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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:
A female senior official from Washington comes to Guantanamo to interrogate British national Shafiq Rasul and shows him a videotape recording of a meeting in January 2000 in Afghanistan between Osama bin Laden and Mohamed Atta, the operational leader of the 9/11 attacks. The video allegedly also shows Rasul being present. Rasul recalls saying: “Are you blind? That doesn’t look anything like me.” His questioners are adamant. “[L]oads of people had told them that this guy in a beard standing behind bin Laden was me. I told them that in 2000 I didn’t leave the country, that I was working at the Wednesbury branch of Currys, who would have my employment records. They told me I could have falsified those records—that I could have had someone working with me at Currys who could have altered the data the company held, and traveled on a false passport.” Then Rasul decides to confess. “I’d got to the point where I just couldn’t take any more. ‘Do what you have to do,’ I told them.” He recalls: “My heart is beating, beating, I’m saying it’s not me, it’s not me, but I’m thinking ‘I’m going to be screwed. I’m on an island in the middle of nowhere, there’s nothing I can do.’” [Guardian, 10/3/2004] His two friends, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed, are also forced to make confessions. But the British intelligence service MI5, later demonstrates that the Tipton Three were all in Britain at that time, [Observer, 3/14/2004] and Rasul was indeed working in a Currys store in the West Midlands at the time of the alleged meeting attended by bin Laden and Mohamed Atta. [Guardian, 8/4/2004]
Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri. [Source: Slate]A month before he is slated to go on trial for bank and credit card fraud charges (see February 8, 2002), the federal government drops all criminal charges against Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, who has been held without legal representation, and in solitary confinement, since 2001 (see December 12, 2001). [CBS News, 6/23/2003; CBS News, 6/23/2003; CNN, 12/13/2005; Progressive, 3/2007]
'Grave Danger' - President Bush says al-Marri “represents a continuing, present, and grave danger” to the country, and the government designates al-Marri as an “enemy combatant,” alleging that he helped al-Qaeda operatives settle in the US. “Mr. Al-Marri possesses intelligence, including intelligence about personnel and activities of al-Qaeda,” Bush continues, and adds that gaining access to it “would aid US efforts to prevent attacks by al-Qaeda.” [Knight Ridder, 6/24/2003; Progressive, 3/2007] The presidential order says he “engaged in conduct that constituted hostile and war-like acts, including conduct in preparation for acts of international terrorism.” His detention is necessary, the order claims, to prevent him from participating in terrorist activities against the US. The order in effect precludes a pretrial hearing scheduled for July 2 and the start of a formal trial on July 22. [CNN, 6/24/2003]
Alleged Sleeper Agent - The government declaration for al-Marri says he worked as an “al-Qaeda sleeper agent” who was planning to “hack into the computer systems of US banks,” and possibly facilitate a follow up to the 9/11 attacks. For its part, the Defense Department says al-Marri trained at a terror camp in Afghanistan before 9/11, personally met Osama bin Laden, and volunteered for an unspecified “martyr mission.” [CNN, 12/13/2005] Attorney General John Ashcroft will later claim that al-Marri refused repeated offers to cooperate with the FBI; “consequently,” Ashcroft will write, Bush declares him an enemy combatant. Ashcroft will claim that under the laws of war, an enemy combatant can be killed out of hand. Instead, the government will hold al-Marri “without charge or trial until the end of the war.” [Slate, 11/30/2006]
Transferred to Navy Brig - Instead, the “enemy combatant” designation takes al-Marri, a Qatari citizen and legal US resident, out of the civilian criminal justice system and places him under the control of the Defense Department, which immediately transfers him into detention at a Navy brig in South Carolina. He could face a military tribunal or remain in detention indefinitely, without trial. He is only the third person to be publicly named as an enemy combatant, along with US citizens Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi.
Fingered by KSM - According to a Justice Department official, al-Marri was “positively identified” as being part of a planned second wave of al-Qaeda terrorist attacks by an “al-Qaeda detainee in a position to know.” Justice officials imply that the detainee to finger al-Marri is senior 9/11 planner Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. [CBS News, 6/23/2003] Another suspected al-Qaeda operative, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (see Early-Late June, 2001), is also said to have mentioned him. [CNN, 12/13/2005] Alice Fisher, the deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s criminal division, says the department did not drop the criminal charges against al-Marri because the case was weak: “We are confident we would have prevailed on the criminal charges. However, setting the criminal charges aside is in the best interests of our national security.” The criminal charges—lying to banks, lying to the FBI, and credit card fraud—could have given al-Marri up to 60 years in prison and $1.75 million in fines. [CBS News, 6/23/2003]
Pleaded Not Guilty - Al-Marri’s lawyer Mark Berman says that his client pleaded not guilty to the criminal charges (see May 29, 2003), and the case was proceeding to trial. “I definitely got the sense they were reluctant to try the case in court,” Berman says. “They’d rather be in a forum where defendants aren’t represented by counsel.” Al-Marri’s wife and five children have left the US. The Saudi Arabian government granted the family passports in February, in spite of a State Department request not to issue the passports, as department officials wanted al-Marri’s wife, who is Saudi, to be available to the FBI for questioning. [Knight Ridder, 6/23/2003] Al-Marri’s lawyers say they are preparing a legal challenge to Bush’s decision. [Knight Ridder, 6/24/2003]
Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, US Department of State, Osama bin Laden, US Department of Justice, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, John Ashcroft, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, Mark Berman, Alice Fisher, George W. Bush, Jose Padilla, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Yaser Esam Hamdi
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Bush and Musharraaf at the Camp David press conference. [Source: David Bohrer / White House]At a joint Camp David press conference with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraaf, President Bush declares that al-Qaeda’s leadership is largely defunct. He says, “Thanks to President Musharraf’s leadership, on the al-Qaeda front we’ve dismantled the chief operators of al-Qaeda.” Although bin Laden is still at large, “the people reporting to him, the chief operators, people like Khalid Shaikh Mohammed are no longer a threat to the United States or Pakistan, for that matter.” He adds that, “[S]lowly but surely, we’re dismantling the networks.” [White House, 6/24/2003; Washington Post, 9/9/2007] But the declaration is premature, as al-Qaeda’s leadership eventually revives in Pakistan’s tribal region near the Afghanistan border. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007]
Lt. Gen. John R. Vines, commander of US troops in Afghanistan at this time, will later complain that an opportunity to kill bin Laden is lost due to a lack of the right equipment. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) like the Predator are in short supply due to the war in Iraq. Vines receives intelligence that bin Laden is on the move and can take one of three routes. However, there is only one UAV to send. Vines will later recall, “A UAV was positioned on the route that was most likely, but he didn’t go that way. We believed that we were within a half-hour of possibly getting him, but nothing materialized.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2006]
Abu Faraj al-Libbi. [Source: FBI]In July 2003, al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi allegedly receives a letter from Osama bin Laden’s “designated courier” stating that this person will be the “official messenger” between bin Laden and others in Pakistan. Around the same time, al-Libbi moves to Abbottabad, Pakistan. Al-Libbi had become al-Qaeda’s head of operations following the capture of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in March 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). This is according to one of al-Libbi’s Guantanamo prison files, from September 2008. In the file, the courier is named as Maulawi Abd al-Khaliq Jan. [US Department of Defense, 9/10/2008]
Al-Libbi Leads to Bin Laden's Courier - Other sources make clear that this information comes from al-Libbi’s 2005 interrogation (see Shortly After May 2, 2005). By late 2005, US intelligence analysts will decide that al-Libbi was lying, and he had made up the name of Jan to protect the real courier, whose real name will eventually be discovered to be Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (see Late 2005). In fact, Ahmed moves to Abbottabad in 2004 (see January 22, 2004-2005) and bin Laden joins him there in late 2005 (see Late 2005-Early 2006).
Al-Libbi Moves Away - Al-Libbi moves away from Abbottabad in mid-2004. Perhaps this is in response to two Pakistani government raids that narrowly miss catching him (see April 2004 and After April 2004). [US Department of Defense, 9/10/2008]
Musharraf's 2006 Book - In a 2006 book, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will detail the two raids that narrowly miss him, and adds that al-Libbi revealed in a 2005 interrogation “that he was in contact with Osama through a courier and the last letter he had received from Osama was sometime in December 2004. We have been looking for the couriers intensely.” [Musharraf, 2006, pp. 172] Presumably, al-Libbi’s confession about living in Abbottabad and meeting the courier would help point US investigators looking for the courier to Abbottabad, and if not that, Musharraf’s 2006 book would do so. But it is unknown when US intelligence begins closely investigating al-Qaeda activity in Abbottabad.
The 9/11 Commission holds its first set of public hearings on al-Qaeda and its connections to other nations and terrorist groups. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134]
'Political Theater' - The first person to testify is Laurie Mylroie, of the conservative American Enterprise Institute. Mylroie’s testimony is, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “a bizarre bit of political theater.” Mylroie, considered by some to be “one of the most influential political academics of her generation, whose research was cited by the United States government to justify a war,” sits in front of the Commission, “spouting what would later be shown to be—and what many experts in the field already knew to be—nonsense.” Mylroie says that both the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993) and 9/11 were planned and carried out by Iraqi intelligence agents, and the planner of the 1993 attacks, Ramzi Yousef (see December 1991-May 1992 and Late July or Early August 2001), and the chief 9/11 planner, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see 1987-1991), were both Iraqi spies. Iraq had planted phony identification documents—“legends”—in Kuwaiti government offices during the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait in 1990, she says. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134] “The odds are high that these people are not whom they claim to be, and demonstrating that would constitute a clear link between Iraq and the 9/11 attack, as reasonably only Iraq could have created these legends while it occupied Kuwait,” she states. Al-Qaeda was a front group for Iraq in the same way that Hezbollah is a front group for Syria, she claims, and tells the Commission, “We went to war because senior administration officials believe Iraq was involved in 9/11” (see July 31, 2002). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134]
Discrediting Mylroie - Several members of the Commission and its staff are dubious about Mylroie’s claims (see July 9, 2003). Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, one of those who believes her appearance is part of the Bush administration’s efforts to justify the war with Iraq, forces her to admit that “95 percent” of Middle East experts do not accept her theories about a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda. Testimony later the same day by CIA expert Judith Yaphe further discredits Mylroie’s theories (see July 9, 2003). Both Yaphe and Ben-Veniste feel that Mylroie’s theories are shown to be little more than wild speculations with no evidence to bolster them, but the media coverage of her testimony is far different. She is given great credence by almost all of the mainstream media reports of her appearance before the Commission. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 130-134] Additionally, many of those who lost family members in the attacks are angered by Mylroie’s testimony (see July 9, 2003). Shortly after her testimony, Mylroie’s new book Bush vs. the Beltway will be published, expounding further on her theories. [Washington Monthly, 12/2003]
9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) lies about Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, Osama bin laden’s highly trusted courier, in an apparent attempt to protect bin Laden. KSM was captured by the US in March 2003 (see February 29 or March 1, 2003), and soon was interrogated and tortured with the use of waterboarding (see Shortly After February 29 or March 1, 2003). US intelligence does not yet know Ahmed’s real name, but it does know his alias, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti, and it believes he is one of bin Laden’s most trusted couriers. Later reports suggest that KSM is not asked about Ahmed until the autumn of 2003. Some accounts will claim that KSM is no longer being waterboarded by this time. However, other accounts contradict this. In any case, other torture techniques, known by the euphemism “enhanced interrogation,” are still sometimes being used on him. [New York Times, 5/3/2011] In 2011, CIA Director Leon Panetta will make comments that make clear KSM is asked about Ahmed while being waterboarded. He will say: “[N]ot only did the use of ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ on Khalid Shaikh Mohammed not provide us with key leads on bin Laden’s courier, Abu Ahmed; it actually produced false and misleading information. [KSM] specifically told his interrogators that Abu Ahmed had moved to Peshawar [Pakistan], got married, and ceased his role as an al-Qaeda facilitator—which was not true, as we now know. All we learned about Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti through the use of waterboarding and other ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ against [KSM] was the confirmation of the already known fact that the courier existed and used an alias.” [Washington Post, 5/12/2011]
German prosecutors claim that an inquiry is still under way against Mamoun Darkazanli, the Syrian businessman with ties to the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. However, while the US had promised to share evidence against him, it is reported that the promised information has yet to be delivered. [Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 9/7/2003]
[Source: Global Free Press]British government minister Michael Meacher publishes an essay entitled, “The War on Terrorism is Bogus.” Meacher is a long time British Member of Parliament, and served as Environmental Minister for six years until three months before releasing this essay. The Guardian, which publishes the essay, states that Meacher claims “the war on terrorism is a smoke screen and that the US knew in advance about the September 11 attack on New York but, for strategic reasons, chose not to act on the warnings. He says the US goal is ‘world hegemony, built around securing by force command over the oil supplies’ and that this Pax Americana ‘provides a much better explanation of what actually happened before, during and after 9/11 than the global war on terrorism thesis.’ Mr. Meacher adds that the US has made ‘no serious attempt’ to catch the al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden.”
[Guardian, 9/6/2003] Meacher provides no personal anecdotes based on his years in Tony Blair’s cabinet, but he cites numerous mainstream media accounts to support his thesis. He emphasizes the Project for the New American Century 2000 report (see September 2000) as a “blueprint” for a mythical “global war on terrorism,”
“propagated to pave the way for a wholly different agenda—the US goal of world hegemony, built around securing by force command over the oil supplies” in Afghanistan and Iraq. [Guardian, 9/6/2003] Meacher’s stand causes a controversial debate in Britain, but the story is almost completely ignored by the mainstream US media.
A frame of Saeed Alghamdi in his martyr video. [Source: Al Jazeera]A martyr video of 9/11 hijacker Saeed Alghamdi is broadcast on the Al Jazeera satellite network. Alghamdi says, “America is the enemy that every Muslim should fight.… I tell you that we are preparing something for you. God will punish you in a big way. And we promise the United States of America that we will stop you, that we will hurt you - and we will make sure that you don’t have any peace.” Alghamdi specifically mentions in the video that it was recorded December 23, 2000, and that it will serve as the reading of his final will and testimony before he leaves to the US. Al Jazeera has previously broadcast two 9/11 hijacker martyr videos (see April 15, 2002 and September 9, 2002), but while those only showed speeches, this seven-minute video also shows Alghamdi using a variety of weapons in Afghanistan, including a rocket launcher. The video also contains audio of a voice said to belong to Osama bin Laden praising Alghamdi. Bin Laden is heard saying, “He is a good person. He has good qualities. He is very righteous. He fears God, and God may protect him.” [CNN, 9/12/2003]
A new audiotape thought to contain a message from Osama bin Laden is broadcast by Al Jazeera. On the 31-minute tape the speaker says that the US occupation of Iraq, a “new Crusader campaign against the Islamic world,” is bogged down in the “quagmires of the Tigris and Euphrates” and suffering mounting casualties from guerrillas. He also compares supporters in Iraq to great Muslim warriors of the past and forbids them from working with the Ba’ath party. After describing democracy as “the religion of ignorance,” he addresses the question of Palestine, and attacks the “road map” for peace between Israel and Palestine as well as Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, saying he is similar to Afghani President Hamid Karzai. He highlights US financial losses and budget deficits after 9/11, and would also apparently like to fight in Iraq: “God knows, if I could find a way to get to your battlefields, I would not hesitate.” [Associated Press, 10/19/2003; Laden, 2005, pp. 207-211] He also says, “We reserve the right to respond at the opportune moment and place against all of the countries participating in this unjust war, in particular: Great Britain, Spain, Australia, Poland, Japan, and Italy.” [Irujo, 2005, pp. 257] Bin Laden had not specially threatened Spain in any previous speeches. According to a Spanish investigator, the Madrid al-Qaeda cell hears the speech, notices this, and begins planning an attack in Spain the next day. This will result in the Madrid train bombings only five months later (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 10] However, some evidence suggests the cell was already planning a bombing from about late 2002. [Associated Press, 4/10/2004]
Saudi Defense and Aviation Minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz.
[Source: Public domain]In a series of rulings, a number of defendants are removed from a 9/11 lawsuit filed in August 2002 (see August 15, 2002). The lawsuit, filed on behalf of 9/11 victims’ relatives, accuses a number of individuals and organizations of funding and supporting al-Qaeda and thus helping the 9/11 attacks to occur. A number of Saudi princes are dropped because they work for the Saudi government. One judge writes in a ruling, “Whatever their actions, they were performed in their official (government) capacities.” According to the court ruling, only the US president, not the courts, has the authority to label a foreign nation as a terrorist supporter. Judges rule that the plaintiffs failed to provide sufficient facts to overcome the kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s immunity. Saudi defense minister Prince Sultan bin Abdul Aziz, Saudi ambassador to Britain Prince Turki al-Faisal, and Prince Mohammed Al-Faisal Al-Saud, among others, are dismissed from the lawsuit, but the lawsuit is allowed to proceed against many more defendants, including the Saudi Binladin Group, the multibillion dollar bin Laden family company. [Associated Press, 11/16/2003; Charleston Post and Courier, 11/18/2003; Associated Press, 1/19/2005; New York Law Journal, 9/28/2005] A judge writes in a ruling that “the Saudi Binladin Group maintained close relationships with Osama bin Laden at certain times” and that it remains “unclear” whether these ties continued since bin Laden became involved in terrorism. [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 6/6/2005] The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) is allowed to remain as a defendant, even though this charity has considerable ties to the Saudi government. [New York Law Journal, 9/28/2005] Some of the Saudi princes, such as Prince Sultan and Prince Salman, are represented in the case by the prestigious Dallas-based law firm of Baker Botts. James Baker, former Secretary of State and close associate of the Bush family, is one of the senior partners of the law firm. [Newsweek, 4/16/2003; New York Law Journal, 9/28/2005]
The bombed Neve Shalom synagogue in Istanbul, Turkey. [Source: Murad Sezer / Associated Press]On November 15, 2003, two Jewish synagogues are struck by suicide truck bombs in Istanbul, Turkey. Five days later, the British HSBC Bank and British Consulate in Istanbul are hit by more truck bombs. Fifty-eight people are killed in the attacks, including the British consul general, and over 750 are wounded. Turkish investigators believe the attacks were orchestrated by local al-Qaeda operatives after getting approval from Osama bin Laden. [BBC, 11/20/2003; BBC, 2/16/2007] In 2007, seven people will be sentenced to life in a Turkish prison for their role in the attacks. One of them is Luai Sakra, who confessed to being one of the two masterminds of the attacks (see March 21, 2006-February 16, 2007). Forty-one people receive shorter sentences, and 26 people are acquitted. [BBC, 2/16/2007] Evidence will later emerge suggesting that Sakra was an informant for the CIA, Turkey, and Syria at least in 2000 and 2001 (see 2000 and September 10, 2001).
