!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: Richard Blee
Richard Blee was a participant or observer in the following events:
Richard Blee in 1976. [Source: Phi Kappa Psi]Richard Blee, a CIA officer who will later go on to head the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit before 9/11 (see June 1999), serves in the Central African Republic. The State Department’s September 1984, January 1985, May 1985, and September 1986 publications “Key Officers of Foreign Service Posts” will list Blee as the consular officer at the US embassy in Bangui. [US Department of State, 9/1984, pp. 12; US Department of State, 1/1985, pp. 12; US Department of State, 5/1985, pp. 12; US Department of State, 9/1986, pp. 12] However, given his CIA affiliation he is presumably attached to the CIA station there.
Richard Blee, a CIA officer who will later go on to head the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit before 9/11 (see June 1999), serves in Niger. The State Department’s May 1989, September 1989, January 1990, September 1990, and January 1991 publications “Key Officers of Foreign Service Posts” will list him as the political officer at the US embassy in Niamey. [US Department of State, 5/1989, pp. 35; US Department of State, 9/1989, pp. 35; US Department of State, 1/1990, pp. 35; US Department of State, 9/1990, pp. 32; US Department of State, 1/1991, pp. 62] However, given his CIA affiliation, Blee is presumably attached to the CIA station there.
The CIA proposes a policy of abducting Islamic Jihad militants and sending them to Egypt which will soon be approved by President Bill Clinton (see June 21, 1995). The Clinton administration began a policy of allowing abductions, known as “renditions,” in 1993 (see 1993). At first, renditions were rarely used because few countries wanted the suspects. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is one of the architects of a 1995 agreement with Egypt to send rendered militants there. He will later recall: “It was begun in desperation.… We were turning into voyeurs. We knew where these people were, but we couldn’t capture them because we had nowhere to take them,” due to legal and diplomatic complications. The CIA realized that “we had to come up with a third party.” Egypt was the obvious choice because the Islamic Jihad is the prime political enemy of the Egyptian government, and many Islamic Jihad militants also work for al-Qaeda, an enemy of the US.
Turning a Blind Eye - However, the Egyptian secret police force, the Mukhabarat, is notorious for its torture of prisoners. As part of the program, the US helps track, capture, and transport suspects to Egypt (see Before Summer 1995) and then turns a blind eye while the Egyptians torture them. Scheuer claims the US could give the Egyptian interrogators questions they wanted put to the detainees in the morning and get answers by the evening. Because torture is illegal in the US, US officials are never present when the torture is done. Further, the CIA only abducts suspects who have already been convicted in absentia. Talaat Fouad Qassem is the first known person the CIA renders to Egypt (see September 13, 1995). But the number of renditions greatly increases in 1998, when the CIA gets a list of Islamic Jihad operatives around the world (see Late August 1998). These renditions result in a big trial in Egypt in 1999 that effectively destroys Islamic Jihad as a major force in that country (see 1999). [New Yorker, 2/8/2005]
CIA, NSC, Justice Department Lawyers Consulted - Scheuer will say that lawyers inside and outside the CIA are intensively consulted about the program: “There is a large legal department within the Central Intelligence Agency, and there is a section of the Department of Justice that is involved in legal interpretations for intelligence work, and there is a team of lawyers at the National Security Council, and on all of these things those lawyers are involved in one way or another and have signed off on the procedure. The idea that somehow this is a rogue operation that someone has dreamed up is just absurd.” [Grey, 2007, pp. 140-141]
Leadership of Program - The rendition program does not focus solely on al-Qaeda-linked extremists, and other suspected terrorists are also abducted. Scheuer will later tell Congress, “I authored it and then ran and managed it against al-Qaeda leaders and other Sunni Islamists from August 1995, until June 1999.” [US Congress, 4/17/2007 ] A dedicated Renditions Branch will be established at CIA headquarters in 1997 (see 1997), but the relationship between Scheuer and its manager is not known—it is unclear whether this manager is a subordinate, superior, or equal of Scheuer, or whether Scheuer takes on this responsibility as well. After Scheuer is fired as unit chief in May 1999 (see June 1999), his role in the rendition program will presumably be passed on to his successor, Richard Blee, who will go on to be involved in rendition after 9/11 (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). In a piece apparently about Blee, journalist Ken Silverstein will say that he “oversaw… the [Counterterrorist Center] branch that directed renditions.” [Harper's, 1/28/2007]
During Michael Scheuer’s time as head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit Alec Station from 1996 to 1999 (see February 1996 and June 1999), the unit has conflicts with other parts of the US intelligence community. Scheuer has an angry and dogmatic style that sometimes alienates people.
Conflict with Counterterrorism 'Tsar' Clarke - Scheuer and Richard Clarke, the US counterterrorism “tsar,” do not get along, even though both are among the first people in government to take the Osama bin Laden threat seriously. Clarke can also be abrasive. One former CIA insider will later say, “I can say that, among individuals that I tend to trust, Clarke was regarded as more serious about terrorism in the 1990s than just about anybody else in the US government, but he was a truly painful individual to work with.” Clarke will later similarly criticize Scheuer, saying: “Throwing tantrums and everything doesn’t help.… [You shouldn’t be] so dysfunctional within your agency that you’re making it harder to get something done.” And Scheuer will later criticize Clarke, saying: “[He] was an interferer of the first level, in terms of talking about things that he knew nothing about and killing them.… He was always playing the FBI off against us or us against the NSA.”
Conflict with the FBI - The bin Laden unit does not get along with some FBI agents assigned to it as well. From the very start, some FBI officials, including bin Laden expert John O’Neill, resist cooperating with the unit. CIA official John MacGaffin will later claim, “O’Neill just fought it and fought it [cooperating with Alec Station].” O’Neill and Scheuer “were at each other’s throats.” On one occasion an FBI agent at the bin Laden unit is caught hiding CIA files inside his shirt to take them back to O’Neill. Scheuer will also claim that the FBI rarely follows up leads the bin Laden unit sends it. Furthermore, the FBI never shares information. “I bet we sent 700 or 800 requests for information to the FBI, and we never got an answer to any of them,” Scheuer says.
Conflicts with CIA Higher-Ups - The bin Laden unit also has conflicts with others within the CIA, including powerful superiors. An incident in 1996 leads to a breakdown of trust between Scheuer and his superiors (see 1996). John MacGaffin, who is a top CIA official for clandestine operations at the time, will later say of Scheuer, “He’s a good guy, [but] he’s an angry guy.”
