).
While the 9/11 hijackers are in the US, the NSA intercepts several calls between them and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by Ahmed al-Hada, who is hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father-in-law (see August 4-25, 1998).
Summary of Calls -
The first calls are made by Almihdhar and are intercepted during the spring and summer of 2000 (see Spring-Summer 2000).
More calls are made by hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi after the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000 (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001).
The final call from the US is intercepted just a few weeks before 9/11 (see (August 2001)).
The NSA intercepted the hijackers’ calls outside the US before this (see Early 1999 and December 29, 1999) and continues to do so in 2000 (see Summer 2000) after Almihdhar returns to Yemen (see June 10, 2000 and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)).
Calls' Content - Some of the calls may only contain non-operational information, as they are reportedly between Almihdhar and his wife. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 343] However, the calls are also used to relay messages to the 9/11 hijackers. [Embassy of Yemen (Washington), 2/13/2002; MSNBC, 2/14/2002; MSNBC, 5/2005]
Agencies' Roles - The CIA is the lead agency monitoring the communications hub. It has planted bugs inside it and is wiretapping all calls (see Late August 1998). Intercepts of calls to and from the hub are a major plank of the US intelligence community’s effort to fight al-Qaeda. Also involved is the FBI, which is using phone records to plot these calls on a map (see Late 1998-Early 2002). Some of the calls intercepted by US intelligence come from Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone in Afghanistan (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late August 1998). After 9/11, counterterrorism officials will say that the number was one of the hottest targets being monitored by the NSA and was an “intelligence bonanza.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Wright, 2006, pp. 343]
Importance of Failure - Also after 9/11, counterterrorism officials will agree that the failure to follow leads to the US from this number was a huge missed opportunity to stop the 9/11 plot. For instance, FBI agent Kenneth Maxwell will say: “Two al-Qaeda guys living in California—are you kidding me? We would have been on them like white on snow: physical surveillance, electronic surveillance, a special unit devoted entirely to them.” [MSNBC, 7/21/2004; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
Discussed after 9/11 - The failure to roll up the plot based on these communications intercepts will be discussed following 9/11 (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004 and March 15, 2004 and After).
FBI agents testifying for an upcoming civil case filed against the government by survivors of the Branch Davidian tragedy near Waco, Texas, in 1993 (see April 19, 1993) contradict the government’s official explanation for its decision to dismantle the Davidians’ gymnasium with armored vehicles, as laid out in a 1993 Justice Department report on the assault by FBI agents on the Davidian compound (see October 8, 1993). The Justice Department report gave two reasons why a Combat Engineering Vehicle (CEV)—described as a modified Patton tank—tore through the back of the Davidian compound, causing the gym to partially collapse. According to the report, the CEV ripped out the back wall to give the Davidians an escape route and to allow for the eventual insertion of tear gas. However, an FBI agent testifying in the trial says the orders were to use the CEV to find a way to get to a guard tower at the back of the compound, where supervisors believed the Davidians had retreated to escape the tear gas already fired inside the compound. The agent was a passenger in the CEV in question. “You were not ordered to breach the rear side of the building to create escape openings?” plaintiffs’ attorney Michael Caddell of Houston asks in the deposition. “You were ordered to clear this path to the tower, correct?” The passenger responds, “Correct.” Caddell then asks, “What was the purpose of this path if it was cleared, or when it was cleared?” The passenger responds, “To effectively deliver gas to that tower area of the building where it was believed we were not getting gas.” He denies that the CEV was attempting to demolish the building, but Caddell asks, “You don’t call that building destroyed?” The passenger acknowledges that “portions of it” were indeed destroyed. An FBI agent who piloted a surveillance plane over the Davidian compound testifies that other agents in the plane noted that the Davidians would have to flee the compound because it was being demolished. The pilot testifies: “I recall some remarks that were made while, you know, ‘People were going to have to get out pretty soon because it’s going to, you know, the things are being kind of, during the penetrations, being taken away from them.’” Caddell also questions another agent, who drove the CEV in question. Caddell focuses on his assertion that the FBI drastically sped up the execution of the plan, which was originally conceived to take place over two days instead of a matter of hours. The driver testifies, “It was another CEV that had basically, what had been done was a railroad, a stanchion of railroad was welded to the blade itself, extending three feet on either side of the blade, and it was going to be used to drive along the side of the building, basically cutting the studs away and the sheetrock away, so we could actually see into the front sides of the building in hopes that they would come out when they were in plain view at that point.” Caddell asks, “How would the gym have looked any different if you had attacked it with the railroad CEV as opposed to the CEV you had?” The driver responds: “I have no idea. We never got to that part of the plan. I mean, in hindsight, it could have very well been the exact same result. But my plan at that point was not to destroy the gymnasium.” The agent who was riding in the CEV says that the FBI could have easily and quickly demolished the entire compound if it wanted to: “I think in no time at all the collateral destruction that you see on the empty gymnasium area would be the entire compound. I mean these are large powerful vehicles.” The driver denies Caddell’s assertion that the holes made by the CEVs could have served as openings for agents on foot to enter the compound. “They had told them we weren’t going to make entry into the building, and we didn’t,” he says. The passenger testifies that he didn’t think the Davidians would see the FBI’s actions as hostile and begin firing weapons, which led to the FBI dramatically escalating its schedule of firing tear gas into the compound. “I was actually very surprised when we were shot at,” the CEV passenger testifies. “I mean, you’ve got to keep in mind we were here 50 some days and there had been no exchanges and no shooting. And I especially felt with the notification and the negotiators talking to them and explaining what was going on, that they would not shoot. Didn’t see where that would be the logical step.” [Cox News Service, 1/30/2000]
Cayson Bin Don, a.k.a. Clayton Morgan. [Source: Fox News]On February 1, 2000, 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar allegedly meet Omar al-Bayoumi, a suspected Saudi spy, by pure chance. Alhazmi and Almihdhar had arrived in Los Angeles from overseas on January 15 (see January 15, 2000). On February 1, al-Bayoumi drives about two hours from where he lives in San Diego to Los Angeles. He is driving with Cayson Bin Don, an US citizen formerly known as Clayton Morgan who converted to Islam and became a supporter of radical militant causes. [FrontPage Magazine, 4/27/2005]
Al-Bayoumi Met with Saudi Consulate Official - Al-Bayoumi just had a one hour meeting with Fahad al Thumairy, an employee of the Saudi embassy suspected to have radical militant ties. (Al Thumairy will later be deported from the US due to alleged terrorist links (see May 6-8, 2003).) What al-Bayoumi and al Thumairy discuss is unknown, but phone records indicate they had been in contact since 1998 (see December 1998-December 2000). [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 12-13]
Meeting at Restaurant - After the meeting, al-Bayoumi rejoins Cayson Bin Don and they go to a Middle Eastern restaurant several miles from the Los Angeles airport. Al-Bayoumi and Bin Don will both be interviewed about this later and describe similar stories. Supposedly, al-Bayoumi hears Arabic being spoken at an adjacent table, and invites the two strangers, Alhazmi and Almihdhar, to join them. Alhazmi says that he and Almihdhar do not feel comfortable in Los Angeles as they find the city too big and intimidating. Al-Bayoumi offers to be of help if the two of them decide to move to San Diego. Al-Bayoumi and Bin Don then leave the restaurant and visit the Culver City mosque a few blocks away (Al Thumairy is also the imam at that mosque). Then they return to San Diego. The two hijackers move to San Diego a few days later, and al-Bayoumi helps them extensively. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/8/2001 ; Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 12-13; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 217-218] Al-Bayoumi will later claim that this first contact with the hijackers is accidental. However, one FBI source will later recall that before al-Bayoumi drove to Los Angeles that day, he said he was going “to pick up visitors.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; Newsweek, 7/28/2003]
Problems with Account - There are numerous problems with Bin Don’s account. He recalls the meeting took place between December 1999 and February 2000, so it just as easily could have taken place on January 15, the day the hijackers first arrived. Also, when initially questioned by the FBI, he will claim that he first met the two hijackers at a party in San Diego. Asked why he failed to remember the restaurant meeting, he will point out he has ADD (attention deficit disorder). He will also concede that there was a “remote possibility” he could have been used as an alibi or cover by al-Bayoumi for the meeting. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/8/2001 ] Additionally, several days after 9/11, Bin Don will tell two police officers that he supported the 9/11 attack and that he would never tip authorities off if he knew of an impending attack. Later in the month, he attempts to purchase an assault rifle and handgun. Then, in comments to the New York Post in October 2001, he says, “I would consider it more noble for me to go and get myself out of the country, renounce my citizenship, end up in Afghanistan, pick up a gun and fight alongside everyone else against the enemy—American soldiers.” [FrontPage Magazine, 4/27/2005] The 9/11 Commission will later note that there are inconsistencies and problems
with both al-Bayoumi’s and Bin Don’s accounts of the meeting. The Commission will conclude: “We do not know whether the lunch encounter occurred by chance or design. We know about it because al-Bayoumi told law enforcement that it happened.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 217] A former top FBI official working on the al-Bayoumi investigation will later claim, “We firmly believed that [al-Bayoumi] had knowledge [of the 9/11 plot], and that his meeting with them that day was more than coincidence.” [Newsweek, 7/28/2003] Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), co-chair of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, will comment, “That a suspected Saudi spy would drive 125 miles to a meeting at the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles, where he would meet with a consular officer with suspected terrorist ties, and then drive another 7 miles to the one Middle Eastern restaurant—out of more than 134 Middle Eastern restaurants in Los Angeles—where he would happen to sit next to two future terrorists, to whom he would happen to offer friendship and support, cannot credibly be described as a coincidence.” [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 12-13]
Hijackers Already Living with Al-Bayoumi - Furthermore, there is evidence the two hijackers actually stayed in al-Bayoumi’s San Diego apartment from January 15, the day they arrived, until the day after this supposed meeting (see January 15-February 2, 2000).