President Musharraf’s car damaged in one of the assassination attempts. [Source: Mian Khursheed / Reuters]On December 14, 2003, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf survives an assassination attempt when a powerful bomb goes off 30 seconds after his highly-guarded convoy crosses a bridge in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. The heavily guarded bridge is just a mile from Musharraf’s house, yet militants were able to spend severals days tying explosives to the pylons below it. His life is saved by a jamming device in his car given to him by the FBI, which temporarily jams all telephone signals and thus delays the explosion. On December 25, 2003, two suicide bombers launch another attempt to assassinate Musharraf, driving car bombs into his convoy a short distance from the location of the previous attack. Their car bombs fail to kill him and he escapes with only a cracked windscreen on his car, but 16 others nearby are killed.
Investigation - The identities of the two suicide bombers are soon discovered. One is Mohammed Jamil, a member of the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) militant group who fought with the Taliban. The other is Hazir Sultan, who also fought with the Taliban. The memory chip from Jamil’s phone is found in the debris, and it is discovered he talked to a policeman who told him the timing of Musharraf’s convoy. Only a handful of military officers knew the route and timing of Musharraf’s travels and which of several identical cars he would be using at any given time, suggesting that elements within the military were involved in the attacks. Investigators also discover that the explosives used in the attacks came from an al-Qaeda camp in the Pakistani tribal area of South Waziristan. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 230-232]
Militant Leaders against Musharraf - Osama bin Laden apparently called for Musharraf’s overthrow in October 2002 (see October 9, 2002), and Ayman al-Zawahiri apparently did the same in September 2003 (see September 28, 2003). In the months prior to the assassination attempts, Maulana Masood Azhar, head of JEM, gave a speech at a prominent mosque calling for Musharraf’s assassination. [BBC, 7/27/2007]
Limited Crackdown - Musharraf responds by reshuffling positions in the military high command. More than 150 military and security personnel will eventually be arrested and interrogated. Twelve suspects are eventually found guilty and sentenced to death for roles in the attacks; at least six are military officers. It is believed the suicide bombers and these officers were recruited and trained by Amjad Farooqi, a JEM leader also closely linked to al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi, said to be Farooqi’s superior, is also allegedly involved. A massive manhunt for Farooqi and al-Libbi will ensue. Farooqi will eventually be killed in September 2004 (see September 27, 2004) and al-Libbi captured in May 2005 and taken into US custody (see May 2, 2005). However, Musharraf’s response is relatively restrained. He avoids calls to launch a crackdown on the entire Islamist militant movement in Pakistan. He does not ban any militant groups, nor does he arrest militant leaders, not even Azhar, the head of JEM who had publicly called for his assassination. (JEM had been banned in Pakistan for a second time the month before (see November 2003).) He does allow the Pakistani Army to attack the safe haven of South Waziristan several months later, but only after the US gives him an ultimatum, essentially forcing him to do so (see March 18- April 24, 2004). [BBC, 9/27/2004; Rashid, 2008, pp. 230-232]
Saddam Hussein in US custody. [Source: US Department of Defense]The FBI sends veteran interrogator George Piro to question captured Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein. Over a period of months, Piro uses a combination of friendliness, warmth, and verbal provocations to tease a wealth of information from Hussein. At no time does Piro or other FBI interrogators use “aggressive” or “harsh” interrogation methods against Hussein. Piro works closely with a team of FBI and CIA analysts to pore over Hussein’s responses. He will later recall his sessions with Hussein for CBS News interviewer Scott Pelley.
'Mr. Saddam' - Piro begins calling the dictator “Mr. Saddam,” as a sign of respect; by the end of their time, they are on a first-name basis with one another. Hussein never finds out that Piro is “just” an FBI agent; he believes that Piro is far more influential than he actually is, and is directly briefing President Bush on their conversations. “He didn’t know I worked for the FBI, he didn’t know I was a field agent,” Piro will recall. Had he found out, “I think initially he would have been angry. He would feel that I was way beneath him, and would not respond well to the interrogation. Or even to me.… I think he thought, and actually on a couple of occasions talked around the issue that I was directly answering to the president.” Piro will recall setting several strategies of deception into motion, including his barking orders at the guards to send them into a panic to obey his instructions. “[I]t was all part of our strategy,” Piro will explain.
Controlling the Dictator - Piro will say that he gained physical control of the setting—a small, windowless room with chairs and a table—merely by placing himself between Hussein and the door. “I purposely put his back against the wall,” Piro will recall. “And then mine against the door, psychologically to tell him that his back was against the wall in the interview room. And that I stood between him and the door, psychologically. Between him whether it’s to go back to his cell, freedom, whatever he was projecting to be outside of that door. I was kind of that psychological barrier between him and the door.” Piro will add, “I basically said that I was gonna be responsible for every aspect of his life, and that if he needed anything I was gonna be the person that he needed to talk to.” Piro controls Hussein’s food and cleaning materials—Piro will describe Hussein as a “clean freak” who uses large numbers of baby wipes to disinfect his cell and his food. Piro allows Hussein pen and paper to write what Piro will describe as inordinate amounts of “terrible” poetry. “We had the guards remove their watches,” Piro will recall. “And the only person that was wearing a watch was me. And it was very evident to him, ‘cause I was wearing the largest wristwatch you could imagine. And it was just the act of him asking for the time—was critical in our plan.” Pelley says, “So you controlled time itself,” and Piro answers, “Yes.”
No Coercive Interrogation Methods - Piro will say that no coercive interrogations, such as sleep deprivation, excessive heat or cold, bombardment with loud music, or waterboarding are ever used. “It’s against FBI policy, first,” Piro will explain. “And wouldn’t have really benefited us with someone like Saddam.… I think Saddam clearly had demonstrated over his legacy that he would not respond to threats, to any type of fear-based approach.” The best methods for use with Hussein are, according to Piro, time and patience.
Using Emotions to Create Vulnerability - Piro uses their time to build a relationship with Hussein based on dependency, trust, and emotion. He alternates between treating Hussein with courtesy and kindness, and provoking him with pictures and video images designed to anger and embarrass the former dictator. He uses pictures of the toppling of Hussein’s statues and news videos documenting his overthrow. “I wanted him to get angry. I wanted him to see those videos and to get angry,” Piro will say. “You want to take him through those various emotions. Happy, angry, sad. When you have someone going through those emotions they’re not able to really control themselves. And they’re more vulnerable during the interview.”
Insult Drove Kuwait Invasion - Piro learns that one of the driving forces behind Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 (see August 2, 1990) was personal insult. “What really triggered it for him, according to Saddam, was he had sent his foreign minister to Kuwait to meet with the Emir Al Sabah, the former leader of Kuwait, to try to resolve some of the… issues” between Kuwait and Iraq, Piro will recall. “And the Emir told the foreign minister of Iraq that he would not stop doing what he was doing until he turned every Iraqi woman into a $10 prostitute. And that really sealed it for him, to invade Kuwait. He wanted to punish, he told me, Emir Al Sabah, for saying that.” The 1991 US invasion of Iraq (see January 16, 1991 and After) soured Hussein on then-President George H. W. Bush, a feeling that Hussein transferred to the son. “He didn’t like President [George W.] Bush,” Piro will say. “He would have liked meeting President Reagan. He thought he was a great leader. Honorable man. He liked President Clinton. But he did not like President Bush, the first or the current.”
Small Things, Big Impact - Piro will recall the outsized impact relatively small incidents have on Hussein. One night the FBI flies Hussein to a hospital. He is manacled and blindfolded. Piro will remember: “And once I saw how beautiful Baghdad was in the middle of the night, so I took advantage of it. I allowed him to look out and the lights were on. There was traffic. And it looked like any other major metropolitan city around the world. And for him to see that. And as I mentioned, you know, big Baghdad is moving forward without you. I mean, little things like that didn’t require a lot of suggestion on our part. It made its point.” Piro even uses Hussein’s birthday, a former national holiday, to drive home his point. “In 2004, no one celebrated his birthday on April 28th. So the only one that really knew and cared was us. I’d brought him some cookies, and we, the FBI, celebrated his birthday for him.” Piro gives Hussein packets of flower seeds and allows him to plant his own small garden, which he must tend with his hands because the FBI will not allow him to use tools. Piro will recall that their strolls in Hussein’s tiny garden are often the site of large revelations.
Avoiding Capture - Hussein tells Piro that US forces simply missed him during the first days of the invasion, the “shock and awe” assault. “He said that he was at one of the locations. He said it in a kind of a bragging fashion, that he was there, but that we missed him,” Piro later says. “He told me he changed the way he traveled. He got rid of his normal vehicles. He got rid of the protective detail he traveled with. Really just to change his signature so he would be much harder to identify.” And Hussein denies ever using body doubles or decoys, as US intelligence had long asserted.
WMD - Five months into the sessions, Hussein finally opens up to Piro regarding the subject of Iraq’s WMD programs. Using indirection, Piro begins to tease information out of Hussein. “He told me that most of the WMD had been destroyed by the UN inspectors in the ‘90s. And those that hadn’t been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq,” Piro will recall. So why, Pelley will ask, did Hussein “put your nation at risk, why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?” Piro will respond: “It was very important for him to project that because that was what kept him, in his mind, in power. That capability kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq.” It is apparent, Piro says, that Hussein did not believe he could survive without the perception that he had WMD. But Piro confirms that Hussein always intended to restart his WMD program someday. “The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there,” Piro will observe. “He wanted to pursue all of WMD. So he wanted to reconstitute his entire WMD program.”
Did Not Believe US Would Invade - From there, Hussein begins to explain why he let the US continue to believe he had such weapons even as troops began massing on his borders. He didn’t believe the US would actually invade, he says. As Piro will recall: “[H]e told me he initially miscalculated President Bush. And President Bush’s intentions. He thought the United States would retaliate with the same type of attack as we did in 1998 under Operation Desert Fox (see December 16-19, 1998). Which was a four-day aerial attack. So you expected that initially.” Hussein says that Iraq would have survived a relatively limited aerial bombardment. “He survived that once,” Piro will recall. “And then he was willing to accept that type of attack. That type of damage.” But he never believed the US would invade until almost the moment of the initial assault.
'The Secret War' - Hussein knew his military could not win in any confrontation with the US. Instead, as Piro will recall: “What he had asked of his military leaders and senior government officials was to give him two weeks. And at that point it would go into what he called the secret war.… Going from a conventional to an unconventional war.” Pelley will remark, “So the insurgency was part of his plan from the very beginning,” to which Piro will say, “Well, he would like to take credit for the insurgency.”
Iraq and al-Qaeda - Hussein confirms that his regime had no dealings with al-Qaeda, as many Bush officials have long believed. Hussein considered Osama bin Laden “a fanatic,” according to Piro. “You can’t really trust fanatics,” Hussein tells the interrogator. And he had no interest in any alliance with al-Qaeda. “He didn’t wanna be seen with bin Laden,” Piro will recall. “And didn’t want to associate with bin Laden.” Hussein viewed bin Laden as a threat to him and his regime.
Independent Confirmation and Praise for Piro's Efforts - Hussein’s claims are later verified by independent interrogations with other high-ranking Hussein regime officials. Piro’s boss, FBI Assistant Director Joe Persichini, will say that Piro’s interrogation is a high mark of the bureau’s recent efforts. “The FBI will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and I would have to say that the interview with Saddam Hussein is one of the top accomplishments of our agency in the last 100 years,” Persichini will say, and gives credit to Piro’s language skills. Only about 50 of the 10,000 FBI agents speak Arabic, he will note. Piro will credit his FBI and CIA colleagues for their work in analyzing Hussein’s statements, and their extensive knowledge of Hussein and his regime. “The more you know about your subject, the better of an interview… that you’re gonna conduct,” he will say. “You’ll be able to recognize inconsistencies, deception, things like that. Plus it really establishes your credibility within the interview.”
No Regrets - One thing Hussein never shows during his long interviews, Piro later recalls, is remorse. “No remorse,” Piro will say. “No regret.” [CBS News, 1/27/2008]
Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan, George Piro, George W. Bush, Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Joe Persichini, CBS News, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Scott Pelley, Al-Qaeda, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Iraq under US Occupation
In 2005, Hutaifa Azzam, son of Abdullah Azzam, Osama bin Laden’s mentor and a longtime acquaintance of militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, says al-Zarqawi had “no relations with Osama until he left to Iraq. His relation with Osama started [in 2004] through the Internet.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 363-364] The Atlantic Monthly will later report that negotiations between al-Zarqawi and bin Laden about an alliance between them begin in early 2004. Al-Zarqawi will pledge loyalty to bin Laden in October, “but only after eight months of often stormy negotiations” (see October 17, 2004). [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006]
9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow rewrites a commission staff statement to imply there are ties between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Zelikow often rewrites many of the staff statements, but usually mainly to improve the style (see January 2004), and the addition of the Iraq-related material is unusual. The statement dealing with Iraq was originally compiled by international law expert Scott Allan, a member of the 9/11 Commission’s counterterrorism investigation, which is a strong focus of Zelikow’s attention. Allan writes the statement on the history of US diplomatic efforts to monitor and counteract al-Qaeda during the Clinton years, and the difficulties encountered by the government in working with “friendly” Arab nations such as Saudi Arabia to keep al-Qaeda at bay. Allan and other members of Team 3 are horrified at Zelikow’s rewrite of this report. Zelikow inserts sentences that allege direct ties between Iraq and al-Qaeda (see July 9, 2003), suggest that al-Qaeda officials were in systematic contact with Iraqi government officials in the years before 9/11, and even allege that Osama bin Laden had seriously considered moving to Iraq after the Clinton administration pressured the Taliban to oust him from Afghanistan (see April 4, 2000 and December 29, 2000). Zelikow’s additions are subtle and never directly state that Iraq and al-Qaeda had any sort of working relationship, but the import is clear. The effect of Zelikow’s rewrite would be to put the commission on record as strongly suggesting that such a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda—long a White House argument to justify the war in Iraq—existed before 9/11, and therefore Iraq bore some of the responsibility for the attacks. Allan never made any such allegations in his original draft. Moreover, he knows from his colleagues who have pored over the archives at the CIA that no evidence of such a connection exists. Allan and the other Team 3 staffers confront Zelikow on the rewrite (see January 2004), and Zelikow eventually backs down (see January 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 317-324]
In 2004, Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill) visits Pakistan to find out why the US Rewards for Justice program has generated so little information regarding al-Qaeda’s leadership. In the early 1990s, the program was effective in helping to catch al-Qaeda bomber Ramzi Yousef after a $2 million reward was announced for him and a huge number of matchboxes with his picture and the reward information on it were distributed in countries where he was likely to be (see April 2, 1993). The program has $25 million rewards for al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and lesser rewards for other al-Qaeda leaders. Kirk discovers that the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan has effectively shut down the reward program. There is no radio or television advertising. A bin Laden matchbook campaign had begun in 2000 (see February 16, 2000), but the embassy has stopped giving away matchbooks with photos of bin Laden and other leaders. Kirk will later say: “We were at zero. I couldn’t believe it.” Embassy officials tell Kirk they are busy with other issues, such as assisting US troops in Afghanistan. Kirk proposes a congressional bill that would increase funding for the rewards program to advertise, extend the program to target drug kingpins (especially those who fund al-Qaeda and the Taliban), and make other reforms and improvements. But apparently the bill does not pass and the problem is not fixed. In 2008, Kirk will complain, “[T]he key thing about the Rewards for Justice program is that no one in a rural area—anywhere—knows about it.” Former CIA officer Arthur Keller will also say in 2008 that there are people in Pakistan and elsewhere with information who would be open to informing. “They’d love to have a $25 million bounty, and they aren’t supportive of Osama. But they don’t necessarily trust the US. Who do you report it to? The local police chief?… They’re not sure who to turn to or who to trust.” [US Congress, House, 2/12/2004; Washington Post, 5/17/2008] In 2006, the program will conduct a large advertising blitz in the US, seemingly one of the most unlikely places to figure leaders such as bin Laden (see December 2006).
Satellite imagery of Bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound in 2004 and 2011. [Source: U.S. Defense Department]Osama bin Laden’s trusted courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed moves to Abbottabad, Pakistan, and buys up land there that will be used for a hideout for bin Laden. Ahmed, who is using a variety of aliases, moves to the town with his brother Abrar, who is also assisting bin Laden. A Pakistani government official will later say that a plot of land in Abbottabad is bought by a man named Mohammad Arshad on January 22, 2004. A forged national identity card and incorrect address is used. In fact, “Mohammad Arshad” is one of the aliases used by Ahmed. That, along with the related name “Arshad Khan,” is the name Abbottabad neighbors will know him by in future years. [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011] Property records obtained by the Associated Press show that “Arshad” buys two more plots of land in November 2004. The seller will later say that he does not meet Arshad in person, but deals with him through a middle man. A doctor sells another plot of land to “Arshad” in 2005. This doctor will later say that he does meet “Arshad” in person during the transaction. The plots are combined so a walled compound can be built that is much larger than other homes in the neighborhood. The doctor will occasionally see “Arshad” after that, and at one point the doctor will be cryptically told by him that the land he sold is now very valuable. [Associated Press, 5/4/2011] Locals will later say that construction on the compound begins in 2005. By late 2005 or the start of 2006, the construction is done and bin Laden will move into the compound with some of his family (see Late 2005-Early 2006). The courier Ahmed (who uses the named “Arshad”), his brother, and their families will live there too. [New York Times, 5/3/2011; Associated Press, 5/4/2011] In March 2011, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
Technology Review, a magazine published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, runs an article by Professor Richard Muller arguing that audio messages apparently released by Osama bin Laden may be fakes. According to Muller, the US’s counterterrorism efforts are still going strong, making it hard for al-Qaeda to operate. Therefore, “its sympathizers desperately need encouragement from their charismatic leader,” which is why the organization is making fake audio tapes. Video tapes would be more convincing proof of bin Laden’s continued existence, but are harder to fake and therefore not forthcoming. Bin Laden is either dead or injured, and unable to make recordings, Muller argues, and adds that although voice recognition, a technique used by the US government to identify the voice on the audio tapes, is a “rapidly developing technology,” it can have problems with the poor quality tapes the man thought to be bin Laden is releasing. Therefore, the tapes may be cut and pasted excerpts of past recordings, or, more likely, made by one of bin Laden’s children, such as his son Saad, reportedly an al-Qaeda member. [Technology Review, 1/23/2004]
Hassan Ghul, an al-Qaeda leader captured in Iraq in January 2004 (see January 23, 2004), tells interrogators that Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti is a trusted courier who is close to Osama bin Laden. Abu Ahmed is an alias; his real name apparently is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, but at this point US intelligence only knows him by his alias.