Situation Improves after Scheuer - In June 1999, Richard Blee replaces Scheuer as head of the bin Laden unit, and he will stay involved in the bin Laden issue until after 9/11 (see December 9, 2001). Vanity Fair will later comment that Blee “was just as heated up over bin Laden as Scheuer had been, but obviously less likely to cause the kind of friction that would discomfit the [CIA director].” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
Beginning in 1998, if not before, Uzbekistan and the CIA secretly create a joint counterterrorist strike force, funded and trained by the CIA. This force conducts joint covert operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. [Times of India, 10/14/2001; Washington Post, 10/14/2001; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] In February 1999, radical Muslims fail in an attempt to assassinate Islam Karimov, the leader of Uzbekistan, leading to a crackdown on Uzbek militants. CIA counterterrorism head Cofer Black and bin Laden unit chief Richard Blee see this as an opportunity to increase co-operation with Uzbekistan, and fly to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent to seal an agreement with Karimov. One hope is that a strike force will be established to snatch Osama bin Laden or one of his lieutenants. Karimov also allows CIA transit and helicopter operations at Uzbek air bases, as well as the installation of CIA and NSA monitoring equipment to intercept Taliban and al-Qaeda communications. The CIA is pleased with the new allies, thinking them better than Pakistan’s ISI, but at the White House some National Security Council members are skeptical. One will comment, “Uzbek motivations were highly suspect to say the least.” There are also worries about Uzbek corruption, human rights abuses, and scandal. [Coll, 2004, pp. 456-460]
The CIA decides to increase its links with Ahmed Shah Massoud, an Afghan commander fighting the Taliban in northern Afghanistan. The decision is pushed through by Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, and Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. According to author Steve Coll, Black and Blee see Massoud “as his admirers in Europe [do], as an epochal figure, extraordinarily skillful and determined,” and believe that Massoud is the key to capturing bin Laden. However, the CIA’s Near East Division is skeptical of the potential for this liaison, partly because they remember problems they had with Massoud during the Soviet-Afghan War. Near East officers also think Massoud can only be of limited usefulness against bin Laden because of the geographical distance between Massoud’s forces in the north of Afghanistan and bin Laden’s base in the country’s south. [Coll, 2004, pp. 460-1] The CIA will soon send more personnel into Afghanistan to meet Massoud and discuss co-operation (see October 1999). However, a plan to make the increase substantial will be rejected in late 2000 and Massoud will still not be receiving much aid by 9/11 (see December 20, 2000).
Richard Blee. The only known public photo of Blee is this one taken from a school yearbook, when he was nine years old. [Source: Public domain]Following the firing of Michael Scheuer, the founding head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see June 1999), a new chief of the station is appointed. The chief, Richard Blee, worked in Algeria as a case officer during the civil war there in the early 1990s (see January 11, 1992) and prior to his appointment as station chief was an executive assistant to CIA management. [Coll, 2004, pp. 456] He also served on an Iraqi task force attempting to destabilize Saddam Hussein’s regime in the mid-1990s. [Harper's, 1/28/2007] According to author Steve Coll: “Since he came directly from [CIA Director George] Tenet’s leadership group, his arrival was seen as a signal of renewed high-level interest in the bin Laden case. The new chief’s connections presumably would help attract resources to the cause and smooth decision-making.” In addition, “He [knows] the bin Laden issue, he [knows] the Third World and he [does] not mind high-risk travel.”
Criticism of Management Style - However, Blee’s management style will attract some criticism. Coll will say that he is “intense and sometimes emotional and combative” and that he is seen by some colleagues as “typical of the unyielding zealots” at Alec Station. [Coll, 2004, pp. 456, 540] Author James Bamford will comment, “But the most serious problem was [Blee]‘s lack of management, his myopic obsession with bin Laden, and his focus on the fun and adventure part of the job.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 218-9] Journalist Ken Silverstein will say: “[S]ources have told me that [Blee] has frequently been divisive and ineffective in previous positions.… His reputation and relationship with the military, especially the special-ops community, is very bad, based on substantive issues that arose during his time [in Afghanistan and Pakistan] post-9/11.… Another former official called [Blee] a ‘smart guy‘…, but described him as a terrible manager.” [Harper's, 1/28/2007]
Following the replacement of Michael Scheuer by Richard Blee as chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see June 1999 and June 1999), the relationship between Alec Station and its FBI counterpart headed by John O’Neill does not improve. The relationship between Scheuer and O’Neill was extremely stormy, but Blee’s arrival does nothing to calm matters. As O’Neill is the FBI manager most knowledgeable about al-Qaeda, the combative nature of the relationship may hamper interagency counterterrorism efforts. Author James Bamford will write, “The epicenter of the clash between the two cultures [of the FBI and CIA] was the relationship between [Blee] and John P. O’Neill, the flashy, outspoken chief of the FBI’s National Security Division in New York.” An associate of O’Neill’s will say of Alec Station staff, “They despised the FBI and they despised John O’Neill.” A CIA officer will add, “The working relationships were very difficult at times.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 217-8]
Ahmed Shah Massoud.
[Source: French Ministry of Foreign Affairs]Worried about intercepts showing a growing likelihood of al-Qaeda attacks around the millennium, the CIA steps up ties with Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. The CIA sends a team of agents, led by bin Laden unit chief Richard Blee, to Massoud’s headquarters in a remote part of northern Afghanistan, seeking his help to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. The CIA team and Massoud meet twice, and Blee tells him, “We have a common enemy.” Massoud complains that the US is too focused on bin Laden, and is not interested in the root problems of Taliban, Saudi, and Pakistani support for terrorism that is propping him up. He agrees to help nonetheless, and the CIA gives him more aid in return. However, the US is officially neutral in the Afghan civil war and the agents are prohibited from giving any aid that would “fundamentally alter the Afghan battlefield.” The CIA team will later be reported to admire Massoud greatly. They see him as “a Che Guevara figure, a great actor on history’s stage,” and “a poet, a military genius, a religious man, and a leader of enormous courage who defied death and accepted its inevitability.” Author Steve Coll will write: “The CIA team had gone into the Panjshir [Valley, where Massoud’s headquarters is located] as unabashed admirers of Massoud. Now their convictions deepened even as they recognized that the agency’s new partnership with the Northern Alliance would be awkward, limited, and perhaps unlikely to succeed.” Perhaps because of this, the team members agree with Massoud’s criticism of US policy and agree to lobby for a policy change in his favor in Washington. [Coll, 2004, pp. 469-472; Washington Post, 2/23/2004] DIA agent Julie Sirrs, newly retired, is at Massoud’s headquarters at the same time as the CIA team (see October 1998). She gathers valuable intelligence from captured al-Qaeda soldiers while the CIA agents stay in their guesthouse. She will publish much of what she learns on this trip and other trips in the summer of 2001. [Washington Post, 2/28/2004]
Although Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is coordinating surveillance of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), it fails to draft a full report on it to alert the rest of the intelligence community. Author James Bamford will comment, “Despite the importance of the operation, [Alec Station chief Richard Blee] had never bothered to write up and distribute an intelligence report on it—what is known as a TD, or Telegraphic Dissemination.” Blee must be aware of the operation’s importance because he repeatedly briefs the CIA’s leadership, and these briefings are passed on to top government officials such as National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and FBI Director Louis Freeh (see January 6-9, 2000). A senior intelligence officer will later say, “A TD would have gone to a lot of people, but we didn’t do that.” This is one of the reasons why three of the attendees at the meeting, including 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, are able to apparently disappear in Thailand on January 8 (see January 8, 2000). Bamford will call the failure to write the report “a serious blunder.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 227]
FBI Director Louis Freeh and other top FBI officials are briefed about the ongoing al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) as part of their regular daily update. They are told the CIA is in the lead and that the CIA promises to let the FBI know if an FBI angle to the case develops. But they are not told that the CIA has just found out that one of the participants, Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] It is unclear who the other top FBI officials that are briefed are. However, Dale Watson, the assistant director of the counterterrorism division, and Thomas Pickard, the FBI’s deputy director at this time and its acting director in the summer of 2001, will also learn of the summit by July 2001, although it is unclear exactly when they are informed (see July 12, 2001). [Pickard, 6/24/2004] According to Vanity Fair, Richard Blee, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, “provided surveillance updates for [the CIA’s] top officers, the FBI, and the White House” while the summit is in progress. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] One FBI official familiar with the case will later complain: “[The CIA] purposely hid [Almihdhar] from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau.… The thing was, they didn’t want John O’Neill and the FBI running over their case. And that’s why September 11 happened.… They have blood on their hands.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224] Jack Cloonan, an FBI agent in the I-49 squad that focuses on al-Qaeda, will later say: “If that information [got] disseminated, would it have had an impact on the events of 9/11? I’m telling you that it would have.” [ABC News, 5/10/2004]
Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, gives an incorrect briefing to his CIA superiors about surveillance of al-Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia. He claims that Malaysian authorities and the CIA are continuing to monitor al-Qaeda operatives who gathered for a summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). In actual fact, three of the summit’s attendees, 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, have already left Kuala Lumpur for Bangkok, Thailand, and have disappeared there (see January 8, 2000). The 9/11 Commission will say that Blee is “unaware at first even that the Arabs had left Kuala Lumpur, let alone that their trail had been lost in Thailand” and that he “may not have known that in fact Almihdhar and his companions had dispersed and the tracking was falling apart.” These statements will be sourced to an interview with Blee in December 2003 and contemporary CIA documents. However, Alec Station is well aware of the departure of the three men, as it was notified of this and sent a follow-up cable on January 9 telling the CIA station in Bangkok to find them there (see January 9, 2000). It is unclear why Blee gives such an inaccurate briefing, but he gives a similar one two days later (see January 14, 2000), after Alec Station is again reminded that the three radicals are in Thailand, not Malaysia (see January 13, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 354, 502]
Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, again wrongly informs his CIA superiors about surveillance of al-Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia. Repeating a claim made in a briefing two days previously (see January 12, 2000), he says that Malaysian authorities and the CIA are continuing to monitor al-Qaeda operatives who gathered for a summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). In actual fact, three of the summit’s attendees, 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, have already left Kuala Lumpur for Bangkok, Thailand (see January 8, 2000). Alec Station is well aware of the departure of the three men, as it was notified of their departure and sent a follow-up cable on January 9 telling the CIA station in Bangkok to find them there (see January 9, 2000). In addition, one day before this briefing the CIA station in Bangkok sent Alec Station a cable saying it was unable to locate the men in Thailand (see January 13, 2000). The 9/11 Commission will also point out that “there is no evidence of any tracking efforts actually being undertaken by anyone after the Arabs disappeared into Bangkok.” It is unclear why Blee gives such an inaccurate briefing. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 354]
Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, stops operations linked to the monitoring of al-Qaeda Malaysia’s summit. The summit had been attended by leaders of the organization and two or three 9/11 hijackers (see January 5-8, 2000), and had been monitored by the CIA, which briefed leading administration officials on it (see January 6-9, 2000). However, Alec Station appears to lose interest in it in mid-January, after three of the attendees apparently disappear in Thailand (see January 8, 2000). The 9/11 Commission will say that apart from watchlisting the three in Thailand: “No other effort was made to create other opportunities to spot these Arab travelers in case the screen in Bangkok failed. Just from the evidence in [Khalid] Almihdhar’s passport, one of the logical possible destinations and interdiction points would have been the United States. Yet no one alerted the INS or the FBI to look for these individuals.” Author James Bamford will call this “incredible” and compare Alec Station’s performance to “a train wreck in slow motion.” He will also comment that Alec Station chief Richard Blee “completely dropped the ball,” and say that once “al-Qaeda members dispersed and things began falling apart, he simply paid no attention.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 228-230; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 354]
Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is involved in a reorganization at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) and is merged into a larger group within the CTC. Precise details of the reorganization are not known. When FBI agent Charles Frahm is detailed to the CIA in July 2000 to replace an FBI agent who had previously been deputy manager of Alec Station (see Mid-January 2000), due to the reorganization Frahm is made deputy chief of the larger unit. Presumably therefore, Alec Station chief Richard Blee is now the head of the larger unit. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 229, 231-232, 320 ] The 9/11 Commission Report will refer to Blee as “head of the section that included the bin Laden unit,” and “a group chief with authority over the bin Laden unit,” indicating that his position is indeed upgraded. (Note: this first quote from the 9/11 Commission Report refers to an event in mid-1999. Presumably, there is an error in the timing here by the Commission, as at this time Blee was head of the bin Laden unit (see June 1999), not the larger group. His position appears not to be upgraded until around the spring of 2000.) [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 142, 204] Journalist Ken Silverstein will say that at one point Blee holds the number four position at the CTC, chief of operations, which may be at this time. [Harper's, 1/28/2007]
Following the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), the CIA discusses possible policy changes in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Disappointed by US inaction, Alec Station chief Richard Blee decides “we’ve got to change the rules,” because he thinks al-Qaeda is getting stronger and stronger. This entails enhanced support for the Northern Alliance led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, which is the only credible opposition fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Although some CIA officers still think Alec Station’s staff is “over the top,” both the CIA’s Near East division and Counterterrorist Center chief Cofer Black agree with Blee, and they decide what is needed is aid to enable Massoud to pressure the Taliban, creating the conditions for CIA operations against bin Laden. The list of assistance includes cash to bribe commanders, trucks, helicopters, light arms, ammunition, uniforms, food, and possibly mortars and artillery. The plan will cost between $50 and $150 million, and will include a permanent CIA base in Afghan territory controlled by the Northern Alliance. CIA officers will then be able to accompany Massoud’s men on missions. It takes some time to arrive at these conclusions, which will be formalized into a plan (see December 29, 2000). However, the plan will not be accepted by the outgoing Clinton administration or the incoming Bush administration (see December 20, 2000). [Coll, 2004, pp. 539-541; Washington Post, 2/23/2004]
CIA managers Gary Schroen, of the Near East division, and Richard Blee, responsible for Alec Station, the agency’s bin Laden unit, meet Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud in Paris, France. [Coll, 2004, pp. 560] Massoud, who is in Europe to address the European Parliament (see April 6, 2001), tells Schroen and Blee “that his own intelligence had learned of al-Qaeda’s intention to perform a terrorist act against the United States that would be vastly greater than the bombings of the American embassies in East Africa.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 337] Declassified Defense Intelligence Agency documents from November 2001 will say that Massoud has gained “limited knowledge… regarding the intentions of [al-Qaeda] to perform a terrorist act against the US on a scale larger than the 1998 bombing of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.” They will further point out he may have been assassinated two days before 9/11 (see September 9, 2001) because he “began to warn the West.” [PakTribune (Islamabad), 9/13/2003; Agence France-Presse, 9/14/2003] Blee hands Massoud a briefcase full of cash. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Schroen and Blee assure Massoud that, although he has been visited less by the CIA recently, they are still interested in working with him, and they will continue to make regular payments of several hundred thousand dollars each month. Commenting on the military situation in Afghanistan, Massoud says his defenses will hold for now, but the Northern Alliance is doing badly and no longer has the strength to counterattack. [Coll, 2004, pp. 561-2]
During a regularly scheduled weekly meeting between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet, CIA official Richard Blee describes a “truly frightening” list of warning signs of an upcoming terrorist attack. He says that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is working on attack plans. CIA leaders John McLaughlin and Cofer Black are also present at this meeting, as is counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and Mary McCarthy, a CIA officer serving as National Security Council senior director. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 145] Just the day before, Clarke suggested that Tenet and Rice discuss what could be done to stop Zubaida from launching “a series of major terrorist attacks,” so presumably this discussion is in response to that (see May 29, 2001). Tenet will later recall: “Some intelligence suggested that [Zubaida’s] plans were ready to be executed; others suggested they would not be ready for six months. The primary target appeared to be in Israel, but other US assets around the world were at risk.” Rice asks about taking the offensive against al-Qaeda and asks how bad the threat is. Black estimates it to be a seven on a one-to-10 scale, with the millennium threat at the start of 2000 ranking an eight in comparison. Clarke tells her that adequate warning notices have been issued to the appropriate US entities. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 145-146]
