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Profile: Osama bin Laden
a.k.a. Osama Muhammad Al-Wahad bin Laden, Usama bin Laden, OBL, UBL, The Sheikh, Abu Abdullah, Sheikh, Osama bin Ladin, Mujahid Shaykh, Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin, Emir, Director
Osama bin Laden was a participant or observer in the following events:
In early July 1999, it is reported that a high-powered US delegation from the National Security Council, State Department, and other agencies is visiting the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain to investigate reports that $50 million has been given to Osama bin Laden. Apparently the money mostly comes from rich Saudis and is sent through the Dubai Islamic Bank in a single bank transfer. Journalist Jonathan Randal meets an unnamed US diplomat in Dubai several months later and the diplomat confirms that the transfer took place. Randal asks him why the money is sent in such an easily traceable procedure instead of dividing the sum up into a series of smaller transfers, or even using the nearly untraceable hawala system instead of a formal bank at all. The diplomat merely replies that this was the same question the Maktoum family that rules the UAE asked the US delegation. [Randal, 2005, pp. 211-212] On July 8, 1999, the New York Times reports on this bank transfer, asserting, “The Central Intelligence Agency has obtained evidence that Mr. bin Laden has been allowed to funnel money through the Dubai Islamic Bank in Dubai, which the United Arab Emirates Government effectively controls.” The Times adds, “United States intelligence officials said they had evidence that Mr. bin Laden had a relationship with the bank, which they believed had been arranged with the approval of the officials who control the bank.” [New York Times, 7/8/1999]
With the chances of a pipeline deal with the Taliban looking increasingly unlikely, President Clinton finally issues an executive order prohibiting commercial transactions with the Taliban. The order also freezes the Taliban’s US assets. Clinton blames the Taliban for harboring bin Laden. [CNN, 7/6/1999; US President, 7/12/1999]
Shireen Shawky holding a guided missile system (left), and Mohammed Malik (right). [Source: Getty Images]US government informant Randy Glass records a conversation at a dinner attended by himself, illegal arms dealers Diaa Mohsen and Mohammed Malik, a former Egyptian judge named Shireen Shawky, and Pakistani ISI agent Rajaa Gulum Abbas, held at a restaurant within view of the World Trade Center. FBI agents pretending to be restaurant customers sit at nearby tables. [MSNBC, 8/2/2002; WPBF 25 (West Palm Beach), 8/5/2002] Abbas says he wants to buy a whole shipload of weapons stolen from the US military to give to Osama bin Laden. [Cox News Service, 8/2/2002] Abbas points to the WTC and says, “Those towers are coming down.” This ISI agent later makes two other references to an attack on the WTC. [Cox News Service, 8/2/2002; WPBF 25 (West Palm Beach), 8/5/2002; Palm Beach Post, 10/17/2002] Abbas also says, “Americans [are] the enemy,” and, “We would have no problem with blowing up this entire restaurant because it is full of Americans.” [NBC, 3/18/2003] The meeting is secretly recorded and parts will be shown on television in 2003. [MSNBC, 3/18/2003]
Randy Glass, holding a Stinger missile. [Source: David Friedman/ Getty Images]A group of illegal arms merchants, including an ISI agent with foreknowledge of 9/11, had met in a New York restaurant the month before (see July 14, 1999). This same group meets at this time in a West Palm Beach, Florida, warehouse, and it is shown Stinger missiles as part of a sting operation. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 3/20/2003] US intelligence soon discovers connections between two in the group, Rajaa Gulum Abbas and Mohammed Malik, Islamic militant groups in Kashmir (where the ISI assists them in fighting against India), and the Taliban. Mohamed Malik suggests in this meeting that the Stingers will be used in Kashmir or Afghanistan. His colleague Diaa Mohsen also says Abbas has direct connections to “dignitaries” and bin Laden. Abbas also wants heavy water for a “dirty bomb” or other material to make a nuclear weapon. He says he will bring a Pakistani nuclear scientist to the US to inspect the material. [MSNBC, 8/2/2002; NBC, 3/18/2003] According to Dick Stoltz, a federal undercover agent posing as a black market arms dealer, one of the Pakistanis at the warehouse claims he is working for A.Q. Khan. A Pakistani nuclear scientist, Khan is considered the father of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program and also the head of an illegal network exporting nuclear technology to rogue nations. [MSNBC, 1/14/2005] Government informant Randy Glass passes these warnings on before 9/11, but he claims, “The complaints were ordered sanitized by the highest levels of government.” [WPBF 25 (West Palm Beach), 8/5/2002] In June 2002, the US secretly indicts Abbas, but apparently they aren’t trying very hard to find him: In August 2002, MSNBC is easily able to contact Abbas in Pakistan and speak to him by telephone. [MSNBC, 8/2/2002]
US intelligence obtains information that bin Laden and others are planning an attack in the US, possibly against specific landmarks in California and New York City. The reliability of the source is unknown. [US Congress, 9/18/2002]
’The Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism.’ [Source: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress]A report prepared for US intelligence titled the “Sociology and Psychology of Terrorism: Who Becomes a Terrorist and Why” is completed. It states: “Al-Qaeda’s expected retaliation for the US cruise missile attack… could take several forms of terrorist attack in the nation’s capital. Al-Qaeda could detonate a Chechen-type building-buster bomb at a federal building. Suicide bomber(s) belonging to al-Qaeda’s Martyrdom Battalion could crash-land an aircraft packed with high explosives (C-4 and Semtex) into the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), or the White House. Whatever form an attack may take, bin Laden will most likely retaliate in a spectacular way.” [Associated Press, 4/18/2002] The report discusses the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and includes a picture of the WTC towers. [Hudson, 1999, pp. 4 ; Los Angeles Times, 5/17/2002] It was prepared by the Federal Research Division, an arm of the Library of Congress, for the National Intelligence Council, which advises the president and US intelligence on emerging threats. Its author is Rex A. Hudson. [Associated Press, 4/18/2002; Hudson, 2005] The Bush administration will later claim to have never heard of this report until May 2002, despite the fact that it had been publicly posted on the Internet since 1999, and “widely shared within the government,” according to the New York Times. [CNN, 5/18/2002; New York Times, 5/18/2002]
The CIA readies an operation to capture or kill bin Laden, secretly training and equipping approximately 60 commandos from the Pakistani ISI. Pakistan supposedly agrees to this plan in return for the lifting of economic sanctions and more economic aid. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001] Pakistan proposed the plan in December 1998 (see December 2, 1998). US officials were said to be “deeply cynical” of the plan, knowing that Pakistani intelligence was allied with bin Laden (see Autumn 1998). They figured that if Pakistan really wanted bin Laden captured or killed, they could just tell the US when and where he would be, but Pakistan never revealed this kind of information. But the US went ahead with the plan anyway, figuring it held little risk and could help develop intelligence ties with Pakistan. [Coll, 2004, pp. 442-444] After months of training, the commando team is almost ready to go by this month. However, the plan is aborted because on October 12, General Musharraf takes control of Pakistan in a coup (see October 12, 1999). Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ties to use the commando team to protect himself during the coup, but the team dissolves rather than fight on what they judge to be the losing side. Musharraf refuses to reform the team or continue any such operation against bin Laden despite the promise of substantial rewards. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001; Coll, 2004, pp. 442-444, 478-480] Some US officials later say the CIA was tricked, that the ISI just feigned to cooperate as a stalling tactic, and never intended to get bin Laden. [New York Times, 10/29/2001]
According to a later US State Department report, in October 1999, representatives of the allied Chechen warlords Shamil Basayev and Ibn Khattab travel to Kandahar, Afghanistan, to meet with Osama bin Laden. Both warlords already have some al-Qaeda ties (see February 1995-1996). Full scale war between Chechen and Russian forces has just resumed (see September 29, 1999). Bin Laden agrees to provide substantial military and financial assistance. He makes arrangements to send several hundred fighters to Chechnya to fight against Russian troops there. Later in 1999, bin Laden sends substantial amounts of money to Basayev and Khattab for training, supplies, and salaries. At the same time, some Chechen fighters attend Afghanistan training camps. Some of them stay and join al-Qaeda’s elite 055 Brigade fighting the Northern Alliance. In October 2001, with the US about to attack the Taliban in Afghanistan, Ibn Khattab will send more fighters to Afghanistan. [US Department of State, 2/28/2003]
Ahmed Shah Massoud.
[Source: French Ministry of Foreign Affairs]Worried about intercepts showing a growing likelihood of al-Qaeda attacks around the millennium, the CIA steps up ties with Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. The CIA sends a team of agents, led by bin Laden unit chief Richard Blee, to Massoud’s headquarters in a remote part of northern Afghanistan, seeking his help to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. The CIA team and Massoud meet twice, and Blee tells him, “We have a common enemy.” Massoud complains that the US is too focused on bin Laden, and is not interested in the root problems of Taliban, Saudi, and Pakistani support for terrorism that is propping him up. He agrees to help nonetheless, and the CIA gives him more aid in return. However, the US is officially neutral in the Afghan civil war and the agents are prohibited from giving any aid that would “fundamentally alter the Afghan battlefield.” The CIA team will later be reported to admire Massoud greatly. They see him as “a Che Guevara figure, a great actor on history’s stage,” and “a poet, a military genius, a religious man, and a leader of enormous courage who defied death and accepted its inevitability.” Author Steve Coll will write: “The CIA team had gone into the Panjshir [Valley, where Massoud’s headquarters is located] as unabashed admirers of Massoud. Now their convictions deepened even as they recognized that the agency’s new partnership with the Northern Alliance would be awkward, limited, and perhaps unlikely to succeed.” Perhaps because of this, the team members agree with Massoud’s criticism of US policy and agree to lobby for a policy change in his favor in Washington. [Coll, 2004, pp. 469-472; Washington Post, 2/23/2004] DIA agent Julie Sirrs, newly retired, is at Massoud’s headquarters at the same time as the CIA team (see October 1998). She gathers valuable intelligence from captured al-Qaeda soldiers while the CIA agents stay in their guesthouse. She will publish much of what she learns on this trip and other trips in the summer of 2001. [Washington Post, 2/28/2004]
The highly respected Jane’s Terrorism and Security Monitor reports that US intelligence is worried that bin Laden is planning a major attack on US soil. They are said to be particularly concerned about some kind of attack on New York, and they have recommended stepped-up security at the New York Stock Exchange and the Federal Reserve. [NewsMax, 10/5/1999]
Gameel el-Batouti was suspected of purposely crashing Egyptair 990 (left). Wreckage of the plane (right). [Source: Mike Stewart/ Corbis, and Brian Snyder/ Reuters]EgyptAir Flight 990 crashes into the ocean off the coast of Massachusetts, killing all 217 people on board. It is immediately suspected that one of the pilots purposely crashed the plane, and this is the eventual conclusion of a National Transportation Safety Board investigation. Thirty-three Egyptian military officers were aboard the plane, leading to suspicions that killing them was the motive for crashing the plane. No connections between the supposed suicide pilot and militancy are found. [ABC News, 11/2/1999; Associated Press, 1/21/2000; Atlantic Monthly, 11/2001; Aviation Week and Space Technology, 3/25/2002] The Egyptian government publicly asserts that the crash was caused by mechanical failure. However, shortly before 9/11 it will be reported that US intelligence secretly monitored communications between Egyptian officials and hear that Egyptian investigators “privately accept” that the pilot was “probably responsible” for the crash. [CNN, 6/25/2001] Mohammed Atef, al-Qaeda’s military operations chief, is said to be inspired to use the idea of planes as weapons after learning of this incident. The US learns of Atef’s interest from the interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects in Jordan, but it hasn’t been reported if this is learned before or after 9/11. [Washington Post, 9/11/2002]
United Nations sanctions against Afghanistan take effect. The sanctions freeze Taliban assets and impose an air embargo on Ariana Airlines in an effort to force the Taliban to hand over bin Laden. [BBC, 2/6/2000] It had been widely reported that Ariana had become a transportation arm for al-Qaeda (see Mid-1996-October 2001). However, Ariana will keep its illegal trade network flying, until stricter sanctions will ground it in 2001 (see January 19, 2001).
Abu Bara al-Taizi. [Source: Defense Department]A group of al-Qaeda operatives receives advanced training at the Mes Aynak camp in Afghanistan. The large group includes 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see November/December 1999), al-Qaeda commander Khallad bin Attash, would-be 9/11 hijacker Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said), USS Cole bomber Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras), an operative who leads a series of suicide bombings in Riyadh in 2003, and another who is involved against the 2002 attack against a ship called the Limburg (see October 6, 2002). According to statements by detainees, the course focuses on physical fitness, firearms, close quarters combat, shooting from a motorcycle, and night operations. Osama bin Laden and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) apparently visit the camp during the course. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 157; Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 9/6/2006, pp. 12 ] Candidate hijacker Abderraouf Jdey, a Canadian passport holder, may also be present at this training course. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 527] Also, in early December, KSM gives special hijacking training to Alhazmi, bin Attash, and al-Taizi (see Early December 1999).
The CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center concludes in a classified report that bin Laden wants to inflict maximum casualties, cause massive panic, and score a psychological victory. He may be seeking to attack between five and 15 targets on the Millennium. “Because the US is bin Laden’s ultimate goal… we must assume that several of these targets will be in the US.” [Time, 8/12/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003] CIA Director George Tenet delivers this warning to President Clinton. Author Steve Coll later comments that Tenet also “grabbed the National Security Council’s attention with that prediction.” [Coll, 2004, pp. 482] The US takes action in a variety of ways (see Early December 1999). It will turn out that bin Laden did plan many attacks to be timed for the millennium celebrations, including ones inside the US, but all failed (see December 31, 1999-January 1, 2000).
