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The FBI’s Counterterrorism Division issues a warning of possible al-Qaeda attacks to law enforcement agencies called “Potential Anti-US Attacks.” It states: “[T]here are threats to be worried about overseas. While we cannot foresee attacks domestically, we cannot rule them out.” It further states, “[T]he FBI has no information indicating a credible threat of terrorist attack in the United States.” It asks law enforcement agencies to “exercise vigilance” and “report suspicious activities” to the FBI. Two weeks later, acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard has a conference call with all field office heads mentioning the heightened threat (see July 19, 2001). However, FBI personnel later fail to recall any heightened sense of threat from summer 2001. Only those in the New York field office take any action or will recall this later. (CNN 3/2002; 9/11 Commission 4/13/2004)
At the request of National Security Adviser Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke leads a meeting of the Counterterrorism Security Group, attended by officials from a dozen federal agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the FAA, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, Customs, the CIA, and the FBI. The CIA and FBI give briefings on the growing al-Qaeda threat. (Gellman 5/17/2002; Elliott 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 258) Then Clarke later recalls saying, “You’ve just heard that CIA thinks al-Qaeda is planning a major attack on us. So do I. You heard CIA say it would probably be in Israel or Saudi Arabia. Maybe. But maybe it will be here. Just because there is no evidence that says that it will be here, does not mean it will be overseas. They may try to hit us at home. You have to assume that is what they are going to do.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 236) Two attendees later recall Clarke stating that “something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon.” One who attended the meeting later calls the evidence that “something spectacular” is being planned by al-Qaeda “very gripping.” (Gellman 5/17/2002; Elliott 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256) Clarke directs every counterterrorist office to cancel vacations, defer non-vital travel, put off scheduled exercises, and place domestic rapid-response teams on much shorter alert. However, there is very poor follow up to the meeting and the attendees don’t share the warnings with their home agencies (see Shortly After July 5, 2001). By early August, all of these emergency measures are no longer in effect. (CNN 3/2002; Gellman 5/17/2002)
On July 5, 2001, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gave a dramatic briefing to representatives from several domestic agencies on the urgent al-Qaeda threat (see July 5, 2001). However, the warnings given generally are not passed on by the attendees back to their respective agencies. The domestic agencies were not questioned about how they planned to address the threat and were not told what was expected of them. According to the 9/11 Commission, attendees later “report that they were told not to disseminate the threat information they received at the meeting. They interpreted this direction to mean that although they could brief their superiors, they could not send out advisories to the field.” One National Security Council official has a different recollection of what happened, recalling that attendees were asked to take the information back to their agencies and “do what you can” with it, subject to classification and distribution restrictions. But, for whatever reason, none of the involved agencies post internal warnings based on the meeting, except for Customs which puts out a general warning based entirely on publicly known historical facts. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 264) The FAA issues general and routine threat advisories that don’t reflect the level of urgency expressed by Clarke and others (see January-August 2001). FAA Administrator Jane Garvey later claims she was unaware of a heightened threat level, but in 2005 it will be revealed that about half of the FAA’s daily briefings during this time period referred to bin Laden or al-Qaeda (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). (Johnston and Dwyer 4/18/2004) Clarke said rhetorically in the meeting that he wants to know if a sparrow has fallen from a tree. A senior FBI official attended the meeting and promised a redoubling of the FBI’s efforts. However, just five days after Clarke’s meeting, FBI agent Ken Williams sends off his memo speculating that al-Qaeda may be training operatives as pilots in the US (see July 10, 2001), yet the FBI fails to share this information with Clarke or any other agency. (Gellman 5/17/2002; Clarke 2004, pp. 236-37) The FBI will also fail to tell Clarke about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), or what they know about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see August 23, 2001).
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke sends National Security Adviser Rice an e-mail message “outlining a number of steps agreed on” at the Counterterrorism Security Group meeting the day before (see July 5, 2001), “including efforts to examine the threat of weapons of mass destruction and possible attacks in Latin America. One senior administration official [says] Mr. Clarke [writes] that several agencies, including the FBI, the CIA, and the Pentagon, [have] been directed to develop what the official [says are] ‘detailed response plans in the event of three to five simultaneous attacks.’” However, no response or follow-up action has been pointed out. (Johnston and Schmitt 4/4/2004)
Police officer Dave Agar in South Hackensack, New Jersey, is searching the parking lots of cheap motels, looking for suspicious cars. He submits the license plate number of a 1988 Toyota parked outside the Jade East motel to the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), a computer database frequently used by every level of law enforcement. He discovers that Nawaf Alhazmi owns the car. The computer record shows no outstanding warrants for Alhazmi (though it does give other information, including his address in San Diego). Agar makes a record of his search and continues his patrol. It is later discovered that Abdulaziz Alomari registered a room in the Jade East motel from July 6-13, and Khalid Almihdhar stayed most of that week with Alhazmi at the nearby Congress Inn. It is also discovered that Almihdhar, Alhazmi, and two or three other men had dinner together at a local diner. Police speculate the hijackers were holding a meeting to discuss their plot. One officer later says, “You wonder what would have happened if the check had turned up something on Alhazmi. We certainly would have brought him in for questioning.” (Pochna 7/11/2002; Kelly 5/18/2004) In late August, an FBI agent will look for Alhazmi and Almihdhar in the New York City area, but he will fail to check NCIC or car registration records that would have revealed the record of Agar’s search mentioning Alhazmi’s name (see September 5, 2001 and September 4-5, 2001).
CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black and Richard Blee, a manager responsible for the CIA’s bin Laden unit, meet with CIA Director George Tenet and review the latest intelligence about al-Qaeda. Black lays out a case based on communications intercepts and other intelligence suggesting a growing chance that al-Qaeda will attack the US soon. There is no smoking gun per se, but there is a huge volume of data indicating an attack is coming (see July 9-10, 2001). The case is so compelling—Tenet will later say it “literally made my hair stand on end”—that Tenet decides to brief the White House on it this same day (see July 10, 2001). (Woodward 10/1/2006; Tenet 2007, pp. 151)
CIA Director George Tenet finds the briefing that counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave him earlier in the day (see July 10, 2001) so alarming that he calls National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from his car as he heads to the White House and says he needs to see her right away, even though he has regular weekly meetings with her. (Woodward 10/1/2006) Tenet and Black let a third CIA official, Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, brief Rice on the latest intelligence. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke are also present. (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006)
'Significant Attack' - Blee starts by saying, “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!” He argues that it is impossible to pick the specific day, saying Osama bin Laden “will attack when he believes the attack will be successful.” He mentions a range of threat information including:
A warning related to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see (July 9, 2001)) and seven pieces of intelligence the CIA recently received indicating there would soon be a terrorist attack (see July 9-10, 2001);
A mid-June statement by bin Laden to trainees that there would be an attack in the near future (see Mid-June 2001);
Information that talks about moving toward decisive acts;
Late-June information saying a “big event” was forthcoming;
Two separate bits of information collected “a few days before the meeting” in which people predicted a “stunning turn of events” in the weeks ahead. This may be a reference to intercepts of calls in Yemen, possibly involving the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
Multiple, Simultaneous Attacks in US Possible - Blee says that the attacks will be “spectacular,” they will be designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities and interests, there may be multiple, simultaneous attacks, and they may be in the US itself. He outlines the CIA’s efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda by spreading incorrect word that the attack plans have been compromised, in the hope that this will cause a delay in the attack. But he says this is not enough and that the CIA should go on the attack. Blee also discounts the possibility of disinformation, as bin Laden’s threats are known to the public in the Middle East and there will be a loss of face, funds, and popularity if they are not carried out. Blee urges that the US take a “proactive approach” by using the Northern Alliance. (Tenet 2007, pp. 151-4) Author Bob Woodward will later write: “Black emphasize[s] that this amount[s] to a strategic warning, meaning the problem [is] so serious that it require[s] an overall plan and strategy. Second, this [is] a major foreign policy problem that need[s] to be addressed immediately. They need […] to take action that moment—covert, military, whatever—to thwart bin Laden. The United States ha[s] human and technical sources, and all the intelligence [is] consistent.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 80; Woodward 10/1/2006) Richard Clarke expresses his agreement with the CIA about the threat’s seriousness, and Black says, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”
Rice's Response - There are conflicting accounts about the CIA’s reading of Rice’s response. According to Woodward: “Tenet and Black [feel] they [are] not getting through to Rice. She [is] polite, but they [feel] the brush-off.” They leave the meeting frustrated, seeing little prospect for immediate action. Tenet and Black will both later recall the meeting as the starkest warning they gave the White House on al-Qaeda before 9/11 and one that could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks if Rice had acted on it (see July 10, 2001) and conveyed their urgency to President Bush. (Tenet is briefing Bush on a daily basis at this time, but he will later say that Rice has a much better rapport with the president.) Black will say, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 80; Woodward 10/1/2006) Rice says that Bush will align his policy with the new realities and grant new authorities. Writing in 2007, Tenet will say that this response is “just the outcome I had expected and hoped for,” and recall that as they leave the meeting, Blee and Black congratulate each other on having got the administration’s attention. Nevertheless, Rice does not take the requested action until after 9/11. (Tenet 2007, pp. 153-4)
Rice Concerned about Genoa - Clarke will recall in 2006 that Rice focuses on the possible threat to Bush at an upcoming summit meeting in Genoa, Italy (see June 13, 2001 and July 20-22, 2001). Rice and Bush have already been briefed about the Genoa warning by this time (see July 5, 2001). Rice also promises to quickly schedule a high-level White House meeting on al-Qaeda. However, that meeting does not take place until September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001). (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006) Rice also directs that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same briefing, and they receive it a short time later (see July 11-17, 2001).
Meeting Not Mentioned in 9/11 Commission Report - The meeting will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (see August 4, 2002), and there will be controversy when it is fully revealed in 2006 (see September 29, 2006, September 30-October 3, 2006, and October 1-2, 2006).
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft receive the same CIA briefing about a likely imminent, multiple, and simultaneous al-Qaeda strike that was given to the White House on July 10, 2001 (see July 10, 2001). In 2006, the State Department will reveal the two were briefed within a week of the White House briefing, at the request of National Security Adviser Rice. One official who helped prepare the briefing later describes it as a “ten on a scale of one to ten” that “connected the dots” to present a stark warning that al-Qaeda is ready to launch a new attack. A Pentagon spokesman says he has no information “about what may or may not have been briefed” to Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld does not answer questions about it. Ashcroft says he was not given any briefing and calls it “disappointing” that he was not briefed. After it is confirmed that Ashcroft was briefed, apparently on July 17, Ashcroft will still claim not to remember the briefing, and will say he only recalls another CIA briefing earlier in the month (see July 5, 2001). Journalist Andrew Cockburn later reports that, “according to several intelligence sources,” Rumsfeld’s reaction to the briefing at the time “was one of vehement dismissal, complete with cutting observations about the CIA falling victim to ‘vast doses of al-Qaeda disinformation’ and ‘mortal doses of gullibility.’” McClatchy Newspapers will comment that these briefings raise “new questions about what the Bush administration did in response, and about why so many officials have claimed they never received or don’t remember the warning.” (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006; Cockburn 2007, pp. 9) On July 26, 2001, it will be reported that Ashcroft has stopped flying on commercial airlines within the US (see July 26, 2001).
Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard attempts to brief Attorney General John Ashcroft on the al-Qaeda terrorist threat for a second time (see June 28, 2001), but Ashcroft is uninterested and says he does not want to hear about it, according to Pickard’s later account.
