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Profile: US intelligence
US intelligence was a participant or observer in the following events:
The New York Times reports that US intelligence has created a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) predicting Yugoslavia will break apart, probably within 18 months, and that civil war within Yugoslavia is likely. The NIE is said to be unusually bold and runs counter to some analysis in the State Department and elsewhere. It blames Slobodan Milosevic. president of Serbia, as the principal instigator of trouble. The Times also notes that, “Late last month, the House and Senate passed an amendment to the Foreign Operations Appropriation law that bars any United States loans or credits for Yugoslavia unless the assistance is directed to a republic ‘which has held free and fair elections and which is not engaged in systematic abuse of human rights.’” [New York Times, 11/28/1990]
With Iraqi forces occupying much of Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), the US intelligence community releases a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that predicts, wrongly, that Iraq will withdraw from Kuwait rather than face a US invasion (see January 16, 1991 and After). [New Republic, 11/20/2003] This is a follow-up to the consensus among US intelligence agencies that Iraq would not invade Kuwait (see Mid-1990).
The Movenpick hotel in Aden, Yemen. [Source: Al Bab]Bombs explode at two hotels, the Movenpick and the Gold Mohur, in Aden, Yemen, killing a tourist and a hotel worker. US soldiers involved in an operation in Somalia are sometimes billeted nearby, but none are killed or injured in the blasts. [Bergen, 2001, pp. 176; Scheuer, 2006, pp. 147] US intelligence will conclude in April 1993 that “[Osama bin Laden] almost certainly played a role” in this attack. However, there will be little chance of a successful prosecution due to lack of evidence. [Bergen, 2001, pp. 176; US Congress, 7/24/2003] Other operatives involved in the bombing are reputedly “point man” Tariq Nasr al-Fadhli, a leading Afghan veteran and tribal leader who will later live on a Yemeni government stipend, and Jamal al-Nahdi, who reportedly loses a hand in the Movenpick blast. [New York Times, 11/26/2000] The Yemen government will send an armored brigade to arrest al-Fadhli and he will eventually surrender, but soon be set free. Author Peter Bergen will comment, “[T]he Yemeni government seems to have developed amnesia: al-Fadhli became a member of the president’s personally selected consultative council and his sister is married to General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, a member of President Saleh’s family; al-Nahdi is a businessman in Sana’a and a member of the permanent committee of Yemen’s ruling party.” [Bergen, 2001, pp. 176] The US will announce that it is withdrawing from Yemen shortly after the bombings (see Shortly After December 29, 1992).
In a 2004 book, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will mention that by 1994, bin Laden’s name “popped up in intelligence in connection with terrorist activity” in Bosnia. “European and US intelligence services began to trace the funding and support of [mujaheddin fighters in Bosnia] to bin Laden in Sudan” and to support networks in Western Europe. However, he also says that “What we saw unfold in Bosnia was a guidebook to the bin Laden network, though we didn’t recognize it as such at the time.” He states that “The hard-pressed Bosnians clearly wished they could do without these uncontrollable savages, but Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic decided to take aid where he could.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 96, 137] Author John Schindler, who was involved in the Bosnian war as an NSA intelligence officer, will later note Clarke’s comments and say, “even professional counterterrorists, not usually a wishful thinking bunch, have shown an unwillingness to admit that [Bosnia] invited the mujaheddin, for political as much as military purposes, and that they were quite welcome guests of [Izetbegovic’s ruling party].” [Schindler, 2007, pp. 191]
Intelligence services operating in the Balkans, especially US intelligence, become increasingly politicized and are under pressure to produce reports with a pro-Bosnian, anti-Serb slant. [Wiebes, 2003, pp. 86, 141] For instance, one CIA report in 1995 blaming the Bosnian Serbs for the vast majority of the ethnic cleansing in Bosnia will later be accused of distorting the facts to fit an anti-Serb slant (see March 9, 1995).
Edward Walker. [Source: PBS]The Sunday Times reports that a new US National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) being drafted warns that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is likely to be overthrown by Islamic militants if present trends continue. The NIE is said to roughly match a secret Israeli intelligence estimate from late 1993. The Times notes that in 1991, 96 Islamic militants and police were killed; in 1992 the number was 322; and in 1993 it was 1,116. The Egyptian government has responded with draconian measures, including mass arrests. US intelligence officials worry that these techniques are not working, and have been urging Egypt to introduce political and economic reform. [Sunday Times (London), 2/20/1994] While the US sometimes helps Egypt fight Islamist militants, it also sometimes supports the militants, especially the officially banned Muslim Brotherhood. Both Robert Pelletreau, US ambassador to Egypt from 1991 to 1993, and Edward Walker, US ambassador to Egypt from 1994 to 1997, secretly maintain contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood. One National Security Council member in 1995 says that Egypt’s militants are the wave of the future and, “This reality explains the rationale for the Clinton administration’s early decision to maintain a discreet dialogue with… Egyptian Islamists.” [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 319-325] In fact, the harsh measures will work and the militant threat will greatly decrease in future years.
Sam Karmilowicz, a security officer at the US embassy in Manila, Philippines, will later claim that on September 18, 1994 the embassy receives a call from an anonymous person speaking with a Middle Eastern accent that there is a plot to assassinate President Clinton, who is scheduled to visit Manila from November 12 through 14, 1994. The caller says that a Pakistani businessman named Tariq Javed Rana is one of the leaders of the plot. Further, Rana is using counterfeit US money to help pay for the plot. An interagency US security team is immediately notified and begins investigating the threat. A few weeks later, Karmilowicz is told by members of this team that the plot was a hoax. Clinton comes to the Philippines as scheduled and no attack takes place. [CounterPunch, 3/9/2006] However, bomber Ramzi Yousef moved to the Philippines in early 1994, along with his uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and associate Wali Khan Amin Shah. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] Yousef will later confess to FBI agents that he planned to assassinate Clinton by blowing up his motorcade with a missile or explosives, but gave up because the security was so tight. Shah will also confess to this plot and add that the order to kill Clinton came from bin Laden. [Guardian, 8/26/1998] CNN will report in 1998, “The United States was aware of the planned attempt before the president left for the Philippines and as a result, security around the president was intensified.” [CNN, 8/25/1998] Secret Service sources will later report that large sums of counterfeit US currency were entering the Philippines during the time of the plot. Karmilowicz will conclude that the warning about the assassination was accurate and that Tariq Rana was involved in the plot. CNN reporter Maria Ressa will later tell Karmilowicz that her sources in the Philippine intelligence and police believe that Rana is a close associate of Yousef and KSM. Additionally, her sources believe Rana is connected to the Pakistani ISI. [CounterPunch, 3/9/2006] Rana will be monitored by Philippines police and eventually arrested in April 1995 (see December 1994-April 1995).
Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Osama bin Laden, Ramzi Yousef, US intelligence, Tariq Javed Rana, Sam Karmilowicz, Maria Ressa, Wali Khan Amin Shah, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
The US intelligence community releases a National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) entitled “The Foreign Terrorist Threat in the United States.” Partly prompted by the World Trade Center bombing two years earlier (see February 26, 1993), it warns that radical Islamists have an enhanced ability “to operate in the United States” and that the danger of them attacking in the US will only increase over time. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 104; Shenon, 2008, pp. 314] It concludes that the most likely terrorist threat will come from emerging “transient” terrorist groupings that are more fluid and multinational than older organizations and state-sponsored surrogates. This “new terrorist phenomenon” is made up of loose affiliations of Islamist extremists violently angry at the US. Lacking strong organization, they get weapons, money, and support from an assortment of governments, factions, and individual benefactors. [9/11 Commission, 4/14/2004] The estimate warns that terrorists are intent on striking specific targets inside the US, especially landmark buildings in Washington and New York such as the White House, the Capitol, Wall Street, and the WTC. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 314] It says: “Should terrorists launch new attacks, we believe their preferred targets will be US government facilities and national symbols, financial and transportation infrastructure nodes, or public gathering places. Civil aviation remains a particularly attractive target in light of the fear and publicity that the downing of an airline would evoke and the revelations last summer of the US air transport sector’s vulnerabilities.” Osama bin Laden is not mentioned by name, but he will be in the next NIE, released in 1997 (see 1997; see also October 1989). [Associated Press, 4/16/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 54]
Prior to this year, US intelligence has been uncertain whether Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is connected to al-Qaeda. But this changes when a foreign government shares information that bin Laden and KSM had traveled together to a foreign country the previous year. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] The country may have been Brazil, since it has been reported that KSM and bin Laden traveled to Brazil together in 1995 (see December 1995).
CIA leadership allegedly suppresses a report about Osama bin Laden’s hunt for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), and only disseminates the report after pressure. After the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Alec Station, is created in early 1996 (see February 1996), one of its first tasks is to see if bin Laden is attempting to acquire WMDs.
Bin Laden a Bigger Threat than Previously Realized - Michael Scheuer, head of the unit in its early years, will later say that the unit soon discovers bin Laden is “much more of a threat than I had thought.… It became very clear very early that he was after [WMDs], and we showed conclusively at that point that he didn’t have them. But we had never seen as professional an organization in charge of procurement.” Scheuer will later tell Congress that when the unit finds detailed intelligence in 1996 on bin Laden’s attempts to get a nuclear weapon, superiors in the CIA suppress the report. Only after three officers in the CIA knowledgeable about bin Laden complain and force an internal review does the CIA disseminate the report more widely within the US intelligence community.
Incident Leads to Bunker Mentality - The incident contributes to a bunker mentality between the bin Laden unit and the rest of the CIA (see February 1996-June 1999). According to Vanity Fair, the CIA’s “top brass started to view Scheuer as a hysteric, spinning doomsday scenarios.” Some start referring to him and the bin Laden unit as “the Manson family,” in reference to mass murderer Charles Manson and his followers. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
US intelligence obtains information concerning a suicide attack on the White House planned by individuals connected with Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman and a key al-Qaeda operative. The plan is to fly from Afghanistan to the US and crash into the White House. [US Congress, 9/18/2002]
Abu Qatada. [Source: AFP/Getty Images]From June 1996 into 1997, highly reliable al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl is debriefed by US intelligence (see June 1996-April 1997), and presumably he reveals what he knows about British imam Abu Qatada. As al-Fadl will later reveal in early 2001 court testimony, in the early 1990s bin Laden grew concerned about the perception of religious legitimacy of al-Qaeda action. In 1992 and 1993, he formed a fatwa committee, made up of al-Qaeda’s more religious leaders, to provide a fatwa (religious sanction) for al-Qaeda’s methods. The committee issues a secret fatwa allowing al-Qaeda to work to evict the US military from the Arabian peninsula. Al-Fadl claims that one of the key members of this fatwa committee is Abu Qatada. In the early 1990s, Abu Qatada is little known, but he moved to Britain in 1994, gained asylum there, and began to gain a public reputation as a radical Islamist preacher. [Corbin, 2003, pp. 37] Interestingly around the same time the US learns this information from al-Fadl, British intelligence begins using Qatada as an informant (see June 1996-February 1997).