Khalil Deek. [Source: Tawfiq Deek]Khalil Deek is arrested by police in Peshawar, Pakistan, and immediately extradited to Jordan. The Jordanian government requested the arrest after tying Deek to a millennium plot to blow up hotels in Jordan that had been broken up a few days ago (see November 30, 1999). [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] Deek is a naturalized US citizen who has been part of a California al-Qaeda sleeper cell for most of the 1990s. He had been investigated by US authorities since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s, March 1993-1996, and December 14-25, 1999) but was never arrested. Deek’s computer is confiscated when he is arrested, and computer files reveal the targets of the Jordanian plot. [Cooley, 2002, pp. 33] According to contemporary press accounts, Deek, who was running a computer repair shop in Peshawar, Pakistan, had helped encrypt al-Qaeda’s Internet communications and smuggled recruits to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. Some reports identify him as a former mujaheddin fighter, a US Army veteran, and a close associate of Osama bin Laden. Articles also claim he worked closely with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida on the Jordanian plot and other things (see May 2000, Late 1980s, and 1998-December 11, 1999). [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] CNN says Deek “is believed to be the mastermind” of the Jordanian plot. [CNN, 12/17/1999] But, unlike the rest of the defendants in the Jordanian case, Deek is transferred from a maximum-security prison to a minimum-security one. He alone is not charged. He will be released in May 2001 (see May 2001). [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] It will later be alleged that Deek was a Jordanian intelligence mole (see Shortly After December 11, 1999).
Some attendees of the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), arrive early. Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had lost a leg while fighting in Afghanistan in 1997. In early December 1999, he was in Afghanistan with Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said) and others, attending a hijacking training course (see Late 1999 and Early December 1999). Bin Attash and al-Taizi have been selected by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to be hijackers for a planned Asian portion of the 9/11 plot (which will later be cancelled).
Surgery for Bin Attash's Leg - Bin Attash goes early to an al-Qaeda summit where hijacking plans will be discussed, in order to have prosthetic surgery for his leg. Al-Taizi goes with him. Malaysian security is said to be lax for Islamist militants, and Malaysia does not require a visa for citizens of many Middle Eastern countries. There is a clinic in Kuala Lumpur called Endolite, and other wounded militants have said they successfully concealed the origins of their combat wounds when receiving treatment there. Bin Attash got a prosthetic leg in Malaysia not long after losing his leg in 1997, but he is coming back to get a better one. He apparently gets the money for the prosthesis from his father, Osama bin Laden, and another al-Qaeda figure.
Link with Hambali - When bin Attash and al-Taizi arrive in Kuala Lumpur, they contact Hambali, the top al-Qaeda leader in Southeast Asia. Hambali picks them up at the airport and takes them to his home. Then he takes them to the Endolite clinic. Bin Attash and al-Taizi stay at or near the clinic for about 10 to 14 days. Bin Attash then takes about four flights in Southeast Asia to learn about security for the hijacking plan (see December 31, 1999-January 2, 2000), while al-Taizi apparently stays in Kuala Lumpur. According to Hambali’s later Guantanamo prison file, bin Attash and al-Taizi also investigate the security of US aircraft carriers in the region.
Others Arrive - On January 3, with bin Attash back from his flights, the two of them move to Yazid Sufaat’s condominium where the al-Qaeda summit will be held. Future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi arrives there the next day. 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar arrives the day after that, and other attendees are arriving as well, allowing the summit to begin (see January 5-8, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 158-159; US Department of Defense, 12/6/2006; US Department of Defense, 10/25/2008; US Department of Defense, 10/30/2008] Note that this information is based on prisoner interrogations, which can be highly unreliable. However, it should be noted that the accounts of bin Attash, Hambali, and al-Taizi appear to largely match.
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]
Earlier in December, the CIA estimated that al-Qaeda would launch between five and 15 attacks against American targets around the world over the New Year’s weekend, and that several targets would likely be inside the US (see December 8, 1999). Since late 1999, there has been intelligence that targets in Washington and New York would be attacked at this time. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] There in fact are a number of planned attacks, including bomb attacks on the Boston and Los Angeles airports (see December 14, 1999 and December 15-31, 1999), a hotel in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), and a naval ship in Yemen (see January 3, 2000). However, all of the attacks are foiled, thanks to alerts and luck. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002]
Bin Laden says in an interview, “I thank God that he has allowed my family to understand my path. They are praying for me.”
[Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 6/6/2005] The Bin Laden family formally disowned Osama in 1994 (see Shortly After April 9, 1994), but some suggest that some of his relatives continue to support him.
A transfer of 241 million euros (over $250 million) is made to Pakistan in this year from a Swiss bank account belonging jointly to Osama bin Laden and a Pakistani. The Pakistani is Akberali Moawalla, a former business partner and an acquaintance of Osama’s brother Yeslam bin Laden. This Deutsche Bank joint account belongs to a company called Cambridge, which is a subsidiary of the Saudi Binladin Group, the bin Laden family company. After French investigators will discover records of this money transfer in late 2004, a French judge will authorize widening a probe into the financial network surrounding the bin Laden family. [Reuters, 12/26/2004; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 6/6/2005] The discovery of this sizable joint bank account will contradict the conclusions of the 9/11 Commission, which will claim that bin Laden inherited far less than is commonly reported and never had a fortune in the hundreds of millions of dollars (see August 21, 2004). [Agence France-Presse, 7/26/2004]
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will later recall, “I talked with the [Clinton] administration and pointed out the bin Laden issue to them. I was surprised by their reaction. They wrung their hands so helplessly and said: ‘the Taliban are not turning him over, what can one do?’ I remember I was surprised: if they are not turning him over, one has to think and do something.” [Interfax, 9/21/2001; Guardian, 9/22/2001] This exchange, if true, must take place in 2000 because Putin becomes acting president of Russia on the first day of 2000 and President Bush replaces Clinton in the US in January 2001. The Washington Post will report in December 2000 that “The United States has quietly begun to align itself with those in the Russian government calling for military action against Afghanistan and has toyed with the idea of a new raid to wipe out Osama bin Laden (see December 19, 2000),” but no such raid takes place.
After his released from an Indian prison at the end of 1999 (see December 24-31, 1999), Saeed Sheikh stays in Kandahar, Afghanistan, for several days and meets with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. He also meets with bin Laden, who is said to call Saeed “my special son.” [Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Saeed soon has a falling out with Pakistani militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar and draws closer to al-Qaeda. Based mostly in Karachi, Pakistan, he reports to al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. Saeed is said to “soon [become] a key figure, especially in terms of fund-raising.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 286] He regularly travels to Afghanistan and helps train new al-Qaeda recruits in training camps there. [New York Times, 2/25/2002; India Today, 2/25/2002; National Post, 2/26/2002; Guardian, 7/16/2002] Saeed helps train some of the 9/11 hijackers, presumably in Afghanistan as well. [Daily Telegraph, 9/30/2001] He also helps al-Qaeda develop a secure web-based communications system. His work is generally so impressive that there is talk he could one day succeed bin Laden. [Daily Telegraph, 7/16/2002; Vanity Fair, 8/2002] Saeed forged a relationship while in Indian prison with Aftab Ansari, a Pakistani gangster who has fled to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) (see November 1994-December 1999). Thanks to this connection, Sheikh is able to establish an al-Qaeda base for himself in Dubai, UAE. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 286] Numerous 9/11 hijackers will later move through Dubai and some of the money sent to Mohamed Atta in 2001 will come from Sheikh and Ansari through Dubai (see Early August 2001). [Guardian, 2/9/2002] At the same time Saeed is strengthening his al-Qaeda ties, he is also openly working with the Pakistani ISI (see January 1, 2000-September 11, 2001).
Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood. [Source: BBC]Two retired Pakistani nuclear scientists create a charity to help the Taliban. The scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, had both retired the year before after long and distinguished careers, and had both become radical Islamists. They set up a charity, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), purporting to conduct relief work in Afghanistan, including helping to guide the Taliban on scientific matters. A number of pro-Taliban Pakistani generals and business leaders are on the board of directors, including Hamid Gul, a former director of the ISI. But not long after setting up an office in Kabul, the two scientists meet with Mullah Omar and Osama bin Laden, and discuss weapons development. During a later visit, Mahmood provides one of bin Laden’s associates with information on how to construct a nuclear weapon. [Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 264-265; Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 310-311] The two scientists will have a more extensive meeting with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in August 2001, and will discuss how al-Qaeda can make a radioactive weapon (see Mid-August 2001). Shortly before 9/11, the CIA will learn of this meeting (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001), and also learn that UTN offered to sell a nuclear weapon to Libya, but the CIA will take no effective action against the group (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001). In late 2001, the Wall Street Journal will report that “One Pakistani military analyst said it was inconceivable that a nuclear scientist would travel to Afghanistan without getting clearance from Pakistani officials and being debriefed each time. Pakistan maintains a strict watch on many of its nuclear scientists, using a special arm of the Army’s general headquarters to monitor them even after retirement.” Furthermore, a former ISI colonel says the ISI “was always aware of UTN’s activities and had encouraged Dr. Mahmoud’s Afghanistan trips. He said the ISI learned last year that Dr. Mahmoud had recently discussed nuclear matters with Mr. bin Laden, and Dr. Mahmoud agreed not to do so again.” [Wall Street Journal, 12/24/2001] The US will finally freeze UTN’s assets in December 2001 (see Early October-December 2001).
According to a French intelligence report, in the beginning of 2000 bin Laden meets with Taliban leaders, other al-Qaeda leaders, and armed groups from Chechnya to plan a hijacking, possibly of an airplane flying to the US. They create a list of seven possible airlines to hijack: American, Delta, Continental, United, Air France, Lufthansa, and a vague “US Aero.” The group considers hijacking a US airline flying out of Frankfurt and diverting it to Iran or Afghanistan or hijacking a French or German plane and diverting it to Tajikistan or Afghanistan. The goals are to increase international pressure to force a Russian withdrawal from Chechnya and to force the release of Islamists in US prisons. [Associated Press, 4/16/2007; Le Monde (Paris), 4/17/2007] This latter goal is a likely reference to the Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, as US intelligence repeatedly hears of al-Qaeda hijacking plots to free him (see 1998, March-April 2001, and May 23, 2001). The Chechens are likely connected to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab, who has a long history of collaboration with bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002 and Before April 13, 2001). According to other news reports, in early 2000, the CIA observed Mohamed Atta as he bought large quantities of chemicals in Frankfurt, apparently to build explosives (see January-May 2000), and in February and March 2001, Atta and two associates will apply for a job with Lufthansa Airlines at the Frankfurt airport that would give them access to secure areas of the airport, but apparently none of them are able to get the job (see February 15, 2001). Bin Laden will apparently uphold the decision to go forward with this plot later in 2000 (see October 2000) and the French will continue to report on the plot in January 2001, apparently passing the information to the CIA (see January 5, 2001). But it is unclear what happens after that and if the plot morphs into the 9/11 attacks, is canceled, or was a ruse all along. Some of the 9/11 hijackers fought in Chechnya and therefore might also be linked to Ibn Khattab (see 1996-December 2000).
National Security Adviser Sandy Berger will later say that in early 2000 the National Security Council (NSC), the US military, and the CIA develops a “new technique for detecting Bin Laden.” Berger calls it “very promising as a way of determining where he would be if we had one strand of human intelligence.” The Los Angeles Times will comment, “But whether the new technique was some sort of high-tech homing device or silent surveillance craft is a question left to future generations.” The next two and a half pages of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report discussing this technique are completely censored. [Los Angeles Times, 7/27/2003] Despite Berger’s implication that the US does not have human intelligence on bin Laden’s movements at this time, other accounts indicate that it does (see March-April 2001 and April 2001).
In early 2000, Islamist militant leader Musab Abu al-Zarqawi starts a new training camp in Afghanistan, near the town of Herat. Osama bin Laden reportedly does not like him, but al-Zarqawi gets some help from al-Qaeda leader Saif al-Adel, who serves as a liaison between al-Zarqawi and al-Qaeda. His camp starts with only a dozen or so followers, but it rapidly grows and eventually numbers several thousand. His group consists mostly of Jordanians and Syrians, and is helped by links to the Muslim Brotherhood. According to the Atlantic Monthly, bin Laden repeatedly asks al-Zarqawi to come to him and take an oath of allegiance, but each time al-Zarqawi refuses. “Under no circumstances did [al-Zarqawi] want to become involved in the battle between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. He also did not believe that either bin Laden or the Taliban was serious enough about jihad.” But in October 2001, the US begins bombing Afghanistan, and al-Zarqawi’s camp is targeted. He is reportedly wounded in the chest when a ceiling falls on him. But in December 2001, he manages to escape to Iran with about 300 followers and is based there for several months while regrouping. [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006]
Officially, in 2000, 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour is said to enter the US on December 8, and briefly visit San Diego (see December 8, 2000). However, some reports suggest he may spend a significant amount of time in San Diego earlier in the year. [Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001; San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/14/2002]
For example, in the two weeks following 9/11, the FBI will identify him as having lived in San Diego during 2000. [Associated Press, 9/14/2001; NBC (San Diego), 9/15/2001; San Diego Union-Tribune, 9/21/2001]
In 2004, court records relating to a local terror probe will include authorities stating that Hanjour, along with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, had regularly dined and prayed with Mohdar Abdullah, a Yemeni university student in San Diego. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/2/2004]
When Alhazmi and Almihdhar attend a San Diego flying school in May 2000 (see May 5 and 10, 2000), they are accompanied by one or even two men called Hani. [KGTV 10 (San Diego), 9/18/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001; South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9/28/2001]
A neighbor of Abdussattar Shaikh, a Muslim leader and also undercover FBI asset living in San Diego, later remembers Shaikh having introduced him to a friend called Hani, who he assumes to have been Hanjour. [Chicago Tribune, 9/30/2001] (Alhazmi and Almihdhar stay with Shaikh during 2000 (see Mid-May-December 2000).) For a short period beginning August 10, another resident at Shaikh’s San Diego house is a Saudi called Yazeed al-Salmi. After 9/11, Al-Salmi will reportedly confide to having known Hanjour and, according to the 9/11 Commission, has “childhood ties” to him. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222 and 518]
Witnesses see Hanjour in San Diego with suspected Saudi agent Omar al-Bayoumi at least twice in early 2000 (see Early 2000).