'I Don't Want to Hear about It Anymore' - According to a June 24, 2004 letter from Pickard to the 9/11 Commission, Pickard opens the briefing by discussing “counterintelligence and counterterrorism matters.” Pickard’s letter will go on to say: “The fourth item I discussed was the continuing high level of ‘chatter’ by al-Qaeda members. The AG [attorney general] told me, ‘I don’t want to hear about it anymore, there’s nothing I can do about it.’ For a few seconds, I did not know what to say, then I replied that he should meet with the director of the CIA to get a fuller briefing on the matter.… I resumed my agenda but I was upset about [Ashcroft’s] lack of interest. He did not tell me nor did I learn until April 2004 that the CIA briefed him on the increase in chatter and level of threat on July 5, 2001” (see July 5, 2001 and July 11-17, 2001). (Pickard 6/24/2004) In testimony under oath to the 9/11 Commission in 2004, Pickard will affirm that, “at least on two occasions” he briefed Ashcroft on a rising threat level and concerns about an impending attack, which were being reported by the CIA. Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste will ask Pickard if he has told Commission staff that Ashcroft “did not want to hear about this anymore,” to which Pickard will respond, “That is correct.” (9/11 Commission 4/13/2004 ) According to Pickard’s later recollection: “Before September 11th, I couldn’t get half an hour on terrorism with Ashcroft. He was only interested in three things: guns, drugs, and civil rights.” (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 293)
Differing Accounts of What Was Said at the Meeting - According to the 9/11 Commission’s June 3, 2004 record of its interview with Watson, “Pickard told Watson that he was briefing Ashcroft on counterterrorism, and Ashcroft told him that he didn’t want to hear ‘anything about these threats,’ and that ‘nothing ever happened.’” (9/11 Commission 6/3/2004 ) Author Philip Shenon will write about this meeting in his 2008 book, The Commission, based on interviews with Pickard and “Commission investigators who researched his allegations,” but none of the quotes or representations of fact in Shenon’s text will cite a specific source. Shenon will make reference to Mark Jacobson and Caroline Barnes as being the 9/11 Commission staffers who interviewed Pickard. (Shenon 2008, pp. 240-248, 433) According to Shenon’s version of the meeting, Ashcroft replies to Pickard: “I don’t want you to ever talk to me about al-Qaeda, about these threats. I don’t want to hear about al-Qaeda anymore.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 247) Ashcroft, in testimony under oath to the 9/11 Commission, will dismiss Pickard’s allegation, saying, “I did never speak to him saying that I did not want to hear about terrorism.” (9/11 Commission 4/13/2004 ) Pickard will respond to Ashcroft’s testimony in his 2004 letter, saying, “What [Ashcroft] stated to the Commission under oath is correct, but they did not ask him, ‘Did he tell me he did not want to hear about the chatter and level of threat?’ which is the conversation to which I testified under oath.” (Pickard 6/24/2004) The deputy attorney general at the time of the meeting, Larry D. Thompson, and Ashcroft’s chief of staff, David T. Ayres, will sign a letter to the 9/11 Commission on July 12, 2004, in which they say they are responding to Pickard’s allegation that when he briefed Ashcroft “on the al-Qaeda threat prior to September 11, 2001, the attorney general responded that he did not want to hear such information anymore.” The letter will say Thompson and Ayres were present at that and the other regular meetings between Pickard and Ashcroft, and “the attorney general made no such statement in that or any other meeting.” (Ayres 7/12/2004) The 9/11 Commission Report will conclude, “We cannot resolve this dispute.” (Commission 2004)
Differing Accounts of Who Was at the Meeting - Pickard’s 2004 letter will state that Ayres is at the meeting, but has left the room prior to that part of the meeting, as he does not have the required level of security clearance. Pickard’s letter indicated that the FBI Assistant Director for Criminal Investigations, Ruben Garcia, is at the meeting and also witnesses the exchange. (Pickard 6/24/2004) Shenon’s book puts Garcia at the meeting, but does not make reference to Garcia’s account of what is said there. Also, in the notes to Shenon’s book, it will not say that he interviewed Garcia. (Shenon 2008, pp. 247-248, 433) According to a June 22, 2004 NBC News report: “Commission investigators also tracked down another FBI witness at the meeting that day, Ruben Garcia… Several sources familiar with the investigation say Garcia confirmed to the Commission that Ashcroft did indeed dismiss Pickard’s warnings about al-Qaeda.” Furthermore, “Pickard did brief Ashcroft on terrorism four more times that summer, but sources say the acting FBI director never mentioned the word al-Qaeda again in Ashcroft’s presence—until after Sept. 11.” (Myers 6/22/2004) According to the 9/11 Commission Report, “Ruben Garcia… attended some of Pickard’s briefings of the attorney general but not the one at which Pickard alleges Ashcroft made the statement.” (Commission 2004, pp. 536n52)
Ashcroft Denies FBI Requests and Appeals, Cuts Counterterrorism Funding - Following the meeting, on July 18, Ashcroft will reject the FBI’s request for an increase in funding for counterterrorism, and instead propose cuts to that division (see July 18, 2001). Pickard will appeal this decision; Ashcroft will reject the appeal on September 10, 2001 (see September 10, 2001). (9/11 Commission 4/13/2004)
The FBI issues another warning to domestic law enforcement agencies about threats stemming from the convictions in the millennium bomb plot trial. The FAA also issues a warning to the airlines, telling them to “use the highest level of caution.” (CNN 3/2002) This is another one of 15 general warnings issued to airlines in 2001 before 9/11 (see January-August 2001), but it is more specific than usual. (CNN 3/2002; Lewandowski and Davis 5/17/2002) Also on this day, the State Department issues a public warning of a possible terrorist threat in the Saudi Arabia region. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 259, 534)
Attorney General John Ashcroft replies to the FBI’s annual budget proposal. The proposal had asked for a sizable increase for only one area—counterterrorism. However, Ashcroft says that the FBI’s budget for counterterrorism should be cut, not increased. The budgets for some other divisions will also be cut. Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard asks Ashcroft if the FBI can appeal and Ashcroft agrees. Pickard and his top assistants discuss what should be appealed and decide only to appeal the counterterrorism cuts, as they feel that this is “the most important thing,” according to Pickard. The appeal will be denied on September 10 (see September 10, 2001). (Shenon 2008, pp. 249)
Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard holds a periodic conference call with the heads of all FBI field offices. According to a later account by Pickard, one item he discusses is the need to have evidence response teams ready to move quickly in case of a new attack. This is brought up in light of all the increased threat reporting. However, he does not task the field offices to look into whether any plots are being considered within the US; nor does he tell them to take any action to disrupt any such plots. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 259) FBI personnel will later fail to recall any heightened sense of threat from summer 2001. Only those in the New York field office take any action or will recall this call later. (CNN 3/2002; 9/11 Commission 4/13/2004)
The G8 summit is held in Genoa, Italy. Acting on previous warnings that al-Qaeda would attempt to kill President Bush and other leaders, Italian authorities surround the summit with anti-aircraft guns. They keep fighter jets in the air and close off local airspace to all planes. (Los Angeles Times 9/27/2001) The warnings are taken so seriously that Bush stays overnight on an aircraft carrier offshore, and other world leaders stay on a luxury ship. (CNN 7/18/2001) No attack occurs. US officials state that the warnings were “unsubstantiated,” but after 9/11, they will claim success in preventing an attack. (Los Angeles Times 9/27/2001) According to author Philip Shenon, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice is involved in discussions about the precautions, and this is the only time she focuses on al-Qaeda threats in the summer of 2001. Shenon will add: “There is no record to show that Rice made any special effort to discuss terrorist threats with Bush. The record suggested, instead, that it was not a matter of special interest to either of them that summer.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 154)
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is granted a visa to enter the US, despite being under a federal terrorism indictment, having a $2 million reward on his head, and being one of only a dozen people in the world on a US domestic no-fly list (see April 24, 2000). There is no evidence that he actually uses his visa to travel to the US. Investigators speculate that he may have considered a trip to shepherd some aspect of the 9/11 plot. He applied for the visa using a Saudi passport and an alias (Abdulrahman al Ghamdi), but the photo he submitted is really of him. He uses the new, controversial Visa Express program that allows Saudis to apply for US visas without having to appear in person at any point during the application process (see May 2001). (Miller and Meyer 1/27/2004) Just a month earlier, the CIA passed a warning to all US intelligence agencies, certain military commanders, and parts of the Justice and Treasury Departments saying that Mohammed may be attempting to enter the US (see June 12, 2001). However, either this warning isn’t given to immigration officials or else they fail to notice his application. (Miller and Meyer 1/27/2004)
CBS News reports that Attorney General Ashcroft has stopped flying commercial airlines due to a threat assessment, but “neither the FBI nor the Justice Department… would identify [to CBS] what the threat was, when it was detected or who made it.” (CBS News 7/26/2001) One newspaper reports, “Ashcroft demonstrated an amazing lack of curiosity when asked if he knew anything about the threat. ‘Frankly, I don’t,’ he told reporters.” (Sorensen 6/3/2002) It is later reported that he stopped flying in July based on threat assessments made on May 8 and June 19. In May 2002, it is claimed the threat assessment had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, but Ashcroft walked out of his office rather than answer questions about it. (Associated Press 5/16/2002) The San Francisco Chronicle will later conclude, “The FBI obviously knew something was in the wind.… The FBI did advise Ashcroft to stay off commercial aircraft. The rest of us just had to take our chances.” (Sorensen 6/3/2002) CBS’s Dan Rather will later ask of this warning: “Why wasn’t it shared with the public at large?” (Kurtz 5/27/2002) On July 5, the CIA had warned Ashcroft to expect multiple, imminent al-Qaeda attacks overseas (see July 5, 2001) and on July 12 the FBI warned him about the al-Qaeda threat within the US (see July 12, 2001).
The FAA issues another alert to US airlines. It mentions “reports of possible near-term terrorist operations… particularly on the Arabian Peninsula and/or Israel.” It states the FAA has no credible evidence of specific plans to attack US civil aviation, but notes that some “currently active” terrorist groups are known to “plan and train for hijackings” and are able to build and conceal sophisticated explosive devices in luggage and consumer products. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 259) This alert will expire by 9/11. Note that pilots and flight attendants later claim they were never told about warnings such as these. The airlines also disagree about the content of pre-9/11 warnings generally. (CNN 3/2002; Ananova 5/17/2002) For instance, American Airlines states these warnings were “extremely general in nature and did not identify a specific threat or recommend any specific security enhancements.” (Ananova 5/17/2002 Sources: American Airlines)
9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta’s rental car is queried by police in Broward County, Florida. This incident is added to the NCIC, a widely used nationwide police database. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 204 ) On June 4, a Florida warrant was issued for Atta’s arrest, as he skipped court following a previous traffic offense (see June 4, 2001). It is not clear why the existing arrest warrant does not raise a red flag, since he rented the car in his own name.
President Bush receives a classified presidential daily briefing (PDB) at his Crawford, Texas ranch indicating that Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. The PDB provided to him is entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” The entire briefing focuses on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the US. (Sanger 5/15/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002) The analysts who drafted the briefing will say that they drafted it on the CIA’s initiative (see July 13, 2004), whereas in 2004 Bush will state that he requested a briefing on the topic due to threats relating to a conference in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001, where Western intelligence agencies believed Osama bin Laden was involved in a plot to crash an airplane into a building to kill Bush and other leaders (see April 13, 2004). The analysts will later explain that they saw it as an opportunity to convey that the threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the US was both current and serious. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260) The existence of this briefing is kept secret, until it is leaked in May 2002, causing a storm of controversy (see May 15, 2002). While National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim the memo is only one and a half pages long, other accounts state it is 11 1/2 pages instead of the usual two or three. (Sanger 5/15/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002; Schrom 10/1/2002) A page and a half of the contents will be released on April 10, 2004; this reportedly is the full content of the briefing. (Pincus and Eggen 4/10/2004) The briefing, as released, states as follows (note that the spelling of certain words are corrected and links have been added):
Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US (see December 1, 1998). Bin Laden implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America” (see May 26, 1998).
After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a -REDACTED-service (see December 21, 1998).
An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told -REDACTED- service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.
The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden’s first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself (see December 14, 1999), but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaida encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaida was planning his own US attack (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001).
Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993 (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.
Al-Qaeda members—including some who are US citizens—have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks (see January 25, 2001). Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US citizens (see September 15, 1998), and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s (see November 1989 and September 10, 1998).
A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks (see October-November 1998).
“We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [REDACTED] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and other US-held extremists” (see 1998, December 4, 1998, and May 23, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223) According to the Washington Post, this information came from a British service. (Woodward and Eggen 5/18/2002)
Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York (see May 30, 2001).
The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related (see August 6, 2001). CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives (see May 16-17, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223)
In retrospect, the briefing is remarkable for the many warnings that apparently are not included (see for instance, from the summer of 2001 prior to August alone: May 2001, June 2001, June 12, 2001, June 19, 2001, Late Summer 2001, July 2001, July 16, 2001, Late July 2001, Late July 2001, Summer 2001, June 30-July 1, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Early August 2001). According to one account, after the PDB has been given to him, Bush tells the CIA briefer, “You’ve covered your ass now” (see August 6, 2001). Incredibly, the New York Times later reports that after being given the briefing, Bush “[breaks] off from work early and [spends] most of the day fishing.” (Rich 5/25/2002) In 2002 and again in 2004, National Security Adviser Rice will incorrectly claim under oath that the briefing only contained historical information from 1998 and before (see May 16, 2002 and April 8, 2004).
According to journalist and author Ron Suskind, just after a CIA briefer presents President Bush with the later infamous PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing) item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001), Bush tells the briefer, “You’ve covered your ass, now.” This account is from Suskind’s 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, which is based largely on anonymous accounts from political insiders. In the book, after describing the presentation of the PDB, Suskind will write: “And, at an eyeball-to-eyeball intelligence briefing during this urgent summer, George W. Bush seems to have made the wrong choice. He looked hard at the panicked CIA briefer. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘You’ve covered your ass, now.’” (Suskind 2006, pp. 2; Gellman 6/20/2006)
On April 29, 2004, President Bush will testify before the 9/11 Commission, but almost no details of what he said will be publicly released. He testifies with Vice President Cheney, in private, not under oath, is not recorded, and the notes that the commissioners take are censored by the White House (see April 29, 2004). However, the 9/11 Commission will release a one paragraph summary of how Bush claims he responded to the Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001, entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). The Commission recalls, “The President told us the August 6 report was historical in nature. President Bush said the article told him that al-Qaeda was dangerous, which he said he had known since he had become President. The President said bin Laden had long been talking about his desire to attack America. He recalled some operational data on the FBI, and remembered thinking it was heartening that 70 investigations were under way (see August 6, 2001). As best he could recollect, [National Security Adviser] Rice had mentioned that the Yemenis’ surveillance of a federal building in New York had been looked into in May and June, but there was no actionable intelligence (see May 30, 2001). He did not recall discussing the August 6 report with the Attorney General or whether Rice had done so. He said that if his advisers had told him there was a cell in the United States, they would have moved to take care of it. That never happened.” The 9/11 Commission will conclude that they could find no evidence of any further discussions or actions taken by Bush and his top advisers in response to the briefing (see Between August 6 and September 10, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260)
A fire lasting several hours leads to the forced evacuation of the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. (Reuters 8/8/2001) The fire is discovered on August 7 at around 5:45 p.m., in the northeast section of the agency’s older headquarters building, and more than 60 firefighters are involved in putting it out. It was reportedly caused by a workman at the top of an elevator shaft dropping a welder, which ignited wood at the bottom of the shaft. Both the older headquarters building and the agency’s new headquarters building nearby are evacuated. Following this fire, A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard—the executive director of the CIA since March this year—is dismayed to find that plans for an evacuation of the headquarters are patchy, and that some of the fire alarms do not work. In the ensuing month he therefore initiates regular fire drills and equips key agency officials with tiny walkie-talkies, meaning communication will still be possible should cell phones ever go out. Krongard declares that evacuating safely is to be more important than storing classified material, and has the agency’s computer network reprogrammed so an evacuation warning could be flashed on all computer screens. Journalist and author Ronald Kessler will describe the August 7 fire as being “fortuitous,” as little over a month later, on the morning of September 11, CIA Director George Tenet will order the evacuation of the headquarters building due to fears that it might be targeted (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). On that day, Tenet and other top officials will reconvene at an alternate location on the CIA campus, “[f]ollowing procedures laid out by Krongard after the fire.” (Central Intelligence Agency 3/16/2001; Associated Press 8/7/2001; Weil 8/8/2001; Kessler 2003, pp. 222-223)
The Bush administration holds no high-level meetings prior to 9/11 to discuss the ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US’ Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) given to President Bush on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later suggest that 9/11 might have been stopped “if [National Security Adviser] Rice and the president had acted personally, gotten involved, shaken the trees, gotten the Cabinet members involved when they had ample warning in June and July and August that something was about to happen.… [Rice] said that the president received 40 warnings face to face from the director of central intelligence that a major al-Qaeda attack was going to take place and she admitted that the president did not have a meeting on the subject, did not convene the Cabinet. She admitted that she didn’t convene the Cabinet. And as some of the [9/11 Commissioners] pointed out, this was in marked contrast to the way the government operated in December of 1999, when it had similar information and it successfully thwarted attacks.” (Clarke 4/8/2004) Former CIA official Larry Johnson will similarly comment, “At a minimum, the details in the 6 August PDB should have motivated Rice to convene a principals’ meeting. Such a meeting would have ensured that all members of the president’s national security team were aware of the information that had been shared with the president. George Bush should have directed the different department heads to report back within one week on any information relevant to the al-Qaeda threat. Had he done this there is a high probability that the FBI field agents concerns about Arabs taking flight training would have rung some bells. There is also a high probability that the operations folks at CIA would have shared the information they had in hand about the presence of al-Qaeda operators in the United States.” (Johnson 4/12/2004) There will be one cabinet-level principals meeting to discuss terrorism on September 4, 2001, but no evidence has been released suggesting the PDB or the possibility of al-Qaeda attacking the US was discussed (see September 4, 2001).