Memos withheld from Congressional investigators (see August 4, 1995) by the FBI show that the FBI was riven by dissension during the Branch Davidian siege, which culminated in a fiery conflagration that killed scores of sect members (see April 19, 1993). The memos are released by the Dallas Morning News. Many senior FBI officials were pressing to use tear gas to bring the siege to a close, some as early as three weeks after its start. According to a March 23, 1993 memo (see March 23, 1993) written by then-Deputy Assistant Director Danny Coulson, the FBI’s top expert on tactics, the Hostage Rescue Team leader, Richard Rogers, was pressuring FBI officials to terminate the siege by using gas as part of an assault. Coulson disagreed with Rogers’s recommendations. Coulson is the former agent who recently revealed that the FBI had used pyrotechnic grenades during the final assault (see August 25, 1999 and After). Some House members are angry about the withheld memo, and note that they have consistently been denied documents even after subpoenas were issued. “We’ve had a subpoena out there for all relevant documents—all documents—since September 7, 1999,” says Mark Corallo, the spokesman for the House Government Reform Committee. “Is the Department of Justice withholding only embarrassing documents from us? It makes you wonder.” Other FBI documents released by the Dallas Morning News show that Attorney General Janet Reno gave her approval to use tear gas on the compound (see April 17-18, 1993). [Dallas Morning News, 2/28/2000]
Kie Fallis, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) terrorism intelligence analyst, later claims that around this time he uncovers an intelligence report about the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Public details of his exact knowledge about this summit have been scant, but it suggests at least some information on the summit spreads beyond the CIA and FBI not long after it takes place. But apparently, Fallis, who had been researching terror links between al-Qaeda and Iranian intelligence, learns that US intelligence discovered at the time that Malaysian security officials traced some attendees of the summit to the Iranian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, where they spent the night. Fallis will use this lead along with other leads to suggest a terror warning in late September 2000 (see May 2000-Late September 2000) that he believes might have stopped the USS Cole attack in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000) . [Washington Times, 8/26/2002]
The FBI obtains a wiretap warrant to seize al-Qaeda-related e-mails under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), but experimental software malfunctions and an angry FBI agent is said to destroy all the e-mails collected. The Carnivore software, which was installed in Denver, collects e-mails not only from the target, but also from other people. The FBI technician is reportedly so upset when he discovers e-mails from people whose communications the FBI has no authorization to collect that he apparently deletes everything the FBI has gathered, including the e-mails from the target. However, the article that first reports this deletion also says the opposite: “A Justice Department official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday night that the e-mails were not destroyed.” In either case, the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) at FBI headquarters, which deals with FISA warrants, is then informed and expresses its surprise it was not told the software was experimental before the warrant was issued. An FBI official will comment: “To state that [an OIPR official] is unhappy with [the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section] and the [Usama bin Laden] Unit would be an understatement of incredible proportions.” As the target’s e-mails have been destroyed in the FBI system, the FBI then wants a physical search warrant under FISA to go and collect the e-mails from the carrier. However, the OIPR insists on an explanation for the error before this can happen, and also demands an explanation for the problem, so the special FISA court can be notified. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 4/5/2000; Associated Press, 5/28/2002] It is not known who was being monitored, though there are potential al-Qaeda Denver connections: in 1994, a bin Laden front began routing communications through Denver (see 1994), and a passport was stolen there in 1995 from a man who was later confused with one of the 9/11 hijackers (see 1995).
FBI agents in Chicago are already investigating the Illinois-based Global Relief Foundation (GRF) for linked to al-Qaeda and other radical militant groups (see 1997-Late Spring 2001), when they discover a connection to Detroit. They find that GRF executive director Mohammad Chehade, a suspected al-Qaeda operative, is calling two people in the Detroit area, GRF’s unnamed spiritual leader and Rabih Haddad, a major GRF fund raiser. Based on this lead, in March 2000, the FBI’s Detroit office opens a full field investigation on these two subjects. A Detroit agent also applies for a FISA warrant on the two subjects to conduct electronic surveillance on them. But the FISA applications are not approved until just after 9/11 because FBI headquarters does not formally submit the request until then. The Detroit agent is never given a reason for the delay. In fact, FBI headquarters agents tell him the application looks good and repeatedly say that they are working on it. The agent will later tell the 9/11 Commission he “believes [the delay] caused him to miss a great opportunity to gather critical intelligence and substantially limited the Detroit investigation of GRF before 9/11.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 93-94 ] The GRF’s offices in the US and overseas will be shut down shortly after 9/11 (see December 14, 2001). Haddad will be imprisoned for 19 months for an immigration violation and then deported. [Metro Times, 3/17/2004]
The National Security Agency (NSA) intercepts calls between 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen, but does not notify the FBI that Almihdhar is in the US. However, the NSA disseminates reports about some of the calls, which are made from phones registered to Nawaf Alhazmi (see Spring-Summer 2000). The NSA will later say that it does not usually intercept calls between the US and other countries at this time, as it believes that this should be done by the FBI. Despite this, the NSA acquires information about such calls and provides the information to the FBI in regular reporting and in response to specific requests. The FBI, which has a standing request for such information about any calls between the communications hub in Yemen and the US (see Late 1998), then uses this information in its investigations based on warrants issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. The NSA will later tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry the reason the FBI is not notified about Almihdhar is because it does not realize that Almihdhar is in the US. However, no explanation is offered for why the NSA fails to realize this. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 36, 73-4 ] This explanation will be contradicted by one offered in a 2004 article about the issue that reports the intercepts are not exploited precisely because the NSA knows one of the parties is in the US and therefore does not want to deal with his calls (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004 and March 15, 2004 and After). In addition, the FBI used information gained from intercepted calls to and from the hub in Yemen to make a world map of al-Qaeda’s organization, indicating that the locations talking to the hub could be determined by US intelligence (see Late 1998-Early 2002). [MSNBC, 7/21/2004]
After being prompted by CIA colleagues in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to provide information about what happened to future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash after they flew from Malaysia to Thailand on January 8, 2000 (see January 8, 2000 and (February 25, 2000)), the CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, sends out a cable saying that Alhazmi arrived in the US from Thailand with an apparently unnamed companion on January 15 (see January 15, 2000). This information was received from Thai intelligence, which watchlisted Almihdhar and Alhazmi after being asked to do so by the CIA (see January 13, 2000 and January 15, 2000). [New York Times, 10/17/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 502]
Companion - The companion to whom the cable refers is presumably Almihdhar. According to later testimony of a senior FBI official, the CIA learns the companion is Almihdhar at this time: “In March 2000, the CIA received information concerning the entry of Almihdhar and Alhazmi into the United States.” [US Congress, 9/20/2002] The CIA disputes this, however. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ] If the companion the cable refers to is Almihdhar, then it is unclear why he would not be named, as the NSA has been intercepting his calls for at least a year (see Early 1999), he was under CIA surveillance earlier in January (see January 5-8, 2000), he is known to have a US visa (see January 2-5, 2000), he is associated with Alhazmi (see January 8-9, 2000), and this cable is prompted by another cable specifically asking where Almihdhar is (see February 11, 2000).
Missed Opportunity - Later, CIA officials, including CIA Director George Tenet and Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black, will admit that this was one of the missed opportunities to watchlist the hijackers. Black will say: “I think that month we watchlisted about 150 people. [The watchlisting] should have been done. It wasn’t.” Almihdhar and Alhazmi will not be added to the US watchlist until August 2001 (see August 23, 2001). [New York Times, 10/17/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ]
Unclear Who Reads Cable - Although Tenet will tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that nobody at CIA headquarters reads this cable at this time (see October 17, 2002), the CIA’s inspector general will conclude that “numerous” officers access this cable and others about Almihdhar. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria District, 3/28/2006 ] These officers are not named, but Tom Wilshire, the CIA’s deputy unit chief in charge of monitoring the two men at this time, will access it in May 2001 at the same time as he accesses other cables about Almihdhar from early 2000 (see May 15, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will say that the cables are “reexamined” at this time, suggesting that Wilshire may have read them before. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 267, 537] Wilshire certainly did access at least two of the cables in January 2000, indicating he may read the cable about the arrival of Alhazmi and the unnamed companion in the US in March 2000. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 240, 282 ]
FBI Not Informed - The knowledge that Alhazmi has entered the US will be disseminated throughout the CIA, but not to the FBI or other US intelligence agencies (see March 6, 2000 and After). When asked about the failure by the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Wilshire will be unable to explain it, saying: “It’s very difficult to understand what happened with that cable when it came in. I do not know exactly why it was missed. It would appear that it was missed completely.” [US Congress, 9/20/2002]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Nawaf Alhazmi, CIA Bangkok Station, 9/11 Commission, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Alec Station, Tom Wilshire, Khalid Almihdhar, Malaysian Secret Service
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Two former FBI negotiators who were heavily involved in the bureau’s siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas (see March 1, 1993), testify that the aggressive and hostile methods used by the FBI during the siege and final assault (see April 19, 1993) destroyed any chances of successfully negotiating a peaceful surrender from the Davidians, and resulted in the needless deaths of many Davidians who might have otherwise left the compound before the final, fatal assault. The agents give depositions for an upcoming civil suit filed by the surviving Davidians against the government (see April 1995). Retired FBI agent Frederick Lanceley testifies: “I think we could’ve gotten more people out if there were better decisions. I don’t think we would have gotten everybody out. But I think we would’ve gotten more people out.” [Dallas Morning News, 3/6/2000]
National Security Adviser Sandy Berger chairs a Cabinet-level meeting to review the wave of attempted terror attacks around the millennium. There are counterterrorism reports that disruption efforts “have not put too much of a dent” into bin Laden’s overseas network, and that it is feared “sleeper cells” of al-Qaeda operatives have taken root in the US. It is recommended that the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service should begin “high tempo, ongoing operations to arrest, detain, and deport potential sleeper cells in the United States.” Some ideas, like expanding the number of Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the US, are adopted. Others, like a centralized translation unit for domestic intercepts, are not. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] In July 2004, it is revealed that the Justice Department is investigating Berger for taking classified documents relating to this review effort out of a secure reading room in 2003. Most of the documents are returned, but a few apparently are lost. [Associated Press, 7/20/2004; Washington Post, 7/22/2004]
Six postal inspectors and two Army soldiers, all dressed in a variety of FBI-standard assault garb, reenact key scenarios from the 1993 FBI assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993). The purpose is to recreate “flashes” observed in 1993 infrared videotapes made by FBI observers during the assault, and determine if they were indeed gunfire from FBI agents, as some have alleged (see November 15, 1999). The exercise is done at the behest of District Judge Walter Smith, who ordered it as part of the proceedings of a civil suit by surviving Davidians against the federal government (see April 1995); additionally, the scenario is part of the evidentiary gathering by federal special counsel John Danforth, investigating the role of the FBI in the burning of the Davidian compound (see September 7-8, 1999). FBI officials who view the infrared tapes say they bear out their long-held assertions that none of their agents fired their guns during the April 19 assault on the Davidian compound. Michael Caddell, the lead lawyer for the Davidians in the lawsuit, says he believes the simulations will prove that the FBI shot at the compound, which is what his own experts reviewing the videos have said. US Attorney Michael Bradford, one of the government’s lead lawyers in the case, disagrees. “What we’re trying to do here… is get this issue hopefully put to rest so that the American public will not continue to hear what we consider a baseless allegation without foundation that the FBI was out in the back of that compound shooting that day,” he says. “It didn’t happen.” [New York Times, 3/20/2000; Washington Post, 3/20/2000]