Little else is written about Hanjour’s movements during 2000, but the Washington Post notes that for at least part of the year, he “appears to have been in Saudi Arabia, because it was there that he obtained a student visa to take another English course. He applied in September 2000.” [Washington Post, 10/15/2001] The 9/11 Commission will claim that Hanjour goes to Afghanistan in spring 2000, where he spends time in al-Qaeda’s Al Farooq training camp. He is then sent to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) in Karachi, for training in using code words, before returning to Saudi Arabia on June 20, 2000. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 226] However, this account will come mainly from written reports of the interrogation of KSM, with whom the commission has no direct contact. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 146 and 521] Partly because of the highly coercive interrogation methods used, there will be questions about the reliability of KSM’s information. [New York Times, 6/17/2004] According to the 9/11 Commission, the only time Hanjour is in San Diego this year is from December 8-12, before he moves to Arizona. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223]
Karl Inderfurth. [Source: Harikrishna Katragadda Mint]Assistant Secretary of State Karl Inderfurth, accompanied by State Department counterterrorism expert Michael Sheehan, visits Pakistan, shortly after Pervez Musharraf took power in a coup (see October 12, 1999). Inderfurth meets with Musharraf, and is disappointed with Musharraf’s reluctance to take any action against al-Qaeda or the Taliban. Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is living openly in the Pakistani town of Peshawar, and the previous month was implicated in an attempted bomb plot in Jordan (see November 30, 1999). A number of intelligence agencies are monitoring Zubaida’s communications (see October 1998 and After), and one of his top aides, Khalil Deek, appears to be a Jordanian intelligence mole (see Shortly After December 11, 1999). There are allegations that the Pakistani ISI intelligence agency has been protecting Zubaida (see 1998-2001). Musharraf indicates to Inderfurth that he is unwilling to act on US intelligence about Zubaida. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 295] US ambassador to Pakistan William Milam will later say: “The Pakistanis told us they could not find him, even though everyone knew where he was. The ISI just turned a blind eye to his activities.” In fact, there is evidence Zubaida was working with the ISI, helping them vet and train militants to later fight in the disputed region of Kashmir (see 1998-2001). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 48] Musharraf also tells Inderfurth that he is unwilling to support any program to capture Osama bin Laden, as his predecessor, Nawaz Sharif, had been willing to do (see October 1999). And asked to pressure the Taliban, Musharraf sends ISI Director Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed to meet Taliban leader Mullah Omar. Mahmood is well known to be a supporter of the Taliban, so his visit is considered an empty gesture. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 295] Robert Einhorn, a specialist on the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Clinton administration, does not go on the trip. Inderfurth will later say Einhorn’s absence showed a lack of interest by the administration in non-proliferation: “The fact that Mike [Sheehan] was included and Bob left out showed our priorities at that time. Our agenda was counterterrorism, al-Qaeda, and democracy. We had somehow divorced these from the nuclear threat and A. Q. Khan.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 292]
Bin Laden speaking at the podium in the top image. Ramzi bin al-Shibh is said to be the one wearing the red bandana on his head in the below image. [Source: London Times]Bin Laden is videotaped speaking to about 100 of his followers in Afghanistan. The video of the speech, which has no sound, will apparently be captured by US forces in late 2001 and leaked to the media in late 2006 (see September 30, 2006). The time stamp on the video footage reads “1/8/2000,” suggesting the speech took place in January 8, 2000 at the end of Ramadan, though it could also be from August 1, 2000, since some countries reverse the order of months and days. The speech takes place at Tarnak Farm, a complex of buildings near Kandahar where bin Laden sometimes lives. Bin Laden speaks in the open air at a podium while the audience sits on the ground. Ramzi bin al-Shibh is said to be in the audience, although photographs, video footage, and even credit card receipts place him at a meeting in Malaysia held from January 5-8 (see January 5-8, 2000). [London Times, 10/1/2006] The video footage focuses more on the audience than the crowd, leading at least one terrorism specialist to speculate that the video maybe have been made by an intelligence agency. [Associated Press, 10/3/2006] It appears US intelligence will later use the footage to identify bin Laden’s followers in the crowd (see September 30, 2006).
A US satellite photo of the Darunta camp. [Source: US military]By the start of 2000, US intelligence has had a particular focus on Darunta Camp, one of al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan. This simple camp near Jalalabad draws attention because of intelligence gathered during the last year indicating that al-Qaeda is experimenting with poisons and chemical weapons. The CIA has inserted a special device in the vicinity that can take high quality photographs of the camp from over ten miles away. Sometime in late January, the CIA learns that bin Laden has arrived in the camp. They pass this information on to Ahmed Shah Massoud and his Northern Alliance, who are fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Massoud dispatches a small team on mules to get near the camp and fire rockets at bin Laden. However, when Massoud tells the CIA about this, the CIA’s lawyers are alarmed. They don’t want the CIA legally complicit if the operation kills innocent civilians and they order Massoud to withdraw his team. But due to poor communications the team goes ahead anyway and apparently shells the camp. However, bin Laden is not hurt and the incident passes without notice. Some US intelligence officials are upset at the legal policy that led to the order for Massoud’s team to withdraw. A new policy is drawn up allowing the CIA to assist Massoud on an operation if the primary purpose of the operation is to kill bin Laden or one of his top assistants. Otherwise, the US officially remains neutral in the war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. [Coll, 2004, pp. 487-490]
CIA Director George Tenet tells a Senate committee in open session that bin Laden “wants to strike further blows against America.” He points out the close links between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad and says this is part of an “intricate web of alliances among Sunni extremists worldwide, including North Africans, radical Palestinians, Pakistanis, and Central Asians.” He points out ties between drug traffickers and the Taliban and says, “There is ample evidence that Islamic extremists such as Osama bin Laden use profits from the drug trade to support their terror campaign.” But there is no mention of Pakistan’s support for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, despite CIA knowledge of this (see Autumn 1998). Instead, he claims Iran is “the most active state sponsor” of terrorism. Additionally, he does not mention that bin Laden is capable of planning attacks inside the US, even though he told that to Congress in a closed session six months earlier (see June 24, 1999). [Senate, 2/2/2000]
The front cover of the matchbox announcing a reward for bin Laden. [Source: Saeed Khan / Getty Images]The US begins circulating matchboxes in Pakistan with a picture of bin Laden and an announcement of a large reward for information leading to his capture. The reward promises confidentiality but also only lists the reward money as $500,000 instead of the $5 million announced by Washington. Additionally, 100 rupee notes, worth about $2, are being circulated with a message stamped on them announcing the reward. There is no matchbox campaign for other known al-Qaeda leaders. [Associated Press, 2/16/2000] The reward program is notable for its late start and low profile, especially when compared to a similar matchbox reward program for Ramzi Yousef starting in 1993 (see April 2, 1993). That program was announced about a month after Yousef was determined to be a major suspect, and it eventually helped with his capture (see February 3-7, 1995). The bin Laden campaign will come to an end by early 2004 (see January 2004).
Sources who know Osama bin Laden later claim that his stepmother, Al-Khalifa bin Laden, has a second meeting with her stepson in Afghanistan (her first visit took place in the spring of 1998 (see Spring 1998)). The trip is approved by the Saudi royal family. The Saudis pass the message to him that “‘they wouldn’t crack down on his followers in Saudi Arabia’ as long as he set his sights on targets outside the desert kingdom.” In late 1999, the Saudi government had told the CIA about the upcoming trip, and suggested placing a homing beacon on her luggage. This does not happen—Saudis later claim they weren’t taken seriously, and Americans claim they never received specific information on her travel plans. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001; Washington Post, 12/19/2001]
Around eight calls made by hijacker Khalid Almihdhar from San Diego to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by his father-in-law Ahmed al-Hada are intercepted by the NSA. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 16-17, 157 ; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] At least one of the calls is made from a phone registered to hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi in their San Diego apartment. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 251 ] Other calls are made from a mobile phone registered to Alhazmi. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 296] Calls may also be made from the communications hub to the US. [MSNBC, 7/21/2004]
Dates of Calls - One of the calls takes place days after they move into their San Diego apartment in February (see January 15-February 2000). [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] Another is on March 20, 2000 and lasts 16 minutes. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 57 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 251 ]
Intercepted by NSA - Although NSA analysts pick up Almihdhar’s first name, “Khalid,” they do not connect it to his second name, even though the NSA has been intercepting communications to and from the hub involving him throughout 1999 (see Early 1999 and December 29, 1999) and he is on the NSA watch list at this point (see Mid-January 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 16, 157 ; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] Some, or perhaps all, of these calls are between Almihdhar and his wife, who lives at the communications hub and reportedly gives birth to a daughter in early 2000 while Almihdhar is in the US. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] However, the NSA analysts suspect that Khalid is part of an “operational cadre.” [US News and World Report, 3/15/2004]
Dissemination and Content - According to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, the NSA disseminates some of this information to the FBI, CIA, and other agencies, but not all of it, as it apparently does not meet reporting thresholds. It is unclear why it does not meet such thresholds, although some sources will suggest Almihdhar was just talking to his wife. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94] Another source suggests operational information was passed on during the calls (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). However, two FBI agents who worked on al-Qaeda cases relating to Yemen, Dan Coleman and Ali Soufan, will later claim that they and other senior counterterrorism officials only learn about these calls after 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
Significance - Author Lawrence Wright will comment: “You know, this is the key. The NSA is all over this phone. And everybody, you know, that has any connection with it is drawing links from that phone. Now imagine eight lines from Yemen to San Diego. How obvious would it be that al-Qaeda is in America[?]” [Federal News Service, 10/5/2006]
Other Calls - The NSA also intercepts various other communications between the hijackers and the communications hub (see Early 2000-Summer 2001).
Four Arabs allegedly visit the headquarters of the Abu Sayyaf Islamist militant group, deep in the jungles of the southern Philippines. One of them goes by the name Ibnu bin Laden and appears to be a close relative of Osama bin Laden. They give equipment and money. Just days later, Abu Sayyaf militants seize about 50 students and teachers and demand the release of Ramzi Yousef and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman from US prisons in exchange for their hostages. (They are ultimately unsuccessful in winning their demands.) Osama bin Laden’s ties to Abu Sayyaf go back at least to 1988, when it is believed he personally visited the Philippines. [South China Morning Post, 10/11/2001 Sources: Wahab Akbar]
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).
The Lucas Heights nuclear reactor. [Source: BBC]During a raid on a suspected people-smuggling ring in Auckland, New Zealand, police stumble upon evidence of an apparent plot to blow up a nuclear reactor during the upcoming Sydney Olympics (see also September 15-October 1, 2000). A house used by Afghan refugees contains a map of Sydney highlighting a nuclear reactor in the suburb of Lucas Heights and detailing access and exit roads. In another house, police find a notebook with information relating to the counterterrorism tactics used by New Zealand police. [CNN, 8/26/2000; BBC, 8/26/2000; New Zealand Herald, 8/26/2000] The New Zealand Herald reports that some suspects may be linked to Osama bin Laden. [New Zealand Herald, 9/9/2000] However, no one is charged with terror-related crimes and a later report will find that immigration fraud charges against two Afghan refugees have been dropped. [New Zealand Herald, 5/25/2002; New Zealand Herald, 5/27/2002]
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]
Intelligence Newsletter reports that a number of Osama bin Laden-owed businesses in Sudan are still operating and still controlled by bin Laden. The report specifically mentions Wadi al-Aqiq, El-Hijra Construction and Development, Taba Investment Company, and the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank. Bin Laden’s control of all these businesses were revealed in detail to US intelligence by al-Qaeda informant Jamal al-Fadl several years earlier (see December 1996-January 1997). The report notes that both Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid and his cousin-in-law Mohamedou Ould Slahi, both known al-Qaeda leaders, were reportedly employed in recent years by the El-Hijra company. The report further notes that money for bin Laden “pours into accounts at branch offices of Al Taqwa [Bank] in Malta,” Switzerland, and the Bahamas. Businesses and charities supporting bin Laden “are thriving around the world without any real curb on their operations” because “some US and European agencies hunting him seem to lack zeal” in stopping him. “To be sure, if journalists can track down bin Laden’s friends without too much trouble it can be imagined that law enforcement and intelligence agencies have long found the same connections. Recent anti-terrorism history has shown that when the authorities really want to crack down on an organization they cut off its financial and logistic roots. So why are bin Laden’s backers prospering when the world’s most powerful anti-terrorist organizations are chasing him?” [Intelligence Newsletter, 3/16/2000]
United Nations police raid a house in Pristina, Kosovo, rented by the Saudi Joint Relief Committee (SJRC). The house was rented by Wael Hamza Julaidan, one of the founders of al-Qaeda, and is discovered to be an al-Qaeda safe house. Shortly after the raid, the BBC reports that the US sent UN police a secret document asking them to monitor those connected to the house. It states that Julaidan is an associate of Osama bin Laden, and helped him “move money and men to and from the Balkans.” The SJRC is an umbrella body for several other Saudi charities and is partly financed by the Saudi government. [BBC, 4/3/2000] In a 1999 interview broadcast on the Al Jazeera television network, bin Laden referred to the origins of al-Qaeda and said, “We were all in one boat, as is known to you, including our brother, Wael Julaidan.” [Kohlmann, 2004] However, despite this openly shown interest in Julaidan, the US will not freeze his assets until late 2002 (see September 6, 2002). Julaidan has just been made director general of the Rabita Trust, a charity with many prominent Pakistanis on its board of directors, including Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf (see Mid-September-October 12, 2001).