Two unnamed veteran CIA Counterterrorist Center officers deeply involved in Osama bin Laden-related issues are so worried about an impending attack that they consider resigning and going public with their concerns, according to the 9/11 Commission. Apparently they are also unhappy with the Bush administration’s lack of response to recent warnings. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259-260] In a 2008 book by journalist Philip Shenon, one of the officials will be named as Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Alec Station, from 1996 to 1999. The other may be his replacement Richard Blee (see June 1999), the CIA manager currently responsible for overseeing Alec Station. Neither will have commented publicly on their threatened resignations. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 395] However, in 2004, Scheuer will say that on the day of 9/11, he turned on his TV just in time to see the second plane hit the World Trade Center. He will say that at that moment he felt “sadness more than anything else.… I was nearly physically sick that I had neither resigned in 1999 and told Congress what I knew nor resigned and published my book sooner.” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
CIA official Richard Blee gives a briefing on the state of the terrorism threat to CIA Director George Tenet and Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black. According to an account by Tenet in his 2007 book, Blee identifies more than 10 specific pieces of intelligence about impending attacks. Tenet claims that experienced analysts call this intelligence “both unprecedented and virtually 100 percent reliable.” Blee specifically mentions:
A key Afghanistan training camp commander was seen weeping with joy because he believed he could see his trainees in heaven, implying a successful suicide attack to come.
For the last three to five months, al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is believed to have been involved in an unprecedented effort to prepare terrorist operations.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of the USS Cole bombing masterminds, has disappeared. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 149] Leaders of the Cole bombing are believed to be planning new attacks against the US. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 147]
Other important operatives around the world are disappearing or preparing for martyrdom. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 149]
Blee concludes by saying: “Based on a review of all source reporting over the last five months, we believe that [Osama bin Laden] will launch a significant terrorist attack against US and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 322; Tenet, 2007, pp. 149] This warning, including the concluding quote, is shared with “senior Bush administration officials” in early July. [US Congress, 9/18/2002]
Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer assigned to the FBI, sends an e-mail to managers at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, saying there is a potential connection between recent warnings of an attack against US interests and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). He notes “how bad things look in Malaysia” and points out that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar may be connected to the radicals who attacked the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). He recommends that the Cole bombing and the Malaysia summit be re-examined for potential connections to the current warnings of an attack. The e-mail ends, “all the indicators are of a massively bad infrastructure being readily completed with just one purpose in mind.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298 ] This is one of a series of e-mails sent around this time by Wilshire to Alec Station about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see July 13, 2001 and July 23, 2001). Presumably, one of the recipients at CIA headquarters is Richard Blee, the manager responsible for Alec Station, as he apparently receives at least one of the e-mails (see July 13, 2001).
CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black and Richard Blee, a manager responsible for the CIA’s bin Laden unit, meet with CIA Director George Tenet and review the latest intelligence about al-Qaeda. Black lays out a case based on communications intercepts and other intelligence suggesting a growing chance that al-Qaeda will attack the US soon. There is no smoking gun per se, but there is a huge volume of data indicating an attack is coming (see July 9-10, 2001). The case is so compelling—Tenet will later say it “literally made my hair stand on end”—that Tenet decides to brief the White House on it this same day (see July 10, 2001). [Washington Post, 10/1/2006; Tenet, 2007, pp. 151]
Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House. This picture is actually taken on October 8, 2001, and President Bush is elsewhere in the room. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]CIA Director George Tenet finds the briefing that counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave him earlier in the day (see July 10, 2001) so alarming that he calls National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from his car as he heads to the White House and says he needs to see her right away, even though he has regular weekly meetings with her. [Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Tenet and Black let a third CIA official, Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, brief Rice on the latest intelligence. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke are also present. [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006]
'Significant Attack' - Blee starts by saying, “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!” He argues that it is impossible to pick the specific day, saying Osama bin Laden “will attack when he believes the attack will be successful.” He mentions a range of threat information including:
A warning related to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see (July 9, 2001)) and seven pieces of intelligence the CIA recently received indicating there would soon be a terrorist attack (see July 9-10, 2001);
A mid-June statement by bin Laden to trainees that there would be an attack in the near future (see Mid-June 2001);
Information that talks about moving toward decisive acts;
Late-June information saying a “big event” was forthcoming;
Two separate bits of information collected “a few days before the meeting” in which people predicted a “stunning turn of events” in the weeks ahead. This may be a reference to intercepts of calls in Yemen, possibly involving the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
Multiple, Simultaneous Attacks in US Possible - Blee says that the attacks will be “spectacular,” they will be designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities and interests, there may be multiple, simultaneous attacks, and they may be in the US itself. He outlines the CIA’s efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda by spreading incorrect word that the attack plans have been compromised, in the hope that this will cause a delay in the attack. But he says this is not enough and that the CIA should go on the attack. Blee also discounts the possibility of disinformation, as bin Laden’s threats are known to the public in the Middle East and there will be a loss of face, funds, and popularity if they are not carried out. Blee urges that the US take a “proactive approach” by using the Northern Alliance. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151-4] Author Bob Woodward will later write: “Black emphasize[s] that this amount[s] to a strategic warning, meaning the problem [is] so serious that it require[s] an overall plan and strategy. Second, this [is] a major foreign policy problem that need[s] to be addressed immediately. They need […] to take action that moment—covert, military, whatever—to thwart bin Laden. The United States ha[s] human and technical sources, and all the intelligence [is] consistent.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Richard Clarke expresses his agreement with the CIA about the threat’s seriousness, and Black says, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”
Rice's Response - There are conflicting accounts about the CIA’s reading of Rice’s response. According to Woodward: “Tenet and Black [feel] they [are] not getting through to Rice. She [is] polite, but they [feel] the brush-off.” They leave the meeting frustrated, seeing little prospect for immediate action. Tenet and Black will both later recall the meeting as the starkest warning they gave the White House on al-Qaeda before 9/11 and one that could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks if Rice had acted on it (see July 10, 2001) and conveyed their urgency to President Bush. (Tenet is briefing Bush on a daily basis at this time, but he will later say that Rice has a much better rapport with the president.) Black will say, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Rice says that Bush will align his policy with the new realities and grant new authorities. Writing in 2007, Tenet will say that this response is “just the outcome I had expected and hoped for,” and recall that as they leave the meeting, Blee and Black congratulate each other on having got the administration’s attention. Nevertheless, Rice does not take the requested action until after 9/11. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 153-4]
Rice Concerned about Genoa - Clarke will recall in 2006 that Rice focuses on the possible threat to Bush at an upcoming summit meeting in Genoa, Italy (see June 13, 2001 and July 20-22, 2001). Rice and Bush have already been briefed about the Genoa warning by this time (see July 5, 2001). Rice also promises to quickly schedule a high-level White House meeting on al-Qaeda. However, that meeting does not take place until September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001). [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006] Rice also directs that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same briefing, and they receive it a short time later (see July 11-17, 2001).