A classified US intelligence report concludes the ISI “is supplying the Taliban forces with munitions, fuel, and food.” The report notes that while the food shipments are taking place openly, “the munitions convoys depart Pakistan late in the evening hours and are concealed to reveal their true contents.” [US Intelligence, 10/22/1996 ]
US intelligence begins monitoring telephones connected to the Kenyan branch of the charity Mercy International. By mid-1996, US intelligence began wiretapping telephones belonging to Wadih El-Hage, an al-Qaeda operative living in Nairobi, Kenya, and the NSA is also monitoring bin Laden’s satellite phone. By the end of 1996, the number of monitored phones in Kenya increases to five, and two of those are to Mercy International’s offices. What led investigators to this charity is unknown, and details of the calls have never been revealed. [New York Times, 1/13/2001] The Mercy International office will be raided shortly after the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), and incriminating files belonging to El-Hage will be found there (see October 1997). It will be discovered that the office worked closely with al-Qaeda. For instance, it issued identity cards for al-Qaeda leaders Ali Mohamed, Mohammed Atef, and even bin Laden himself. [Bergen, 2001, pp. 140; Financial Times, 11/28/2001] An al-Qaeda defector, L’Houssaine Kherchtou, will testify in a 2001 trial that al-Qaeda was heavily interacting with Mercy International’s Kenya branch, and a number of employees there, including the manager and accountant, were actually al-Qaeda operatives. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 8, 2/21/2001] A receipt dated just two weeks before the embassy bombings made a reference to “getting the weapons from Somalia.” [New York Times, 1/22/2000] Most crucially, there were a number of calls between Mercy director Ahmad Sheik Adam and bin Laden. [East African, 2/16/2000] And Adam’s mobile phone was used 12 times by El-Hage to speak to bin Laden or his associates. Presumably, such calls would have drawn obvious attention to the Kenya al-Qaeda cell and their embassy attack plans, yet none of the cell members were arrested until after the attack. The Kenya branch of Mercy International will be shut down by the end of 1998, but in 2001 it will be reported that Adam continues to live in Kenya and has not been arrested. [Agence France-Presse, 12/17/1998; BBC, 1/3/2001]
The US intelligence community releases another National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) dealing with terrorism. It mentions Osama bin Laden on the first page as an emerging threat and points out he might be interested in attacks inside the US. However, the section mentioning bin Laden is only two sentences long and lacks any strategic analysis on how to address the threat. A previous NIE dealing with terrorism was released in 1995 and did not mention bin Laden (see July 1995). [Associated Press, 4/16/2004; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 54] The NIE also notes, “Civilian aviation remains a particularly attractive target for terrorist attacks.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 104] There will be no more NIEs on terrorism before 9/11 despite the bombing of US embassies in Africa in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) and the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 (see October 12, 2000). However, there will be some more analytical papers about bin Laden and al-Qaeda. The 9/11 Commission, in particular executive director Philip Zelikow and staffer Doug MacEachin, will be shocked that this is the final NIE on terrorism before the attacks and that, in the words of author Philip Shenon, “no one at the senior levels of the CIA had attempted—for years—to catalog and give context to what was known about al-Qaeda.” MacEachin thinks it is “unforgivable” there is no NIE for four years and that, according to Shenon, “if policy makers had understood that the embassy bombings and the attack on the Cole were simply the latest in a long series of attacks by the same enemy, they would have felt compelled to do much more in response.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 314]
Mustafa Fadhil. [Source: FBI]US intelligence is monitoring the phones of an al-Qaeda cell in Kenya (see
April 1996 and Late 1996-August 1998), as well as the phones of Osama bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Between January 30 and February 3, 1997, al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef calls Wadih El-Hage, the leader of the Kenyan cell, several times. El-Hage then flies to Pakistan and on February 4, he is monitored calling Kenya and gives the address of the hotel in Peshawar where he is staying. On February 7, he calls Kenyan cell member Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) and says he is still in Peshawar, waiting to enter Afghanistan and meet al-Qaeda leaders. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 37, 5/1/2001] Then, later on February 7, Fazul calls cell member Mohammed Saddiq Odeh. According to a snippet of the call discussed in a 2001 trial, Fazul informs Odeh about a meeting between the “director” and the “big boss,” which are references to El-Hage and Osama bin Laden respectively. In another monitored call around this time, Fazul talks to cell member Mustafa Fadhil, and they complain to each other that Odeh is using a phone for personal business that is only meant to be used for al-Qaeda business. Then, on February 21, El-Hage is back in Kenya and talks to Odeh on the phone in another monitored call. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 37, 5/1/2001; United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 39, 5/3/2001]
On August 2, 1997, the Telegraph reports that Tayyib al-Madani, a chief financial officer for bin Laden, turned himself in to the Saudis in May 1997 (see May 1997). Later in the month, US agents raid Wadih El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya (see August 21, 1997). El-Hage and and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), both members of the al-Qaeda cell in Nairobi, Kenya, start a flurry of phone traffic, warning other operatives about the raid and the defection. Their phones are already being monitored by the CIA and NSA (see May 21, 1996), who continue to listen in as they communicate nearly every day with al-Qaeda operatives in places such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, London, and Germany. They also phone other members of their cell in Mombasa, Kenya. It appears they realize their phones are being bugged because at one point Fazul explicitly warns an operative in Hamburg, Germany, Sadek Walid Awaad (a.k.a. Abu Khadija), to stop calling because the lines are bugged. However, US intelligence is able to learn much just from the numbers and locations that are being called. For instance, the call to Awaad alerts US intelligence to other operatives in Hamburg who know the 9/11 hijackers living there (see Late 1997). [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 200-202; El Pais, 9/17/2003]
A classified US cable on this date reveals US intelligence is aware that the Taliban are paying the Pakistani government for wheat and fuel with drugs. The cable suggests that Pakistan is planning to demand hard currency instead of drugs in order to restrain drug trafficking and increase revenue, but it is unclear if this change ever takes place. [US Embassy (Islamabad), 8/13/1997 ]
Fazul Abdullah Mohammed. [Source: Daily Nation]Shortly after the US raid on Wadih El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya (see August 21, 1997), US investigators discover a letter in the house that mentions a cache of incriminating files had been moved from the house and hidden elsewhere. Investigators suspect the files could contain evidence of a coming attack by El-Hage’s Nairobi cell. A law enforcement official later says US investigators begin a “somewhat frantic, concerted effort” to locate the missing files. “The concern was high enough about something being out there to go right away.” A search for the files is conducted at another location in Kenya in September 1997, but the files are not found. [New York Times, 1/9/1999] But despite this search, and even though other documents found in the raid refer to other unknown members of the cell and the imminent arrival of more operatives (see Shortly After August 21, 1997), the wiretaps on five phone numbers connected to El-Hage are discontinued in October 1997, one month after El-Hage moved to the US (see September 24, 1997). Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), who had been living with El-Hage and using the same phones as him, takes over running the cell. US intelligence will resume monitoring the phones in May 1998 and continue to monitor them through August 1998 (see May 1998), when the cell will successfully attack US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). It will be stated in the 2002 book The Cell, “The hardest thing to understand in retrospect is why US law enforcement did nothing else to disrupt the activities of the Nairobi cell” after the raid on El-Hage’s house. [New York Times, 1/13/2001; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 203-205] The files will be found only after the African embassy bombings, when the offices of the charity Mercy International are searched on August 20, 1998. They will contain incriminating information, including numerous phone calls from bin Laden to Nairobi. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al, 3/20/2001] It is not clear why the charity was not searched before the attacks, since two of the five phones monitored since 1996 were to Mercy’s Kenya offices (see Late 1996-August 20, 1998).
The Sky 1, the ship purchased by Sadek Walid Awaad and other al-Qaeda operatives, shown as it sank in 2000. [Source: Tele News Company]US intelligence monitoring the al-Qaeda cell in Kenya trace phone calls to al-Qaeda operatives in Hamburg, Germany, where some of the 9/11 hijackers are living (see August 1997). Around August 1997, Sadek Walid Awaad (a.k.a. Abu Khadija) calls Kenya and is traced by US intelligence to where he lives in Hamburg. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 201; El Pais, 9/17/2003] Sometime over the next year or so, it is discovered that Awaad has engaged in business dealing with Mamoun Darkazanli, another al-Qaeda operative. Awaad used a Hamburg address for some of his business dealings that was also used by Darkazanli and Wadih El-Hage, who served as bin Laden’s business secretary in Kenya. In 1994, Awaad, Darkazanli, and El-Hage worked together to buy a ship for bin Laden. Apparently US intelligence puts this together by 1998, as one of El-Hage’s notebooks seized in a late 1997 raid details the transaction (see August 21, 1997). Investigators later believe Darkazanli is part of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell with 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, and others. [New York Times, 12/27/2001] Less is known about Awaad and whomever he may have associated with. But in a public trial in early 2001, El-Hage identified him as an Iraqi al-Qaeda operative with German and Israeli passports. [Day 2. United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., 2/6/2001; Day 6. United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., 2/15/2001] An al-Qaeda operative with an Israeli passport connected to the Hamburg cell would seem to be highly unusual and significant, but there has been almost no mention of him in the media after 9/11 and it is unknown if he has ever been arrested.
US intelligence is reportedly monitoring a “very important source” in Khartoum, Sudan, during the time of the August 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). An unnamed US official working in Sudan at the time will later tell this to journalist Jonathan Randal. This official will claim the US is intercepting telephone communications between this source and al-Qaeda at least during 1998. The name of the source has not been revealed, but this person is considered so important that after the embassy bombings the US will consider killing the source in retaliation. However, a different target is chosen because the source either knows nothing about the bombings or at least does not mention them in intercepted conversations. [Randal, 2005, pp. 152] It is not known when this surveillance ends or what happens to the source.
US intelligence hears of a bin Laden plot involving aircraft in the New York and Washington areas. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; New York Times, 9/18/2002] In December it will learn that al-Qaeda plans to hijack US aircraft are proceeding well and that two individuals have successfully evaded checkpoints in a dry run at a New York airport. [US Congress, 7/24/2003]
US intelligence authors a memorandum detailing al-Qaeda’s infrastructure in the US. This memo, which includes information regarding al-Qaeda’s use of fronts for terrorist activities [US Congress, 9/18/2002] , is provided to senior US officials. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 ]
The arrest of al-Qaeda leader Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (a.k.a. Abu Hajer) points US and German investigators to Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, with a few of the future 9/11 hijackers. Salim is arrested on September 16, 1998, in Munich, Germany (see September 16, 1998). He is believed to be al-Qaeda’s financial chief, and is one of al-Qaeda’s founding members (see August 11-20, 1988). After Salim’s arrest, both German and US intelligence investigate his contacts in Germany and discover a link to Zammar. Zammar is already being investigated and monitored by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence service (see March 1997-Early 2000). [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 12/12/2005] Presumably, the link between Zammar and Salim should increase the urgency of the German investigation. It is unknown when US intelligence begins monitoring Zammar, but the US will discover important links between Zammar and al-Qaeda in the summer of 1999 (see Summer 1999). US and German investigators also discover a link between Salim and Mamoun Darkazanli, a Hamburg associate of Zammar’s, and they monitor him as well (see Late 1998).
Journalist Simon Reeve will write in the 1999 book The New Jackals that shortly after the African embassy bombings, “With the help of one, possibly two, medium-level moles within [al-Qaeda], Americans arrested and questioned 20 of bin Laden’s closest associates and began inquiries in 28 countries.” Reeve does not say how he knows this, but his book is heavily sourced by interviews with US intelligence officials. The notion that the US had moles within al-Qaeda runs counter to the usual official US position after 9/11 that al-Qaeda was nearly impenetrable. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 204] Top bin Laden associates arrested during this time include:
Mamdouh Mahmud Salim (see September 16, 1998);
Khalid al-Fawwaz, Ibrahim Eidarous, and Adel Abdel Bary (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998);
Ihab Saqr, Essam Marzouk, and Ahmad Salama Mabruk (see Late August 1998);
Ali Mohamed (see September 10, 1998); and
Wadih El-Hage (see September 15, 1998).
Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, US intelligence, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim, Simon Reeve, Ihab Saqr, Ahmad Salama Mabruk, Adel Abdel Bary, Ali Mohamed, Essam Marzouk, Ibrahim Eidarous, Al-Qaeda, Khalid al-Fawwaz
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Around this time, US intelligence notes that a man in Hamburg, Germany, named Mohammed Haydar Zammar is in direct contact with one of bin Laden’s senior operational coordinators. Zammar is an al-Qaeda recruiter with links to 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and the rest of the Hamburg terror cell. The US had noted Zammar’s terror links on “numerous occasions” before 9/11. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ] However, apparently the US does not share their information on Zammar with German intelligence. Instead, the Germans are given evidence from Turkey that Zammar is running a travel agency as a terror front in Hamburg. In 1998, they got information from Italy confirming he is an Islamic militant (see October 2, 1998). However, his behavior is so suspicious that they have already started monitoring him closely (see 1996). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; Stern, 8/13/2003] Ironically, also in 1999, German intelligence gives its information on Zammar to the CIA (see 1999).