The Washington Post writes, “With little fanfare, [President Clinton] has begun to articulate a new national security doctrine in which terrorists and other ‘enemies of the nation-state’ are coming to occupy the position once filled by a monolithic communist superpower.” In his January 2000 State of the Union address, President Clinton predicts that terrorists and organized criminals will pose “the major security threat” to the US in coming decades. However, some claim that a “preoccupation with bin Laden has caused errors in judgment.” National Security Adviser Sandy Berger counters that the threat of large-scale terrorist attacks on US soil is “a reality, not a perception.… We would be irresponsible if we did not take this seriously.” Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke predicts that the US’s new enemies “will come after our weakness, our Achilles heel, which is largely here in the United States” (see April 2, 2000). [Washington Post, 4/2/2000]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke warns of the danger posed by Osama bin Laden and of the risk of a terrorist attack within the United States, and argues for an aggressive anti-terrorism strategy. His views are reported by the Washington Post, which calls him “one of the least known but most controversial members of [President] Clinton’s national security team,” who has “played a key role both in defining the new post-Cold War security threats to the United States and coming up with a response.” The Post says the central idea behind Clarke’s thinking is that “a new breed of global terrorist—embodied by bin Laden—has developed the ruthlessness and resources to carry its war to American soil.” These terrorists, Clarke says, “will come after our weakness, our Achilles heel, which is largely here in the United States.” Clarke “compares the current threat of global terrorism with the situation faced by Western democracies in the period leading up to World War II, when appeasement carried the day.” He is critical of those who are skeptical about the danger of a chemical or biological terrorist attack, saying: “The notion that this is an analytical problem and one can quantify the threat is naive.… We don’t know how many bio labs there are out there, how many tons of chemical agents. Frankly, it will only take one.” Clarke wants aggressive action to prevent terrorist attacks against Americans. He says: “We should have a very low barrier in terms of acting when there is a threat of weapons of mass destruction being used against American citizens. We should not have a barrier of evidence that can be used in a court of law.” Referring to bin Laden, he adds: “It’s not enough to be in a cat-and-mouse game, warning about his plots. If we keep that up, we will someday fail. We need to seriously think about doing more. Our goal should be to so erode his network of organizations that they no longer pose a serious threat.” [Washington Post, 4/2/2000]
According to al-Qaeda military instructor Abu Daoud, Osama bin Laden sends four hundred fighters to Chechnya with explosives and weapons. Western intelligence sources will confirm the movement in August 2000, but they will not be able to say whether the fighters are Arabs or Afghans. Abu Daoud will also tell the Associated Press that hundreds of other fighters went in February 1999 and many returned. [Associated Press, 8/30/2000] Two of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, reportedly fight in Chechnya (see 1993-1999). Several others plan to do so (see 1996-December 2000), and Ahmed Alghamdi and Saeed Alghamdi have documentation suggesting travel to a Russian Republic. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 233]
A secret CIA report details al-Qaeda’s use of the honey trade to generate income and secretly move weapons, drugs, and operatives around the world. The CIA had been gathering information and monitoring some honey stores for almost two years before the study. Bin Laden is believed to control a number of retail honey shops in various countries, especially in Sudan, Yemen, and Afghanistan. Al-Qaeda leaders Abu Zubaida and Khalil Deek, an American citizen, are said to be particularly tied to the honey trade. One US official will later say, “The smell and consistency of the honey makes it easy to hide weapons and drugs in the shipments. Inspectors don’t want to inspect that product. It’s too messy.” But although a number of companies dealing in honey are tied to al-Qaeda (and sometimes to Islamic Jihad), the US will not make any move to freeze the assets of these companies until after 9/11. [New York Times, 10/11/2001] Counterterrorism expert Steven Emerson will later claim Deek was “running an underground railroad in the Middle East for terrorists, shuttling them to different countries,” which would fit with his alleged role in the honey network. [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005]
Ellen Glasser. [Source: City of Jacksonville, Florida]Dan Hill, a former Army Ranger, meets with an FBI agent to discuss a plan he has devised to kill Osama bin Laden, for which he will need military assistance, but the agent is skeptical and only promises to refer Hill’s proposal to FBI headquarters in Washington, DC. [Stewart, 2002, pp. 230-231] Hill came up with his plan, to go to Afghanistan and kill bin Laden, after the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998. However, the man Hill intends to be the mission’s commander wants the assurance of US government support for the operation (see After August 7, 1998). Hill talked to Leo Morris, an agent at the Jacksonville, Florida, FBI office, about his plan, and Morris said he would get back to him after consulting his superiors in Washington. [Stewart, 2002, pp. 203-204]
Fighters Now Available to Perform Mission - The plan has progressed while Hill has been waiting for the FBI to get in touch. Hill’s friend Said Nader Zori, who will be participating in the mission, has been to Pakistan and assembled a group of former mujahedeen fighters who are willing to assist. [Stewart, 2002, pp. 230] Nader Zori is himself a former mujahedeen fighter who fought against the Russians in Afghanistan during the 1980s and subsequently emigrated to the US. [Stewart, 2002, pp. 168, 201] Finally, Hill receives a phone call from Ellen Glasser—like Morris an agent at the FBI’s Jacksonville office—who says she is interested in Hill’s plan, and requests a meeting with Hill and Nader Zori. Hill agrees to see her, and in the late spring of 2000 they all meet at his house. Glasser is accompanied by her husband, Donald Glasser, who also works for the FBI at the Jacksonville office.
Hill Describes How His Group Will Kill Bin Laden - During the meeting, Hill outlines his plan to Glasser. According to journalist and author James B. Stewart, he tells her: “Their contacts in Afghanistan reported that bin Laden traveled frequently between meetings with Mullah Omar and other high-ranking Taliban officials in the southern city of Kandahar, and Kabul, the capital, near Farmihedda, where bin Laden kept his headquarters. He traveled with only light security: a convoy of three vehicles, bin Laden in the middle with eight armed guards—four in the front and four in the rear. The mountainous terrain provided several ambush sites. Their armed force would attack the convoy, kill the guards, and kill bin Laden.”
FBI Wants Bin Laden Captured, Not Killed - Glasser seems startled and says, “Oh, we don’t do things like that.” Hill replies: “I know you don’t. That’s why we’ll do it.” Glasser says the FBI’s idea was that bin Laden would be captured and brought to the US. Hill is astonished. “How would we do that?” he asks. “What would we do with the bodyguards? How would we get him out alive?” Glasser ponders this and then asks how Hill’s group would prove it had killed bin Laden. Hill says it would pack his head and hands in an iced cooler, and bin Laden’s identity could be verified once his remains reached the US. Hill says this is why he needs US military assistance: It would be impossible to get bin Laden’s remains out of Afghanistan over land, so it would be necessary for a C-130 transport plane with a skyhook to fly over his group’s position, hook the cooler, and then reel it up into the plane’s cargo bay.
Agent Will Refer Proposal to FBI Headquarters - Glasser seems skeptical about the plan. She also explains, “Money’s tight.” However, Hill says that as long as he knows that, if his plan succeeds, he will get the $15 million reward that has been offered for capturing bin Laden, his group will finance the operation, except for the use of the C-130. Glasser then asks: “How do we know you’re telling the truth? How do we know you have the contacts in Afghanistan?” Hill says he could bring some of his group’s members to the US if Glasser will arrange for tourist visas. Whatever it takes, he will do it. Glasser still looks unconvinced. She tells Hill, “This would all have to be approved,” and says she will refer his proposal to the Counterterrorism Center at FBI headquarters. Before Glasser and her husband leave, Hill points out to them that nuclear weapons have allegedly disappeared from the former Soviet arsenal in Uzbekistan, and he adds that evidence indicates bin Laden is becoming more powerful and sophisticated over time. “Someone has got to take him out,” he says. [Stewart, 2002, pp. 230-232] Glasser will get in touch with Hill about a year later and tell him that his request for government assistance has been rejected (see (Between Spring and Summer 2001)). [Stewart, 2002, pp. 245]
Kie Fallis, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) terrorism intelligence analyst, has been gathering evidence of an upcoming al-Qaeda attack or attacks. In 2002, he will describe to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry a research process similar to what Able Danger is using at the same time: “I began to notice there was a voluminous amount of information, as others have testified, regarding al-Qaeda. Most of it appeared to be unrelated to other pieces of information. It appeared to be almost chat. By using a piece of [commercial software called ‘Analyst’s Notebook’] I was able to put these small snippets of information into, and graphically represent them as well, I was able to, over a course of many months, to determine certain linkages between these items—linkages that would never be apparent without the use of this tool. It would be lost in the weeds. And there were a lot of weeds to look through.” [Washington Times, 8/26/2002; US Congress, 10/8/2002] In his research, he claims to find links between al-Qaeda and Iranian intelligence. By May 2000, he writes a classified report on his conclusion that “terrorists were planning two or three major attacks against the United States. The only gaps were where and when.” Apparently, he envisions at least one of these attacks will use a small boat to blow up a US warship. However, the DIA has already issued a report concluding that such a method of attack would be impossible to carry out successfully, and the agency sticks by this assessment. A video message put out by bin Laden in mid-September convinces Fallis that an al-Qaeda attack will happen in the next month or two.(see Mid-September 2000). Shortly after learning about this message, Fallis reaches “the ‘eureka point‘… in determining an impending terrorist attack.” This comes “from a still-classified intelligence report in September 2000, which he will not discuss.” [Washington Times, 8/26/2002] This may be a reference to a lead by the Able Danger team on increased al-Qaeda activity in Yemen at this time (see Late September 2000), and/or it may refer to other intelligence leads. Fallis goes to his supervisor and asks that at least a general warning of an attack in the Middle East be issued. He hopes such a warning will at least put US military forces in the region on a higher alert. His superior turns him down, and other superiors fail to even learn of his suggested warning. The USS Cole will be successfully attacked in the port of Aden, Yemen, by a small boat of terrorists on October 12, 2000 (see October 12, 2000) . [Washington Times, 8/26/2002] One day after the Cole attack, Fallis will resign in protest. According to Senator John Warner (R-VA),“What [Fallis] felt is that his assessment was not given that proper level of consideration by his superiors and, as such, was not incorporated in the final intelligence reports provided to military commanders in the [Middle East region].” [CNN, 10/25/2000]
Jack Roche. [Source: Agence France-Presse/ Getty Images]Jack Roche, an Australian Caucasian Muslim, tries to inform on al-Qaeda for Australia or the US, but is ignored. In April, Roche returned from a trip to Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Malaysia, where he took an explosives training course and met with bin Laden, Mohammed Atef, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and other top al-Qaeda leaders. In Pakistan, Mohammed discussed attacking US jets in Australia and gave Roche money to start an al-Qaeda cell in Australia. Roche also met Hambali in Malaysia and was given more money there. Early this month, he tries to call the US embassy in Australia, but they ignore him. He then tries to contact The Australian intelligence agency several times, but they too ignore him. In September 2000, his housemate also tries to contact Australian intelligence about what he has learned from Roche but his call is ignored as well. Australian Prime Minister John Howard later acknowledges that authorities made a “very serious mistake” in ignoring Roche, though he also downplays the importance of Roche’s information. Roche is later sentenced to nine years in prison for conspiring with al-Qaeda to blow up an Israeli embassy. [BBC, 6/1/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/7/2004]
According to a post-9/11 confession obtained from 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), al-Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash persuades hijacker Khalid Almihdhar to return to Afghanistan to meet with KSM. At the meeting, Almihdhar complains about life in the US but says he is confident he will be able to obtain another visa, as he left the US before his first one expired. He also tells Mohammed about the problems he and Nawaf Alhazmi have had enrolling in language schools and says they believe they were monitored when they flew from Bangkok to the US in January 2000 (see January 15, 2000) (it is not clear who may have monitored them). Supposedly, KSM is angry that Almihdhar left the US without permission and wishes to exclude Almihdhar from the mission, but bin Laden himself intervenes and keeps Almihdhar involved. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237, 269; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, 7/31/2006, pp. 20-21 ] Doubts have been raised about the reliability of KSM’s confession, as it was obtained using torture (see June 16, 2004). According to author Ron Suskind, at one point interrogators even threaten to hurt KSM’s children, a seven-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl, unless he provides more information. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 230]
The French intelligence agency, the DGSE, publishes a 13-page classified report entitled “The Networks of Osama bin Laden.” According to a 2007 article, the report describes the “context, the anecdotal details, and all the strategic aspects relative to al-Qaeda” in “black and white” terms. It mentions a payment of $4.5 million from the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) to in Laden. The US will not go after the IIRO even years after 9/11 because of the organization’s close ties to the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001 and August 3, 2006). The report also doubts Osama bin Laden’s purported estrangement from the bin Laden family: “It seems more and more likely that bin Laden has maintained contacts with certain members of his family, although the family, which directs one of the largest groups of public works in the world, has officially renounced him. One of his brothers apparently plays a role as intermediary in its professional contacts or the monitoring of its business.” French officials will later claim they regularly passed on their intelligence on al-Qaeda to the CIA. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007]
Midhat Mursi. [Source: Washington Post]Agents of the DGSE, the French intelligence agency, examine an aerial photo and spot al-Qaeda leader Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri) standing close to Osama bin Laden. Mursi is considered al-Qaeda’s chief bomb maker and chemical weapons expert (he will apparently be killed in 2006 (see January 13, 2006). French intelligence reports from before 9/11 show that Mursi is being closely watched by intelligence agencies, with the French exchanging information about him with the Mossad, CIA, and Egyptian intelligence. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007] The quality of the aerial photo must have been extremely high in order for Mursi and bin Laden to be recognized, but it has not been explained how such a photo was obtained or what other photos of bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders may have been taken before 9/11. Less than two weeks later, the US begins flying Predator drones over Afghanistan to track bin Laden (see September 7-October 2000).
