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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:
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]
Dan Hill, a former Army Ranger who has devised a plan to kill Osama bin Laden, is told by the FBI that his request for US military assistance, which he needs for his plan to go ahead, has been rejected. [Stewart, 2002, pp. 245] Hill and his friend Said Nader Zori have assembled a group of former mujahedeen fighters who are ready to go into Afghanistan to attack and kill bin Laden. The two men met with Ellen Glasser, an agent at the FBI office in Jacksonville, Florida, in the late spring of 2000 to discuss the plan and request military support, and Glasser said she would refer the proposal to FBI headquarters in Washington, DC (see (Between May and June 2000)). [Stewart, 2002, pp. 230-231] Since then, Hill has been pushing the FBI’s Jacksonville office for a response to his request, but felt he was getting nowhere. Meanwhile, Nader Zori has been told by his sources in Afghanistan that something big is going to happen, probably during the holy month of Ramadan. [Stewart, 2002, pp. 244-245] (Ramadan this year will begin on November 16 and end on December 16. [New York Times, 12/13/2001; New York Times, 12/17/2001] ) Now, about a year after his meeting with Glasser, Hill receives a phone call from the FBI agent, informing him that his plan has been rejected. “Nothing can be done,” she says. Hill is upset and tells Glasser that bin Laden “is not screwing around.” He tells her about a report he wrote with his friend Rick Rescorla, which warned of the terrorist threat the US faced. [Stewart, 2002, pp. 245] Rescorla is the vice president for security at the Wall Street investment firm Morgan Stanley Dean Witter and works at the World Trade Center. [Washington Post, 10/28/2001; National Review, 9/20/2002] In their report, written after the 1993 WTC bombing, Hill and Rescorla warned that terrorists could carry out an attack that involved crashing a cargo plane into the Twin Towers (see Shortly After February 26, 1993). [Stewart, 2002, pp. 193-194] Hill tells Glasser that an attack involving terrorists deliberately crashing an aircraft is “going to strike New York, Philadelphia, or Washington, DC. Or maybe all three.” He says the attack is likely to take place around Ramadan and so his plan to kill bin Laden needs to be put into action right away. But Glasser apologizes and again says, “Nothing can be done.” Hill subsequently phones Rescorla and tells him that his plan will have to be called off. Rescorla tells Hill he is unsurprised at the FBI’s response. “The FBI is a bunch of incompetent duds,” he says. “And don’t bother going to the CIA. It’s just as bad.” [Stewart, 2002, pp. 245]
The Russian Permanent Mission at the United Nations secretly submits “an unprecedentedly detailed report” to the UN Security Council about bin Laden, his whereabouts, details of his al-Qaeda network, Afghan drug running, and Taliban connections to Pakistan and the ISI. The report provides “a listing of all bin Laden’s bases, his government contacts and foreign advisers,” and enough information to potentially locate and kill him. It is said to contain an “astonishing degree of information.” The US fails to use the information in any noticable manner. Alex Standish, the editor of the highly respected Jane’s Intelligence Review, concludes that the attacks of 9/11 were less of an American intelligence failure than the result of “a political decision not to act against bin Laden.” [Jane's Intelligence Review, 10/5/2001; Times of India, 10/8/2001] In May 2002, Jane’s will further comment,“it is becoming clear that this was only the most high profile of a number of attempts by the Russians to alert the US and other members of the Security Council to the extent of the inter-dependence between the Taliban, al-Qaeda, and the ISI. According to [our] Russian sources, there was a regular flow of information from Moscow to the US dating back to the last years of the Clinton presidency. It seems apparent, however, that although this intelligence was being received by the CIA and other US agencies, there was a distinct lack of enthusiasm within political - as opposed to military - circles for the launch of pre-emptive strikes against either the Taliban or al-Qaeda. However, given the detailed intelligence being provided by the Russians - and the fact that bin Laden was making very clear threats to launch further strikes against US targets - it seems bizarre, to say the least, that no high-level political decision was taken to focus US intelligence efforts on al-Qaeda and its international network…” [Jane's Intelligence Digest, 5/28/2002]
Jayna Davis, appearing on a Fox News broadcast. [Source: Libertarian Republican (.com)]Former investigative reporter Jayna Davis, who once worked for KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, tells Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly she has amassed evidence that she says proves Osama bin Laden was behind the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). Former Army soldier Timothy McVeigh is awaiting execution for carrying out the bombing (see June 2, 1997 and June 11-13, 1997). Davis says that she attempted to give her evidence, comprised of court records, 24 witness statements, and reports from law enforcement, intelligence, and terror experts, to the FBI, which she says refused to accept the material. Davis says the FBI is involved in an elaborate conspiracy to conceal the existence of a Middle Eastern terror cell that carried out the bombing; law enforcement authorities have long dismissed the idea (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After) that the bombing was carried out by anyone other than McVeigh and his accomplice Terry Nichols (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998). According to Davis’s version of events, a Middle Eastern terror cell was operating only blocks away from the Murrah Federal Building, the site of the bombing, and an Iraqi national who formerly served in Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard was in contact with McVeigh on the day of the bombing. It was the Iraqi, not McVeigh, she says, who drove the Ryder truck containing the bomb to the federal building; he fled in a brown Chevrolet pickup truck. Davis says in the minutes after the bombing, an all-points bulletin was issued for the Iraqi, but it was inexplicably withdrawn shortly thereafter. Davis says the conspiracy consists of McVeigh, Nichols, and at least seven Middle Eastern men, with bin Laden masterminding the operation. “The evidence we have gathered definitely implicates McVeigh and Nichols,” she says. “I want to make that very clear. They were in it up to their eyeballs.” Of the FBI’s refusal to consider her evidence, she tells O’Reilly: “I was flabbergasted. I am unable to imagine any reason they would not accept it.” [WorldNetDaily, 3/21/2001]
Peter Jouvenal. [Source: Dominc Medley]British cameraman Peter Jouvenal is reporting on Afghanistan at this time and using a young Afghan known only as “Ahmed” to run errands. Ahmed also has a job running errands for Osama bin Laden at the same time. Jouvenal will later recount that Ahmed was helping bin Laden by “meeting people in Pakistan and taking them across the border, taking messages around for Osama, buying his food, taking messages to the Internet and logging on and receiving, printing, sending.” Ahmed buys bin Laden’s meals most every day. But Jouvenal says that “somewhere on the line Ahmed tied up with the CIA” and decided that working for bin Laden was too dangerous. Ahmed asks Jouvenal for help to get a visa for himself and his family to defect to the US, which Ahmed eventually gets. He also tells Jouvenal that al-Qaeda is planning to hijack an airplane in the US in an attempt to get Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman released from prison. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 287-289] There are some similarities between Ahmed’s case and the case of “Max” who leaves Afghanistan around the same time and warns of a hijacking, but there are differences as well (see March-April 2001). It is not known if they are the same person. Regardless, Ahmed’s case contradicts CIA assertions that they never had any asserts close to bin Laden. It is not known why the CIA did not use Ahmed to track bin Laden’s location or poison his food. One month later the White House will be warned of the hijacking plot, but it is unknown if this came from Ahmed or other sources (see May 23, 2001).
Hafiz Mohammed Saeed. [Source: BBC]In April 2001, the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) holds its annual public meeting in Pakistan. Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan attends the meeting as an honored guest. Accompanying Khan at the podium is Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, another Pakistani nuclear scientist who had met with Osama bin Laden the year before (see 2000). He will meet with bin Laden again shortly before 9/11 and advise him on how to build a “dirty bomb” (see Mid-August 2001). [Asia Times, 6/4/2004] French journalist Bernard Henri-Levy, the author of a book about Pakistani militant Saeed Sheikh, will later claim in the Wall Street Journal that Khan was a secret member of LeT. [Wall Street Journal, 2/17/2004] The US will ban LeT after 9/11 because of its involvement in a string of attacks against India (see December 20, 2001). LeT is considered linked to al-Qaeda, and bin Laden addressed the annual LeT meeting by phone in some past years. Hafiz Mohammed Saeed, the founder and leader of LeT, has publicly declared that Pakistan should share its nuclear technology with other Islamic nations, a position also advocated by Khan. In 2002, he will claim that people loyal to his organization “control two nuclear missiles.” [Asia Times, 6/4/2004]
A source with al-Qaeda connections speculates to US intelligence that Osama “bin Laden would be interested in commercial pilots as potential terrorists.” The source warns that the US should not focus only on embassy bombings, because al-Qaeda is seeking “spectacular and traumatic” attacks along the lines of the WTC bombing in 1993. Because the source is offering personal speculation and not hard information, the information is not disseminated widely. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; New York Times, 9/18/2002]
The Lackawanna Six. Top row, from left: Faysal Galab, Mukhtar al-Bakri, and Sahim Alwan. Bottom row, from left: Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed, and Yaseinn Taher. [Source: Associated Press]A group of seven men in Lackawanna, near Buffalo, New York, are influenced by religious discussions with two al-Qaeda operatives, Kamal Derwish and Juma al-Dosari. The seven US citizens—Yaseinn Taher, Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Sahim Alwan, Faysal Galab, and Jaber Elbaneh—leave for jihad training in Afghanistan. They tell friends they are merely going to Pakistan for religious instruction. Escorted by Derwish, the men travel separately and attend a six-week long weapons course at the Al Farooq camp. Some of them meet Osama bin Laden in Kandahar and they all hear him give a speech (see (June 2001)). However, most of them apparently think they are in over their heads and find excuses to cut their basic training course short and return home. The six who return show little to no evidence of any al-Qaeda plotting in the following months. Jaber Elbaneh, however, becomes committed and stays overseas with al-Qaeda. The six who return will later be arrested and dubbed an al-Qaeda cell known as the “Lackawanna Six” (see September 13, 2002). [PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003]
Entity Tags: Yaseinn Taher, Al Farooq training camp, Shafel Mosed, Yahya Goba, Osama bin Laden, Faysal Galab, Jaber Elbaneh, Juma al-Dosari, Sahim Alwan, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Kamal Derwish
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
In 2005 (see February 10, 2005), it will be revealed that of the FAA’s 105 daily intelligence summaries between these dates, 52 mention bin Laden, al-Qaeda, or both. Most of the mentions are “in regard to overseas threats.” None of the warnings specifically predict something similar to the 9/11 attacks, but five of them mention al-Qaeda’s training for hijackings and two reports concern suicide operations unconnected to aviation. [Associated Press, 2/11/2005] One of the warnings mentions air defense measures being taken in Genoa, Italy, for the July 2001 G-8 summit to protect from a possible air attack by terrorists (see July 20-22, 2001). However, the New Jersey Star-Ledger is virtually the only newspaper in the US to report this fact. [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 2/11/2005] Despite all these warnings, the FAA fails to take any extra security measures. They do not expand the use of in-flight air marshals or tighten airport screening for weapons. A proposed rule to improve passenger screening and other security measures ordered by Congress in 1996 has held up and is still not in effect by 9/11. The 9/11 Commission’s report on these FAA warnings released in 2005 (see February 10, 2005) will conclude that FAA officials were more concerned with reducing airline congestion, lessening delays, and easing air carriers’ financial problems than preventing a hijacking. [Associated Press, 2/11/2005] The FAA also makes no effort to expand its list of terror suspects, which includes only a dozen names by 9/11 (see April 24, 2000). The former head of the FAA’s civil aviation security branch later says he wasn’t even aware of TIPOFF, the government’s main watch list, which included the names of two 9/11 hijackers before 9/11. Nor is there any evidence that a senior FAA working group responsible for security ever meets in 2001 to discuss “the high threat period that summer.” [New York Times, 2/10/2005]
Shortly after discovering that Osama bin Laden and Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab may be planning an attack against the US (see Before April 13, 2001), the FBI sends a message to all its field offices summarizing intelligence reporting to date on the Sunni extremist threat (see February 6, 2001). (Bin Laden is the most wanted Sunni extremist by this time.) The offices are told to task all resources, including human sources and electronic databases, for any information pertaining to “current operational activities relating to Sunni extremism.” No specific domestic threat is mentioned, but the FBI’s mission is to protect domestic security while the CIA is in charge of overseas threats. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 1 ] There is no mention about what is done, if anything, in response to this message. This also appears to be the last time before 9/11 that FBI field offices are tasked to work on any Muslim extremist threat in the US. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 264]
The US State Department issues its annual report on terrorism. The report cites the role of the Taliban in Afghanistan, and notes the Taliban “continued to provide safe haven for international terrorists, particularly Saudi exile Osama bin Laden and his network.” However, as CNN describes it, “Unlike last year’s report, bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization is mentioned, but the 2001 report does not contain a photograph of bin Laden or a lengthy description of him and the group. A senior State Department official told CNN that the US government made a mistake last year by focusing too tightly on bin Laden and ‘personalizing terrorism… describing parts of the elephant and not the whole beast.’” [CNN, 4/30/2001] The report is unusually critical of Pakistan, noting, “Pakistan increased its support to the Taliban and continued its support to militant groups active in Indian-held Kashmir, such as the Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (HUM), some of which engaged in terrorism.… Credible reporting indicates that Pakistan is providing the Taliban with materiel, fuel, funding, technical assistance, and military advisers. Pakistan has not prevented large numbers of Pakistani nationals from moving into Afghanistan to fight for the Taliban. [Pakistan] also failed to take effective steps to curb the activities of certain madrassas, or religious schools, that serve as recruiting grounds for terrorism.” However, despite this criticism and a further critique that Afghanistan has been the “primary hub” for militants “involved in most major terrorist plots or attacks against the United States in the past 15 years and now engaged in international militant and terrorist acts around the world,” neither Afghanistan nor Pakistan is placed on the official list of countries sponsoring terrorism. The report merely hints that both of them could be added to the list in the next year unless their behavior improves. [US Department of State, 4/30/2001; CNN, 4/30/2001] In 1999, an unnamed Western diplomat explained to Human Rights Watch that if Pakistan were designated a terrorist state, it would mean the termination of international financial assistance. This would result in the near-collapse of the Pakistani economy, since two-thirds of Pakistan’s budget is funded by international loans and credits. [Human Rights Watch, 7/1/2001]
The Bush administration finally has its first Deputy Secretary-level meeting on terrorism. [Time, 8/12/2002] According to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, he advocates that the Northern Alliance needs to be supported in the war against the Taliban, and the Predator drone flights need to resume over Afghanistan so bin Laden can be targeted. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 231] Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says the focus on al-Qaeda is wrong. He states, “I just don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden,” and “Who cares about a little terrorist in Afghanistan?” Wolfowitz insists the focus should be Iraqi-sponsored terrorism instead. He claims the 1993 attack on the WTC must have been done with help from Iraq, and rejects the CIA’s assertion that there has been no Iraqi-sponsored terrorism against the US since 1993 (see April 30, 2001). (A spokesperson for Wolfowitz later calls Clarke’s account a “fabrication.”) [Clarke, 2004, pp. 30, 231; Newsweek, 3/22/2004] Wolfowitz repeats these sentiments immediately after 9/11 and tries to argue that the US should attack Iraq. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage agrees with Clarke that al-Qaeda is an important threat. Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley, chairing the meeting, brokers a compromise between Wolfowitz and the others. The group agrees to hold additional meetings focusing on al-Qaeda first (in June and July), but then later look at other terrorism, including any Iraqi terrorism. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 30, 231-32] Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin also attend the hour-long meeting. [Time, 8/12/2002]
Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Richard Armitage, Richard A. Clarke, Taliban, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, John E. McLaughlin, Northern Alliance, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
David Schippers, the House Judiciary Committee’s chief investigator in the Clinton impeachment trial, was hired to represent FBI agent Robert Wright in September 1999 (see August 3, 1999). After 9/11, Schippers will claim that he began privately informing congresspeople about Wright’s investigation into terrorism financing in the US in early 2001, but found little interest (see February-March 2001). Schippers appears to have had different sources than Wright who began telling him about attack warnings. Supposedly, the first warning was based on a secret February 1995 report which stated that bin Laden was planning three attacks on the US: the bombing of a federal building in the heartland of the US, shooting down or blowing up an airplane, and a massive attack in lower Manhattan. Schippers believes the first warning was a prediction of the April 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995) and the second was a prediction of the 1996 explosion of TWA Flight 800 (see July 17, 1996-September 1996). In some versions of this warning, the Manhattan attack was meant to be caused by a “dirty bomb” - explosives mixed with radioactive materials - but other accounts described the use of planes as weapons instead. He says one of his sources for this early warning was Yossef Bodansky, director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare. Schippers will claim that his sources continued to uncover further information. The Manhattan warning “had started out just a general threat, but they narrowed it and narrowed it, more and more with time,” until the “same people who came out with the first warning” tell him in May 2001 that “an attack on lower Manhattan is imminent.” Schippers speaks to several FBI agents directly, and hears that “there are [other agents] all over the country who are frustrated and just waiting to come out.” They are frustrated by “a bureaucratic elite in Washington short-stopping information,” which gives “terrorism a free reign in the United States.” Schippers later claims that some FBI agents later told him that before 9/11, “they had [Mohamed] Atta in their sights.” They also had attempted to “check out” the names and activities of “very strange characters training at flight schools.” He will claim that “FBI agents in Chicago and Minnesota” tell him “there [is] going to be an attack on lower Manhattan.” Schippers will later claim that he will attempt to contact Attorney General John Ashcroft and other politicians about this warning in coming months, but that they will show little interest (see July-Late August 2001). [WorldNetDaily, 10/21/2001; Indianapolis Star, 5/18/2002; Ahmed, 2004, pp. 258-260]
The Washington Post will later report, “In May 2001, the CIA learned supporters of bin Laden were planning to infiltrate the United States; that seven were on their way to the United States, Canada and Britain; that his key operatives ‘were disappearing while others were preparing for martyrdom,’ and that bin Laden associates ‘were planning attacks in the United States with explosives.’” [US Congress, 9/18/2002; Washington Post, 9/19/2002] This information may be related to a warning given by captured al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam this month that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is seeking Canadian passports for himself and five other top militants in order to plant explosives in US cities (see May 30, 2001 and May 2001). [Calgary Herald, 4/3/2002] It is not known if the seven traveling to the US, Canada, and Britain refer to any of the 9/11 hijackers, but 11 of the hijackers travel to the US in May and June (see April 23-June 29, 2001), stopping in Britain along the way (see January-June 2001). Investigators will later say that they are not sure if the aliases Zubaida wanted on the Canadian passports could have been used by some of the 9/11 hijackers. [Calgary Herald, 4/3/2002]
A portion of Salem Alhazmi’s New Jersey identification card.