The NSA has been monitoring a telephone in an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). According to Vanity Fair, “Amid the storm of pre-millennial ‘chatter,’ the [NSA] intercepted communications among three Arabic men, each of whom bore some connection to the East Africa bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) and to al-Qaeda.” The men are hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Apparently, the NSA listens in on a phone call between al-Qaeda figure Khallad bin Attash and hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who is staying at the hub. Attash mentions Almihdhar’s full name, as well as the first names of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi. He says he wants the three of them to come to an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). The NSA has already heard the names of the three hijackers mentioned repeatedly in 1999 while monitoring the Yemen hub (see Early 1999). Apparently, US intelligence does not yet know bin Attash’s full name or role in al-Qaeda and won’t figure it out until late 2000 (see Early December 2000). [Wright, 2006, pp. 310] At the same time, US officials in Pakistan intercept Nawaf Alhazmi in Karachi calling Almihdhar at the Yemen hub. They learn Nawaf is planning a trip to Malaysia on January 4, 2000. The NSA is also monitoring Nawaf calling his brother Salem (the location of Salem at this time has not been revealed). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 143-144 ; Asia Times, 3/19/2004] The NSA will share details of these calls with the CIA and other agencies on December 29, 1999 (see December 29, 1999) and the CIA will eventually track Almihdhar to the Malaysia summit (see January 2-5, 2000).
Ziad Jarrah, in an undated family photo taken in Lebanon. [Source: Getty Images]The UAE wants to arrest future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah, but US officials say they will track him instead, according to United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials. It is unknown if the US officials actually do so. On January 30, 2000, Jarrah is stopped and questioned as he is transiting through the airport in Dubai, UAE. Officials at the airport have agreed to help the CIA by monitoring or questioning suspicious militants passing through there (see 1999).
Conflicting Accounts - There will be some controversy about what happens next. According to a January 2002 FBI memo, “UAE authorities stopped Jarrah, apparently, because he had the Koran superimposed on part of his passport and he was carrying other religious materials.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/24/2004] But according to UAE officials, Jarrah is stopped because he is on a US watch list (see January 30, 2000).
Jarrah's Admissions - Regardless of why he is stopped, Jarrah is questioned and he all but admits he has just been to training camps in Afghanistan. A UAE official will later say, “When we questioned him, he said he spent two months and five days in Pakistan, some part of it in Afghanistan.” Furthermore, Jarrah says that he is going to the US to preach Islam and learn to fly airplanes.
UAE Officials Want to Arrest Him, but US Says No - While Jarrah is being held at the airport, UAE officials contact US officials and ask what they should do with him. (Note that there is some controversy about this as well, but FBI and German documents indicate the US is contacted while Jarrah is still being held (see January 30, 2000).) A UAE official will later say: “What happened was we called the Americans. We said: ‘We have this guy. What should we do with him?‘… [T]heir answer was, ‘Let him go, we’ll track him.’ We were going to make him stay. They told us to let him go. We weren’t feeling very happy in letting him go.” [Chicago Tribune, 2/24/2004; McDermott, 2005, pp. 186-187, 294-295] According to another account, UAE officials have a discussion with officials at the US embassy in Dubai on what to do with Jarrah. After some discussion, they conclude they do not actually have any charge to arrest him with, so it is decided to let him go. [Chicago Tribune, 9/28/2005]
UAE Officials Track Him to Hamburg; They Notify US Intelligence - After several hours of questioning, Jarrah is let go. He is allowed to board a flight for Amsterdam, Netherlands, but the flight does not leave until the next day, giving officials more time to prepare to track him if they want to. UAE officials are aware that after Jarrah arrives in Amsterdam, he changes planes for Hamburg, Germany. A UAE official will later say, “Where he went from there, we don’t know.” In fact, Jarrah lives in Hamburg and is part of the al-Qaeda cell there with fellow 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and others. According to the FBI memo, this information about Jarrah’s detention and questioning “was reported to the US government.” UAE officials are cautious about mentioning which part of the US government is informed, but the implication is that it is the CIA. [Associated Press, 12/14/2001; Chicago Tribune, 2/24/2004; McDermott, 2005, pp. 186-187] However, it is unknown if US intelligence does track Jarrah.
According to PBS, an Egyptian informant warns US intelligence that al-Qaeda will attack an American warship. [PBS, 10/3/2002] The FBI also notices increased telephone activity by al-Qaeda in Yemen around the same time (see August-Early October 2000). The USS Cole is attacked in the autumn of this year (see October 12, 2000).
The US intelligence community considers creating a strategic analysis about terrorism, but none is done before 9/11. The last National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on terrorism was released in 1997 (see 1997). The 9/11 Commission will later say that assessments such as NIEs can “provoke widespread thought and debate [and ] have a major impact on their recipients, often in a wider circle of decision makers.” By late 2000, CIA Director George Tenet recognizes the lack of any recent strategic analysis about al-Qaeda or Islamic militancy in general. He appoints a senior manager, who briefs him in March 2001 about “creating a strategic assessment capability.” The CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) establishes a new strategic assessments branch in July 2001 and about ten analysts are slated to work for it. But it takes time to hire the new staff and the first head of this branch reports for work just one day before 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 342-343] Not only is there no NIE or any other sweeping strategic assessment on al-Qaeda between 1997 and 9/11, but one still will not be completed five years after 9/11. Apparently the US military opposes such an assessment for fear it would reduce the military’s role in counterterrorism efforts (see September 12, 2006).
In a memo to President Clinton that is also widely distributed in the US intelligence community, CIA Director George Tenet warns: “The next several weeks will bring an increased risk of attacks on our country’s interests from one or more Middle Eastern terrorist groups… The volume of credible threat reporting has grown significantly in the past few months, particularly concerning plans by Osama bin Laden’s organization for new attacks in Europe and the Middle East.… Our most credible information on bin Laden activity suggests his organization is looking at US facilities in the Middle East, especially the Arabian peninsula, in Turkey and Western Europe. Bin Laden’s network is global however and capable of attacks in other regions, including the United States.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 128-129] Just one day later, Clinton will brief incoming President Bush on the al-Qaeda threat (see December 19, 2000).
Khalil Deek, member of an al-Qaeda cell in Anaheim, California, is mysteriously released in Jordan and allowed to go free. Deek had been arrested on suspicions that he masterminded a series of planned millennium attacks in Jordan (see December 11, 1999). Investigators believe he may have masterminded an attempted bombing of the Los Angeles airport as well (see December 15-31, 1999), and in fact US intelligence had been interested in him since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s, December 14-25, 1999, and May 2000). But despite is the seemingly strong evidence against him, he is released this month after mounting a hunger strike. Relatives tell a US newspaper that US government officials pressured Jordan to let him go. [Orange County Register, 9/12/2005] Despite the fact that US officials had previously labeled him a terrorist mastermind, they do not protest his release. [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] The Jordanian government claims they lacked evidence Deek was aware of terrorist activities. [Orange County Weekly, 6/17/2004] The Los Angeles Times reports that he had cooperated with US investigators in deciphering al-Qaeda computer documents. [Los Angeles Times, 3/29/2000] He is deported to the United Arab Emirates. He is rearrested there and held for several days, and then let go again. [Orange County Weekly, 5/31/2001] A few days later, Deek emerges at the US embassy in Pakistan with his wife and family. He approaches the embassy gates, asking staffers there help to bring his family back to the US. However, he is only able to speak to someone through an intercom and is not allowed in the building. He is told to come back in two weeks. A newspaper will later comment, “Given that the US government already considered him a dangerous man, it’s not surprising that embassy officials weren’t eager to provide him with travel visas. But it is weird that they didn’t let him inside the building and simply arrest him.” [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] It will later be alleged that Deek was actually a mole for the Jordanian government (see Shortly After December 11, 1999).
Osama Bin Laden tells trainees in his Afghanistan training camps that there will be an attack in the near future. US intelligence learns of this comment and it is mentioned to top US leaders in an early July 2001 briefing (see July 10, 2001). More details, such as how the US learned this or how many people bin Laden told this to, have not been made public. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 152] But in the summer of 2001, bin Laden is overheard making a number of similar comments hinting at upcoming attacks (see Summer 2001).
US intelligence learns that Osama bin Laden has recently promised colleagues that an attack is near. This warning is first revealed in CIA Director George Tenet’s 2007 book. He will not explain how this was known except that it was “learned as a result of intelligence.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 149 Sources: George J. Tenet]
According to Newsweek, “shortly after the suicide attacks,” US intelligence picks up communications among bin Laden associates relaying the message: “we’ve hit the targets.” [Newsweek, 9/13/2001]
Bensayah Belkacem at Guantanamo. [Source: US Defense Department]US intelligence intercepts numerous phone calls between Abu Zubaida and other al-Qaeda leaders and Bensayah Belkacem, an operative living in Bosnia. The New York Times will later report that shortly after 9/11, “American intelligence agencies, working closely with the government of neighboring Croatia, listened in as Mr. Belkacem and others discussed plans for attacks.” One US official says, “He was apparently on the phone constantly to Afghanistan, with Zubaida and others. There were dozens of calls to Afghanistan.” Belkacem, an Algerian, had moved to Bosnia to fight in the early 1990s war there, then obtained Bosnian citizenship and settled in Zenica, working for an Islamic charity. [New York Times, 1/23/2002] On October 8, 2001, Bosnian police detain Belkacem. While searching his home, they find a piece of note listing the name “Abu Zubeida” and Zubaida’s phone number. [Washington Post, 8/21/2006] It is later revealed that Belkacem made 70 calls to Zubaida between 9/11 and his arrest and more calls before then. He had repeatedly sought a visa to leave Bosnia for Germany just before 9/11. Phone transcripts show Zubaida and Belkacem discussed procuring passports. [Time, 11/12/2001] A US official will later claim that it was believed Zubaida was in Afghanistan with bin Laden at the time of Belkacem’s arrest. [New York Times, 1/23/2002] It has not been explained why this knowledge was not used to capture or kill Zubaida and/or bin Laden. It appears that Western intelligence agencies had been monitoring Zubaida’s calls as far back as 1996 (see (Mid-1996) and October 1998 and After). Belkacem and five of his associates will be renditioned to Guantanamo Bay prison in 2002 and remain imprisoned there (see January 18, 2002).
Mohammed Junaid Babar. [Source: London Times]In early November 2001, a young man using the name Mohammad Junaid appears in several print interviews in Pakistan. He appears unmasked in video interviews shown on CNN in the US and ITN in Britain. He says that he is going to fight US soldiers in Afghanistan with the Taliban even though he is a US citizen and his mother was in the World Trade Center on 9/11 and barely survived the attack. He says, “I will kill every American that I see in Afghanistan, and every American I see in Pakistan.” In fact, his full name is Mohammed Junaid Babar. [Boston Globe, 11/6/2001; London Times, 5/3/2007] He is a long-time member of Al-Muhajiroun, a radical Islamist group based in Britain but which also has a New York branch that Babar is involved with. [Guardian, 4/30/2007]
Placed on Watch List and Monitored - Babar is immediately placed on no-fly watch lists and monitored by intelligence agencies. The Washington Post will later report, “US counterterrorism officials said Babar first hit their radar screen in late 2001…” [Washington Post, 7/25/2005] Jon Gilbert, who interviews him in Pakistan in November 2001, will later say, “The authorities had been diligently tracking him since the day our first interview had been aired.” Babar left the US shortly after the 9/11 attack, and apparently had no ties with Islamist militants prior to his departure.
