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Profile: Robert Fuller
Robert Fuller was a participant or observer in the following events:
A car rented by 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi is queried by police in Totowa, New Jersey. This incident is inputted into the NCIC, a widely used nationwide police database. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 236 ] Alhazmi rented the car, a Chrysler Concorde, on August 20 in nearby Wayne, New Jersey. He used his Florida driver’s license for ID. He stays in the area until September 1, when he returns the car and goes to Maryland. [CNN, 9/26/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 229, 247 ] Alhazmi had been put on a terrorist watch list several days earlier along with his companion Khalid Almihdhar (see August 23, 2001), and the FBI has been tasked to search for them in the US. On September 5, 2001, FBI agent Robert Fuller will allegedly search the NCIC database, although evidence suggests he does not actually do so (see September 5, 2001). It is unknown how quickly this incident is added to the database and if it would be there in time for Fuller to discover.
FBI agent Robert Fuller in 2009. [Source: Associated Press]The FBI’s New York office opens a full field intelligence investigation to locate Khalid Almihdhar. New York FBI agent Robert Fuller, new to the international terrorism squad, is the only person assigned to the task. The New York office had been given a “heads up alert” about Almihdhar on August 23, but the search only begins after the FBI decides on August 28 to conduct an intelligence investigation instead of a criminal investigation (see August 29, 2001). Another agent had labeled the search request “routine,” meaning that Fuller has 30 days to find his target. However, Fuller will be busy with another matter and won’t begin work on finding Almihdhar until September 4 (see September 4-5, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
Robert Fuller, an inexperienced FBI agent, searches for hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in the US on this day (see September 4-5, 2001). He claims that his search includes querying the ChoicePoint database. ChoicePoint is one of several companies maintaining commerical databases on personal information about US citizens. The FBI has a contract to access the ChoicePoint database, but none of the others. Fuller supposedly does not find any record on either Alhazmi or Almihdhar. He suggests this is because of variations in the spelling of names. However, the chairman of ChoicePoint will later confirm that although the database did have information on the hijackers before 9/11, the FBI did not ask to search the database until shortly after 9/11. The 9/11 Commission will conclude the database was not searched, and notes, “Searches of readily available databases could have unearthed” their California drivers’ licenses, car registrations, and telephone listings. Thomas Pickard, acting FBI Director at the time this search is made, will later falsely claim in public testimony before the 9/11 Commission that the FBI was not allowed to search the ChoicePoint database before 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 539; US Department of Justice, 11/2004; New York Observer, 11/28/2004] An FBI timeline put together shortly after 9/11 will mention that Alhazmi’s 2000 San Diego phone number was in the ChoicePoint database. The exact spelling for the phone number listing was Nawaf M. Al Hazmi. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 59 ]
FBI Agent Robert Fuller. [Source: Lyric Cabral]On September 4 and 5, 2001, FBI agent Robert Fuller attempts to find hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in the US. However, he fails to perform many basic checks, including a check of credit card usage (see September 4-5, 2001). In 2006, journalist Bob Woodward will report that CIA Director George Tenet believed that FBI could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks. Woodward will write, paraphrasing Tenet, “If the FBI had done a simple credit card check on the two 9/11 hijackers who had been identified in the United States before 9/11, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, they would have found that the two men had bought 10 tickets for early morning flights for groups of other Middle Eastern men for September 11, 2001. That was knowledge that might conceivably have stopped the attacks.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 79-80] Alhazmi and Almihdhar did buy some tickets for themselves and Nawaf Alhazmi also bought a ticket for his brother Salem Alhazmi, but it has not been reported that they bought as many as ten tickets (see August 25-27, 2001 and August 25-September 5, 2001).
A portion of Khalid Almihdhar’s New York identification card. The address is a Ramada Inn hotel, which was owned by Marriott at the time.