[Source: 9/11 Commission] (click image to enlarge)The US introduces the “Visa Express” program in Saudi Arabia, which allows any Saudi Arabian to obtain a visa through his or her travel agent instead of appearing at a consulate in person. An official later states, “The issuing officer has no idea whether the person applying for the visa is actually the person in the documents and application.” [US News and World Report, 12/12/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002] At the time, warnings of an attack against the US led by the Saudi Osama bin Laden are higher than they had ever been before—
“off the charts” as one senator later puts it. [Los Angeles Times, 5/18/2002; US Congress, 9/18/2002] A terrorism conference had recently concluded that Saudi Arabia was one of four top nationalities in al-Qaeda. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 5/19/2002]
Suspect Travel Agency - Ten Saudi travel agency companies are allowed to issue US visas as part of the program. One company, Fursan Travel and Tourism, is a subsidiary of Al Rajhi Banking & Investment Corp., a multibillion Saudi banking conglomerate. Fursan is also the only one out of the ten deputized to handle the collection and initial processing of US visas. After 9/11, the CIA will suggest taking action against Al Rajhi for its suspected support of Islamist militancy, but the Bush Administration will decide not to do anything (see Mid-2003 and Mid-2003). It is believed that al-Qaeda and other militant groups advised their operatives to use Al Rajhi for their banking needs (see Before September 11, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]
Used by 9/11 Plotters - Five hijackers—Khalid Almihdhar, Abdulaziz Alomari, Salem Alhazmi, Saeed Alghamdi, and Fayez Ahmed Banihammad—use Visa Express over the next month to enter the US. [US Congress, 9/20/2002] Alomari has a bank account with Al Rajhi, but it is unknown if he or any of the other hijackers use Fursan, the Al Rajhi subsidiary, since the names of travel agencies do not appear on copies of the hijackers’ visa applications that are later made public. [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003] Even 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will successfully get a US Visa through the “Visa Express” program in July (using a false name but real photograph), despite a posted $2 million reward for his capture. [Los Angeles Times, 1/27/2004]
Saudi Visas Almost Never Rejected - Only three percent of Saudi visa applicants are turned down by US consular officers in fiscal 2000 and 2001. In contrast, about 25 percent of US visa seekers worldwide are rejected. Acceptance is even more difficult for applicants from countries alleged to have ties to terrorism such as Iraq or Iran. [Washington Post, 10/31/2001] The widely criticized program is finally canceled in July 2002, after a public outcry. [Wall Street Journal, 10/13/2003]
Around this time, intercepts from Afghanistan warn that al-Qaeda could attack an American target in late June or on the July 4 holiday. However, the White House’s Cabinet-level principals group does not meet to discuss this prospect. This group also fails to meet after intelligence analysts overhear conversations from an al-Qaeda cell in Milan suggesting that bin Laden’s agents might be plotting to kill Bush at the European summit in Genoa, Italy, in late July (see July 20-22, 2001). In fact, the group will only hold one meeting on terrorism before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001). [New York Times, 12/30/2001] According to 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer, before 9/11 the principals group met 32 times on other issues, such as Iraq, Russia, China, the Middle East, and missile defense. [Editor & Publisher, 10/1/2006] By comparison, the principals group met to discuss terrorism around once a week between 1998 and 2000 under Clinton (see Late August 1998-November 2000). [New York Times, 12/30/2001]
In 2001, bin Laden apparently pressures Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for an attack date earlier than 9/11. According to information obtained from the 9/11 Commission (apparently based on a prison interrogation of Mohammed), bin Laden first requests an attack date of May 12, 2001, the seven-month anniversary of the USS Cole bombing. Then, when bin Laden learns from the media that Israel’s Prime Minister Ariel Sharon would be visiting the White House in June or July 2001, he attempts once more to accelerate the operation to coincide with his visit. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] The surge of warnings around this time could be related to these original preparations. By mid-July, US intelligence will learn of this delay (see July 13, 2001).
John Walker Lindh.
[Source: Alexandria, Virginia, Sheriff's Department]John Walker Lindh, a young Caucasian man from California who has converted to Islam, travels to Peshawar, Pakistan, in an attempt to fight for Islamic causes. He had been studying the Koran for about six months elsewhere in Pakistan, but otherwise had no particularly special training, qualifications, or connections. Within days, he is accepted into al-Qaeda and sent to the Al Farooq training camp in Afghanistan. Seven other US citizens are already training there (see April-August 2001). He inadvertently learns details of the 9/11 attacks. In June, he is told by an instructor that “bin Laden had sent forth some fifty people to carry out twenty suicide terrorist operations against the United States and Israel.” He learns that the 9/11 plot is to consist of five attacks, not the four that actually occur. The other fifteen operations are to take place later. He is asked if he wants to participate in a suicide mission, but declines. [Mahoney, 2003, pp. 162, 216; Bamford, 2004, pp. 234-36]
News of Upcoming Attacks Are Widespread in Camps - Although Lindh does not tell this information to any US officials, the fact that he learns this much so quickly is indicative of how widely news of the upcoming attacks are spreading in the al-Qaeda training camps. For instance, early 2001, bin Laden gave a speech at one of the camps talking about an attack on the US that would kill thousands (see Early 2001). In the summer, bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs (see Summer 2001). By July, a source will tell the CIA that (see July 2001)
What Could an Informant in the Camps Learn? - Author James Bamford comments, “The decision to keep CIA employees at arm’s length from [al-Qaeda] was a serious mistake. At the same moment the CIA was convinced al-Qaeda was impenetrable, a number of American citizens were secretly joining al-Qaeda in Afghanistan—and being welcomed with open arms.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 161]
The FAA conducts 27 briefings for airline companies in this time period. However, each briefing only addresses hijacking threats overseas. This is despite the fact that from March to May, the FAA conducted briefings for US airports that raised concerns about hijackings in the domestic US, and even told airports that if hijackers wanted to end a hijacking with a suicidal “spectacular explosion” it would make more sense to do it in the domestic US (see March-May 2001). Also during roughly the same May to September time period, about half of the FAA’s daily intelligence briefings mention bin Laden or al-Qaeda, and one of those specifically referred to an al-Qaeda plot using planes as weapons. Even though some of these mentions are connected to domestic threats, airlines are only briefed about the overseas threats (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 2/11/2005; Newsday, 2/11/2005]
On May 16, an anonymous person calls the US embassy in the United Arab Emirates and warns that bin Laden supporters have been in the US and are planning an attack in the US using “high explosives.” The caller mentions that operatives are infiltrating the US from Canada, but there is no mention of when or where the attack might occur. The next day, based on this warning, the first item on the agenda for counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) is entitled: “[Osama bin Laden]: Operation Planned in US.” The anonymous caller’s tip cannot be later corroborated. In July, the CIA will share the warning with the FBI, the INS, the US Customs Service, and the State Department. It will also be mentioned in the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing given to President Bush (see August 6, 2001) and Bush will be told that the CIA and FBI are investigating it. But eventually, neither the CIA nor FBI is able to corraborate the information in the call. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; Washington Post, 9/19/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255, 262, 535] There are some other possibly interlinked warnings this month also warning of an al-Qaeda plot to attack the US from Canada using explosives (see May 30, 2001, May 2001, and May 2001).
The State Department issues an overseas caution connected to the conviction of defendants in the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. That warning says, “Americans citizens abroad may be the target of a terrorist threat from extremist groups” with links to bin Laden. The warning will be reissued on June 22. [CNN, 6/23/2001]
The Associated Press will report in May 2002, “Israeli intelligence services were aware several months before Sept. 11 that bin Laden was planning a large-scale terror attack but did not know what his targets would be, Israeli officials have said. An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, tells the Associated Press shortly after the attacks that ‘everybody knew about a heightened alert and knew that bin Laden was preparing a big attack.’ He said information was passed on to Washington but denied Israel had any concrete intelligence that could have been used to prevent the Sept. 11 attacks.”
[Associated Press, 5/19/2002] The claim that Israel lacks concrete intelligence is contradicted by other media reports (see August 8-15, 2001)
(see August 23, 2001)
(see September 4, 2001).
According to National Security Adviser Rice, in the summer of 2001, “The FBI tasked all 56 of its US field offices to increase surveillance of known suspected terrorists and to reach out to known informants who might have information on terrorist activities.” [9/11 Commission, 4/8/2004] But the 9/11 Commission later will conclude, “An NSC [National Security Council] staff document at the time describes such a tasking as having occurred in late June but does not indicate whether it was generated by the NSC or the FBI.… [H]owever, the FBI could not find any record of having received such a directive.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 264] According to Newsday, 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer “told Rice that the Commission had ‘to date… found nobody, nobody at the FBI, who knows anything about a tasking of field offices.’ Even Thomas Pickard, at the time acting FBI director, told the panel that he ‘did not tell the field offices to do this,’ Roemer said.” [Newsday, 4/10/2004] The last time the FBI field offices were tasked about the Muslim extremist threat was in April 2001 (see April 13, 2001). Pickard claims that he did individually warn some field offices about the heightened threat in July, but the 9/11 Commission will conclude, “We found little evidence that any such concerns had reached FBI personnel beyond the New York Field Office.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 264, 536]
An Asia Times article published just prior to 9/11 claims that Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, makes a clandestine visit to Pakistan around this time. After meeting with senior army officials, he visits Afghanistan with ISI Director Mahmood. They meet Taliban leader Mullah Omar and try to convince him that the US is likely to launch an attack on Afghanistan. They insist bin Laden be sent to Saudi Arabia, where he would be held in custody and not handed over to any third country. If bin Laden were to be tried in Saudi Arabia, Abdullah would help make sure he is acquitted. Mullah Omar apparently rejects the proposal. The article suggests that Abdullah is secretly a supporter of bin Laden and is trying to protect him from harm. [Asia Times, 8/22/2001] A similar meeting may also take place about a week after 9/11 (see September 19, 2001).
According to a 2006 book by journalist Bob Woodward, in the months before 9/11, CIA Director Tenet believes that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is impeding the effort to develop a coherent strategy to capture or kill bin Laden. Rumsfeld questions al-Qaeda communications intercepts by the NSA and other other intelligence. [New York Times, 9/29/2006] Woodward writes in his book, “Could all this be a grand deception? Rumsfeld had asked. Perhaps it was a plan to measure US reactions and defenses. Tenet had the NSA review all the intercepts, and the agency concluded they were of genuine al-Qaeda communications.” As a result of these doubts, on June 30, 2001, a Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials contains an article entitled, “Bin Laden Threats Are Real” (see June 30, 2001). [Woodward, 2006, pp. 50] However, apparently this does not quell the doubts. For instance, in mid-July 2001, Tenet is told that Deputy Defense Secretary and close Rumsfeld ally Paul Wolfowitz still doubts the surge of warnings and suggests that bin Laden may merely be trying to study US reactions to an attack threat (see Mid-July 2001).
Word begins to spread within al-Qaeda that an attack against the US is imminent, according to later prison interrogations of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Many within al-Qaeda are aware that Mohammed has been preparing operatives to go to the US. Additionally, bin Laden makes several remarks hinting at an upcoming attack, spawning rumors throughout Muslim extremist circles worldwide.
In a recorded speech at the Al Farooq training camp in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004]
Members of the “Lackawanna Six” see bin Laden give a recorded speech at the Al Farooq camp in which he urges trainees to pray for 40 en route on a very important mission. It is not known if this is the same as the other Al Farooq speech or a separate one (see (June 2001)).
A bin Laden bodyguard later will claim that in May 2001 or earlier in the year he heard bin Laden tell people in Afghanistan that the US would be hit with an attack, and thousands would die (see Early 2001). [Guardian, 11/28/2002]
In mid-June 2001, bin Laden tells training camp trainees there will be an attack in the near future. US intelligence soon learns of this (see Mid-June 2001).
In June 2001, the CIA hears that Arabs in Afghanistan are said to be anticipating as many as eight celebrations, and al-Qaeda operatives are being told to await important news within days (see June 2001).
John Walker Lindh learns details of the 9/11 attack despite being a Caucasian and US citizen who only recently converted to Islam (see May-June 2001).
There are other indications that knowledge of the attacks spreads in Afghanistan. The Daily Telegraph later reports that “the idea of an attack on a skyscraper [is] discussed among [bin Laden’s] supporters in Kabul.” At some unspecified point before 9/11, a neighbor in Kabul sees diagrams showing a skyscraper attack in a house known as a “nerve center” for al-Qaeda activity. [Daily Telegraph, 11/16/2001] US soldiers will later find forged visas, altered passports, listings of Florida flight schools and registration papers for a flight simulator in al-Qaeda houses in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 12/6/2001]
Two major terrorist organizations, al-Qaeda and the Egypt-based Islamic Jihad, formally merged into one. This completes a merging process that had been going on for years (see August 11-20, 1988, December 1, 1996-June 1997, and February 22, 1998). The technical name of the new entity is Qaeda al-Jihad, though it is widely called al-Qaeda. Bin Laden remains in charge, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Islamic Jihad, remains second in command. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002]
In June 2001, the CIA learns that key al-Qaeda operatives are disappearing, while others are preparing for martyrdom. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] CIA Director George Tenet will later elaborate in a 2007 book that during the month of June, the CIA learns:
Several training camps in Afghanistan are closing, a sign that al-Qaeda is anticipating a retaliatory strike.