Babar Lives in Pakistan, Works with Al-Qaeda - He does not return there for some time. Instead, he lives in Pakistan and frequently makes trips to Britain (but is not stopped from coming or going, despite being on the watch list). He becomes increasingly involved in helping al-Qaeda with logistics, such as fund-raising, supplying equipment from overseas, and helping to set up training camps in Pakistan’s tribal regions. He also becomes actively involved in a fertilizer bomb plot in Britain. in 2002, he sometimes he attends talks by radical imam Abu Hamza al-Masri with other members of the fertilizer plot in London’s Finsbury Park mosque. [Washington Post, 7/25/2005; Guardian, 4/30/2007; London Times, 5/3/2007]
Monitored Meeting with Key Militants - Meanwhile, intelligence agencies continue to monitor him. Details on such surveillance are scanty, but he apparently is monitored meeting with lead 7/7 London bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan in England in 2003 (see 2003). Newsweek will also later mention that “Babar was tracked flying off [in early 2004] to South Waziristan in Pakistan, where he attended what some analysts believe was a terror summit that included the notorious al-Qaeda operative Adnan Shukrijumah and Dhiren Barot, the operative suspected of casing New York financial institutions a few years earlier” (see March 2004). His Internet use at a public library is also monitored, and he is said to exchange messages with al-Qaeda operatives. [Newsweek, 1/24/2005]
Arrested in US - Babar finally returns to the US on April 6, 2004, although why he does this is a mystery since his confederates in the fertilizer bomb plot had been arrested in Canada, Britain, and Pakistan just days earlier, and their arrests had been immediately publicized (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). Babar is arrested by the FBI four days after his arrival, and quickly begins completely cooperating with the authorities (see April 10, 2004).
Suspicions He Was US Agent Since 2001 - The London Times will later comment, “Some suggest that he may have already been an FBI agent” before he was arrested. [London Times, 5/3/2007] The BBC will similarly say, “Inevitably there were suspicions that he’d been an FBI agent all along.” [BBC, 5/25/2007] But while that issue remains unclear, he proves to be an increasingly valuable source of information about al-Qaeda as more is learned about what he knows. One US law enforcement official will say in late 2005, “This guy’s connection to different cells and plots just seems to be expanding. He is the fish that is getting bigger.” [Washington Post, 7/25/2005]
Al-Qaeda top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri escape from the Tora Bora battle north to a remote province in Afghanistan. In the years just after the Tora Bora battle, the conventional wisdom will be that bin Laden escapes across the nearby border into Pakistan. A 2006 book by Ron Suskind will be the first to publicly make the argument that bin Laden actually stays in Afghanistan and heads to even more remote regions north of Tora Bora, starting around December 15, 2001 (see December 15, 2001). After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), US officials will reveal that this ‘go north’ theory has become the new conventional wisdom. According to the Washington Post: “US interrogators later learned from Guantanamo detainees that bin Laden had actually taken a more daring route, to the north toward Jalalabad, right past the approaching US and British Special Forces and their Afghan allies. After resting there, he proceeded on horseback on a several days’ journey into Konar province, in Afghanistan’s far northeast.” An unnamed US official will tell the Post: “It’s still unclear who bribed who and who talked to who, [but] bin Laden got out. Knowing the land, knowing the people who could direct you, he was able to get out to Konar [and into valleys] that no one has subdued… places the Soviets never pacified.” Al-Zawahiri takes the same route, perhaps traveling with bin Laden. [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri will stay in Konar for months before finally moving to Pakistan (see Late December 2001-Late 2002).
Al-Qaeda top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri hide out in a remote province in Afghanistan for most of 2002. After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), US officials will reveal that they no longer believe the conventional account that he and al-Zawahiri left the Tora Bora battle by escaping into nearby Pakistan. Instead, the two of them headed north into Konar, a remote Afghanistan province, around December 15, 2001 (see (December 15, 2001)). According to one unnamed US official, they stay in mountain valleys “that no one has subdued… places the Soviets never pacified.” Their exact location during this time is unknown. Some Guantanamo prisoners will later tell interrogators that the two leaders stay in Konar for up to 10 months. But even bin Laden’s closest followers don’t know exactly where he or al-Zawahiri have gone in Konar. One US intelligence official will later say: “It became clear that [bin Laden] was not meeting with [his followers] face to face.… People we would capture had not seen him.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] Exactly how, when, or where bin Laden and al-Zawahiri go after Konar will not be revealed. But there will be reports that bin Laden moves to the village of Chak Shah Mohammad in northwest Pakistan in 2003 (see 2003-Late 2005).
When al-Qaeda operative Ramzi bin al-Shbih is captured in Karachi, Pakistan, in September 2002 (see September 11, 2002), a sign-in book is found with names and passport numbers. US investigators discover that one of Osama bin Laden’s wives and two of his sons had signed in, and their passports had been issued in their real bin Laden names by Sudan in early 2002, through the Sudanese Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan. President Bush is briefed on this, and US intelligence figures suspect that high-ranking Sudanese leaders must have approved the passports and are playing a double game of supporting bin Laden and the US at the same time. The Sudanese government suggests that the officials involved may have been paid off. In a show of good faith, they provide vigorous assistance on several other CIA initiatives. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 165-166]
Bruce Riedel. [Source: Brookings Institute]Bruce Riedel, a South Asia expert at the CIA, will say in 2007 shortly after retiring, “There hasn’t been a serious lead on Osama bin Laden since early 2002. What we’re doing now is shooting in the dark in outer space. The chances of hitting anything are zero.” Other intelligence officials interviewed by Newsweek will agree that since that time US intelligence has never had a better than 50 percent certainty about his location. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] An anonymous former CIA official will similarly tell the Los Angeles Times in 2007 that not only does the US have no idea where bin Laden is, but since 2002 the US has not even had information that “you could validate historically,” meaning a tip on a previous bin Laden location that could be subsequently verified (see May 20, 2007). [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007]
Shortly after a US Predator drone strike on a target that might be Osama bin Laden (see February 4, 2002), US intelligence gets bin Laden family DNA with help from the Saudi government to help determine the identity of the target. The target turns out to be some innocent Afghan men instead. But now the US has DNA for any future bin Laden identity checks. [Reuters, 5/12/2011]
The house in Faisalabad where Abu Zubaida will be arrested. [Source: PBS]At some time around February 2002, intelligence leads to the location of Abu Zubaida. He will be captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in late March 2002 (see March 28, 2002). However, accounts on what intelligence leads to Zubaida’s location differ greatly:
Call to Yemen? - According to the Associated Press, “Pakistani intelligence officials have said quietly that a mobile phone call Abu Zubaida made to al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen led to his arrest.” [Associated Press, 4/20/2002] This could be a reference to the “Yemen hub,” an important al-Qaeda communication node in Yemen that has long been monitored by US intelligence. The hub is used until the middle of February 2002, when it is raided and shut down (see February 13, 2002).
Bribes Play Key Role? - According to books by Jane Mayer and Ron Suskind, Pakistani intelligence officers in Pakistan’s tribal region notice a caravan of vehicles carrying tall women wearing burqas who turn out to be male Islamist militants in disguise. According to Suskind’s version, the militants are arrested, but refuse to talk. According to Mayer’s version, the caravan is allowed to proceed. However, both authors agree that a bribe to the driver of one of the cars reveals that their destination is Faisalabad, Pakistan. Suskind adds that the driver gives up the name of a contact in Faisalabad, and that contact is found and reveals that Zubaida has arrived in town. US intelligence begins intensively monitoring Faisalabad. Afterwards, Mayer claims that the CIA buys the ISI’s help. A CIA source involved in the situation will later tell Mayer, “We paid $10 million for Abu Zubaida.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 84; Mayer, 2008] In 2006, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will write in a memoir, “Those who habitually accuse us of not doing enough in the war on terror should simply ask the CIA how much prize money it has paid to the Government of Pakistan.” [Musharraf, 2006, pp. 190]
CIA Tracks Zubaida's Calls? - According to a 2008 New York Times article, in February 2002, the CIA learns that Zubaida is in Lahore or Faisalabad, Pakistani cities about 80 miles apart and with a combined population of over 10 million. The Times does not say how the CIA learns this. The CIA knows Zubaida’s cell phone number, although it is not explained how this was discovered either. (However, it had been reported elsewhere that Zubaida’s number had been monitored since at least 1998 (see October 1998 and After) and was still being monitored after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001 and After) and October 8, 2001).) Specialists use an electronic scanner that can track any operating cell phone and give its approximate location. However, Zubaida only turns his phone on briefly to collect messages, so his location cannot be pinpointed. A talented CIA official named Deuce Martinez gets involved. He posts a large, blank piece of paper on a wall, and writes Zubaida’s phone number in the middle of it. Then he and others add linked phone numbers, using the monitoring capabilities of the NSA and Pakistani intelligence. A map of Zubaida’s contacts grows. Eventually, Martinez and others are able to narrow Zubaida’s location down to 14 addresses in Lahore and Faisalabad, and these places are put under surveillance. Rather than wait any longer for more intelligence, all 14 locations are raided at once in a joint Pakistani-CIA operation on March 28, 2002, and Zubaida is found in one of the Faisalabad addresses. [New York Times, 6/22/2008]
Key Call to Bin Laden or Al-Zawahiri? - Suskind’s book will also give the story of the CIA narrowing down the locations by monitoring local phone calls. He says that teams of CIA and FBI arrive in Faisalabad on March 17 for more intensive monitoring. Then, the key break comes near the end of the month, when two calls from a certain house in Faisalabad are made to phone numbers in Afghanistan that might be linked to Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. By this account, US intelligence already has a good idea which of the 14 locations Zubaida is in, because of those calls. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 87-89]
Explanations May Not Conflict - Note that these explanations do not necessarily conflict. For instance, bribes could have provided the lead that Zubaida was in Faisalabad, and then further CIA monitoring could have narrowed down his location there. Bribes also could have helped insure that Pakistani intelligence did not tip off Zubaida prior to the raid. The calls to Yemen and/or Afghanistan may have played a role along with other intelligence.
Hamburg al-Qaeda cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar is being held in a prison in Syria, Time magazine reports. According to an unnamed US intelligence source, Zammar is providing useful information about al-Qaeda while being tortured and interrogated by Syrian intelligence. “He’s like Abu Zubaida,” the source says. “He’s kind of cooperating. Or he’s cooperating without realizing that he’s doing it.” Time reports that US officials say “no Americans are in the room with the Syrians who interrogate Zammar. US officials in Damascus submit written questions to the Syrians, who relay Zammar’s answers back. State Department officials like the arrangement because it insulates the US government from any torture the Syrians may be applying to Zammar. And some State Department officials suspect that Zammar is being tortured.” German officials are angry at the arrangement, because they say they are not getting any of the new intelligence from Zammar. They also complain that they didn’t even know until recently that the US had arranged for Zammar to be renditioned from Morocco to Syria in late 2001 (see December 2001). [Time, 7/1/2002] German officials will make a secret agreement with the Syrian government that gives them access to Zammar in late 2002. But Germans will only be able to meet with him one time (see November 20-22, 2002). US cooperation with Syria on counterterrorism will collapse in early 2003, so presumably US intelligence loses access to reports on Zammar’s interrogations at that time (see Early 2002-January 2003).
US officials claim that approximately 2,700 known or suspected al-Qaeda operatives have been captured around the world in the year since 9/11. [New York Times, 9/10/2002] However, what this means exactly is unclear. It is estimated that there were only about 1,000 al-Qaeda operatives at the time of 9/11, although many more people passed through al-Qaeda training camps (see Just Before September 11, 2001). Furthermore, a later investigation will suggest that only one or two dozen of the many hundreds of prisoners sent to Guantanamo prison have any significant al-Qaeda links (see June 21, 2004).
On August 31, 2002, a group mostly made up of American teachers near a mine owned by the US company Freeport-McMoRan are ambushed in the jungles of the Indonesian province of Papua; 3 teachers are killed and 12 injured (see August 31, 2002). According to a Washington Post article published on November 2, 2002, a US intelligence report two weeks later strongly suggests the Indonesian military is behind the killings. According to a US official and another US source, shortly before the ambush, a discussion involving the top ranks of Indonesia’s military (the TNI) take place. Influential commander-in-chief Endriartono Sutarto is involved. Sutarto and the other military leaders discuss discrediting a Papuan separatist group, the Free Papua Movement (OPM). This information is based on a “highly reliable” source said to be knowledgeable about the high-level military conversations, as well as communications intercepts by the Australian government. The discussions do not detail a specific attack nor do they call explicitly for the killing of foreigners, but they clearly target the Freeport company. Subordinates could understand the discussions as an implicit command to take violent action against Freeport. The report suggest the Indonesian military may have wanted to blame an attack on the OPM in order to prod the US to declare the OPM a terrorist group.
FBI Reaches Similar Conclusions - In early October, the FBI briefs State Department and US embassy officials in Indonesia and reveal that their investigation indicates the Indonesian military was behind the ambush, although the determination is not conclusive.