The 9/11 Commission will later state that after the now famous “bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” memo is given to President Bush on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001), “We have found no indication of any further discussion before September 11 among the president and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the United States.” (Isikoff and Hosenball 4/28/2005) 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey will later state to CNN,“[B]y the way, there’s a credible case that the president’s own negligence prior to 9/11 at least in part contributed to the disaster in the first place.… [I]n the summer of 2001, the government ignored repeated warnings by the CIA, ignored, and didn’t do anything to harden our border security, didn’t do anything to harden airport country, didn’t do anything to engage local law enforcement, didn’t do anything to round up INS and consular offices and say we have to shut this down, and didn’t warn the American people. The famous presidential daily briefing on August 6, we say in the report that the briefing officers believed that there was a considerable sense of urgency and it was current. So there was a case to be made that wasn’t made.… The president says, if I had only known that 19 Islamic men would come into the United States of America and on the morning of 11 September hijack four American aircraft, fly two into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and one into an unknown Pennsylvania that crashed in Shanksville, I would have moved heaven and earth. That’s what he said. Mr. President, you don’t need to know that. This is an Islamic Jihadist movement that has been organized since the early 1990s, declared war on the United States twice, in ‘96 and ‘98. You knew they were in the United States. You were warned by the CIA. You knew in July they were inside the United States. You were told again by briefing officers in August that it was a dire threat. And what did you do? Nothing, so far as we could see on the 9/11 Commission.” (CNN 11/8/2004)
One day after President Bush receives a Presidential Daily Briefing entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US,” a version of the same material is given to other top government officials. However, this Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) does not contain the most important information from Bush’s briefing. It does not mention that there are 70 FBI investigations into possible al-Qaeda activity, does not mention a May 2001 threat of US-based explosives attacks, and does not mention FBI concerns about recent surveillance of buildings in New York City. The Associated Press will report that this type of memo “goes to scores of Cabinet-agency officials from the assistant secretary level up and does not include raw intelligence or sensitive information about ongoing law enforcement matters” due to fear of media leaks. SEIBs were sent to many more officials during the Clinton administration. The Associated Press will also state that “some who saw the memo said they feared it gave policy-makers and members of the congressional intelligence committees a picture of the domestic threat so stale and incomplete that it didn’t provide the necessary sense of urgency one month before the Sept. 11 attacks.” (Solomon 4/13/2004) Attorney General John Ashcroft will later say he does not recall seeing the SEIB before 9/11 (see Between August 7 and September 10, 2001).
On August 7, 2001, a version of the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” given to President Bush the day before is sent to other top US officials (see August 7, 2001). This version, called an SEIB, has the same title as the PDB but contains less classified information. Attorney General John Ashcroft - the head of law enforcement in the US - will later claim that he does not remember seeing this SEIB before 9/11. He will say he was at a conference in Chicago at the time and he does not remember his staff briefing him about it later. In the Clinton administration, the attorney general was a regular recipient of the same PDB given to the president. (9/11 Commission 4/13/2004)
The Macedonian government and Macedonian Albanian political leaders, along with EU envoy Francois Leotard and American envoy James Pardew, conduct talks for weeks in Ohrid and come to an agreement on August 8. The Framework Agreement is signed at a tense ceremony in Skopje on August 13. Under the agreement, Macedonia’s constitution will be changed to call it a state of “Macedonian citizens,” not the “Macedonian nation”; Albanian will become an official language where 20 percent or more of the people are speakers; limits are taken off national symbols and religion; and Albanians and other groups are given a veto over legislation about “culture, use of language, education, personal documentation, and use of symbols,” and can call for elected commissions to monitor human rights. The parties agree to reform the Macedonian police force to reflect Macedonia’s ethnic makeup by 2004 (only six percent of the force is Albanian at this time), the Law on Local Self-Government and Local Finance is amended to increase local autonomy, local boundaries are to be moved to reflect ethnic composition after an upcoming census, and the Laws on the Civil Service and Public Administration are changed so ethnic groups will have equal representation.
The Peace Deal between NATO and the NLA - NATO representative Pieter Feith and Ali Ahmeti, leader of the National Liberation Army, negotiate a separate peace settlement. On August 14 the NLA will say it supports the Framework Agreement and signs a technical agreement with NATO. NATO will disarm the NLA and the guerillas will receive amnesty. About 3,500 NATO soldiers will enter Macedonia, beginning on August 12 with the entry of British and French units.
Results of the Agreements - There are Macedonian and Albanian groups that oppose the Framework Agreement, including the Albanian National Army, a militant group about as old as the NLA, and the Real NLA. Some accuse NATO or the USA of being behind the NLA and ANA. Political changes will be made in Macedonia, but the Framework Agreement will not be implemented fully. By September 27, the NLA will dissolve. Six months of civil war kill 150 to 250 people (including 95 Macedonian police and soldiers), wound 650 or more, and displace 140,000 people. At its peak, the NLA controls about 20 percent of Macedonia. (Kola 2003, pp. 379-382; Phillips 2004, pp. 134-136, 161, 204)
After being warned that Zacarias Moussaoui has raised suspicions at flight school (see August 11-15, 2001 and August 13-15, 2001), the FBI learns they can arrest him because he is in the US illegally. Four agents, Harry Samit, John Weess, Dave Rapp (all FBI) and Steve Nordmann (INS), drive to the Residence Inn, where Moussaoui and his associate Hussein al-Attas are staying. At the hotel Samit speaks on the phone to Joe Manarang from FBI headquarters; Manarang appeals for them to take the “cautious route” and not arrest Moussaoui. However, Samit refuses, as he has already notified the hotel clerk of their interest. Moussaoui is arrested around 4:00 p.m. on an immigration violation. At first Moussaoui shows the agents some documents, but then he becomes upset at missing his flight training. The FBI confiscates his belongings, including a computer laptop, but Moussaoui refuses permission for the belongings to be searched. A search of Moussaoui’s person yields a dagger with a two-inch blade, and another knife with a three-inch blade belonging to Moussoaui is found in the car. He also has boxing gloves and shin guards, and the arresting agents note he has prepared “through physical training for violent confrontation.” Al-Attas allows the agents to search his belongings and they believe al-Attas is in the US legally, so he is not arrested. However, al-Attas tells the FBI that Moussaoui is a radical religious Muslim and later makes several statements indicating Moussaoui may be a terrorist (see August 16, 2001). (MSNBC 12/11/2001; US Congress 10/17/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006; Gordon 6/4/2006) Al-Attas is arrested the next day (see August 17, 2001).
John O’Neill begins his new job as head of security at the WTC. O’Neill had been the special agent in charge of the FBI’s National Security Division in New York, and was the bureau’s top expert on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. (Kolker 12/17/2001; Wright 1/14/2002) He’d left his job with the FBI just the day before (see August 22, 2001). His friend Jerome Hauer, who is the former head of New York’s Office of Emergency Management, had found him the job at the World Trade Center. Developer Larry Silverstein, who recently took over the lease of the WTC (see July 24, 2001), had been highly impressed with O’Neill but insisted he start in the post no later than the first week of September, when his firm Silverstein Properties is set to assume control of the buildings. O’Neill had agreed to this. (Weiss 2003, pp. 336-338, 345-346 and 349-351) After hearing that O’Neill has got this job, Chris Isham, a senior producer at ABC News who is a close friend, says to him, “Well, that will be an easy job. They’re not going to bomb that place again.” O’Neill replies, “Well actually they’ve always wanted to finish that job. I think they’re going to try again.” (Isham 5/31/2002) After a few days as the WTC security director, O’Neill will move into his new office on the 34th floor of the South Tower. (Weiss 2003, pp. 353-354 and 366)
CIA Director George Tenet and senior CIA senior staff are briefed repeatedly about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui. When news of the case first reaches the CIA, Tenet is absent and his deputy John McLaughlin is briefed, probably around August 20, 2001. (9/11 Commission 4/13/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 541)
Series of Briefings - Tenet is informed of Moussaoui on August 23 in a briefing entitled “Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly.” The briefing states that Moussaoui paid for his training in cash, was interested to learn a plane’s doors do not open in flight, and wanted training on London to New York City flights. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria District 7/31/2006 ) At the same time Tenet is briefed on a number of other items, including the arrest of one of Moussaoui’s associates, Djamel Beghal (see July 24 or 28, 2001), and a group of Pakistanis arrested in Bolivia during preparations for a hijacking. (Tenet 2007, pp. 200) Tenet and other CIA officials are then kept up to date with developments in the case in a series of at least five briefings. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 )
No Discussion with Other Agencies - However, others such as President Bush and the White House Counterterrorism Support Group (CSG) are not told about Moussaoui until after the 9/11 attacks begin (see August 16-September 10, 2001). Even the acting director of the FBI is not told (see August 16-September 10, 2001), despite the fact that lower level FBI officials who made the arrest tried to pass on the information. Tenet later maintains that there was no reason to alert President Bush or to share information about Moussaoui during an early September 2001 Cabinet-level meeting on terrorism, saying, “All I can tell you is, it wasn’t the appropriate place. I just can’t take you any farther than that.” (Eggen 4/17/2004; US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 6 )
'Lousy Explanation' - 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer will later come to the conclusion that this is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, a “lousy explanation,” and that Tenet should have called Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard to talk about the case, because Tenet was well aware that the FBI was “dysfunctional” at terrorism investigations and that it did not have a permanent director at that time. Roemer will ask, “The report about Moussaoui shoots up the chain of command at the CIA like the lit fuse on a bomb, but Director Tenet never picks up the phone to call the FBI about it?” Roemer will conclude that a call from Tenet to Pickard might have prevented 9/11, and will be amazed Tenet does not mention it at the September terrorism meeting, “If the system is blinking red, why don’t you bring it up?” (Shenon 2008, pp. 361)
Scientist Steven Hatfill, a future suspect in the October 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001), loses his high-level Department of Defense security clearance. He had apparently misrepresented some things on his resume. He is working at a private company at this time (see 2000-2002), but no explanation is given to his employers. He is allegedly visibly angry over this. Some colleagues will later report suspicions about him to the FBI, thinking that his anger might have led him to send off the anthrax-laced letters. (Shane 7/18/2002; ABC News 8/11/2002)
In the wake of the French intelligence report (see August 22, 2001) on Zacarias Moussaoui, FBI agents in Minneapolis, Minnesota, are “in a frenzy” and “absolutely convinced he [is] planning to do something with a plane.” Agent Greg Jones tells FBI headquarters that Moussaoui might “fly something into the World Trade Center.” (Isikoff 5/20/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 153 ) Minneapolis FBI agents become “desperate to search the computer lap top” and “conduct a more thorough search of his personal effects,” especially since Moussaoui acted as if he was hiding something important in the laptop when arrested. (Time 5/21/2002; Ratnesar and Weisskopf 5/27/2002) As the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters has already blocked an application for a criminal warrant (see August 21, 2001), the FBI’s Minneapolis field office must apply for one under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). Minneapolis agent Harry Samit completes an application for a warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings on August 25. To obtain the warrant, he has to show there is probable cause to believe Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. The memo states that Moussaoui recruited a fighter for a particular Chechen rebel group connected to al-Qaeda, so he is connected to al-Qaeda through the Chechens. However, the RFU at FBI headquarters believes that the Chechen rebels should not be described as a foreign power and that the link between the Chechens and bin Laden is not strong enough. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 128-132 ; US Department of Justice 3/1/2006 ) However, earlier in 2001 the FBI had received information indicating that this Chechen group and bin Laden were planning to attack US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). Minneapolis FBI agent Coleen Rowley later sums up how the Minneapolis agents feel at this point, when she says FBI headquarters “almost inexplicably, throw up roadblocks” and undermine their efforts. Headquarters personnel bring up “almost ridiculous questions in their apparent efforts to undermine the probable cause.” One of Jones’ e-mails to FBI headquarters says they are “setting this up for failure.” That turns out to be correct. (Time 5/21/2002; Ratnesar and Weisskopf 5/27/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 161 )
The FBI contacts the State Department and the INS to determine the visa status of recently watch listed hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. Almihdhar’s visa obtained in June is revoked the same day; Alhazmi’s visa has already expired and he is in the country illegally. (US Congress 7/24/2003 ) However neither agency is asked “to assist in locating the individuals, nor was any other information provided [that] would have indicated either a high priority or imminent danger.” An INS official later states, “if [the INS] had been asked to locate the two suspected terrorists… in late August on an urgent, emergency basis, it would have been able to run those names through its extensive database system and might have been able to locate them.” The State Department says that “it might have been able to locate the two suspected terrorists if it had been asked to do so.” (US Congress 9/20/2002)
9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is able to buy his flight ticket, despite having an arrest warrant for driving without a license and also having violated visa regulations (see April 26, 2001). He should have been wanted for abandoning a stalled aircraft in December 2000 as well (see December 26, 2000). (Australian Broadcasting Corporation 11/12/2001)
A car rented by 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi is queried by police in Totowa, New Jersey. This incident is inputted into the NCIC, a widely used nationwide police database. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 236 ) Alhazmi rented the car, a Chrysler Concorde, on August 20 in nearby Wayne, New Jersey. He used his Florida driver’s license for ID. He stays in the area until September 1, when he returns the car and goes to Maryland. (Feyerick and Hirschkorn 9/26/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 229, 247 ) Alhazmi had been put on a terrorist watch list several days earlier along with his companion Khalid Almihdhar (see August 23, 2001), and the FBI has been tasked to search for them in the US. On September 5, 2001, FBI agent Robert Fuller will allegedly search the NCIC database, although evidence suggests he does not actually do so (see September 5, 2001). It is unknown how quickly this incident is added to the database and if it would be there in time for Fuller to discover.