Meeting Not Mentioned in 9/11 Commission Report - The meeting will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (see August 4, 2002), and there will be controversy when it is fully revealed in 2006 (see September 29, 2006, September 30-October 3, 2006, and October 1-2, 2006).
Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Stephen J. Hadley, White House, Osama bin Laden, Richard A. Clarke, George J. Tenet, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Cofer Black, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager assigned to the FBI who expressed interest two months earlier in surveillance photos from the al-Qaeda Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), now finds a cable he had been looking for regarding that summit. The cable, from January 2001, discusses al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash’s presence at the summit. Wilshire explains later that bin Attash’s presence there had been troubling him. He writes an e-mail to the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC), stating, “[Khallad] is a major league killer, who orchestrated the Cole attack (see October 12, 2000) and possibly the Africa bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).” Yet Khallad is still not put on a terrorist watch list. Wilshire asks that the FBI be passed this information, but the FBI will not actually be given the information until August 30, a week after it learns future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298 ] Although the CIA managers that receive this e-mail are not named, Richard Blee, in charge of the CIA’s bin Laden unit and Wilshire’s former boss, appears to be one of the recipients: On the same day Wilshire sends this e-mail, Blee writes his own e-mail entitled “Identification of Khallad,” which is sent to another CIA officer. [Central Intelligence Agency, 7/13/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 537] An FBI analyst assigned to the CTC is given the task of reviewing all other CIA cables about the Malaysian summit. It takes this analyst until August 21—over five weeks later—to put together that Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa and that Nawaf Alhazmi had traveled to the US. Yet other CIA agents are already well aware of these facts but are not sharing the information (see August 22, 2001). Working with immigration officials, this analyst then learns that Almihdhar entered and left the US in 2000, and entered again on July 4, 2001, and that Alhazmi appears to still be in the US. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298 ]
A CIA manager says that an additional intelligence officer, Doug Miller, will be assigned to help an ongoing low-key review of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit when Miller returns from holiday (see January 5-8, 2000 and Mid-May 2001). The statement is made in response to an e-mail by CIA manager Tom Wilshire, who pointed out that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash attended the summit, meaning it was important (see January 4, 2001). Presumably, the manager that sends this e-mail is Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Blee appears to have received the e-mail to which this is a response (see July 13, 2001). The review is currently only being conducted by one intelligence officer, Margaret Gillespie, who is only told to do it in her spare time and whom it takes over three months to find CIA cables indicating two of the future 9/11 hijackers have entered the US (see August 21-22, 2001). Miller’s help would certainly benefit the review, as he is already aware one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa, but a cable he drafted to notify the FBI about this was blocked by Wilshire (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). However, there is no mention of Miller actually being given the assignment on his return and no sign he does any work on this. Wilshire also asked that the FBI be officially told bin Attash attended the summit in Malaysia, but this information is again withheld (see January 5, 2001 and After). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298-9 ]
Due to a lack of response to a previous request that information about the Cole bombing and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit be passed to the FBI (see July 13, 2001), CIA officer Tom Wilshire e-mails another CIA manager asking about the request’s status. The manager’s identity is unknown, but the previous request was received by Richard Blee, a close associate of Wilshire’s who is responsible for the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see June 1999 and Between Mid-January and July 2000), so presumably he receives this request as well. Wilshire writes: “When the next big op is carried out by [Osama bin Laden’s] hardcore cadre, [Khallad bin Attash] will be at or near the top of the command food chain—and probably nowhere near either the attack site or Afghanistan. That makes people who are available and who have direct access to him of very high interest. Khalid [Almihdhar] should be very high interest anyway, given his connection to the [redacted].” The name of the redacted event or entity is unclear. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ] However, it could be a mention of Almihdhar’s role in the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa, since the CIA was aware of that from at least January 2000 (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). Or, more likely, it could be a mention of Almihdhar’s role in the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), since Wilshire mentioned earlier in the month that Almihdhar could be linked to the Cole bombers (see July 5, 2001).
CIA Director George Tenet will recall in his 2007 book that “during one of my updates in late July when, as we speculated about the kind of [al-Qaeda] attacks we could face, Rich B. suddenly said, with complete conviction, ‘They’re coming here.’ I’ll never forget the silence that followed.” Rich B. is the alias Tenet uses for Richard Blee, the official who oversees Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, at this time (see June 1999 and Between Mid-January and July 2000). It is not known who else is at the meeting. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 158]
Khalid Almihdhar. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]It is unclear if Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, briefs CIA leaders on information that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US. Margaret Gillespie, an FBI analyst detailed to the station, discovers that Almihdhar is in the US on August 21, immediately informs the FBI (see August 21-22, 2001), and places Almihdhar, hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, and two more associates on the TIPOFF watch list the next day (see August 23, 2001). The CIA also forwards information about al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash to the FBI on August 30 (see August 30, 2001).
No Information on Briefings - There is no indication that Richard Blee, the CIA manager responsible for Alec Station, or anyone at Alec Station informs the CIA’s leadership, the White House, or Richard Clarke’s Counterterrorism Security Group (see August 23, 2001) of Almihdhar’s presence in the US and the clear implications of this presence. For example, no such briefing will be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report, although the report will mention that CIA Director George Tenet is briefed about Zacarias Moussaoui around the same time, and it does discuss the circulation of the information about Almihdhar at the FBI in detail. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 268-277] The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will not mention any such briefing, although it will discuss how the FBI handles the information. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 151-4 ] No such briefing will be mentioned in a 2007 book by Tenet, although the book will mention a briefing Tenet receives about Moussaoui. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 158-160, 200] The Justice Department inspector general’s report will discuss the FBI’s handling of the information in detail. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 297-313 ] However, the full CIA inspector general’s report about 9/11 will not be made public, and its executive summary will not mention any such briefing. [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. 15-16 ]
Alec Station Aware of Threat and Almihdhar - Alec Station, the CIA, and the US intelligence community in general are highly aware that preparations for a large al-Qaeda attack are in the final stages (see Shortly After July 5, 2001, June 28, 2001, and June 28, 2001). Blee is, in fact, the lead briefer within the government about the threats, and has briefed not only his superiors at the CIA, but also National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see May 30, 2001 and June 28, 2001). He has also recently expressed the belief that the attack will be in the US (see Late July 2001) and has apparently received a series of e-mails in which his former deputy told him Almihdhar may well be involved in the forthcoming attack (see July 5, 2001, July 13, 2001, and July 23, 2001). The information that Almihdhar is in the US therefore confirms Blee’s belief that the attack will be in the US, but it appears Alec Station fails to pass this information on.