Ghul's Mysterious Captivity and Interrogation - Ghul apparently is held in a secret CIA prison for the first couple of years of his imprisonment. The conditions of his interrogation during this time are unknown, but presumably they are very harsh and many may call them torture, based on how other prominent prisoners are treated in secret CIA prisons around this time. Officials will later claim that Ghul is “quite cooperative” and the use of any harsh techniques on him would have been brief. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011] However, a prisoner who is kept in a cell next to Ghul’s will later testify in Britain that Ghul told him the CIA transferred him to Morocco at some point. It is not known if this is true, or what may have happened to Ghul in Morocco, but some prisoners are transferred to countries like Morocco so that harsh torture techniques that the CIA is not approved to use can be used on them by other intelligence agencies. [Associated Press, 6/15/2011]
Ghul's Apparently Honest Account - Ghul reportedly tells his interrogators that Ahmed is a trusted courier who is close to bin Laden. He also says that Ahmed has been close to al-Qaeda top operational heads Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Abu Faraj al-Libbi. This is in contrast to the claims of other prisoners, including KSM, who have already said that Ahmed is either dead or unimportant. As a result, US intelligence analysts grow increasingly convinced that Ahmed is an important figure who could lead to bin Laden. Ghul adds that Ahmed has not been seen in a while. Analysts take this as another clue that Ahmed could be with bin Laden. Ghul either does not know Ahmed’s real name or does not tell it to his interrogators. In the wake of Ghul’s comments, KSM is asked again about Ahmed, and KSM sticks to his story that Ahmed is not important. [New York Times, 5/3/2011]
'Linchpin' in Search - Tracking Ahmed will eventually lead US intelligence to bin Laden (see Summer 2009 and July 2010). An unnamed US official will later say, “Hassan Ghul was the linchpin” in the hunt for bin Laden. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011]
The Bush administration withholds thousands of documents from the Clinton administration that had already been cleared by Clinton’s general counsel Bruce Lindsey for release to the 9/11 Commission. [New York Times, 4/2/2004] In April, after a public outcry, the Bush administration grants access to most of the documents. [Washington Post, 4/3/2004; Fox News, 4/4/2004] However, they continue to withhold approximately 57 documents. According to the commission, the documents being withheld by the Bush White House include references to al-Qaeda, bin Laden, and other issues relevant to the panel’s work. [Washington Post, 4/8/2004]
Former Vice President Al Gore gives a keynote address to a conference at the New School of New York City on the topic, “The Politics of Fear.” [Social Research: An International Quarterly of the Social Sciences, 2/2004] In his address, Gore notes the success that the Bush administration has had in preying on the fears of the American public. “Fear was activated on September 11 in all of us to a greater or lesser degree,” he says. “And because it was difficult to modulate or to change in particular specifics, it was exploitable for a variety of purposes unrelated to the initial cause of the fear. When the president of the United States stood before the people of this nation—in the same speech in which he used the forged document (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)—he asked the nation to ‘imagine’ how fearful it would feel if Saddam Hussein gave a nuclear weapon to terrorists who then exploded it in our country. Because the nation had been subjected to the fearful, tragic, cruel attack of 9/11, when our president asked us to imagine with him a new fear, it was easy enough to bypass the reasoning process, and short-circuit the normal discourse that takes place in a healthy democracy with a give-and-take among people who could say, ‘Wait a minute, Mr. President. Where’s your evidence? There is no connection between Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein.’ At one point, President Bush actually said, ‘You can’t distinguish between Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden’ (see September 25, 2002). He actually said that.” Gore says that for a time even he had trusted Bush to do the right thing, but Bush had abused the trust he and the American people had in him. In 2006, author and former White House counsel John Dean will write in conjunction with Gore’s address: “In short, fear takes reasoning out of the decision-making process, which our history has shown us often enough can have dangerous and long-lasting consequences. If Americans cannot engage in analytical thinking as a result of Republicans’ using fear for their own political purposes, we are all in serious trouble.” [Social Research: An International Quarterly of the Social Sciences, 2/2004; Dean, 2006, pp. 178-179]
Multiple bombs destroyed this train in Madrid, Spain. [Source: Rafa Roa/ Cover/ Corbis] (click image to enlarge)At about 7:40 a.m., four trains are bombed in Madrid, Spain, killing 191 people and injuring about 1,800 more. These are not suicide bombings, but were set by cell phone timers. Basque separatists are initially blamed, but evidence later points to people loosely associated with al-Qaeda. It will later be reported that 34 out of the 40 main people suspected or arrested for involvement in the bombings were under surveillance in Spain prior to the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Most of the bombers had never been to any training camps. In 2006, Spanish investigators will announce that the bombings were inspired by al-Qaeda, but not ordered or funded by al-Qaeda’s leadership. Specifically, the bombers are said to have been inspired by a speech allegedly given by Osama bin Laden in October 2003 (see October 19, 2003). [New Yorker, 7/26/2004; Associated Press, 3/9/2006] However, there will also be evidence against this that will not be refuted. For instance, the investigators will claim that all the key participants are either dead or in jail, but a number of them remain free overseas. For example, Amer el-Azizi is implicated in the Madrid bombings (see Before March 11, 2004), and he has links to well-known al-Qaeda figures such as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see (November 2001)), Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see Before July 8, 2001), and Zacarias Moussaoui (see Before August 16, 2001). In late 2002 or early 2003, el-Azizi is said to have met with Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of the key bombers, to discuss a bombing. He reportedly gave Fakhet permission to stage a bombing in the name of al-Qaeda, but it is unclear if he gave any funding or other assistance. [Associated Press, 4/10/2004; New Yorker, 7/26/2004] There are suggestions that el-Azizi was protected by Spanish intelligence (see Shortly After November 21, 2001), so the government may not be eager to highlight his involvement. Fakhet, considered one of the three masterminds of the bombings, may have been a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003). Many of the other plotters also appear to have been informants, and almost all the plotters were under surveillance before the bombings (see Shortly Before March 11, 2004). Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say later in the month: “If we catch [bin Laden] this summer, which I expect, it’s two years too late. Because during those two years when forces were diverted to Iraq… al-Qaeda has metamorphosized into a hydra-headed organization with cells that are operating autonomously like the cells that operated in Madrid recently.” [USA Today, 3/28/2004] It will be noted that the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US and the Madrid train bombings are separated by a total of 911 days. [MSNBC, 3/19/2004; Bloomberg, 4/22/2005]
A news release issued from the headquarters of the United States Central Command (CENTCOM) in Florida heralds the start of a new offensive, Operation Mountain Storm (OMS), describing it as “the next in the continuing series of operations in the south, southeast, and eastern portions of Afghanistan designed to destroy terrorist organizations and their infrastructure while continuing to focus on national stability and support.” [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
OMS to Go after Bin Laden, Or Not To? - Elsewhere, the objective of Operation Mountain Storm is reported to be to “flush out militants, including members of the al-Qaeda terror network” and “insurgents led by remnants of Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime.” Although military sources have indicated that US forces are closing in on Osama bin Laden, according to US military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, speaking from Kabul, this new operation is “not aimed at hunting for individuals.” All coalition troops, 13,000-plus, are to join the US-led campaign. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
The Measure of Success: Numbers - CENTCOM’s news release touts the success of the previous campaign, Operation Blizzard, enumerating its results thusly: “[W]e conducted 1,731 patrols, 143 raids and cordons and searches, killing 22 enemy combatants and discovering caches with 3,648 rockets, 3,202 mortar rounds, 2,944 rocket propelled grenades, 3,000 recoils rifle rounds, 2,232 mines, and tens of thousands of small arm ammunitions.” The CENTCOM news release then ticks off several areas where Operation Blizzard’s successor, Mountain Storm, has already found weapons caches. Concluding, it reports that “just yesterday afternoon, an Afghan citizen turned in to coalition forces in the vicinity of Deh Rawood a recoiless rifle, an anti-aircraft gun, a mortar, and machine guns, along with ammunition.” [GlobalSecurity (.org), 3/13/2004]
The Numbers Game and Pat Tillman's Death - Later, Stan Goff, an analyst and critic of military culture, writing about Pat Tillman’s death while on patrol in OMS less than a month after its launch (See April 23, 2004 and Early April 2004), will cite “the Rumsfeldian ‘metrics’ of quantification” used to measure and then propagandize military progress, as driving the order to split Tillman’s platoon, a chain-of-command decision which many, including some in command, will later contend led to his death by friendly fire, or as some define it, fratricide (see April 22, 2004). [Huffington Post(.org), 8/2/2007; CounterPunch, 8/9/2007]
As the US Defense Department launches Operation Mountain Storm (OMS—see March 13, 2004 and March 15, 2004), a major planner for the Afghan resistance reveals the insurgency’s counter-strategy in an “exclusive meeting” with Asia Times Online.
Coalition Vs. Resistance Plan - In his article, “Afghan offensive: Grand plans hits rugged reality,” Syed Saleem Shahzad, the Pakistan bureau chief of Asia Times Online, describes the plan behind OMS: “US-led coalition forces would drive from inside Afghanistan into the last real sanctuary of the insurgents, and meet the Pakistani military driving from the opposite direction.” If the widely publicized operation were to go according to plan, Shahzad writes, “There would then be no safe place left to hide for the Taliban and al-Qaeda remnants, or, presumably, for Osama bin Laden himself.” However, according to the unnamed insurgent, the resistance has a plan of its own: to waylay US-led forces with a series of small-scale, local skirmishes and to divert Pakistani allies from joining the coalition’s new surge.
Afghan Resistance Leverages Tribal Loyalty and Harsh Landscape - The insurgent claims that tribes people, familiar with the increasingly forbidding territory, can exhaust their much stronger opposition through “a classic guerrilla strategy” designed by “foreign resistance fighters of Bangladeshi, Pakistani, and Arab origin.” Hidden in a dizzying array of seemingly endless mountains, they can “regroup,” then emerge to carry out “hit and run” battles against coalition forces while under the protection of villagers loyal to their cause. In turn, according to Asia Times, these local tribes “are now the protectors of the Taliban and al-Quaeda fighters” ranged along and across the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.
Pakistani Army De-Railed - Meanwhile, Pakistani troops are occupied in South Waziristan with Wazir tribes and their neighbors. And Asia Times reports that “the South Waziristan fighting has spread to other areas,” flaring up in North Waziristan, for instance, where recently an attack on the Pakistani army resulted in the death of an officer and his soldiers. Effectively, the insurgency has stopped Pakistan from helping the US clean out “remnants” of its opposition, while more guerrilla fighters join in. This, in only the first week of the official launch of OMS.
Based on his interview with the opposition strategist, Shahzad concludes that, thus far, “the operation that began as a hunt for Osama bin Laden has already degenerated into sideshows against rebel Pakistani tribes people.” [Asia Times Online, 3/20/2004]
Critics Point Finger at US Defense Secretary for Poor Planning - Later, critics of the US military strategy in Afghanistan will cite numerous problems in the design and conception of OMS. Some will blame the high-profile death of Pat Tillman while on patrol for OMS, or on Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s flawed strategy, one designed to boast quick results so as to help re-elect President George Bush in the upcoming November 2004 elections (see March 15, 2004).
In a press conference, President Bush states, “We knew he [Osama bin Laden] had designs on us, we knew he hated us. But there was nobody in our government, and I don’t think [in] the prior government, that could envision flying airplanes into buildings on such a massive scale.” [Guardian, 4/15/2004] He also says, “Had I any inkling whatsoever that the people were going to fly airplanes into buildings, we would have moved heaven and earth to save the country.” [New York Times, 4/18/2004; US President, 4/19/2004] Bush made similar comments two days earlier (see April 11, 2004). In July 2004, he will claim even more generally, “Had we had any inkling whatsoever that terrorists were about to attack our country, we would have moved heaven and earth to protect America.” [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 7/22/2004]
A man thought to be Osama bin Laden offers European countries a truce, but the offer is rejected. Following bombings in Madrid, Spain, (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) a new audiotape featuring a voice thought to be bin Laden’s is released and addresses Europeans. After mentioning the occupation of Palestine, the voice says: “[W]hat happened to you on September 11 and March 11 are your goods returned to you. It is well known that security is a vital necessity for every human being. We will not let you monopolize it for yourselves.” The speaker compares actions by militant Islamists to those of the West and its allies, in particular the killing of a wheelchair-bound Hamas leader, and asks: “In what creed are your dead considered innocent but ours worthless? By what logic does your blood count as real and ours as no more than water? Reciprocal treatment is part of justice, and he who commences hostilities is the unjust one.” The voice also says, “This war is making billions of dollars for the big corporations, whether it be those who manufacture weapons or reconstruction firms like Halliburton and its offshoots and sister companies.” The speaker finishes by saying that his actions have been in response to the West’s alleged interference in Muslim lands: “For we only killed Russians after they invaded Afghanistan and Chechnya, we only killed Europeans after they invaded Afghanistan and Iraq, and we only killed Americans in New York after they supported the Jews in Palestine and invaded the Arabian peninsula, and we only killed them in Somalia after they invaded it in Operation Restore Hope.” [BBC, 4/15/2004; Laden, 2005, pp. 233-6]
Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, finally accepts the fact that he cannot successfully spin or browbeat the commission staff into reporting links between Iraq and al-Qaeda as factual (see July 12, 2004). His most recent efforts to rewrite a report claiming such links was thwarted by angry commission staffers (see January 2004), and for months he has dodged charges that he is a White House “plant,” there to ensure the commission makes the kind of conclusions that Bush officials want it to make. Now, he finally admits that there is no evidence to support the claim of a connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda, although there was some minor contact. Author Philip Shenon will later write: “The intelligence showed that when bin Laden wanted to do business with Iraq, Iraq did not want to do business with al-Qaeda…. Saddam Hussein saw [Osama] bin Laden… as a threat to his own very brutal and very secular rule in Iraq.” The widely reported story about 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta meeting an Iraqi spy in Prague (see April 8, 2001 and September 14, 2001) has been examined and re-examined, and found to be unsupported (see December 2001). Zelikow is forced to admit the reality of the situation. Shenon will write: “Even if he wanted to, there was little Zelikow could do to rescue the administration now…. If Zelikow tried to tamper with the report now, he knew he risked a public insurrection by the staff, with only a month before the commission’s final report was due.” Bush officials are horrified at the prospect of the commission reporting flatly that there are no verifiable links of any kind between al-Qaeda and Iraq. Since the failure of the US to find WMDs in Iraq, the Bush administration has shifted its rationale for invading that nation—now it was a punitive measure against one of the backers of the 9/11 attacks, and senior Bush officials, most notably Vice President Cheney, have been advocating that point for over a year. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 381-385]
Entity Tags: Philip Shenon, 9/11 Commission, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), John Kerry, Osama bin Laden, Saddam Hussein, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Philip Zelikow
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 9/11 Timeline
The 9/11 Commission releases a new report on how the 9/11 plot developed. Most of their information appears to come from interrogations of prisoners Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), the 9/11 mastermind, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a key member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell. In this account, the idea for the attacks appears to have originated with KSM. In mid-1996, he met bin Laden and al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef in Afghanistan. He presented several ideas for attacking the US, including a version of the 9/11 plot using ten planes (presumably an update of Operation Bojinka’s second phase plot (see February-Early May 1995)). Bin Laden does not commit himself. In 1999, bin Laden approves a scaled-back version of the idea, and provides four operatives to carry it out: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khallad bin Attash, and Abu Bara al Taizi. Attash and al Taizi drop out when they fail to get US visas. Alhazmi and Almihdhar prove to be incompetent pilots, but the recruitment of Mohamed Atta and the others in the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell solves that problem. Bin Laden wants the attacks to take place between May and July 2001, but the attacks are ultimately delayed until September. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] However, information such as these accounts resulting from prisoner interrogations is seriously doubted by some experts, because it appears they only began cooperating after being coerced or tortured. For instance, it is said that KSM was “waterboarded,” a technique in which his head is pushed under water until he nearly drowns. Information gained under such duress often is unreliable. Additionally, there is a serious risk that the prisoners might try to intentionally deceive. [New York Times, 6/17/2004] For instance, one CIA report of his interrogations is called, “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s Threat Reporting—Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004] The Commission itself expresses worry that KSM could be trying to exaggerate the role of bin Laden in the plot to boost bin Laden’s reputation in the Muslim world. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] Most of what these prisoners have said is uncorroborated from other sources. [New York Times, 6/17/2004] In 2007, it will be alleged that as much as 90 percent of KSM’s interrogation could be inaccurate, and that he has recanted some of his confessions (see August 6, 2007).
“An unnamed senior staff member” on the 9/11 Commission tells the Los Angeles Times that, before 9/11, Pakistani officials were “up to their eyeballs” in collaboration with the Taliban and al-Qaeda. As an example, this source says of bin Laden moving to Afghanistan in 1996, “He wouldn’t go back there without Pakistan’s approval and support, and had to comply with their rules and regulations.” From “day one,” the ISI helped al-Qaeda set up an infrastructure, and jointly operated training camps. The article further notes that what the commission will publicly say on this is just the “tip of the iceberg” of the material they’ve been given on the matter. [Los Angeles Times, 7/16/2004] In fact, the commission’s final report released a month later will barely mention the ISI at all. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004]
Fahrenheit 9/11 movie poster.