Bin Laden is leaving Afghanistan in fear of a US strike (this later turns out to be erroneous).
Al-Qaeda operatives are leaving Saudi Arabia and returning to Afghanistan, which fits a pattern of movement just before attacks.
Ayman al-Zawahiri is warning associates in Yemen to flee in anticipation of a crackdown.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of the masterminds of the USS ‘Cole’ bombing, has disappeared.
Other important operatives are disappearing or preparing for martyrdom.
A key Afghan training camp commander was reportedly weeping for joy because he believed he could see his trainees in heaven. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 148-149] The CIA also heard in May that operatives are disappearing and preparing for martyrdom (see May 2001).
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke asks for a transfer to start a new national program on cyber security. His request is granted, and he is to change jobs in early October 2001 (which he does, see October 9, 2001). He makes the change despite the 9/11 attacks. He claims that he tells National Security Adviser Rice and her deputy Steve Hadley, “Perhaps I have become too close to the terrorism issue. I have worked it for ten years and to me it seems like a very important issue, but maybe I’m becoming like Captain Ahab with bin Laden as the White Whale. Maybe you need someone less obsessive about it.” [White House, 10/9/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 25-26] He later claims, “My view was that this administration, while it listened to me, either didn’t believe me that there was an urgent problem or was unprepared to act as though there were an urgent problem. And I thought, if the administration doesn’t believe its national coordinator for counterterrorism when he says there’s an urgent problem, and if it’s unprepared to act as though there’s an urgent problem, then probably I should get another job.” [New York Times, 3/24/2004]
A group of seven Yemeni-Americans from Lackawanna, New York, go to train in Afghanistan (see April-August 2001). Just two days after some of them have arrived, two of the seven—Sahim Alwan and Jaber Elbaneh, plus their mentor Kamal Derwish, briefly meet Osama bin Laden in a small group setting. One of the men asks bin Laden about a rumor that something big is about to happen. Bin Laden responds: “They’re threatening us. And we’re threatening them. But there are brothers willing to carry their souls in their hands.” [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 107-108] A couple of weeks later, the seven Lackawanna men and Derwish begin training at the Al Farooq training camp near Kandahar. One day, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri come to their camp and bin Laden gives a speech in Arabic to the hundreds of trainees there. The crowd is told the speech is being videotaped. In his 20-minute speech, he discusses the merger between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad. At the end, he calls on the gathering to pray for the 40 operatives who are en route for a very important mission. He drops hints about suicide operations against the US and Israel. One of the seven men, Yaseinn Taher, speaks Arabic well enough to understand the speech, and explains the gist of it to the other six. The Lackawanna men also sense a mood in the camp that something big is going to happen soon. For instance, the camp is regularly conducting evacuation drills in anticipation of the US bombing it. [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 117-120] One by one, all the members of the group except for Jaber Elbaneh drop out and go home before their basic training course is done. They will later be known as the “Lackawanna Six.” But none of the six tell any US authorities what they learned when they get back to the US before 9/11. Some of the six, such as Taher and Alwan, will later say that on the morning of 9/11 they realize the attack they are watching on television is what bin Laden was talking about when he discussed the 40 men on a suicide mission. [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 136-138]
During this time, President Bush and other top White House officials are given a series of Presidential Daily Briefings relating to an al-Qaeda attack (see January 20-September 10, 2001). The exact contents of these briefings remain classified, but according to the 9/11 Commission they consistently predict upcoming attacks that will occur “on a catastrophic level, indicating that they would cause the world to be in turmoil, consisting of possible multiple—but not necessarily simultaneous—attacks.” CIA Director Tenet later will recall that he feels President Bush and other officials grasp the urgency of what they are being told. [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004] But Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin later states that he feels a great tension, peaking these months, between the Bush administration’s apparent misunderstanding of terrorism issues and his sense of great urgency. McLaughlin and others are frustrated when inexperienced Bush officials question the validity of certain intelligence findings. Two CIA officials even consider resigning in protest (see Summer 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] Dale Watson, head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, wishes he had “500 analysts looking at Osama bin Laden threat information instead of two.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004]
Reclusive top Taliban leader Mullah Omar says the Taliban would like to resolve the Osama bin Laden issue, so there can be “an easing and then lifting of UN sanctions that are strangling and killing the people of [Afghanistan].” [United Press International, 4/9/2004]
A Predator drone firing a Hellfire missile. [Source: US Air Force]An armed version of the Predator drone successfully passes a test showing it is ready for use in Afghanistan. The Predator had been used successfully in 2000 to spot bin Laden (see September 7-October 2000), but it was not used in early 2001 while an armed version was prepared (see January 10-25, 2001). A Hellfire missile was successfully test fired from a Predator on February 16, 2001. [CBS News, 6/25/2003] In early June 2001, a duplicate of the brick house where bin Laden is believed to be living in Kandahar, Afghanistan, is built in Nevada, and destroyed by a Predator missile. The test shows that the missile fired from miles away would have killed anyone in the building, and one participant calls this the long sought after “holy grail” that could kill bin Laden within minutes of finding him. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] But National Security Adviser Rice reportedly wants to use the Predator only after an overall strategy for confronting al-Qaeda is worked out, and no such plan is close to being ready. [Associated Press, 6/22/2003] She and her deputy Steve Hadley decide to delay reconnaissance flights until all the arrangements for using the armed version can be worked out. In July 2001, Hadley directs the military to have armed Predators ready to deploy no later than September 1. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The main hold up seems to be bureaucratic. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke repeatedly advocates using the Predator, armed or unarmed. However, infighting between the CIA and the Air Force over who would pay for it and take responsibility delays its use. Clarke later says, “Every time we were ready to use it, the CIA would change its mind.” [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] The issue comes to a head in early September 2001, but even then, a decision to use the Predator is delayed (see September 4, 2001). [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] The armed Predator will finally be used in Afghanistan just days after 9/11. [Associated Press, 6/25/2003]
Future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar allegedly tells a cousin about the upcoming 9/11 attacks. According to author James Bamford, during a one month trip to Saudi Arabia (see June 1, 2001 and July 4, 2001), Almihdhar talks to a cousin in Saudi Arabia. He tells him about the upcoming attacks in the US and mentions that there are five attacks planned. He adds that the attacks were originally planned for May, and then July, but now they are going to take place in September. He says that Osama bin Laden has said of the attack, “I will make it happen even if I do it by myself.” He also asks his cousin to watch over his home and family, because he has a job to do. Bamford will not say what his source for this is, or who learns this information, or when. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 64] The incident will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report.
At some point in 2000, three men claiming to be Afghans but using Pakistani passports entered the Cayman Islands, possibly illegally. [Miami Herald, 9/20/2001] In late 2000, Cayman and British investigators began a yearlong probe of these men, which will last until 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001] They are overheard discussing hijacking attacks in New York City during this period. On this day, they are taken into custody, questioned, and released some time later. This information is forwarded to US intelligence. [Fox News, 5/17/2002] In late August, a letter to a Cayman radio station will allege these same men are agents of bin Laden “organizing a major terrorist act against the US via an airline or airlines.”
[Miami Herald, 9/20/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001]
Kevin Ingram, Randy Glass, and Diaa Mohsen in August 1999. [Source: Getty Images] (click image to enlarge)Operation Diamondback, a sting operation uncovering an attempt to buy weapons illegally for the Taliban, bin Laden, and others, ends with a number of arrests. An Egyptian named Diaa Mohsen and a Pakistani named Mohammed Malik are arrested and accused of attempting to buy Stinger missiles, nuclear weapon components, and other sophisticated military weaponry for the Pakistani ISI. [CNN, 6/15/2001; South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 8/23/2001; Washington Post, 8/2/2002] Malik appears to have had links to important Pakistani officials and Kashmiri militants, and Mohsen claims a connection to a man “who is very connected to the Taliban” and funded by bin Laden. [Washington Post, 8/2/2002; MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Some other ISI agents came to Florida on several occasions to negotiate, but they escaped being arrested. They wanted to pay partially in heroin. One mentioned that the WTC would be destroyed. These ISI agents said some of their purchases would go to the Taliban in Afghanistan and/or militants associated with bin Laden. [Washington Post, 8/2/2002; MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Both Malik and Mohsen lived in Jersey City, New Jersey. [Jersey Journal, 6/20/2001] Mohsen pleads guilty after 9/11, “but remarkably, even though [he was] apparently willing to supply America’s enemies with sophisticated weapons, even nuclear weapons technology, Mohsen was sentenced to just 30 months in prison.” [MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Malik’s case appears to have been dropped, and reporters find him working in a store in Florida less than a year after the trial ended. [MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Malik’s court files remain completely sealed, and in Mohsen’s court case, prosecutors “removed references to Pakistan from public filings because of diplomatic concerns.” [Washington Post, 8/2/2002] Also arrested are Kevin Ingram and Walter Kapij. Ingram pleads guilty to laundering $350,000 and he is sentenced to 18 months in prison. [CNN, 6/15/2001; Black Enterprise, 6/19/2001; Associated Press, 12/1/2001] Ingram was a former senior investment banker with Deutsche Bank, but resigned in January 1999 after his division suffered costly losses. [Black Enterprise, 6/19/2001; Jersey Journal, 6/20/2001] Walter Kapij, a pilot with a minor role in the plot, is given the longest sentence, 33 months in prison. [CNN, 6/15/2001; Black Enterprise, 6/19/2001; Palm Beach Post, 1/12/2002] Informant Randy Glass plays a key role in the sting, and has thirteen felony fraud charges against him reduced as a result, serving only seven months in prison. Federal agents involved in the case later express puzzlement that Washington higher-ups did not make the case a higher priority, pointing out that bin Laden could have gotten a nuclear bomb if the deal was for real. Agents on the case complain that the FBI did not make the case a counterterrorism matter, which would have improved bureaucratic backing and opened access to FBI information and US intelligence from around the world. [Washington Post, 8/2/2002; MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Federal agents frequently couldn’t get prosecutors to approve wiretaps. [Cox News Service, 8/2/2002] Glass says, “Wouldn’t you think that there should have been a wire tap on Diaa [Mohsen]‘s phone and Malik’s phone?” [WPBF 25 (West Palm Beach), 8/5/2002] An FBI supervisor in Miami refused to front money for the sting, forcing agents to use money from US Customs and even Glass’s own money to help keep the sting going. [Cox News Service, 8/2/2002]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohammed Malik, Kevin Ingram, World Trade Center, Diaa Mohsen, US Customs Service, Walter Kapij, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Osama bin Laden, Taliban, Randy Glass, Operation Diamondback
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak later claims that Egyptian intelligence discovers a “communiqué from bin Laden saying he wanted to assassinate President Bush and other G8 heads of state during their summit in Genoa, Italy” on this day. The communiqué specifically mentions this would be done via “an airplane stuffed with explosives.” The US and Italy are sent urgent warnings of this. [New York Times, 9/26/2001] Mubarak will claim that Egyptian intelligence officials informed American intelligence officers between March and May 2001 that an Egyptian agent had penetrated al-Qaeda. Presumably, this explains how Egypt is able to give the US these warnings. [New York Times, 6/4/2002]
At President Bush’s first meeting with NATO heads of state in Brussels, Belgium, Bush outlines his five top defense issues. Missile defense is at the top of the list. Terrorism is not mentioned at all. This is consistent with his other statements before 9/11. Almost the only time he ever publicly mentions al-Qaeda or bin Laden before 9/11 is later in the month, in a letter that renews Clinton administration sanctions on the Taliban. [CNN, 6/13/2001; Washington Post, 4/1/2004] He only speaks publicly about the dangers of terrorism once before 9/11, in May, except for several mentions in the context of promoting a missile defense shield. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002]
Osama Bin Laden tells trainees in his Afghanistan training camps that there will be an attack in the near future. US intelligence learns of this comment and it is mentioned to top US leaders in an early July 2001 briefing (see July 10, 2001). More details, such as how the US learned this or how many people bin Laden told this to, have not been made public. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 152] But in the summer of 2001, bin Laden is overheard making a number of similar comments hinting at upcoming attacks (see Summer 2001).
Scenes in the al-Qaeda recruitment video show operatives training at the al-Farouq camp in Afghanistan. [Source: CBC]An al-Qaeda recruitment video created months earlier is made public. The video had been circling amongst radical militants, but appears on the news worldwide after a Kuwaiti newspaper gets a copy. The video celebrates the bombing of the USS Cole. Bin Laden appears on the video, and while he does not take credit for the bombing, others in the video do. Bin Laden says that Muslims have to leave countries that are ruled by “allies of Jews and Christians,” and join his cause to be “prepared” for holy war. In an address to Palestinians, he calls for “blood, blood and destruction, destruction.” He says, “We give you the good news that the forces of Islam are coming…” He also issues a call to arms: “Your brothers in Palestine are waiting for you; it’s time to penetrate America and Israel and hit them where it hurts the most.” He also tells his supporters to “slay the United States and Israel.” A similar video appeared shortly before the bombing of the USS Cole. [Associated Press, 6/20/2001; Associated Press, 6/20/2001; Newsweek, 7/22/2001; Washington Post, 9/11/2001] Intrest in the videotape will grow in the Muslim world in the months before the 9/11 attacks (see September 9, 2001).