Public Precluded from Seeing Videotapes - The exercise takes place at Fort Hood, Texas, under Danforth’s supervision. Initially, the infrared videos of the exercises were to be released to the public, but Smith seals the videos from public view. And, siding with Danforth against the Davidian lawyers, Smith denies motions by several news media organizations to witness the test. The New York Times writes, “The lack of public access has created the possibility that both sides in the case would offer conflicting opinions without any public review of the videos.” An independent analysis of the videos conducted by the private British company that conducts the simulations may be released to the public after they are turned over to the court some time in April. [New York Times, 2/17/2000; New York Times, 3/20/2000]
Simulations Carried Out to Determine Whether Videotaped 'Flashes' Might Be Gunfire - Danforth, Smith, and a group of about 20 observers watch the simulations, including representatives from the Department of Justice, the FBI, the Texas Rangers, and private lawyers representing the plaintiffs. In the simulations, the eight participants fire different weapons from prone and kneeling positions. They then slowly advance to a prescribed firing line, where they fire a series of single shots followed by short bursts and then long bursts of automatic gunfire. They repeat the exercise four times, as an FBI “Nightstalker” surveillance aircraft and a British Navy helicopter take turns filming from different angles. Additionally, an armored vehicle is driven beside a field littered with debris like twisted aluminum, broken glass, and pools of water, to see if light flashes from the debris could have caused similar flashes on the infrared video that could be mistaken for gunfire. Bradford has said that no matter how the videos are interpreted, they cannot be taken as proof that agents fired guns during the assault. “If there’s a flash in the testing, you can’t just conclude that means there was gunfire on April 19th,” Bradford said. “To me, that would mean the opposite. It would indicate it’s not a gun flash because you can’t see a person there. There’s more to be analyzed than just the flashes.” The private British firm, Vector Data Systems, was chosen in part because it owns FLIR, or “forward-looking infrared,” video cameras similar to those used by the FBI in 1993; the bureau has since abandoned those video cameras for more current technology. [New York Times, 2/17/2000; New York Times, 3/20/2000]
Davidian Lawyer: No Broad Conspiracy by FBI, Justice Department to Conceal Truth - Caddell disagrees with some Davidian supporters in discounting the broader conspiracy theories they advocate. “I know that may disappoint some people,” he says. “But this is not a big conspiracy, it’s a small conspiracy. There were a handful of people on April 19 who took matters into their own hands and disobeyed the orders of the attorney general and the FBI leadership. Those people have to be held accountable.” Of the Danforth investigators, Caddell says: “I think they’ll issue an honest report, a fair report. And I think it will be critical in many respects.” [Waco Tribune-Herald, 2/18/2000; Washington Post, 3/20/2000]
[Source: Public domain]In early April 2000, Arizona FBI agent Ken Williams gets a tip that makes him suspicious that some flight students might be Islamic militants. Williams will begin an investigation based on this tip that will lead to his “Phoenix memo” warning about suspect Middle Easterners training in Arizona flight schools (see July 10, 2001) [New York Times, 6/19/2002] It appears that Lebanese flight school student Zacaria Soubra has been seen at a shooting range with Abu Mujahid, a white American Muslim who had fought in the Balkans and the Middle East. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001; Arizona Monthly, 11/2004] Abu Mujahid appears to match Aukai Collins, a white American Muslim who had fought in the Balkans and the Middle East, who also goes by the name Abu Mujahid, and is an FBI informant spying on the Muslim community in the area at the time (see 1998). Collins also claims to have been the informant referred to in the Phoenix memo, which again suggests that Collins was the one at the shooting range with Soubra. [Salon, 10/17/2002] On April 7, Williams appears at Soubra’s apartment and interviews him. Soubra acts defiant, and tells Williams that he considers the US government and military legitimate targets of Islam. He has photographs of bin Laden on the walls. Williams runs a check on the license plate of Soubra’s car and discovers the car is actually owned by a suspected militant with explosives and car bomb training in Afghanistan who had been held for attempting to enter an airplane cockpit the year before (see November 1999-August 2001). [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 43-44] On April 17, Williams starts a formal investigation into Soubra. [Arizona Republic, 7/24/2003] Williams will be reassigned to work on an arson case and will not be able to get back to work on the Soubra investigation until June 2001 (see April 2000-June 2001). He will release the Phoenix memo one month later. After 9/11, some US officials will suspect Soubra had ties to terrorism. For instance, in 2003, an unnamed official will claim, “Soubra was involved in terrorist-supporting activities, facilitating shelter and employment for people… involved with al-Qaeda.” For a time, he and hijacker Hani Hanjour attend the same mosque, though there is no evidence they ever meet. Soubra’s roommate at the time of Williams’ interview is Ghassan al-Sharbi. In 2002, al-Sharbi will be arrested in Pakistan with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. While Williams will focus on Soubra, al-Sharbi will also be a target of his memo. [Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003] In 2004, Soubra will be deported to Lebanon after being held for two years. He will deny any connection to Hanjour or terrorism. [Arizona Republic, 5/2/2004] Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of the British militant group Al-Muhajiroun, will later admit that Soubra was the leader of Al-Muhajiroun’s branch in Arizona. [Time, 5/27/2002]
Spruce Whited, director of security for the Portland, Maine Public Library, later says 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and possibly a second hijacker are regulars at the library and frequently use public Internet terminals at this time. He says four other employees recognize Atta as a library patron. “I remember seeing [Atta] in the spring of 2000,” he says. “I have a vague Memory of a second one who turned out to be [Atta’s] cousin.” Whited also says federal authorities have not inquired about the library sightings. Even a year later, he says the FBI does finally speak to librarians, but not in relation to their 9/11 investigation. [Boston Herald, 10/5/2001; Portland Press Herald, 10/5/2001; Associated Press, 9/9/2002] The library’s executive director says that three other employees came to her saying they had seen Atta about half a dozen times in the spring and summer 2000. [Maine Sunday Telegram, 9/30/2001] According to the official story, Atta does not arrive in the US until June 3, 2000. [Miami Herald, 9/22/2001; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 11/12/2001]
Niaz Khan. [Source: NBC News]Niaz Khan, a British citizen originally from Pakistan, is recruited into an al-Qaeda plot.
Khan's Story - In early 2000 he is flown to Lahore, Pakistan, and then trains in a compound there for a week with others on how to hijack passenger airplanes. He trains in a mock cockpit of a 767 aircraft (an airplane type used on 9/11). He is taught hijacking techniques, including how to smuggle guns and other weapons through airport security and how to get into a cockpit. In April 2000 he flies to the US and is told to meet with a contact. He will later recall, “They said I would live there for a while and meet some other people and we would hijack a plane from JFK and fly it into a building.” [London Times, 5/9/2004] His al-Qaeda contact in the US is only known by the alias “Babu Khan.” It is unknown who this really is (assuming Khan’s story is completely correct). [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] After 9/11, he will have “no doubt” this is the 9/11 plot. However, Khan slips away and gambles away the money given to him by al-Qaeda. Afraid he will be killed for betraying al-Qaeda, he turns himself in to the FBI.
The FBI Checks Out Khan - For three weeks, FBI counterterrorism agents in Newark, New Jersey, will interview Khan. [MSNBC, 6/3/2004; Observer, 6/6/2004] One FBI agent will later recall: “We were incredulous. Flying a plane into a building sounded crazy but we polygraphed him and he passed.” [London Times, 5/9/2004] Later in 2004, Khan will say he was only involved in a plot to hijack an airplane, not crash it into a building. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] However, he had earlier clearly talked to the media about flying a plane into a building, and FBI officials had also referred to his case as flying a plane into a building.
FBI Agents Told to Forget about Khan's Case - A former FBI official will say the FBI agents believe Khan and aggressively try to follow every lead in the case, but word comes from FBI headquarters saying, “Return him to London and forget about it.” He is returned to Britain and handed over to British authorities. However, the British only interview him for about two hours, and then release him (see (May 2000)). He is surprised that authorities never ask for his help in identifying where he was trained in Pakistan, even after 9/11. [MSNBC, 6/3/2004] Khan’s case will be mentioned in the 2002 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report. It describes a “walk-in” who told the FBI he “was to meet five or six persons,” some of them pilots, who would take over a plane and fly it to Afghanistan, or blow the plane up. The report will add that the he passed a lie-detector test. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; MSNBC, 6/3/2004]
In an interview, President Clinton says he “gave in” to the Justice Department’s arguments to go forward with the April 1993 FBI assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas. The resulting fiery conflagration took the lives of almost 80 Davidians and touched off a never-ending storm of controversy, accusations, and alternative theories (see April 19, 1993). The transcript of the interview will not be released until July 2000. When the transcript is released, Attorney General Janet Reno will say both she and Clinton required assurances about the operation’s necessity. “I think we both had to be convinced, if you will,” Reno will say. Reno signed off on the final orders for the assault (see April 17-18, 1993). Clinton says: “I gave in to the people in the Justice Department who were pleading to go in early, and I felt personally responsible for what had happened, and I still do. I made a terrible mistake.” Reno will say that she and Clinton discussed the imminent assault and the answers she had received from senior FBI officials. “My recollection was that we had a very difficult situation, that there were many issues,” she will say. “I went over those issues with him. He wanted to make sure my questions had been answered.” [Dallas Morning News, 7/28/2000] In November 2000, Reno will tell a group of schoolchildren in New York City, “[I]n a way, I’ll never know what the right thing to do was” in ending the standoff, but people have to “live with [their] judgments.… I’ve tried to do what is right.” Reno will make her statement in response to a direct question by a young girl. [New York Post, 11/21/2000]
In April 2000, FBI agent Ken Williams begins investigating an Arizona flight student named Zacaria Soubra with suspicious radical militant ties. Soubra will be the main focus of Williams’s July 2001 memo about suspect Middle Easterners training in Arizona flight schools (see July 10, 2001). But Williams’ investigation into Soubra is greatly slowed because of internal politics and personal disputes. When he returns to this case in December 2000, he and all the other agents on the international terrorism squad are diverted to work on a high-profile arson case. James Hauswirth, another Arizona FBI agent, will later say, “[Williams] fought it. Why take your best terrorism investigator and put him on an arson case? He didn’t have a choice.” The arson case is solved in June 2001 and Williams returns to the issue of Islamic militant flight school students. His memo comes out much later than it otherwise might have. Hauswirth will write a letter to FBI Director Mueller in late 2001, complaining, “[Terrorism] has always been the lowest priority in the division; it still is the lowest priority in the division.” Others insiders later concur that the Arizona FBI placed a low priority on terrorism cases before 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 5/26/2002; New York Times, 6/19/2002]
Judge Walter Smith, presiding over the $675 million civil suit brought by survivors and family members of the Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see April 1995), announces that a court expert has determined that neither the FBI nor the Davidians fired weapons during the final day of the siege (see April 19, 1993). The expert’s preliminary study of infrared videotapes finds no firearm muzzle flashes from either federal agents or sect members (see March 20, 2000). [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000]
Johnelle Bryant. [Source: ABC News]9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta reportedly has a very strange meeting with Johnelle Bryant of the US Department of Agriculture. Incidentally, this meeting takes place one month before the official story claims he arrived in the US for the first time. According to Bryant, in the meeting Atta does all of the following:
He initially refuses to speak with one who is “but a female.”