[Source: Lions Gate Films]Fahrenheit 9/11, a film by well-known documentarian and author Michael Moore, is released in the US. Amongst other things, this film reveals connections between the Bush family and prominent Saudis including the bin Laden family. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; New York Times, 5/17/2004; Toronto Star, 6/13/2004] It reviews evidence the White House helped members of Osama bin Laden’s family and other Saudis fly out of the US in the days soon after 9/11. [New York Times, 5/17/2004; Toronto Star, 6/13/2004; New York Times, 6/18/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004; Newsweek, 6/30/2004] It introduces to the mainstream damning footage of President Bush continuing with a photo-op for seven minutes (see (9:07 a.m.) September 11, 2001) after being told of the second plane hitting the WTC on 9/11. [New York Times, 6/18/2004; Washington Post, 6/19/2004; Newsweek, 6/20/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004] Disney refused to let its Miramax division distribute the movie in the United States, supposedly because the film was thought too partisan. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; Guardian, 6/2/2004; Los Angeles Times, 6/11/2004; Agence France-Presse, 6/23/2004] The film won the top award at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival—the first documentary to do so in nearly 50 years. [BBC, 5/24/2004; Guardian, 5/24/2004; Agence France-Presse, 6/23/2004] It is generally very well received, with most US newspapers rating it favorably. [Agence France-Presse, 6/23/2004; Editor & Publisher, 6/27/2004] The film is an instant hit and is seen by tens of millions. [Associated Press, 6/27/2004; BBC, 6/28/2004; Associated Press, 6/28/2004; CBS News, 6/28/2004] There are some criticisms that it distorts certain facts, such as exaggerating the possible significance of Bush and bin Laden family connections, and gripes about a $1.4 billion number representing the money flowing from Saudi companies to the Bush family. However, the New York Times claims that the public record corroborates the film’s main assertions. [New York Times, 5/17/2004; New York Times, 6/18/2004; Newsweek, 6/30/2004] Shortly before the film’s release, the conservative organization Citizens United tried to block the film’s distribution (see June 27, 2004). The effort failed (see August 6, 2004).
On July 8, 2004, the New Republic predicts a “July surprise” from the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign involving the arrest of a high-value target in Pakistan by the end of the month. The magazine reports that in the spring of 2004, the administration increased pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, or Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, all believed to be hiding in Pakistan. Bush officials such as CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his assistant, Christina Rocca, State Department counterterrorism chief Cofer Black, and others all visited Pakistan in recent months to urge Pakistan to increase its efforts in the war on terrorism. The New Republic comments, “This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November.” Bush spokespeople deny that the administration exerted any such pressure. But according to one source in the Pakistani ISI, “The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the US administration to deliver before the [upcoming] US elections.” Another source in the Pakistani Interior Ministry says, “The Musharraf government has a history of rescuing the Bush administration. They now want Musharraf to bail them out when they are facing hard times in the coming elections.” And another ISI source says that the Pakistanis “have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must.” The Pakistanis have even been given a target date, according to the second ISI source: “The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ISI director Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq’s] meetings in Washington.” The source says that a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that “it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July”—the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston. One Pakistani general said recently, “If we don’t find these guys by the election, they are going to stick this whole nuclear mess [relating to A. Q. Khan] up our _sshole.” The Bush administration apparently is using a carrot-and-stick approach to make sure such an arrest takes place on schedule. The New Republic observes: “Pushing Musharraf to go after al-Qaeda in the tribal areas may be a good idea despite the risks. But, if that is the case, it was a good idea in 2002 and 2003. Why the switch now? Top Pakistanis think they know: This year, the president’s reelection is at stake.” [New Republic, 7/29/2004] Pakistan will announce the capture of al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on July 29, just hours before Democratic presidential John Kerry’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. The authors of the New Republic article will claim vindication for their prediction (see July 25-29, 2004).
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Pervez Musharraf, Colin Powell, Christina Rocca, Cofer Black, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Mullah Omar, John Kerry, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, Ehsan ul-Haq
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections
UPI reports that the 9/11 Commission has been given a document from a high-level, publicly anonymous source claiming that the Pakistani “ISI was fully involved in devising and helping the entire [9/11 plot].” The document blames Gen. Hamid Gul, a former ISI Director, as being a central participant in the plot. It notes that Gul is a self-avowed “admirer” of bin Laden. An anonymous, ranking CIA official says the CIA considers Gul to be “the most dangerous man” in Pakistan. A senior Pakistani political leader says, “I have reason to believe Hamid Gul was Osama bin Laden’s master planner.” The document further suggests that Pakistan’s appearance of fighting al-Qaeda is merely an elaborate charade, and top military and intelligence officials in Pakistan still closely sympathize with bin Laden’s ideology. [United Press International, 7/22/2004] However, the 9/11 Commission final report released a short time later will fail to mention any of this. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004]
Dhiren Barot. [Source: London Metropolitan Police]Dhiren Barot, a Londoner of Indian descent who converted to Islam and fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is arrested along with about a dozen other al-Qaeda suspects by British authorities (see August 3, 2004). Barot, who uses a number of pseudonyms, including Abu Eissa al-Hindi, will be charged with several crimes surrounding his plans to launch attacks against British and US targets. Barot’s plans were discovered in a computer owned by al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan, who was arrested in July 2004 and was helping US intelligence until his outing by US and Pakistani officials on August 2, 2004 (see August 2, 2004). Though Barot is not believed to be a high-level al-Qaeda operative, he has connections to some of al-Qaeda’s most notorious leaders, including bin Laden and 9/11 plotter Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), who, according to the 9/11 Commission, dispatched him to “case” targets in New York City in 2001. Under the alias Issa al-Britani, he is known to have been sent to Malaysia in late 1999 or very early 2000 by KSM to meet with Hambali, the head of the al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah. According to the commission report, Barot may have given Hambali the names of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. Barot may have traveled to Malaysia with Khallad bin Attash. Bin Attash is believed to be one of the planners behind the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). Barot’s trip to Malaysia came just days before the well-documented January 2000 al-Qaeda summit where early plans for the 9/11 bombings were hatched (see January 5-8, 2000), though US officials do not believe that Barot was present at that meeting. British authorities believe that Barot was part of an al-Qaeda plan to launch a mass terror attack using chemical and/or radioactive weapons. Barot and other suspects arrested were, according to Western officials, in contact with al-Qaeda operatives in Pakistan, who themselves were communicating with bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders as recently as July 2004. [MSNBC, 8/20/2004] Barot’s plans seem to have focused more actively on British targets, including London’s subway system. In November 2006, Barot will be convicted of conspiracy to commit murder and other crimes, and eventually sentenced to thirty years in prison by a British court. [BBC, 11/7/2006; BBC, 5/16/2007]
Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, USS Cole, Nawaf Alhazmi, Hambali, Dhiren Barot, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Khalid Almihdhar, Jemaah Islamiyah, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Former president Bill Clinton questions the priorities of the Bush administration’s “war on terror,” asking why the administration is issuing groundless terror alerts “[b]ased on four-year-old information” (see August 1, 2004). He asks rhetorically, “Now, who is the threat from? Iraq? Saddam Hussein? No. From bin Laden. And al-Qaeda. How do we know about the threat? Because the Pakistanis found this computer whiz [Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan and got his computer and gave it to us so it could be analyzed (see August 2, 2004). … [W]e basically are dependent on [Pakistan] to find bin Laden…to break in and find the computer people and give it to us because we got all our resources somewhere else in Iraq.” He continues to ask why Bush isn’t focusing on bin Laden: “Why did we put our number one security threat in the hands of the Pakistanis with us playing a supporting role and put all of our military resources into Iraq, which was, I think, at best, our number five security threat[?] After the absence of a peace process in the Middle East, after the conflict between India and Pakistan and all the ties they had to Taliban, after North Korea and their nuclear program. In other words, how did we get to the point where we got 130,000 troops in Iraq and 15,000 in Afghanistan? It’s like saying… Okay, our big problem is bin Laden and al-Qaeda. We now know from the 9/11 Commission, again, that Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with it. Right? We now know that al-Qaeda is an ongoing continuing threat, even though when I was president we took down over 20 of their cells, they still had enough left to do 9/11, and since then, in the Bush years, they’ve taken down over 20 of their cells. But they’re operating with impunity in that mountainous region going back and forth between Pakistan and Afghanistan and we have only 15,000 troops in that country.…[W]e would have a better chance of catching them if we had 150,000 troops there rather than 15,000.” Asked if the US could have captured bin Laden in the days and months after 9/11, he replies, “[W]e will never know if we could have gotten him because we didn’t make it a priority….” [Canadian Broadcast Corporation, 8/6/2004]
CIA official Michael Scheuer says that the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Alec Station, is still effectively less than 30 people strong. Scheuer was head of the unit until 1999 (see June 1999, and he says this was about the size of the unit when he left. Technically, the unit has hundreds of employees, but Scheuer claims this is not really true. He says: “The numbers are big, but it’s a shell game. It’s people they move in for four or five months at a time and then bring in a new bunch. But the hard core of expertise, of experience, of savvy really hasn’t expanded at all since 9/11.” [Guardian, 8/20/2004] There were about 35 to 40 people in the unit at the time of the 9/11 attacks (see Just Before September 11, 2001). The unit will be closed down altogether one year later (see Late 2005).
The 9/11 Commission releases a report on terrorism financing. Its conclusions generally stand in complete contrast to a great body of material reported by the mainstream media, before and after this report. For instance, while the report does mention some terrorism-supporting organizations in great detail, such as the Global Relief Foundation or Al Barakaat, many seemingly important organizations are not mentioned a single time in either this report or the 9/11 Commission Final Report. The Commission fails to ever mention: BMI, Inc., Ptech, Al Taqwa Bank, Holy Land Foundation, InfoCom, International Islamic Relief Organization, Muslim World League, Muwafaq (Blessed Relief) Foundation, Quranic Literacy Institute, and the SAAR network or any entity within it. Additionally, important efforts to track terrorist financing such as Vulgar Betrayal and Operation Greenquest are not mentioned a single time. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 61; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 134-5 ] Some select quotes from the report:
“While the drug trade was an important source of income for the Taliban before 9/11, it did not serve the same purpose for al-Qaeda. Although there is some fragmentary reporting alleging that bin Laden may have been an investor, or even had an operational role, in drug trafficking before 9/11, this intelligence cannot be substantiated and the sourcing is probably suspect.” Additionally, there is “no evidence of [al-Qaeda] drug funding after 9/11.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 22-23 ]
“[C]ontrary to some public reports, we have not seen substantial evidence that al-Qaeda shares a fund-raising infrastructure in the United States with Hamas, Hezbollah, or Palestinian Islamic Jihad.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24 ]
“The United States is not, and has not been, a substantial source of al-Qaeda funding, but some funds raised in the United States may have made their way to al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups. A murky US network of jihadist (holy war) supporters has plainly provided funds to foreign mujaheddin with al-Qaeda links. Still, there is little hard evidence of substantial funds from the United States actually going to al-Qaeda. A CIA expert on al-Qaeda financing believes that any money coming out of the United States for al-Qaeda is ‘minuscule.’” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24 ]
The notion “that bin Laden was a financier with a fortune of several hundred million dollars” is an “urban legend.” “[S]ome within the government continued to cite the $300 million figure well after 9/11, and the general public still [incorrectly] gives credence to the notion of a ‘multimillionaire bin Laden.’” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 20, 34 ] (A few months after this report, it will be reported that in 2000 over $250 million passed through a bank account jointly controlled by bin Laden and another man (see 2000).)
“To date, the US government has not been able to determine the origin of the money used for the 9/11 attacks.… Ultimately the question of the origin of the funds is of little practical significance.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 144 ]
“The US intelligence community has attacked the problem [of terrorist funding] with imagination and vigor” since 9/11. [New York Times, 8/22/2004]
According to the New York Times, the report “largely exonerate[s] the Saudi government and its senior officials of long-standing accusations that they were involved in financing al-Qaeda terrorists.” [New York Times, 8/22/2004] Author Douglas Farah comments on the Commission’s report, “The biggest hole is the complete lack of attention to the role the Muslim Brotherhood has played in the financing of al-Qaeda and other radical Islamist groups. While the ties are extensive on a personal level, they also pervade the financial structure of al-Qaeda.… According to sources who provided classified briefing to the Commission staff, most of the information that was provided was ignored.… [T]he Commission staff simply did not include any information that was at odds with the official line of different agencies.” [Farah, 8/27/2004]
Entity Tags: Muwafaq Foundation, Vulgar Betrayal, Operation Greenquest, Osama bin Laden, Saudi Arabia, Quranic Literacy Institute, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, Muslim World League, SAAR Foundation, Muslim Brotherhood, Ptech Inc., InfoCom Corporation, Al-Qaeda, Al Taqwa Bank, 9/11 Commission, BMI Inc., Al Barakaat, Central Intelligence Agency, Douglas Farah, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, International Islamic Relief Organization, Global Relief Foundation, Hamas
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
In the 2004 presidential campaign, Democratic challenger Sen. John Kerry accuses the Bush administration of allowing bin Laden to escape Afghanistan in late 2001 by not sending enough US troops to contain him when he was trapped in the Tora Bora region. The New York Times publishes an op-ed by Gen. Tommy Franks, the former head of US Central Command. Franks writes, “On more than one occasion, Senator Kerry has referred to the fight at Tora Bora in Afghanistan during late 2001 as a missed opportunity for America. He claims that our forces had Osama bin Laden cornered and allowed him to escape. How did it happen? According to Mr. Kerry, we ‘outsourced’ the job to Afghan warlords. As commander of the allied forces in the Middle East, I was responsible for the operation at Tora Bora, and I can tell you that the senator’s understanding of events doesn’t square with reality.… We don’t know to this day whether Mr. bin Laden was at Tora Bora in December 2001. Some intelligence sources said he was; others indicated he was in Pakistan at the time; still others suggested he was in Kashmir. Tora Bora was teeming with Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives, many of whom were killed or captured, but Mr. bin Laden was never within our grasp.” Franks is a vocal supporter of Bush’s reelection. [New York Times, 10/19/2004] Shortly after Franks’ comments, four Knight Ridder reporters who had been at Tora Bora during the battle revisit the issue. They discover that “Franks and other top officials ignored warnings from their own and allied military and intelligence officers that the combination of precision bombing, special operations forces, and Afghan forces that had driven the Taliban from northern Afghanistan might not work in the heartland of the country’s dominant Pashtun tribe.” [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] Author Peter Bergen asserts, “There is plenty of evidence that bin Laden was at Tora Bora, and no evidence indicating that he was anywhere else at the time.” Bergen cites after-action US intelligence reports and interviews with US counterterrorism officials that express confidence bin Laden was at Tora Bora. He notes that bin Laden discussed his presence at the Tora Bora battle in a audio message released in 2003. [PeterBergen (.com), 10/28/2004] In 2005, Gary Berntsen, who was in charge of an on-the-ground CIA team trying to find bin Laden (see September 26, 2001), will claim that he gave Franks definitive evidence that bin Laden was trapped in Tora Bora (see Late October-Early December 2001). [Financial Times, 1/3/2006] In 2006, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will comment, “Yes, we know [bin Laden] absolutely was there.… And yes, he did escape. And Gen. Franks and the president can deny it until the cows come home, but they made a mistake. They did let him go away.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] In late 2006, it will be reported that the CIA possesses a video showing bin Laden walking out of Afghanistan at the end of the Tora Bora battle. It has not been reported if the CIA was aware of this video in 2004 or not (see Mid-December 2001).
Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Thomas Franks, Peter Bergen, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Gary Berntsen, Osama bin Laden, Taliban
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan, 2004 Elections
Osama bin Laden sends a letter to al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi, and US intelligence will learn about this a year or so later. This is one of the very few pieces of evidence known by US intelligence that suggests bin Laden is alive, after bin Laden escaped from Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in late 2001. Al-Libbi has been al-Qaeda’s operational commander since early 2003.
Guantanamo File Account - In April 2011, the non-profit whistleblower group Wikileaks will release the Guantanamo prison assessment file of al-Libbi, dated September 2008. According to this assessment, which is likely based on al-Libbi’s interrogations, al-Libbi receives a letter from bin Laden in October 2004 asking about al-Qaeda’s financial situation in Pakistan and especially Waziristan (part of Pakistan’s tribal region). Al-Libbi also gets a videotape of bin Laden’s speeches. (Note that the first video footage of bin Laden is publicly released in late October 2004 (see October 29, 2004).) Al-Libbi gets the letter and videotape from bin Laden’s courier, who first met up with al-Libbi in July 2003 (see July 2003-Mid-2004). [US Department of Defense, 9/10/2008]
Musharraf's 2006 Book - In a 2006 book, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will similarly mention that al-Libbi “was in contact with Osama through a courier and the last letter he had received from Osama was sometime in December 2004. We have been looking for the couriers intensely.” [Musharraf, 2006, pp. 172] Al-Libbi will be captured in May 2005, and apparently he is interrogated by Pakistan for a few days, and then turned over and interrogated much more by the US (see May 2, 2005). So different interrogations may explain the slightly different months mentioned in each account. Bin Laden’s courier will later be revealed to be Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, and the US effort to track him will eventually lead to bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
Knight Ridder Newspapers reports on a leaked CIA assessment that undercuts the White House claim of links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein. The assessment, requested some months ago by Vice President Cheney, finds no evidence to show that Saddam’s regime ever harbored Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an independent colleague of Osama bin Laden (see April 2002), and finds no evidence of any “collaborative relationship” between the former Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda (see October 2, 2002). In February 2003, Secretary of State Colin Powell told the United Nations Security Council that al-Zarqawi went to Baghdad for medical treatment and, while there, helped establish a terrorist base in Baghdad (see February 5, 2003). The assessment now shows that claim was incorrect. So was the administration’s claim that al-Zarqawi received safe haven from Hussein. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who in September 2002 called the evidence of links between Hussein and al-Qaeda “bulletproof” (see September 26, 2002), now says, “To my knowledge, I have not seen any strong, hard evidence that links the two.” Rumsfeld continues, “I just read an intelligence report recently about one person [al-Zarqawi] who’s connected to al-Qaeda who was in and out of Iraq and there’s the most tortured description of why he might have had a relationship and why he might not have had a relationship.” In June 2003, President Bush called al-Zarqawi “the best evidence of connection” between Iraq and al-Qaeda; after the assessments are leaked, Bush insists that al-Zarqawi “was in and out of Baghdad,” apparently continuing to press the idea that Saddam and al-Qaeda were connected. Al-Zarqawi did spend a lot of time in Iraq, but almost always in the northern sections of Iraq where Saddam’s control did not reach. [Knight Ridder, 10/4/2004] The day after the Knight Ridder report, Vice President Cheney will say during a debate with vice-presidential opponent John Edwards (D-NC) that al-Zarqawi was based in Baghdad both before and after the March 2003 invasion, a claim that is demonstrably false (see October 5, 2004).