Amrullah Saleh. [Source: Associated Press' Kamran Jebreili]Northern Alliance leader Amrullah Saleh calls the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center to inform it of the assassination of anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Massoud (see September 9, 2001). His call is taken by Richard Blee, the manager responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Although Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, an expert on Afghanistan, realizes the assassination means “something terrible [is] about to happen” (see September 9, 2001), Blee does not appear to connect the assassination to a spike in warnings about an al-Qaeda attack against US interests, even though he has been briefing senior officials about this all summer (see May 30, 2001, June 28, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Late July 2001). The Northern Alliance realizes that the Taliban will attack them immediately, because they are leaderless, and Saleh asks for support from the CIA. However, some at the CIA think that the Northern Alliance has no chance without Massoud, who held it together. Other officers “[call] frantically around Washington to find a way to aid the rump Northern Alliance before it [is] eliminated.” The CIA informs the White House of the assassination, and the news soon leaks to CNN. This prompts the Northern Alliance to call again, this time complaining about the leak. [Coll, 2004, pp. 582-4]
Richard Blee, chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, immediately thinks Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist network are to blame when he sees the coverage on television of the crash at the World Trade Center. Blee is in the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, this morning. After Flight 11 crashes into the WTC (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), he goes across the hall to Alec Station’s cluster of cubicles. He points to a television, which is showing the coverage of what has happened in New York, and says, “That’s bin Laden or al-Qaeda.” One of his colleagues disagrees. “You can’t say that; it could be an accident,” they say. “Every time something happens, you can’t say that it’s al-Qaeda,” they add. Opinion is divided among the Alec Station analysts at the CTC, but most of them think the crash was an accident. Blee is resolute, though. “It’s bin Laden,” he says. Blee and his colleagues will still be arguing about the cause of the crash when, at 9:03 a.m., the second hijacked plane crashes into the WTC (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Coll, 2018, pp. 30]
Analysts at the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, initially conclude that Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, is behind the terrorist attacks on the United States. Immediately after the second hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), analysts at the CTC started reviewing a mass of intelligence, looking for any information that might help identify the perpetrators of the attacks.
Report Said Hezbollah Was Seeking Pilots - They find a report, which indicated that Hezbollah had been trying to recruit certified pilots. The information hadn’t been regarded as significant when it was received, but it now seems more sinister and casts suspicion on the Lebanese group. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 32-33] Additionally, “The attack was a sophisticated, complex operation that required planning and resources,” and “Hezbollah had thousands of fighters in southern Lebanon and a worldwide network strong enough to pull off such a feat,” journalist and author Steve Coll will later comment. A recent article written by analysts at the CTC actually claimed that Hezbollah is a greater threat to the US than al-Qaeda (see (Between Late August and Early September 2001)). [Coll, 2018, pp. 33-34] The analysts contact their counterparts at the FBI and they all agree that the possibility of Hezbollah being responsible for the attacks makes sense. One of the analysts goes up to Ben Bonk, deputy director of the CTC, and tells him their findings. Bonk thinks their theory is possible and Hezbollah must at least be included on the list of likely perpetrators. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 33]
Head of Bin Laden Unit Blames Al-Qaeda - An analyst also goes up to Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, and tells him, “This is Mughniyeh,” referring to Imad Mughniyeh, the notorious leader of Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization. However, Blee immediately blamed al-Qaeda after the first crash at the WTC occurred (see Shortly After 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). He therefore tells the analyst, “It’s not Mughniyeh.” “Intelligence about a spectacular al-Qaeda attack had been piling up all summer from multiple sources” and there has been “no comparable threat stream about Hezbollah,” Coll will point out. All the same, the analysts are unwavering. Blee eventually instructs them to go and prove their case. [Coll, 2018, pp. 30, 34] Sometime later, Blee will go into Bonk’s office with a copy that has been obtained of the passenger manifest for Flight 77, which will have the names of Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi—two men with known ties to al-Qaeda—on it. Bonk will then conclude that al-Qaeda, not Hezbollah, is to blame for the attacks. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 33]
Robert White, the FAA liaison at the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters, refuses to provide the CIA with passenger lists for the four planes that were hijacked this morning. Richard Blee, chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, wants copies of the passenger lists for the hijacked planes. He, along with Alec Station’s analysts at the CTC, are now certain al-Qaeda was behind the attacks on the United States, but they need proof of this before they can pass on their assessment to the White House. White has the capability to access airline passenger manifests, and so Blee asks him to access the FAA’s computers and share the manifests for the hijacked planes with him. White, however, refuses. He maintains that “[t]hese were American airliners filled with American citizens and under the law the CIA could not access private information about US persons.” Blee is frantic when he is told this. He therefore asks FBI agents deployed to Alec Station to see if they can get the information he requires through their channels. [9/11 Commission, 10/8/2003 ; Coll, 2018, pp. 33] The FBI agents will subsequently obtain the passenger manifests and pass them on to the CIA (see (1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Daily Beast, 8/12/2011; Council on Foreign Relations, 9/12/2016; Coll, 2018, pp. 35]
The chief of operations at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center proposes that the CIA establish “hit teams” to assassinate high-value targets in al-Qaeda’s structure. The CIA compiled a list of such targets before 9/11, and updated it afterwards. The suggestion is made as part of a debate about what to do with the targets. The hit teams would be made up of CIA paramilitaries that would covertly infiltrate countries in the Middle East, Africa, and even Europe to assassinate people on the list, one by one. However, some CIA officers object to this, saying that it would be better to keep the targets alive and interrogate them about their network and other plots. Other officers worry that the CIA might not be good at assassinating people, and the plan is never implemented, although the agency does establish a network of black sites for interrogating detainees. The identity of the chief of operations that makes this proposal is not known definitively, but Richard Blee is said to hold the position around this time (see Between Mid-January and July 2000). [Washington Post, 11/2/2005]
Gary Berntsen on an airplane, date and location unknown. [Source: National Geographic]Richard Blee, head of the Sunni Extremist Group at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and a former head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is made chief of the CIA’s new station in Kabul. Blee replaces Gary Berntsen, who had effectively led the CIA’s war effort against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Berntsen is unhappy with being replaced, saying: “It felt as though someone had just thrown a bucket of cold water in my face. I couldn’t believe they were doing this in the middle of the most important battle of the war.” The battle of Tora Bora begins around this time and, although the US thinks it has Osama bin Laden cornered there, he somehow manages to escape (see November 16, 2001, November 26, 2001 and Early December 2001).
Replacement Decision Is Not Well Received - Berntsen’s staff members are also unhappy with the decision, and slap their hands over their heads and groan when they find out about it. They tell Berntsen, “No disrespect to Rich, but when you leave, we leave.” Berntsen will attribute Blee’s selection to his closeness to CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt, and will also hint that Blee strongly desired the job. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 296-7, 306] Berntsen pushed hard for US troops to be deployed to catch bin Laden (see Late October-Early December 2001), but it is not known whether Blee is in favor of using US troops or not. Blee will also instigate the transfer of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi from the FBI to Egypt shortly after arriving; this is the first such transfer of a major figure after 9/11 (see Shortly After December 19, 2001).