He asks her for a loan of $650,000 to buy and modify a crop-dusting plane.
He mentions that he wants to “build a chemical tank that would fit inside the aircraft and take up every available square inch of the aircraft except for where the pilot would be sitting.”
He uses his real name even as she takes notes, and makes sure she spells it correctly.
He says he has just arrived from Afghanistan.
He tells about his travel plans to Spain and Germany.
He expresses an interest in visiting New York.
He asks her about security at the WTC and other US landmarks.
He discusses al-Qaeda and its need for American membership.
He tells her bin Laden “would someday be known as the world’s greatest leader.”
He asks to buy the aerial photograph of Washington hanging on her Florida office wall, throwing increasingly large “wads of cash” at her when she refuses to sell it. [ABC News, 6/6/2002]
After Bryant points out one of the buildings in the Washington photograph as her former place of employment, he asks her, “How would you like it if somebody flew an airplane into your friends’ building?”
He asks her, “What would prevent [me] from going behind [your] desk and cutting [your] throat and making off with the millions of dollars” in the safe behind her.
He asks, “How would America like it if another country destroyed [Washington] and some of the monuments in it like the cities in [my] country had been destroyed?”
He gets “very agitated” when he isn’t given the money in cash on the spot.
Atta later tries to get the loan again from the same woman, this time “slightly disguised” by wearing glasses. Three other terrorists also attempt to get the same loan from Bryant, but all of them fail. Bryant turns them down because they do not meet the loan requirements, and fails to notify anyone about these strange encounters until after 9/11. Government officials not only confirm the account and say that Bryant passed a lie detector test, but also elaborate that the account is consistent with other information they have received from interrogating prisoners. Supposedly, failing to get the loan, the terrorists switched plans from using crop dusters to hijacking aircraft. Other department employees also remember the encounter, again said to take place in April 2000. The 9/11 Commission has failed to mention any aspect of Johnelle Bryant’s account. [Washington Post, 9/25/2001; ABC News, 6/6/2002; London Times, 6/8/2002] Compare Atta’s meeting with FBI Director Mueller’s later testimony about the hijackers: “There were no slip-ups. Discipline never broke down. They gave no hint to those around them what they were about.” [CNN, 9/28/2002]
A Justice Department report into the handling of the Wen Ho Lee investigation attacks the “wall” procedures. The “wall” regulates the passage of some information from FBI intelligence investigations to criminal FBI agents and prosecutors, to ensure such information can legitimately be used in court (see Early 1980s). After the procedures were formalized (see July 19, 1995), they were criticized in a 1999 Justice Department report (see July 1999). The Wen Ho Lee report finds that additional requirements imposed by the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) at the Justice Department (see (Late 1995-1997)) that hamper consultations between agents on intelligence investigations and attorneys at the Justice Department’s Criminal Division are actually in contravention of the procedures specified in the original 1995 memo. The report states, “It is clear from interviews… that, in any investigation where [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)] is employed or even remotely hoped for (and FISA coverage is always hoped for), the Criminal Division is considered radioactive by both the FBI and the OIPR.” It also says that the FBI’s deputy director has told agents that contacting prosecutors without the OIPR’s permission is a “career stopper.” Another report, published in July 2001, finds that some improvements have been made in this area, but recommends further steps. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 33-36 ]
The inside cover of the training manual found in Manchester, depicting a knife plunging through the Earth. [Source: FBI]British authorities raid the Manchester home of Anas al-Liby. Remarkably, al-Liby was a top al-Qaeda leader who nonetheless had been allowed to live in Britain (see Late 1995-May 2000); some speculate his treatment was connected to a joint al-Qaeda-British plot to assassinate Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi in 1996 (see 1996). [Observer, 9/22/2001] The raid may have been conducted as part of an investigation into al-Liby’s role in the 1998 embassy bombings. [Associated Press, 9/21/2001] Al-Liby is arrested and then let go for lack of evidence (see May 2000). But shortly after he is let go, investigators searching through his possessions find “Military Studies in the Jihad Against the Tyrants,” a 180-page al-Qaeda training manual written in Arabic. FBI agent Ali Soufan, who speaks Arabic, is the first to discover the manual. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 113-114] The manual appears to have been written in the late 1980’s by double agent Ali Mohamed. He wrote the manual, and many others, by cobbling together information from his personal experiences and stolen US training guides (see November 5, 1990). Others have since updated it as different versions spread widely. “The FBI does not know if any of the Sept. 11 hijackers used the manual… However, many of their tactics come straight from Mohamed’s lessons, such as how to blend in as law-abiding citizens in a Western society.” [Chicago Tribune, 12/11/2001] George Andrew, deputy head of anti-terrorism for the FBI’s New York City office, later will claim that after studying the manual, the FBI suspect that al-Qaeda operatives are attempting to infiltrate US society. But the FBI think they are not yet ready to strike. [Associated Press, 9/21/2001] The existence of the manual is made public in a US trial in April 2001. [New York Times, 4/5/2001]
The front of the Manchester manual, deceptively covered with flowers. [Source: FBI]Al-Qaeda leader Anas al-Liby is arrested in Manchester, England, and then let go. According to Ali Soufan, an FBI agent from 1997 to 2005, the I-49 squad, a mix of FBI agents and US attorneys, uncovers evidence that al-Liby is living in Manchester. FBI agent John O’Neill assembles a team, including Soufan, to go there. Soufan will later say that they are met by local police, and he tells them: “Anas al-Liby is a senior al-Qaeda operative. He’s a computer expert and was part of the team that did surveillance on the embassy in Nairobi [that resulted in the 1998 bombing there (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998)]. This is potentially a big win for us.” Al-Liby is caught in his residence and taken to a local police station. However, he denies any involvement in terrorism. According to Soufan, al-Liby is smart and careful, and no incriminating documents or computer files can be quickly found in his residence. O’Neill wants him held until his possessions can be searched more thoroughly, but he is immediately released. Al-Liby evades a team sent to follow him, and skips the country. Not long afterwards, Soufan, who speaks Arabic, discovers a terrorist training manual written in Arabic in al-Liby’s possessions (see May 2000). In a book he writes that is published in 2011, Soufan curiously will not mention the timing of this arrest, even though timing is given to most other events discussed in the book. But the arrest is placed between events that occur in late 1999 and early 2000. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 113-114] In April 2001, the New York Times will first report on the manual, and will mention that it was discovered in a raid in Manchester in May 2000. [New York Times, 4/5/2001] Shortly after 9/11, it will be revealed that the raid was of al-Liby’s residence. [Associated Press, 9/21/2001; Observer, 9/22/2001] In 2002, it will be reported that al-Liby was not at home during the raid, and then escaped the country. Furthermore, al-Liby has been living openly in Britain since 1995, apparently as part of a political deal after he had taken part in a plot with the British intelligence agency MI6 to assassinate Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi in 1996 (see Late 1995-May 2000 and 1996). [Observer, 11/10/2002] The embarrassing fact that al-Liby is actually arrested and then released will not be revealed until September 2011, in Soufan’s book. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 113-114] The US will later post a $25 million reward for al-Liby, and his death or arrest will never be confirmed. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2002]
Drawings made by FBI sketch artists of Niaz Khan’s al-Qaeda contact in the US (left), and one of the people he trained with in Pakistan (right). [Source: NBC News]British intelligence fails to take advantage of an informant who may help penetrate al-Qaeda in the US, and even possibly the 9/11 plot. Niaz Khan, a British citizen originally from Pakistan, was recruited into an al-Qaeda plot to hijack an airplane in the US and possibly fly it into a building. It is unknown if this was the 9/11 plot or something else, because Khan became scared and never met his al-Qaeda contact in the US, and instead turned himself in to the FBI in April 2000. Khan said he trained in Pakistan for the hijacking. FBI agents checked out Khan’s story and gave him two lie detector tests, and after three weeks, they concluded he was telling the truth. But FBI headquarters was not interested and told the agents to get rid of him (see April 2000). Khan told the FBI he was ready to become an informant. His idea was to create a story to explain his failure to meet with his contact and then work undercover with Islamic radicals. Since the FBI wanted to get rid of him, it made arrangements with MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, so MI5 could handle him as an informant. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Khan is a British citizen and he had been recruited into the hijacking plot after he joined a radical Islamist mosque in London, so the hope is he will be able to identify and inform on the people who brought him into the plot. [MSNBC, 6/3/2004] Khan is put on a plane and flown with an FBI agent to London, where he is met by two MI5 agents. But according to an FBI agent who handles Khan, in 2004, Khan will explain that he only has a short meeting with MI5. “And then they let me go. I got on to the tube [subway] back home here to Manor Park. Even after 9/11 happened, I never saw anyone. I got no phone calls, no letters, nothing.” The FBI agent will later say: “I just assumed that when Niaz was turned over the British authorities would have conducted a full investigation. What I would have done is re-inserted him into the community and worked him.… We know that didn’t happen. It’s a real shame.” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
[Source: courtesy Daniel Hopsicker]While future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar live in the house of an FBI informant, Abdussattar Shaikh, the asset continues to have contact with his FBI handler. The handler, Steven Butler, later claims that during the summer, Shaikh mentions the names “Nawaf” and “Khalid” in passing and says that they are renting rooms from him. [Newsweek, 9/9/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 ; Associated Press, 7/25/2003; 9/11 Commission, 4/23/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 220] In early media reports after 9/11, the two will be said to have moved in around September 2000, but the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will imply that Shaikh lied about this, and they moved in much earlier. Alhazmi stays until December (see December 12, 2000-March 2001); Almihdhar appears to be mostly out of the US after June (see June 10, 2000). [San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/16/2001; Wall Street Journal, 9/17/2001; South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9/28/2001; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ] On one occasion, Shaikh tells Butler on the phone he cannot talk because Khalid is in the room. [Newsweek, 9/9/2002]
Shaikh Refuses to Reveal Hijackers' Last Names Despite Suspicious Contacts - Shaikh tells Butler Alhazmi and Almihdhar are good, religious Muslims who are legally in the US to visit and attend school. Butler asks Shaikh for their last names, but Shaikh refuses to provide them. Butler is not told that they are pursuing flight training. Shaikh tells Butler that they are apolitical and have done nothing to arouse suspicion. However, according to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, he later admits that Alhazmi has “contacts with at least four individuals [he] knew were of interest to the FBI and about whom [he] had previously reported to the FBI.” Three of these four people are being actively investigated at the time the hijackers are there. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 ] The report will mention Osama Mustafa as one, and Shaikh will admit that suspected Saudi agent Omar al-Bayoumi was a friend. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 ; Los Angeles Times, 7/25/2003] Alhazmi and Shaikh will remain in contact after Alhazmi leaves San Diego in December. Alhazmi will call Shaikh to tell him he intends to take flying lessons in Arizona and that Almihdhar has returned to Yemen. He also will e-mail Shaikh three times; one of the e-mails is signed “Smer,” an apparent attempt to conceal his identity, which Shaikh later says he finds strange. However, Alhazmi will not reply to e-mails Shaikh sends him in February and March of 2001. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223]