George W. Bush, campaigning for president, writes in an article, “There is more to be done preparing here at home. I will put a high priority on detecting and responding to terrorism on our soil.”
[National Guard Magazine, 9/2000] This repeats verbatim comments made in a speech a year before at the start of the presidential campaign [Citadel, 9/23/1999] , and in both cases the context is about weapons of mass destruction. However, after 9/11, now President Bush will say of bin Laden: “I knew he was a menace and I knew he was a problem. I was prepared to look at a plan that would be a thoughtful plan that would bring him to justice, and would have given the order to do that. I have no hesitancy about going after him. But I didn’t feel that sense of urgency.”
[Washington Post, 5/17/2002]
Yazid Sufaat (left), and his wife, Sejarahtul Dursina (right). [Source: Associated Press]Zacarias Moussaoui visits Malaysia twice, and stays at the very same condominium where the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit (see January 5-8, 2000) was held. [Los Angeles Times, 2/2/2002; Washington Post, 2/3/2002; CNN, 8/30/2002] After that summit, Malaysian intelligence kept watch on the condominium at the request of the CIA. However, the CIA stopped the surveillance before Moussaoui arrived, spoiling a chance to expose the 9/11 plot by monitoring Moussaoui’s later travels (see Between February and September 2000). [Newsweek, 6/2/2002] During his stay in Malaysia, Moussaoui tells Jemaah Islamiyah operative Faiz abu Baker Bafana, at whose apartment he stays for one night, that he had had a dream about flying an airplane into the White House, and that when he told bin Laden about this, bin Laden told him to go ahead. They also discuss purchasing ammonium nitrate, and Moussaoui says that Malaysia and Indonesia should be used as a base for financing jihad, but that attacks should be focused against the US. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/8/2006] While Moussaoui is in Malaysia, Yazid Sufaat, the owner of the condominium, signs letters falsely identifying Moussaoui as a representative of his wife’s company. [Washington Post, 2/3/2002; Reuters, 9/20/2002] When Moussaoui is later arrested in the US about one month before the 9/11 attacks, this letter in his possession could have led investigators back to the condominium and the connections with the January 2000 meeting attended by two of the hijackers. [USA Today, 1/30/2002] Moussaoui’s belongings also contained phone numbers that could have linked him to Ramzi bin al-Shibh (and his roommate, Mohamed Atta), another participant in the Malaysian meeting (see August 16, 2001). [Associated Press, 12/12/2001]
Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, with a few of the future 9/11 hijackers, travels to Afghanistan and meets Osama bin Laden. German intelligence soon learns of the trip, and even gets wiretapped recordings of some of his conversations there. Zammar has been an Islamist militant for a long time, and went to training camps in Afghanistan in 1991 and 1994. Living in Hamburg, he was able to collect about 12,000 Deutsche Marks (approximately $6,000 at the time) for al-Qaeda. In September 2000, he takes the money to Afghanistan. He is able to get a face-to-face meeting with bin Laden, in a training camp near Kandahar. Zammar is still at the training camp in early October, when al-Qaeda bombs the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000). He and the others in the camp have a celebration this night. This account is based on a confession Zammar will give to visiting German officials while he is secretly imprisoned in Syria in 2002 (see November 20-22, 2002). It is almost certain Zammar is frequently tortured there. However, Der Spiegel will later claim that German intelligence is able to verify many of the details of this trip on its own, because it receives wiretapped recordings of Zammar’s conversations in Afghanistan from at least one foreign intelligence agency. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 11/21/2005]
The first Predator flight over Afghanistan on September 7, 2000 captures bin Laden circled by security in his Tarnak Farms complex. [Source: CBC]An unmanned spy plane called the Predator begins flying over Afghanistan, showing incomparably detailed real-time video and photographs of the movements of what appears to be bin Laden and his aides. It flies successfully over Afghanistan 16 times. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] President Clinton is impressed by a two-minute video of bin Laden crossing a street heading toward a mosque inside his Tarnak Farms complex. Bin Laden is surrounded by a team of a dozen armed men creating a professional forward security perimeter as he moves. The Predator has been used since 1996, in the Balkans and Iraq. One Predator crashes on takeoff and another is chased by a fighter, but it apparently identifies bin Laden on three occasions. Its use is stopped in Afghanistan after a few trials, mostly because seasonal winds are picking up. It is agreed to resume the flights in the spring, but the Predator fails to fly over Afghanistan again until after 9/11. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 220-21] On September 15, 2001, CIA Director Tenet apparently inaccurately tells President Bush, “The unmanned Predator surveillance aircraft that was now armed with Hellfire missiles had been operating for more than a year out of Uzbekistan to provide real-time video of Afghanistan.” [Washington Post, 1/29/2002]
Olympics officials later reveal, “A fully loaded, fueled airliner crashing into the opening ceremony before a worldwide television audience at the Sydney Olympics is one of the greatest security fears for the Games.” During the Olympics, Australia has six planes in the sky at all times ready to intercept any wayward aircraft. In fact, “IOC officials [say] the scenario of a plane crash during the opening ceremony was uppermost in their security planning at every Olympics since terrorists struck in Munich in 1972.” bin Laden is considered the number-one threat. [Sydney Morning Herald, 9/20/2001] These security measures are similar to those used in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and other events, including Clinton’s second inauguration. Similar planning is already underway before 9/11 for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Utah. [Wall Street Journal, 4/1/2004]
A videotape message featuring bin Laden calling for more attacks on the US is aired on Al Jazeera. The video ends with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri saying, “Enough of words, it is time to take action against this iniquitous and faithless force [the United States], which has spread troops through Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.” [CNN, 10/20/2000; Washington Times, 8/26/2002] Further, bin Laden is wearing a distinctive, curved Yemeni dagger. Lawrence Wright will later mention in the book The Looming Tower that this was a “teasing clue” similar to other clues he had left before other attacks. [Wright, 2006, pp. 318] DIA analyst Kie Fallis later recalls, “Every time he put out one of these videotapes, it was a signal that action was coming.” He claims that after hearing of the video, he “knew then it would be within a month or two.” But nonetheless, his suggestion to put out a general attack warning will go unheeded (see May 2000-Late September 2000). An al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole follows less than a month later (see October 12, 2000). [Washington Times, 8/26/2002]
Ayman al-Zawahiri (left), Ahmed Refai Taha (center), and Osama bin Laden (right) on Al Jazeera. [Source: Al Jazeera]Al Jazeera broadcasts a video featuring Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and
Ahmed Refai Taha, head of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya militant group formerly led by the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. In the video, filmed in Afghanistan several months earlier, bin Laden promises “to do all we can” to liberate Abdul-Rahman from his imprisonment in the US. Al-Zawahiri says that he is “talking business” about helping to free Abdul-Rahman. “I’m talking jihad.” Additionally, Mohammed Omar Abdul-Rahman, one of the Blind Sheikh’s sons, is heard on the tape saying, “O brothers, everywhere, avenge your leaders, avenge your sheik. Let’s go to the grounds of jihad. Let us spill blood. Let’s go spill blood.” [New York Times, 9/8/2004] In July 2001, the FBI will overhear an Arabic translator tell the Blind Sheikh that the October 2000 bombing of the USS ‘Cole’ was done for him “so he could be released.” The translator is also overheard saying that if he is not released, the bombers are prepared to “execute another operation.” [New York Times, 6/6/2002]
Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer will later claim that Captain Scott Phillpott, leader of the Able Danger program, briefs General Peter Schoomaker, head of Special Operations Command (SOCOM), that Able Danger has uncovered information of increased al-Qaeda “activity” in Aden harbor, Yemen. Shaffer, plus two other officials familiar with Able Danger later tell the New York Post that this warning was gleaned through a search of bin Laden’s business ties. Shaffer later recalls, “Yemen was elevated by Able Danger to be one of the top three hot spots for al-Qaeda in the entire world.” This warning, plus another possibly connected warning from Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst Kie Fallis (see May 2000-Late September 2000), go unheeded and no official warning is issued. The USS Cole is attacked by al-Qaeda terrorists in Aden harbor in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). Shaffer later claims that Phillpott tells the 9/11 Commission about this warning in 2004 to show that Able Danger could have had a significant impact, but the Commission’s findings fail to mention the warning, or in fact anything else about Able Danger (see July 12, 2004). [New York Post, 9/17/2005; Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005] Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) will similarly tell Fox News: “[T]wo weeks before the attack on the Cole, in fact, two days before the attack on the Cole, [Able Danger] saw an increase of activity that led them to say to the senior leadership in the Pentagon at that time, in the Clinton administration, there’s something going to happen in Yemen and we better be on high alert, but it was discounted. That story has yet to be told to the American people.” [Fox News, 10/8/2005]
Bin Laden has personally approves an al-Qaeda plan to hijack a US airplane. A French intelligence report in January 2001 will describe an al-Qaeda plot to hijack aircraft, possibly one flying from Frankfurt to the US (see January 5, 2001). The report notes that, “In October 2000 bin Laden attended a meeting in Afghanistan at which the decision to mount this action was upheld.” [Le Monde (Paris), 4/17/2007] At the meeting, bin Laden also decides that his next action against the US will involve a hijacking. However, there is still disagreement among al-Qaeda leaders over how the plot would work. [Agence France-Presse, 4/16/2007] The French report also claims that in early 2000, bin Laden met with Chechen rebels, the Taliban, and other al-Qaeda leaders to begin planning this hijacking (see Early 2000). The Chechens are likely connected to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab, who has a long history of collaboration with bin Laden (see 1986-March 19, 2002) and is said to be planning an attack against the US with him around this time (see Before April 13, 2001). The French will apparently pass all this information to the CIA in early 2001 (see January 5, 2001).
Damage to the USS Cole. [Source: Department of Defense]The USS Cole is bombed in the Aden, Yemen harbor by two al-Qaeda militants, Hassan al-Khamri and Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras). Seventeen US soldiers are killed and 30 are wounded. The CIA will later conclude that with just slightly more skilled execution, the attack would have killed 300 and sunk the ship. [ABC News, 10/13/2000; Coll, 2004, pp. 532; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 191] The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) immediately takes credit for the attack. This is a Yemen-based Muslim militant group widely believed to have close ties to al-Qaeda (see 1996-1997 and After). [Guardian, 10/14/2000] The IAA statement is released by its spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997, (June 1998), and December 28, 1998 and After). Abu Hamza says that the attack was timed to mark the anniversary of the execution of the IAA’s former commander (see October 17, 1999). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 184] The prime minister of Yemen at the time of the bombing will say shortly after 9/11, “The Islamic Army was part of al-Qaeda.” [Guardian, 10/13/2001] The US soon learns the names of some al-Qaeda operatives involved in the attack, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Tawfiq bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso (see Early December 2000), and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000). 9/11 hijackers Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see October 10-21, 2000) and Khalid Almihdhar (see Around October 12, 2000) may also have been involved. This is a repeat of a previously attempted attack, against the USS The Sullivans, which failed and was apparently undetected (see January 3, 2000). [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] The 9/11 Commission will later say the Cole bombing “was a full-fledged al-Qaeda operation, supervised directly by bin Laden. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives and equipment.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 190]
Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khallad bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Islamic Army of Aden, USS Cole, Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim al-Thawar, Khalid Almihdhar, Fahad al-Quso, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hassan al-Khamri, Al-Qaeda
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Following the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), the CIA discusses possible policy changes in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Disappointed by US inaction, Alec Station chief Richard Blee decides “we’ve got to change the rules,” because he thinks al-Qaeda is getting stronger and stronger. This entails enhanced support for the Northern Alliance led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, which is the only credible opposition fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Although some CIA officers still think Alec Station’s staff is “over the top,” both the CIA’s Near East division and Counterterrorist Center chief Cofer Black agree with Blee, and they decide what is needed is aid to enable Massoud to pressure the Taliban, creating the conditions for CIA operations against bin Laden. The list of assistance includes cash to bribe commanders, trucks, helicopters, light arms, ammunition, uniforms, food, and possibly mortars and artillery. The plan will cost between $50 and $150 million, and will include a permanent CIA base in Afghan territory controlled by the Northern Alliance. CIA officers will then be able to accompany Massoud’s men on missions. It takes some time to arrive at these conclusions, which will be formalized into a plan (see December 29, 2000). However, the plan will not be accepted by the outgoing Clinton administration or the incoming Bush administration (see December 20, 2000). [Coll, 2004, pp. 539-541; Washington Post, 2/23/2004]
Michael Sheehan. [Source: Center on Law and Security]In the wake of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), Clinton administration officials hold a high level meeting to discuss what the US response should be. The meeting attendees include: Counterterrorism “Tsar” Richard Clarke, Defense Secretary William Cohen, CIA Director George Tenet, Attorney General Janet Reno, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Deputy National Security Adviser Jim Steinberg, and State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Michael Sheehan.
Clarke suggests that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks. There is no hard evidence of this yet but he argues that the attack matches their profile and capabilities. He presents a detailed plan, which he’d been working on before the bombing, to level all the al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan as well as key Taliban buildings in such towns as Kandahar and Kabul.