Time magazine reports: “For sheer diabolical genius (of the Hollywood variety), nothing came close to the reports that European security services are preparing to counter a bin Laden attempt to assassinate President Bush at next month’s G8 summit in Genoa, Italy. According to German intelligence sources, the plot involved bin Laden paying German neo-Nazis to fly remote-controlled model aircraft packed with Semtex into the conference hall and blow the leaders of the industrialized world to smithereens. (Paging Jerry Bruckheimer).” The report only appears on the Time website and not in the US version of the magazine. [Time, 6/20/2001] This report follows warnings given by Egypt the week before. In addition, there are more warnings before the summit in July. James Hatfield, author of an unflattering book on Bush called Fortunate Son, repeats the claim in print a few days later, writing: “German intelligence services have stated that bin Laden is covertly financing neo-Nazi skinhead groups throughout Europe to launch another terrorist attack at a high-profile American target.” [Online Journal, 7/3/2001] Two weeks later, Hatfield apparently commits suicide. However, there is widespread speculation that his death was payback for his revelation of Bush’s cocaine use in the 1970s. [Salon, 7/20/2001]
Baker Atyani, reporter for the Middle East Broadcasting Company, sits with Ayman al-Zawahiri and bin Laden. [Source: CNN] (click image to enlarge)Baker Atyani, a reporter for the Middle East Broadcasting Company interviews bin Laden. Keeping a promise made to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, bin Laden does not say anything substantive, but Ayman al-Zawahiri and other top al-Qaeda leaders promise that “[the] coming weeks will hold important surprises that will target American and Israeli interests in the world.” [Associated Press, 6/24/2001; Associated Press, 6/25/2001] Atyani says, “There is a major state of mobilization among the Osama bin Laden forces. It seems that there is a race of who will strike first. Will it be the United States or Osama bin Laden?” [Reuters, 6/23/2001] He adds, “I told my channel that his followers were telling me that the coffin business will increase in the states, the United States.” [CNN, 8/23/2006] After 9/11, Aytani will conclude, “I am 100 percent sure of this, and it was absolutely clear they had brought me there to hear this message.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 236] He is also shown a several-months-old videotape in which bin Laden declares, “It’s time to penetrate America and Israel and hit them where it hurts most.” The video is soon made public (see June 21, 2001). [CNN, 6/21/2001] Author James Bamford theorizes that the original 9/11 plot involved a simultaneous attack on Israel and that shoe bomber Richard Reid may have originally wanted to target an Israeli aircraft around this time. For instance, Reid flies to Tel Aviv, Israel on July 12, 2001, to test if airline security would check his shoes for bombs. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 236-39]
A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) with the title “Bin Laden Attacks May Be Imminent” is sent to top White House officials. The details of this brief are not known. It is probable President Bush received this warning since SEIBs are usually rehashes of the previous days’ President Daily Briefing (see January 20-September 10, 2001). Also on this day a CIA cable is distributed with the title, “Possible Threat of Imminent Attack from Sunni Extremists.” The cable warns that there is a high probability of near-term “spectacular” terrorist attacks resulting in numerous casualties. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256, 534]
John Miller. [Source: FBI]ABC News reporter John Miller gives a speech in which he discusses the growing indications that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has plans to carry out an attack in the United States. Miller gives his speech at the annual conference of the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 286-287] The conference, held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from June 24 to June 30, is attended by around 700 law enforcement officers from around the world. [Sandia LabNews, 6/15/2001] Miller will later explain some of the thinking behind his claim that bin Laden could be planning an attack in the US. “At that time,” he will write, “US authorities were divided over where bin Laden would strike next. Most officials believed that he was aiming at ‘soft’ US targets overseas, based on his past actions and electronic phone intercepts of al-Qaeda members around the world.” Other officials, though, taking into account al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam’s failed plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on December 31, 1999 (see December 14, 1999), believe his next attack will take place on US soil. Miller will write that a “spike in phone traffic among suspected al-Qaeda members in the early part of the summer, as well as debriefings of Ressam,” have convinced investigators that bin Laden is planning “a significant operation” and he is “planning it soon.” Furthermore, he will comment, “[N]o one working on the problem seemed to doubt bin Laden’s intentions to target Americans.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 287] Miller has been a correspondent for ABC News, with a primary focus on terrorism, since 1995. Notably, he interviewed bin Laden in Afghanistan in May 1998 (see May 28, 1998). Before joining ABC News, he spent many years as a television crime reporter in New York, and between 1994 and 1995 served as deputy police commissioner of New York City. [ABC News, 5/28/1998; Cincinnati Enquirer, 1/16/2002; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 8/23/2005; Hollywood Reporter, 10/17/2011]
Abu Hamza al-Masri. [Source: BBC]The Italian Secret Service SISDE records a meeting in the Finsbury Park mosque, in northern London, Britain. Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri (an Afghanistan war veteran heading a radical Islamic group), Mustapha Melki (linked to al-Qaeda member Abu Doha—see February 2001), and a man only known as Omar talk to each other. Notes of the meeting state, “Abu Hamza proposed an ambitious but unlikely plot which involved attacks carried by planes.” This is apparently a reference to an attack on the upcoming G8 summit in Genoa, Italy, scheduled in several weeks (see July 20-22, 2001). But unlike other reports of an al-Qaeda attack on that summit, this refers to an attack using more than one plane. The notes of the meeting conclude, “The belief that Osama bin Laden is plotting an attack is spreading among the radical Islamic groups.” [Discovery News, 9/13/2001]
A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials is entitled, “Bin Laden Planning High-Profile Attacks.” It states that bin Laden operatives expect near-term attacks to have dramatic consequences of catastrophic proportions. Despite evidence of delays possibly caused by heightened US security, the planning for the attacks is continuing. The briefing also contains another report entitled, “Bin Laden Threats Are Real.” SEIBs are typically based on the previous day’s President Daily Briefings (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable Bush is given this warning. Also on this day, Saudi Arabia declares its highest level of terror alert. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256-257, 534; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 3 ]
John ‘Soup’ Campbell. [Source: US Air Force]Air Force Lieutenant General John “Soup” Campbell, associate director of central intelligence for military support, holds two exercises at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to consider the issues around killing Osama bin Laden with an armed drone aircraft. With fears about an attack by al-Qaeda increasing, the CIA is now discussing the details of how a mission to kill the terrorist group’s leader with an armed drone might be carried out. Campbell holds the two exercises as part of this effort.
Officials from Several Agencies Attend the First Exercise - The first exercise, held in a windowless conference room at CIA headquarters, is attended by around 40 officials, action officers, and experts. About 20 of them sit around the conference table. These officials include Charlie Allen, assistant director of central intelligence for collection; Roger Cressey, deputy for counterterrorism on the National Security Council staff; and a number of lawyers from the CIA, Department of Defense, and National Security Council. The other 20 or so participants sit around the walls. They include officials from the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, Air Force officers, and various “subject matter experts.”
Participants Agree to Kill Bin Laden in One Scenario - For about the first hour, a former Army officer who now works for the Counterterrorist Center presents what the CIA has learned about bin Laden from other sources since September 27, 2000, when a man believed to be the al-Qaeda leader was recorded on video by a Predator drone. The former Army officer then puts forward a specific scenario. Exercise participants are to imagine that human intelligence sources have informed the CIA that bin Laden is going to be at Tarnak Farms, an al-Qaeda base near Kandahar, Afghanistan, and so the decision has been made to launch an armed Predator while he is there. Campbell then plays the video of bin Laden recorded on September 27, 2000, which many in the room have never seen before. He asks who would be prepared to have the Predator fire a Hellfire missile at the man in the video and who thinks doing so might be a mistake, and why. Everyone in the room says they would support a decision to fire a missile at the man. They all feel certain that the total intelligence picture indicates he is bin Laden, the men around him must also be extremists, and there are no women or children nearby who would be at risk of injury when the missile struck.
Scenario Involving Weaker Evidence Is Considered - The former Army officer then asks those in the room to imagine a second scenario. In this situation, they have no information from human intelligence sources or other supplementary intelligence to base their decision on. All they have is another video captured by the Predator’s camera while the drone flew over a suspected al-Qaeda training camp the previous year. A tall man in white robes appears on the video walking along the wall outside the training compound, with some men surrounding him as if they are his security cordon. The appearance of the tall man and the behavior of those around him suggest he is bin Laden, but there is room for doubt and there is no intelligence from CIA agents or tribal allies to confirm this is the case.
Participants Disagree over Whether to Fire a Missile - Campbell asks those in the room who among them would be prepared to have a missile fired at the man and who would be unprepared to do so. This time, people disagree over what should be done. Some think the video alone is adequate evidence for firing a missile at the man, since if he was indeed bin Laden his death might eliminate a major threat to America. At the very least, the strike would eradicate some al-Qaeda terrorists. Others feel there is too much room for error without further evidence that the man in the video is bin Laden. Campbell feels encouraged to find those in the room disagreeing, since if an armed drone ever goes into use, he wants those handling it to be discerning about when to take action.
Aftermath of Killing Bin Laden Is Discussed - The exercise ends with Campbell leading a discussion of other, related issues. Participants are asked to consider what rules should be adopted to avoid collateral damage, especially the killing or injuring of women and children. They are also asked how the CIA and the rest of the US government should deal with the aftermath of a drone strike that killed bin Laden.
Second Exercise Is Attended by Senior Officials - Campbell and the former Army officer then hold their second tabletop exercise. This exercise, which takes place in the director’s conference room on the seventh floor of CIA headquarters, is smaller and attended by more senior CIA officials, including Director George Tenet. During it, there is more disagreement among participants than there was in the first exercise. Tenet is sure the CIA lacks the legal authority to kill someone by firing a missile from a drone at them, despite the existence of secret presidential orders, findings, and other directives relating to bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Other participants share his unease. Some of the officials express concern about what might happen if the CIA’s role in a drone strike became known. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 206-208]
India gives the US general intelligence on possible terror attacks; details are not known. US government officials later will confirm that Indian intelligence had information “that two Islamist radicals with ties to Osama bin Laden were discussing an attack on the White House,” but apparently, this particular information is not included in the July general warning and is not be given to the US until two days after 9/11. [Fox News, 5/17/2002]
Ali Mohamed, from a late 1980s US Army video. [Source: US Army]The State Department reported in May 2001, “[Ali Mohamed’s] sentencing date has been tentatively set for July 2001.” [Washington File, 5/15/2001] But in fact, his sentencing date never comes, or least is never publicly revealed. The Raleigh News and Observer notes in October 2001, “Defense lawyers and many other observers believe that Mohamed, who has not yet been sentenced, is now cooperating with the United States, though the government has never confirmed this. When he is sentenced, he could receive as little as 25 years under his plea agreement.” [Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001] The San Francisco Chronicle similarly notes shortly after 9/11 that Mohamed “has never been sentenced, and defense lawyers and security experts believe he had begun giving evidence about bin Laden to the government in hopes of winning his release from prison.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/21/2001] At the end of December 2001, the Associated Press reports that Mohamed’s sentencing “has been postponed indefinitely.” [Associated Press, 12/31/2001] Larry Johnson, a former CIA agent and the State Department’s director of counterterrorism during the elder Bush’s administration, speculates, “He was an active source for the FBI, a double agent.” Further, Johnson believes that “The reason he didn’t testify was so they wouldn’t have to face uncomfortable statements on the FBI. They are more interested in covering their ass.” [Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001] There are a flurry of articles about Mohamed in the months after 9/11, but then his story will fade. The 9/11 Commission will mention him only twice in their 2004 final report, and don’t bring up the possibility of him being a double agent, or even his collaboration with the CIA and FBI. They merely note his role in the 1998 embassy bombings and his training of some of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers. He will be described as “a former Egyptian army officer who had moved to the United States in the mid-1980s, enlisted in the US Army, and became an instructor at Fort Bragg.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 67, 472] In 2006, his wife will reveal that he is still imprisoned and still has not been sentenced (see March 2006).
Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Richard Shelby (R-AL), both future members of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, appear on CNN’s “Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer,” and warn of potential attacks by bin Laden. Feinstein says, “One of the things that has begun to concern me very much as to whether we really have our house in order, intelligence staff have told me that there is a major probability of a terrorist incident within the next three months.” [CNN, 3/2002]
A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard, executive director of the CIA, holds a briefing during which he plays a video taken by a drone aircraft that shows a man who appears to be al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden and asks delegates if they think the US should try to assassinate the man based on this evidence. The briefing apparently takes place at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and is attended by representatives from various agencies.
'Tall Man with the Cane' Is Bin Laden - On a large screen on the wall, Krongard shows his audience the video. He freezes it at a certain point. “You can see the tall man with the cane—that’s Osama bin Laden,” he says. “You can’t make out his facial features, but there’s little doubt that we’ve isolated him, right there, out in the open in the field,” he adds. A CIA analyst then explains that the recording was made by a Predator drone in Afghanistan three weeks ago, in June 2001, after the CIA received intelligence that bin Laden would be meeting his people at the location shown in the video. He points out what he says are bin Laden’s security detail and the al-Qaeda leader’s SUV. As the video is moved forward a few frames at a time, the analyst explains that the overall scene led to a determination that the man shown was indeed bin Laden.
Audience Is Asked if This Evidence Is Sufficient to Kill Bin Laden - “Our evidence isn’t going to get any better than this,” Krongard interjects. He says: “The question is, what are we willing to do? Is the evidence sufficiently compelling? Is it good enough to kill Osama bin Laden the next time we have him in our crosshairs?” No one says anything in response. Krongard explains that the US Air Force has developed a missile called the Hellfire that can be mounted on a drone, thereby giving the drone the capability to kill. Air Force Lieutenant General John “Soup” Campbell then takes over the briefing to elaborate. [Mowatt-Larssen, 2020] Campbell is the associate director of central intelligence for military support. In this role, he is the principal adviser to CIA Director George Tenet on military issues. [US Air Force, 11/1/2003] He provides the audience with details of the Hellfire, describes test results, and says the missile is now ready for deployment on the Predator drone, which was previously only used for reconnaissance missions.
Decision Whether to Fire Lies with the President - In light of the information that has been presented, Krongard poses a question to the audience. He says: “This might be our only chance to take out the al-Qaeda leadership before they launch another attack on the US. I want a show of hands. If we get another film like this, should we fire at the tall man with a cane?” Many hands are raised by audience members who agree that they should try to kill the man. When Krongard asks if anyone disagrees, just a few hands are raised. Krongard then reassures the interagency representatives at the briefing that the decision whether to fire would not be theirs to make and instead would lie with the president. “Only the president can authorize the use of an armed drone,” he explains, adding, “It requires a covert action finding.” He says their job is simply to define the rules of engagement, meaning they have to determine “[u]nder what circumstances should the president’s authority to fire a drone be delegated, and to whom?”
Audience Discusses Issues around Using Armed Drones - The audience members then get into a lively discussion about the issues that have been raised during the briefing. Some of them assert that the president should personally approve any drone strikes. While the time taken to obtain presidential approval might result in missed opportunities, they believe that since drone strikes are new, the implications and consequences of their use are uncertain. But most of them take a more aggressive stance. They believe al-Qaeda’s escalating series of attacks against the US has shaken the nation’s confidence and there is a sense that more attacks are imminent. They feel that armed drones represent a potential breakthrough, providing the capability to neutralize terrorist threats before they evolve into attacks on the US.
Requirements for Executive Action Are Discussed - Further discussion ensues in which the requirements for taking executive action are fleshed out. Conditions are considered regarding how to limit civilian casualties, and prohibit strikes on mosques and holy sites. It is decided that the target of a drone strike must be clearly identifiable and on a carefully vetted targets list. The briefing’s attendees decide that a comprehensive set of recommendations should be composed for the CIA director to take to the president. If the president decided to proceed with the drone strikes, the CIA would work out modalities with the Air Force and the Department of Defense. After the briefing ends, some CIA officials who attended it will get together and discuss further whether the agency should carry out assassinations, and during the meeting Richard Blee, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will emphasize the threat bin Laden poses and the benefits of killing him (see (July 2001)). [Mowatt-Larssen, 2020]
During a meeting with other CIA officials, Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, compares al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden to Adolf Hitler before World War II and emphasizes that the terrorist threat would be significantly reduced if he was killed. The officials have just attended a briefing for representatives from various agencies during which A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard, executive director of the CIA, played a video recently taken by a drone aircraft that showed a man who appeared to be bin Laden. Krongard asked audience members if they thought the US should try to assassinate the man based on this evidence (see (July 2001)). After the briefing ends, James Pavitt, the CIA’s deputy director for operations, gathers together the CIA operations officers who attended it to further discuss the issues that were covered. Those at Pavitt’s meeting include Blee; Hugh Turner, the associate deputy director for operations; and Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, deputy associate director of central intelligence for military support.
Pavitt Is Uneasy about the CIA Assassinating Terrorists - Pavitt appears uncomfortable with the implications of authorizing the CIA to deploy armed drones—something that was discussed during the briefing. He tells his colleagues: “We have to think long and hard about getting back into the assassination business. We should think about the impact it will have on our mission, on our organization. It’s dangerous to kill people in secret… even terrorists.” He adds, “We need to have a rock-solid case that conducting assassinations is necessary and justifiable, and also consistent with the broader principles that we serve as agency officers.”
Colleague Suggests Raising Concerns with the White House - Turner responds to Pavitt’s concerns, saying in a sullen manner: “Times are different than they were during the agency’s assassination and covert action days. The world has changed since the l960s and 1970s. We have congressional oversight, lots of oversight.” He advises Pavitt to raise his concerns with the White House. “They need to hear your reservations about repeating the mistakes of the past,” he tells him. He says that if the CIA is to go ahead and use armed Predator drones, it should make sure it has first received specific authorities in writing from the National Security Council. Additionally, he says, “Our lawyers need to square away the CIA’s legal authorities with [the] Department of Justice.”