Best Chance to Stop the 9/11 Plot? - The FBI will later conclude that Shaikh is not involved in the 9/11 plot, but it has serious doubts about his credibility. After 9/11 he will give inaccurate information and has an “inconclusive” polygraph examination about his foreknowledge of the 9/11 attack. The FBI will believe he had contact with another of the 9/11 hijackers, Hani Hanjour, but claimed not to recognize him. There will be other “significant inconsistencies” in Shaikh’s statements about the hijackers, including when he first met them and his later meetings with them. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will conclude that had the asset’s contacts with the hijackers been capitalized upon, it “would have given the San Diego FBI field office perhaps the US intelligence community’s best chance to unravel the September 11 plot.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 ] The FBI will try to prevent Butler and Shaikh from testifying before the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry in October 2002. Butler will end up testifying (see October 9, 2002), but Shaikh will not (see October 5, 2002). [Washington Post, 10/11/2002]
The court in the $675 million civil suit brought by Branch Davidians against the federal government (see April 1995) releases the final report on a simulation of some aspects of the final siege, which killed almost 80 Davidians (see April 19, 1993). Experts find that flashes seen on a videotape, once thought to be muzzle flashes from the weapons of FBI agents (see October 1999), were sunlight reflecting off debris and not gunfire (see March 20, 2000). The final report supports earlier findings (see April 24, 2000). [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000]
Abdussattar Shaikh’s house in Lemon Grove, California. [Source: Newsweek]While 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are living with FBI informer Abdussattar Shaikh in San Diego (see May 10-Mid-December 2000), they are apparently visited frequently by hijacker Mohamed Atta, as well as hijacker Hani Hanjour, according to neighbors interviewed after 9/11. [KGTV 10 (San Diego), 9/27/2001; Associated Press, 9/29/2001; Chicago Tribune, 9/30/2001; KGTV 10 (San Diego), 10/11/2001; Las Vegas Review-Journal, 10/26/2001] However, Shaikh will deny Atta’s visits and the FBI will not mention them. [Associated Press, 9/29/2001] Shaikh will also deny having met Hanjour, but the 9/11 Commission will say that it has “little doubt” Shaikh met Hanjour at least once. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 518] The two San Diego-based hijackers also receive a series of mysterious late night visits at this time (see Mid-May-December 2000).
Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [Source: FBI]During these months, Hamburg al-Qaeda cell member Ramzi bin al-Shibh tries several times to get a US visa, but all his attempts fail, some possibly due to a link to the USS Cole bombing. In 2000, he tries to a get a visa three times from Germany, and once from Yemen, but all these attempts fail. He may also make a fifth attempt in May 2001, although the 9/11 Commission will not include that in their final report. One of the applications says he will be visiting Agus Budiman, a Hamburg associate, in Washington (see October-November 2000). [Los Angeles Times, 10/24/2001; Australian, 12/24/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 11-15 ; McDermott, 2005, pp. 209] Most accounts claim that bin al-Shibh is refused a visa on economic grounds based on fears that he will overstay his visa and work in the US. One official later suggests it was “only by luck” that he was turned down. [CBS News, 6/6/2002; Washington Post, 7/14/2002] However, Bin al-Shibh is in Yemen during the two months before the bombing of the Cole in that country, and investigators later conclude that he may have been involved in that attack (see October 10-21, 2000 and October 12, 2000). Possibly for this reason other accounts note that, as the London Times will put it, he was “turned down on security grounds.” [London Times, 9/9/2002] Newsweek will later report, “One senior law-enforcement official told Newsweek that bin al-Shibh’s efforts to obtain a US visa were rebuffed because of suspicions that he was tied to the bombing of the USS Cole.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/21/2001; Newsweek, 11/26/2001; BBC, 9/14/2002] In addition, Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda will say that according to his US intelligence sources, bin al-Shibh’s visas were “turned down because he was implicated in the USS Cole attack.” [TBS Journal, 10/2002] But no journalist will ever question why this information didn’t lead to the unraveling of the 9/11 plot. Not only is there the obvious visa connection to Ziad Jarrah while he is training at a US flight school, but also during this same time period bin al-Shibh wires money to Marwan Alshehhi, Zacarias Moussaoui, and others, sometimes using his own name. [CBS News, 6/6/2002] It is unclear how the US would know about his ties to the bombing at this time, though it’s possible that the consular official who reviews his fourth attempt in Berlin in October/November 2000 sees that al-Shibh entered Yemen one day before the attack and leaves shortly after it (see October 10-21, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 15 ]
The FBI extracts a full confession from L’Houssaine Kherchtou, also known as “Joe the Moroccan,” a member of the cell that bombed the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see Late 1993-Late 1994 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). However, in contrast with methods used on al-Qaeda operatives after 9/11, he is not tortured and the FBI is at pains to treat him well.
Relaxing Surroundings, Respectful Treatment - FBI agent Jack Cloonan will later say of the initial interrogation, which took place in Morocco, “The setting was beautiful, it was this grand house with stables out back, gazelles bouncing in the background, palm trees, three-course meals.” Kherchtou had a relationship with the British intelligence service MI6 (see Mid-Summer 1998 and Shortly After August 7, 1998), but had broken off contact with it and has to be lured to Morocco, where his debriefing is headed by Patrick Fitzgerald. Cloonan will later describe the questioning: “We advised [Kherchtou] of his rights. We told him he could have a lawyer anytime, and that he could pray at any time he wanted. We were letting the Moroccans sit in on this, and they were dumbfounded.… The Moroccans said he’d never talk. He never shut up for 10 days.” Fitzgerald denies Kherchtou a plea bargaining agreement, and says he must plead guilty to conspiracy to murder, for which he may receive a life sentence, though Fitzgerald promises to ask the judge for leniency. However, Cloonan will later say, “His wife needed money for medical treatment in Khartoum, and al-Qaeda had failed to provide it.” It is Cloonan’s “in” with Kherchtou, who is also sure that the US will not torture him. When Kherchtou wavers, Cloonan steps in. As he recalls: “I said, ‘Joe, you understand English, so I’d like you to go out and pray on this with your two Moroccan brothers.’ I thought Fitzy was going to give birth. Joe went out and prayed and came back and said yes.” He provides the FBI with details of the plot and becoming a star witness at the trial (see September 2000). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005; Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Invaluable Information - Kherchtou’s information, provided at a time when the US knows comparatively little about al-Qaeda, is, in Cloonan’s assessment, invaluable. “He told us about a lot of things,” Cloonan later says. “We learned how they recruited people, their front organizations, how they used NGOs [non-governmental organizations], false passports, what they thought about kidnapping, how they developed targets, did their surveillance, a day in the life of Osama bin Laden, what weapons they used, what vehicles they drove, who was the principal liaison with the Sudanese government, that there was a relationship between al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, how they did their training exercises, their finances, and their membership.” After the trial, he enters the witness protection program in the US. Four of his onetime associates will receive life sentences as a direct result of his information. [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
FBI Use Kherchtou as Example of Successful Interrogation Tacticss - FBI officials will later compare this outcome favorably to procedures used by other US agencies after 9/11. For example, following the detainee abuse scandals after 9/11, FBI manager Tom Harrington will write that the FBI has “been successful for many years obtaining confessions via non-confrontational interviewing techniques.” Cloonan will later contrast Kherchtou’s treatment with that of al-Qaeda training manager Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi in December 2001, when the US sent al-Libi to Egypt to be tortured and interrogated, but some of the information he provided there turned out to be false (see December 19, 2001 and January 2002 and After). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005]
Around this time, a number of very suspicious web domains are registered, including the following: attackamerica.com, attackonamerica.com, attackontwintowers.com, august11horror.com, august11terror. com, horrorinamerica.com, horrorinnewyork.com, nycterroriststrike.com, pearlharborinmanhattan.com, terrorattack2001.com, towerofhorror.com, tradetowerstrike.com, worldtradecenter929.com, worldtrade-centerbombs.com, worldtradetowerattack.com, worldtradetowerstrike.com, and wterroristattack2001.com. A counterterrorism expert says, “It’s unbelievable that [the registration company] would register these domain names” and “if they did make a comment to the FBI, it’s unbelievable that the FBI didn’t react to it.” Several of the names mention 2001 and, apparently, there were no other websites mentioning other years. Registering a site requires a credit card, so presumably, this story could provide leads, but it is unclear what leads the FBI gets from this, if any. No sites will be active on 9/11. [CNS News, 9/19/2001] All of the domain name registrations will expire around June 2001. [CNS News, 9/20/2001] This story will later be incorrectly called an “urban legend,” [Insight, 3/11/2002]
The Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), which helps obtain warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), discovers errors in several al-Qaeda related FISA applications under a counterterrorist program called “Catcher’s Mitt.” The OIPR verbally notifies the FISA Court of the errors, which are mostly in affidavits submitted by supervisory special agents at field offices. Then, in September and October 2000, the OIPR submits two pleadings to the court regarding approximately 75-100 applications with errors starting in July 1997. Many of the errors concern misleading statements about the nature of collaboration between criminal and intelligence agents. Most of these applications stated that the FBI New York field office, where the I-49 squad focusing on al-Qaeda was based (see January 1996 and Late 1998-Early 2002), had separate teams of agents handling criminal and intelligence investigations. But in actual fact the I-49 agents intermingled with criminal agents working on intelligence cases and intelligence agents working on criminal cases. Therefore, contrary to what the FISA Court has been told, agents working on a criminal investigation have had unrestricted access to information from a parallel intelligence investigation—a violation of the so-called “wall,” the set of bureaucratic procedures designed to separate criminal and intelligence investigations (see July 19, 1995). [Newsweek, 5/27/2002; Newsweek, 3/29/2004; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 36-37 ] The information about al-Qaeda in these cases is also shared with assistant US attorneys without FISA permission being sought or granted first. Other errors include the FBI director wrongly asserting that the target of a FISA application was not under criminal investigation, omissions of material facts about a prior relationship between the FBI and a target, and an interview of a target by an assistant US attorney. [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, 5/17/2002] This leads the FISA Court to impose new requirements regarding the “wall” (see October 2000). Similar problems will be found in FISA applications for surveillance of Hamas operatives (see March 2001).