A group of more than 650 Western foreign affairs specialists, calling themselves “Security Scholars for a Sensible Foreign Policy,” write an “Open Letter to the American People,” which says: “American actions in Iraq, including but not limited to the scandal of Abu Ghraib, have harmed the reputation of the US in most parts of the Middle East and, according to polls, made Osama bin Laden more popular in some countries than is President Bush. This increased popularity makes it easier for al-Qaeda to raise money, attract recruits, and carry out its terrorist operations than would otherwise be the case.”
[Anti-war (.com), 10/12/2004]
Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and his group al-Tawhid pledges loyalty to bin Laden in a statement posted on the Internet. He states, [Let it be known that] al-Tawhid pledges both its leaders and its soldiers to the mujahid commander, Sheikh Osama bin Laden…” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 364] Bin Laden and al-Zarqawi began discussing the possibility of an alliance in early 2004 (see Early 2004). There had been other occasional contacts and linkages between al-Zarqawi and his group in years past, but al-Zarqawi had generally maintained his independence from al-Qaeda. Just one month earlier, al-Zarqawi stated, “I have not sworn allegiance to [bin Laden] and I am not working within the framework of his organization.” [Newsweek, 4/4/2005] The Atlantic Monthly will later report that at the same time al-Zarqwai made his loyalty oath, he also “proclaimed himself to be the ‘Emir of al-Qaeda’s Operations in the Land of Mesopotamia,’ a title that subordinated him to bin Laden but at the same time placed him firmly on the global stage. One explanation for this coming together of these two former antagonists was simple: al-Zarqawi profited from the al-Qaeda franchise, and bin Laden needed a presence in Iraq. Another explanation is more complex: bin Laden laid claim to al-Zarqawi in the hopes of forestalling his emergence as the single most important terrorist figure in the world, and al-Zarqawi accepted bin Laden’s endorsement to augment his credibility and to strengthen his grip on the Iraqi tribes. Both explanations are true. It was a pragmatic alliance, but tenuous from the start.” [Atlantic Monthly, 6/8/2006] In December 2004, an audiotape said to be the voice of bin Laden acknowledges al-Zarqawi’s comments. “It should be known that the mujahid brother Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is the emir of the al-Qaeda organization in [Iraq]. The brothers in the group there should heed his orders and obey him in all that which is good.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 364-365]
Leo Strauss. [Source: Publicity photo]The BBC airs a three-part documentary entitled “The Power of Nightmares: The Rise of the Politics of Fear.” It is directed by Adam Curtis, who the Guardian calls “perhaps the most acclaimed maker of serious television programs in Britain.” The documentary argues that much of what we have been told about the threat of international terrorism “is a fantasy that has been exaggerated and distorted by politicians. It is a dark illusion that has spread unquestioned through governments around the world, the security services, and the international media.” The documentary begins by focusing on Sayyid Qutb in Egypt and Leo Strauss in the US. Both developed theories in the 1950’s and 1960’s that liberalism and individualism was weakening the moral certainties of their societies. Qutb has a strong influence on Islamic Jihad leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, and then through him, Osama bin Laden. Strauss meanwhile has a strong effect on neoconservatives such as Donald Rumsfeld, Dick Cheney, and Paul Wolfowitz, who all eventually gain prominent positions in George W. Bush’s administration. The documentary follows the rise of Islamic radicals and compares and contrasts this with the rise of the neoconservatives. Curtis argues that both groups have greatly benefited from 9/11, because both have been able to use fear of terrorism to gain widespread popular support. Curtis claims that al-Qaeda is not the highly centralized, widespread, and powerful organization that it is frequently depicted to be. Rather, it is more of a concept and loose alliance of groups with coinciding interests. He says, “Almost no one questions this myth about al-Qaeda because so many people have got an interest in keeping it alive.” The documentary gains favorable reviews in newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times, Christian Science Monitor, and the Guardian. [Christian Science Monitor, 10/18/2004; BBC 2, 10/20/2004; BBC 2, 10/27/2004; BBC 2, 11/3/2004; BBC 2, 11/3/2004; Los Angeles Times, 1/11/2005]
Deputy Homeland Security Adviser Richard Falkenrath. [Source: US State Department]The Washington Post reports that President Bush remains focused on the capture of top al-Qaeda leaders and has shown little interest in other counterterrorism efforts. The Post reports, “Bush conducts the war on terrorism above all as a global hunt for a cast of evil men he knows by name and photograph. He tracks progress in daily half-hour meetings that Richard A. Falkenrath, who sometimes attended them before departing recently as deputy homeland security adviser, described as ‘extremely granular, about individual guys.’” Falkenrath says, “This is a conversation he’s been having every day, more or less, with his senior advisers since September 11th.” It covers “the same people, over and over again.”
"Decapitate the Beast" - In 2002, the CIA identified about 30 al-Qaeda leaders known as “high-value targets,” and the Bush administration believed al-Qaeda would collapse without them. White House counterterrorism adviser Frances Townsend similarly says Bush’s strategy since 9/11 has been to “decapitate the beast.” She says the men on the list have “unique expertise, experience, or access.” Al-Qaeda may replace them, “but does that person have the same strength and leadership and capability? The answer is no. Maybe he acquires it on the job, but maybe not.” However, many counterterrorism experts increasingly believe that al-Qaeda has turned into more of an ideology than a hierarchical structure, and that the movement can easily survive the loss of its top leaders.
Crossing Names Off a List - Since shortly after 9/11, Bush has had a card containing a list of the names of the top al-Qaeda leaders, and he likes to personally cross them off the card whenever any are captured or killed. The Post says that Bush “mentions little else, save the Taliban’s expulsion from power, when describing progress against al-Qaeda. According to people who have briefed him, Bush still marks changes by hand” on his copy of list of leaders. He sees the issue largely in terms of a battle of wills between himself and al-Qaeda leaders, although he also focuses on removing the governments of countries he believes are state sponsors of terrorism, such as Iraq.
Bush Not Interested in Root Causes of Terrorism - Bush is uninterested in polls showing sharply rising anti-US sentiment overseas, particularly in Muslim countries. One high high-ranking national security official says of the increasing Muslim hostility to the US, “I don’t think it matters.” Many counterterrorism experts and officials disagree. Wayne Downing, Bush’s counterterrorism “tsar” from late 2001 until early 2004, says that Osama bin Laden has worked effectively to “convince the Islamic world the US is the common enemy.… We have done little or nothing [to combat this perception]. That is the big failure.” The Post says that “strong majorities of several dozen officers and officials who were interviewed… cite a long list of proposals to address terrorism at its roots that have not been carried out.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
Several members of the National Security Council conclude that Osama bin Laden’s presence on the international stage is helping George Bush’s presidential campaign. (The CIA has apparently concluded the same (see October 29, 2004 and October 29, 2004).) Author Ron Suskind will write, “While the CIA glimpsed at the issue of bin Laden’s motivations and turned away, there were those who understood just how acutely this heated, global dialog—of ideas and message and the preservation of power, of us and them—was a two way street. On that score, any number of NSC principals could tell you something so dizzying that not even they will touch it: that Bush’s ratings track with bin Laden’s ratings in the Arab world. No one doubts that George Bush is earnest when he thinks of the victims of 9/11 and speaks of his longing to bring the culprits to justice. Yet he is an ambitious man, atop a nation of ambitious and complex desires, who knows that when the al-Qaeda leader displays his forceful presence, his own approval ratings rise, and vice versa.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 336-7]
CIA officer Rolf Mowatt-Larssen. [Source: Department of Energy]The CIA analyzes bin Laden’s new speech, which was released four days before the US presidential election (see October 29, 2004), and concludes that it improves George Bush’s reelection chances. According to author Ron Suskind, the CIA, which has “spent years… parsing each word of the al-Qaeda leader,” knows that “bin Laden speaks only for strategic reasons—and those reasons are debated with often startling depth inside the organization’s leadership.” The analysts conclude that “bin Laden’s message was clearly designed to assist the president’s reelection.” Deputy Director John McLaughlin says in a meeting analyzing the speech, “Bin Laden certainly did a nice favor today for the president.” CIA deputy associate director Jami Miscik similarly comments, “Certainly, he would want Bush to keep doing what he’s doing for a few more years.” However, the CIA does not discuss why bin Laden wants Bush to stay. Suskind will write, “But an ocean of hard truths before them—such as what did it say about US policies that bin Laden would want Bush reelected—remained untouched.” CIA officer Rolf Mowatt-Larssen will later say: “It was sad. We just sat there. We were dispirited.” Several National Security Council members have already reached the conclusion that bin Laden’s presence on the international stage helps Bush (see October 29, 2004). Both presidential candidates condemn bin Laden. John Kerry says, “As Americans, we are absolutely united in our determination to hunt down and destroy Osama bin Laden.” George Bush says, “Americans will not be intimidated or influenced by an enemy of our country.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 335-6] Several commentators believe the intervention will help Bush, for example:
Veteran journalist Walter Cronkite says, “I have a feeling that it could tilt the election a bit. In fact, I’m a little inclined to think that Karl Rove, the political manager at the White House, who is a very clever man, he probably set up bin Laden to this thing.” [CNN, 10/29/2004]
Roger Simon of US News and World Report says, “I don’t have any trouble parsing out who this helps. I think this is an enormous boost for George Bush.” [CNN, 10/29/2004]
MSNBC host Chris Matthews says, “The big thing in politics, of course, is picking the right topic… This creates a terrible situation for the challenger, because it seems to me that Karl Rove has his finger on this.” [MSNBC, 10/29/2004]
MSNBC correspondent Andrea Mitchell says, “It makes it harder for Kerry, and it shifts the subject matter back to what George Bush is strongest on. So the Bush people may not say that they are happy about this, but I’m sure that they could not be more pleased that this is the subject of the closing days. How do you say October surprise? This is one that could benefit the president.” [MSNBC, 10/29/2004]
CNBC co-host Lawrence Kudlow says, “It will play into Bush’s hands.… it falls into Bush’s lap. And unlike 2000, I think it’s the kind of thing that will cause the remaining undecided voters in the next 72 hours or so to break for Bush.” [MSNBC, 10/29/2004]
Weekly Standard staff writer Stephen Hayes says, “I think that, as most people have indicated, that is likely to help President Bush.” [MSNBC, 10/29/2004]
Other commentators from across the political spectrum who suggest the speech will help Bush include Fox News correspondent Major Garrett, Boston Herald columnist Mike Barnicle, Time magazine correspondent Karen Tumulty, former plumber G. Gordon Liddy, former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, MSNBC host Joe Scarborough, the Cook Political Report editor and publisher Charlie Cook, Washington Post journalist Jeffery Birnhaum, and Roll Call executive editor Morton Kondracke. [Fox News, 10/29/2004; Fox News, 10/29/2004; CNN, 10/29/2004; MSNBC, 10/29/2004; MSNBC, 10/29/2004] Some right wing commentators suggest that the tape will help Kerry, including Fox News political commentator Dick Morris, Weekly Standard executive editor Fred Barnes, Washington Times reporter Bill Gertz, Fox News host Sean Hannity, and author Peggy Noonan. [Fox News, 10/29/2004; Fox News, 10/29/2004; Fox News, 10/29/2004; Fox News, 10/29/2004] A Newsweek poll shows that Bush’s lead increases after the tape is released and, after the election, John Kerry, the losing Democratic candidate, will attribute his failure to bin Laden’s intervention: “We were rising in the polls until the last day the tape appeared. We flat-lined the day the tape appeared, and went down on Monday.” [Daily Telegraph, 11/1/2004; MSNBC, 1/30/2005] George Bush will also agree that the tape helped, saying, “I thought it was going to help. I thought it would help remind people that if bin Laden doesn’t want Bush to be the president, something must be right with Bush.” [Reuters, 3/1/2006]
Entity Tags: John Kerry, Lawrence Kudlow, Karen Tumulty, Joseph Scarborough, Michael Barnicle, John E. McLaughlin, Walter Cronkite, Osama bin Laden, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Stephen Hayes, Morton Kondrake, Sean Hannity, Patrick Buchanan, Jeff Birnbaum, Peggy Noonan, Jami Miscik, Roger Simon, G. Gordon Liddy, George W. Bush, Bill Gertz, Central Intelligence Agency, Andrea Mitchell, Chris Matthews, Fred Barnes, Dick Morris, Charles Cook
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections
Bin Laden makes his Towers of Lebanon speech. [Source: Al-Jazeera]Four days before the presidential election in the US, Osama bin Laden releases a new video in which he addresses the US people and alludes to his role in 9/11. The tape was handed to an employee at Al Jazeera’s bureau in Islamabad, Pakistan, on the day it was broadcast. [MSNBC, 10/30/2004]
Bin Laden Had Idea of 'Destroying Towers in America' - In his strongest admission yet that he was involved in planning 9/11, bin Laden says, “Allah knows that the plan of striking the towers had not occurred to us, but the idea came to me when things went just too far with the American-Israeli alliance’s oppression and atrocities against our people in Palestine and Lebanon.” After likening the US and Israel to “a crocodile devouring a child,” he continues, “As I looked at those destroyed towers in Lebanon, it occurred to me to punish the oppressor in kind by destroying towers in America, so that it would have a taste of its own medicine and would be prevented from killing our women and children.” He attempts to isolate the US from other Western countries, pointing out that “security is one of the pillars of human life” and that al-Qaeda has not attacked Sweden, for example, because Sweden has not attacked the Middle East. “If the US leaves Muslims alone, they will leave it alone.”
Criticizes Bush's Inaction on 9/11 - Bin Laden is critical of President Bush and his inaction on 9/11, saying: “It did not occur to us that the commander in chief of the American armed forces would leave fifty thousand of his citizens in the two towers to face this great horror on their own, just when they needed him most. It seems that a little girl’s story about a goat and its butting was more important than dealing with airplanes and their butting into skyscrapers.” He comments that the Bush administration favors certain corporations and has mismanaged public funds: “To some analysts and diplomats, it seems as if we and the White House are on the same team shooting at the United States’ own goal, despite our different intentions.” He concludes: “I say unto you in truth that your security lies not in the hands of Kerry, Bush, or al-Qaeda. It lies in your own hands, and whichever state does not encroach on our security thereby ensures its own. Allah is our master; you have none. Peace be upon those who follow true guidance.” [Laden, 2005, pp. 237-244]
Speech Will Benefit Bush - Despite the criticism of Bush in the speech, most commentators think it will actually help Bush get reelected. For example, Time magazine correspondent Karen Tumulty says: “I find it hard to find any way that this helps John Kerry. What we’ve seen over and over and over again is that when terrorism is the topic, and when people are reminded of 9/11, Bush’s numbers go up.” [CNN, 10/29/2004] The CIA also concludes this is what bin Laden intended (see October 29, 2004). And on this evening, an aide brings up the new bin Laden video tape to Bush’s senior adviser Karl Rove, who is with the president in Ohio, campaigning for the election. “This has the feel of something,” Rove says slowly, “that’s not gonna hurt us at all.” [Draper, 2007, pp. 263]
The White House decides that the Department of Homeland Security should raise the threat level to orange in the days before the presidential election. The ostensible reason for this is an Osama bin Laden videotaped speech (see October 29, 2004). However, many in the administration, including Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, believe the proposal to raise the threat level may be politically motivated (see October 29, 2004). In his 2009 book The Test of Our Times, Ridge will write: “The timing of the tape may have been a surprise; the content was not. Within the department no one felt it necessary to consider additional security measures or to call the Homeland Security Council into session.” The situation is different among White House officials. “A vigorous, some might say dramatic, discussion ensued” over the need for the alert, Ridge will write. “Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft strongly urged an increase in the threat level and was supported by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.… There was absolutely no support for that position within our department. None. I wondered, ‘Is this about security or politics?’ Post-election analysis demonstrated a significant increase in the president’s approval rating in the days after the raising of the threat level.” Ridge will continue: “As the minutes passed at our video conference, we concluded that others in the administration were operating with the same threat information that we had at DHS, and they didn’t know any more than we did. And we concluded that the idea was still a bad one. It also seemed possible to me and to others around the table that something could be afoot other than simple concern about the country’s safety.” The administration chooses not to raise the threat level. Ridge will write: “I believe our strong interventions had pulled the ‘go-up’ advocates back from the brink. But I consider the episode to be not only a dramatic moment in Washington’s recent history, but another illustration of the intersection of politics, fear, credibility, and security.” He will write that the episode is a strong influence on his upcoming decision to resign his post and leave Washington. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/9/2009; TPM Muckraker, 8/20/2009; MSNBC, 9/2/2009]
Roughly around 2004, the CIA suspects that Osama bin Laden has moved from the mountains of Pakistan or Afghanistan to an urban area in Pakistan. Marty Martin leads the CIA’s hunt for bin Laden from 2002 to 2004. After bin Laden’s death in 2011, he will say: “We could see from his videos what his circumstances were. In the immediate years [after bin Laden’s escape from Tora Bora in late 2001] he looked battle fatigued and on the run. He didn’t look healthy. We knew he was moving. But where? We simply didn’t know. Then, he gained weight and looked healthy. I told my analysts, ‘He’s gone urban, moved somewhere stable and safe.’” [ABC News, 5/19/2011] The only publicly known video of bin Laden after December 2001 is one released in October 2004, so Martin presumably is referring to that (see December 26, 2001 and October 29, 2004).