President Bush says, “We recognize it’s a dangerous world. I know this nation still has enemies, and we cannot expect them to be idle. And that’s why security is my first responsibility. And I will not permit any course that leaves America undefended.” (US Congress 9/18/2002)
George Tabeek, a security manager with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, expresses his concerns about an aircraft crashing into the World Trade Center, perhaps in a terrorist attack. (CBS News 2/11/2009; Grant 9/6/2011) The Port Authority was, until late July, responsible for the management and operation of the WTC (see July 24, 2001), and most Port Authority World Trade Department employees are still working in the WTC. (Port Authority of New York and New Jersey 7/24/2001; IREIzine 7/26/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 281)
Possibility of Plane Hitting WTC Discussed - Tabeek, the Port Authority’s security manager for the WTC since 1999, will later say that, following the 1993 bombing of the WTC (see February 26, 1993), the Port Authority “put thousands and thousands of hours into safety construction and safety procedures.” Over $100 million has been spent on improving security and fire safety. Therefore, according to Tabeek, “the World Trade Center was safer on 9/11 than 99 percent of the buildings in America.” Tabeek will say: “We were already looking into bio-chem. We were talking about weapons of mass destruction.” He will add that, just two weeks before 9/11, “[W]e talked about ever getting hit by a plane, but it was never in our wildest dreams a commercial airliner.” (Nugent 6/2008; CBS News 2/11/2009)
Possibility of Attack Using Plane Discussed with New Head of Security - Tabeek discusses the possibility of a plane hitting the WTC again on September 6, the Thursday before 9/11. That evening, John O’Neill, the new head of security at the WTC (see August 23, 2001), calls him to a conference room in the South Tower, to discuss security and “threat assessment.” During the meeting, Tabeek describes the improved security at the WTC, telling O’Neill: “We’re 99 percent locked down. You’re not going to get in here with a bomb that’s going to do substantial damage within the building, because we minimized that.” According to Tabeek, O’Neill asks: “Okay, you say to me we’re 99 percent locked down. What’s the other 1 percent?” Tabeek replies, “A plane.” O’Neill says, “Come on, you’re grabbing at straws.” But Tabeek tells him, “No, in ‘93 we’re an American economic bad cop… and now we’re an American-Israeli economic bad cop, more of a threat today than we ever were.” He adds that the plane involved would be “a corporate jet slamming into the building,” with “minimal loss of life, minimal economic loss.” Tabeek will later comment, “I never expected something bigger.” (Grant 9/6/2011) An analysis carried out on behalf of the Port Authority after the 1993 WTC bombing identified the scenario of terrorists deliberately crashing a plane into the Twin Towers as one of a number of possible threats (see After February 26, 1993). (Jenkins and Edwards-Winslow 9/2003, pp. 11 ) Tabeek will tell one magazine, “We had planned for the possibility of a small airplane—a corporate jet, maybe—crashing into one of the [WTC] buildings by accident.” (Nugent 6/2008)
On August 31, 2001, 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar was placed in an INS and Customs lookout database, and described as “armed and dangerous” and someone who must be referred to secondary inspection (see August 31, 2001). On September 4, the State Department revokes Almihdhar’s visa for his “participation in terrorist activities.” On September 5, the INS entered the September 4 notice that Almihdhar’s visa has been revoked into the INS lookout system. However, it is also noted that the State Department has identified Almihdhar as a potential witness in an FBI investigation, and inspectors are told not to detain him. This information will appear in a little-noticed 9/11 Commission staff report released one month after the Commission’s Final Report. It will not be explained why the description of Almihdhar as armed and dangerous and to be referred to secondary inspection has been changed and who made the change. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004 )
FBI agent Robert Fuller has been tasked to find out if hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar are in the US, now that their names have been added to a terrorist watch list (see September 4-5, 2001). Fuller later claims that he requests a criminal history check in the National Crime Information Center (NCIC) database, a computer database frequently used by every level of law enforcement. However, the Bergen Record will later report: “[H]e never performed one of the most basic tasks of a police manhunt. He never ran Almihdhar or Alhazmi through the NCIC computer. That simple act would have alerted local cops to look for the suspected terrorists.” Fuller also allegedly requests that a national motor vehicle index be searched. (Pochna 7/11/2002; Kelly 5/18/2004; US Department of Justice 11/2004) A government webpage about the NCIC database posted before 9/11 boasts that it has an enhanced name search capability, returning results of phonetically similar names and name derivatives. (National Criminal Information Center 5/5/2001) According to an FBI timeline assembled shortly after 9/11, the following incidents are in the NCIC database:
April 1, 2001. Nawaf Alhazmi receives a speeding ticket from Oklahoma State Highway Patrol in Clinton, Oklahoma (see April 1, 2001). He is driving the Toyota Corolla he bought in San Diego the year before. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 131 ; Clay and Ellis 1/20/2002)
Alhazmi tells police in Alexandria, Virginia, that he was mugged. Even though he declines to press charges, this incident is added to the NCIC database (see May 1, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 139 )
July 7, 2001. Alhazmi’s Corolla is queried by police in South Hackensack, New Jersey. The incident is added to the motor vehicle index as well as the NCIC database (see July 7, 2001). One newspaper will later comment that a search of the NCIC “would have told the agent a local cop… had already spotted Alhazmi in [the New Jersey town of] South Hackensack.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 179 ; US Congress 7/24/2003 ; Kelly 5/18/2004)
August 28, 2001. A rental car rented by Alhazmi is queried by police in Totowa, New Jersey (see August 28, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 236 ) While this incident will be in the NCIC database when the FBI searches it after 9/11, it is unknown if it is accessible by Fuller when he searches it.
If Fuller really does check both the NCIC and motor vehicle databases, it is not clear why he fails to find any of these incidents and thus prove that Alhazmi was in the US.
Robert Fuller, a rookie FBI agent at the bureau’s New York field office, contacts Dina Corsi, an agent in the bin Laden unit at FBI headquarters, about the search for Khalid Almihdhar. Fuller, who has been tasked to look for Almihdhar in the US, proposes that the FBI try to obtain additional data on Almihdhar, such as a credit card number from Saudi Airlines, with which Almihdhar flew to the US (see July 4, 2001). However, according to Fuller, Corsi tells him that it would not be prudent to do so. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 65 ) As a result, Fuller does not do the credit check (see September 4-5, 2001). It is not known why Corsi advises this.
The weekend before the 9/11 attacks, the Department of Marine Aviation and its personnel are moved out of the Pentagon’s Wedge One and into the nearby Butler Building. The building is under construction, as it is being reinforced. Thanks to the move, no marines are killed or even seriously injured on 9/11. (Allison 11/2001)
9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah is stopped in Maryland for speeding, ticketed, and released. No red flags show up when his name is run through the computer by the state police, even though he already had been questioned in January 2001 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the request of the CIA for “suspected involvement in terrorist activities” (see January 30, 2001) Baltimore’s mayor has criticized the CIA for not informing them that Jarrah was on the CIA’s watch list. (Crewdson 12/13/2001; Associated Press 12/14/2001) Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) will later make reference to Jarrah’s detention in the UAE and the fact that an arrest warrant had been put out for Mohamed Atta (see June 4, 2001), and comment, “Had local law enforcement been able to run the names of Jarrah and Atta against a watch list, it is likely that they would have been arrested and detained, and at least one team of hijackers would no longer have had a pilot.” (Graham and Nussbaum 2004, pp. 37) Three other hijackers are also stopped for speeding while they are in the US (see April 26, 2001).
Amr Elgindy orders his broker to liquidate his children’s $300,000 trust account fearing a sudden crash in the market. He also tells his stockbroker that the Dow Jones average, then at 9,600, will fall to below 3,000. Elgindy is arrested in San Diego in May 2002, along with FBI agents Jeffrey Royer and Lynn Wingate, who, according to government prosecutors, were using their FBI positions to obtain inside information on various corporations. They also questioned whether Elgindy had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. (Berenson 5/23/2002; Ayres 5/30/2002; Barboza and Berenson 6/8/2002) A report published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, however, casts some doubt on the government’s allegations. (Calbreath 6/16/2002) In 2005, now former FBI agent Jeffrey Royer admits to giving Elgindy confidential details of federal investigations, including a probe of the 9/11 attacks. Royer claims he did it to use Elgindy’s knowledge to help develop evidence of criminal wrongdoing. A court case against Royer and Elgindy continues. (Associated Press 1/5/2005)
John O’Neill, who is later described by the New Yorker magazine as the FBI’s “most committed tracker of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network of terrorists,” recently retired from the bureau and started a new job as director of security at the World Trade Center (see August 23, 2001). (Wright 1/14/2002) On this day he meets up with his old friend Raymond Powers, the former New York Police Department chief of operations, to discuss security procedures. Their conversation turns to Osama bin Laden. According to journalist and author Murray Weiss, “just as he had reiterated since 1995 to any official in Washington who would listen, O’Neill said he was sure bin Laden would attack on American soil, and expected him to target the Twin Towers again.” He says to Powers, “It’s going to happen, and it looks like something big is brewing.” (Weiss 2003, pp. 355 and 359-360) Later on, O’Neill goes out in the evening with his friends Robert Tucker and Jerome Hauer. Again, he starts discussing bin Laden. He tells his friends, “We’re due. And we’re due for something big.” He says, “Some things have happened in Afghanistan. I don’t like the way things are lining up in Afghanistan.” This is probably a reference to the assassination of Afghan leader Ahmed Shah Massoud the previous day (see September 9, 2001). He adds, “I sense a shift, and I think things are going to happen.” Asked when, he replies, “I don’t know, but soon.” (Wright 1/14/2002; PBS 10/3/2002) O’Neill will be in his office on the 34th floor of the South Tower the following morning when the first attack occurs, and dies when the WTC collapses. (Weiss 2003, pp. 366; Weiss 8/31/2004)
At 6:30 p.m., President Bush arrives at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key, Florida. (Sammon 2002, pp. 13; Bayles 9/10/2002) He is in Florida as part of a weeklong effort to place a national spotlight on education and reading, and visited a school in Jacksonville earlier in the day. (ABC News 9/10/2001; Florida Times-Union (Jacksonville) 9/10/2001) In preparation for the president’s visit to the resort, all guests have been cleared out of the building “to make way for the invasion of White House staffers, aides, communications technicians—even an antiterrorism unit.” Overnight, snipers and surface-to-air missiles are located on the roof of the Colony and adjacent structures, to protect the president. “The Coast Guard and the Longboat Key Police Department manned boats that patrolled the surf in front of the resort all night. Security trucks with enough men and arms to stop a small army parked right on the beach. An Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) plane circled high overhead in the clear night sky.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 13 and 25; Bayles 9/10/2002) Whether this is a typical level of security for a presidential visit, or is increased due to recent terror warnings, is unstated.