Later Reactions in US - Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt) will later say, “It should surprise no one that the Indonesian army may have been involved in this atrocity. It has a long history of human rights violations and obstruction of justice. The fact that the perpetrators apparently believed they could murder Americans without fear of being punished illustrates the extent of the impunity.” Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz will say he is concerned about the allegations, but suggests the US should nonetheless reestablish ties with the Indonesian military, which had been suspended due to human rights violations. The Indonesian military will later deny any involvement in the killings. [Washington Post, 11/3/2002]
Indonesian Police also Blame Military - However, the Washington Post also reports around the same time that the Indonesian police have concluded in a secret report that the Indonesian military is responsible. They blame Kopassus, the military’s special forces unit, for carrying out the ambush. [Washington Post, 10/27/2002]
No Warnings before Bali Bombings - But neither the US nor Australian governments give any kind of public warning that the Indonesian military could be targeting and killing Westerners, and no known action is taken against the Indonesian government. On October 12, 2002, over 200 people, mostly Westerners, will be killed in bombings on the island of Bali (see October 12, 2002). While the al-Qaeda affiliate group Jemaah Islamiyah will be blamed for the bombings, a retired Indonesian military officer will allegedly confess to having a role but not be charged (see October 16, 2002), and several top Indonesian military generals will also be suspected in media reports (see October 28, 2002).
Entity Tags: Tentara Nasional Indonesia, Freeport-McMoRan, Free Papua Movement, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Endriartono Sutarto, Kopassus, Paul Wolfowitz, US intelligence, US Department of State, Patrick J. Leahy
Timeline Tags: Alleged Use of False Flag Attacks, Complete 911 Timeline
US News and World Report reveals that US intelligence has a growing number of al-Qaeda informants. The magazine comments, “Once thought nearly impossible to penetrate, al-Qaeda is proving no tougher a target than the KGB or the Mafia—closed societies that took the US government years to get inside.” An unnamed US intelligence official says: “We’re getting names, the different camps they trained at, the hierarchy, the infighting. It’s very promising.” Many prisoners have begun to reveal what they know as knowledge of al-Qaeda increases and their interrogations are based on more information about them. One official says, “Now when you go to interrogate people, you know when they’re lying.” [US News and World Report, 9/22/2002]
Shortly after the Bali bombings (see October 12, 2002), the Washington Post will report: “US intelligence officials said they intercepted communications in late September  signaling a strike on a Western tourist site. Bali was mentioned in the US intelligence report…” [Washington Post, 10/15/2002] In response to the Post story, the State Department will issue a statement saying they did share this information with the Australian government. The statement admits their warning discussed tourists as potential targets, but says the warning did no specify an attack on Bali on the weekend that it took place. No government urgently warns tourists to stay away from likely targets in Bali before the bombings. Australian Prime Minister John Howard will later admit that Australia received this warning, but he will claim his intelligence agency analyzed it and decided no upgrade in alert status or any special warning was warranted. [Age (Melbourne), 10/17/2002]
Mohammed al-Khatani, the alleged would-be “20th 9/11 hijacker,” reveals crucial information about Osama bin Laden’s courier, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. US intelligence already knows some details about Ahmed, based on interrogations of other prisoners, but they only know him by his alias Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti and they don’t yet know how important a courier he is. Around this time, al-Khatani faces harsh interrogation techniques that even a senior Bush administration official will later say meet the legal definition of torture (see January 14, 2009). Al-Khatani gives the name “Abu Ahmad al-Kuwaiti” (with two A’s in Ahmed). He says that Ahmed is a “senior al-Qaeda facilitator” and a “courier” who worked for 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and others. When al-Khatani was preparing to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, Ahmed gave him computer training in Karachi, Pakistan, “for his mission to the United States,” on KSM’s orders, indicating that Ahmed had some level of foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. He also says that Ahmed was seen in the Tora Bora mountains in late 2001, and it is possible Ahmed was one of the people with bin Laden in Tora Bora before bin Laden disappeared. [MSNBC, 5/4/2011]
According to US intelligence, insurgents in the Zabul province of Afghanistan receive a month of training in bomb-making, explosives, and assassination techniques from “three Pakistani military officers.” The training is said to be conducted in preparation for a spring campaign targeting Westerners. Ricardo Mungia, a Red Cross water engineer, will be killed by militants on March 27, 2003, in the adjacent Oruzgan province. The murder will greatly hinder development programs in many parts of Afghanistan. The intelligence on this is later mentioned in the Guantanamo file of a detainee named Abdul Kakal Hafiz, which will be leaked to the public in 2011. [Guardian, 4/25/2011]
In December 2003, Norwegian intelligence discovers an al-Qaeda treatise on the Internet called “Jihadi Iraq, Hopes and Dangers.” Completed in September 2003, it is dedicated to Yusef al-Ayeri, head of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula until he was killed in May 2003 (see May 31, 2003), and parts of it may have been written by al-Ayeri. The treatise has a series of recommendations on how to undercut US efforts in Iraq. One major idea is to separate the US from its allies in the Iraq war such as Britain, Spain, and Poland by bombing them. It suggests the political utility of an attack in Spain before 2004 elections there, which is what later occurs (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). It will later be determined that Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, one of the leaders of the Madrid bombings, downloaded the treatise and was presumably influenced by it (it will also be alleged that Fakhet really was a government informant (see Shortly After October 2003). [New York Times Magazine, 11/25/2007] Interestingly, the treatise focuses on new attacks in Saudi Arabia and Europe, but not in the US. This dovetails with a growing consensus within the US intelligence community that al-Qaeda may not have been trying to attack the US since 9/11. One senior CIA official will later say, “Clearly, they had the capability to attack us in about a hundred different ways. They didn’t. The question was, why?” Journalist Ron Suskind will later comment that the idea “al-Qaeda might not, at this point, actually want to attack America” was “a conclusion that was the last thing anyone in the White House wanted publicized…” Suskind will later note that President Bush’s “central assertion that he should be reelected [in 2004] because he had kept [the US] from being attacked again” would have been severely undercut if the US public was aware of this US intelligence consensus. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 302-204]
Germaine Lindsay. [Source: Public domain]Shortly after the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), Newsweek will report that the name of one of the suicide bombers, Germaine Lindsay, “turned up in US government antiterror databases.” Lindsay’s name apparently comes up tangentially during the British investigation, known as Operation Crevice, of the 2004 fertilizer bomb plot (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). A British intelligence agency monitored two other 7/7 suicide bombers repeatedly interacting with the fertilizer bomb plotters, but allegedly never learned their exact names (see February 2-March 23, 2004). They gave US intelligence a database of suspects who interacted with the fertilizer bomb plotters, and presumably Lindsay was in this database (see Between April 10, 2004 and July 7, 2005). [Newsweek, 7/20/2005] The US then puts Lindsay on a terror watch list, which presumably is shared with British intelligence, but the British fail to monitor him. [Associated Press, 7/19/2005] Lindsay was apparently monitored by the FBI when he was visiting family in the US in late 2001, and may have already been put on a watch list at that time (see December 2001).
Hassan Ghul, an al-Qaeda leader captured in Iraq in January 2004 (see January 23, 2004), tells interrogators that Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti is a trusted courier who is close to Osama bin Laden. Abu Ahmed is an alias; his real name apparently is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, but at this point US intelligence only knows him by his alias.
Ghul's Mysterious Captivity and Interrogation - Ghul apparently is held in a secret CIA prison for the first couple of years of his imprisonment. The conditions of his interrogation during this time are unknown, but presumably they are very harsh and many may call them torture, based on how other prominent prisoners are treated in secret CIA prisons around this time. Officials will later claim that Ghul is “quite cooperative” and the use of any harsh techniques on him would have been brief. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011] However, a prisoner who is kept in a cell next to Ghul’s will later testify in Britain that Ghul told him the CIA transferred him to Morocco at some point. It is not known if this is true, or what may have happened to Ghul in Morocco, but some prisoners are transferred to countries like Morocco so that harsh torture techniques that the CIA is not approved to use can be used on them by other intelligence agencies. [Associated Press, 6/15/2011]
Ghul's Apparently Honest Account - Ghul reportedly tells his interrogators that Ahmed is a trusted courier who is close to bin Laden. He also says that Ahmed has been close to al-Qaeda top operational heads Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and Abu Faraj al-Libbi. This is in contrast to the claims of other prisoners, including KSM, who have already said that Ahmed is either dead or unimportant. As a result, US intelligence analysts grow increasingly convinced that Ahmed is an important figure who could lead to bin Laden. Ghul adds that Ahmed has not been seen in a while. Analysts take this as another clue that Ahmed could be with bin Laden. Ghul either does not know Ahmed’s real name or does not tell it to his interrogators. In the wake of Ghul’s comments, KSM is asked again about Ahmed, and KSM sticks to his story that Ahmed is not important. [New York Times, 5/3/2011]
'Linchpin' in Search - Tracking Ahmed will eventually lead US intelligence to bin Laden (see Summer 2009 and July 2010). An unnamed US official will later say, “Hassan Ghul was the linchpin” in the hunt for bin Laden. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011]
It was disclosed in 2003 that the NSA had intercepted several calls between hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001 and Summer 2002-Summer 2004). But in 2004, after revelations that the NSA has been wiretapping inside the US, some media begin to re-examine the circumstances of the hijackers’ calls from the US, as the Bush administration uses the example of these calls as a justification for the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program. [New York Times, 12/16/2005; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; US President, 12/26/2005 ] The calls are thought to be a key aspect of the alleged intelligence failures before 9/11. In late 1998, the FBI had started plotting intercepts of al-Qaeda calls to and from the communications hub on a map (see Late 1998-Early 2002). According to author Lawrence Wright, “[h]ad a line been drawn from the [communications hub] in Yemen to Alhazmi and Almihdhar’s San Diego apartment, al-Qaeda’s presence in America would have been glaringly obvious.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 343-344] In 2006, former NSA Director Michael Hayden will tell the Senate that if the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program had been active before 9/11, the NSA would have raised the alarm over the presence of hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in San Diego. [CNN, 5/19/2006] However, reports in the press suggest otherwise. For example, in one newspaper a senior intelligence official will say that it was not technically possible for the NSA, which had a budget of around $3.6 billion in 2000, to trace the calls. “Neither the contents of the calls nor the physics of the intercepts allowed us to determine that one end of the calls was in the United States,” says the official. [Bamford, 2002, pp. 482; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] But another report flatly contradicts this. “NSA had the technical ability to pick up the actual phone number in the US that the switchboard was calling but didn’t deploy that equipment, fearing they would be accused of domestic spying.” [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] It is unclear why concerns about domestic spying allegations would prevent the NSA from passing the information on to the FBI. Almihdhar and Alhazmi were not US citizens, but foreign nationals who had entered the US illegally claiming to be tourists. In addition, there was a wealth of evidence connecting them to al-Qaeda (see Early 1999, January 5-8, 2000, and Early 2000-Summer 2001). In any event, the NSA did reportedly disseminate dispatches about some of these US calls (see Spring-Summer 2000). Some FBI officials will later profess not to know what went wrong and why they were not notified of the hijackers’ presence in the US by other agencies. A senior counterterrorism official will say: “I don’t know if they got half the conversation or none of it or hung up or whatever. All I can tell you is we didn’t get anything from it—we being the people at the FBI who could have done something about it. So were they sitting on it? I don’t know.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005] The US intelligence community, through the CIA, also had access to the phone company’s records for the Yemeni communications hub, which would have shown what numbers were being called in the US (see Late 1998-Early 2002).