Senator John McCain (R-AZ) says, “[Osama] bin Laden may have just given us a little boost. Amazing, huh?” He is referring to the videotape of bin Laden giving a speech that was released just four days before the 2004 US presidential elections (see October 29, 2004), and two days prior to his comment. McCain clarifies, “[The video] is helpful to President Bush because it puts the focus on the war on terrorism.” The CIA and other intelligence agency analysts also agree that the video helps Bush win reelection, and that that was bin Laden’s intention (see October 29, 2004). [The Hour, 10/31/2004]
Mustafa Abu al-Yazid. [Source: Al Jazeera]A US patrol allegedly nearly accidentally stumbles upon bin Laden. High-ranking
al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid will tell the following story to Omar Farooqi, a Taliban officer who later tells it to a Newsweek reporter. Bin Laden and his entourage is holed up somewhere in the mountains along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. A sentry spots of a patrol of US soldiers who seem headed straight for the hideout. The sentry radios an alert to bin Laden’s 40 or so bodyguards to remove him to a fallback position and supposedly there is even talk of killing bin Laden to prevent him from being taken alive. But the sentry watches the patrol move in a different direction without realizing how close they accidentally came to bin Laden. A former US intelligence officer later tells Newsweek that he is aware of official reporting on this incident. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007]
In a New York Times editorial printed one day before the presidential election, columnist William Safire implies that Osama bin Laden is trying to influence the American electorate to vote against President Bush and for his challenger, Democratic candidate John Kerry. Safire writes that bin Laden’s recent message to American voters (see October 29, 2004) proves that “his intercession in our election” has not yet been “as successful as his pre-election panicking of Spain’s voters,” referring to a recent election where Spanish voters repudiated the conservative incumbent and elected a more liberal choice. Safire says bin Laden has echoed themes from Kerry’s campaign, specifically Kerry’s frequent assertions that Bush has not been truthful with the American people, and says the Islamist figure “delight[ed]” in the anti-Bush film Fahrenheit 911. Safire says that bin Laden’s apparent calls for some form of reconciliation or an easing of armed conflict between al-Qaeda and the West is his attempt to persuade Americans that voting for Kerry will bring about peace in the Middle East. “Generals do not call for a truce when they’re winning,” he writes. “Only warriors thrust on the defensive become conciliatory, hoping that negotiations will give them time to regroup and resupply. Bin Laden’s vain hope seems to be that the defeat of Bush will give him time to buy or steal a horrific weapon as an ‘equalizer.’” Safire goes on to accuse UN arms inspector Mohamed ElBaradei of joining with bin Laden in trying to mount an “October surprise” to defeat Bush, and details what he believes is a conspiracy between ElBaradei, the United Nations, and CBS News to publish a story concerning US troops’ failure to secure explosive devices in time to affect the election. He says the New York Times refused to hold the article until October 31, as CBS allegedly desired, and printed the article a week before. Safire writes, “If Kerry wins, the Egyptian [ElBaradei] should be chief UN inspector for life,” and he calls bin Laden’s recent videotaped message “anti-Bush overkill” that will “help ensure the president’s re-election.” [New York Times, 11/1/2004] Contradicting Safire’s assertions, Bruce Hoffman of the RAND Corporation says he “agrees with those who see bin Laden probably preferring the current administration.” The Christian Science Monitor quotes a senior US intelligence official as saying that bin Laden released the videotaped message to help Bush’s re-election chances: “Bin Laden knows us well enough to realize that we will take offense at him, the most reviled man in the world, criticizing our president” (see October 29, 2004 and October 29, 2004). [Christian Science Monitor, 11/1/2004]
The Daily Telegraph reports that “the search for [bin Laden] the world’s most wanted man has all but come to a halt because of Pakistan’s refusal to permit cross-border raids from Afghanistan, according to CIA officials.” Even spy missions by unmanned Predator drones need Pakistani military approval involving a lengthy chain of command that frequently causes delays. Most accounts have bin Laden still alive and living in the near-lawless Pakistan and Afghanistan border region. US officials believe bin Laden and his deputies are being hidden by sympathetic local tribesmen, who are continuing to fund his operations from opium sales. [Daily Telegraph, 12/14/2004]
A new address by Osama bin Laden attacks the rulers of Saudi Arabia in even more strident terms than before. Professor Bruce Lawrence calls this speech “a blistering indictment of the House of Saud and the calamity it has historically represented for the [Arabian] peninsula.” Bin Laden says that the ruling Saudi family “has neglected the necessary conditions to maintain security, life, social harmony, and cohesion… Millions of people suffer every day from poverty and deprivation, while millions of riyals [the Saudi currency] flow into the bank accounts of the royals who wield executive power.” He also says the Al Saud family is “beyond the pale of Islam,” and defines the fight as “partly an internal regional struggle between global unbelief, with the apostates today under the leadership of America on one side, and the Islamic umma [community] and its brigades of mujaheddin, on the other.” He also complains of American influence over Saudi Arabia, and the depression in US interests of the price of oil, which apparently should be ”$100 [a barrel] at the very least.” In addition, he attacks other regional rulers, such as those in Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Iraq, and Libya, and urges their violent overthrow. [Laden, 2005, pp. 245-275]
Afghan intelligence allegedly concludes that Osama bin Laden is in Pakistan, but not in the tribal region. Shortly after bin Laden’s death (see May 2, 2011), Amrullah Saleh, who from 2004 to 2010 was head of the NDS (National Directorate of Security), Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, will claim that as early as 2004, and certainly by 2005, the NDS secretly concluded that Osama bin Laden was living somewhere in the heart of Pakistan instead of in the tribal region near the Afghan border where most people thought he was. Saleh claims this conclusion was based on “thousands of interrogation reports” and the assumption that bin Laden with his many wives would not stay in the mountainous wilderness for long. “I was pretty sure he was in the settled areas of Pakistan because in 2005 it was still very easy to infiltrate the tribal areas, and we had massive numbers of informants there. They could find any Arab but not bin Laden.” Saleh has not said if this conclusion was shared with the US and/or Pakistani governments at the time. [Guardian, 5/5/2011]
The US search for Osama bin Laden slows down for several years. According to an unnamed former Bush White House official speaking in 2011, “a little fatigue had set in” after a few years of mostly false leads. “We weren’t about to find him anytime soon. Publicly, we maintained a sense of urgency: ‘We’re looking as hard as we can.’ But the energy had gone out of the hunt. It had settled to no more than a second-tier issue. After all, those were the worst days of Iraq.” White House and CIA officials will later say that the war in Iraq and problems with Iran and North Korea took much attention from the search for bin Laden. Juan Zarate, President Bush’s deputy national security adviser for counterterrorism at this time, later says that few new leads emerge. “It was a very dark period.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] In December 2004, the Telegraph reported that the US search for bin Laden had essentially been abandoned (see December 14, 2004), and in late 2005, the CIA’s bin Laden unit is shut down (see Late 2005). There is a new push to get bin Laden, also in late 2005, but it has little effect (see Late 2005).
A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard, the CIA’s recently departed Executive Director, says in an interview that the world may be better off if bin Laden remains at large. Krongard had been Executive Director, the CIA’s third most senior position, from 1998 until six weeks before this interview. He states, “You can make the argument that we’re better off with him [at large]. Because if something happens to bin Laden, you might find a lot of people vying for his position and demonstrating how macho they are by unleashing a stream of terror.” The London Times notes that, “Several US officials have privately admitted that it may be better to keep bin Laden pinned down on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan rather than make him a martyr or put him on trial.” However, Krongard is the only senior official to say so publicly, and this position completely contradicts the rhetoric of the Bush administration, which has consistently claimed that catching bin Laden remains a top priority. [London Times, 1/9/2005]
Pakistan’s military commander in the tribal regions, Lieutenant General Ali Jan Orakzai, says: “This impression that the Pakistani tribal areas are havens for terrorists is baseless. In my two and a half years of command I never got a single indication that [Osama] bin Laden was on our side of the border. He’s a big guy, hard to hide, and with 74,000 of my troops there it would have been very difficult for him to be hiding.” Orakzai commanded troops there from October 2001 until 2004. He adds that claims that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, is tipping off radical militants about Pakistani military movements are baseless. He even says that not a single Arab has been seen in the tribal region. [London Times, 1/22/2005] It is believed that Orakzai intensely hates the US and is sympathetic to the Taliban. Robert Grenier, CIA station chief in Pakistan at this time, will later suggest that Orakzai did not want to find the foreigners, so he conducted large, slow sweeps that allowed militants to easily get away (see Late 2002-Late 2003). Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will finally fire Orakzai in 2007 for his sympathies to militant groups (see July 19, 2007).
A report by the 9/11 Commission on the FAA and 9/11 is publicly released. The fact that the report reveals nearly half of all FAA daily briefings between April and early September 2001 mentioned al-Qaeda, bin Laden, or both causes headlines (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). However, the report was actually completed in August 2004 but was held up by the Bush administration. Some speculate that the publication of the report was delayed until after the November 2004 presidential election to help Bush get reelected. For instance, 9/11 victim’s relative Carol Ashley states, “I’m just appalled that this was withheld for five months. That contributes to the idea that the government knew something and didn’t act, it contributes to the conspiracy theories out there.” Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA) asks for a hearing on whether the Bush administration played politics with the report’s release, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives does not allow such a hearing. [Associated Press, 2/11/2005] Additionally, the released version of this report is heavily censored in some areas. The 9/11 Commission asserts that the whole report should be released, but the Bush administration is blocking their efforts to release the censored portions. Politicians, 9/11 victims’ relatives, open-government advocates, and others call for the release of the entire report, but to no avail. [New York Times, 2/11/2005]
Dietrich Snell, the 9/11 Commission’s lead investigator into the origins and role of the Hamburg cell in the 9/11 plot, testifies in the German retrial of Mounir El Motassadeq. Snell tells a panel of judges that the 9/11 Commission concluded the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell members such as Mohamed Atta did not develop the idea of the 9/11 plot on their own, but were recruited by bin Laden during a visit to Afghanistan in late 1999. He claims, “Ultimately, we did not arrive at the conclusion that there was solid evidence of any contact” between the Hamburg cell members and al-Qaeda leaders about the plot before the Hamburg group’s trip to Afghanistan. These findings contradict the prosecutor’s case against El Motassadeq and also run counter to media accounts suggesting the Hamburg cell was involved in the plot before that time. According to German law, prosecutors must prove that important elements of the conspiracy took place in Germany in order to get a conviction. Snell largely fails to explain how the Commission came to that conclusion, saying the sources remain classified. [Washington Post, 3/9/2005]
[Source: Sherburne County Sheriffs Office]In an unexpected move, Zacarias Moussaoui pleads guilty to all six terrorism conspiracy charges against him. Moussaoui had been arrested weeks before 9/11, and was formally charged in December 2001 for his role in the 9/11 plot. He says it is “absolutely correct” that he is guilty of the charges: conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism transcending national boundaries; to commit aircraft piracy; to destroy aircraft; to use weapons of mass destruction; to murder US government employees; and to destroy US government property. However, he says, “I was not part of 9/11,” but rather claims he was part of a “broader conspiracy” aimed at post-9/11 attacks. He says he was personally directed by bin Laden to pilot a 747 and “strike the White House” with it, but as part of a “different conspiracy than 9/11.” His plea means there will be no trial to determine guilt, but there will still be a trial to determine his sentencing, which could be as severe as the death penalty. He promises to fight in the sentencing phase, stating he doesn’t deserve death because he was not directly connected to the 9/11 plot. [CNN, 4/23/2005; Washington Post, 4/23/2005] A CNN legal analyst notes that Moussaoui’s guilty plea “makes little sense.” Moussaoui may have actually had a chance to be proven not guilty because of the many thorny legal issues his case raises (two suspected members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell have been found not guilty in German courts because they have not been allowed access to testimony from al-Qaeda prisoners who might exonerate them, and Moussaoui so far has been denied access to those same prisoners (see March 22, 2005)). It is pointed out that Moussaoui gave a guilty plea without “any promise of leniency in exchange for his plea,” and that he is unlikely to gain any sympathetic advantage from it in the death penalty trial. CNN’s analyst notes that the statements in his plea “suggest that Moussaoui [mistakenly] thought he had tricked the prosecution.” Doubts still remain whether Moussaoui is fully mentally sound and capable of legally defending himself. [CNN, 4/28/2005] A counterterrorism expert for RAND Corporation says of Moussaoui’s rather confusing statements, “If we thought by the end of the day we would find the holy grail as to exactly what the genesis of 9/11 was and what Moussaoui’s role in it was, we have been sorely disappointed. This contradiction in his behavior raises more questions than it answers.” The Washington Post notes that, “It remains uncertain” whether the death penalty trial “will divulge much new information about the plot.” [Washington Post, 4/23/2005]
In a CNN interview, President General Pervez Musharraf claims that Osama bin Laden is not only alive, but is residing in the Pakistani tribal area near the Afghanistan border. He says, “Osama is alive and I am cent percent [100%] sure that he is hiding in Pak-Afghan tribal belt.” [Asia Times, 5/4/2005]
Some time after he is captured in May 2005 (see May 2, 2005), al-Qaeda leader Abu Faraj al-Libbi tells his CIA interrogators that he has never heard of Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. CIA analysts already strongly suspect that Ahmed is a trusted courier working for Osama bin Laden, but they only know him by his main alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.
Al-Libbi's False Claims - Al-Libbi tells his interrogators that he does not know who “al-Kuwaiti” is. Instead, he admits that when 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) was captured in 2003 and al-Libbi was chosen to replace him as al-Qaeda’s operational chief, he was told the news of his selection by a courier. But he says the courier was someone named Maulawi Abd al-Kahliq Jan. CIA analysts never find anyone using this name, and eventually they will conclude that al-Libbi made it up to protect Ahmed (see Late 2005). Later, the CIA will learn Ahmed’s real name, and this fact will eventually lead to bin Laden’s location (see Summer 2009 and July 2010).
False Claims Made While Tortured? - The interrogation techniques used on al-Libbi are unknown. However, days after his capture, the CIA pressures the Justice Department for new legal memorandums approving the use of very brutal methods. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011; New York Times, 5/3/2011]
Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani’s appearance on Pakistani television, June 15, 2005. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a senior Taliban commander, gives an interview on Pakistani television, and says Osama bin Laden is in good health and Mullah Omar remains in direct command of the Taliban. [Reuters, 6/18/2005] Several days later, US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad will criticize Pakistan, pointing out that if a TV station could get in contact with a top Taliban leader, Pakistani intelligence should be able to find them too (see June 18, 2005).
Asked if he has a good idea where Osama bin Laden is hiding, CIA Director Porter Goss replies: “I have an excellent idea of where he is. What’s the next question?” Although he doesn’t mention the country, Goss implies he is referring to Pakistan. He mentions the “very difficult question of dealing with sanctuaries in sovereign states,” which appears to be a diplomatic way of referring to the tribal region of Pakistan, where many believe bin Laden is located. [BBC, 6/20/2005] Vice President Dick Cheney will make a similar comment several days later (see June 23, 2005).
Vice President Dick Cheney says about Osama bin Laden, “We’ve got a pretty good idea of a general area that he’s in, but I—I don’t have the street address.” [CNN, 6/23/2005] His comments come shortly after CIA Director Porter Goss’s comment that he has an “excellent idea” where bin Laden is (see June 19, 2005).
Damage from one of the Sharm el-Sheikh bombs. [Source: National Geographic]The Egyptian resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh is hit by three simultaneous suicide bombings. At least 88 are killed and over 150 are wounded. The town, located on the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula, is popular with Westerners and many of the victims are from various European countries. The four star Ghazala Gardens hotel is directly hit, while the other two bombers are stopped at security checkpoints and forced to detonate themselves in areas without many tourists. [BBC, 7/23/2005; Scotsman, 7/26/2005] A previously unknown Egyptian group called Tawhid and Jihad takes credit for the attacks, saying they were done on orders from al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahri. The Egyptian government received a warning about an imminent terror attack in the town several days in advance, but apparently mistakenly believed it would target casinos instead of hotels. [Scotsman, 7/27/2005]
Prince Bandar, Saudi ambassador to the US since 1983, steps down and is replaced by Prince Turki al-Faisal. It is said that Prince Bandar had been suffering health problems and is not close to the new Saudi King Abdullah (see August 1, 2005). Prince Turki was Saudi intelligence minister from the late 1970s until about one week before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001). Then he served three years as Saudi ambassador to Britain. Prince Turki has had a controversial past. He was considered a mentor to bin Laden, and encouraged him to represent Saudi Arabia in the Afghanistan war against the Soviet Union. There are allegations that Prince Turki took part in a series of secret meetings between bin Laden and the Saudis over a period of many years (see Summer 1991; May 1996; Spring 1998; June 1998; July 1998; July 4-14, 2001). There are also allegations that he went falcon hunting in Afghanistan with bin Laden during much of the 1990s (see 1995-2001). In the wake of his appointment as ambassador, US officials try to downplay his past. One unnamed US official says, “Yes, he knew members of al-Qaeda. Yes, he talked to the Taliban. At times he delivered messages to us and from us regarding Osama bin Laden and others. Yes, he had links that in this day and age would be considered problematic, but at the time we used those links.” The official adds that Prince Turki seems to have “gotten out of that business” since 2001 and “he understands that times have changed.” He was sued in 2002 by a group of 9/11 victims’ relatives for allegedly supporting al-Qaeda, but his name was dropped from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see August 15, 2002). [New York Times, 7/21/2005]
The US freezes the assets of Abdul Latif Saleh, who is a citizen of both Jordan and Albania. Bin Laden allegedly gave Saleh $600,000 to create “extremist groups” in Albania, and Saleh is also said to be tied to the Islamic Jihad (which merged into al-Qaeda before 9/11). Saleh is also said to be associated with Saudi multimillionaire Yassin al-Qadi (see October 12, 2001). The Treasury Department claims, “Saleh and Qadi had entered into several business partnerships with one another, including a sugar importing business, a medical enterprise and a construction business. Saleh served as the general manager of all of Qadi’s businesses in Albania and reportedly holds 10 percent of the Qadi Group’s investments in Albania.” [Associated Press, 9/19/2005; US Department of the Treasury, 9/19/2005] In the middle of 2004, the Swiss government also froze bank accounts worth $20 million of an unnamed Saudi businessman who is the former president of the Muwafaq Foundation over alleged al-Qaeda ties (see June 25, 2004). Al-Qadi was the founder and main investor of Muwafaq (see 1995-1998). [New York Times, 6/25/2004]
The US and Britain send a team to search for the body of Osama bin Laden in the rubble of the Pakistani town of Balakot, according to the British Sunday Express newspaper. The al-Qaeda leader is thought to have been buried there following a recent earthquake. The British component comprises members of the foreign intelligence service MI6 and the SAS Special Forces unit; the Americans are US Special Forces. The team, whose deployment is approved by President Bush, is flown in from Afghanistan equipped with imagery and eavesdropping technology, high-tech weapons systems, and linguists. The search is motivated by the fact that, days before the earthquake happened, an American satellite spotted an al-Qaeda training camp in a nearby area and obtained high-resolution close-ups. A senior intelligence officer in Washington says: “One of those photos bore a remarkable resemblance to bin Laden. His face looked thinner, which is in keeping with our reports that his kidney condition has worsened.” This is a reference to the rumor that bin Laden has kidney problems (see November 23, 1996). The Sunday Express will report: “In recent weeks, both MI6 and the CIA have established that bin Laden has received a portable kidney dialysis machine from China but it requires electricity to power it. Drones, unmanned aircraft that US Special Forces launched from Afghanistan last week, have reported that the area along the border has lost all power supplies.” However, the state of bin Laden’s kidneys will still be shrouded in mystery two years later (see Late 2007). According to the report, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has agreed to keep other rescue teams working to locate survivors away from the border area where the search for bin Laden is concentrated. [Daily Times (Lahore), 10/20/2005] There are no reports that the search is a success. A man thought to be bin Laden will continue to release audio messages (see, for example, January 19, 2006).