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who, with Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ), has sent a copy of draft legislation on counterterrorism and national defense to Vice President Cheney’s office on July 20, is told by Cheney’s top aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby on this day “that it might be another six months before he would be able to review the material.” (Dianne Feinstein 5/17/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002)
The domestic terrorism task force announced by President Bush and Vice President Cheney in May 2001 is just gearing up. Cheney appointed Admiral Steve Abbot to lead the task force in June, but he does not receive his White House security pass until now. Abbot has only hired two staffers and been working full time for a few days prior to 9/11. The task force was to have reported to Congress by October 1, 2001, a date they could not have met. (Mitchell 12/27/2001; Rood 4/15/2004)
The FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) goes to California for a week of training and is therefore stranded away from Washington, DC, when it is required to help in the response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Nichols 9/11/2001; Darling 2010, pp. 75) The CIRG is “the unit that coordinates the FBI’s rapid response to crisis incidents, including terrorist attacks,” according to Major Robert Darling of the White House Military Office. Its members arrive in San Francisco this evening to participate in a week of special weapons and tactics (SWAT)-related field training. (Darling 2010, pp. 74-75) While the 9/11 attacks are underway, NBC News will report that the FBI is in a state of “chaos,” partly because of the CIRG being stranded in California (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (NBC 4 9/11/2001) On the afternoon of September 11, the White House will arrange for the CIRG to return to Washington as a matter of priority (see (3:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and the unit’s members will be flown back later that day (see Late Afternoon September 11, 2001). (Darling 2010, pp. 73-76)
Unit Created to Respond to Terrorist Incidents - The CIRG would be a valuable resource for responding to the 9/11 attacks. The unit was established in 1994 “to give the FBI the ability to respond with the tactical and investigative expertise needed in a major terrorist incident,” according to the Congressional Research Service. It has crisis managers, hostage negotiators, behavioral scientists, surveillance assets, and agents that it can utilize. (United States General Accounting Office 9/1997, pp. 40 ; Brake 4/19/2001, pp. 9-10 ) The CIRG also has a “seven-step approach” it follows, which uses “active listening” to defuse a crisis. According to the Indian Express, “by showing support and empathy, [CIRG] negotiators often can talk a hijacker into surrendering largely by listening.” (Noesner and Webster 8/1997; Bagla 12/29/1999)
Hostage Rescue Team Serves as Domestic Counterterrorism Unit - The tactical centerpiece of the CIRG is the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), a full-time team headquartered in Quantico, Virginia, that is able to deploy to any location within four hours of notification. Its skills include hostage rescue tactics, precision shooting, and tactical site surveys. (United States General Accounting Office 9/1997, pp. 40 ; Brake 4/19/2001, pp. 10 ) The HRT was created to give civilian law enforcement agencies a counterterrorist community comparable to that which exists in the military. Many of its members have a military background. (Cavallaro 2/2009) According to Darling, the HRT is ”the domestic counterterrorism unit, offering a tactical resolution option in hostage and high-risk law enforcement situations.” (Darling 2010, pp. 7)
A World Trade Center security manager receives no warnings from the Secret Service or the US Customs Service about possible terrorist threats to the WTC in the period just before 9/11. George Tabeek, the New York Port Authority’s security manager for the WTC since 1999, will later recall that, before 9/11, he is “regularly in contact with the Secret Service and US Customs about possible threats to the World Trade Center by terrorists and others.” But in the weeks just before September 11, Tabeek will say, “I never heard anything, not even a whisper.” (Grant 9/6/2011) Yet, according to some security personnel at the WTC, the Twin Towers are on a heightened security alert in the two weeks before 9/11, “because of numerous phone threats” (see Late August-September 10, 2001). (Taylor and Gardiner 9/12/2001)
A command center for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, located in the North Tower of the World Trade Center, is upgraded to make it more secure, and the improvements will reportedly save the lives of people in the command center when the nearby South Tower collapses on September 11. (Taylor and Gardiner 9/12/2001; Guarnera 1/2002; Nash 1/23/2002) The Port Authority’s Security Command Center (SCC) is on the 22nd floor of the North Tower. (9/11 Commission 5/18/2004 ; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 294) Newsday will report, on the day after 9/11, that officials had “recently” increased security at the WTC “by installing bulletproof windows and fireproof doors in the 22nd-floor computer command center.” (Taylor and Gardiner 9/12/2001) According to George Tabeek, the Port Authority’s security manager for the WTC, by September 11, the WTC in fact has “bulletproof window glass in most areas.” (Nugent 6/2008) The installation of the bulletproof windows—and presumably, also, the fireproof doors—in the SCC is made at the request of Douglas Karpiloff, the Port Authority’s director of security and life safety for the WTC. (Nash 1/23/2002)
Upgrades Intended to Protect against 'Aerial Attacks' - According to Hermina Jones, a security guard at the WTC, the upgrades to the SCC are intended “to secure the towers against aerial attacks.” (Taylor and Gardiner 9/12/2001) Tabeek will later recall, “We had planned for the possibility of a small airplane—a corporate jet, maybe—crashing into one of the [WTC] buildings by accident,” although it is unclear if this comment is made in reference to the installation of bulletproof windows at the WTC. (Nugent 6/2008)
Security Improvements Save Lives on September 11 - Some people will credit the upgrades to the SCC with saving their lives on September 11. Tabeek will be in the SCC that day when the first of the Twin Towers—the South Tower—collapses (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). When that happens, according to Tabeek, the “impact of the explosion peeled off the outer skin of [the North Tower], shattering the thick double-paned windows [of the SCC] in the process.” Tabeek will say, however, that the “inner layer of laminated bulletproof glass put in months earlier… withstood the blast and undoubtedly saved his life and those of the others with him.” Victor Guarnera, the chief technical adviser and manager of security systems for the World Trade Department, who is also in the SCC at that time, will describe what happens when the collapse occurs, saying, “The outer windows [of the SCC] exploded, either from impact [of debris from the South Tower] or differential pressure, but the inner window wall of high-tempered bomb and bullet-resistant glass we had installed a few months before held fast.” Guarnera will comment that the bulletproof windows “were responsible for our survival up to that point.” (Guarnera 1/2002; Nash 1/23/2002)
Based on interviews with FBI officials, the New Yorker will report that, for several years prior to 9/11, the US government plans for “simulated terrorist attacks, including scenarios [involving] multiple-plane hijackings.” This presumably refers to more than just the Amalgam Virgo 02 exercise (see July 2001), which is based on the scenario of two planes being simultaneously hijacked. (New Yorker 9/24/2001) Similarly, NORAD will state that before 9/11, it normally conducts four major exercises each year at headquarters level. Most of them include a hijack scenario, and some of them are apparently quite similar to the 9/11 attacks (see Between 1991 and 2001 and Between September 1999 and September 10, 2001). (Komarow and Squitieri 4/18/2004; Starr 4/19/2004) According to author Lynn Spencer, before September 11, “To prepare for their missions in support of NORAD, the Air National Guard pilots—some of the finest pilots in the world—often use hijacking scenarios to train for intercept tactics.” (Spencer 2008, pp. 84-85) John Arquilla, an associate professor of defense analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, later says that while “No one knew specifically that 20 people would hijack four airliners and use them for suicide attacks against major buildings… the idea of such an attack was well known, [and] had been war gamed as a possibility in exercises before Sept. 11.” (Howe 7/18/2002)
On the morning of 9/11, David Welna, National Public Radio’s Congressional correspondent, will say, “I spoke with Congressman Ike Skelton—a Democrat from Missouri and a member of the Armed Services Committee—who said that just recently the Director of the CIA [George Tenet] warned that there could be an attack—an imminent attack—on the United States of this nature. So this is not entirely unexpected.” More details, such as when Tenet said this, who else he may have said it to, and so forth, remain unknown. (NPR 9/11/2001)
The number of US air marshals (specially trained, plainclothes armed federal agents deployed on airliners) has shrunk from about 2,000 during the Cold War to 32 by 9/11. None are deployed on domestic flights. The number is later increased to about 2,000, but it would take about 120,000 marshals at a cost of $10 billion a year to protect all daily flights to, from, or within the US. (Alonso-Zaldivar 1/14/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 85)
The position of Deputy Secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, the Defense Department post traditionally dealing the most with counterterrorism, still has not been filled since being vacated in January 2001 when Bush became president. Aides to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld later tell the 9/11 Commission that “the new [Defense Department] team was focused on other issues” and not counterterrorism. (Isikoff and Hosenball 3/24/2004)
Just prior to 9/11, the CIA and FBI do not have enough staff working on al-Qaeda. Only 17 to 19 people are working in the FBI’s special unit focusing on bin Laden and al-Qaeda. (US Congress 9/18/2002) The FBI has a $4.3 billion anti-terrorism budget, but of its 27,000 employees, just 153 are devoted to terrorism analysis. (Alcorn 6/8/2002) The FBI’s “analytic expertise has been ‘gutted’ by transfers to operational units” and only one strategic analyst is assigned full time to al-Qaeda. The FBI office in New York is very aware of the threat from bin Laden, but many branch offices remain largely unaware. (US Congress 9/18/2002) A senior FBI official later tells Congress that there are fewer FBI agents assigned to counterterrorism on this day than in August 1998, when the US embassy bombings in Africa made bin Laden a household name. (Risen 9/22/2002) The CIA has only about 35 to 40 people assigned to their special bin Laden unit. It has five strategic analysts working full time on al-Qaeda. (US Congress 9/18/2002) The CIA and FBI later complain that some of these figures are misleading. (Risen 9/18/2002) “Individuals in both the CIA and FBI units… reported being seriously overwhelmed by the volume of information and workload prior to September 11, 2001.” Despite numerous warnings that planes could be used as weapons, such a possibility was never studied, and a congressional report later blames lack of staff as a major reason for this. (US Congress 9/18/2002) Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) also notes, “Between the Department of Justice and the FBI, they had a whole task force working on finding a couple of houses of prostitution in New Orleans. They had one on al-Qaeda.” (CBS News 9/25/2002)
Zainelabdeen Ibrahim Omer, a Sudanese man, tells police in Sarasota, Florida, he is concerned that a friend of his may pose a threat to President Bush, who is spending the night on nearby Longboat Key and is due to visit Sarasota today. After he contacts the Sarasota police, Omer is visited by some officers. He tells them that on the previous evening he talked to a friend of his, who he identifies only as “Gandi.” He says Gandi is in Sarasota with two companions, with the intention of getting a friend of theirs out of jail. Omer is apparently concerned that Gandi may be a danger to Bush while he is visiting the area. He says Gandi “has made several remarks in the past that indicated extremely violent thoughts.” He adds that, considering the man’s “past inclinations,” the fact that Gandi is in Sarasota at the time Bush is visiting the area “might not be coincidental.” The Sarasota police officers will contact the Secret Service, whose agents then question Omer about his concerns. Police officers and Secret Service agents will visit an address on 32nd Street in Sarasota, where they find 11 Arab men apparently at morning prayer. One of the men has a card for the Longboat Key Club, which is near the resort where Bush has been spending the night (see September 10, 2001). The men will be questioned, held until Bush has left the area, and then released. It will later be reported that Gandi has links to the guerrilla group, the Sudan People’s Liberation Army. However, an unnamed law enforcement source will tell authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan that there is “nothing to indicate” the 11 Arab men questioned by the police and the Secret Service are linked to the 9/11 plotters. (Sarasota Police Department 9/11/2001; Sarasota Police Department 9/11/2001; Summers and Swan 2011, pp. 457) While Bush is staying on Longboat Key, several Middle Eastern men reportedly arrive at the resort where he is staying and falsely claim they have an interview with him arranged (see (Before 6:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). And at 8:50 a.m. on September 11, a local man will see a van in Sarasota with two Middle Eastern men screaming out the windows, “Down with Bush” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sullivan 9/26/2001)
A group of Middle Eastern men pulls up at the resort on Longboat Key, Florida, where President Bush is staying and falsely claims to have an interview scheduled with the president, but the men are turned away from the premises, according to a local fire marshal who later hears about the incident. (Sullivan 9/26/2001) Bush arrived at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key at 6:30 p.m. on September 10 and then spent the night there (see September 10, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 13; Bayles 9/10/2002) Sometime before 6:00 a.m. on September 11, or possibly on the evening of September 10, a van occupied by some Middle Eastern men pulls up at the resort. The men claim to be reporters and say they are there for a “poolside” interview with Bush. They then ask for a particular Secret Service agent by name. Security guards phone the receptionist at the resort and relay the men’s request. The receptionist has not heard of the Secret Service agent named by the men or anything about a planned interview with Bush. She passes the phone to a Secret Service agent, who similarly tells the security guards that no one knows of the agent the men referred to or is aware of any scheduled interview with the president. The Secret Service agent says the men should contact the president’s public relations office in Washington, DC, and has them turned away from the premises. (Sullivan 9/26/2001; Longboat Observer 9/7/2011)
Incident Resembles Recent Assassination Method - Some people will later note the similarity of this alleged incident to the method used to assassinate General Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, on September 9. (Martin 7/4/2004) Massoud was killed by a bomb hidden in the video camera of two Arab men who said they were journalists who wanted to interview him (see September 9, 2001). (Elliott 8/12/2002; Martin 9/9/2002) “Were the men on Longboat Key planning to kill Bush in similar fashion?” the St. Petersburg Times will ask. (Martin 7/4/2004)
Fire Marshal Learns about Incident - The alleged incident on Longboat Key will come to light after reporter Shay Sullivan hears local Fire Marshal Carroll Mooneyhan describing it to a colleague during a lull in a firefighters’ union meeting and then writes an article about it for the Longboat Observer. Mooneyhan does not witness the incident firsthand, but will learn about it when he is at the front desk at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort at around 6:00 a.m. on September 11. At that time, he will overhear the receptionist and a security guard discussing what happened. It is unclear when exactly the incident they discuss is meant to have occurred. (Sullivan 9/26/2001; Hartill 9/7/2011) The Secret Service will question Mooneyhan about what he hears. (Martin 7/4/2004) Two weeks after 9/11, the FBI will reportedly be looking into the alleged incident. (Sullivan 9/26/2001)
Incident Is Later Denied - The day after the incident is first reported in the Longboat Observer, Mooneyhan “went silent” about it, Sullivan will say. (Hartill 9/7/2011) In 2004, Mooneyhan will deny telling anyone at the Longboat Observer about the incident. “How did they get that information from me if I didn’t know it?” he will say. (Martin 7/4/2004) However, Sullivan will suggest that Mooneyhan may have been “ordered to stop talking about it.” He will note that Secret Service agents visited his newspaper and “suggested we back off the story.” (Hartill 9/7/2011) Longboat Key Police Chief John Kintz will say in 2011 that he has been unable to find any evidence of the incident. “[T]here wasn’t a single person who could confirm that it happened,” he will say, adding, “We never found anyone who worked at the gate who could tell us that that happened.” (Hartill 9/7/2011)
Other Suspicious Incidents Occur - Other suspicious incidents occur in the Longboat Key area around this time. Shortly after 4:00 a.m. on September 11, a Sudanese man contacts police in Sarasota and says he is concerned that a friend of his might pose a threat to the president while he is visiting the area (see 4:07 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Summers and Swan 2011, pp. 457) And at 8:50 a.m. on September 11, a local man will see a van in Sarasota with two Middle Eastern men screaming out the windows, “Down with Bush” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sullivan 9/26/2001) Whether these two incidents are related to the alleged incident at the Longboat Key resort is unclear.
A homemaker living near Liberty State Park, Jersey City, New Jersey sees three men behaving strangely on a nearby roof and alerts the authorities. This homemaker, who has given only her first name Maria, is called by a neighbor shortly after the first plane has hit the WTC and is told about the impact. She has a view of the WTC from her apartment building so she gets her binoculars and watches the disaster. However, she also notices three young men kneeling on the roof of a white van in the parking lot of her apartment building. Maria will later recall, “They seemed to be taking a movie.” They are taking video or photos of themselves with the WTC burning in the background. But what strikes Maria is their expressions: “They were like happy, you know… They didn’t look shocked to me. I thought it was very strange.” She writes down the license plate number of the van and calls the police. (ABC News 6/21/2002) Apparently the men leave the area a few minutes after the first attack is over. (Ketcham 2/7/2007) An FBI lookout bulletin for the van will be issued later in the day (see 3:31 p.m. September 11, 2001) and the three men (plus two more discovered with them) will be detained (see 3:56 p.m. September 11, 2001). When the men detained, one of them will be found with pictures of the group standing with the burning wreckage of the WTC in the background. (Perelman 3/15/2002) At least some of the pictures were taken while standing on top of the van. (Cowan 10/8/2001) The lawyer for the five men will later note that one photograph developed by the FBI shows one of the men, Sivan Kurzberg, holding a lighted lighter in the foreground, with the burning WTC in the background. (Lewin and Cowan 11/21/2001) It will apparently be determined at least two of the men are Israeli spies, but what they were doing and why will remain in dispute. One of these Israelis will later say, “our purpose was to document the event.” (ABC News 6/21/2002)
Security is increased around Air Force One, the president’s plane, in response to the second attack on the World Trade Center and the pilot is informed that the aircraft may be targeted by terrorists while it is on the ground. Air Force One is currently at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida, where it has been since the previous evening (see September 10, 2001). Only the standard level of security has been provided, with cones marking a security zone around the plane. Will Chandler, the chief of security, has been standing inside these cones and guarding the aircraft. According to Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, prior to the attacks on the WTC, “there was no intel, there was nothing that said we’re about to be attacked.” But Tillman will later recall that after he learns of the second plane crash in New York and realizes it is a deliberate attack, he and the rest of the plane’s crew “start pulling out all the plans that we know we have to execute to keep the president safe and ensure the continuity of government.” (Tillman 9/11/2011; Tillman 2/29/2012 )
Personnel Protecting Air Force One Increase Security - The level of security around Air Force One is increased after the second attack on the WTC occurs. Staff Sergeant William Buzinski, whose job is to protect the plane, was told about the first crash at the WTC by a member of the Secret Service. After the second crash occurs, Buzinski sees the same agent running across the tarmac toward him. The agent tells him, “Another plane hit the towers.” Buzinski realizes right away that the incident must have been an act of terrorism. In response to the news, he will recall, “We started to increase security around the plane—made it a tighter bubble.” (Graff 9/9/2016)
Pilot Says Air Force One Is 'Ready to Go' - Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Gould, a military aide who is accompanying President Bush on his visit to Florida, calls Tillman and instructs him to get Air Force One and its crew ready to leave immediately (see (9:04 a.m.-9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Wallace 9/11/2011) Mark Rosenker, the director of the White House Military Office, and Edward Marinzel, the head of the president’s Secret Service detail, who are with Bush at the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, also call Tillman. Tillman will recall that they ask him: “What is our status? If [Bush and his entourage] can come to us within 10 minutes, can we get going?” Tillman replies: “Yes, absolutely. We are ready to go.”