Pavitt Wonders if Killing Bin Laden Is 'Worth It' - Pavitt gives more details of his reservations, saying: “We rejected assassination in our past because it was corrosive to our culture and to democracy. And we weren’t any good at it. It caused more harm than good.” He notes that killing people remotely using an armed drone “is dangerously seductive” since it would leave the CIA with “no blood on our hands.” In light of these concerns, he asks: “Is killing bin Laden worth it? Would it matter? Would his departure from the scene change things so much that it would justify a return to assassination operations?”
Bin Laden's Death Would Be a 'Major Blow' to Al-Qaeda - Pavitt looks at Blee to see his reaction. “Pavitt would listen to Blee, an experienced and highly respected counterterrorist expert,” Mowatt-Larssen will later note. Blee clearly thinks the al-Qaeda leader is a serious enemy who poses a major threat to the United States. “Osama bin Laden is a charismatic leader. He is the heart and soul of al-Qaeda. He created this terrorist organization and declared war on America,” he says. He adds that no one else in al-Qaeda has the same influence and vision. He therefore indicates that he thinks assassinating bin Laden would have significant benefits. “His death would be a major blow to the movement,” he says. “The threat would be greatly diminished if bin Laden was eliminated,” he adds.
Blee Compares Bin Laden to Hitler - Blee explains the severity of the threat he feels bin Laden poses by comparing the al-Qaeda leader to Hitler. “The situation we’re in reminds me of the situation before World War II,” he says. “How would history have been different if we had a chance to take out Adolf Hitler before the war?” he asks. “Without Hitler, World War II war might have been averted,” he states, adding that similarly, “Without bin Laden, al-Qaeda is not the threat it represents with him as their leader.” Blee makes clear that he therefore believes the US should assassinate him, concluding: “We can’t pass up the chance to kill [bin Laden]. No, we have to take our shot if we get the chance.” Pavitt is surprised but also reassured by the firmness of Blee’s conviction. According to Mowatt-Larssen, while the deputy director for operations will continue to have misgivings about using armed drones to kill terrorists, it is now clear he will do nothing to prevent such action being taken. [Mowatt-Larssen, 2020]
Indian sources claim that “bin Laden, who suffers from renal deficiency, has been periodically undergoing dialysis in a Peshawar military hospital with the knowledge and approval of the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), if not of [Pakistani President] Musharraf himself.”
[SAPRA (New Delhi), 7/2/2001] While one might question the bias of an Indian newspaper on this issue, highly respected intelligence newsletter Jane’s Intelligence Digest later reports the story, and adds, “None of [these details] will be unfamiliar to US intelligence operatives who have been compiling extensive reports on these alleged activities.”
[Jane's Intelligence Digest, 9/20/2001] CBS will later report bin Laden had emergency medical care in Pakistan the day before 9/11. [CBS News, 1/28/2002] If these stories are true, it appears Pakistan could have captured bin Laden for the US at any time. The Jane’s Intelligence Digest article adds, “It is becoming clear that both the Taliban and al-Qaeda would have found it difficult to have continued functioning—including the latter group’s terrorist activities—without substantial aid and support from Islamabad [Pakistan].”
[Jane's Intelligence Digest, 9/20/2001]
US intelligence learns that Osama bin Laden has recently promised colleagues that an attack is near. This warning is first revealed in CIA Director George Tenet’s 2007 book. He will not explain how this was known except that it was “learned as a result of intelligence.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 149 Sources: George J. Tenet]
The American Hospital in Dubai. [Source: American Hospital]Bin Laden, America’s most wanted criminal with a $5 million bounty on his head, supposedly receives lifesaving treatment for renal failure from American specialist Dr. Terry Callaway at the American hospital in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. He is possibly accompanied by Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri (who is said to be bin Laden’s personal physician as well as al-Qaeda’s second-in-command), plus several bodyguards. Callaway supposedly treated bin Laden in 1996 and 1998, also in Dubai. Callaway later refuses to answer any questions on this matter. [Le Figaro (Paris), 10/31/2001; Agence France-Presse, 11/1/2001; London Times, 11/1/2001] During his stay, bin Laden is visited by “several members of his family and Saudi personalities,” including Prince Turki al-Faisal, then head of Saudi intelligence. [Guardian, 11/1/2001] On July 12, bin Laden reportedly meets with CIA agent Larry Mitchell in the hospital. Mitchell apparently lives in Dubai as an Arab specialist under the cover of being a consular agent. The CIA, the Dubai hospital, and even bin Laden deny the story. The two news organizations that broke the story, Le Figaro and Radio France International, stand by their reporting. [Le Figaro (Paris), 10/31/2001; Radio France International, 11/1/2001] The explosive story is widely reported in Europe, but there are only two, small wire service stories on it in the US. [United Press International, 11/1/2001; Reuters, 11/10/2001] The Guardian claims that the story originated from French intelligence, “which is keen to reveal the ambiguous role of the CIA, and to restrain Washington from extending the war to Iraq and elsewhere.” The Guardian adds that during his stay bin Laden is also visited by a second CIA officer. [Guardian, 11/1/2001] In 2003, reporter Richard Labeviere will provide additional details of what he claims happened in a book entitled “The Corridors of Terror.” He claims he learned about the meeting from a contact in the Dubai hospital. He claims the event was confirmed in detail by a Gulf prince who presented himself as an adviser to the Emir of Bahrain. This prince claimed the meeting was arranged by Prince Turki al-Faisal. The prince said, “By organizing this meeting…Turki thought he could start direct negotiations between [bin Laden] and the CIA on one fundamental point: that bin Laden and his supporters end their hostilities against American interests.” In exchange, the CIA and Saudis would allow bin Laden to return to Saudi Arabia and live freely there. The meeting is said to be a failure. [Reuters, 11/14/2003] On July 15, Larry Mitchell reportedly returns to CIA headquarters to report on his meeting with bin Laden. [Radio France International, 11/1/2001] French counterterrorism expert Antoine Sfeir says the story of this meeting has been verified and is not surprising: It “is nothing extraordinary. Bin Laden maintained contacts with the CIA up to 1998. These contacts have not ceased since bin Laden settled in Afghanistan. Up to the last moment, CIA agents hoped that bin Laden would return to the fold of the US, as was the case before 1989.” [Le Figaro (Paris), 11/1/2001] A CIA spokesman calls the entire account of bin Laden’s stay at Dubai “sheer fantasy.” [Reuters, 11/14/2003]
In 2002, Newsweek will report: “The White House acknowledged for the first time, [President] Bush was privately beginning to worry about the stream of terror warnings he was hearing that summer, most of them aimed at US targets abroad. On July 5, five days before the Phoenix memo (see July 10, 2001), Bush directed [Condoleezza] Rice to figure out what was going on domestically.” [Newsweek, 5/27/2002] In 2004, President Bush will explain why he requested this: “[T]he reason I did is because there had been a lot of threat intelligence from overseas. And part of it had to do with the Genoa [Italy] G8 conference that I was going to attend.” [US President, 4/19/2004] Though he does not mention it, the chief security concern at the late July 2001 conference he mentions is intelligence that al-Qaeda plans to fly an airplane into the conference. This threat is so widely reported before the conference (with some reports before July 5 (see June 13, 2001 and Mid-July 2001) that the attack is called off (see July 20-22, 2001). For instance, in late June, Time magazine mentioned a German intelligence report of an Osama bin Laden plot “to fly remote-controlled model aircraft packed with Semtex into the conference hall and blow the leaders of the industrialized world to smithereens”
(see June 20, 2001). Bush will later claim that this request is specifically for the later-famous August 6, 2001 briefing entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001), although the CIA analysts who draft it will deny this (see July 13, 2004). [US President, 4/19/2004]
On this date, CIA Director George Tenet and CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black give the White House an urgent al-Qaeda briefing that, if heeded, Black later believes could have stopped bin Laden. Tenet and Black strongly suggest that both an overall strategy and immediate covert or military action against bin Laden are needed (see July 10, 2001). According to a 2006 book by journalist Bob Woodward that is likely paraphrasing Black, one of Woodward’s sources for his book, “Black calculated that if [the White House] had given him $500 million of covert action funds right then and reasonable authorizations from the president to go kill bin Laden, he would have been able to make great strides if not do away with him.… Over the last two years—and as recently as March 2001—the CIA had deployed paramilitary teams five times into Afghanistan to work with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, a loose federation of militias and tribes in the north. The CIA had about 100 sources and subsources operating throughout Afghanistan. Just give him the money and the authority and he might be able to bring bin Laden’s head back in a box.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 77-78; New York Daily News, 9/29/2006]
FBI agent Ken Williams. [Source: FBI]Phoenix, Arizona, FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum warning about suspicious activities involving a group of Middle Eastern men taking flight training lessons in Arizona. The memo is titled: “Zakaria Mustapha Soubra; IT-OTHER (Islamic Army of the Caucasus),” because it focuses on Zakaria Soubra, a Lebanese flight student in Prescott, Arizona, and his connection with a terror group in Chechnya that has ties to al-Qaeda. It is subtitled: “Osama bin Laden and Al-Muhjiroun supporters attending civil aviation universities/colleges in Arizona.” [Fortune, 5/22/2002; Arizona Republic, 7/24/2003] Williams’ memo is based on an investigation of Sorba that Williams had begun in 2000 (see April 2000), but he had trouble pursuing because of the low priority the Arizona FBI office gave terror investigations (see April 2000-June 2001). Additionally, Williams had been alerted to suspicions about radical militants and aircraft at least three other times (see October 1996; 1998; November 1999-August 2001). In the memo, Williams does the following:
Names nine other suspect students from Pakistan, India, Kenya, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] Hijacker Hani Hanjour, attending flight school in Arizona in early 2001 and probably continuing into the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), is not one of the students, but, as explained below, it seems two of the students know him. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ; Washington Post, 7/25/2003]
Notes that he interviewed some of these students, and heard some of them make hostile comments about the US. Additionally, he noticed that they were suspiciously well informed about security measures at US airports. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
Notes an increasing, “inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” taking flight lessons in Arizona. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ]
Suspects that some of the ten people he has investigated are connected to al-Qaeda. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] One person on the list, Ghassan al Sharbi, will be arrested in Pakistan in March 2002 with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Al Sharbi attended a flight school in Prescott, Arizona. He also apparently attended the training camps in Afghanistan and swore loyalty to bin Laden in the summer of 2001. He apparently knows Hani Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). He also is the roommate of Soubra, the main target of the memo. [Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 521]
Discovers that one of them was communicating through an intermediary with Abu Zubaida. This apparently is a reference to Hamed al Sulami, who had been telephoning a Saudi imam known to be Zubaida’s spiritual advisor. Al Sulami is an acquaintance of Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 520-521, 529]
Discusses connections between several of the students and a radical group called Al-Muhajiroun. [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002] This group supported bin Laden, and issued a fatwa, or call to arms, that included airports on a list of acceptable terror targets. [Associated Press, 5/22/2002] Soubra, the main focus of the memo, is a member of Al-Muhajiroun and an outspoken radical. He met with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of Al-Muhajiroun in Britain, and started an Arizona chapter of the organization. After 9/11, some US officials will suspect that Soubra has ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. He will be held two years, then deported to Lebanon in 2004. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001; Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003; Arizona Republic, 5/2/2004; Arizona Monthly, 11/2004] Though Williams doesn’t include it in his memo, in the summer of 1998, Bakri publicized a fax sent by bin Laden to him that listed al-Qaeda’s four objectives in fighting the US. The first objective was “bring down their airliners.”
(see Summer 1998). [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001]
Warns of a possible “effort by Osama bin Laden to send students to the US to attend civil aviation universities and colleges” [Fortune, 5/22/2002] , so they can later hijack aircraft. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
Recommends that the “FBI should accumulate a listing of civil aviation universities and colleges around the country. FBI field offices with these types of schools in their area should establish appropriate liaison. FBI [headquarters] should discuss this matter with other elements of the US intelligence community and task the community for any information that supports Phoenix’s suspicions.” [Arizona Republic, 7/24/2003] (The FBI has already done this, but because of poor FBI communications, Williams is not aware of the report.)
Recommends that the FBI ask the State Department to provide visa data on flight school students from Middle Eastern countries, which will facilitate FBI tracking efforts. [New York Times, 5/4/2002]
The memo is addressed to the following FBI Agents:
Dave Frasca, chief of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters;
Elizabeth Harvey Matson, Mark Connor and Fred Stremmel, Intelligence Operations Specialists in the RFU;
Rod Middleton, acting chief of the Usama bin Laden Unit (UBLU);
Jennifer Maitner, an Intelligence Operations Specialist in the UBLU;
Jack Cloonan, an agent on the New York FBI’s bin Laden unit, the I-49 squad; (see January 1996 and Spring 2000).
Michael S. Butsch, an agent on another New York FBI squad dealing with other Sunni terrorists. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/10/2001 ; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ]
However, the memo is not uploaded into the FBI’s information system until the end of the month and is apparently not received by all these people (see July 27, 2001 and after). Williams also shares some concerns with the CIA (see (July 27, 2001)). [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002] One anonymous government official who has seen the memo says, “This was as actionable a memo as could have been written by anyone.” [Insight, 5/27/2002] However, the memo is merely marked “routine,” rather than “urgent.” It is generally ignored, not shared with other FBI offices, and the recommendations are not taken. One colleague in New York replies at the time that the memo is “speculative and not very significant.” [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ] Williams is unaware of many FBI investigations and leads that could have given weight to his memo. Authorities later claim that Williams was only pursuing a hunch, but one familiar with classified information says, “This was not a vague hunch. He was doing a case on these guys.” [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002]
Entity Tags: Jennifer Maitner, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fred Stremmel, Ghassan al Sharbi, Hani Hanjour, I-49, Jack Cloonan, Elizabeth Matson, Islamic Army of the Caucasus, David Frasca, Michael Butsch, Al-Muhajiroun, Zakaria Mustapha Soubra, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Rod Middleton, Osama bin Laden, Radical Fundamentalist Unit, Mark Connor, Ken Williams, Abu Zubaida
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House on October 8, 2001. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]CIA Director George Tenet and two other senior CIA officials give a briefing at the White House in which they present National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and other officials with information indicating an al-Qaeda attack, possibly in the United States, is imminent. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151-153; Whipple, 2020, pp. 186-187] Earlier today, Richard Blee, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, went to Cofer Black, director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, with compelling evidence that al-Qaeda will attack the United States in the near future, and the two men then presented this information to Tenet. Realizing its significance, Tenet called Rice and arranged to meet her right away (see July 10, 2001). [Politico Magazine, 11/12/2015; WBUR, 10/13/2020]
Briefing Is the CIA's 'Starkest Warning' about Al-Qaeda - After arriving at the White House, Tenet, Blee, and Black meet Rice in her office. Also present are Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser, and Richard Clarke, the White House counterterrorism chief. To emphasize the urgency of the information they are going to present, the three CIA officials sit at the conference table instead of on the couch. “I thought the more formal setting and stiff-backed chairs were appropriate for what was about to be said,” Tenet will later comment. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151; Whipple, 2020, pp. 186] The meeting that ensues will stand out “in the minds of both Tenet and Black as the starkest warning they had given the White House on [Osama] bin Laden and al-Qaeda,” according to journalist and author Bob Woodward. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 52]
'Spectacular' Attacks against the US Are Expected - Blee hands out briefing packages to the White House officials. He then begins with a PowerPoint presentation. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151; Whipple, 2020, pp. 186] Rice will recall that it includes “the threat information that we had been reviewing daily along with some new intelligence.” [Rice, 2011, pp. 67] Blee describes the threat facing the nation, saying: “There will be significant terrorist attacks against the United States in the coming weeks or months. The attacks will be spectacular. They may be multiple. Al-Qaeda’s intention is the destruction of the United States. This is an attack that is intended to cause thousands of American casualties somewhere.” He notes, however, that the location where any attack will occur is unknown. “We cannot say it will be New York City or the United States, but it is geared toward US citizens,” he says. It is also impossible to determine when an attack might occur. “We know from past attacks that [bin Laden] is not beholden to attacks on particular dates” and will act “when he believes the attack will be successful,” he explains.