A covert recording made by the FBI indicates that a Turkish agent is trying to sell nuclear information that he stole from an air force base in Alabama, according to FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds. Edmonds will later say that he meets two Saudi Arabian businessmen in Detroit to sell the information. When she listens to the recording, she hears the agent saying, “We have a package and we’re going to sell it for $250,000.” The agent is connected to a ring fronted by Turkish and Israeli elements that arranges the illicit transfer of nuclear information and technology to Pakistan via Turkey (see Mid-Late 1990s and (1997-2002)). [Sunday Times (London), 1/6/2008]
The King Fahd Mosque in Culver City. [Source: Damian Dovarganes]Hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi travel to Los Angeles with an associate, Mohdar Abdullah, before Almihdhar leaves the US the next day (see June 10, 2000). When they visit the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, Abdullah is surprised that Alhazmi and Almihdhar already know several people at the mosque. Abdullah will later say, “I was surprised that anybody at the mosque knew them, because as far as I knew Alhazmi and Almihdhar hadn’t visited Los Angeles since they arrived in the US.” They meet one of the hijackers’ Los Angeles acquaintances, known as Khallam, again later that night at their motel. According to the 9/11 Commission, Khallam asks Abdullah to leave the motel room, so he can talk to Alhazmi and Almihdhar in private. However, Abdullah will later dispute this, saying he is not asked leave the room, but that Alhazmi leaves to make an international phone call from a pay phone. The identity of the person he calls is unknown, but it is possible that he talks to Ahmed al-Hada, an al-Qaeda operative whose safe house is monitored by the US and who Alhazmi sometimes calls from the US (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Khallam will apparently never be found after 9/11. The FBI will consider the possibility that he is Khallad bin Attash, as there are some reports that bin Attash is in the US at this time and met the mosque’s imam, Fahad al Thumairy. However, this theory will never be confirmed. [Los Angeles Times, 7/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 216, 514] The next day, Alhazmi, Abdullah and an unknown man make a casing video at Los Angeles Airport (see June 10, 2000). It is possible that the third man is Khallam.
Khalid Almihdhar. [Source: FBI]9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar flies from San Diego to Frankfurt, Germany. [US Congress, 9/20/2002] He is accompanied to the airport by another hijacker, Nawaf Alhazmi, and an unnamed associate (see June 10, 2000). Authorities later believe that Almihdhar visits his cousin-in-law Ramzi Bin al-Shibh and other al-Qaeda members in bin al-Shibh’s cell. Since the CIA fails to notify Germany about its suspicions of Almihdhar and bin al-Shibh, both of whom were seen attending the al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January, German police fail to monitor them and another chance to uncover the 9/11 plot is missed. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] FBI Director Mueller and the congressional inquiry into 9/11 will claim that Almihdhar does not return to the US for over a year [US Congress, 9/20/2002; US Congress, 9/26/2002] , although it is possible that Almihdhar does return before then. For instance, there are indications Almihdhar attends a flight school in Arizona in early 2001. [Arizona Republic, 9/28/2001]
Hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and one of his associates, Mohdar Abdullah, go to Los Angeles airport with hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who is returning to the Middle East via Germany (see June 10, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222] Together with a third man, Alhazmi and Abdullah shoot videocamera footage there. They appear to be scouting out the airport and record secretly near the security area. The identity of the third man is not known, but he may be Khallam, an associate of Alhazmi and Almihdhar’s who they met the day before (see June 9, 2000). Al-Qaeda had plotted to bomb Los Angeles Airport not long before (see December 14, 1999). The tapes, which are not found until Abdullah is deported, will cause the FBI to re-start their investigation of him in 2006. [US District Court, Southern District of California, 10/29/2004 ; MSNBC, 9/8/2006]
FISA court judge Royce Lamberth was angry with the FBI over misleading statements made in FISA wiretap applications. [Source: Public domain]While monitoring foreign terrorists in the US, the FBI listens to calls made by suspects as a part of an operation called Catcher’s Mitt, which is curtailed at this time due to misleading statements by FBI agents. It is never revealed who the targets of the FBI’s surveillance are under this operation, but below are some of the terrorism suspects under investigation in the US at the time:
Imran Mandhai, Shuyeb Mossa Jokhan and Adnan El Shukrijumah in Florida. They are plotting a series of attacks there, but Mandhai and Jokhan are brought in for questioning by the FBI and surveillance of them stops in late spring (see November 2000-Spring 2002 and May 2, 2001);
Another Florida cell connected to Blind Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The FBI has been investigating it since 1993 (see (October 1993-November 2001));
Al-Qaeda operatives in Denver (see March 2000);
A Boston-based al-Qaeda cell involving Nabil al-Marabh and Raed Hijazi. Cell members provide funding to terrorists, fight abroad, and are involved in document forging (see January 2001, Spring 2001, and Early September 2001);
Fourteen of the hijackers’ associates the FBI investigates before 9/11. The FBI is still investigating four of these people while the hijackers associate with them; [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 169 ]
Hamas operatives such as Mohammed Salah in Chicago. Salah invests money in the US and sends it to the occupied territories to fund attacks (see June 9, 1998).
When problems are found with the applications for the wiretap warrants, an investigation is launched (see Summer-October 2000), and new requirements for warrant applications are put in place (see October 2000). From this time well into 2001, the FBI is forced to shut down wiretaps of al-Qaeda-related suspects connected to the 1998 US embassy bombings and Hamas (see March 2001 and April 2001). One source familiar with the case says that about 10 to 20 al-Qaeda related wiretaps have to be shut down and it becomes more difficult to get permission for new FISA wiretaps. Newsweek notes, “The effect [is] to stymie terror surveillance at exactly the moment it was needed most: requests from both Phoenix [with the Ken Williams memo (see July 10, 2001)] and Minneapolis [with Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest] for wiretaps [will be] turned down [by FBI superiors],” (see August 21, 2001 and August 28, 2001). [Newsweek, 5/27/2002] Robert Wright is an FBI agent who led the Vulgar Betrayal investigation looking into allegations that Saudi businessman Yassin al-Qadi helped finance the embassy bombings, and other matters. In late 2002, he will claim to discover evidence that some of the FBI intelligence agents who stalled and obstructed his investigation were the same FBI agents who misrepresented the FISA petitions. [Judicial Watch, 9/11/2002]
Entity Tags: Royce Lamberth, Shuyeb Mossa Jokhan, Catcher’s Mitt, Robert G. Wright, Jr., Zacarias Moussaoui, Raed Hijazi, Mohammad Salah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Adnan Shukrijumah, Central Intelligence Agency, Nabil al-Marabh, Ken Williams, Imran Mandhai, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Judge Walter Smith, presiding over the $675 million civil suit brought by survivors and family members of the Branch Davidian siege near Waco, Texas (see April 1995 and June 6, 2000), rules that the question of whether FBI agents fired on Davidians during the final siege (see May 10, 2000) will not be considered by the advisory jury that will determine whether the government is culpable for the “wrongful deaths” of some 80 Davidians. Instead, Smith says he will revisit the issue when a court-appointed expert becomes available to provide testimony. [Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 7/21/2000]
Ali Abdul Aziz Ali. [Source: FBI]Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi receive a series of five money transfers from the United Arab Emirates:
On June 29, $5,000 is wired by a person using the alias “Isam Mansur” to a Western Union facility in New York, where Alshehhi picks it up;
On July 18, $10,000 is wired to Atta and Alshehhi’s joint account at SunTrust from the UAE Exchange Centre in Bur Dubai by a person using the alias “Isam Mansur”;
On August 5, $9,500 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Isam Mansour”;
On August 29, $20,000 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Mr. Ali”;
On September 17 $70,000 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Hani (Fawar Trading).” Some sources suggest a suspicious activity report was generated about this transaction (see (Late September 2000)). [Financial Times, 11/29/2001; Newsweek, 12/2/2001; New York Times, 12/10/2001; MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US Congress, 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 134-5 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia; Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ] Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar previously received a transfer from the United Arab Emirates from a “Mr. Ali” (see April 16-18, 2000). The 9/11 Commission say this money was sent by Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi), a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 133-5 ] Although he denies making the $5,000 transfer to Nawaf Alhazmi, Ali will admit sending Alshehhi these amounts and say that the money was Alshehhi’s (see March 30, 2007). He also admits receiving 16 phone calls from Alshehhi around this time (see June 4, 2000-September 11, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 4/12/2007 ] The hijackers may also receive another $100,000 around this time (see (July-August 2000)). It is suggested that Saeed Sheikh, who wires the hijackers money in the summer of 2001 (see Early August 2001), may be involved in one or both of these transfers. For example, French author Bernard-Henri Levy later claims to have evidence from sources inside both Indian and US governments of phone calls between Sheikh and Mahmood Ahmed, head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, during this same time period, and he sees a connection between the timing of the calls and the money transfers (see Summer 2000). [Frontline, 10/13/2001; Daily Excelsior (Jammu), 10/18/2001; Levy, 2003, pp. 320-324]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Mahmood Ahmed, Fawaz Trdng, Isam Mansour, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Saeed Sheikh, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Al-Qaeda, United Arab Emirates, Marwan Alshehhi, Mohamed Atta
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) arranges for the FBI assistant legal attaché in Islamabad, Pakistan, to meet a source, later known in a New York Times article as “Omar,” that has substantial information on Osama bin Laden, his operatives and operations. Omar will go on to play a key role in the investigation of the USS Cole bombing, as he will identify Khallad bin Attash, one of the masterminds behind the attack (see November 22-December 16, 2000 and January 4, 2001). However, because the assistant legal attaché cannot speak the source’s language and due to the value of the information Omar has, the CIA is asked to help and he is handled as a joint source. The CIA attempts to prevent the source from working on criminal investigations for the FBI, fearing he may be exposed in court, but these attempts are not successful. [New York Times, 4/11/2004; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 264-5 ; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
An advisory jury of five panelists in Waco, Texas, rules that law enforcement agents did not start the gun battle that began the Waco standoff between law enforcement officials and the Branch Davidians (see April 19, 1993), and decides that the federal government owes nothing to the Davidians who survived the conflagration. The panel takes just over an hour to decide that the government has no liability in the BATF raid (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993), standoff, FBI assault, and culminating fire. The presiding judge, Walter Smith, will issue a final verdict next month after an expert testifies as to the possibility that the FBI fired into the compound during the siege, actions the FBI and Justice Department have long denied (see June 12, 2000). The civil suit had asked for $675 million in damages for the government’s allegedly causing the “wrongful deaths” of the Davidians. Waco music shop owner Bill Buzze says he and his fellow residents are ready for the publicity and the notoriety surrounding the Davidians to come to an end. “We really want it all to just go away,” he says. “It’s gone on too long, cost too much money, and hurt too many people.” Buzze’s employee Inez Bederka is not sure that people will forget so quickly. “I think it will always be on Waco, the stigma,” she says. “People are still putting Waco down real hard these days. The outside world just won’t treat you fair after a thing like that.… [I]t’s a shame that something bad like that had to happen before people heard about Waco.” Buzze says that many people have an unwarranted fascination and even fear of Waco and the surrounding area. “The Chamber of Commerce has a tough job now,” Buzze says. “They have to reassure people that we’re not going to shoot them if they come down to visit.” Chamber of Commerce president Jack Stewart is quick to point out that the Branch Davidians did not live in Waco proper, but in Elk, a small township on the outskirts of Waco. [Waco Journal, 7/18/2000; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001]