Pilot Is Told the Plane Is a 'Sitting Duck' - Tillman is informed that “about nine planes” have been hijacked and that “one is in the Florida area.” Rosenker tells him: “Assume that [Air Force One is] a target on the ramp in Sarasota. It’s a large 747. [It is] sitting wide open. [A] sitting duck.” Tillman will say that his intention, therefore, is “to move that aircraft. Get it out of the way, and come back and grab the president when he’s ready to go.” He cannot do this, however, because Bush wants to “come rushing back to us and head to Washington, DC.” Secret Service agents with the president instruct Tillman: “We are coming at you as fast as we can come at you. Do not—repeat—do not move.”
People Are Moved Away from Air Force One - “We started getting reports of unidentified people all around the airport,” Tillman will recall, and there is a “possibility that we were subject to the plan to go ahead and assassinate the president.” The crew of Air Force One has “no idea what was going on” and is receiving “a lot of misinformation” while waiting for the president to arrive at the airport. To increase security, people are pushed away from Air Force One. This, according to Tillman, is so that “whoever was near that aircraft had a good reason to be there.” (Tillman 9/11/2011; Tillman 2/29/2012 )
Military Presence Is Increased at the Airport - White House communications director Dan Bartlett, who has gone to the Booker Elementary School with Bush, notices the increased security around Air Force One when the president’s motorcade arrives at the Sarasota airport (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). There is always “an incredible security presence” around the plane, he will comment. But now he sees “the redoubling of that.” There is “more of a military presence at the airport, as opposed to just a security [made up] of local police officers or anything like that.” (Bartlett 8/12/2002) Bartlett sees “a lot of military uniforms” and notices “the perimeters [around Air Force One] increasing.” Furthermore, he will recall, “[T]he scrutiny for entering the perimeter was much tougher than you could ever imagine.” (Bartlett 8/12/2002) Mike Morell, the president’s CIA briefer, will describe, “When we got back to the plane, it was ringed by security and Secret Service [agents] with automatic weapons.” “I’d never seen anything like that before,” he will comment. (Graff 9/9/2016)
Sheriff in a Helicopter Watches Over the Airport - Meanwhile, a helicopter arrives to keep watch over the airport. Sergeant Kevin Kenney of the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office had been scheduled to fly the Sheriff’s Office helicopter to cover Bush’s motorcade as it traveled to the Booker Elementary School this morning, but was unable to do so because of heavy fog. However, after the second attack on the WTC, a member of Bush’s Secret Service detail instructs him to launch the helicopter and get to the Sarasota airport as soon as possible. He arrives there around the time Bush’s motorcade reaches the airport. The Secret Service then instructs Kenney to fly around the airport perimeter and be on the lookout for suspicious vehicles or groups of people. He notices “numerous civilian vehicles… already responding to the vicinity of the airport and gathering along the roadways in the proximity.” He relays information to Bush’s Secret Service detail and local agencies that are dispatching patrol units to the area. Kenney continues his surveillance of the airport for the 10 minutes or so it takes to get Bush and the other passengers onto Air Force One. (Kenney 9/2011; Hackney 9/8/2011) Additionally, reporters and other individuals who are traveling with the president are subjected to a strict security check while they are boarding the plane (see (9:45 a.m.-9:53 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 99)
There is apparently no increase in the level of security at the Capitol building in Washington, DC, even though First Lady Laura Bush has arrived at the nearby Russell Senate Office Building and more than 10 minutes have passed since a second plane hit the World Trade Center. (Gilbert et al. 2002, pp. 64; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 8; Bush 2010, pp. 198) At 9:16 a.m., Bush arrived at the Russell Senate Office Building, located just north of the Capitol building, where she was scheduled to testify before a Senate committee at 10:00 a.m. (McQuillan 9/10/2001; McCaleb 9/12/2001; Bush 2010, pp. 198)
Reporter Sees No Signs of Increased Security - The first lady is considered one of the nation’s “most visible targets,” and, as one of the Secret Service’s “permanent protectees,” like the president, she has a detail of special agents assigned to her. (US Department of the Treasury 5/8/2001; Office of Management and Budget 7/2001, pp. 82 ; United States Secret Service 2002) And yet, even though Bush has arrived on Capitol Hill, and over 10 minutes have passed since the second aircraft hit the WTC (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), there is apparently no increase in the level of security at the Capitol building. Fox News correspondent Brian Wilson will later recall that when reporting from the Capitol building around this time, he is “talking about the first lady being in the Capitol and saying that I had not seen any signs of tighter security in the building.”
Reporter Surprised at Plan to Hold a Photo Op - Wilson is also surprised that, although the Senate hearing Bush was scheduled to attend has been canceled, the first lady is still going to make a public appearance. He will comment that “they were (incredibly) trying to set up a brief photo opportunity.” (Gilbert et al. 2002, pp. 64; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 8) (Wilson is presumably referring to Laura Bush’s appearance before reporters and cameras alongside Senators Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Judd Gregg (R-NH), which takes place at 9:41 a.m. (see 9:41 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Associated Press 9/11/2001; CNN 9/11/2001; Bush 2010, pp. 199) )
Capitol Evacuated Later On - The Capitol building will only be evacuated at 9:48 a.m., apparently in response to reports of a plane heading toward it (see 9:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Associated Press 9/11/2001; Associated Press 8/21/2002; CNN 9/11/2006) The first lady will only be taken away from the Russell Office Building to a “secure location” by members of the Secret Service at 10:10 a.m. (see (10:10 a.m.-10:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Associated Press 9/11/2001; National Journal 8/31/2002; Bush 2010, pp. 200)
Secret Service agents subject reporters and other individuals who are traveling with President Bush to a strict security check as they are getting onto Air Force One. Bush’s motorcade has now arrived at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida, where Air Force One is waiting (see (9:43 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Sammon 2002, pp. 99; Keil 9/2004) The plane’s crew members have been told there is a “great potential that we are going to be under attack sitting on the ramp” at the airport, according to Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot. They have also been told there are “unidentified people all around the airport,” and that there is a “possibility that we were subject to the plan to go ahead and assassinate the president” (see (9:04 a.m.-9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tillman 9/11/2011) Reporters who are heading for the rear entrance to Air Force One are stopped by Secret Service agents and ordered to drop whatever they are carrying for a security sweep. (Sammon 2002, pp. 99) One reporter, White House correspondent Richard Keil, will later recall seeing “a dozen additional Secret Service agents” at the airport, “each with bomb-sniffing dogs.” “We usually have our bags inspected only once in the morning, as long as we remain inside the secure ‘bubble’ in which the president travels,” Keil will write. But now, “everyone’s bag had to be re-swept.” (Keil 9/2004) Even staffers who are wearing special lapel pins showing they are White House employees have their belongings checked by the bomb-sniffing dogs. (Sammon 2002, pp. 99) Passengers also have to confirm who they are before being allowed onto the plane. “There was a lot of attention to our credentials, who we were,” Sandy Kress, Bush’s senior education adviser, will comment, adding: “We had to show ID and our badge, not just the badge. And this even though the crew knew most of us.” (Graff 9/9/2016) Meanwhile, a military aide standing at the foot of the rear entrance to the plane snaps: “If you’re not essential, you’re not getting on the airplane! We gotta hurry up and get out of here.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 99) Tillman will recall that Secret Service agents and the plane’s own security staffers are “double, triple-checking the manifest,” and the bomb-sniffing dogs “search everything” that comes onto Air Force One. “We didn’t want to take any chances,” he will comment. (Tillman 9/11/2011; Tillman 2/29/2012 ) The mood, according to journalist and author Bill Sammon, is “extraordinarily tense.” (Sammon 2002, pp. 99)
The FAA’s Boston Center is evacuated after it receives a report that an unidentified aircraft is heading its way. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/20/2001; Levin 8/11/2002; Cousineau 9/11/2006; Spencer 2008, pp. 243) The Boston Center, located in Nashua, New Hampshire, manages air traffic above New England, and monitored Flight 11 and Flight 175 earlier on. (Levin 8/11/2002; LeBlanc 8/12/2002) Employees there are already concerned because a large tractor-trailer has parked directly in front of their facility, on New Hampshire’s Route 3. State police have been called to get it away from there.
Possible Airborne Threat Leads to Evacuation - The FAA’s New England regional office in Burlington, Massachusetts, now calls the Boston Center and reports that an unidentified aircraft is heading for the facility. In response to this potential threat, managers at the center immediately order the closure and evacuation of their building. They also declare “ATC zero,” which shuts down the Boston Center’s airspace (see (Shortly After 10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Employees run from the building while managers try to decide which, if any, personnel should remain in the facility. According to Colin Scoggins, the center’s military liaison, “at this time we honestly felt that we were targeted and an impact was imminent.”
Bomb Threat to Childcare Facility - Making matters worse, a bomb scare phone call is received at the center’s childcare facility, which is the employees’ usual evacuation point. Center managers therefore decide that everyone must leave the building. Employees are advised to go to either 11 Murphy Drive—an FAA administrative facility—or a nearby Holiday Inn. According to Scoggins, three or four Flight Service Data Processing System personnel remain in the basement of the Boston Center when it is evacuated, apparently because there is no paging system in their office on which they can receive the evacuation order.
Evacuation Time Unclear - The time the evacuation takes place at is unclear. According to the account of author Lynn Spencer, it occurs some time shortly after 10:20 a.m. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/20/2001; Levin 8/11/2002; Spencer 2008, pp. 242-243) At 10:34 a.m., John White, a manager at the FAA’s Command Center, reports that the Boston Center “has received a threat,” and is “going down to skeleton staffing.” (9/11 Commission 11/4/2003) A 10:52 a.m. entry in the log of the FAA headquarters’ teleconference will state that the Boston Center is “evacuating the building.” (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 ) USA Today will report that the center is evacuated at “about 11 a.m.”
Few Employees Return to Building - About 30 minutes to an hour after the building is evacuated, some of the center’s personnel will return to work. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/20/2001; Levin 8/11/2002) By 12:16 p.m., the center is back in operation, but with only a skeleton staff. (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 )
Suspicious Aircraft Only a Coast Guard Plane - As it turns out, the approaching aircraft that prompts the evacuation is just a Coast Guard plane. According to Scoggins, “We had already identified it.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/20/2001) The aircraft was noted in a 10:18 a.m. entry in the log of the FAA headquarters’ teleconference, which stated: “Aircraft 160 miles east of Nantucket is headed westbound toward Boston at a high rate of speed.” But a log entry five minutes later, at 10:23 a.m., noted that the aircraft “is identified as a Coast Guard flight from Nantucket.” (Federal Aviation Administration 3/21/2002 ) Shortly before the Boston Center is alerted to this aircraft, Scoggins had been tracking what is apparently another unidentified target on his radar screen: a slow-moving large aircraft that is also flying toward the Boston Center from the east (see (10:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Spencer 2008, pp. 242-243) The identity of that aircraft is unclear.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada, receives conflicting information from the military and other government agencies regarding a Korean Airlines passenger jet that is mistakenly considered hijacked and has been instructed to land at Whitehorse Airport. (Yukon Government 11/13/2001, pp. 14-16, 35-36 ; Spencer 2008, pp. 277-278)
Plane Redirected to Whitehorse - Korean Airlines Flight 85, a Boeing 747, was due to land in Anchorage, Alaska, for a refueling stop. The plane has not been hijacked, but its pilots have given indications that it is hijacked (see (Shortly Before 12:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001 and 1:24 p.m. September 11, 2001). Because Flight 85 has less than an hour’s worth of fuel remaining, it is agreed that the plane should land at Whitehorse Airport (see (Shortly After 1:24 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Alaska Legislature. Joint Senate and House Armed Services Committee 2/5/2002; Hollander 9/8/2002)
Aircraft Hijacked or Low on Fuel? - Whitehorse RCMP is first alerted to Flight 85 at 1:25 p.m., when Winnipeg RCMP informs it that Canada’s Department of National Defence (DND) is saying the flight is indicating a hijacking situation, and more information will be forthcoming. Ten minutes later, the DND contacts Whitehorse RCMP itself, saying a potentially hijacked Korean Airlines 747 is en route to Whitehorse Airport. At 1:55 p.m., Transport Canada similarly alerts Whitehorse RCMP to the potentially hijacked Korean Airlines 747 en route to Whitehorse. Then, at 2:13 p.m., Transport Canada Winnipeg advises Whitehorse RCMP that it has received a report from the Transport Canada Situation Center in Ottawa that Flight 85 has been hijacked and is near Whitehorse. However, while the DND and Transport Canada say Flight 85 is under hijack status, at 2:20 p.m. NORAD calls Whitehorse RCMP and says the flight is not hijacked, but instead a low fuel emergency. Nine minutes later, though, NORAD calls again and says Flight 85 might indeed be hijacked, as communications anomalies with the aircraft’s pilot remain suspicious. Due to the conflicting reports it is receiving, Whitehorse RCMP decides to err on the side of caution, and considers Flight 85 to be both hijacked and low on fuel until investigations prove otherwise.