Reno argues there’s no clear evidence yet who was behind the bombing. If there is such evidence, any US actions should not be for retaliation but only for self-protection against future attacks.
Tenet says that he suspects al-Qaeda is behind the bombing but also wants to wait until an investigation determines that before acting.
Cohen is against any counterattack. Clarke will later recall Cohen saying at the meeting that the Cole bombing “was not sufficient provocation.” Sheehan will later say that the “entire Pentagon” was generally against a counterattack.
Albright is against a counterattack for diplomatic reasons. The Clinton administration is involved in trying to create a peace settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians and bombing Afghanistan could ruin such talks.
Many also argue that if Afghanistan is attacked and bin Laden is not killed, he could emerge a greater hero in the Muslim world, just as he did after a 1998 US missile strike (see Late 1998). Clarke argues that the continual creation of new trained militants in Afghanistan needs to stop, and if bin Laden is killed, that would merely be a “bonus.” At the end of the meeting, the highest-ranking officials cast votes, and seven vote against Clarke’s counterstrike plan, while only Clarke votes in favor of it. After the meeting, Sheehan will meet with Clarke and express frustration with the outcome, saying, “What’s it going to take to get them to hit al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Does al-Qaeda have to hit the Pentagon?” [Miniter, 2003, pp. 222-227]
Shortly after the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), the US supposedly obtains intelligence that prompts President Clinton to consider another missile strike on bin Laden. The US presidential election is in early November. Author Lawrence Wright will later write, “Clinton maintains that, despite the awkward political timing, his administration came close to launching another missile attack… but at the last minute the CIA recommended calling it off because [bin Laden’s] presence at the site was not completely certain.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 244] Additionally, the tie between the Cole bombing and al-Qaeda had not yet been confirmed. The first strong evidence of such a tie will come in late November 2000 when details of an al-Qaeda operative’s confession are given to the FBI (see Late October-Late November 2000). The 9/11 Commission will make no mention of any planned strikes around this time in their final report while discussing the missed opportunities to strike at bin Laden. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237] However, the Washington Post will detail the opportunity, saying the target was a “stone compound, built around a central courtyard full of al-Qaeda operatives.” But the strike is canceled when CIA Director George Tenet calls National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and says about the quality of intelligence, “We just don’t have it.” [Washington Post, 12/19/2001] Ironically, it appears bin Laden was actually hoping to be attacked, anticipating that it would boost his reputation in the Muslim world. In the summer of 2001, the NSA will monitor two al-Qaeda operatives discussing how disappointed they are that the US did not retaliate after the Cole bombing (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
Kabir Mohabbat. [Source: ZDF]In 1999, Kabir Mohabbat, an Afghan-American businessman, had initiated conversations about bin Laden between the US government and the Taliban. According to Mohabbat, the Taliban were ready to hand bin Laden over to a third country, or the International Court of Justice, in exchange for having the US-led sanctions against Afghanistan lifted. (Elmar Brok, a German member of the European Parliament, later confirms that he helps Mohabbat make contact with the US government in 1999.) The initial talks lead to a secret meeting this month between Taliban ministers and US officials in a Frankfurt hotel. Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil reportedly says in the meeting, “You can have him whenever the Americans are ready. Name us a country and we will extradite him.” However, after this face-to-face meeting, further discussions are never held because, Brok believes, a “political decision” has been made by US officials not to continue the negotiations. He does not clarify when he believes such a decision was made. [Reuters, 6/5/2004 Sources: Elmar Brok]
In the wake of the USS Cole bombing, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger meets with Defense Secretary William Cohen to discuss a new approach to targeting Osama bin Laden. Berger says: “We’ve been hit many times, and we’ll be hit again. Yet we have no option beyond cruise missiles.” He once again brings up the idea of a “boots on the ground” option—a Delta Force special operation to get bin Laden. A plan is drawn up but the order to execute it is never given. Cohen and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton oppose the plan. By December 21, the CIA reports that it strongly suspects that al-Qaeda was behind the bombing, but fails to definitively make that conclusion. That makes such an attack politically difficult. Says a former senior Clinton aide, “If we had done anything, say, two weeks before the election, we’d be accused of helping [presidential candidate] Al Gore.” [Time, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
CIA Director Tenet and other top CIA officials brief President-elect Bush, Vice President-elect Cheney, future National Security Adviser Rice, and other incoming national security officials on al-Qaeda and covert action programs in Afghanistan. Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt recalls conveying that bin Laden is one of the gravest threats to the country. Bush asks whether killing bin Laden would end the problem. Pavitt says he answers that killing bin Laden would have an impact but not stop the threat. The CIA recommends the most important action to combat al-Qaeda is to arm the Predator drone and use it over Afghanistan. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Reuters, 3/24/2004] However, while the drone is soon armed, Bush never gives the order to use it in Afghanistan until after 9/11 (see September 4, 2001).
After the attack on the USS Cole, the military not only draws up plans to directly target bin Laden (see November 7, 2000), but also comes up with a larger plan looking at alternatives to assassination. Lt. Gen. Gregory Newbold, the director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff, prepared a plan to incorporate military, economic, diplomatic, and political activities to pressure the Taliban to expel bin Laden. A “Phased Campaign Concept” calls for wider-ranging military strikes against the Taliban and other targets, but doesn’t include contingency plans for an invasion of Afghanistan. The concept is briefed to Deputy National Security Adviser Donald Kerrick and other officials in December 2000, but it is never acted on. The military makes no similar plans after Bush’s inauguration, and the CIA’s invasion plans are mostly relied upon when the US invades Afghanistan in October 2001. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; New York Times, 4/4/2004]
After being indoctrinated by radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri in London (see 1999-2000), a recruit named Feroz Abbasi travels to Pakistan and then Afghanistan for military training. On his journey to Pakistan he is accompanied by James Ujaama, who had tried to help Abu Hamza establish a militant training camp in the US (see November 1999-Early 2000). Before departure, Abu Hamza told Abbasi he would train with the Taliban, and that they would then expect him to fight for them, to which he agreed. After staying at an Islamic Jihad guest house in Kabul, for which Abu Hamza reportedly has the number, Abbasi undergoes basic training at Al Farooq camp, including instruction in weapons handling, battlefield maneuvers, and explosives. The camp is also visited by Osama bin Laden, who lectures the new recruits on politics. Abbasi later returns to Al Farooq for a more advanced course, covering reconnaissance, guerrilla warfare, and ambushes. After this, Abbasi, “Australian Taliban” David Hicks, and another man are interviewed by al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef, and Abbasi agrees to perform missions for Atef, which may include a suicide bombing. Abbasi then has even more advanced training, focusing on assassinations and running a sleeper cell, at a camp by Kandahar airport. At some time in September 2001, he explicitly volunteers for a suicide mission. However, he is captured by the Northern Alliance three months later. When caught, he has a grenade concealed on him and could detonate it, killing himself and the two Northern Alliance soldiers that captured him. He hesitates because he does not want to kill fellow Muslims, and the grenade is found. The Afghans then put him in prison in Kandahar for two days, before formally transferring him to the US military. He is held in a prison at Kandahar airport, and then flown to Guantanamo in Cuba, where he will be held for three years. [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 201-202, 208-213]
Stills from martyr videos recorded in March 2001. From top to bottom: Ahmed Alhaznawi, Abdulaziz Alomari, Saeed Alghamdi, Wail Alshehri, and Hamza Alghamdi. The backgrounds were digitally inserted later.
[Source: Al-Jazeera]Supposedly, all 13 of the “muscle” hijackers record a farewell video before leaving training in Kandahar, Afghanistan, around this time. [CBS News, 10/9/2002] Several will be released after 9/11. A video of Ahmed Alhaznawi will be shown by the Al Jazeera television network in April 2002. In it, he pledges to give his life to “martyrdom” and swears to send a “bloodied message” to Americans by attacking them in their “heartland” (see April 15, 2002). [Guardian, 4/16/2002] In September 2002, Al Jazeera will show a similar farewell video of Abdulaziz Alomari. [Associated Press, 9/9/2002] Alomari states, “God praise everybody who trained and helped me, namely the leader Sheik Osama bin Laden” (see September 9, 2002). [Washington Post, 9/11/2002] Also in September 2002, some images broadcast on Al Jazeera will suggest that al-Qaeda has martyr videos for nearly all of the 9/11 hijackers (see September 9, 2002). Saeed Alghamdi’s video will be released in September 2003. In it, he will mention that the video was recorded in late December 2000 (see September 12, 2003).
Wail Alshehri and Hamza Alghamdi’s videos will be released in September 2006 (see September 7, 2006). [Associated Press, 9/7/2006] Ahmed Alghamdi’s video will be released in September 2008 (see September 19, 2008).
Entity Tags: Mohand Alshehri, Osama bin Laden, Salem Alhazmi, Satam Al Suqami, Waleed Alshehri, Majed Moqed, Wail Alshehri, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Hamza Alghamdi, Abdulaziz Alomari, Ahmed Alghamdi, Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Ahmed Alnami
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Mohammed Ben Heni Lased. [Source: Public domain]Italian and US authorities monitor an Italian cell of extremists linked to al-Qaeda (see Early 2000-2001) while its members discuss the use of a chemical weapon, but the cell does not appear to be able to make the weapon work. In phone conversations overheard by Italian intelligence operatives, Islamist extremists Sami Ben Khemais, Mohammed Ben Heni Lased, and others discuss the best way to transport chemicals—disguised as cans of tomatoes—and how to make a bomb out of a pressure cooker and a tape player. Ben Khemais also refers to a drug, for which a Libyan chemistry professor has a formula, but, although making the drug is supposedly easy, Ben Khemais cannot do it. He also suggests asking the Russian mafia for a chemical weapon, and refers to one man as “the sheik,” possibly meaning Osama bin Laden. However, despite his plans, no attacks are actually carried out. The Chicago Tribune will later comment, “Most of the talk is inconclusive, and, at times, Ben Khemais and his associates sound more like al-Qaeda wannabes than the calculating criminals as anti-terrorist investigators describe them.” [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001]
In a memo to President Clinton that is also widely distributed in the US intelligence community, CIA Director George Tenet warns: “The next several weeks will bring an increased risk of attacks on our country’s interests from one or more Middle Eastern terrorist groups… The volume of credible threat reporting has grown significantly in the past few months, particularly concerning plans by Osama bin Laden’s organization for new attacks in Europe and the Middle East.… Our most credible information on bin Laden activity suggests his organization is looking at US facilities in the Middle East, especially the Arabian peninsula, in Turkey and Western Europe. Bin Laden’s network is global however and capable of attacks in other regions, including the United States.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 128-129] Just one day later, Clinton will brief incoming President Bush on the al-Qaeda threat (see December 19, 2000).
The Washington Post reports, “The United States has quietly begun to align itself with those in the Russian government calling for military action against Afghanistan and has toyed with the idea of a new raid to wipe out Osama bin Laden. Until it backed off under local pressure, it went so far as to explore whether a Central Asian country would permit the use of its territory for such a purpose.” Russia and the US are discussing “what kind of government should replace the Taliban. Thus, while claiming to oppose a military solution to the Afghan problem, the United States is now talking about the overthrow of a regime that controls nearly the entire country, in the hope it can be replaced with a hypothetical government that does not exist even on paper.”
[Washington Post, 12/19/2000] It appears that all pre-9/11 plans to invade Afghanistan involve attacking from the north with Russia.