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, Ahmed al-Hada, Bush administration (43), US intelligence, Salem Alhazmi, Nawaf Alhazmi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties
Around early June 2005, US intelligence learns that Haroon Rashid Aswat is living in South Africa. An associate will later say that he had known Aswat there for about five months, and that Aswat was making money by selling religious CDs and DVDs. [Press Trust of India, 8/2/2005] The US wants Aswat for a role he allegedly played in trying to set up a militant training camp in Oregon in 1999 (see November 1999-Early 2000), although he has not been formally charged yet (see August 2002). US officials contact the South African government and ask if they can take him into custody. Aswat is a British citizen, so South Africa relays the request to Britain and British officials block the request. When the debate continues, he manages to leave the country. [CNN, 7/28/2005] An unnamed US official will tell the Telegraph: “The discussion was whether or not they would render him. He’s got [British] papers and they said you can’t render somebody with [British] papers.” British officials will complain that they would have cooperated had the US simply pursued a formal extradition request instead of pushing for a rendition. A senior US intelligence official will add, “Nobody is going to say there is a row or a rift but there was certainly dissatisfaction and exasperation here over the handling of this case.” [Daily Telegraph, 7/31/2005] He apparently returns to Britain and meets with and phones the suicide bombers of the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005 and Late June-July 7, 2005). He will be named the mastermind of those bombings in many newspapers. One counterterrorism expert will allege that Aswat also was an informant for British intelligence, and this would explain why the British were protecting him (see July 29, 2005).
Sam Karmilowicz, a former security officer at the US embassy in Manila, suggests in an interview with CounterPunch magazine, that US intelligence may have failed to properly follow leads in a counterterrorism case because of a potential link to Pakistani intelligence. In September 1994, Karmilowicz allegedly received information that a Pakistani businessman with possible ties to the ISI was part of a plot to assassinate President Clinton during his November 1994 visit to Manila (see September 18-November 14, 1994). An interagency US security team that was tasked with investigating the tip ended its investigation after only a few weeks. “My experience in the Philippines shows the US government has compartmentalized information… in order to cover-up its gross incompetence or its complicity in illegal and questionable activities conducted by, or against, foreign powers,” Karmilowicz says. [CounterPunch, 3/9/2006]
The US intelligence community completes a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE), entitled “Trends in Global Terrorism: Implications for the United States.” It concludes, “Although we cannot measure the extent of the spread with precision, a large body of all-source reporting indicates that activists identifying themselves as jihadists, although still a small percentage of Muslims, are increasing in both number and geographic distribution. If this trend continues, threats to US interests at home and abroad will become more diverse, leading to increasing attacks worldwide.” It lists four factors “fueling the jihadist movement”:
“Entrenched grievances, such as corruption, injustice, and fear of Western domination, leading to anger, humiliation, and a sense of powerlessness.”
The Iraq war. “The Iraq conflict has become the cause célèbre for jihadists, breeding a deep resentment of US involvement in the Muslim world and cultivating support for the global jihadist movement.”
“The slow pace of real and sustained economic, social, and political reforms in many Muslim majority nations.”
The “pervasive anti-US sentiment among most Muslims.” [Salon, 3/27/2008] It also concludes that al-Qaeda’s operations have been disrupted and its leadership is “seriously damaged.” This assessment will be reversed in the next NIE on terrorism, completed one year later (see July 18, 2007). [Washington Post, 7/18/2007]
In June 2006, the US, NATO, and Afghanistan’s intelligence agency compile a secret report on the Taliban. The report is discussed on July 9 at a private meeting of officials from Western countries and Afghanistan, chaired by Afghan President Hamid Karzai. The report goes further than any previous report in describing the Pakistani government’s involvement in supporting the Taliban. It states, “ISI operatives reportedly pay a significant number of Taliban living/ operating in both Pakistan and Afghanistan to fight.… A large number of those fighting are doing so under duress as a result of pressure from the ISI. The insurgency cannot survive without its sanctuary in Pakistan, which provides freedom of movement, communications for command and control, and a secure environment for collaboration with foreign extremist groups. The sanctuary of Pakistan provides a seemingly endless supply of potential new recruits for the insurgency.” The report also states that at least four of the Taliban’s top leaders are living in Pakistan. But despite the US involvement in creating the report, US diplomacy generally remains in denial about Pakistan’s double dealing. President Bush not only fails to successfully pressure Pakistan on the issue, but even continues to praise Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. The report is not leaked to the press at the time. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 367-368] In September 2006, when Pakistan announces a deal with militants in the tribal region of Waziristan, the heart of al-Qaeda’s safe haven, Bush publicly supports the deal (see September 5, 2006 and September 7, 2006).
Harun Shirzad al-Afghani. [Source: Defense Department]Harun Shirzad al-Afghani is an alleged veteran Islamist militant held in Guanatanamo prison starting in 2007. His Guantanamo file will later be leaked to the public, and it states that he is believed to have attended an important meeting of militant groups on August 11, 2006. A letter found with al-Afghani explains that the meeting is meant to bring together senior figures in the Taliban, al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Toiba (a Pakistani militant group), and Hezb-i-Islami (another militant group, led by Gulbuddin Hekmatyar). But most interestingly, the file claims that senior Pakistani military and ISI (intelligence) officials also attend the meeting. The meeting discusses coordination of attacks against US-led forces in Afghanistan. Plans are made to “increase terrorist operations” in certain Afghanistan provinces, including suicide bombings, assassinations, and mines. Al-Afghani also allegedly tells his Guantanamo interrogators that in 2006 an unnamed ISI officer pays an Islamist militant a large sum of money to transport ammunition into Afghanistan to help al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Hezb-e-Islami. Al-Afghani’s file describes him as a leader both in al-Qaeda and Hezb-e-Islami, with links to important leaders in both groups predating the 9/11 attacks. He is captured in Afghanistan in February 2007 and transferred to Guantanamo several months later. [Joint Task Force Guantanamo, 8/2/2007 ; Guardian, 4/25/2011]
By autumn 2006, al-Qaeda’s central leadership based in Pakistan’s tribal region near the border of Afghanistan appears to be short on funds. But a peace treaty signed between the Pakistani government and Islamist militants in the tribal region of North Waziristan in early September 2006 (see September 5, 2006) gives al-Qaeda’s leaders breathing room and allows them to receive money from new sources abroad. US intelligence determines that al-Qaeda in Pakistan is increasingly funded by the Iraq war. Operatives in Iraq are raising considerable sums from donations to the anti-US insurgency there, as well as criminal activity such as kidnappings for ransom common in the chaos of the Iraq war zone. Al-Qaeda’s central command had previously sent money outward to Iraq and elsewhere. A senior US counterterrorism official will say in 2007, “Iraq is a big moneymaker for them.” The Pakistani peace deal with militants results in tens of thousands of Pakistani soldiers withdrawing from the tribal regions. This in turn allows militants to move between Pakistan and Iraq much easier than before. This official will say there are “lots of indications they can move people in and out easier,” and that operatives from Iraq often bring money. “A year ago we were saying they were having serious money problems. That seems to have eased up.” It is also believed that Taliban forces in Afghanistan are now being taught by al-Qaeda operatives experienced with fighting US forces in Iraq. [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007]
US intelligence learns al-Qaeda courier Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti’s real full name. According to later media reports, his real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. In late 2005, intelligence analysts concluded Ahmed was very likely working for Osama bin Laden or some other high ranking al-Qaeda leader (see Late 2005). [MSNBC, 5/4/2011; Associated Press, 6/1/2011] An unnamed US official will cryptically say that the crucial intelligence on his real name comes not from Pakistan, but “from a different part of the world.” [CNN, 5/2/2011]
Intel from Ahmed's Family? - Apparently, around 2006, US intelligence somehow learned his real last name (see (2006)). But since “Ahmed” is a common name in many countries, more work was needed to learn the rest of his name. It appears that intelligence comes from learning about his family. The New York Times will later report that after his last name was discovered, analysts “turned to one of their greatest investigative tools—the National Security Agency (NSA) began intercepting telephone calls and e-mail messages between the man’s family and anyone inside Pakistan. From there they got [Ahmed’s] full name.” [New York Times, 5/2/2011]
How Did US Intelligence Know about His Family? - The exact sequence of events of how analysts learn who his family is will not be revealed. But the “al-Kuwaiti” in Ahmed’s “Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti” alias obviously refers to Kuwait, and US intelligence learn at some point from other prisoners that Ahmed’s parents had moved to Kuwait (even though he originally was from Pakistan). [Associated Press, 6/1/2011]
Could Ahmed's Father Be Important Al-Qaeda Figure? - It will later be reported that Ahmed’s father was close to bin Laden. This still unnamed father, who lived and worked in Kuwait, allegedly had a trusting relationship with bin Laden going back 30 to 40 years. [Dawn (Karachi), 5/7/2011] Perhaps this is not relevant, but if US intelligence already had some intelligence on Ahmed’s father, this could have narrowed down the search of Pakistani-linked families living in Kuwait.
Real Name Will Lead to Location - It is unclear when, but the NSA eventually starts tracking the phone calls of Ahmed’s relatives in the Persian Gulf to anyone they call in Pakistan. Later, the NSA will be able to figure out Ahmed’s location in Pakistan from one such phone call (see Summer 2009). [Associated Press, 6/1/2011]
The Los Angeles Times reports that US intelligence has no idea where bin Laden is hiding. The search for bin Laden was disrupted in early 2002 when most US intelligence assets and equipment was pulled out of Afghanistan to prepare for war with Iraq, and the search has yet to recover. There has not been a single substantiated lead on bin Laden’s location since early 2002 (see Early 2002). “We’re not any closer,” says a senior US military official who monitors the US intelligence on bin Laden. A former senior CIA official says, “We’ve had no significant report of him being anywhere,” and adds that the US does not even have information since 2002 that “you could validate historically,” meaning a tip on a previous bin Laden location that could be subsequently verified. There have been no solid leads on the location of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri in recent years either. [Los Angeles Times, 5/20/2007] The Washington Post similarly reported in September 2006 that the search for bin Laden has gone “stone cold” (see September 10, 2006). In June 2008, a Western military analyst” will tell NBC News, “We don’t have a clue where [bin Laden] is or even may be. We have had NO credible intelligence on [him] since 2001. All the rest is rumor and rubbish either whipped up by the media or churned out in the power corridors of Western capitals.” This analyst says the last good information on bin Laden from the battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan in late 2001. [MSNBC, 6/13/2008]
Indian intelligence allegedly warns US intelligence that Osama bin Laden is likely living in Pakistan away from the tribal region, probably in northwest Pakistan. This is according to an article published in the Times of India shortly after bin Laden’s death in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Reportedly, the warning comes shortly after a Taliban meeting in Peshawar, Pakistan, also attended by al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, top leaders of the Haqqani network (a semi-autonomous Taliban faction based in Pakistan), and at least two officials of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency. Immediately afterwards, al-Zawahiri visits Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital city in the country’s northwest. An unnamed top Indian official will later say: “The urgency with which al-Zawahiri visited Islamabad or the area in its vicinity suggested that he was there for some purpose. We told [the US] about al-Zawahiri visiting Islamabad and we also told them that we believed Osama may not be hiding in caves but in a highly urbanized area somewhere near Islamabad. Of course, nobody had spotted him and it was a conclusion we drew on the basis of the information we got.” Islamabad is only 31 miles from Abbottabad, where bin Laden will eventually be found. Indian officials do not get the impression that US officials are particularly interested in their lead. [Times of India, 5/4/2011]
A 2007 map showing Pakistan’s tribal areas. Regions dominated by Islamist militants are highlighted in pink. [Source: New York Times]A summary of a new National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) entitled “The Terrorist Threat to the US Homeland” is declassified. The NIE, a unified assessment from all 16 US intelligence agencies, says that al-Qaeda has, in the words of the Post, “reestablished its central organization, training infrastructure, and lines of global communication over the past two years, putting the United States in a ‘heightened threat environment‘…” The last NIE on terrorism worldwide was completed in April 2006 and indicated that al-Qaeda’s fortunes were declining (see April 2006). The main reason the new NIE gives for al-Qaeda’s resurgence is the establishment of a safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region near the Afghanistan border. Its link with the affiliate group Al-Qaeda in Iraq has also helped “energize” militants and aided recruitment and funding. The NIE’s release comes just days after a similar report by the National Counterterrorism Center entitled “Al-Qaeda Better Positioned to Strike the West” (see July 11, 2007), and also just days after the Pakistani government broke peace deals with Islamist militants in the tribal region (see July 11-Late July, 2007). Edward Gistaro, national intelligence officer for transnational threats and the primary author of the NIE, says in a press briefing, “Over the past 18 to 24 months, safe haven in Pakistan has become more secure.” He says it has allowed al-Qaeda to develop of a new tier of leadership in the form of “lieutenants… coming off the bench,” to replace the leaders who have been captured or killed. On the same day the NIE is released, Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell says of al-Qaeda, “They’re working as hard as they can in positioning trained operatives here in the United States.… They have recruitment programs to bring recruits into… Pakistan, particularly those that speak the right language, that have the right skills, that have the right base that they could come to the United States, fit into the population… and carry out acts.” [Washington Post, 7/18/2007]
A secret US government document from this month called the “Joint Task Force Guantanamo Matrix of Threat Indicators for Enemy Combatants” calls the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, a terrorist organization. The ISI is listed with al-Qaeda, Hamas, and Hezbollah as threats. The document is meant for interrogators at the Guantanamo prison who are trying to determine which detainees to release. It suggests that any link to any of these groups is an indication of terrorist activity, and evidence the detainee poses a future threat. The US has never officially declared the ISI a terrorist group, suggesting its public posture differs from its private one for political reasons. After this and other Guantanamo documents are leaked to The Guardian in 2011, The Guardian will report: “The revelation that the ISI is considered as much of a threat as al-Qaeda and the Taliban will cause fury in Pakistan. It will further damage the already poor relationship between US intelligence services and their Pakistani counterparts, supposedly key allies in the hunt for Osama bin Laden and other Islamist militants in south Asia.” The newspaper will further note that although the document is from 2007, it is unlikely the ISI’s status at Guantanamo has changed by 2011. Other Guantanamo documents leaked to The Guardian describe instances where the ISI helped US efforts, but also instances where the ISI was seen helping Islamist militants. [Guardian, 4/25/2011]
The Washington Post reports, “Today, al-Qaeda operates much the way it did before 2001. The network is governed by a shura, or leadership council, that meets regularly and reports to bin Laden, who continues to approve some major decisions, according to a senior US intelligence official. About 200 people belong to the core group and many receive regular salaries, another senior US intelligence official said.” This second official adds, “They do appear to meet with a frequency that enables them to act as an organization and not just as a loose bunch of guys.” Most of this core group is believed to be in the Pakistani tribal region near the Afghanistan border. [Washington Post, 9/9/2007] It has been estimated that there were roughly 1,000 al-Qaeda operatives around 9/11, but only a core of about 200 had pledged loyalty to bin Laden (see Just Before September 11, 2001).