Conflicting Arrival Times - Whitehorse RCMP also receives two significantly different reports of when Flight 85 is due to arrive at Whitehorse Airport. At 1:45 p.m., NORAD informs it that the aircraft is 400 miles away and due to arrive in one hour. But 10 minutes later, Transport Canada says the flight is estimated to be arriving in just 12 minutes, meaning around 2:07 p.m. (Yukon Government 11/13/2001, pp. 14-16, 35-36 ) Flight 85 will eventually land without incident at Whitehorse Airport at 2:54 p.m. (see 2:54 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Levin 8/12/2002; Hollander 9/8/2002)
The FBI issues a BOLO (be on lookout) bulletin for three suspicious men who were seen leaving the New Jersey waterfront minutes after the first hijacked plane hit the WTC (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Law enforcement officers in the greater New York City area are warned in a radio dispatch to watch for a “vehicle possibly related to New York terrorist attack.” The bulletin reads, in part: “White, 2000 Chevrolet van…with ‘Urban Moving Systems’ sign on back seen at Liberty State Park, Jersey City, NJ, at the time of first impact of jetliner into World Trade Center…. Three individuals with van were seen celebrating after initial impact and subsequent explosion. FBI Newark Field Office requests that, if the van is located, hold for prints and detain individuals.” The van is located a short time later and five men inside it are arrested (see 3:56 p.m. September 11, 2001). (Ketcham 2/7/2007)
Five Israelis are arrested for “puzzling behavior” related to the WTC attacks. Shortly after an FBI lookout bulletin was issued for a van with the words “Urban Moving Systems” written on the side, officers with the East Rutherford Police Department in New Jersey stop the van after matching the license plate number with the one given in the bulletin. According to the police report, Officer Scott DeCarlo and Sgt. Dennis Rivelli approach the van and demand the driver exit the vehicle. The driver, Sivan Kurzberg, does not obey after being asked several more times, so the police physically remove Kurzberg and four other men from the van and handcuff them. They have not been told the reasons for their arrest, but Kurzberg tells them, “We are Israeli. We are not your problem. Your problems are our problems. The Palestinians are the problem.” Again before the police have made any mention of the 9/11 attacks, another one of the arrested men says, “[W]e were on the West Side Highway in New York City during the incident.” In fact, it will later be determined they were on the roof of a building at Liberty State Park, watching and videotaping the first crash into the WTC (see Shortly After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Lima 9/12/2001; Melman 9/17/2001; Ketcham 2/7/2007) The FBI and additional police quickly arrive. They shut down the section of Route 3 in East Rutherford where the van was stopped and evacuate a nearby hotel as a security precaution. (Lima 9/12/2001) One man is found with $4,700 in cash hidden in his sock, another has two foreign passports on him, and a box cutter is found in the van. (ABC News 6/21/2002) Another has pictures of the men standing with the burning wreckage of the WTC in the background. (Perelman 3/15/2002) All five identify themselves as Israeli citizens and claim to be working for the New Jersey-based Urban Moving Systems company. In addition to the driver Sivan Kurzberg, the others are identified as Paul Kurzberg (Sivan’s brother), Oded Ellner, Omer Marmari, and Yaron Shmuel. The men are detained but not charged. (Perelman 3/15/2002; ABC News 6/21/2002) The next day it will be reported that “bomb-sniffing dogs reacted as if they had detected explosives.” An investigator high up in the Bergen County law enforcement hierarchy will say in 2006, “There are maps of the city in the car with certain places highlighted…. It looked like they’re hooked in with this [referring to the 9/11 attacks]. It looked like they knew what was going to happen.…It looked like they knew what was going to happen when they were at Liberty State Park.” (Lima 9/12/2001) The FBI will later conclude at least two of the five are Mossad agents and that all were on a Mossad surveillance mission. The FBI interrogates them for weeks. (Perelman 3/15/2002) They are held on immigration violation charges, but will be released 71 days later (see November 20, 2001). (ABC News 6/21/2002)
On the evening after the 9/11 attacks, some White House personnel, including Vice President Dick Cheney’s staff, are given the anti-anthrax drug Cipro, and told to take it regularly. (Sobieraj 10/24/2001) An unnamed “high government official” also advises some reporters to take Cipro shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001). Judicial Watch will later sue the Bush administration to release documents showing who knew what and when, and why presidential staff were protected while senators, congresspeople, and others were not. (Associated Press 6/8/2002)
After meeting with a small group of his key advisers in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House (see (9:00 p.m.-10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001), President Bush is heading for the elevator to go back upstairs, when he is stopped by a Secret Service agent. The agent tells him, “You’ll be sleeping down here tonight.” Bush says no. When the agent tries to argue about it, Bush repeats, “No, I’m not going to.” He later says his reasons for refusing the Secret Service agent’s instruction are, firstly, “the bed [in the PEOC] looked unappetizing. Secondly, it was a little stale in there. And I needed sleep.” The agent acquiesces, but warns, “If we have any threats, we will come and get you.” Bush then heads up to his bedroom. (Fineman and Brant 12/3/2001; Sammon 2002, pp. 133-134) But, shortly after going to bed, the president and first lady will be rushed down to the PEOC due to a false alarm over an approaching plane (see 11:08 p.m. September 11, 2001).
On October 31, 2005, the Associated Press will report that the Bush administration has missed dozens of deadlines set by Congress since 9/11 to help protect the US from terrorist attacks. For instance, a plan to defend ships and ports from attack is overdue, as are rules to protect air cargo. There still is no comprehensive plan to protect vital infrastructure. Part of the problem is that Congress set so many deadlines, some for minor projects. (Associated Press 10/31/2005)
The FBI dramatically escalates its warrantless wiretaps of US citizens, most without the proper paperwork or oversight. The public will not learn of the FBI wiretapping program until October 2005, when classified documents will be made available to the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), an advocacy group that will sue the Justice Department for records relating to the Patriot Act. According to those documents, which are heavily redacted, the FBI conducts clandestine surveillance on some US residents for 18 months and even longer. The FBI will also internally investigate at least 287 violations of its use of secret surveillance against US citizens. One target will be kept under surveillance for over five years, including a 15-month stretch where the FBI fails to notify Justice Department lawyers after the subject moves from New York to Detroit. According to an FBI investigation, that delay is a violation of department guidelines and will prevent the department “from exercising its responsibility for oversight and approval of an ongoing foreign counterintelligence investigation of a US person.” Other cases involve agents obtaining e-mails after warrants expire, seizing bank records without authorization, and conducting improper “unconsented physical search(es).” EPIC’s general counsel, David Sobel, will say in October 2005 that the classified documents indicate possible misconduct by the FBI in counterintelligence investigations, and highlight the need for greater congressional oversight of clandestine surveillance within the United States. “We’re seeing what might be the tip of the iceberg at the FBI and across the intelligence community,” Sobel will say. “It indicates that the existing mechanisms do not appear adequate to prevent abuses or to ensure the public that abuses that are identified are treated seriously and remedied.” The FBI will counter by insisting that all of the infractions are minor, mostly what it calls administrative errors, and that any information obtained improperly is quarantined and eventually destroyed. One senior FBI official will say, “Every investigator wants to make sure that their investigation is handled appropriately, because they’re not going to be allowed to keep information that they didn’t have the proper authority to obtain. But that is a relatively uncommon occurrence. The vast majority of the potential [violations] reported have to do with administrative timelines and time frames for renewing orders.” Catherine Lotrionte, the counsel for the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board, which is tasked with overseeing the FBI’s domestic surveillance operations, will refuse to disclose any details of any of the FBI violations, saying most of its work is classified and covered by executive privilege. The surveillance operations are conducted under the aegis of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978), whose threshold for such surveillance is lower than for criminal warrants. In 2004 alone, over 1,700 new cases will be opened by the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court. (Eggen 10/24/2005) Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) tells the Associated Press that the US government has been monitoring Osama bin Laden’s communications electronically, and overheard two bin Laden aides celebrating the successful terrorist attack: “They have an intercept of some information that included people associated with bin Laden who acknowledged a couple of targets were hit.” (Solomon 9/12/2001; Ruppe 9/12/2001) Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld publicly denounces the report, not as untrue, but as an unauthorized release of classified information. (Department of Defense 9/12/2001)
According to a former senior Justice Department official, a high-level former national security official working as a senior intelligence analyst for a large domestic law enforcement agency inside the White House accidentally walks into a restricted room, where he finds a computer system logged on to what he recognizes to be the Main Core database. Main Core contains a list of potential enemies of the state for use by the Continuity of Government program (see 1980s or Before). He will refuse to be interviewed about the matter, but will tell the senior Justice Department official about it. The Justice Department official will add that when she mentions the specific name of the top-secret system during a conversation, he turns “white as a sheet.” (Shorrock 7/23/2008)
Five Israeli men working for the Urban Moving Systems company had been arrested on 9/11 over suspicions that they had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see 3:56 p.m. September 11, 2001), and now two more Israeli men working for the same company are arrested. The two men, Roy Barak and Motti Butbul, are driving one of their company’s moving vans in northern Pennsylvania when they are pulled over and arrested at around noon on September 12, 2001. Barak has overstayed his six-month visa and Butbul has no work permit. Both were in the Israeli military, Barak as an ex-paratrooper and Butful as a cook. Barak says he worked for Urban Moving Systems since the summer of 2000. The two are detained and sometimes kept in solitary confinement, but they later claim no ill treatment. Barak will later recall that US interrogators were most interested if he was connected to the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence agency. “They asked if someone sent me to the United States. They asked me if I worked in a moving company so I could monitor people’s movements.” He is given polygraph tests and claims to have satisfied his questioners except on the issue of who sent him to the US. On November 9, 2001, both are deported back to Israel. (Galloway 11/18/2001)
Congress explicitly refuses to grant the Bush administration the authority to conduct warrantless wiretaps and surveillance operations against US citizens in its resolution authorizing the use of military force (AUMF) against terrorists (see September 14-18, 2001). Tom Daschle (D-SD), the Senate Majority Leader, will write in December 2005 (after his ouster from Congress in November 2004) that the White House and the Justice Department will claim, falsely, that the AUMF grants the right for the NSA to conduct such a program (see Early 2002 and December 15, 2005). Instead, Daschle will write, the NSA merely usurps the authority, with the president’s approval, to conduct such an extralegal surveillance program (see December 21-22, 2005). (Gellman 12/22/2005)
Administration Efforts to Rewrite AUMF - In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Daschle will observe that the AUMF authorizes Bush “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons” who “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks. But, Daschle will write, “Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words ‘in the United States and’ after ‘appropriate force’ in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas—where we all understood he wanted authority to act—but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.”
No Vote for Domestic Surveillance - Daschle will also write that the White House attempted to add draft language to the AUMF resolution that would give the administration new and sweeping authority to use force to “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States,” even against nations and organizations not responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Bush officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney will claim that the AUMF “granted authority by the Congress to use all means necessary to take on the terrorists, and that’s what we’ve done.” But Daschle will write that Cheney is mistaken. “As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel’s office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al-Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance.” On September 12, six days before the September 18 AUMF vote, Bush officials demand that Congress authorize the use of military force to, in their words, “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States.” But Congress refuses, feeling that the request is “too broad and ill defined.” Instead, on September 14, Congress choses to use language that authorizes Bush to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks. Daschle later writes, “With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.… The shock and rage we all felt in the hours after the attack were still fresh. America was reeling from the first attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor. We suspected thousands had been killed, and many who worked in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not yet accounted for. Even so, a strong bipartisan majority could not agree to the administration’s request for an unprecedented grant of authority.” Instead, Daschle will write, the administration simply takes the authority anyway, and will argue in hindsight that the AUMF actually gives the administration the right to wiretap US citizens. However, Daschle will write, “at the time, the administration clearly felt they [didn’t have the authority] or it wouldn’t have tried to insert the additional language.”
Breeding 'Fear and Suspicion' - He concludes, “[T]here are right and wrong ways to defeat terrorists, and that is a distinction this administration has never seemed to accept. Instead of employing tactics that preserve Americans’ freedoms and inspire the faith and confidence of the American people, the White House seems to have chosen methods that can only breed fear and suspicion. If the stories in the media over the past week are accurate [detailing the breadth and apparent illegality of the NSA program], the president has exercised authority that I do not believe is granted to him in the Constitution, and that I know is not granted to him in the law that I helped negotiate with his counsel and that Congress approved in the days after Sept. 11. For that reason, the president should explain the specific legal justification for his authorization of these actions, Congress should fully investigate these actions and the president’s justification for them, and the administration should cooperate fully with that investigation. In the meantime, if the president believes the current legal architecture of our country is insufficient for the fight against terrorism, he should propose changes to our laws in the light of day. That is how a great democracy operates. And that is how this great democracy will defeat terrorism.” (Daschle 12/23/2005)
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, the NSA expands surveillance operations, relying on its own authorities; some sources indicate this includes a massive domestic data mining and call tracking program, and some contend that it is illegal. In a 2006 public briefing, NSA Director Michael Hayden will say, “In the days after 9/11, NSA was using its authorities and its judgment to appropriately respond to the most catastrophic attack on the homeland in the history of the nation.” Following an October 1 briefing by Hayden to the House Intelligence Committee, Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will write to Hayden on October 11, saying, “[Y]ou indicated that you had been operating since the September 11 attacks with an expansive view of your authorities with respect to the conduct of electronic surveillance” (see October 11, 2001). Some evidence indicates NSA domestic surveillance began even before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). (Pelosi 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
No Connection to Bush-Authorized Warrantless Domestic Call Monitoring - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will clearly distinguish between the expansion he initiates under his own authorities, and the warrantless monitoring of calls with one end outside the US authorized later by President Bush (see October 4, 2001), saying, “[E]xcept that they involved NSA, these [Hayden-authorized] programs were not related… to the authorization that the president has recently spoken about.” (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
'Stellar Wind' Is Name of Hayden-Authorized Program - In 2012 interviews, former NSA official William Binney will indicate that “Stellar Wind” is the name of the surveillance program initiated by Hayden. (Bamford 2/15/2012; Binney 4/20/2012) Some sources will refer to the Bush-authorized eavesdropping as being part of the Stellar Wind program. (Isikoff 12/22/2008)