[Source: 9/11 Commission]The FBI’s New York office technically began an investigation to locate 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar on August 29, but in fact the one inexperienced agent assigned to the search, Robert Fuller, is busy for several days and only begins the search at this time (see August 29, 2001). Within a day, Fuller identifies connections between Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and widens the search to look for both of them. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004; New York Observer, 11/28/2004] The FBI will later claim that it searches aggressively. An internal review shortly after 9/11 will find that “everything was done that could have been done” to find them. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001] However, FBI agents familiar with the search will later describe it as unhurried and routine. A report by the Office of the Inspector General completed in late 2004 will conclude, “[T]he FBI assigned few resources to the investigation and little urgency was given to the investigation.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004] In conducting his search, Fuller takes the following steps on September 4-5:
He requests that Almihdhar’s name bed added to the INS watch list, called LOOKOUT. He describes Almihdhar as a potential witness in a terrorist investigation. He later claims that he identifies him only as a witness, not a potential terrorist, to prevent overzealous immigration officials from overreacting. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
He contacts the Customs Service and verifies that Almihdhar has been placed on its watch list. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
He requests a local criminal history check on Almihdhar and Alhazmi through the New York City Police Department. The request turns up nothing. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
He will claim that he requests a criminal history check in the NCIC, which is a computer database frequently used by every level of law enforcement. However, the Bergen Record will report that he “never performed one of the most basic tasks of a police manhunt. He never ran Almihdhar or Alhazmi through the NCIC computer. That simple act would have alerted local cops to look for the suspected terrorists.” At least four separate incidents involving Alhazmi were recorded in the NCIC database (see September 5, 2001). [Bergen Record, 7/11/2002; Bergen Record, 5/18/2004; US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
He requests a credit check. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
He requests that a national motor vehicle index be searched. However, a July 2001 police query on Alhazmi’s car that is in that index is not found (see September 5, 2001).
On September 5, Fuller and another agent contact the Marriott hotels in New York City, since Almihdhar had indicated when he entered the US in July 2001 that his destination was a Marriott hotel in New York. Later this same day he is told Almihdhar had never registered as a guest at any of the six Marriott hotels there. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004]
He will claim that he conducts a search in the ChoicePoint database, a commerical databases on personal information about US citizens. He will claim he searches the database and fails to find any information on them, but the chairman of ChoicePoint will later confirm the database did have information on the hijackers before 9/11, but the FBI did not ask to search the database until shortly after 9/11 (see September 4, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 539; US Department of Justice, 11/2004; New York Observer, 11/28/2004]
There are additional searches he could make that he apparently fails to do. For instance, he apparently fails to check car registration databases. Alhazmi did own a car (see March 25, 2000), and the 9/11 Commission will note: “A search on [his] car registration would have unearthed a license check by the South Hackensack Police Department that would have led to information placing Alhazmi in the [greater New York City] area and placing Almihdhar at a local hotel for a week in early July 2001. The hijackers actively used the New Jersey bank accounts, through ATM, debit card, and cash transactions, until September 10.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 539]
Additionally, even though the two were known to have previously entered the US through Los Angeles, drivers’ license records in California are not checked.
He also fails to check national credit card and bank account databases.