Indian intelligence allegedly warns US intelligence that Osama bin Laden is likely living in one of Pakistan’s military garrison areas, probably in northwest Pakistan. This is according to an article published in the Times of India shortly after bin Laden’s death in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). Reportedly, Indian intelligence warned the US in mid-2007 that bin Laden could be living in northwest Pakistan, after getting some information about the movements of al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Mid-2007). Over the next six months or so, Indian intelligence learned more about the movement of al-Qaeda leaders in northwest Pakistan. Then, in early 2008, India sends the US more intelligence. An unnamed top Indian official will later say: “This time, we specifically mentioned about his presence in a cantonment area. It was because we had definite information that his movement was restricted owing to his illness and that it would have been impossible for him to go to an ordinary hospital. We told the Americans that only in a cantonment area could he be looked after by his ISI or other Pakistani benefactors.” Cantonments are permanent military garrison areas administered by the military. Abbottabad, where bin Laden will be killed in 2011, is one of the cantonments in northwest Pakistan. Indian officials do not get the impression that US officials are particularly interested in their lead. [Times of India, 5/4/2011]
According to a later book by New York Times reporter David Sanger, in May 2008, US intelligence records General Ashfaq Kayani, head of Pakistan’s military, referring to militant leader Jalaluddin Haqqani as “a strategic asset.” Haqqani heads a group of militants in Waziristan, in Pakistan’s tribal region, that is known as the Haqqani network. It is considered a semi-independent branch of the Taliban. The surveillance was ordered to confirm suspicions that the Pakistani military is still secretly supporting the Taliban, even though the US gives aid to help fight the Taliban. The transcript of Kayani’s comments is passed to Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell. US intelligence will later intercept calls from Pakistani military units to Haqqani, warning him of an imminent Pakistani military operation in the tribal region designed to make it appear to the US that Pakistan is taking action against militant groups. An unnamed source will later explain, “It was something like, ‘Hey, we’re going to hit your place in a few days, so if anyone important is there, you might want to tell them to scram.’” Further US surveillance will reveal a plot between the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and Haqqani to bomb the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan (see July 7, 2008). Pakistani officials deny they are supporting Haqqani. [London Times, 2/17/2009] An unnamed senior Pakistani intelligence official also called Haqqani an asset in 2006 (see 2006).
US intelligence allegedly discovers that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and a faction of the Taliban are planning a spectacular bombing somewhere in Afghanistan. US intelligence is intercepting Pakistani government communications in an attempt to find out if the Pakistani government is still supporting militants fights US soldiers in Afghanistan. Communications intercepts already revealed an active link between the Pakistani government and the Haqqani network, a semi-autonomous branch of the Taliban headed by Jalaluddin Haqqani (see May 2008). According to a later book by New York Times reporter David Sanger, new intercepts at this time show that the ISI is working to carry out a spectacular bombing in Afghanistan. But apparently, the exact target is not known. Two weeks later, the Indian Embassy in Kabul will be bombed (see July 7, 2008). Afterwards, the US will accuse the ISI and the Haqqani network of plotting the bombing, mostly based on these intercepts from before the bombing (see July 28, 2008 and August 1, 2008). [London Times, 2/17/2009]
Yousaf Raza Gillani. [Source: Public Domain]Pakistan’s prime minister, Yousaf Raza Gillani, visits the US and meets with President George Bush in Washington, D.C. Bush privately confronts Gillani with evidence that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, has been helping the Taliban and al-Qaeda. US intelligence has long suspected that Pakistan has been playing a “double game,” accepting over a billion dollars of US aid per year meant to help finance Pakistan’s fight with Islamic militants, but at the same time training and funding those militants, who often go on to fight US soldiers in Afghanistan. The London Times reports that Gillani “was left in no doubt that the Bush administration had lost patience with the ISI’s alleged double game.” Bush allegedly warned that if one more attack in Afghanistan or elsewhere were traced back to Pakistan, the US would take “serious action.” The key evidence is that US intelligence claims to have intercepted communications showing that the ISI helped plan a militant attack on the Indian embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan, earlier in the month (see July 7, 2008). US officials will leak this story of ISI involvement to the New York Times several days after Bush’s meeting with Gillani (see August 1, 2008). Gillani also meets with CIA Director Michael Hayden, who confronts him with a dossier on ISI support for the Taliban. Pakistanis officials will claim they were shocked at the “grilling” they received. One Pakistani official who came to the US with Gillani will say, “They were very hot on the ISI. Very hot. When we asked them for more information, Bush laughed and said, ‘When we share information with your guys, the bad guys always run away’.” When the story of Bush’s confrontation with Gillani is leaked to the press, Pakistani officials categorically deny any link between the ISI and militants in Afghanistan. But senior British intelligence and government officials have also told the Pakistanis in recent days that they are convinced the ISI was involved in the embassy bombing. This is believed to be the first time the US has openly confronted Pakistan since a warning given several days after 9/11 (see September 13-15, 2001). The US is said to be particularly concerned with the ISI’s links to Jalaluddin Haqqani, who runs a militant network that the US believes was involved in the bombing. And the US is worries about links between the ISI and Lashkar-e-Toiba, a Pakistan-based militant group that is said to have been behind a recent attack against US forces in Afghanistan that killed nine. [London Times, 8/3/2008]
The New York Times reports that US intelligence agencies have concluded that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, helped plan the July 7, 2008, bombing of India’s embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The attack was initially blamed on al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants, and 54 people were killed (see July 7, 2008). It is said US intelligence intercepted communications between ISI officers and militants who took part in the attack. The communications were intercepted before the bombing, but apparently were not specific enough to stop the attack. Anonymous US officials would not specifically tell the Times what kind of assistance the ISI gave the bombers. However, it was noted that the ISI officers involved were not renegades, suggesting their actions could have been authorized by superiors. [New York Times, 8/1/2008] The US also claims to have arrested an ISI officer inside Afghanistan, apparently for a role in the attack, but who this person is and what their role exactly allegedly was remains unclear. India and Pakistan have been traditional enemies, and Pakistan is concerned about India’s influence in Afghanistan. Many Western intelligence officials have long suspected that the ISI gets aid from the US and its allies and then uses this support to help the militants the US is fighting. However, solid proof has been hard to find. However, one British official tells the London Times, “The Indian embassy bombing seems to have finally provided it. This is the smoking gun we’ve all been looking for.” [London Times, 8/3/2008] One State Department official similarly says of the bombing evidence, “It confirmed some suspicions that I think were widely held. It was sort of this ‘a-ha’ moment. There was a sense that there was finally direct proof.” US officials believe that the embassy bombing was probably carried out by members of a network led by Jalaluddin Haqqani, who in turn has close alliances with al-Qaeda and the Taliban. US officials also say there is new evidence that ISI officials are increasingly providing militants with details about the US military campaign against them. In some cases, this has allowed militants to avoid US missile strikes in Pakistan. [New York Times, 8/1/2008] Several days before these accusations against the ISI were leaked to the press, British and US officials privately confronted Pakistani officials about the charges. President Bush even directly threatened Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani with serious consequences if another attack were linked to the ISI (see July 28, 2008).
As the Democratic Party’s nominee for US president, Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) is given his first classified intelligence briefing. The briefing includes information on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. An unnamed senior official will later say that Obama already is under the impression that bin Laden has to be hiding in Pakistan, and the briefing solidifies that view. The official says, “What I remember in terms of the aftermath of that briefing and into the transition was just how much the focus became on Pakistan.” [Reuters, 5/12/2011]
Christiane Amanpour on “Real Time With Bill Maher” on October 3, 2008. [Source: Real Time with Bill Maher]ABC News reporter Christiane Amanpour says that Osama bin Laden is living in a villa in Pakistan, not in a cave. She makes these comments as a guest on HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher. She says: “I just talked to somebody very knowledgeable… [who] thinks that [bin Laden is] in a villa, a nice comfortable villa… in Pakistan. Not a cave.” After bin Laden’s death in an urban compound in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), Amanpour will explain that she’d heard the information a short time earlier from a “US intelligence officer who had recently left a top position.” [ABC News, 5/3/2011]
In 2009, US intelligence locates Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti), a trusted courier working for Osama bin Laden, somewhere in northwest Pakistan. This is done by remote monitoring of his cell phone calls and e-mails, after his full real name was discovered in 2007 (see 2007). His brother Abrar, who is also involved with al-Qaeda, is discovered as well. However, their exact location in Pakistan is still unknown and will not be discovered until 2010 (see July 2010). [CNN, 5/2/2011; MSNBC, 5/4/2011]
Assistance from Pakistani Government - The Washington Post will later report that the Pakistani government has been secretly assisting US intelligence with data collection for a number of years. The US can collect wireless phone calls on its own in Pakistan, but the Pakistani government helps the US collect landline calls and e-mails as well. In 2009, the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, allegedly notices several suspicious calls spoken in Arabic to the Middle East. The phone number is discovered to belong to Ahmed. An unnamed US official will later say: “The Pakistanis indeed provided information that was useful to the US government as it collected intelligence on the bin Laden compound. That information helped fill in some gaps.” [Washington Post, 5/11/2011]
Ahmed's General Location Discovered; Exact Locale Is Still a Mystery - However, Ahmed normally drives an hour or two before inserting the battery in his cell phone, and he frequently changes the SIM cards in his phone. As a result, US intelligence concludes he is living somewhere in northwest Pakistan, but it cannot figure out exactly where. One of these calls comes from the general vicinity of Abbottabad, where Ahmed will eventually be found to be living with Osama bin Laden (see August 1, 2010). But since other calls come from other towns, intelligence analysts cannot limit their search to just Abbottabad. [Washington Post, 5/11/2011; ABC News, 5/19/2011]
Extensive Surveillance Effort Begins - A senior Obama administration official will later say the two brothers’ “extensive operational security” keeps investigators from determining exactly where they live. “The fact that they were being so careful reinforced our belief that we were on the right track.” This official will add, “We couldn’t trail [Ahmed], so we had to set up an elaborate surveillance effort.” [CNN, 5/2/2011]
It is reported that a preliminary investigation into the suicide bombing that killed nine at a CIA base in Afghanistan (see December 30, 2009) suggests that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, may have played a role. The Jordanian triple agent who blew himself up in the bombing used an unusually compact and powerful type of bomb. According to senior Afghan sources, a preliminary US investigation shows that a chemical fingerprint of the bomb matches a type of explosive used by the ISI. One senior government source says, “It is not possible that the [bomber] received that type of explosive without the help of ISI.” US and Pakistani officials have refused to publicly comment on any suggestions of ISI involvement. [Daily Beast, 1/6/2010]
A key mistake by Osama bin Laden’s courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) lead US intelligence to exact location of bin Laden’s hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan (see May 2, 2011). US intelligence already had a good idea that Ahmed was a courier working for bin Laden, and in the summer of 2009, he used a cell phone that allowed analysts to determine he was living somewhere in northwest Pakistan (see Summer 2009). But he drove an hour or two before making his calls, and he changed the SIM cards in his phone, making it impossible to pinpoint his exact location. After a flurry of calls in the summer of 2009, he did not use his phone for nearly a year. [ABC News, 5/19/2011]
Phone Call Is Key Mistake - But then, around July 2010, he accepts a call that provides the key intelligence breakthrough. The call is from an unnamed old friend, but the friend’s calls are already being monitored by US intelligence for his al-Qaeda links. The friend asks Ahmed innocuous questions, like where have you been and what are you doing now. Ahmed vaguely replies, “I’m back with the people I was with before.” Bob Woodward of the Washington Post will later report, “There was a pause, as if the friend knew that [Ahmed’s] words meant he had returned to bin Laden’s inner circle, and was perhaps at the side of the al-Qaeda leader himself. The friend replied, ‘May God facilitate.’” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
Exact Neighborhood Is Located - According to one account, when Ahmed takes this call, apparently he is in or near the town of Peshawar (about 120 miles from Abbottabad). He is soon spotted there, and then continually monitored. It will take several weeks before he returns to Abbottabad, and the exact location of bin Laden’s hideout there is discovered. [New York Times, 5/2/2011] According to another account, Ahmed is either inside bin Laden’s compound or very close to it when he takes the call, because the NSA is quickly able to determine the exact neighborhood where the call was received. From there, the CIA and National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency search aerial satellite photographs and deduce which house in the neighborhood likely belongs to bin Laden. [ABC News, 5/19/2011] Either way, apparently his hideout will be discovered by US intelligence on August 1 (see August 1, 2010).