Blee's Replacement - Blee is apparently replaced as chief of the Sunni Extremist Group by someone known only as Hendrik V. (see (Between Summer and Winter 2001)). Hendrik V. will later be replaced by an official known as “Marty M.” before March 2003. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 232, 251] That is almost certainly Marty Martin, someone said to lead the search for bin Laden from 2002 to 2004 (see (Shortly After October 29, 2004)).
CIA officer Richard Blee, who is now chief of the CIA’s station in Kabul, Afghanistan, objects to the FBI interviewing high-ranking al-Qaeda detainee Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The FBI obtained access to al-Libi after he was handed over to the US, and is obtaining some information from him about Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid, who will be prosecuted in the US (see December 19, 2001). However, according to FBI agent Jack Cloonan, “for some reason, the CIA chief of station in Kabul is taking issue with our approach.” [American Prospect, 6/19/2005] CIA Director George Tenet learns of Blee’s complaints and insists that al-Libi be turned over to the CIA (see January-April 2002), which promptly puts him on a plane to Egypt (see January 2002 and After), where he is tortured and makes false statements (see February 2002). Blee was in charge of the CIA’s bin Laden unit on 9/11 and has only recently become chief of its Kabul station. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 59-60, 297] The FBI, which has long experience interviewing suspects, will continue in its attempts to use rapport-building techniques (see Late March through Early June, 2002), whereas the CIA will employ harsher techniques, despite not having much experience with interviews (see Mid-April 2002).
FBI Director Robert Mueller personally awards Marion (Spike) Bowman with a presidential citation and cash bonus of approximately 25 percent of his salary. [Salon, 3/3/2003] Bowman, head of the FBI’s national security law unit and the person who refused to seek a special warrant for a search of Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings before the 9/11 attacks (see August 28, 2001), is among nine recipients of bureau awards for “exceptional performance.” The award comes shortly after a 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report saying Bowman’s unit gave Minneapolis FBI agents “inexcusably confused and inaccurate information” that was “patently false.” [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 12/22/2002] Bowman’s unit was also involved in the failure to locate 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi after their names were put on a watch list (see August 28-29, 2001). In early 2000, the FBI acknowledged serious blunders in surveillance Bowman’s unit conducted during sensitive terrorism and espionage investigations, including agents who illegally videotaped suspects, intercepted e-mails without court permission, and recorded the wrong phone conversations. [Associated Press, 1/10/2003] As Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and others have pointed out, not only has no one in government been fired or punished for 9/11, but several others have been promoted: [Salon, 3/3/2003]
Richard Blee, chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, was made chief of the CIA’s new Kabul station in December 2001 (see December 9, 2001), where he aggressively expanded the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). Blee was the government’s main briefer on al-Qaeda threats in the summer of 2001, but failed to mention that one of the 9/11 hijackers was in the US (see August 22-September 10, 2001).
In addition to Blee, the CIA also promoted his former director for operations at Alec Station, a woman who took the unit’s number two position. This was despite the fact that the unit failed to put the two suspected terrorists on the watch list (see August 23, 2001). “The leaders were promoted even though some people in the intelligence community and in Congress say the counterterrorism unit they ran bore some responsibility for waiting until August 2001 to put the suspect pair on the interagency watch list.” CIA Director George Tenet has failed to fulfill a promise given to Congress in late 2002 that he would name the CIA officials responsible for 9/11 failures. [New York Times, 5/15/2003]
Pasquale D’Amuro, the FBI’s counterterrorism chief in New York City before 9/11, was promoted to the bureau’s top counterterrorism post. [Time, 12/30/2002]
FBI Supervisory Special Agent Michael Maltbie, who removed information from the Minnesota FBI’s application to get the search warrant for Moussaoui, was promoted to field supervisor and goes on to head the Joint Terrorism Task Force at the FBI’s Cleveland office. [Salon, 3/3/2003; Newsday, 3/21/2006]
David Frasca, head of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit, is “still at headquarters,” Grassley notes. [Salon, 3/3/2003] The Phoenix memo, which was addressed to Frasca, was received by his unit and warned that al-Qaeda terrorists could be using flight schools inside the US (see July 10, 2001 and July 27, 2001 and after). Two weeks later Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested while training to fly a 747, but Frasca’s unit was unhelpful when local FBI agents wanted to search his belongings—a step that could have prevented 9/11 (see August 16, 2001 and August 20-September 11, 2001). “The Phoenix memo was buried; the Moussaoui warrant request was denied.” [Time, 5/27/2002] Even after 9/11, Frasca continued to “[throw] up roadblocks” in the Moussaoui case. [New York Times, 5/27/2002]
Dina Corsi, an intelligence operations specialist in the FBI’s bin Laden unit in the run-up to 9/11, later became a supervisory intelligence analyst. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 279-280 ; CNN, 7/22/2005] Corsi repeatedly hampered the investigation of Almihdhar and Alhazmi in the summer of 2001 (see June 11, 2001, June 12-September 11, 2001, Before August 22, 2001, August 27-28, 2001, August 28, 2001, August 28-29, 2001, and (September 5, 2001)).
President Bush later names Barbara Bodine the director of Central Iraq shortly after the US conquest of Iraq. Many in government are upset about the appointment because of her blocking of the USS Cole investigation, which some say could have uncovered the 9/11 plot (see October 14-Late November, 2000). She did not apologize or admit she was wrong. [Washington Times, 4/10/2003] However, she is fired after about a month, apparently for doing a poor job.
An FBI official who tolerates penetration of the translation department by Turkish spies and encourages slow translations just after 9/11 was promoted (see March 22, 2002). [CBS News, 10/25/2002]
Entity Tags: Barbara Bodine, George W. Bush, Charles Grassley, David Frasca, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Michael Maltbie, Dina Corsi, Marion (“Spike”) Bowman, Robert S. Mueller III, Pasquale D’Amuro, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Blee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will claim in a 2008 book that in early 2004, the 9/11 Commissioners indicate that they intend to name a junior CIA officer as the only official to be identified for a pre-9/11 failure. However, Scheuer writes: “A group of senior CIA officers… let it be known that if that officer was named, information about the pre-9/11 negligence of several very senior US officials would find its way into the media. The commissioners dropped the issue.” [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 273] The name of the junior officer is not known, but some possibilities include:
Tom Wilshire (referred to as “John” in the final 9/11 Commission report), who withheld information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, May 15, 2001, Mid-May 2001, Mid-May 2001, Late May, 2001, August 22, 2001, and August 24, 2001);
Clark Shannon (“Dave”), one of his associates who also failed to inform the FBI about Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see June 11, 2001);
Richard Blee (“Richard”), Wilshire’s boss, who apparently failed to pass on information about Almihdhar to his superiors (see August 22-September 10, 2001).
The names of the CIA officers who threaten the Commission are not known, nor are the details of the alleged negligence by the senior officials.