All of these would have had positive results. Alhazmi’s name was even in the 2000-2001 San Diego phone book, listing the address where he and Almihdhar may have been living up to as late as September 9, 2001 (see Early September 2001). [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 9/28/2001; Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001; Newsweek, 6/2/2002] There appears to be no further mention of any further work on this search after September 5, except for one request to the Los Angeles FBI office made on September 10 (see September 10, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will note: “We believe that if more resources had been applied and a significantly different approach taken, Alhazmi and Almihdhar might have been found. They had used their true names in the United States. Still, the investigators would have needed luck as well as skill to find them prior to September 11.… Many FBI witnesses have suggested that even if [they] had been found, there was nothing the agents could have done except follow [them] onto the planes. We believe this is incorrect. Both Alhazmi and Almihdhar could have been held for immigration violations or as material witnesses in the Cole bombing case. Investigation or interrogation of them, and investigation of their travel and financial activities, could have yielded evidence of connections to other participants in the 9/11 plot. The simple fact of their detention could have derailed the plan. In any case, the opportunity did not arise.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 272]
NCIC logo. [Source: NCIC] (click image to enlarge)FBI agent Robert Fuller has been tasked to find out if hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar are in the US, now that their names have been added to a terrorist watch list (see September 4-5, 2001). Fuller later claims that he requests a criminal history check in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, a computer database frequently used by every level of law enforcement. However, the Bergen Record will later report: “[H]e never performed one of the most basic tasks of a police manhunt. He never ran Almihdhar or Alhazmi through the NCIC computer. That simple act would have alerted local cops to look for the suspected terrorists.” Fuller also allegedly requests that a national motor vehicle index be searched. [Bergen Record, 7/11/2002; Bergen Record, 5/18/2004; US Department of Justice, 11/2004] A government webpage about the NCIC database posted before 9/11 boasts that it has an enhanced name search capability, returning results of phonetically similar names and name derivatives. [National Criminal Information Center, 5/5/2001] According to an FBI timeline assembled shortly after 9/11, the following incidents are in the NCIC database:
April 1, 2001. Nawaf Alhazmi receives a speeding ticket from Oklahoma State Highway Patrol in Clinton, Oklahoma (see April 1, 2001). He is driving the Toyota Corolla he bought in San Diego the year before. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 131 ; Daily Oklahoman, 1/20/2002]
Alhazmi tells police in Alexandria, Virginia, that he was mugged. Even though he declines to press charges, this incident is added to the NCIC database (see May 1, 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 139 ]
July 7, 2001. Alhazmi’s Corolla is queried by police in South Hackensack, New Jersey. The incident is added to the motor vehicle index as well as the NCIC database (see July 7, 2001). One newspaper will later comment that a search of the NCIC “would have told the agent a local cop… had already spotted Alhazmi in [the New Jersey town of] South Hackensack.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 179 ; US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; Bergen Record, 5/18/2004]
August 28, 2001. A rental car rented by Alhazmi is queried by police in Totowa, New Jersey (see August 28, 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 236 ] While this incident will be in the NCIC database when the FBI searches it after 9/11, it is unknown if it is accessible by Fuller when he searches it.
If Fuller really does check both the NCIC and motor vehicle databases, it is not clear why he fails to find any of these incidents and thus prove that Alhazmi was in the US.
Robert Fuller, a rookie FBI agent at the bureau’s New York field office, contacts Dina Corsi, an agent in the bin Laden unit at FBI headquarters, about the search for Khalid Almihdhar. Fuller, who has been tasked to look for Almihdhar in the US, proposes that the FBI try to obtain additional data on Almihdhar, such as a credit card number from Saudi Airlines, with which Almihdhar flew to the US (see July 4, 2001). However, according to Fuller, Corsi tells him that it would not be prudent to do so. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 65 ] As a result, Fuller does not do the credit check (see September 4-5, 2001). It is not known why Corsi advises this.