Clinton and Bush meeting in the White House on December 19, 2000. [Source: NBC]President Clinton and President-Elect Bush meet for their "exit interview," in a two-hour meeting. [CNN, 12/19/2000] Clinton gives Bush his list of his top five priorities. At the top of the list is dealing with Osama bin Laden. Clinton also discusses the tensions between Pakistan and India, who are threatening each other with nuclear strikes; the crisis in the Middle East between Israel and Palestine; he discusses North Korea; and he discusses Iraq and Saddam Hussein. Bush shakes Clinton’s hand after Clinton wraps up his presentation, and says, "Thanks for your advice, Mr. President, but I think you’ve got your priorities wrong. I’m putting Saddam at the top of the list." [Moore, 3/15/2004, pp. 16-17] Just one day before, CIA Director George Tenet had warned Clinton that al-Qaeda could attack US interests in the next several weeks (see December 18, 2000). In 2003, Clinton will speak about the interview, saying that he recognized Bush felt the biggest security issues facing the US was Iraq and a national missile defense: "I told him that in my opinion, the biggest security problem was Osama bin Laden." [Reuters, 10/16/2003]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a plan to “roll back” al-Qaeda over a period of three to five years until it is ineffectual. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The main component is a dramatic increase in covert aid to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to first tie down the terrorists and then “eliminate the sanctuary” for bin Laden. Financial support for terrorist activities will be systematically attacked, nations fighting al-Qaeda will be given aid to defeat them, and the US will plan for direct military and covert action in Afghanistan. The plan will cost several hundred million dollars. However, since there are only a few weeks left before the Bush administration takes over, it is decided to defer the decision until the new administration is in place. One senior Clinton official later says, “We would be handing [the Bush administration] a war when they took office on January 20. That wasn’t going to happen.” However, the plan is rejected by the Bush administration and no action is taken (see January 25, 2001). According to one senior Bush administration official, the proposal amounts to “everything we’ve done since 9/11.” [Time, 8/12/2002]
National Security Adviser Sandy Berger asks CIA Director how he would go after al-Qaeda if he were unconstrained by resources and policies. He assigns Cofer Black and the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center to develops a plan for the incoming Bush administration. It is dubbed the “Blue Sky Memo.” The CIA presents it to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke on December 29, 2000. It recommends increased support to anti-Taliban groups and especially a major effort to back Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance, to tie down al-Qaeda personnel before they leave Afghanistan. No action is taken on it in the last few weeks of the Clinton administration; and the new Bush administration does not appear interested in it either. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Tenet, 2007, pp. 130-131] The National Security Council counterterrorism staff also prepares a strategy paper, incorporating ideas from the Blue Sky Memo. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
Entity Tags: Sandy Berger, Richard A. Clarke, Northern Alliance, Osama bin Laden, National Security Council, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Clinton administration, Cofer Black, George J. Tenet, Counterterrorist Center, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Gen. Anthony Zinni [Source: US Marine Corps.]Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry Shelton prepares a paper with 13 options for using force against bin Laden. Several of the options describe Special Forces raids to capture or kill bin Laden. But counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later say that when military operations on al-Qaeda were discussed, “the overwhelming message to the White House from the uniformed military leadership was, ‘We don’t want to do this.’” Shelton’s chief of operations will later describe the paper as a tool to “educate” National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, Clarke, and others about the “extraordinary complexity” of going ahead with any of the options. The military repeatedly complains that the CIA’s intelligence about bin Laden isn’t good enough while the CIA complains that the military’s intelligence requirements are too demanding. One CIA document notes that there is “lots of desire” for a military strike against bin Laden amongst lower-level US military officials, but “reluctance at the political level.” [Los Angeles Times, 7/25/2003; Coll, 2004, pp. 533] One reason for such reluctance is the close ties between the US military and Pakistan. Author Steve Coll will later note, “The Pentagon, especially General Anthony Zinni at Centcom, who remained close to [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf personally, emphasized the benefits of engagement with Pakistan’s generals.” [Coll, 2004, pp. 490]
During a post-9/11 trial in Germany, Shadi Abdellah, a militant who briefly served as one of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards, will claim that in early 2001: “Bin Laden spoke in a speech of an attack against the United States and said there would be thousands of dead.… When there was an attack, we weren’t told. They just said to us, ‘Pray for your brothers.’” [Guardian, 11/28/2002; Associated Press, 11/2/2004] According to another account, Abdellah hears bin Laden say: “We will hit America’s spine soon. Thousands will die. We will hit them hard.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/28/2002] Abdellah spent time at al-Qaeda training camps from early 2000 until May 2001, so presumably this speech was in May 2001 or before then. Abdellah will be captured in Germany in 2002 for a role in helping to plot attacks against Jewish targets there (see April 2002). [Guardian, 11/28/2002; Associated Press, 11/2/2004] Bin Laden will make other similar public comments hinting at a massive attack against the US later in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001). While it is unknown if US intelligence is aware of such speeches before 9/11, by July 2001 the CIA will report that a source in Afghanistan has said, “Everyone is talking about an impending attack” (see July 2001).
A bipartisan commission chaired by former Senator Howard Baker (R-TN) and former Carter administration counsel Lloyd Cutler reports on the state of nuclear nonproliferation programs in Russia and its former Soviet client states. The report is bleak: it finds that Russia alone is in danger of becoming a “virtual ‘Home Depot’” of nuclear weapons and technology for terrorists seeking nuclear WMD. Russia has the equivalent of 80,000 nuclear weapons, mostly in fragments and in different locations, but all befitting the definition of “loose nukes.” “Imagine if such material were successfully stolen and sold to a terrorist like Osama bin Laden,” the report warns. Baker and Cutler recommend that the US triple its annual expenditure on its program to secure the weapons, from $1 billion to $3 billion. The threat of terrorists acquiring Russian nuclear technology is “the most urgent unmet national security threat to the United States today.” For various reasons, the report stirs little interest among the members of the incoming Bush administration. Many of the relevant programs, collectively known as cooperative threat reduction efforts, are run through the Pentagon, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has no interest in them. Author J. Peter Scoblic will later point out that the very idea of “cooperative threat reduction” is at odds with the conservative “us-versus-them” ideology. “Paying our former enemy to secure its own weapons so that we will not be threated by them does not constitute a clear, military, zero-sum situation,” Scoblic will write. Indeed, some conservatives, led by House Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), mount an effort to scrap the programs entirely, arguing that they undermine US national security—by funding Russian efforts to secure and destroy so-called “loose nukes,” Hunter and his followers warn, the US is allowing Russia to spend more on its own weapons programs. The Bush administration will respond to the Baker-Cutler report by slashing funding for the cooperative threat reduction programs almost in half, and tripling funding for research into missile defense programs. Scoblic will write, “Rather than focusing on making it harder for terrorists to acquire nuclear weapons, the administration was devoting its resources to building defenses against what an intelligence community assessment had determined would be the least likely means by which a nuclear attack would be carried out against the United States.” After the 9/11 attacks, the Bush administration will request $20 billion in emergency funding for homeland security; as Scoblic will write, “[n]ot a dollar of it was allotted to security upgrades for loose Russian nuclear material, even though the danger had certainly been brought to the president’s attention.” The administration will continue to oppose funding increases for the programs in the future. [Secretary of Energy Advisory Board, Department of Energy, 1/10/2001 ; Scoblic, 2008, pp. 205-206]
The Predator drone. [Source: US military] (click image to enlarge)Even before President Bush’s official inauguration, Clinton holdover counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke pushes National Security Adviser Rice and other incoming Bush officials to resume Predator drone flights over Afghanistan (originally carried out in September and October 2000) in an attempt to find and assassinate bin Laden. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002; CBS News, 6/25/2003] On January 10, Rice is shown a video clip of bin Laden filmed by a Predator drone the year before. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Aware of an Air Force plan to arm the Predator, when Clarke outlines a series of steps to take against al-Qaeda on January 25 (see January 25, 2001), one suggestion is to go forward with new Predator drone reconnaissance missions in the spring and use an armed version when it is ready. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The original Air Force development plan calls for three years of Predator testing, but Clarke pushes so hard that a Hellfire missile is successfully test fired from a Predator on February 16, 2001. The armed Predator will be fully ready by early June 2001 (see Early June-September 10, 2001). [CBS News, 6/25/2003; New Yorker, 7/28/2003] However, Rice apparently approves the use of the Predator but only as part of a broader strategy against al-Qaeda. Since that strategy will still not be ready before 9/11, the Predator will not be put into use before 9/11. [Associated Press, 6/22/2003]
New United Nations sanctions against Afghanistan take effect, adding to those from November 1999 (see November 14, 1999). The sanctions limit travel by senior Taliban authorities, freeze bin Laden’s and the Taliban’s assets, and order the closure of Ariana Airlines offices abroad. The sanctions also impose an arms embargo against the Taliban, but not against Northern Alliance forces battling the Taliban. [Associated Press, 12/19/2000] The arms embargo has no visible effect because the sanctions fail to stop Pakistani military assistance. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The sanctions also fail to stop the illegal trade network that the Taliban is secretly running through Ariana. Two companies, Air Cess and Flying Dolphin, take over most of Ariana’s traffic. Air Cess is owned by the Russian arms dealer Victor Bout (see Mid-1996-October 2001), and Flying Dolphin is owned by the United Arab Emirates’ former ambassador to the US, who is also an associate of Bout. In late 2000, despite reports linking Flying Dolphin to arms smuggling, the United Nations will give Flying Dolphin permission to take over Ariana’s closed routes, which it does until the new sanctions take effect. Bout’s operations are still functioning and he has not been arrested. [Los Angeles Times, 1/20/2002; Gazette (Montreal), 2/5/2002] Ariana will essentially be destroyed in the October 2001 US bombing of Afghanistan. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001]
The US considers mounting an operation to snatch Osama bin Laden from Afghanistan and discusses this with Pakistan, but this operation apparently will not be attempted before 9/11. Pakistan is asked to support the operation, which is to be conducted by US special forces inside Afghanistan, and the matter is discussed by US general Tommy Franks and Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf in January 2001. However, the Pakistani government advises the US that such an operation would be counterproductive and would further inflame religious sentiment in the region. [United Press International, 8/17/2001] The plan apparently will be foiled when details about it are leaked to a Pakistani newspaper in August 2001 (see August 17, 2001).
Deputy National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley (R) and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz (L) speak to reporters in Moscow after taking part in negotiations with Russia regarding an anti-ballistic missile shield on May 11, 2001. [Source: Yuri Kochetkov/ Corbis]While still campaigning to become president, George W. Bush frequently argued the US should build an anti-ballistic missile shield (see October 12, 2000). After Bush is made president, the development of such a shield and getting out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty the US has signed that would prevent such a shield, becomes the top US security priority (see May 26, 1972 and December 13, 2001). Senior officials and cabinet members make it their top agenda item in meetings with European allies, Russia, and China. Five Cabinet-level officials, including Condoleezza Rice, travel to Moscow to persuade Russia to abandon the ABM Treaty. Undersecretary of Defense Douglas Feith is there on September 10 to make the same case. [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/5/2004]
Ballistic Missiles 'Today's Most Urgent Threat' - In a major speech given on May 1, 2001, Bush calls the possible possession of missiles by rogue states “today’s most urgent threat.” [New York Times, 5/2/2001] In a June 2001 meeting with European heads of state, Bush names missile defense as his top defense priority and terrorism is not mentioned at all (see June 13, 2001). It will later be reported that Rice was scheduled to give a major speech on 9/11, in which, according to the Washington Post, she planned “to promote missile defense as the cornerstone of a new national security strategy, and [made] no mention of al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, or Islamic extremist groups.” However, the speech will be cancelled due to the 9/11 attacks (see September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 4/1/2004]
Criticism and Controversy - Bush’s missile shield stance is highly controversial. For instance, in July 2001 a Guardian article is titled, “US Defies Global Fury Over Missile Shield.” [New York Times, 5/2/2001] Domestic critics suggest the missile shield could start a new arms race and cost over $500 billion. [Reuters, 5/3/2001]
Diverting Attention from Terrorism - Some argue that Bush’s missile focus is diverting attention from terrorism. For instance, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) tells Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld at a June 2001 hearing that the US is spending too much money on missile defense and not “putting enough emphasis on countering the most likely threats to our national security… like terrorist attacks.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/5/2004] On September 5, 2001, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd writes: “And why can George W. Bush think of nothing but a missile shield? Our president is caught in the grip of an obsession worthy of literature” and notes that “sophisticated antimissile interceptors can’t stop primitive, wobbly missiles from rogue nations, much less germ warfare from terrorists.” [New York Times, 9/5/2001] On September 10, 2001, Sen. Joseph Biden (D-DE) warns that if the US spends billions on missile defense, “we will have diverted all that money to address the least likely threat, while the real threats come into this country in the hold of ship, or the belly of a plane.” In 2004, a San Francisco Chronicle editorial will suggest that if the Bush administration had focused less on the missile shield and had “devoted more attention, more focus and more resources to the terrorist threat, the events of Sept. 11 might have been prevented.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/5/2004]
The Washington Post reports that the US has confirmed the link between al-Qaeda and the October 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). [Washington Post, 1/27/2001] This conclusion is stated without hedge in a February 9 briefing for Vice President Cheney. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] In the wake of that bombing, Bush stated on the campaign trail, “I hope that we can gather enough intelligence to figure out who did the act and take the necessary action.… There must be a consequence.” [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz later complains that by the time the new administration is in place, the Cole bombing was “stale.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld concurs, stating that too much time had passed to respond. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The new Bush administration fails to resume the covert deployment of cruise missile submarines and gunships on six-hour alert near Afghanistan’s borders that had begun under President Clinton. The standby force gave Clinton the option of an immediate strike against targets in Afghanistan harboring al-Qaeda’s top leadership. This failure makes a possible assassination of bin Laden much more difficult. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002]
A. Q. Khan receiving a medal. [Source: Associated Press]The BBC later reports, “After the elections, [US intelligence] agencies [are] told to ‘back off’ investigating the bin Ladens and Saudi royals, and that anger[s] agents.” This follows previous orders to abandon an investigation of bin Laden relatives in 1996 (see February-September 11, 1996), and difficulties in investigating Saudi royalty. [BBC, 11/6/2001] An unnamed “top-level CIA operative” says there is a “major policy shift” at the National Security Agency at this time. Bin Laden could still be investigated, but agents could not look too closely at how he got his money. One specific CIA investigation hampered by this new policy is an investigation in Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan and his Khan Laboratories. Khan is considered the “father” of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability. But since the funding for this nuclear program gets traced back to Saudi Arabia, restrictions are placed on the inquiry. [Palast, 2002, pp. 99-100] Also in early 2001, FBI agent Robert Wright, attempting to pursue an investigation into Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi, is told by FBI superiors, “it’s just better to let sleeping dogs lie”(see January-March 2001). Reporter Greg Palast notes that President Clinton was already hindering investigations by protecting Saudi interests. However, as he puts it, “Where Clinton said, ‘Go slow,’ Bush policymakers said, ‘No go.’ The difference is between closing one eye and closing them both.” [Palast, 2002, pp. 102]
According to Time magazine, “The US was all set to join a global crackdown on criminal and terrorist money havens [in early 2001]. Thirty industrial nations were ready to tighten the screws on offshore financial centers like Liechtenstein and Antigua, whose banks have the potential to hide and often help launder billions of dollars for drug cartels, global crime syndicates—and groups like Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization. Then the Bush administration took office.”