Bin Laden's Compound Already Known to CIA? - According to the Associated Press, the CIA had already known “for years” that bin Laden’s compound was linked to al-Qaeda, but they had dismissed it as not very important since there were no security guards patrolling it. In any case, the compound is located (or relocated), and US intelligence starts to monitor it. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011]
Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard makes some phone calls that help US intelligence to conclude bin Laden is living in Abbottabad, Pakistan. In July 2010, Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) accepts a phone call on his cell phone from a friend who is already being monitored by US intelligence, and this leads investigators to the exact compound in Abbottabad where Ahmed and bin Laden live (see July 2010). Investigators determine there is no land line or Internet in the compound. However, there is a satellite phone that apparently is used by bin Laden’s bodyguard.
Calls to Known Associates - In July and August 2010, US intelligence tracks calls from this bodyguard to al-Qaeda associates in the towns of Charsada and Kohat in the same province. Further details are unknown, such as who is called or if the bodyguard continues to make calls after August 2010. But these calls help US analysts decide that bin Laden is probably living inside the compound.
Who Is the Bodyguard? - The name of this bodyguard will not be made public, but apparently he is Kuwaiti. When bin Laden is killed in 2011 (see May 2, 2011) there will be no bodyguards with him. However, Ahmed and his brother Abrar could be considered Kuwaiti, as they were originally Pakistani, but raised in Kuwait. [Christian Science Monitor, 5/2/2011] So perhaps the bodyguard is actually one of them.
An illustration of the Abbottabad compound. [Source: CIA]US intelligence officials come to believe more strongly that they have found Osama bin Laden. US intelligence officials have tracked al-Qaeda courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed (a.k.a. Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti) to a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in August 2010 (see July 2010), and by September they are so convinced that bin Laden is hiding there that they inform President Obama about this (see September 1, 2010). Bin Laden is not directly seen by surveillance, but there are many clues suggesting he could be there:
Most importantly, Ahmed fits the profile of an ideal courier for bin Laden, and Ahmed lives at the compound.
The compound is surrounded by 12- to 18-foot high walls topped with barbed wire.
However, there is no telephone or Internet in the compound. This would seem to be an unusual security precaution, but it also makes the compound hard to monitor.
The compound sits on a large plot of land and is about eight times larger than the other homes in the neighborhood.
The people in the compound burn their trash instead of leaving it out for collection, like the other neighbors.
The main three-story building in the compound has few outside windows.
Ahmed and the others known to live in the compound have no known source of wealth that could explain how they pay the expenses of running the compound. [CNN, 5/2/2011]
There are no balconies, except for those covered with more high walls. Balconies are a standard feature for wealthy houses like this one in Pakistan. One neighbor will later comment: “It’s not a proper house. It’s more like a warehouse. It’s not like a home where anyone would want to live.” [Daily Telegraph, 5/3/2011]
A senior Obama administration official will later say, “When we saw the compound where the brothers lived, we were shocked by what we saw—an extraordinarily unique compound.” He adds that intelligence analysts conclude the compound was “custom-built to hide someone of significance.… Everything we saw… was perfectly consistent with what our experts expected bin Laden’s hideout to look like.” [CNN, 5/2/2011] However, according to the Associated Press, US intelligence has known about the compound “for years,” but it did not think bin Laden would live there because there were no security guards. [Associated Press, 5/2/2011] Months later, a US strike force will assault the compound and kill bin Laden (see May 2, 2011).
Bin Laden’s compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan. [Source: Aqeel Ahmed / Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)US intelligence finally learns the exact location of Osama bin Laden’s secret compound, in Abbottabad, Pakistan. [New York Times, 5/3/2011] The compound is discovered by US intelligence tracking bin Laden’s courier Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed. US intelligence was already aware of Ahmed’s general location in northwest Pakistan and was aggressively searching for him in the hopes he could show the way to bin Laden’s location (see Summer 2009). According to one account, Ahmed accepts a phone call while in Peshawar, about 120 miles from Abbottabad, and is tracked when he returns to the compound. According to another account, he accepts the call in or near the compound (see July 2010). In any case, once the compound is discovered, US intelligence begins heavily monitoring it (see August-September 2010).
US intelligence begins intensively spying on the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound where they strongly suspect Osama bin Laden is hiding (see August-September 2010). The compound was discovered on August 1, 2010 (see August 1, 2010). The Washington Post will later report that “virtually every category of [intelligence] collection in the US arsenal” is used, including satellite imagery and attempts to record voices inside the compound.
CIA Safehouse - The efforts include a CIA safehouse located somewhere near the compound. Abbottabad is a tourist town with pleasant weather and colonial era charm, enabling strangers to easily come and go without attracting suspicion. The CIA takes advantage of that atmosphere to send CIA operatives and informants into the town to gather information. A former US official will say, “The [main compound building] was three stories high, and you could watch it from a variety of angles.” Moving there “was his biggest mistake.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
Escape Tunnel? - Analysts even study the water tables in the area in an attempt to figure out if bin Laden could have an escape tunnel. They conclude the soil is too wet to build a tunnel. [ABC News, 5/19/2011]
Intelligence Allegedly Still Lacking - The surveillance is so extensive that in December 2010, the CIA has to secretly get Congress to reallocate tens of millions of dollars within various agency budgets to help fund it. But US intelligence is allegedly unable to get a clearly identifiable picture or voice recording of bin Laden before the raid that eventually kills him. The CIA safehouse is abandoned shortly after the May 2, 2011 raid that kills bin Laden (see May 2, 2011), since it has served its purpose. [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
Shortly after US intelligence begins monitoring the Abbottabad, Pakistan, compound where it suspects Osama bin Laden is hiding out (see August 1, 2010 and August 2010-May 2, 2011), a man who fits bin Laden’s description is seen walking around outside almost every day, the Washington Post’s Bob Woodward will later report. The man leaves the main compound building but stays within the compound walls to walk around a courtyard for an hour or two. Analysts eventually start calling him “the pacer.” Satellite imagery suggests the pacer has the height and gait of a tall man (and bin Laden is at least six foot four inches tall). However, the satellite imagery is reportedly not clear enough to get a good view of his face. This tall person is never seen leaving the compound. An analysis of the daily routine of this person suggests he is living there almost like a prisoner. Allegedly, CIA Director Leon Panetta tells President Obama and other top US officials that it is too risky to send in a human spy or move electronic equipment closer to confirm if the pacer is bin Laden or not. As a result, US intelligence will still not be 100 percent that bin Laden is living in the compound when US Special Forces raid it in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] The London Times will publish a later story claiming that US intelligence was aware of the type of clothes bin Laden wore before the raid (see May 23, 2011). That would support these claims about bin Laden’s walks.
Radio Free Europe reports that RAW, India’s external intelligence agency, had long known Abbottabad, Pakistan, was a major al-Qaeda and Taliban operations center. RAW had put the town on a list of such operations centers prior to the US raid that killed Osama bin Laden on May 2, 2011 (see May 2, 2011). The article claims that “[t]he US was watching carefully as well.” For instance, Abbottabad was used by Islamic militant groups to train new recruits for at least a decade (see July 2001). [Radio Free Europe, 5/6/2011]
History of Militant Links - Several militant camps have existed near Abbottabad since the 1990s (see May 22, 2011). Key al-Qaeda leaders lived in the town around 2004, and US intelligence was aware of this (see 2004 and After April 2004). An important Indonesian militant leader, Umar Patek, was arrested in Abbottabad in January 2011 (see January 25, 2011).
One day after bin Laden’s death, neighbors told the Wall Street Journal that there had been a recent influx of suspicious Arabs in the town. [Wall Street Journal, 5/3/2011]
Completely Contradictory Accounts - On May 4, an unnamed senior US official told the Wall Street Journal that Abbottabad was “a place we always looked” because “we always figured that Osama bin Laden would not be in a cave.” [Wall Street Journal, 5/4/2011] Yet, on May 5, an unnamed former US intelligence official involved in trying to find bin Laden told the Washington Post, “Abbottabad is not a place where Islamic extremists went, because it wasn’t a stronghold.” The official added that when analysts considered likely locations for him, “Abbottabad wouldn’t be on that list.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011]
The London Times reports that the US Navy SEALS who raided Osama bin Laden’s Abbottabad compound had a pocket guide to the building’s occupants so specific that it mentioned the types of clothes bin Laden usually wore. One copy of the guide was left behind in the raid that killed bin Laden (see May 2, 2011), and the Times was able to obtain it. The guide lists the names of ages of the people living inside the compound, as well as where they live in the compound and when some of them arrived. Photographs of some people are included. The guide is obviously based on recent information. For instance, it mentions twins born this year to bin Laden’s youngest wife. It also states that bin Laden: “Always wears light-colored shawl kameez with a dark vest. Occasionally wears light-colored prayer cap.” The Times comments that the guide raises new questions about the raid. Some experts suggest that it indicates US intelligence had a mole inside the compound, while other experts suggest it simply shows that the US’s data collection in the months before the raid was extremely thorough, and perhaps used technology “far more sophisticated than hitherto realized.” The Times also notes that after the raid, President Obama “said he had been ‘only 45 per cent to 55 per cent sure that bin Laden was even in the compound.’ [But the guide] indicates US intelligence was certain of his presence.” [London Times, 5/23/2011] Shortly after the raid, the Washington Post published a story claiming that US intelligence monitored bin Laden while he took frequent walks in the courtyard of the compound. This guide suggests that story was accurate (see Shortly After August 2010-May 2, 2011).
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