Recent Statements Suggest an Imminent Attack - Blee then lays out the signs of an impending attack that have been observed. He says Ibn Khattab, a Chechen rebel leader, has promised some “very big news” to his troops (see (July 9, 2001)). He shows a chart that depicts seven pieces of evidence gathered over the last 24 hours that suggest an attack is imminent. These include an increase in the number of Islamic extremists that have been traveling to Afghanistan and significant departures of extremist families from Yemen. He then shows another chart that lists some of the most chilling statements the CIA has compiled through its intelligence work. These include a statement made by bin Laden to trainees in mid-June that there will be an attack in the near future; information from late June that referred to an imminent “big event”; information that mentioned moving toward decisive acts; and two pieces of information received just days earlier in which people were predicting “a stunning turn of events in the weeks ahead.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151-152; Whipple, 2020, pp. 186-187]
Threats Are Serious, Blee Maintains - Rice, Clarke, and Hadley are told that all the intelligence, from human and technical sources, is consistent and while some of it is uncertain, this kind of information is often the best indicator. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 51; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Blee also asserts that bin Laden’s threats are serious. “Throughout the Arab world, [bin Laden’s] threats are known to the public,” he says. There would therefore be “a loss of face, funds, and popularity” if the threatened attacks were not carried out.
America 'Must Take the Battle' to Bin Laden - Blee summarizes efforts that have been made to disrupt specific targets tied to bin Laden. One goal of these actions was to prompt the targets to spread the word that bin Laden’s plans have been compromised, in the hope that this might cause bin Laden to delay any planned attacks. Blee then says immediate consideration should be given to moving from a defensive to an offensive posture. “We must consider a proactive instead of a reactive approach to [bin Laden],” he says, adding, “Attacking him again with cruise missiles after this new terrorist attack will only play to his strategy.” He says the US “must take the battle to [bin Laden] in Afghanistan. We must take advantage of increasing dissatisfaction of some Afghan tribes with the Taliban. We must take advantage of the Afghan armed opposition.”
US Needs to Go on a 'War Footing' - After Blee has finished his briefing, Rice turns to Clarke and asks him: “Dick, do you agree? Is this true?” “Clarke put his elbows on his knees and his head fell into his hands, and he gave an exasperated yes,” Tenet will recall. She then asks Black, “What should we do now?” In response, he slams his fist on the table and declares, “This country needs to go on a war footing now!” Rice asks what can be done to go on the offensive right away against al-Qaeda. “We need to re-create the authorities that we had previously submitted in March,” she is told (see Early March 2001). Tenet reminds her that before these authorities can be approved, President Bush will need to align his policy with the new reality. Rice assures him that this will happen. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 152-154; Whipple, 2020, pp. 187] She also asks him if there is more the CIA could do to capture Abu Zubaida, whom the government believes to be al-Qaeda’s chief facilitator and therefore someone who might know the details of the plot. [Rice, 2011, pp. 67]
Black and Blee Think the Meeting Was a Success - There will be contradictory accounts of how the CIA officials feel about the meeting after it ends. Blee and Black will say they felt they had gotten their message across. As they walk across the West Wing parking lot, they high-five each other. “We thought we’d finally gotten through to these people,” Black will recall, adding, “We had executed our responsibilities.” Blee will recall them telling each other: “Boom! We hit a home run. She got it.” [Whipple, 2020, pp. 187] But according to Woodward, Black, along with Tenet, feels that “they were not getting through to Rice” and Tenet leaves the meeting “feeling frustrated.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 51; Washington Post, 10/1/2006]
Tenet Will Say He Was Happy with Rice's Response - Woodward’s account will be disputed, though. “[B]oth current and former officials, including allies of Mr. Tenet, took issue with Mr. Woodward’s account that [Tenet] and his aides had left the meeting feeling that Ms. Rice had ignored them,” the New York Times will report. And members of the 9/11 Commission who interview Tenet in 2004 will say the CIA director “never indicated he had left the White House with the impression that he had been ignored” when he discussed today’s meeting with them. [New York Times, 10/2/2006] When Daniel Marcus, the 9/11 Commission’s general counsel, asks Tenet how Rice reacted to his message about the dangers of al-Qaeda, Tenet will answer: “She got it. She agreed. We were all working on it.” [Newsweek, 4/29/2007]
'Nothing Happened' after the Briefing, Blee Will Say - Black and Blee will be disappointed at what they see as the White House’s lack of action following the briefing. Blee’s assessment will be, “From July to September, nothing happened.” [Whipple, 2020, pp. 187] “To me it remains incomprehensible,” Black will complain. “How is it that you could warn senior people so many times and nothing actually happened?” he will ask. [Politico Magazine, 11/12/2015] Tenet will come to regard today’s meeting as “a tremendous lost opportunity to prevent or disrupt the 9/11 attacks,” according to Woodward. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 79] However, according to the New York Times, records will show that “far from ignoring Mr. Tenet’s warnings,” Rice “acted on the intelligence” and asked Tenet to make the same presentation he gave today to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft (see July 11-17, 2001).
Rice Will Have a Poor Recollection of the Meeting - Controversy will arise when the existence of today’s meeting comes to light in 2006 and details of the meeting will be disputed (see September 29, 2006 and September 30-October 3, 2006). Rice will initially tell reporters she does not recall this specific meeting and note that she met Tenet numerous times this summer to discuss terrorist threats (see October 1-2, 2006). [Washington Post, 9/30/2006; New York Times, 10/2/2006; New York Times, 10/2/2006] However, in her memoir, published in 2011, she will simply write that her “recollection of the meeting is not very crisp” because she and Tenet “were discussing the [terrorist] threat every day.” [Rice, 2011, pp. 67] Furthermore, although Tenet discusses the meeting when he testifies before the 9/11 Commission, there will be no mention of it in the Commission’s final report. [Washington Post, 10/1/2006; Tenet, 2007, pp. 153; Politico Magazine, 11/12/2015]
Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Osama bin Laden, Richard Blee, Ibn Khattab, Stephen J. Hadley, Cofer Black, Richard A. Clarke, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
[Source: FBI]At a conference on domestic terrorism held in Washington, DC (see July 10-11, 2001), Assistant FBI Director Dale Watson, the head of the Counterterrorism Division, warns that a significant terrorist attack is likely on US soil. He says, “I’m not a gloom-and-doom-type person. But I will tell you this. [We are] headed for an incident inside the United States.” This quote appears in a Reuters news story about the conference, entitled, “Terrorist Attack on US Soil Predicted.” Apparently paraphasing Watson, the Reuters article reports, “The FBI predicts terrorists will launch a major attack on American interests abroad every year for the next five years and thinks an attack using a weapon of mass destruction is likely at home.” The article also says that the number one threat is “from exiled Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden.” Attorney General John Ashcroft also speaks at the conference about security measures for upcoming public events such as the 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City (see July 11, 2001). [National Governors Association, 7/10/2001 ; Reuters, 7/12/2001; Newsday, 4/10/2004]
The Bush administration again denies the CIA expanded authorities to go on the offensive against bin Laden. These authorities would include permission to assassinate bin Laden without making an attempt to capture him alive first. In March 2001, the CIA wanted to give a draft request about this to the Bush administration, but officials weren’t ready so the draft was withdrawn (see Early March 2001). On July 13, three days after a dramatic CIA presentation about a likely upcoming al-Qaeda attack (see July 10, 2001), a meeting of deputy cabinet officials is held to discuss the CIA’s expanded authorities request. However, no decisions are made. Tenet will later comment, “the bureaucracy moved slowly.” The Bush administration will grant these authorities a few days after 9/11. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 154]
Personnel at NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) are briefed about the threat posed by Osama bin Laden. Lieutenant Colonel Mark Stuart, an intelligence officer at NEADS, will tell the 9/11 Commission that NORAD’s Continental United States Region has developed an “Osama bin Laden… threat briefing,” which is the last briefing of its kind before 9/11. The increased threat level relating to bin Laden and al-Qaeda is then “briefed at NEADS,” he will say. Further details of the briefing NEADS personnel receive are unstated. [9/11 Commission, 10/30/2003; 9/11 Commission, 10/30/2003 ] NEADS, based in Rome, New York, is responsible for protecting the airspace in which the hijackings take place on September 11. It will therefore be responsible for coordinating the US military’s response to the hijackings. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Shenon, 2008, pp. 203]
US intelligence reports another spike in warnings related to the July 20-22 G-8 summit in Genoa, Italy. The reports include specific threats discovered by the head of Russia’s Federal Bodyguard Service that al-Qaeda will try to kill Bush as he attends the summit. [CNN, 3/2002] Two days before the summit begins, the BBC reports: “The huge force of officers and equipment which has been assembled to deal with unrest has been spurred on by a warning that supporters of Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden might attempt an air attack on some of the world leaders present.”
[BBC, 7/18/2001] The attack is called off.
FBI counterterrorism expert John O’Neill privately discusses White House obstruction in his bin Laden investigation. O’Neill says, “The main obstacles to investigate Islamic terrorism were US oil corporate interests and the role played by Saudi Arabia in it.” He adds, “All the answers, everything needed to dismantle Osama bin Laden’s organization, can be found in Saudi Arabia.” O’Neill also believes the White House is obstructing his investigation of bin Laden because they are still keeping the idea of a pipeline deal with the Taliban open (see July 21, 2001). [Irish Times, 11/19/2001; Brisard and Dasquie, 2002, pp. xxix; CNN, 1/8/2002; CNN, 1/9/2002]
Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley tells CIA Director George Tenet that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz questions the significance of the recent surge in al-Qaeda warnings. Wolfowitz apparently suggests that bin Laden may merely be trying to study US reactions to an attack threat. Tenet replies that he has already addressed these questions and that the reporting is convincing. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259] Tenet is likely referring to a report delivered to the White House on June 30 entitled “Bin Laden Threats Are Real” (see June 30, 2001) that was prepared to deal with nearly identical doubts from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld (see Summer 2001). In April 2001, Wolfowitz said in a meeting that the main terrorist threat to the US was from Iraq, not bin Laden (see April 30, 2001).
A Village Voice reporter is told by a New York taxi driver, “You know, I am leaving the country and going home to Egypt sometime in late August or September. I have gotten e-mails from people I know saying that Osama bin Laden has planned big terrorist attacks for New York and Washington for that time. It will not be safe here then.” He does in fact return to Egypt for that time. The FBI, which is not told about this lead until after 9/11, interrogates and then releases him. He claims that many others knew what he knew prior to 9/11. [Village Voice, 9/25/2002]
Niaz Naik. [Source: Calcutta Telegraph (left)]Three former American officials, Tom Simons (former US Ambassador to Pakistan), Karl Inderfurth (former Deputy Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs), and Lee Coldren (former State Department expert on South Asia) meet with Pakistani and Russian intelligence officers in a Berlin hotel. [Salon, 8/16/2002] This is the third of a series of back-channel conferences called “brainstorming on Afghanistan.” Taliban representatives sat in on previous meetings, but boycotted this one due to worsening tensions. However, the Pakistani ISI relays information from the meeting to the Taliban. [Guardian, 9/22/2001] At the meeting, Coldren passes on a message from Bush officials. He later says, “I think there was some discussion of the fact that the United States was so disgusted with the Taliban that they might be considering some military action.” [Guardian, 9/26/2001] Accounts vary, but former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Niaz Naik later says he is told by senior American officials at the meeting that military action to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan is planned to “take place before the snows started falling in Afghanistan, by the middle of October at the latest.” The goal is to kill or capture both bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, topple the Taliban regime, and install a transitional government of moderate Afghans in its place. Uzbekistan and Russia would also participate. Naik also says, “It was doubtful that Washington would drop its plan even if bin Laden were to be surrendered immediately by the Taliban.” [BBC, 9/18/2001] One specific threat made at this meeting is that the Taliban can choose between “carpets of bombs”
—an invasion—or “carpets of gold”
—the pipeline. [Brisard and Dasquie, 2002, pp. 43] Naik contends that Tom Simons made the “carpets” statement. Simons claims, “It’s possible that a mischievous American participant, after several drinks, may have thought it smart to evoke gold carpets and carpet bombs. Even Americans can’t resist the temptation to be mischievous.” Naik and the other American participants deny that the pipeline was an issue at the meeting. [Salon, 8/16/2002]
Entity Tags: Uzbekistan, Tom Simons, Russia, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Mullah Omar, Lee Coldren, Niaz Naik, Osama bin Laden, Karl Inderfurth, Taliban, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
In 1999, a Moroccan named Hassan Dabou infiltrated al-Qaeda for the Moroccan intelligence agency. He was sent to Afghanistan, posing as an Islamic radical on the run from the Moroccan government. While there, he was able to grow close to bin Laden. He heard bin Laden repeatedly vent his anger at the failure of the World Trade Center bombing in 1993 (see February 26, 1993). Bin Laden was “very disappointed” that the towers did not fall. Dabou heard that bin Laden had planned “something spectacular” involving “large scale operations in New York in the summer or fall of 2001.” Moroccan intelligence passed this information to US. Around this time, US intelligence is so interested that they call Dabou to Washington to report on this information in person. Dabout makes the trip in secret, but apparently his cover is blown and he is unable to go back and gather more intelligence. Dabou is still in Washington cooperating with US intelligence agents when 9/11 occurs. After 9/11 he will remain in Washington, get a new identity, and continue to work with US intelligence. [Agence France-Presse, 11/22/2001; International Herald Tribune, 5/21/2002; London Times, 6/12/2002]
At least six 9/11 hijackers, including all of those who boarded Flight 77, live in Laurel, Maryland, from about this time. They reportedly include Hani Hanjour, Majed Moqed, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi. Laurel, Maryland, is home to a Muslim imam named Moataz Al-Hallak who teaches at a local Islamic school and has been linked to bin Laden. He has testified three times before a grand jury investigating bin Laden. NSA expert James Bamford later states, “The terrorist cell that eventually took over the airliner that crashed into the Pentagon ended up living, working, planning and developing all their activities in Laurel, Maryland, which happens to be the home of the NSA. So they were actually living alongside NSA employees as they were plotting all these things.” [Washington Post, 9/19/2001; Radio 4 'Today', 6/21/2002]
Entity Tags: Pentagon, Salem Alhazmi, Nawaf Alhazmi, Osama bin Laden, Moataz Al-Hallak, Hani Hanjour, National Security Agency, Majed Moqed, James Bamford, Khalid Almihdhar
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
US intelligence learns of a plot to either bomb the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, from an airplane or crash an airplane into it. Two people who were reportedly acting on instructions from bin Laden met in October 2000 to discuss this plot. [US Congress, 9/18/2002]
The CIA has “developed general information a month before the [9/11] attacks that heightened concerns that Osama bin Laden and his followers were increasingly determined to strike on US soil,” the Associated Press will later report. A CIA official will affirm, “There was something specific in early August that said to us that [bin Laden] was determined in striking on US soil.” [Associated Press, 10/3/2001] Further details about this information will remain unknown. However, the October 2001 article mentioning it could be describing an early, incomplete account of the CIA-produced Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” from August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001). The full title of that PDB will be made public in May 2002 (see May 15, 2002), and the full text of it will be made public in April 2004 (see April 11, 2004).
NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) runs a training exercise called Fertile Rice, based on the scenario of Osama bin Laden attacking a prominent target in the Washington, DC, area, using an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) armed with a fuel-air explosive. An information sheet for the exercise will describe the scenario. “According to reliable sources,” it will state, “operatives of Osama bin Laden will attack a highly visible US government target within the next 24-36 hours. Specifically, the terrorist will utilize an unmanned aerial vehicle, believed to be the Russian-developed Colibri, modified to be launched off a ship.” Bin Laden has acquired at least one, and perhaps two, Colibri UAVs. The plans for the Colibri may have been illegally purchased by his agents posing as Iranian Air Force representatives. The terrorists’ exact target is unknown, but “unconfirmed reports” suggest it is in the Washington area.
Drone Has Electronic Jamming Equipment - The Colibri is a propeller-driven remotely piloted vehicle that is designed to perform a wide variety of military and civilian missions. It is 4.25 meters long, has a wingspan of 5.9 meters, and its maximum speed is 155 miles per hour. The aircraft bin Laden has obtained in the scenario is reportedly fitted with sophisticated electronic jamming equipment, as well as equipment for monitoring electronic communications and radar.
Ship Carrying the Drone Left from a Port in the Middle East - The ship carrying the Colibri left a port in the Middle East about two weeks ago in the scenario and is set to rendezvous with an unspecified person off the coast of Norfolk, Virginia, on August 4. This person will provide the final targeting information that will be programmed into the Colibri. The ship is reportedly also carrying a dozen shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles, rocket-propelled grenades, automatic weapons, and unspecified types of plastic explosives.
Drone Is Carrying a Highly Destructive Explosive - The Colibri’s “weapon payload” in the scenario is reportedly a type of fuel-air explosive. [Northeast Air Defense Sector, 8/4/2001; Northeast Air Defense Sector, 8/5/2001] Fuel-air explosives are highly destructive. They “disperse an aerosol cloud of fuel, which is ignited by an embedded detonator to produce an explosion,” according to the Federation of American Scientists. The “rapidly expanding wavefront” that results from the explosion “flattens all objects within close proximity of the epicenter of the aerosol fuel cloud and produces debilitating damage well beyond the flattened area.” [Federation of American Scientists, 2/5/1998]
Weekly Exercise Includes Simulated Hijackings - Fertile Rice is a NEADS command post exercise (CPX). [North American Aerospace Defense Command, 8/25/1989] (A CPX is defined by the Department of Defense as a type of exercise “in which the forces are simulated, involving the commander, the staff, and communications within and between headquarters.” [US Department of Defense, 11/8/2010 ] ) Fertile Rice exercises are held weekly at NEADS prior to 9/11, according to Master Sergeant Joe McCain, the NEADS mission crew commander technician. They routinely involve simulated aircraft hijackings, although multiple hijack scenarios are never included. Occasionally the aircraft that is hijacked has taken off from within the United States. Sometimes the scenario takes place over land and at other times it takes place over water. These large-scale exercises include at least seven “targets,” according to McCain, although what the targets might be is unstated. [9/11 Commission, 10/28/2003; 9/11 Commission, 10/28/2003 ] NEADS, based in Rome, New York, is responsible for protecting the airspace in which the hijackings take place on September 11 and will therefore be responsible for coordinating the US military’s response to the hijackings. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 17; Vanity Fair, 8/1/2006; Shenon, 2008, pp. 203]
President Bush spends most of August 2001 at his Crawford, Texas, ranch, nearly setting a record for the longest presidential vacation. While it is billed a “working vacation,” news organizations report that Bush is doing “nothing much” aside from his regular daily intelligence briefings. [ABC News, 8/3/2001; Washington Post, 8/7/2001; Salon, 8/29/2001] One such unusually long briefing at the start of his trip is a warning that bin Laden is planning to attack in the US (see August 6, 2001), but Bush spends the rest of that day fishing. By the end of his trip, Bush has spent 42 percent of his presidency at vacation spots or en route. [Washington Post, 8/7/2001] At the time, a poll shows that 55 percent of Americans say Bush is taking too much time off. [USA Today, 8/7/2001] Vice President Cheney also spends the entire month in a remote location in Wyoming. [Jackson Hole News and Guide, 8/15/2001]
President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings. [Source: White House]President Bush receives a classified presidential daily briefing (PDB) at his Crawford, Texas ranch indicating that Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. The PDB provided to him is entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” The entire briefing focuses on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the US. [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Newsweek, 5/27/2002] The analysts who drafted the briefing will say that they drafted it on the CIA’s initiative (see July 13, 2004), whereas in 2004 Bush will state that he requested a briefing on the topic due to threats relating to a conference in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001, where Western intelligence agencies believed Osama bin Laden was involved in a plot to crash an airplane into a building to kill Bush and other leaders (see April 13, 2004). The analysts will later explain that they saw it as an opportunity to convey that the threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the US was both current and serious. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260] The existence of this briefing is kept secret, until it is leaked in May 2002, causing a storm of controversy (see May 15, 2002). While National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim the memo is only one and a half pages long, other accounts state it is 11 1/2 pages instead of the usual two or three. [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Newsweek, 5/27/2002; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] A page and a half of the contents will be released on April 10, 2004; this reportedly is the full content of the briefing. [Washington Post, 4/10/2004] The briefing, as released, states as follows (note that the spelling of certain words are corrected and links have been added):
Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US (see December 1, 1998). Bin Laden implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America” (see May 26, 1998).
After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a -REDACTED-service (see December 21, 1998).
An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told -REDACTED- service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.
The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden’s first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself (see December 14, 1999), but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaida encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaida was planning his own US attack (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001).
Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993 (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.
Al-Qaeda members—including some who are US citizens—have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks (see January 25, 2001). Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US citizens (see September 15, 1998), and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s (see November 1989 and September 10, 1998).
A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks (see October-November 1998).
“We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [REDACTED] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and other US-held extremists” (see 1998, December 4, 1998, and May 23, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223] According to the Washington Post, this information came from a British service. [Washington Post, 5/18/2002]
Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York (see May 30, 2001).
The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related (see August 6, 2001). CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives (see May 16-17, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223]
In retrospect, the briefing is remarkable for the many warnings that apparently are not included (see for instance, from the summer of 2001 prior to August alone: May 2001, June 2001, June 12, 2001, June 19, 2001, Late Summer 2001, July 2001, July 16, 2001, Late July 2001, Late July 2001, Summer 2001, June 30-July 1, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Early August 2001). According to one account, after the PDB has been given to him, Bush tells the CIA briefer, “You’ve covered your ass now” (see August 6, 2001).
Incredibly, the New York Times later reports that after being given the briefing, Bush “[breaks] off from work early and [spends] most of the day fishing.” [New York Times, 5/25/2002] In 2002 and again in 2004, National Security Adviser Rice will incorrectly claim under oath that the briefing only contained historical information from 1998 and before (see May 16, 2002 and April 8, 2004).
Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Islamic Jihad, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Los Angeles International Airport, Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, World Trade Center, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Commission, Ahmed Ressam, Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The CIA’s Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) given to President Bush on this day (see August 6, 2001) contains the important line, “The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related.” Bush will state in 2004 that, based on this, “I was satisfied that some of the matters were being looked into.” National Security Adviser Rice will explain that since the FBI had 70 “full-field investigations under way of cells” in the US, “there was no recommendation [coming from the White House] that we do something about” the large number of warnings coming in. However, the number and content of the FBI investigations appears grossly exaggerated. The FBI later will reveal that the investigations are not limited to al-Qaeda and do not focus on al-Qaeda cells. Many were criminal investigations, which typically are not likely to help prevent future terrorist acts. An FBI spokesman will say the FBI does not know how that number got into Bush’s PDB. The 9/11 Commission will later conclude, “The 70 full-field investigations number was a generous calculation that included fund-raising investigations. It also counted each individual connected to an investigation as a separate full-field investigation. Many of these investigations should not have been included, such as the one that related to a dead person, four that concerned people who had been in long-term custody, and eight that had been closed well before August 6, 2001.” [Newsday, 4/10/2004; Associated Press, 4/11/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 262, 535]
The 9/11 Commission will later state that after the now famous “bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” memo is given to President Bush on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001), “We have found no indication of any further discussion before September 11 among the president and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the United States.” [Newsweek, 4/28/2005] 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey will later state to CNN,“[B]y the way, there’s a credible case that the president’s own negligence prior to 9/11 at least in part contributed to the disaster in the first place.… [I]n the summer of 2001, the government ignored repeated warnings by the CIA, ignored, and didn’t do anything to harden our border security, didn’t do anything to harden airport country, didn’t do anything to engage local law enforcement, didn’t do anything to round up INS and consular offices and say we have to shut this down, and didn’t warn the American people. The famous presidential daily briefing on August 6, we say in the report that the briefing officers believed that there was a considerable sense of urgency and it was current. So there was a case to be made that wasn’t made.… The president says, if I had only known that 19 Islamic men would come into the United States of America and on the morning of 11 September hijack four American aircraft, fly two into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and one into an unknown Pennsylvania that crashed in Shanksville, I would have moved heaven and earth. That’s what he said. Mr. President, you don’t need to know that. This is an Islamic Jihadist movement that has been organized since the early 1990s, declared war on the United States twice, in ‘96 and ‘98. You knew they were in the United States. You were warned by the CIA. You knew in July they were inside the United States. You were told again by briefing officers in August that it was a dire threat. And what did you do? Nothing, so far as we could see on the 9/11 Commission.” [CNN, 11/8/2004]
One day after President Bush receives a Presidential Daily Briefing entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US,” a version of the same material is given to other top government officials. However, this Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) does not contain the most important information from Bush’s briefing. It does not mention that there are 70 FBI investigations into possible al-Qaeda activity, does not mention a May 2001 threat of US-based explosives attacks, and does not mention FBI concerns about recent surveillance of buildings in New York City. The Associated Press will report that this type of memo “goes to scores of Cabinet-agency officials from the assistant secretary level up and does not include raw intelligence or sensitive information about ongoing law enforcement matters” due to fear of media leaks. SEIBs were sent to many more officials during the Clinton administration. The Associated Press will also state that “some who saw the memo said they feared it gave policy-makers and members of the congressional intelligence committees a picture of the domestic threat so stale and incomplete that it didn’t provide the necessary sense of urgency one month before the Sept. 11 attacks.” [Associated Press, 4/13/2004] Attorney General John Ashcroft will later say he does not recall seeing the SEIB before 9/11 (see Between August 7 and September 10, 2001).
In a 2007 book about the “Lackawanna Six” entitled The Jihad Next Door, author Dina Temple-Raston will write that al-Qaeda “shuttered the training camps in August 2001, leaving little sign of the encampments that once dotted the Pakistan-Afghan border.” After 9/11, the camps are not reopened. [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 130] One article shortly after 9/11 suggests that bin Laden moves his training camps in Afghanistan “in the days before the attacks.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/16/2001] Presumably the CIA notices. CIA Director George Tenet will later claim a group of men from an allied intelligence agency penetrated the camps not long before 9/11 (see Early September 2001), satellites are monitoring Afghanistan from the sky, and the CIA had over 100 assets in Afghanistan before 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). FBI agent Jack Cloonan will also later say, “There were agents run into the camps” (see Before September 11, 2001).
Some time before 9/11, ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed learns that two prominent Pakistani nuclear scientists met with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan in mid-August 2001. Bin Laden revealed to the two scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, that he had acquired nuclear material and wanted their help to turn it into a weapon (see Mid-August 2001). ISI Director Mahmood is said to have learned about this through military contacts, as several Pakistani generals sit on the board of directors of a charity run by the two scientists that assists the Taliban. For instance, Hamid Gul, a former director of the ISI, is the charity’s honorary patron and was in Afghanistan at the time of the meeting. However, the ISI does not warn the US or take any action against the scientists or their charity. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 310-311]
Entity Tags: Mahmood Ahmed, Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, Hamid Gul, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Osama bin Laden
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network, 9/11 Timeline
Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood. [Source: Public domain]Two retired Pakistani nuclear scientists meet with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri at a campfire in a compound near Kandahar, Afghanistan. The more prominent scientist, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, worked with A. Q. Khan for two decades before having a falling out with him in the early 1990s (however, he was seen with Khan earlier in 2001 (see April 2001)). A highly regarded scientist, he also became an advocate of the Taliban and published a pamphlet predicting that “by 2002 millions may die through mass destruction weapons… terrorist attack, and suicide.” He was forced to retire in 1999 after publicly advocating sharing nuclear technology with other Islamic countries. The other scientist, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, also retired in 1999 after a long career. In 2000, the two men set up a charity, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, purporting to conduct relief work in Afghanistan (see 2000). Bin Laden allegedly tells the scientists that he has made great headway in advancing the apocalypse predicted by Mahmood. He claims that he has acquired highly enriched uranium from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and wants their help to turn it into a bomb. The scientists reply that while they could help with the science of fissile materials, they are not weapons designers. They are also asked with other Pakistani weapons experts could be approached for help. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 310-311] They spend two or three days at the compound and discuss how the material could be used to create a so-called dirty bomb, in which radioactive material is blown up using conventional explosives to spread radiation. But the discussion apparently ends inconclusively when bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and others depart abruptly for the mountains. Before leaving, bin Laden says that something great is going to happen soon and Muslims around the world will join them in holy war. [Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 264-265] Both US intelligence and Pakistani ISI learn about this meeting prior to the 9/11 attacks, but neither group will take any effective action as a result (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001 and Between Mid-August and September 10, 2001).
A US plan to snatch Osama bin Laden inside Afghanistan (see January 19, 2001) is revealed in the Pakistan press, after the US asks Pakistan for assistance with the plot. An article that runs in the Pakistan newspaper The News also says that the US and Pakistan have discussed a sting operation in Afghanistan using US special forces, but that Pakistan has advised Washington against it. After a UN resolution tightening sanctions against the Taliban, General Tommy Franks, commander-in-chief of US Central Command, discussed the plan with his Pakistani counterparts and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf during a visit to Islamabad in January 2001 (see January 19, 2001). [United Press International, 8/17/2001] There is some suggestion that the operation is attempted, but only partially successful, after 9/11 (see (September 26, 2001)).