[Time, 10/15/2001] After pressure from the powerful banking lobby, the Treasury Department under Paul O’Neill halts US cooperation with these international efforts begun in 2000 by the Clinton administration. Clinton had created a Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center in his last budget, but under O’Neill no funding for the center is provided and the tracking of terrorist financing slows down. Spurred by the 9/11, attacks, the center will finally get started three days after 9/11 (see October 2000-September 14, 2001). [Foreign Affairs, 7/2001; Time, 10/15/2001] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later claim that efforts to track al-Qaeda’s finances began to make significant headway in 2000, after Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin stepped down and was replaced by Larry Summers. But, Clarke will claim, “When the Bush administration came into office, I wanted to raise the profile of our efforts to combat terrorist financing, but found little interest. The new President’s economic advisor, Larry Lindsey, had long argued for weakening US anti-money laundering laws in a way that would undercut international standards. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O’Neill, was lukewarm at best toward the multilateral effort to ‘name and shame’ foreign money laundering havens, and allowed the process to shut down before the status of Saudi Arabian cooperation was ever assessed.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 195-196]
A former CIA counterterrorism expert later claims that an allied intelligence agency sees “two of Osama’s sisters apparently taking cash to an airport in Abu Dhabi [United Arab Emirates], where they are suspected of handing it to a member of bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization.” This is cited as one of many incidents showing an “interconnectedness” between bin Laden and the rest of his family. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001]
According to a US intelligence report drafted in October 2001, a source reports in February 2001 that a person he identifies as “the big instructor” complains frequently that the US has not yet attacked. This is apparently a reference to the lack of a US response to the USS Cole bombing by al-Qaeda (see October 12, 2000). The 9/11 Commission will say that the “big instructor” is “probably a reference to bin Laden.” The Commission will add, “According to the source, bin Laden wanted the United States to attack, and if it did not he would launch something bigger.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 191, 507]
A trial is held in New York City for four defendants charged with involvement in the 1998 US African embassy bombings. All are ultimately convicted. Testimony reveals that two bin Laden operatives had received pilot training in Texas and Oklahoma and another had been asked to take lessons. One bin Laden aide becomes a government witness and gives the FBI detailed information about a pilot training scheme. This new information does not lead to any new FBI investigations into the matter. [Washington Post, 9/23/2001]
CIA Director Tenet warns Congress in open testimony that the “threat from terrorism is real, it is immediate, and it is evolving.” He says Osama bin Laden and his global network remains “the most immediate and serious threat” to US interests. “Since 1998 bin Laden has declared that all US citizens are legitimate targets,” he says, adding that bin Laden “is capable of planning multiple attacks with little or no warning.” [Associated Press, 2/7/2001; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 9/23/2001]
US officials claim significant progress in defeating bin Laden’s financial network, despite significant difficulties. It is claimed that “bin Laden’s financial and operational networks has been ‘completely mapped’ in secret documents shared by the State Department, CIA, and Treasury Department, with much of the mapping completed in detail by mid-1997.” [United Press International, 2/9/2001] While it is unclear exactly how much the US knew about bin Laden’s finances before 9/11, it is known that the names and details of many organizations funding bin Laden were known as far back as 1996 (see January 1996). Shortly after 9/11, Richard Palmer, head of the CIA’s Moscow station in the 1990s, will say of al-Qaeda, “We could have starved the organization if we put our minds to it. The government has had the ability to track these accounts for some time.” [New York Times, 9/20/2001] The New York Times will later conclude that by 9/11, “The American government had developed a good deal of information about al-Qaeda’s finances, but it was not widely shared among agencies.” [New York Times, 12/10/2001] Ironically, this development comes right as the new Bush administration institutes a new policy prohibiting investigators from looking closely into the sources of bin Laden’s financing (see Late January 2001).
In a series of articles for UPI, journalist Richard Sale reveals many details about the NSA’s electronic surveillance of al-Qaeda. “The United States has scored notable successes in an information war against the organization of terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden. US hackers have gone into foreign bank accounts and deleted or transferred money and jammed or blocked the group’s cell or satellite phones.” It is also mentioned that “Bin Laden is surrounded by US listening posts.” The articles discuss the extent to which the NSA’s Echelon satellite network is monitoring al-Qaeda, and even seems to make an oblique reference to monitoring the al-Qaeda safe house in Yemen that enabled the NSA to discover valuable information on hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see December 29, 1999). The articles also reveal that since 1995, bin Laden tried to protect his communications with a “full suite of tools,” but “codes were broken.” An expert adds that “you don’t use your highest level of secure communications all the time. It’s too burdensome, and it exposes it to other types of exploitation.” The articles also imply that Echelon is used in illegal ways. An anonymous former senior US intelligence official says, “This isn’t about legality. This is about trying to protect American lives.” [United Press International, 2/9/2001; United Press International, 2/13/2001; United Press International, 2/21/2001] While bin Laden’s communications were certainly thoroughly monitored before 9/11 (see November 1996-Late August 1998), no evidence has come to light since 9/11 that the US was hacking into bank accounts or jamming signals.
Mohammed bin Laden (center), the son of Osama bin Laden (right),
marries the daughter of Mohammed Atef (left).
[Source: Al Jazeera]Bin Laden attends the wedding of his son Mohammed in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Although Osama bin Laden is supposedly long estranged from his family, bin Laden’s stepmother, two brothers, and sister are also said to attend, according to the only journalist who was invited. [Reuters, 3/1/2001; Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 10/7/2001]
Der Spiegel will later report that in a “very brief conversation Osama [tells] his mother that he [will] not be able to call again for a long time, a remark that seem[s] cryptic to the agents listening in at the time, especially when Osama add[s] that ‘great events are about to take place.’” The NSA had been tracking Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone number since 1996, and also tracking the number of his mother, Hamida al-Attas, living in Saudi Arabia, on the off chance he would call her and tell her something important. Bin Laden apparently had called her more than anyone else, but this is his last call to her. Around this time, President Bush is so convinced that the best way to catch bin Laden is through his mother that he is reputed to tell the Emir of Qatar, “We know that he’ll call his mother one day - and then we’ll get him.” Hamida has remained loyal to her son in the wake of 9/11, saying in 2003, “I disapprove of the ambitions the press ascribe to him, but I am satisfied with Osama, and I pray to God that He will guide him along the right path.”
[CNN, 3/12/2002; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 6/6/2005] Note that this warning is similar to, but apparently different from, another warning phone call bin Laden makes in early September 2001. That call is to Al-Khalifa bin Laden, his stepmother and not his mother, who lives in Syria and not Saudi Arabia (see September 9, 2001).
9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey will mention in a public hearing, “In March 2001, another CSG [Counterterrorism Security Group] item on the agenda mentions the possibility of alleged bin Laden interests in ‘targeting US passenger planes at the Chicago airport,’ end of quote.”
[9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] No newspaper has ever mentioned this warning, which presumably remained classified aside from this one accidental mention by Kerrey.
A series of top-secret security briefings are given to airport officials at the top 19 airports in the US. The airports warned include those at Boston, Washington, and Newark, which are eventually used by the hijackers. A 9/11 Commission Report on this later notes, “The briefings highlight the threat posed by terrorists in general and bin Laden in particular, including his threats against aviation. The renewed interest in hijacking by terrorist groups [is] also covered.” The briefings note that if “the intent of the hijacker is not to exchange hostages for prisoners, but to commit suicide in a spectacular explosion, a domestic hijacking would probably be preferable.” But they also note that such a hijacking would be harder to carry out. Around the same time, the FAA distributes an unclassified CD-ROM presentation to airlines and airports. “The presentation cite[s] the possibility that terrorists might conduct suicide hijackings but state[s]: ‘Fortunately, we have no indication that any group is currently thinking in that direction.’” This briefing and presentation doesn’t lead to any upgrade in security or improved passenger screening at the airports. Apparently, the information isn’t widely shared with pilots, flight attendants, passenger screeners, and the like, and it doesn’t lead to any specific FAA advisories or actions. [New York Times, 2/10/2005; Newsday, 2/11/2005; New Jersey Star-Ledger, 2/11/2005] For instance, Dave Machett, a pilot who is president of the grassroots organization Airline Pilots Security Alliance, says that “Not one word” reached the pilots. “The flight crews were kept completely in the dark about this growing threat.”
[Newsday, 2/11/2005] 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer comments, “The FAA deserves to be raked over the coals for ignoring the warnings and being more concerned about reducing air traffic congestion than dealing with possible terrorist attacks.”
[New Jersey Star-Ledger, 2/11/2005]
Rahmatullah Hashimi. [Source: PBS]Taliban envoy Rahmatullah Hashimi meets with reporters, middle-ranking State Department bureaucrats, and private Afghanistan experts in Washington. He carries a gift carpet and a letter from Afghan leader Mullah Omar for President Bush. He discusses turning bin Laden over, but the US wants to be handed bin Laden and the Taliban want to turn him over to some third country. A CIA official later says, “We never heard what they were trying to say. We had no common language. Ours was, ‘Give up bin Laden.’ They were saying, ‘Do something to help us give him up.’… I have no doubts they wanted to get rid of him. He was a pain in the neck.” Others claim the Taliban were never sincere. About 20 more meetings on giving up bin Laden take place up until 9/11, all fruitless. [Washington Post, 10/29/2001] Allegedly, Hashimi also proposes that the Taliban would hold bin Laden in one location long enough for the US to locate and kill him. However, this offer is refused. This report, however, comes from Laila Helms, daughter of former CIA director Richard Helms. While it’s interesting that this information came out before 9/11, one must be skeptical, since Helms’ job was public relations for the Taliban. [Village Voice, 6/6/2001] Hashimi will mention to a reporter in June 2001 that he was in the US for a total of six weeks. [United Press International, 6/14/2001] According to one article at the time, Hashimi meets with “several senior officials from the State Department, CIA and National Security Council but also from the non-governmental organization Council on Foreign Relations.” Secretary of State Colin Powell is reportedly irate at the meetings because he had not been informed that high level officials would be meeting with Hashimi in the US. He blames CIA Director George Tenet “having laid on a red carpet for [Mullah] Omar’s adviser.” [Intelligence Newsletter, 4/19/2001] Hashimi reportedly directly meets with Tenet. [Irish Times, 11/19/2001]
Entity Tags: Taliban, US Department of State, Osama bin Laden, National Security Council, Rahmatullah Hashimi, Laila Helms, Colin Powell, Central Intelligence Agency, Council on Foreign Relations, Mullah Omar, George W. Bush, George J. Tenet
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
The Dar al Hijrah mosque in Falls Church, Virginia. [Source: Fox News]After living together in Phoenix since December 2000, 9/11 hijackers Hani Hanjour and Nawaf Alhazmi move to Falls Church, Virginia, where imam Anwar al-Awlaki preaches. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] They live only a few blocks from where two nephews of Osama bin Laden with ties to terrorism go to work (see February-September 11, 1996 and June 1, 2004). They continue to live there off and on until around August. They begin attending the Dar al Hijrah mosque. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002] When they and hijacker Khalid Almihdhar lived in San Diego in early 2000, they attended a mosque there led by al-Awlaki. This imam moved to Falls Church in January 2001, and now the hijackers attend his sermons at the Dar al Hijrah mosque. Some later suspect that al-Awlaki is part of the 9/11 plot because of their similar moves, and other reasons:
The FBI says al-Awlaki had closed door meetings with hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in 2000 while all three of them were living in San Diego (see February-August 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
Police later find the phone number of al-Awlaki’s mosque when they search “would-be twentieth hijacker” Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s apartment in Germany. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ]
The FBI was investigating al-Awlaki for ties to Islamic militant groups in early 2000 (see June 1999-March 2000).
A neighbor of al-Awlaki later claims that, in the first week of August 2001, al-Awlaki knocked on his door and told him he is leaving for Kuwait: “He came over before he left and told me that something very big was going to happen, and that he had to be out of the country when it happened” (see Early August 2001). [Newsweek, 7/28/2003]
US officials will allow al-Awlaki to leave the US twice in 2002, but by 2008 they will conclude that he is linked to al-Qaeda attacks (see Early September 2006-December 2007 and February 27, 2008).
Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Hani Hanjour, Germany, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, 9/11 Commission, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Anwar al-Awlaki, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ramzi bin al-Shibh
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Mary McCarthy. [Source: Associated Press]CIA Director George Tenet will claim in his 2007 book that he attempts to get new covert action authorities to fight bin Laden at this time. He says he wants to move from a defensive to offensive posture, but needs policy backing at a higher level to do it. He meets with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and gives him a list of expanded authorities the CIA is seeking to go after bin Laden. The authorities would permit the CIA or its partners to kill bin Laden without trying to capture him first. Tenet claims that he tells Hadley, “I’m giving you this draft now, but first, you guys need to figure out what your policy is.” The next day, Mary McCarthy, a CIA officer serving as National Security Council (NSC) senior director, calls Tenet’s chief of staff and asks the CIA to take the draft back. She says something to the effect, “If you formally transmit these to the NSC, the clock will be ticking (to take action), and we don’t want the clock to tick just now.” Tenet withdraws the draft. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 143-144] A deputy cabinet level meeting in July 2001 discusses the idea, but no action results (see July 13, 2001). The authorities will be granted a few days after 9/11. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 154]
Destruction of the Buddhas of Bamiyan. [Source: CNN]The Taliban begins blowing up two giant stone Buddhas of Bamiyan—ancient statues carved into an Afghan mountainside, which are considered priceless treasures. They face great international condemnation in response, but no longer seem to be courting international recognition. Apparently, even ISI efforts to dissuade them fail. [Time, 8/12/2002; Time, 8/12/2002] Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf wrote Taliban head Mullah Omar a four-page letter urging him not to blow up the statues, and the letter was secretly hand-delivered to Omar by IS Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, but the letter had no effect. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 409] Omar had previously announced the statues would not be harmed and even opened a National Museum in 2000. The change in policy appears to be due to bin Laden’s growing influence. Journalist Kathy Gannon will later write, “bin Laden’s hardliner rhetoric set the policy, and he campaigned vigorously for the destruction of the statues.” The destruction of the statues further isolates the Taliban internationally, leaving them more dependent on bin Laden’s generosity. [Gannon, 2005, pp. 79-81]
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