Mohamed Alanssi, a Yemeni currently in the US on business, goes to the FBI’s New York field office to offer his services as an informant against al-Qaeda. He offers the bureau information on alleged al-Qaeda financers working in Yemen and quickly becomes an important mole. His case is handled by Robert Fuller, an FBI agent who failed to locate the 9/11 hijackers in the US before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001, September 4-5, 2001, and September 4-5, 2001). Alanssi travels to Yemen to gather intelligence on occasions, and will film a key terrorism financier, Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad, making incriminating statements in 2003 (see January 2003). In an affidavit supporting Moayad’s arrest warrant, Fuller will say that he has been working with a Yemeni informant, apparently Alanssi, since November 2001 and that the informant has provided reliable information and “contributed, in part, to the arrests of 20 individuals and the seizure of over $1 million.” However, the relationship between Alanssi and the bureau will later go sour and Alanssi will immolate himself in front of the White House (see November 15, 2004). [Washington Post, 11/16/2004]
Salim Hamdan is captured in Afghanistan. [Guantanamo Military Commissions, 11/20/2007 ] Hamdan is an Arab who has lived in Afghanistan for some time and has some knowledge about al-Qaeda and its operations there. He will later become well known after he is transferred to Guantanamo and engages in a series of legal battles to gain his freedom (see November 8, 2004 and June 30, 2006). [USA Today, 7/24/2008; Reuters, 7/24/2008] At some point, he is handed over to the FBI. However, agents for the bureau do not read him his Miranda rights. “Our policy at the time was not to read Miranda rights,” FBI special agent Robert Fuller will say in testimony at a US military commission hearing for Hamdan. Reuters will later write, “Similar warnings must be given to suspects in US military custody, and suspects overseas who may face US charges commonly receive warnings.” FBI special agent Stewart Kelley will say, “If they are a suspect, and they are detained, a Miranda is usually given.” [Reuters, 7/24/2008]
Salim Hamdan, a detainee with some knowledge about al-Qaeda who was captured in late November, takes FBI agents on two tours of facilities associated with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Hamdan and the agents twice drive around Kandahar in the months after his capture and he points out compounds owned by Osama bin Laden, including Tarnak Farms, and guest houses where al-Qaeda members could safely stay, which the agents take pictures of. Robert Fuller, one of the agents who accompanies Hamdan, will later say: “The first compound, when we arrived to it, it was destroyed. No roof was left.” The second compound is intact, and “in great shape,” according to Fuller. Hamdan also tells the FBI of his time at a training camp, but says he only stayed for a month and then returned to a guest house to be with his family. In addition, he identifies several high-ranking al-Qaeda officials and describes visits by bin Laden and other al-Qaeda figures to the camp. They gave speeches and “offered words of encouragement,” according to FBI agent Craig Donnachie. [USA Today, 7/24/2008; Reuters, 7/24/2008] Despite this co-operation, Hamdan will be transferred to Guantanamo, held there for years, and prosecuted in a military commission (see June 30, 2006).
FBI agent Robert Fuller interrogates Canadian citizen Omar Khadr at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Fuller is an FBI agent who failed to locate the 9/11 hijackers in the US before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001, September 4-5, 2001, and September 4-5, 2001), while Khadr is a minor accused of throwing a hand grenade that killed a US soldier in Afghanistan. The interrogation lasts from October 7 to October 22. On the first day, Fuller shows Khadr a black-and-white photograph provided by the FBI in Massachusetts of Maher Arar, a Canadian terror suspect the US has been holding in New York (see September 26, 2002). Fuller will later say that Khadr identifies Arar as someone he has seen in a safe house run by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and that he also “may have” seen Arar at a terror training camp near Kabul. However, at the time Khadr says he saw Arar in Afghanistan—September and October 2001—Arar was first in the US and then in Canada under surveillance by the local authorities, according to Walter Ruiz, a lawyer who will later represent Khadr. Ruiz will also point out that it takes Khadr several minutes to identify Arar. Another of Khadr’s lawyers, Lieutenant Commander Bill Kuebler, will say that Khadr repeatedly lies to his interrogators to avoid being abused. Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson decides that Arar will be deported to Syria on this day (see October 7, 2002), and the deportation is soon carried out (see October 8, 2002). However, it is unclear whether Thompson’s decision is motivated by Fuller’s interrogation of Khadr or other factors. [CBC News, 1/20/2009; Canwest News Service, 1/20/2009] Fuller will testify about the identification at a Guantanamo hearing (see January 19, 2009), but facts calling it into question will emerge under cross-examination (see January 20, 2009).