The CIA closes its unit that had been in charge of hunting bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders. Analysts in the unit, known as Alec Station, are reassigned to other parts of the CIA Counterterrorist Center. CIA officials explain the change by saying the agency can better deal with high-level threats by focusing on regional trends rather than on specific organizations or individuals. Michael Scheuer, who headed the unit when if formed in 1996 (see February 1996), says the move reflects a view within the CIA that bin Laden is no longer the threat he once was, and complains, “This will clearly denigrate our operations against al-Qaeda.” Robert Grenier, head of the Counterterrorist Center in 2005, is said to have instigated the closure. [New York Times, 7/4/2006; Guardian, 7/4/2006] The White House denies the search for bin Laden has slackened, calling the move merely a “reallocation of resources” within the CIA. [Reuters, 8/17/2006]
By late 2005, many inside CIA headquarters has concluded that the hunt for Osama bin Laden has made little progress in recent years. Jose Rodriguez Jr., head of the CIA’s clandestine operations branch, implements some changes. Robert Grenier, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center since late 2004, is replaced by someone whose name has yet to be made public. Grenier had just closed Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, as part of a reorganization (see Late 2005), and Rodriguez and Grenier had barely spoken to each other for months. Dozens of new CIA operatives are sent to Pakistan as part of a new push to get bin Laden called Operation Cannonball. But most of the operatives assigned to the task have been newly hired and have little experience. One former senior CIA official says: “We had to put people out in the field who had less than ideal levels of experience. But there wasn’t much to choose from.” Two other former officials say this is because the experienced personnel have generally been assigned to the Iraq war. One of them says, “You had a very finite number” of experienced officers. “Those people all went to Iraq. We were all hurting because of Iraq.” The New York Times will later comment, “The increase had little impact in Pakistan, where militants only continued to gain strength.” [New York Times, 6/30/2008]
US officials will later claim that Osama bin Laden begins living in a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in 2006. However, one of bin Laden’s wives will later be more specific and say that bin Laden and his family move to the Abbottabad compound near the end of 2005. (She also will claim they lived in a nearby town for two and a half years prior to that (see 2003-Late 2005).) Bin Laden and members of his family will hide inside the Abbottabad compound for five years until he is killed there in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011; New York Times, 6/23/2011]
Former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle (D-SD) writes that Congress explicitly rejected several attempts by the Bush administration to provide him with war-making authority and the authority to wiretap and monitor US citizens “in the United States” when it approved the September 18, 2001 authorization to use military force (AUMF) against terrorists (see September 14-18, 2001). Instead, the Bush administration merely usurped that authority and launched—or expanded (see Spring 2001)—its warrantless wiretapping program, conducted by the NSA. Since then, the Bush administration and the Justice Department have both repeatedly asserted that the AUMF gave them the right to conduct the wiretapping program, an assertion that Daschle says is flatly wrong. On December 21, the Justice Department admitted in a letter that the October 2001 presidential order authorizing warrantless eavesdropping on US citizens did not comply with “the ‘procedures’ of” the law that has regulated domestic espionage since 1978, known as the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). FISA established a secret intelligence court and made it a criminal offense to conduct electronic surveillance without a warrant from that court, “except as authorized by statute.” However, the letter, signed by Assistant Attorney General William Moschella, argues that the AUMF gave the administration the authority to conduct the program. [Washington Post, 12/22/2005] The letter continues the argument that Congress gave President Bush the implict authority to create an exception to FISA’s warrant requirements, though the AUMF resolution did not mention surveillance and made no reference to the president’s intelligence-gathering authority. The Bush administration kept the program secret until it was revealed by the New York Times on December 15, 2005. Moschella argues that secret intelligence-gathering, even against US citizens, is “a fundamental incident to the use of military force” and that its absence from the resolution “cannot be read to exclude this long-recognized and essential authority to conduct communications intelligence targeted at the enemy.” Such eavesdropping, he argued, must by necessity include conversations in which one party is in the United States. [William Moschella, 12/22/2005 ] Daschle, one of the primary authors of the resolution, says that Moschella and the Bush administration are wrong in their assertions: “I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al-Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance” (see September 12-18, 2001). [Washington Post, 12/23/2005]
Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Bush administration (43), Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF), Al-Qaeda, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, George W. Bush, Osama bin Laden, US Department of Justice, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, New York Times, William E. Moschella, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Tom Daschle
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
US intelligence is able to learn the last name of Osama bin Laden’s trusted courier. The courier’s real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, but so far, US analysts have only known him by his alias “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti.” In late 2005, intelligence analysts concluded Ahmed was very likely working for bin Laden or some other high ranking al-Qaeda leader (see Late 2005). [MSNBC, 5/4/2011; Associated Press, 6/1/2011] Also in late 2005, dozens of new CIA operatives were sent to Pakistan as part of a new push to get bin Laden, called Operation Cannonball (see Late 2005). Although most of the new operatives are inexperienced, the effort does appear to have an impact. The New York Times will later report, “With more agents in the field, the CIA finally got the courier’s family name”—Ahmed. [New York Times, 5/2/2011] Exactly how it gets the family name is unclear. But in 2007, US analysts will learn Ahmed’s first name as well (see 2007).
Dr. Clive Williams, director of terrorism studies at the Australian National University, claims he has seen evidence indicating that Osama bin Laden is either dead or seriously ill. The evidence was provided by an Indian colleague and indicated bin Laden died of massive organ failure in April 2005. “It does seem reasonably convincing based on the evidence that I’ve been provided with that he’s certainly either severely incapacitated or dead at this stage,” Williams comments, adding that bin Laden has not released a statement for some time. [Sydney Morning Herald, 1/16/2006] Bin Laden releases a new audio statement three days later (see January 19, 2006), but the origin of this tape will be questioned (see January 19, 2006). [Christian Science Monitor, 1/20/2006]
A new audio tape reported to be from Osama bin Laden surfaces. In the tape, the US is offered a truce by al-Qaeda. The voice on the tape criticizes President Bush, and discusses the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which are said to be going badly for the US. The tape is also critical of the Pentagon’s efforts to manage the war news, and references an alleged US plan to attack the headquarters of Al Jazeera in Qatar. After comparing the US to Saddam Hussein and saying that US soldiers are raping women and taking them hostage, the voice says the US is torturing detainees, and that “Iraq has become a point of attraction and recruitment of qualified resources.” The voice also threatens further attacks in the US, “Operations are under preparation, and you will see them on your own ground once they are finished, God willing.” The US is offered a truce: “We do not object to a long-term truce with you on the basis of fair conditions that we respect… In this truce, both parties will enjoy security and stability and we will build Iraq and Afghanistan, which were destroyed by the war.” He also recommends the book Rogue State by William Blum. [BBC, 1/19/2006] The US rejects the proposed truce, and Vice President Dick Cheney calls it a “ploy”. [BBC, 1/20/2006] However, a bin Laden expert is skeptical about the tape (see January 19, 2006).
Professor Bruce Lawrence. [Source: Duke University]Duke University professor Bruce Lawrence questions a tape reported to be from Osama bin Laden released on this day. In it, bin Laden comments on the progress of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and offers the US a truce (see January 19, 2006). The CIA says the voice on the tape is bin Laden’s, but Lawrence, who edited a collection of bin Laden’s speeches, is skeptical, saying that “[i]t was like a voice from the grave” and that the message is missing several key elements: “There’s nothing in this from the Koran. He’s, by his own standards, a faithful Muslim. He [usually] quotes scripture in defense of his actions. There’s no quotation from the Koran in the excerpts we got.” Lawrence also points out that, at 10 minutes, it is the shortest message ever issued by bin Laden. Lawrence questions when the tape was recorded, arguing that the timing of its release could be to divert attention from a recent strike in Pakistan during which civilians were killed (see January 13, 2006) and that bin Laden may actually be dead. [WTDV-TV, 1/19/2006; BBC, 1/20/2006]
Counterterrorism expert Micah Zenko will later claim that in February 2006, an unnamed senior civilian official serving at US Central Command tells him that he has been disappointed to learn the search for Osama bin Laden is being worked at a lower level than he would have suspected. Central Command, which covers the US military’s operations in the Middle East and South Asia, has other issues that are deemed more important. [New York Times, 5/3/2011]
Congressman Curt Weldon (R-PA) says that Osama bin Laden has died in Iran. According to Weldon, the information comes from a high-level Iranian exile source, who claims that bin Laden had been in hiding in Iran. Weldon, who last spoke to the source three weeks ago, says: “[The source has] told me that Osama bin Laden is dead. He died in Iran.” Weldon has long alleged that bin Laden has been using Iran for sanctuary. For example, last June he said: “I’m confident that I know for sure that [bin Laden] has been in and out of Iran.… Two years ago, he was in the southern town of Ladis, 10 kilometers inside the Pakistan border. I also know that earlier this year, he had a meeting with [Iraqi insurgent leader Abu Musab] al-Zarqawi in Tehran.” [NewsMax, 3/17/2003] Despite this, a man thought to be bin Laden will continue to release statements to the media (see, for example, May 23, 2006).
A new 5-minute audiotape is released by a person said to be Osama bin Laden. The voice on the tape says that Zacarias Moussaoui and the vast majority of prisoners held in Guantanamo Bay had nothing to do with 9/11. The speaker says that Moussaoui “has no connection whatsoever with the events of September 11th” and “his confession that he was assigned to participate in those raids is a false confession which no intelligent person doubts is a result of the pressure put upon him for the past four and a half years.” The voice also says that, as Moussaoui has not named a support team, he cannot have been slated to pilot a hijacked airliner, and that, as he was learning to fly, he cannot have been intended to be the 20th hijacker. Further, if Moussaoui had known the 9/11 group, he would have called lead hijacker Mohamed Atta and told him to flee the country (note: jail house calls can be recorded, so this may not have been wise (see August 17, 2001)). There are various theories about Moussaoui’s closeness to the 9/11 plot, but he was supported by some of the people who supported the hijackers (see January 30, 2003). The speaker also says that the detainees in Guantanamo Bay “have no connection whatsoever to the events of September 11th, and even stranger is that many of them have no connection with al-Qaeda in the first place, and even more amazing is that some of them oppose al-Qaeda’s methodology of calling for war with America.” The apparent reason so many detainees are being held: ”(I)t is necessary to create justifications for the massive spending of hundreds of billions on the Defense Department and other agencies in their war against the Mujaheddin.” [MSNBC, 5/23/2006] One Guantanamo detainee, Mohamed al-Khatani, was allegedly supposed to meet lead hijacker Mohamed Atta in the US, but was refused entry to the country, indicating that he was scheduled to be involved in 9/11 (see August 4, 2001 and July 2002).
Around the summer of 2006, the CIA sends up to 50 additional case officers to Pakistan and Afghanistan as part of a renewed effort to find al-Qaeda’s top leaders. This is said to be a dramatic increase in the number of CIA case officers permanently stationed in those countries. All of the newly arrived personnel are given the primary task of finding Osama bin Laden and his second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri. Some former CIA officials will say this new push comes after the White House pushed the CIA to step up the effort to find bin Laden. Mid-term US Congressional elections are being held in November 2006. However, the CIA will deny any pressure from the White House and say it was “driven solely by operational considerations.” But the renewed effort results in no significant leads on the whereabouts of bin Laden or al-Zawahiri. US intelligence officials will largely blame this on the peace treaty signed between the Pakistani government and Islamist militants in North Waziristan in early September 2006 (see September 5, 2006). As part of the treaty, the Pakistani army withdraws ten of thousands of troops from Waziristan and other tribal border regions where the hunt for al-Qaeda leaders has been focused. A senior US intelligence official will later comment: “Everything was undermined by the so-called peace agreement in North Waziristan. Of all the things that work against us in the global war on terror, that’s the most damaging development. The one thing al-Qaeda needs to plan an attack is a relatively safe place to operate.” The Los Angeles Times will comment, “The pullback took significant pressure off al-Qaeda leaders and the tribal groups protecting them.” [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007]
When asked why Osama bin Laden’s wanted poster only mentions his alleged involvement in the East African embassy bombings, but not 9/11, Rex Tomb of the FBI’s public affairs unit says, “The reason why 9/11 is not mentioned on Osama bin Laden’s Most Wanted page is because the FBI has no hard evidence connecting bin Laden to 9/11.” [Milli Gazette, 6/11/2006] The Washington Post will later pick up this story and say that bin Laden’s alleged involvement in the 9/11 operation is not mentioned on the poster because he has not been indicted for it (see August 28, 2006).
The dead Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. [Source: US army]Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the supposed leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, is apparently killed in a US airstrike north of Baghdad. There are contradictory details of what exactly happened in the airstrike, and three days later the Washington Post will report that “circumstances surrounding the killing [remain] cloudy.” [Washington Post, 6/10/2006] His killing is hailed by US and Iraqi officials as the most significant public triumph for US-allied forces since the 2003 capture of Saddam Hussein. For instance, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld calls him “the leading terrorist in Iraq and one of three senior al-Qaeda leaders worldwide.” The Washington Post calls al-Zarqawi the “mastermind behind hundreds of bombings, kidnappings and beheadings in Iraq.” [Washington Post, 6/8/2006; Washington Post, 6/10/2006] These pronouncements and media reports ignore a revelation made two months earlier by the Washington Post that the US military has been engaged in a propaganda campaign to exaggerate al-Zarqawi’s importance. The newspaper had reported that Zarqawi wasn’t behind nearly as many attacks as commonly reported (see October 4, 2004 and April 10, 2006). Even a Washington Post article about the propaganda surrounding al-Zarqawi published two days after his death will fail to mention any of the details provided in the Post’s original reporting on the campaign. [Washington Post, 6/10/2006] Later in the month, an audiotape surfaces in which bin Laden supposedly praises al-Zarqawi as a martyr (see June 30, 2006), calling him a “brave knight” and a “lion of jihad.” US officials say the tape is genuine, however it should be noted that a letter from 2004 said to tie al-Zarqawi to al-Qaeda leadership is believed by many experts to be a US-government promoted hoax (see April 10, 2006). [Washington Post, 6/30/2006] Al-Zarqawi did pledge loyalty to bin Laden in 2004, but they don’t appear to have been closely linked before then and there even are doubts about how close their relationship was after that time (see October 17, 2004).
Ghaith Pharon’s yacht, photographed in 2005. [Source: Yachtmati]The FBI and Italian paramilitary police raid a luxury yacht owned by Saudi multimillionaire Ghaith Pharaon, but do not find him. Since 1991, there has been an international arrest warrant for Pharaon due to his prominent role in the criminal BCCI bank. Shortly after 9/11, a French intelligence report linked him to Osama bin Laden (see October 10, 2001). Pharaon’s yacht was raided off the coast of Sicily. The yacht was not seized. Despite being wanted for 15 years, Pharaon has managed to continue to run a large business empire. The FBI describes Pharaon as extremely wealthy with “numerous contacts within governments around the world.” [ndependent, 8/16/2006] On August 10, 2006, the FBI puts out an all points bulletin for Pharaon. [ABC News, 8/10/2006] A Middle Eastern newspaper notes that, “In the past few years, Pharoan’s super yacht—which he named Le Pharaon after himself—has repeatedly been seen moored alongside luxury yachts of the rich and famous.” In June 2005, it was seen moored next to the personal yacht of Saudi King Abdullah in a Greek port. Two years earlier, it was seen parked next to another Saudi royal family super yacht near Beirut. [Khaleej Times, 6/13/2006] But there has been no reported word on him since, and the FBI has taken the webpage about him off their website.
Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri also mentioned the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in a video. [Source: As Sahab]A man said to be Osama bin Laden releases an audio message following the death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who was said to be head of al-Qaeda’s franchise in Iraq (see June 8, 2006). The voice says that al-Zarqawi, who died following a US air strike, is “one of our greatest knights and one of our best emirs… We were very happy to find in him a symbol and role model for our future generations.” The voice, which the CIA says is bin Laden’s, also asks that al-Zarqawi’s body be returned to Jordan, where he was born. The speaker also says: “We will continue, God willing, to fight you and your allies everywhere, in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia and Sudan, until we drain your money and kill your men and send you home defeated, God willing, as we defeated you before, thanks to God, in Somalia.” The message lasts almost 20 minutes and is posted on a website associated with al-Qaeda. [CNN, 6/30/2006] Al-Zarqawi pledged loyalty to bin Laden in 2004 (see October 17, 2004).