An investigative commission headed by former Senator John C. Danforth (R-MO) finds no wrongdoing on the parts of the FBI, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF), or the Justice Department in their actions during the Waco standoff between law enforcement officials and the Branch Davidians (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and April 19, 1993). Attorney General Janet Reno appointed the commission after documents surfaced in 1999 that indicated an FBI agent fired pyrotechnic gas canisters near the Branch Davidian compound during the raid, possibily contributing to the fire that destroyed the compound and killed many sect members (see August 25, 1999 and After). Danforth’s investigation also finds that, despite the documents, no government agency or individual contributed to any alleged cover-up, and emphatically clears Reno of any responsibility for the calamity. Danforth does find that a single FBI agent fired three flammable gas canisters into a concrete pit some 75 feet from the compound itself, as previously acknowledged. His report concludes that the FBI most likely mishandled that information, though the possibility exists of some sort of deliberate cover-up or falsification of evidence. Danforth’s report also notes that he had encountered “substantial resistance” to his probe from Justice Department officials, in some cases resulting in a “tug of war” over requested evidence that required intervention by Reno’s top deputy. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; Dallas Morning News, 7/28/2000] Asked whether she feels vindicated by the report, Reno says: “One doesn’t think in terms of exoneration when you look at something like that. That was a terrible tragedy. And what I have always said was we have got to look to the future to see what we can do, what we can learn about human behavior to avoid tragedies like that.” The final report sums up 10 months of investigation, interviews, and evidence assessment; the investigation cost $12 million. [Dallas Morning News, 7/28/2000]
[Source: FBI]Freeh’s FBI Deputy Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Terry Turchie, testifying before a classified meeting of a House of Representatives committee, says, “FBI investigation and analysis indicates that the threat of terrorism in the United States is low.” Summarizing the terrorist threat, he fails to mention al-Qaeda or Islamic militants of any kind, and instead considers the “serious terrorist threat” to be coming from “animal-rights and environmental extremists” and “right-wing groups.” In December 2000, the FBI will tell Congress that the threat of terrorists targeting US aviation is low (see December 2000). In contradiction to this, Louis Freeh, FBI Director from 1993 to early 2001, will testify after 9/11 that “Before the end of 1999, the FBI and the intelligence community clearly understood the foreign-based al-Qaeda threat regarding targets within the United States. Congress and the Executive were fully briefed as to this threat analysis…” [US Congress, 7/26/2000; US Congress, 10/8/2002]
[Source: White House]Vulgar Betrayal, the most significant US government investigation into terrorist financing before 9/11, shuts down. FBI agent Robert Wright launched the investigation in 1996 (see 1996) and was removed from the investigation in late 1999 (see August 3, 1999). Apparently the investigation accomplished little after Wright’s departure. [LA Weekly, 8/25/2004; Judicial Watch, 12/15/2004; Robert G. Wright, Jr., v. Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/16/2005] A March 2000 affidavit named Yassin al-Qadi as a source of terrorist funds in Chicago, but no charges are brought against him. [ABC News, 12/19/2002] Mark Flessner, an assistant US attorney assigned to Vulgar Betrayal in 1996, later will recall, “Vulgar Betrayal was a case where the FBI’s intelligence agents would not cooperate with the criminal agents trying to put these guys in jail. They refused to let us arrest them. They only wanted to watch them conduct their business.” He will also claim that Frances Townsend, a Justice Department official working a variety of posts, helps close down the investigation. He will say Townsend did not share information but “deliberately obstructed it. And I found that very disconcerting.” He will claim that she completely supports FBI intelligence agents and refuses to share their information with the Vulgar Betrayal investigation. A federal grand jury was impaneled in 1996 to support Vulgar Betrayal, but without the information from FBI intelligence, Flessner did not have enough evidence to return indictments. “I couldn’t even get permission to do the basic things you do, such as collecting phone numbers from their targets’ incoming and outgoing calls, and addresses from their mail.” With the shut down of the investigation in 2000, Flessner will resign from the Justice Department in frustration. After 9/11, Townsend will be appointed President Bush’s Homeland Security Adviser and counterterrorism director for the National Security Council. [LA Weekly, 8/25/2004]
Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman. [Source: US Defense Department]Italian intelligence successfully wiretaps an al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy, starting in late 1999. [Boston Globe, 8/4/2002] In a wiretapped conversation from this day, Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a section chief in Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO - roughly the equivalent to the FBI in the US) traveling on a diplomatic passport (see Spring-Summer 1998), talks about a massive strike against the enemies of Islam involving aircraft and the sky. The conversation takes place in a car on the way to a terrorist summit near Bologna (see August 12, 2000 and Shortly After), and the person Abdulrahman talks to is Mahmoud Es Sayed, a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000). There are several significant aspects to the conversation:
Abdulrahman makes comments indicating he has foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. He says that he is “studying airlines,” comments, “Our focus is only on the air,” and tells Es Sayed to remember the words “above the head.” He also says that next time they meet he hopes to bring Es Sayed “a window or piece of the airplane,” and that the security on Alitalia and at Rome airport is poor. The name of the operation is given as “Jihadia,” and Abdulrahman says, “the big blow will come from the other country: one of those blows no one can ever forget.” He adds: “[It is] moving from south to north, from east to west: whoever created this plan is crazy, but he’s also a genius. It will leave them speechless.” He also says: “We can fight any power using candles and airplanes: they will not be able to stop us with even their most powerful weapons. We must hit them. And keep your head up.… Remember, the danger in the airports.… If it happens the newspapers from all over the world will write about it.”
Es Sayed remarks, “I know brothers who went to America with the trick of the wedding publications.” The phrase “Big wedding” is sometimes used by al-Qaeda as code for a bombing or attack, including 9/11 (see November 30, 1999 and Late Summer 2001), so, taken together with Abdulrahman’s remarks, this indicates an unconventional attack in the US using aircraft;
The two discuss training camps in Yemen, which are “proceeding on a world scale.” They also mention youth in Italy, and presumably the youth are training;
Es Sayed says, “my dream is building an Islamic state,” and Abdulrahman replies that this is possible because the Yemeni government is weak and “sooner or later we will dominate it;”
Es Sayed asks after a person named Ayman, evidently al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri;
Abdulrahman twice mentions the name of Abdul Mejid, apparently a reference to Abdul Mejid al-Zindani, a radical leader in Yemen and associate of Osama bin Laden (see January-August 1998);
Es Sayed makes the cryptic comment, “One must be cautious, like in Iran; not a single photo.”
Beginning in October 2000, FBI experts will help Italian police analyze the intercepts and warnings. Related conversations are overheard early the next year (see January 24, 2001 and February 2001). Neither Italy nor the FBI will fully understand their meaning until after 9/11, but apparently the Italians will understand enough to give the US an attack warning in March 2001 (see March 2001). After 9/11, this conversation and others like it will cause US intelligence to think there may be a link between the 9/11 plot and Yemen’s PSO. [Los Angeles Times, 5/29/2002; Guardian, 5/30/2002; Washington Post, 5/31/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/20/2002; Vidino, 2006, pp. 224-5] Author Lorenzo Vidino will later comment: “The chilling conversation alarmed officials before 9/11, but it took on a completely different resonance after the attacks had taken place. [Abdulrahman], who had close connections to the highest ranks of al-Qaeda, likely knew about the plan in advance and had told Es Sayed about it.” [Vidino, 2006, pp. 226]
The FBI and other US intelligence agencies have been monitoring an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, since the attacks on US embassies in East Africa, and have used it to map al-Qaeda’s global network (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). In the run-up to the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, the FBI notices that there is increased telephone activity to and from the Sana’a hub. One of the messages says that bin Laden is planning a “Hiroshima-type event” (see (August 2000)). [PBS, 10/3/2002]
An internal FBI memo warns that the agency lacks a coherent strategy to prevent terrorist attacks. The memo is sent from Dale Watson, head of the FBI’s counterterrorism program, to interim FBI Director Tom Pickard. The memo reads, “While the FBI has traditionally relied on an approach that focused generally on the identification, penetration and neutralization of terrorist organizations, the [FBI] has not developed a ‘grand strategy’ in which resources and programs are systematically directed toward progressively reducing and neutralizing and ultimately eliminating the terrorist threat to US interests.” After 9/11, a former top FBI official will claim, “The counterterrorism guys never arrested anyone, never stopped anything.” Senior FBI officials will later acknowledge “that [the FBI’s] counterterrorism program was deeply troubled and largely ineffective.” The New York Times will also later claim that the FBI’s “internal affairs unit, the Office of Professional Responsibility, became a much-feared inquisitor, sometimes damaging careers over minor offenses like using a bureau car for personal matters.” [New York Times, 6/2/2002]
The Boston Globe will later report that in late August 2000, Nabl al-Marabh moves from Boston to Detroit, leaving his estranged wife behind. “Before he left, however, he told cabdriver friends that the FBI had approached him and was asking him questions about bin Laden’s operation, and that he was considering cooperating. The friends said that al-Marabh did not say why the FBI had approached him about bin Laden but that it may have been prompted by the Customs Service investigation that found that he had wired money to [al-Qaeda operative Raed] Hijazi. By this time, Hijazi was in jail in Jordan.” [Boston Globe, 10/15/2001] In a 2003 interview, al-Marabh will claim that in the early 1990s, while working as a taxi driver in Boston, he had a run-in with a fellow taxi driver “who he thinks falsely accused him of planning to bomb a car. He said he spoke freely with the FBI agents, who concluded that the allegations were false. From then on, he said, the FBI tried to recruit him to become an informant, and he refused.” He will also claim that in the early 1990s he had a roommate who both worked for the FBI and fought in Afghanistan (see 1989-1994). [Knight Ridder, 5/23/2003] But it is possible that al-Marabh accepts the FBI offer, because while in a Canadian prison in July 2001, he will boast to fellow prisoners that he remains in contact with the FBI (see June 27, 2001-July 11, 2001). Around this time, September 2000, it appears that the Jordanian government tells the US that Hijazi, al-Marabh, and 9/11 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi are connected through telephone numbers (see September 2000). Hijazi had already worked as an FBI informant while he was roommates with al-Marabh in Boston (see Early 1997-Late 1998). In the spring of 2001, al-Marabh will be investigated for links to three 9/11 hijackers (see Spring 2001), but he will nonetheless go on to have an important role in the 9/11 plot.