The FBI lures a Yemeni terrorism financier, Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad, to Germany as part of a sting operation. One of the assets involved in the operation is Mohamed Alanssi, who works as a mole for the bureau, where he is handled by an agent named Robert Fuller (see November 2001). Alanssi will later say that his role in the operation is to persuade al-Moayad to travel to Germany, where US agents manage to tape him boasting of his involvement in providing money, recruits, and supplies to al-Qaeda, Hamas, and other terrorist groups. Al-Moayad is then arrested together with one of his assistants, Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed. They will later be extradited to the US for trial (see November 16, 2003), but Alanssi’s role in the operation will be revealed in the press and his relationship with the FBI will go sour (see November 15, 2004). [BBC, 11/16/2003; Washington Post, 11/16/2004]
Mohamed Alanssi, an FBI counterterrorism informant (see November 2001), sets himself on fire in front of the White House in protest over how the bureau has handled him. Alanssi had previously informed the Washington Post and Robert Fuller, his FBI handler in New York, of his intention. Fuller is an FBI agent who failed to locate the 9/11 hijackers in the US before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001, September 4-5, 2001 and September 4-5, 2001). Alanssi approaches the White House and asks the Secret Service to deliver a note to President Bush. When he is turned away, he steps back and then sets his jacket on fire, suffering serious burns before the Secret Service agents can extinguish the flames. Alanssi is primarily unhappy that the FBI has confiscated his passport, because he is ill and wants to visit his family in Yemen, where his wife is sick with stomach cancer. The FBI is apparently holding the passport in an attempt to make him testify at the trial of Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad, an associate of Osama bin Laden that Alanssi informed on (see January 2003). Alanssi has also complained to the Post that the FBI has not kept all of its promises, allowing his identity to become known, endangering himself and his family, not giving him US citizenship, and paying him $100,000 after promising him he would “be a millionaire.” Alanssi told the Post: “It is my big mistake that I have cooperated with FBI. The FBI has already destroyed my life and my family’s life and made us in a very danger position.… I am not crazy to destroy my life and my family’s life to get $100,000.” [Washington Post, 11/16/2004]
Six FBI agents and one Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) agent testify at a military commission hearing for detainee Salim Ahmed Hamdan. Although at least one witness is anonymous, the FBI agents testifying include Robert Fuller and Craig Donnachie. Fuller admits that the bureau failed to read Hamdan his Miranda rights following his capture in 2001 (see November 24, 2001), and describes a tour of al-Qaeda facilities Hamdan took them on (see Shortly after November 24, 2001). Although Hamdan only provided what they thought was incomplete information, the agents all deny coercing or threatening him. [USA Today, 7/24/2008; Reuters, 7/24/2008]
Robert Fuller, an FBI agent who interrogated Canadian terror suspect Omar Khadr at Bagram Air Base in 2002 (see October 7-22, 2002), testifies about the interrogation at a Guantanamo hearing. The hearing was requested by Khadr’s defence team, to have self-incriminating statements Khadr made during interrogations suppressed ahead of proceedings before a military commission. Fuller says that, during the interrogation, Khadr told him he recognised a man named Maher Arar from a safe house run by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and also possibly from a terror training camp. “He identified him by name,” Fuller says. [CBC News, 1/20/2009; Canwest News Service, 1/20/2009] However, cross-examination by the defense the next day will raise several issues that cast doubt on the identification (see January 20, 2009).
Under cross-examination at a pre-military commission hearing, FBI agent Robert Fuller provides a version of an interrogation of detainee Omar Khadr different to the one he gave a day earlier under direct examination (see January 19, 2009). Fuller had previously described an interrogation of Khadr at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan where Khadr linked a terror suspect named Maher Arar to al-Qaeda (see October 7-22, 2002) through a photograph identification. However, a lawyer for Khadr pulls out Fuller’s contemporary report of the interrogation and shows that the identification did not happen immediately, as Fuller initially claimed, but that it took several minutes. Lawyers for Khadr will also argue that their client made false statements to interrogators to avoid abuse, and that Arar was in the US and Canada at the time Khadr said he saw him in Afghanistan. [CBC News, 1/20/2009; Canwest News Service, 1/20/2009]
The “Newburgh Four,” James Cromitie, David Williams, Onta Williams, and Laguerre Payen, are arrested by police and the FBI over a plot to attack Jewish buildings and an air base in New York State. The arrest comes after the men have planted what they think are bombs in cars outside two synagogues, the Riverdale Temple and Riverdale Jewish Center, in the Bronx, New York City. The four are planning to go to the Air National Guard base in Newburgh to shoot down military aircraft with what they think are real Stinger missiles, when they are seized by the authorities. [New York Times, 5/22/2009] The men hatched the plot with an FBI informer named Shahed Hussain, who was working for bureau agent Robert Fuller. [Times Herald-Record (Middletown NY), 8/27/2010]
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