The Asia Times reports that the US is engaged in “intense negotiations” with Pakistan for assistance in an operation to capture or kill bin Laden. However, despite promised rewards, there is a “very strong lobby within the [Pakistani] army not to assist in any US moves to apprehend bin Laden.” [Asia Times, 8/22/2001]
Bin Laden gives an interview to a Middle Eastern television station visiting him in Afghanistan. According to ABC News, “When asked about his supporters, he says with a significant and knowing smile there is going to be a surprise to the United States.” [ABC News, 9/14/2001]
Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), Representative Porter Goss (R-FL), and Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) travel to Pakistan and meet with President Pervez Musharraf. They reportedly discuss various security issues, including the possible extradition of bin Laden. They also meet with Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan. Zaeef apparently tells them that the Taliban wants to solve the issue of bin Laden through negotiations with the US. Pakistan says it wants to stay out of the bin Laden issue. [Agence France-Presse, 8/28/2001; Salon, 9/14/2001]
The FBI opens an intelligence investigation to find future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, despite protests from the FBI New York field office that FBI headquarters has wrongly insisted on an intelligence investigation, when a criminal investigation would be more appropriate and have a better chance of finding him. The Justice Department’s office of inspector general will later conclude that “the designation of the Almihdhar matter as an intelligence investigation, as opposed to a criminal investigation, undermined the priority of any effort to locate Almihdhar.” Upon learning of the decision, Steve Bongardt, an investigator working on the USS Cole bombing investigation, writes to headquarters agent Dina Corsi to express his frustration. He points out that she is unable to produce any solid documentary evidence to support her view of the “wall,” a mechanism that restricts the passage of some intelligence information to criminal agents at the FBI (see Early 1980s and July 19, 1995), and that her interpretation of the “wall” is at odds with the purpose for which it was established. He adds: “Whatever has happened to this—someday someone will die—and wall or not—the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain ‘problems.’ Let’s hope the [Justice Department’s] National Security Law Unit will stand behind their decisions then, especially since the biggest threat to us now, UBL [Osama bin Laden], is getting the most ‘protection.’” [US Congress, 9/20/2002; New York Times, 9/21/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 307-9 ; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] Both the Justice Department’s office of inspector general and the 9/11 Commission will later back Bongardt and say the investigation should have been a criminal investigation, as the “wall” procedures did not apply. The inspector general will comment that Bongardt “was correct that the wall had been created to deal with the handling of only [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] information and that there was no legal barrier to a criminal agent being present for an interview with Almihdhar if it occurred in the intelligence investigation.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 351 ] The 9/11 Commission will remark that Corsi “misunderstood” the wall and that, “Simply put, there was no legal reason why the information [Corsi] possessed could not have been shared with [Bongardt].” It will conclude: “It is now clear that everyone involved was confused about the rules governing the sharing and use of information gathered in intelligence channels. Because Almihdhar was being sought for his possible connection to or knowledge of the Cole bombing, he could be investigated or tracked under the existing Cole criminal case. No new criminal case was needed for the criminal agent to begin searching for [him]. And as the NSA had approved the passage of its information to the criminal agent, he could have conducted a search using all available information. As a result of this confusion, the criminal agents who were knowledgeable about al-Qaeda and experienced with criminal investigative techniques, including finding suspects and possible criminal charges, were thus excluded from the search.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 271, 539]
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Steve Bongardt, Usama bin Laden Unit (FBI), Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), National Commision on Terrorist Attacks, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Dina Corsi, FBI Headquarters, Khalid Almihdhar, FBI New York Field Office
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
In an interview with the London-based newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi, bin Laden boasts that he is planning an “unprecedented” strike against the US. Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the newspaper, will say, “Personally, we received information that he planned very, very big attacks against American interests. We received several warnings like this. We did not take it so seriously, preferring to see what would happen before reporting it.” [ABC News, 9/12/2001; Independent, 9/17/2001] The Washington Post will similarly report just after 9/11, “Interviewed last month in the mountains of southern Afghanistan by a London-based Arab journalist, he boasted—without going into detail—that he and his followers were planning ‘a very big one.’” [Washington Post, 9/13/2001] Atwan’s comment implies the warning is not published before 9/11. But Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will say shortly after 9/11, “Bin Laden’s people had made statements three weeks ago carried in the Arab press in [Britain] that they were preparing to carry out unprecedented attacks in the US.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/14/2001]
Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service for 24 years, is replaced. No explanation is given. He is replaced by Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz, his nephew and the king’s brother, who has “no background in intelligence whatsoever.” [Agence France-Presse, 8/31/2001; Wall Street Journal, 10/22/2001; Seattle Times, 10/29/2001] The Wall Street Journal later reports: “The timing of Turki’s removal—August 31—and his Taliban connection raise the question: Did the Saudi regime know that bin Laden was planning his attack against the US? The current view among Saudi-watchers is probably not, but that the House of Saud might have heard rumors that something was planned, although they did not know what or when. (An interesting and possibly significant detail: Prince Sultan, the defense minister, had been due to visit Japan in early September, but canceled his trip for no apparent reason less than two days before an alleged planned departure.)” [Wall Street Journal, 10/22/2001] It will later come out that Turki’s removal takes place during a time of great turmoil in the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia, though it is not known if there is a connection (see August 27, 2001, August 29-September 6, 2001, and September 6, 2001). Turki is later sued in August 2002 for his role in 9/11 (see August 15, 2002), and is later appointed ambassador to Britain (see October 18, 2002) and then ambassador to the US (see August 21, 2005).
Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), struggles to maintain funding for a plan to defend against a cruise missile attack by terrorists. Arnold has long been worried by the US’s vulnerability to an airborne attack by terrorists (see 1999 and February 2000). But, as he will later recount, not everyone shares his concern. He will say: “Just two weeks before September 11, 2001, I had met with Vice Admiral Martin Mayer, the deputy commander in chief of Joint Forces Command located in Norfolk, Virginia. He had informed me that he intended to kill all funding for a plan my command had been working on for two years, that would defend against a cruise missile attack by terrorists. While I convinced Admiral Mayer to continue his funding support, he told me in front of my chief of staff, Colonel Alan Scott; Navy Captain David Stewart, the lead on the project; and my executive officer, Lt. Col. Kelley Duckett, that our concern about Osama bin Laden as a possible threat to America was unfounded and that, to repeat, ‘If everyone would just turn off CNN, there wouldn’t be a threat from Osama bin Laden.’” [Spencer, 2008, pp. 289]
According to British inside sources, “shortly before September 11,” bin Laden contacts an associate thought to be in Pakistan. The conversation refers to an incident that will take place in the US on, or around 9/11, and discusses possible repercussions. In another conversation, bin Laden contacts an associate thought to be in Afghanistan. They discuss the scale and effect of a forthcoming operation; bin Laden praises his colleague for his part in the planning. Neither conversation specifically mentions the WTC or Pentagon, but investigators have no doubt the 9/11 attacks were being discussed. The British government has obliquely made reference to these intercepts: “There is evidence of a very specific nature relating to the guilt of bin Laden and his associates that is too sensitive to release.” These intercepts will not be made public in British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s presentation of al-Qaeda’s guilt because “releasing full details could compromise the source or method of the intercepts.”
[Sunday Times (London), 10/7/2001]
ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed visits Washington for the second time. On September 10, a Pakistani newspaper reports on his trip so far. It says his visit has “triggered speculation about the agenda of his mysterious meetings at the Pentagon and National Security Council” as well as meetings with CIA Director Tenet (see September 9, 2001), unspecified officials at the White House and the Pentagon, and his “most important meeting” with Marc Grossman, US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs. The article suggests, “[O]f course, Osama bin Laden” could be the focus of some discussions. Prophetically, the article adds, “What added interest to his visit is the history of such visits. Last time [his] predecessor was [in Washington], the domestic [Pakistani] politics turned topsy-turvy within days.” [News (Islamabad), 9/10/2001] This is a reference to the Musharraf coup just after an ISI Director’s visit on October 12, 1999 (see October 12, 1999).
[Source: Infocom]The US Joint Terrorism Task Force conducts a three-day raid of the offices of InfoCom Corporation, a Texas-based company that hosts about 500 mostly Arab websites, including Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s most popular news channel. [Guardian, 9/10/2001; Web Host Industry Review, 9/10/2001] Three days after the initial raid, the task force is “still busy inside the building, reportedly copying every hard disc they could find. It is not clear how long these websites remain shut down.”
[Guardian, 9/10/2001] InfoCom began to be seriously investigated by the FBI in late 1998 when the name of an employee was discovered in the address book of bin Laden’s former personal secretary. There also was evidence of a financial link between InfoCom and a top Hamas leader (see October 1994-2001).
InfoCom is closely connected to the Holy Land Foundation. Not only are the two organizations across the road from each other in Richardson, Texas, a number of employees work at both organizations. For instance, Ghassan Elashi is both the vice president of InfoCom and chairman of Holy Land. [Guardian, 9/10/2001; New York Times, 12/20/2002] A local bank closes Holy Land’s checking accounts totaling about $13 million around the same time as the raid on InfoCom, but Holy Land’s assets are not officially frozen by the government. [Dallas Business Journal, 9/7/2001] The US will shut down Holy Land and freeze their assets two months later (see December 4, 2001) for suspected ties to Hamas. Holy Land is represented by Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, a Washington, D.C., law firm with unusually close ties to the Bush White House. [Washington Post, 12/17/2001] In 2002, the five brothers running InfoCom will be charged of selling computer equipment overseas in violation of anti-terrorism laws and of supporting Hamas by giving money to Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk through 2001. In 2004, the five brothers will be convicted of the first charge, and in 2005, three brothers will be convicted of the second charge.(see December 18, 2002-April 2005). On a possibly connected note, in the Garland suburb adjoining Richardson, a fifth-grade boy apparently has foreknowledge of 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). [Houston Chronicle, 9/19/2001]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, InfoCom Corporation, US Secret Service, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, Osama bin Laden, Ghassan Elashi, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Al Jazeera, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Hamas, Mousa Abu Marzouk
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
According to a later interview with would-be hijacker Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a courier sent by bin al-Shibh tells Osama bin Laden on this day when the 9/11 attacks will take place. [Australian, 9/9/2002] However, there are doubts about this interview (see April, June, or August 2002). The message may have been taken from bin al-Shibh in Germany to Pakistan by al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Zakariya Essabar (see Late August 2001).
French author Bernard-Henri Levy claims to know an anonymous manager at a Dubai, United Arab Emirates, bank who gives him astute and accurate tips on Arab banking. The manager tells Henri-Levy in 2002, “We know a bank here that made [a put option] transaction between the 8th and 10th of September on certain Dow Jones blue-chip stocks for accounts linked to bin Laden. I know the name of a bank that, by shorting 8,000 shares of United Airlines on the 7th of September, then 1,200 shares of American Airlines on the morning of the 10th, allowed the attack to finance itself.” The manager won’t name the bank, but he quotes bin Laden from a late September 2001 interview, stating, “al-Qaeda is full of young, modern, and educated people who are aware of the cracks inside the Western financial system, and know how to exploit them. These faults and weaknesses are like a sliding noose strangling the system.” [Daily Ummat (Karachi), 9/28/2001; Levy, 2003, pp. 312-313] The timing and amount of type of stock speculation mentioned in this account is similar to, but not the same as, previously published reports (see September 6-10, 2001). Levy suspects the al-Qaeda agent making these transactions is the financially astute Saeed Sheikh, graduate of the London School of Economics. An al-Qaeda agent using the alias Mustafa Ahmad is captured by a surveillance camera entering the Bank of Dubai on September 10, Dubai time, to pick up money sent by Mohamed Atta in previous days, but this video footage has never been publicly released. Levy and others argue that Mustafa Ahmad and Saeed Sheikh are one and the same (see September 5-10, 2001). [Levy, 2003, pp. 312-313]
Mohand Alshehri. [Source: Spiegel TV]In the days before the attacks, some of the hijackers (including Waleed Alshehri and/or Wail Alshehri) apparently sleep with prostitutes in Boston hotel rooms, or at least try to do so. A driver working at an “escort service” used by the hijackers claims he regularly drove prostitutes to a relative of bin Laden about once a week until 9/11, when the relative disappeared. Bin Laden has several relatives in the Boston area, most or all of whom returned to Saudi Arabia right after 9/11. [Boston Herald, 10/10/2001] On September 7, two female escorts are sent to “Arab men” in the Park Inn, Boston. One of the escorts will later say that a photo of Satam Al Suqami looks “very familiar.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 264 ] On September 10, four other hijackers in Boston (Marwan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Mohand Alshehri, and Satam Al Suqami) call around to find prostitutes to sleep with on their last night alive, but in the end decline. Says one official, “It was going to be really expensive and they couldn’t come to a consensus on price, so that was the end of it… Either they thought it was too extravagant [over $400] or they did not have enough money left.” [Boston Globe, 10/10/2001]
Just two days before 9/11, the New York Times publishes an article on their website examining the threat of an al-Qaeda attack on US interests. The article focuses on a videotape made by bin Laden which was released in June 2001 (see June 19, 2001). The article notes that “When the two-hour videotape surfaced last June, it attracted little attention, partly because much of it was spliced from previous bin Laden interviews and tapes. But since then the tape has proliferated on Islamic Web sites and in mosques and bazaars across the Muslim world.” It further notes that in the video, bin Laden “promises more attacks.” Referring to the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, he says, “The victory of Yemen will continue.” He promises to aid Palestinians fighting Israel, an important shift in emphasis from previous pronouncements. He also praises the Taliban, suggesting that previous reports of a split between bin Laden and the Taliban were a ruse. The article comments, “With his mockery of American power, Mr. bin Laden seems to be almost taunting the United States.” [New York Times, 9/9/2001] Curiously, shortly after 9/11, the New York Times will remove the article from their website archive and redirect all links from the article’s web address, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/09/international/asia/09OSAM.html, to the address of another article written by the same author shortly after 9/11, http://www.nytimes.com/2001/09/12/international/12OSAM.html. (Note the dates contained within the addresses.)
Massoud’s two assassins pictured just before their assassination attempt. One holds the rigged video camera. [Source: CNN]General Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, is assassinated by two al-Qaeda agents posing as Moroccan journalists. [Time, 8/12/2002] A legendary mujaheddin commander and a brilliant tactician, Massoud had pledged to bring freedom and democracy to Afghanistan. The BBC says the next day, “General Massoud’s death might well have meant the end of the [Northern] alliance” because there clearly was no figure with his skills and popularity to replace him. [BBC, 9/10/2001; BBC, 9/10/2001] “With Massoud out of the way, the Taliban and al-Qaeda would be rid of their most effective opponent and be in a stronger position to resist the American onslaught.” [St. Petersburg Times, 9/9/2002] It appears the assassination was supposed to happen earlier: the “journalists” waited for three weeks in Northern Alliance territory to meet Massoud. Finally on September 8, an aide says they “were so worried and excitable they were begging us.” They were granted an interview after threatening to leave if the interview did not happen in the next 24 hours. Meanwhile, the Taliban army (together with elements of the Pakistani army) had massed for an offensive against the Northern Alliance in the previous weeks, but the offensive began only hours after the assassination. Massoud was killed that day but Northern Alliance leaders pretend for several days that Massoud was only injured in order to keep the Northern Alliance army’s morale up, and they are able to stave off total defeat. The timing of the assassination and the actions of the Taliban army suggest that the 9/11 attacks were known to the Taliban leadership. [Time, 8/12/2002] Though it is not widely reported, the Northern Alliance releases a statement the next day: “Ahmed Shah Massoud was the target of an assassination attempt organized by the Pakistani [intelligence service] ISI and Osama bin Laden” (see September 10, 2001). [Radio Free Europe, 9/10/2001; Newsday, 9/15/2001; Reuters, 10/4/2001] This suggests that the ISI may also have had prior knowledge of the attack plans.
Pakistani ISI Director Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, who is visiting Washington (see September 4-11, 2001), meets with CIA Director George Tenet. In his 2007 book, Tenet will claim that he “tried to press” Mahmood to do something about Taliban support for bin Laden, since the Pakistani government has been supporting the Taliban since its creation in 1994. But Mahmood was supposedly “immovable when it came to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.” Tenet will say that Mahmood’s sole suggestion was the US should try bribing key Taliban officials to get them to turn over bin Laden. However, “even then he made it clear that neither he nor his service would have anything to do with the effort, not even to the extent of advising us whom we might approach.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 141-142]
Osama bin Laden calls his stepmother and says, “In two days, you’re going to hear big news and you’re not going to hear from me for a while.” [Daily Telegraph, 10/2/2001] US officials will later tell CNN that “in recent years they’ve been able to monitor some of bin Laden’s telephone communications with his [step]mother. Bin Laden at the time was using a satellite telephone, and the signals were intercepted and sometimes recorded.” [New York Times, 10/2/2001] Stepmother Al-Khalifa bin Laden, who raised Osama bin Laden after his natural mother died, is apparently waiting in Damascus, Syria, to meet Osama there, so he calls to cancel the meeting. [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 10/7/2001] They had met periodically in recent years. Before 9/11, to impress important visitors, NSA analysts would occasionally play audio tapes of bin Laden talking to his stepmother. The next day government officials say about the call, “I would view those reports with skepticism.” [CNN, 10/2/2001] Bin Laden gave his natural mother a similar warning some months ago that was also overheard by the NSA (see Spring-Summer 2001).
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