Eric Rudolph, the anti-abortion activist and domestic terrorist wanted for four separate bombings (see July 27, 1996 and After, January 16, 1997, February 21, 1997, and January 29, 1998) currently hiding out in the mountainous wilds of western North Carolina, crafts a fifth bomb from a stash of dynamite. He surveills the National Guard Armory in Murphy, North Carolina, where the FBI task force seeking him is centered (see August 13-21, 1998). He places two booby traps on the path leading to the armory, and places the bomb itself against the building. However, Rudolph decides not to detonate any of the devices. Later, he will write: “The agents didn’t die that day. Perhaps after watching them for so many months, their individual humanity shown through the hated uniform. It was not that I had lost my resolve to fight in the defense of the unborn, but rather an individual decision about these individual agents. I had worn the uniform of their legions, served in their ranks [Rudolph briefly served in the military]. I had no hatred for them as individuals. Even though they served a morally bankrupt government, underneath their FBI rags they were essentially fellow countrymen.” Rudolph detonates the booby traps, and retrieves the bomb and buries it. The FBI soon finds the bomb—a 25-pound device filled with screws to act as shrapnel—buried across the street from the armory. [Orlando Weekly, 8/24/2006]
Sam’s Star Mart gas station. [Source: Daniel Hopsicker]9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi works at a gas station while living in San Diego where other suspected Islamist militants work. This is the only apparent instance of any of the hijackers having a job while in the US. He and 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar frequently socialize at the gas station, but only Alhazmi works there for pay on and off for about a month at some point after Almihdhar has gone overseas in June 2000. [Washington Post, 12/29/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 11-12, 143-146, 155-157 ]
Gas Station's Owner Was Investigated - The Texaco gas station, Sam’s Star Mart, is owned by Osama “Sam” Mustafa. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/25/2003] Mustafa was first investigated by the FBI in 1991 after he told a police officer that the US needed another Pan Am 103 attack and that he could be the one to carry out the attack. He also said all Americans should be killed because of the 1991 Iraq War. In 1994, he was investigated for being a member of the Palestinian organizations PFLP and PLO and for threatening to kill an Israeli intelligence officer living in San Diego. The investigation was closed, but reopened again in 1997 when he was tied to a possible plot in North Carolina. Apparently, it was closed again before 9/11. He also associates with Osama Basnan and others who have contacts with the hijackers. Witnesses later claim he cheered when he was first told of the 9/11 attacks. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 11-12, 143-146, 155-157 ]
Gas Station's Manager Was Also Investigated - The gas station is managed by Ed Salamah (who apparently is also known as Iyad Kreiwesh). [Washington Post, 12/29/2001; San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/25/2003] In January 2000, the brother of an unnamed, known al-Qaeda operative was under surveillance and was seen chatting with Salamah. The Los Angeles FBI office was investigating this operative, and it called Salamah about the person. Salamah refused to come to Los Angeles for an interview, and refused to give his home address to be interviewed there. Faced with a reluctant witness, the FBI dropped the matter. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 11-12, 143-146, 155-157 ; Newsweek, 7/28/2003]
Other Gas Station Employees May Know of 9/11 Plot - Mohdar Abdullah, a friend of Alhazmi and Almihdhar, also works at the gas station around this time. He may have learned of the 9/11 plot as early as the spring of 2000 (see Early 2000). Additionally, according to one witness, Abdullah, Osama Awadallah, Omar Bakarbashat, and other gas station employees will appear to show foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks one day before they take place (see Late August-September 10, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 219-220, 249-50, 532]
FBI Informant Stays Silent - The hijackers are living with an FBI informant named Abdussattar Shaikh who is aware of their contact with at least Mustafa, and Shaikh has given reports about Mustafa to the FBI in the past. However, Shaikh fails to tell the FBI about their contacts with him. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later strongly imply that Salamah and Mustafa assisted the hijackers with the 9/11 plot, but the FBI will appear uninterested in them and will maintain that the hijackers received no assistance from anyone. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 11-12, 143-146, 155-157 ] Shaikh will also later admit that he knew Alhazmi was working illegally at the gas station, but he didn’t tell his FBI handler about this (see Autumn 2000).
Hamza Alghamdi. [Source: FBI]Raed Hijazi, Nabil al-Marabh’s former Boston roommate, is tried and convicted in Jordan for his role in planned millennium bombings in that country. (Hijazi is tried in absentia since he has yet to be arrested, but will later be retried in person and reconvicted.) In the wake of the trial, Jordanian officials send information to US investigators that shows Nabil al-Marabh and future 9/11 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi are associates of Hijazi. The Washington Post will report, “An FBI document circulated among law enforcement agencies [just after 9/11] noted that Hijazi, who is in a Jordanian jail, had shared a telephone number with [9/11] hijacker, Hamza Alghamdi.” Apparently this document is created when Jordan sends the US this information in late 2000. [Washington Post, 9/21/2001] The Boston Globe will later report that an FBI investigation found that “al-Marabh had, in the report’s language, a ‘telephone connection’ with one of the suspected hijackers, according to a federal source involved in the investigation. However, the source was uncertain whether the connection involved telephone conversations between al-Marabh and the unidentified suspect, or whether it involved their sharing a telephone number.” This is a probable reference to the same FBI report mentioning the Alghamdi-Hijazi phone link, especially since the same Globe article mentions that around the this time al-Marabh tells his coworkers that the FBI has been asking him about his links to bin Laden (see Late August 2000). [Boston Globe, 10/15/2001] It appears that Alghamdi is not put on any kind of watch list and will not be stopped when he will arrive in the US by January 2001 (see January or July 28, 2001) nor again on May 23, 2001 (see April 23-June 29, 2001). The 9/11 Commission Final Report will fail to mention any investigation into Alghamdi and will give no hint that his name was known to US authorities before 9/11.
On three occasions, military lawyers force members of Able Danger to cancel scheduled meetings with the FBI at the last minute. Able Danger officials want to share information about the Brooklyn al-Qaeda cell they believe they’ve discovered which includes Mohamed Atta and other hijackers (see January-February 2000). The exact timing of these meetings remains unclear, but they appear to happen around the time military lawyers tell Able Danger they are not allowed to pursue Mohamed Atta and other figures (see September 2000) . [Government Security News, 9/2005] In 2005, it will be reported that Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer contacted FBI agent Xanthig Magnum in attempts to set up these meetings. Magnum is willing to testify about her communications with Shaffer, but apparently she has not yet been able to do so. [Fox News, 8/28/2005] Shaffer will later elaborate that the meetings were set up around early summer. Col. Worthington, then head of Able Danger, is one of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) officials scheduled to meet with FBI Counterterrorism agents. Shaffer ater claims the meetings were cancelled because “SOCOM lawyers would not permit the sharing of the US person information regarding terrorists located domestically due to ‘fear of potential blowback’ should the FBI do something with the information and something should go wrong. The lawyers were worried about another ‘Waco’ situation (see April 19, 1993). The critical counterterrorism information is never passed from SOCOM to the FBI before 9-11; this information did include the original data regarding Atta and the terrorist cells in New York and the DC area.” [US Congress, 2/15/2006 ] Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), who in 2005 helps bring to light the existence of the program, says, “Obviously, if we had taken out that cell, 9/11 would not have occurred and, certainly, taking out those three principal players in that cell would have severely crippled, if not totally stopped, the operation that killed 3,000 people in America.” [Government Security News, 8/2005]
At the trial of al-Qaeda operatives accused of participating in the 1998 US African embassy bombings, it is disclosed that an unnamed al-Qaeda operative had requested information about air traffic control procedures. This information is provided to the FBI by a co-operating witness, L’Houssaine Kherchtou (see Summer 2000), and is mentioned by prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, who says that Kherchtou “observed an Egyptian person who was not a pilot debriefing a friend of his, Ihab Ali [Nawawi], about how air traffic control works and what people say over the air traffic control system, and it was his belief that there might have been a plan to send a pilot to Saudi Arabia or someone familiar with that to monitor the air traffic communications so they could possibly attack an airplane.” Nawawi is a Florida-based al-Qaeda operative and pilot who is arrested in 1999 (see May 18, 1999). The identity of the Egyptian is not disclosed, although both Kherchtou and Nawawi are associates of former Egyptian army officer Ali Mohamed, who used Kherchtou’s apartment to plot the Nairobi embassy bombing (see Late 1993-Late 1994 and January 1998). [United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 8, 2/21/2001] Mohamed also conducted surveillance of airports in the early 1980s with a view to hijacking an airliner, and subsequently worked as a security adviser to Egyptair, where he had access to the latest anti-hijacking measures. [Lance, 2006, pp. 11-12] Jack Cloonan, one of the FBI agents who debriefed Kherchtou, will later receive the Phoenix Memo (see July 27, 2001 or Shortly After), which states that an inordinate amount of bin Laden-related individuals are learning to fly in the US (see July 10, 2001). [American Prospect, 6/19/2005] However, he will not apparently make the connection between the memo’s premise and the information from Kherchtou.
9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi is helped by his landlord, FBI informant Abdussattar Shaikh, with whom he has been living for some time (see Mid-May-December 2000 and May 10-Mid-December 2000), to open an account with the Lemon Grove, California, branch of the Bank of America. Alhazmi deposits $3,000 to open the account. The origin of the $3,000 is unclear, as the last known cash injection Alhazmi received was five months earlier and totaled only $5,000 (see April 16-18, 2000). [Associated Press, 9/21/2001; CBS News, 9/27/2001] Hijacker Khalid Almihdhar had previously opened and closed a bank account in San Diego (see February 4, 2000).
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