The Congressional Record reports that Richard Blee, the manager in charge of the CIA’s bin Laden unit on 9/11 (see August 22-September 10, 2001), has been nominated to a State Department rank. In a list of State Department nominations, it states that he and several dozen other people are proposed “to be consular officers and/or secretaries of the diplomatic service of the United States of America, as indicated for appointment as foreign service officers of class three, consular officer and secretary in the diplomatic service of the United States of America.” The listing gives his address as the District of Columbia. [US Congress, 2/23/2004, pp. 48 ]
A revised version of the CIA inspector general’s report into some of the agency’s failings before 9/11 is finished and sent to CIA management. A version of the report had been completed a year earlier, but it had to be revised due to criticism (see June-November 2004). It recommends accountability boards be convened to assess the performance of several officers. Although not all the officers are named, it is sometimes possible to deduce who they are based on the circumstances. The convening of accountability boards is recommended for:
CIA Director George Tenet, for failing to personally resolve differences between the CIA and NSA that impeded counterterrorism efforts;
CIA Executive Director David Carey (July 1997-March 2001), CIA Executive Director A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard (March 2001-9/11), CIA Deputy Director for Operations Jack Downing (1997-1999), and CIA Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt (1999-9/11) for failing to properly manage CIA counterterrorism funds (see 1997-2001);
CIA Counterterrorist Center Chief Jeff O’Connell (1997-1999) for failing to properly manage CIA counterterrorism funds (see 1997-2001), for staffing Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, with officers lacking experience, expertise and training, for failing to ensure units under him coordinated coverage of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), for poor leadership of the CIA’s watchlisting program, for poor management of a program where officers were loaned between the CIA and other agencies, and for failing to send officers to the NSA to review its material;
CIA Counterterrorist Center Chief Cofer Black (Summer 1999-9/11) for failing to properly manage CIA counterterrorism funds (see 1997-2001), for staffing Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, with officers lacking experience, expertise and training, for failing to ensure units under him coordinated coverage of KSM, for poor leadership of the CIA’s watchlisting program, possibly for failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, possibly for failing to do anything about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in 2001, for poor management of a program where officers were loaned between the CIA and other agencies, and for failing to send officers to the NSA to review its material;
Chief of Alec Station Richard Blee. Some sections of the report appear to refer to Blee, but are redacted. It seems to criticize him for failing to properly oversee operations related to KSM, failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, and failing to do anything about Alhazmi and Almihdhar in 2001;
Deputy Chief of Alec Station Tom Wilshire. Some sections of the report appear to refer to Tom Wilshire, but are redacted. It seems to criticize him for failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, and for failing to do anything about Alhazmi and Almihdhar in 2001;
Unnamed officer, possibly head of the CIA’s renditions branch, for failing to properly oversee operations related to KSM;
Unnamed officer, for failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, and for failing to do anything about Alhazmi and Almihdhar in 2001;
Unnamed officer(s), for failure to produce any coverage of KSM from 1997 to 2001. The type of coverage that should have been provided is redacted in the publicly released executive summary of the report.
The report may recommend accountability boards for other officers, but this is not known due to redactions and the publication of only the executive summary. CIA Director Porter Goss will decide not to convene any accountability boards (see October 10, 2005), and the report will remain secret until the executive summary is released in 2007 (see August 21, 2007). [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005 ]
Entity Tags: Jeff O’Connell, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), James Pavitt, Tom Wilshire, Jack Downing, David Carey, A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard, Central Intelligence Agency, Cofer Black, George J. Tenet, Richard Blee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
CIA officer Richard Blee, who headed Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, at the time of the 9/11 attacks (see August 22-September 10, 2001), is considered for the position of chief of station in Baghdad, one of the CIA’s largest stations. [Harper's, 1/28/2007] However, he does not get the position. [Harper's, 2/9/2007] The reasons for him not getting the job are apparently that he is seen as a “bad fit,” and is closely associated with detainee abuse and renditions, in particular that of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). In addition, he is said to have a poor relationship with the military, in particular the Special Operations community. An unnamed former official calls Blee a “smart guy,” but says, “He’s the last guy you want running a tense place like the station in Baghdad, because he creates a lot of tension himself.” [Harper's, 1/28/2007] Shortly before mid-May 2003, Blee had been loaned to the FBI, where he had a senior position, but his career history after that is unknown. [New York Times, 5/15/2003]
Journalist Ken Silverstein writes a piece about a CIA officer who is being considered for the position of station chief in Baghdad (see January-February 2007). According to Silverstein, who uses the pseudonym “James,” the officer is “the son of a well-known and controversial figure who served at the agency during its early years.” Silverstein also mentions the officer’s time managing Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, problems with his management style (see June 1999), his closeness to former CIA Counterterrorist Center chief Cofer Black (see 1998 and After), his work as station chief in Kabul after 9/11 (see December 9, 2001), and his involvement in the rendition of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). [Harper's, 1/28/2007] The officer, Richard Blee, will finally “out” himself in a joint statement issued with former CIA Director George Tenet and Black in August 2011 (see August 3, 2011).
In an interview, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says that the CIA purposefully withheld information from him about two future 9/11 hijackers for over a year before September 11. The interview was taped in October 2009, but is released now by documentary makers Ray Nowosielski and John Duffy ahead of a forthcoming podcast entitled “Who Is Rich Blee?” about the intelligence failures before 9/11. Clarke indicates he found out the CIA failed to pass information on to him not long after 9/11, but assumed the information had been honestly missed by a single junior officer. However, when he later learned at at least 50 officers accessed the information, he began to question this theory. (Note: the news that the information was accessed by at least 50 officers broke in August 2007—see Mid-January-March 2000 and August 21, 2007). According to Clarke, information of the sort the CIA had on two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, was automatically forwarded to him, but he never heard their names before 9/11. Clarke, who admits he cannot prove his allegation that the information was withheld deliberately, says the best explanation he can come up with is that the CIA was attempting to turn the two hijackers into double agents, which is why nobody was told outside the agency. Clarke points out that alleged Saudi intelligence operatives working in the US (see January 15-February 2000 and Spring 2000) who knew the hijackers could have helped with this. Clarke mentions four officials who would have been involved in a decision to withhold information: CIA Director George Tenet, who followed information about al-Qaeda in “microscopic detail,” Counterterrorist Center chief Cofer Black, Alec Station chief Richard Blee, and his deputy Tom Wilshire. Clarke also expresses wonder that the information was not mentioned at a key meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in July 2001 (see July 10, 2001) when Tenet, Black, and Blee were trying to get her to take strong action against al-Qaeda, because what they had on Almihdhar and Alhazmi was the “most persuasive piece of evidence” they had. He also does not understand why the CIA told the FBI in late August 2001 that the two hijackers had entered the country (see August 21-22, 2001). Clarke adds that the CIA presumably did not mention the fact that the two men were in the US at a meeting of high-level officials on September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001) because it would have angered Clarke and this would have led to an investigation in CIA “malfeasance and misfeasance” in concealing the information. However, he thinks the US authorities would have caught the hijackers with a “massive sweep” even if he had been told as late as September 4. Clarke also comments that he never asked Tenet and the other CIA officials about what had happened, as the facts became known to him over time. He also says that Tenet, Black, and Blee have got away with what they did, as they were not held to account by the Joint Congressional Inquiry or the 9/11 Commission. [John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski, 8/11/2011; Truthout (.org), 8/11/2011] Tenet, Black, and Blee received an advance copy of the interview and issued a statement in response (see August 3, 2011).
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.