The US and UN finally officially designates the Philippines and Indonesian branches of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) as a financier of terrorism. Abdul Al-Hamid Sulaiman Al-Mujil, executive director of the IRRO’s far east division, is similarly designated as well. The IIRO is a major charity connected to the Saudi government that has long been suspected of financing Islamic militant groups (see January 1996). It was reported shortly after 9/11 that the US left the IIRO off a list of designated terrorism financiers so as to not embarrass the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001). The Philippine IIRO branch in particular has been publicly accused of funding al-Qaeda since the mid-1990s, due to the activities of Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law who headed that branch when he funded the Bojinka plot in the early 1990s (see 1987-1991). [Associated Press, 8/3/2006; Manila Times, 12/12/2006] A US Treasury Department press release says Al-Mujil has been nicknamed the “million dollar man” for his “long history of providing support to terrorist organizations.” He is accused of funding the Abu Sayyaf group in the Philippines and Jemaah Islamiyah in Indonesia. He is said to have had relationships with bin Laden and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. The press release also calls “a senior al-Qaeda member” and accuses the current director of the IIRO’s Philippine branch, Abd al-Hadi Daguit, “a trusted associate of Khalifa.” But curiously, Khalifa himself is still not officially listed, nor is Daguit. He will die in mysterious circumstances several months later. [Treasury Department, 8/3/2006]
The Washington Post notes that Osama bin Laden has still not been indicted for his alleged role in 9/11 and that his entry in the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list only mentions his involvement in the 1998 African embassy bombings. The FBI says the reason bin Laden is not officially wanted for 9/11 or the bombing of the USS Cole is that he has not yet been charged with involvement in the operations by the US. Bin Laden’s entry on a separate list, of the 25 most wanted terrorists, also fails to mention his alleged involvement in 9/11. According to the Post, “The curious omission underscores the Justice Department’s decision, so far, to not seek formal criminal charges against bin Laden” for 9/11. [Washington Post, 8/28/2006]
Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi. [Source: FBI]Abd al-Hadi al-Iraqi, said to be an adviser to Osama bin Laden, is captured and detained in a secret CIA prison. President Bush announced on September 6, 2006 that the secret CIA prisons have just been emptied, at least temporarily (see September 2-3, 2006 and September 6, 2006). Nonetheless, Al-Hadi is put in the CIA’s secret prison system (see Autumn 2006-Late April 2007). Very little is known about al-Hadi’s arrest, which will not even be announced until late April 2007, shortly after he is transferred to the Guantanamo prison. It is unknown whether he is captured before Bush’s announcement (in which case he should have been sent to Guantanamo with other high-ranking prisoners), or after. [Salon, 5/22/2007] Prior to Al-Hadi’s arrest, the US government had posted a $1 million reward for his capture. His reward announcement calls him “one of Osama bin Laden’s top global deputies, personally chosen by bin Laden to monitor al-Qaeda operations in Iraq.… He has been associated with numerous attacks in Afghanistan and Pakistan and has been known to facilitate communication between al-Qaeda in Iraq and al-Qaeda.” The announcement notes that al-Hadi once served as a major in the Iraqi army, and he may still be in contact with bin Laden. [Rewards for Justice, 1/4/2007] In 2005, Newsweek reported that al-Hadi had been the main liaison between bin Laden and the independent minded Islamist militant leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Iraq. [Newsweek, 4/4/2005]
Top: Ramzi bin al-Shibh (left) shaking hands with Mohammed Atef (right). Bottom: Bin al-Shibh (left) with bin Laden (right). [Source: Al Jazeera]Al Jazeera television broadcasts previously unseen footage of Osama bin Laden meeting with Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who was a roommate and close associate of some of the 9/11 hijackers. The footage is said to have been released by al-Qaeda’s production company, As-Sahab, in time for the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Bin al-Shibh is seen sitting and talking with bin Laden and al-Qaeda military leader Mohammed Atef. Atef was killed in November 2001 (see November 15, 2001), so the footage has to be from before then, but it is unknown if it was filmed before or after 9/11. Bin Laden is also shown strolling through an Afghanistan training camp meeting followers. Al Jazeera says some of these followers include some of the 9/11 hijackers, but their faces are not seen so it is unclear if this is the case. But bin Laden addresses the camera at one point and says of his followers preparing for missions, “I ask you to pray for them and to ask God to make them successful, aim their shots well, set their feet strong, and strengthen their hearts.” The video also includes the last testaments of two of the hijackers, Wail Alshehri and Hamza Alghamdi filmed in Kandahar, Afghanistan in March 2001 (see September 7, 2006 and (December 2000-March 2001)). [Associated Press, 9/7/2006; CNN, 9/8/2006]
A bipartisan Senate report finds that no credible evidence of any links between al-Qaeda and Saddam Hussein’s government ever existed, despite repeated and insistent claims by the White House and its allies (see Early 1995), March-June 1998, (2:40 p.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After September 11, 2001, September 18, 2001, September 19, 2001, September 21, 2001, October 27, 2001, 2002, February 6, 2002, March 22, 2002, July 25, 2002, September 12, 2002, September 15, 2002, September 25, 2002, October 1, 2002, October 2, 2002, October 7, 2002, October 7, 2002, December 2, 2002, Mid-January 2003, January 26, 2003, January 28, 2003, January 28, 2003, February 1, 2003-February 4, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 5, 2003, February 6, 2003, February 8, 2003, February 9, 2003, February 11 or 12, 2003, February 16, 2003, March 9, 2003, March 17, 2003, March 17-18, 2003, Shortly After April 9, 2003, July 9, 2003, September 7, 2003, September 14, 2003-September 17, 2003, September 28, 2003, December 17, 2003, January 8, 2004, January 9, 2004, Early June 2004, June 14, 2004, June 15, 2004, June 15, 2004, October 4, 2004, May 2005, October 2005, (2006), January 31, 2006, March 29, 2006, and September 10, 2006). Panel Democrats say that the White House knew the intelligence surrounding its claims of such links was flawed and unreliable.
Tenet Admitted to Giving in to Pressure - They note that in July former CIA Director George Tenet told the panel that the White House pressured him to support its arguments and that he agreed despite the findings of his own analysts. “Tenet admitted to the Intelligence Committee that the policymakers wanted him to ‘say something about not being inconsistent with what the president had said,’” says Intelligence Committee member Carl Levin (D-MI). Such compliance was, in hindsight, “the wrong thing to do,” Tenet added, according to Levin. “Well, it was much more than that,” Levin says. “It was a shocking abdication of a CIA director’s duty not to act as a shill for any administration or its policy.” Tenet also admitted that he erred in issuing a statement after President Bush’s October 7, 2002 speech saying that Bush’s claims were consistent with CIA findings (see October 7, 2002).
Republicans Say Report Just 'Election-Year Politicking' - Republican committee members insist that there is little new information about prewar intelligence or claims about Iraq’s links to terrorism. Ranking committee member Pat Roberts (R-KS) accuses Levin and other Democrats of trying to “use the committee… insisting that they were deliberately duped into supporting the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime.… That is simply not true, and I believe the American people are smart enough to recognize election-year politicking when they see it.” Democrats retort that the report speaks for itself.
Impeachment Not Warranted - However, committee Democrats such as John Rockefeller (D-WV) say that the report does not prove any criminal behavior from Bush or his top officials, and say that impeachment of Bush or anyone else is not warranted.
Hussein Opposed to US Policies - An FBI summary quoted in the report shows Hussein acknowledging that his government had met with al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, but denying any collusion. Hussein said he opposed only US policies, and added that “if he wanted to cooperate with the enemies of the US, he would have allied with North Korea or China,” according to the FBI summary.
Other Portions of Report - Other sections of the report find that no evidence existed to support claims that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program (see February 7, 2001, February 12, 2001, November 14, 2001, May 2002-September 2002, September 9, 2002, January 9, 2003, March 8, 2003, May 25, 2003, and May 30, 2003), had possessed biological weapons in 2003 (see 2002, 2002-March 2003, Mid-January 2002, March 22, 2002, August 2002, September 2002, September 24, 2002, December 2002, End of December 2002, January 9, 2003, and March 7, 2003), used the Salman Pak facility to train Islamist terrorists (see September 8, 2006), or that Iraqi officials met with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in the months before the 9/11 attacks (see September 8-10, 2006). The report also finds that the White House relied heavily on false intelligence from Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (see After August 2, 1989, (1994), January 1996, November 6-8, 2001, Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002, Between February 12, 2002 and March 31, 2002, Summer 2002, and June 26, 2002). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006 ; Associated Press, 9/9/2006]
Entity Tags: Iraqi National Congress, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Chalabi, Carl Levin, George J. Tenet, Saddam Hussein, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, Pat Roberts, Senate Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller, Mohamed Atta
Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation
Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal. [Source: Defense Department / Helene C. Stikkel]The Washington Post reports in a front page story, “The clandestine US commandos whose job is to capture or kill Osama bin Laden have not received a credible lead in more than two years. Nothing from the vast US intelligence world—no tips from informants, no snippets from electronic intercepts, no points on any satellite image—has led them anywhere near the al-Qaeda leader, according to US and Pakistani officials.” It is widely believed by US intelligence that bin Laden is hiding in tribal areas of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. Since May 2005, al-Qaeda has killed at least 23 tribal leaders in the region who are opposed to them, making intelligence collection increasingly difficult. There is no single person in charge of the US search for bin Laden with authority to direct covert operations. One counterterrorism official complains, “There’s nobody in the United States government whose job it is to find Osama bin Laden! Nobody!” However, Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal has become the de facto leader of the search. In recent months, President Bush has requested that the CIA “flood the zone” to gain better intelligence and efforts have stepped up. But at the same time, “Pakistan has grown increasingly reluctant to help the US search.… Pakistani and US counterterrorism and military officials admit that Pakistan has now all but stopped looking for bin Laden. ‘The dirty little secret is, [the US has] nothing, no operations, without the Paks,’ one former counterterrorism officer said.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2006]
Osama bin Laden is again rumored to be dead. The rumor is first sparked by the French newspaper L’Est Republicain, which publishes what it describes as a confidential document from the French intelligence service Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure saying that bin Laden died of typhoid on August 23. The report is apparently based on information from Saudi Arabian intelligence. The issue becomes, as Time magazine puts it, “the question of the day,” but the accuracy of the report is questioned by French President Jacques Chirac, Saudi Ambassador to the US Prince Turki al-Faisal, CIA Director Michael Hayden, and others, who all tell the media they think bin Laden may still be alive. Russian President Vladimir Putin, however, remarks that leaks can be used for manipulation, saying, “When there are leaks… one can say that [they] were done especially.” [Time, 9/23/2006; MSNBC, 9/24/2006] Another video of bin Laden footage will be released a week later (see September 30, 2006), apparently by the US. A rumor of bin Laden’s death also preceded an audiotape released earlier in the year (see January 16, 2006, January 19, 2006, and January 19, 2006).
The above still is from the bin Laden speech footage released in late 2006, and the below still is from the film The Road to Guantanamo released in early 2006. The date stamps are 1/8/2000 and 8/1/2000. In the film it is speculated the speech could have been from January or August 2000. [Source: London Times / Sony Pictures]A new videotape showing bin Laden, Mohamed Atta, and Ziad Jarrah in Afghanistan before 9/11 is leaked to the media. NBC reports that the US military obtained the tape at an al-Qaeda compound in Afghanistan in late 2001. NBC filed a freedom of information act request for the video earlier in 2006, but still had not gotten copies when the London Times somehow got a copy and released it. [MSNBC, 9/30/2006] The Times will only say the video was passed to them “through a previously tested channel. On condition of anonymity, sources from both al-Qaeda and the United States have confirmed its authenticity.” There is no sound, and the Times claims that “lip-readers have failed to decipher it, according to a US source.” One part of the tape shows bin Laden addressing a crowd of about 100 followers on January 8, 2000. Another part of the tape shows Atta and Jarrah together at an Afghanistan training camp on January 18, 2000, apparently while they read their wills. [London Times, 10/1/2006] Ben Venzke, head of a group monitoring terrorism communications called the IntelCentre, says, “It is highly unlikely that al-Qaeda wanted the material to be released in this manner and it is not consistent with any previous release.” He notes that bin Laden previously said he was saving Atta’s last will for a special occasion. This release could have spoiled those plans. Dia Rashwan, an Egyptian expert on militant groups, finds it strange the cameraman focuses on bin Laden’s audience instead of on bin Laden, clearly identifying many of the people in the crowd. “Was this a video by al-Qaeda or by a security agency? I have never seen such a video.” [Associated Press, 10/3/2006] Further, it is noted on the Internet that footage of bin Laden’s speech is remarkably similar to footage of a bin Laden speech in The Road to Guantanamo, a docu-drama released in March 2006. While the film is mostly made up of reenactments, it is based on the real cases of several Guantanamo prisoners and shows one of them being asked to identify himself in the speech footage in 2003.
The New York Times pens an editorial issuing a grim warning about the ramifications of the newly passed Military Commission Act (MCA—see October 17, 2006). The editorial calls the law’s stripping of habeas corpus rights for so-called “enemy combatants” “undemocratic.” It criticizes the highly charged rhetoric of the Republicans who attacked Democrats in opposition to the law as part of the Republican Party’s “scare-America-first strategy” for the upcoming midterm elections. The Times notes that President Bush misled the country into believing that the MCA is the only way the country has of adequately putting 9/11 suspects on trial: “The truth is that Mr. Bush could have done that long ago, but chose to detain them illegally at hidden CIA camps to extract information. He sent them to Guantanamo only to stampede Congress into passing the new law. The 60 or so men at Guantanamo who are now facing tribunals—out of about 450 inmates—also could have been tried years ago if Mr. Bush had not rebuffed efforts by Congress to create suitable courts. He imposed a system of kangaroo courts that was more about expanding his power than about combating terrorism.” The editorial criticizes Bush’s new “separate system of justice for any foreigner whom Mr. Bush chooses to designate as an ‘illegal enemy combatant,” one that “raises insurmountable obstacles for prisoners to challenge their detentions [and] does not require the government to release prisoners who are not being charged, or a prisoner who is exonerated by the tribunals.” However, the editorial gives false comfort to its readers by asserting that the MCA “does not apply to American citizens, but it does apply to other legal United States residents.” [New York Times, 10/19/2006]
Times Errs in Stating MCA Does Not Apply to US Citizens - Most other mainstream media outlets do not mention the possibility of the MCA applying to US citizens. But on the same day as the Times editorial, author and investigative journalist Robert Parry gives a powerful argument that the MCA can indeed be applied to them. The MCA reads in part, “Any person is punishable as a principal under this chapter who commits an offense punishable by this chapter, or aids, abets, counsels, commands, or procures its commission.… Any person subject to this chapter who, in breach of an allegiance or duty to the United States, knowingly and intentionally aids an enemy of the United States… shall be punished as a military commission… may direct.” The legal meaning of “any person,” Parry notes, clearly includes US citizens, particularly those who may act “in breach of an allegiance or duty to the United States.” Parry asks, “Who has ‘an allegiance or duty to the United States’ if not an American citizen? That provision would not presumably apply to Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, nor would it apply generally to foreign citizens. This section of the law appears to be singling out American citizens.” If an American citizen is charged with a crime under the MCA, that citizen, like the foreign nationals currently laboring under the weight of the law, cannot challenge their detention and charges under the habeas corpus provisions of US law, and cannot expect a fair trial. They will not be given the chance to appeal their convictions until they are prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced. And since the MCA defendant has no right to a “speedy trial,” that defendant cannot expect to be granted an appeal in any reasonable length of time. In effect, an American citizen, like a foreign national charged under the MCA, can be imprisoned indefinitely without recourse to the US judiciary.
Potential to Jail Media Leakers and Reporters - One aspect of the MCA that has not been widely discussed, Parry notes, is the provision that would allow the incarceration of “any person” who “collects or attempts to collect information by clandestine means or while acting under false pretenses, for the purpose of conveying such information to an enemy of the United States.” That provision is tremendously vague, and could easily be stretched to fit, for example, the whistleblowers who revealed the existence of the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program to the Times (see December 15, 2005) and the reporters and editors who published the story based on those revelations. [Consortium News, 10/19/2006] Six months later, a Justice Department lawyer will confirm that the Bush administration believes MCA does indeed apply to US citizens (see February 1, 2007).
The US State Department’s Rewards for Justice program launches an advertising campaign in dozens of airports in the US. The program distributes hundreds of wanted posters featuring al-Qaeda leaders such as Osama bin Laden. But strangely, the campaign is limited to the US and includes such airports as Londonderry, New Hampshire, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, which are not locations frequented by al-Qaeda leaders. Walter Deering, head of the Rewards for Justice program until 2003, will later point out that advertising in the wrong places can bog down investigators with false leads. “We’d get a lot of tips that were totally off the wall.” [Washington Post, 5/17/2008] Most al-Qaeda leaders are believed to be hiding in the tribal region of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. But since at least the start of 2004, the Rewards for Justice program has been conducting little to no advertising in Pakistan (see January 2004).
The Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence. [Source: Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence]An analysis by Swiss researchers casts doubt on the authenticity of over a dozen of the more recent communications allegedly made by Osama bin Laden. According to a 2009 article in the American Spectator (see March 2009), the Dalle Molle Institute for Artificial Intelligence in Manno, Switzerland, which does computer voice recognition for bank security, compares the voices on 15 undisputedly authentic earlier recordings of bin Laden with the voices on 15 more recent recordings that have been attributed to the al-Qaeda leader. The researchers find that all of the more recent, alleged bin Laden recordings clearly differ from each other and from the genuine earlier recordings. This would therefore indicate that these more recent recordings have been faked. In contrast to the Dalle Molle Institute, the CIA found all of the recordings to be authentic. Angelo Codevilla, a professor of international relations at Boston University, will comment, “It is hard to imagine what methodology might support [the CIA’s] conclusion.” [American Spectator, 3/2009] The American Spectator will be the only publication to report this analysis. An analysis by the Dalle Molle Institute for Perceptual Artificial Intelligence in November 2002, of an audio recording allegedly made by bin Laden around that time, concluded that the recording was likely a fake (see November 29, 2002). [Guardian, 11/30/2002]
CIA officer Arthur Keller allegedly hears rumors in 2007 that Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, a Pakistani militant group, is assisting Osama bin Laden with logistics in helping him hide somewhere inside Pakistan. Harkat will later be linked to the courier who lives with bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hideout until the US raid that kills bin Laden in 2011 (see May 2, 2011). The group also has long-standing ties to the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Keller had worked for the CIA in Pakistan in 2006. By 2011, he will have retired from the CIA and will tell his account about these rumors to the New York Times. Another US intelligence official will note that members of Harkat may have helped bin Laden without being aware who exactly they were helping or where he was hiding. It is unclear if the CIA investigates possible links between Harkat and bin Laden at this time, or later. [New York Times, 6/23/2011]
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