Differing Views on Authority for Surveillance - In his 2006 briefing, Hayden will say the Fourth Amendment only protects Americans against “unreasonable search and seizure,” and that 9/11 changed what was to be considered “reasonable.” Specifically, if communications are believed to have “[i]nherent foreign intelligence value,” interception of these communications is reasonable. In addition to referring to Hayden’s “view of [his] authorities” as “expansive,” Pelosi’s letter will give another indication that the NSA’s new standard is significantly broader than it was previously, stating, “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest.” Hayden will publicly clarify in 2006 that the authority for the NSA’s operational expansion exists under an Executive Order issued by President Reagan, saying, “These decisions were easily within my authorities as the director of NSA under and [sic] executive order; known as Executive Order 12333.” And, he will say, “I briefed the entire House Intelligence Committee on the 1st of October on what we had done under our previously existing authorities” (see October 1, 2001). In her October 11 letter, Pelosi will also write of having concerns about the program that haven’t been resolved due to restrictions on information-sharing with Congress imposed by Bush (see October 11, 2001). Binney, who pioneered the development of certain NSA data mining and surveillance technologies, will come to believe that what the NSA is doing is unconstitutional; he will first take his concerns to Congress (see Before October 31, 2001) and then resign on October 31 (see October 31, 2001). (Pelosi 1/6/2006; Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
Surveillance Involves Domestic Communications - In his 2006 remarks, Hayden will not say the NSA is only targeting foreign communications under his post-9/11 authorization. Rather, the context of his remarks will indicate he is referring to domestic communications. More specifically, Hayden will state: “If the US person information isn’t relevant, the data is suppressed. It’s a technical term we use; we call it ‘minimized.’ The individual is not even mentioned. Or if he or she is, he or she is referred to as ‘US Person Number One’ or ‘US Person Number Two.’ Now, inherent intelligence value. If the US person is actually the named terrorist, well, that could be a different matter.” Hayden will also reveal that information is being passed to the FBI, an investigative agency with a primarily domestic jurisdiction, saying, “[A]s another part of our adjustment, we also turned on the spigot of NSA reporting to FBI in, frankly, an unprecedented way.” (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006) One of Pelosi’s statements in her letter to Hayden may indicate an aspect of the domestic component: “You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted] being of foreign intelligence interest,” she will write. (Pelosi 1/6/2006) In a 2011 interview with Jane Mayer published in the New Yorker, Binney will say the NSA was obtaining “billing records on US citizens” and “putting pen registers [call logs] on everyone in the country.” (Mayer 5/23/2011) And in a 2012 Wired article, NSA expert James Bamford will write that Binney “explains that the agency could have installed its tapping gear at the nation’s cable landing stations—the more than two dozen sites on the periphery of the US where fiber-optic cables come ashore. If it had taken that route, the NSA would have been able to limit its eavesdropping to just international communications, which at the time was all that was allowed under US law. Instead it chose to put the wiretapping rooms at key junction points throughout the country—large, windowless buildings known as switches—thus gaining access to not just international communications but also to most of the domestic traffic flowing through the US.” Binney’s account is supported by other sources (see October 2001). (Bamford 2/15/2012)
Surveillance Program Is Massive - Bamford, citing Binney, will write: “Stellar Wind… included not just eavesdropping on domestic phone calls but the inspection of domestic email. At the outset the program recorded 320 million calls a day, he says, which represented about 73 to 80 percent of the total volume of the agency’s worldwide intercepts.” It is unclear exactly when this level of surveillance began. According to whistleblower AT&T employee Mark Klein, construction of secret rooms splitting communications traffic does not begin until Fall 2002 (see Fall 2002). Bamford will write that Binney says, “[T]he taps in the secret rooms dotting the country are actually powered by highly sophisticated software programs that conduct ‘deep packet inspection,’ examining Internet traffic as it passes through the 10-gigabit-per-second cables at the speed of light.” (Bamford 2/15/2012) Also, Binney’s remark to Jane Mayer that the NSA was “putting pen registers on everyone in the country” indicates the broad scope of the program. (Mayer 5/23/2011)
On September 13, New York authorities take into custody ten people of Middle Eastern descent at JFK International and La Guardia Airports, reportedly fearing they intend to hijack aircraft and commit another suicidal terrorist attack on a US target. This leads to all three major New York-area airports—JFK, La Guardia, and Newark—being abruptly shut down, just hours after they reopened for the first time since the 9/11 attacks took place. (Associated Press 9/14/2001; Mittelstadt and Jackson 9/14/2001; Levy and Rashbaum 9/14/2001; Eggen and Slevin 9/14/2001)
Armed and Carrying False ID - According to the Washington Post, the detained individuals are carrying knives and false identification. (Eggen and Slevin 9/14/2001) Four of them are reportedly arrested as they try to board a flight from JFK Airport to Los Angeles, and a woman is held on suspicion of assisting these four. Some of the four are reported as having pilots’ certificates from Flight Safety International in Vero Beach, Florida, where some of the alleged 9/11 hijackers are currently believed to have taken flying lessons. Later on, the other five men are arrested at La Guardia Airport “under similar circumstances.” (Mittelstadt and Jackson 9/14/2001) According to the New York Times, “Law enforcement officials said one of those held was carrying a false pilot’s identification.” Furthermore, several of the detained men “showed up at the airport with tickets for flights canceled on Tuesday [September 11] and tried to use them.” Investigators say they believe one of the men had been among a group of passengers that behaved suspiciously and became aggressive after their aircraft—United Airlines Flight 23—had its takeoff canceled on the morning of 9/11 (see (After 9:19 a.m.) September 11, 2001). New York Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik says one of the men arrested at JFK Airport “attempted to clear security and he was stopped.” (Levy and Rashbaum 9/14/2001)
Men Released, No Connections Found to 9/11 Attacks - However, the following morning the FBI announces that none of the detainees had any connection to the 9/11 attacks, and all but one of them have been released. Barry Mawn, the head of the New York FBI office, says: “The reporting that has been going on all night, I can definitively tell you, is inaccurate.… [W]e did talk to approximately a dozen individuals. We have only one individual left who is still being questioned by the task force. All other ten have been released.” (CNN 9/14/2001; PBS 9/14/2001) Justice Department spokeswoman Mindy Tucker says that no knives, box cutters, guns, or other weapons were found on the individuals. (Thompson 9/15/2001) After talking to the directors of the FBI and CIA, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE) tells CNN that the detained men had “no connection whatsoever to what happened at the World Trade towers or the Pentagon, or this organizational network.” He explains: “One guy, an actual pilot, got on the plane, coincidentally had his brother’s identification as well. His brother happened to live in the apartment complex that was one in Boston where some of [the alleged hijackers] had actually been.” Biden adds: “Ten other people were going to a Boeing conference. They had stickers on their bags.… The folks at the airport thought, hey, wait a minute, are they impersonating crew? And they weren’t.” Biden says the one man who has not yet been released “was a screwball who was acting out, you know, acting out and saying and demanding.… Making problems, and they arrested him.” By 11:20 a.m. on September 14, the three New York-area airports are reopened. (Associated Press 9/14/2001; CNN 9/14/2001)
A series of articles suggests that at least six of the 9/11 hijackers trained at US military bases. (New York Times 9/15/2001; Wehrfritz, Skipp, and Barry 9/15/2001; Gugliotta 9/16/2001)
Three of the alleged hijackers—Ahmed Alnami, Ahmed Alghamdi, and Saeed Alghamdi—are revealed as having listed the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, Florida, as their permanent address on their driver’s licenses and car registrations, between 1996 and 1998. According to military records, the three used 10 Radford Boulevard as their address. This is a base roadway where residences for foreign-military flight trainees are located. Hamza Alghamdi was also connected to the Pensacola base (see 1996-August 2000). (Wehrfritz, Skipp, and Barry 9/15/2001; Gugliotta 9/16/2001; Wheeler, Streater, and Graybiel 9/17/2001)
Air Force spokesman Colonel Ken McClellan states that Saeed Alghamdi also attended the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. The Washington Post and Time magazine say he graduated from the Defense Language Institute at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas. (It is unclear whether Alghamdi therefore attended both Defense Language Institutes, or if this is simply a reporting error.) (Gugliotta 9/16/2001; Radelat 9/17/2001; Cloud 9/24/2001)
According to a high-ranking Pentagon official, another alleged hijacker was a former Saudi Air Force pilot who may have received training in strategy and tactics at the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. (Schrader and Richter 9/15/2001; Wehrfritz, Skipp, and Barry 9/15/2001)
A further hijacker—also said to be a former Saudi Air Force pilot—may have been given language instruction at Lackland Air Force Base. (Schrader and Richter 9/15/2001; Wehrfritz, Skipp, and Barry 9/15/2001)
A man called Abdulaziz Alomari (the same name as one of the suspected Flight 11 hijackers) attended Brooks Air Force Base Aerospace Medical School in San Antonio, Texas. (Gugliotta 9/16/2001; Radelat 9/17/2001)
Ken McClellan says a man with the name Mohamed Atta once attended the US International Officers School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama (see 1998). (Gugliotta 9/16/2001; Radelat 9/17/2001)
According to Newsweek, it is not unusual for foreign nationals to train at US military facilities. A former Navy pilot tells the magazine that during his years at the Naval Air Station in Pensacola, “we always, always, always trained other countries’ pilots. When I was there two decades ago, it was Iranians. The shah was in power. Whoever the country du jour is, that’s whose pilots we train.” Newsweek adds that the “US has a long-standing agreement with Saudi Arabia… to train pilots for its National Guard.” (Wehrfritz, Skipp, and Barry 9/15/2001) The media stops looking into the hijackers’ possible US military connections after the Air Force makes a less than definitive statement, saying, “Some of the FBI suspects had names similar to those used by foreign alumni of US military courses. However discrepancies in their biographical data, such as birth dates 20 years off, indicate we are probably not talking about the same people.” (Gugliotta 9/16/2001)
On September 18, 2001, a scientist in Milwaukee tells police that he is building an anthrax delivery system in his basement. The unnamed scientist is drunk and having a dispute with a neighbor when he makes the comments to the police. On September 28, FBI agents arrive with a search warrant but find no anthrax or any sign of an anthrax delivery system. The man is said to work in a bowling alley, but had worked as a senior research scientist at Battelle Memorial Institute, a private contractor working with the US government on bioweapons programs including anthrax. He was fired from Battelle in 1996 and again in 1999. He is said to have specialties “in the areas of radio chemistry, military ordnance and munitions, and decontamination.” After being fired in 1999, his house was searched and chemicals were found in his basement that were not illegal to possess but which could have been used to make a lethal concoction. The story will first be reported in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on October 5, 2001, right when the real anthrax attacks are first becoming public (see October 4, 2001 and Shortly Afterwards). (Schuldt 10/5/2001) ABC News will revive the story on December 20, 2001, and say the unnamed scientist is under investigation for a role in the anthrax attacks. ABC will claim the FBI did find suspicious chemicals in his basement, but not anthrax. (News 12/20/2001) However, the next day it will be reported that the ABC story was wrong. US Senator Mike DeWine (R-OH) will say he talked to FBI Director Robert Mueller after hearing the ABC New report, and Mueller “said the ABC News report was not true, that ‘The network did not check with us, we have no investigation and no one with or formerly with Battelle is a suspect.’” (Cadwallader and Candisky 12/21/2001)
The FBI hires Turkish-American Sibel Edmonds as a contract translator for Turkish, Azerbaijani, and Farsi. In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the FBI is desperately seeking qualified individuals to translate backlogged wiretaps and help authorities interview detained suspects. (Edmonds 7/1/2004) Before 9/11, there was not a single Turkish-language specialist at the bureau. (Rose 9/2005) Fluent in both Turkish and Azerbaijani, Edmonds works as a “linguist” in those languages. For Farsi, which Edmonds hasn’t spoken in 25 years, she is only a “monitor.” (An FBI translator is either a “linguist” or a “monitor” for any given language. Linguists are more qualified and consequently have broader roles. For example, while linguists can do verbatim translations, monitors may only produce summaries. (Edmonds 7/1/2004) ) As a contract translator, Edmonds is given a flexible schedule. On average she will work four evenings a week logging between 10 and 25 hours weekly. Almost 75 percent of her work will relate to pre-9/11 intelligence. (Edmonds 7/1/2004) The work of FBI translators is very important because the translator is often the bureau’s first filter that incoming intelligence must pass through. It is the responsibility of translators to decide what needs to be translated verbatim, what can simply be summarized, and what can be dismissed as not pertinent. In making these decisions, translators are not required to consult field agents or analysts. (Edmonds 7/1/2004) In fact, agents can’t even access the translation area unless they are escorted by a translator. (Sperry 1/7/2004; Waterman 3/31/2004) A translator’s decision to mark a wiretap as “not pertinent” is usually final. Though all documents and transcripts are supposed to be reviewed by at least two translators, this never actually happens, according to Edmonds, even after 9/11. (Edmonds 7/1/2004)
A private plane picks up Saudis who have gathered in Boston and flies them to Paris, then ultimately to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Because most of the passengers on board are relatives of Osama bin Laden, the 9/11 Commission calls this the “so-called bin Laden flight.” The commission claims there are 26 passengers on board, three of them security personnel. They further report that “22 of the 26… were interviewed by the FBI. Many were asked detailed questions.” However, the commission does not answer how many were not asked detailed questions, or were not questioned at all. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 557) However, Craig Unger, author of the book House of Bush, House of Saud, publishes the flight manifest during the same week as the 9/11 Commission’s final report is released, and this list contains 29 names (including the three security personnel), not 26. (Craig Unger website 7/22/2004) The 2005 book Al-Qaeda Will Conquer by Guillaume Dasquié also makes note of this three-person discrepancy. (Fidler 4/27/2005)
Michael Creppy, the chief US immigration judge—actually an executive branch official in the Justice Department, the title of “judge” notwithstanding—orders that all deportation hearings be closed to the public, the press, and even family members. Creppy also prohibits immigration court administrators from listing the detainees’ names or cases on public dockets. The reason is not because there is reason to believe any particular detainee is a suspected terrorist. Instead, the administration asserts, national security demands blanket secrecy because terrorist cells might read about the deportation hearings in the press, piece together bits and pieces of information, and in doing so deduce valuable information about the government’s investigation into the 9/11 attacks and terrorism in general. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write: “Thus, the public would just have to trust that the government had arrested and deported the right people, even though their names were kept a secret and the decision to expel them from the country was made behind closed doors. By invoking the chance that the enemy might detect a pattern in otherwise harmless information, the government would be justified in withholding everything. The implication of its theory was that the public had no right to know anything, no matter how innocuous, because any tidbit of trivial information could potentially be stitched together with other minor bits of information to conceivably provide some useful insight for terrorists.” In separate proceedings, the Detroit Free Press and several New Jersey media organizations will challenge the Justice Department’s decision in court (see August 26, 2002 and October 2, 2002). (Savage 2007, pp. 94)
Immediately after beginning her job as an FBI translator, Sibel Edmonds encounters a pattern of deliberate failure in her department. Her supervisor, Mike Feghali, allegedly says, “Let the documents pile up so we can show it and say that we need more translators and expand the department.” She claims that if she was not slowing down enough, her supervisor would delete her work. Meanwhile, FBI agents working on the 9/11 investigation would call and ask for urgently needed translations. In January 2002, FBI officials will tell government auditors that translator shortages are resulting in “the accumulation of thousands of hours of audio tapes and pages” of material that has not been translated. (Grimaldi 6/19/2002) After she discloses this in an October 2002 interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes, Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) says of her charges, “She’s credible and the reason I feel she’s very credible is because people within the FBI have corroborated a lot of her story.” He points out that the speed of such translation might make the difference between an attack succeeding or failing. (CBS News 10/25/2002; Blomquist 10/26/2002) An investigation by the Justice Department’s Inspector General’s Office (see (July 8, 2004)) will also find Edmonds credible.
John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), issues a legal opinion that says the US can conduct electronic surveillance against its citizens without probable cause or warrants. According to the memo, the opinion was drafted in response to questions about whether it would be constitutional to amend the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to state that searches may be approved when foreign intelligence collection is “a purpose” of the search, rather than “the purpose.” Yoo finds this would be constitutional, but goes further. He asserts that FISA is potentially in conflict with the Constitution, stating, “FISA itself is not required by the Constitution, nor is it necessarily the case that its current standards match exactly to Fourth Amendment standards.” Citing Vernonia School Dist. 47J v. Acton, in which the Supreme Court found that warrantless searches of students were permissible, Yoo argues that “reasonableness” and “special needs” are also the standards according to which warrantless monitoring of the private communications of US persons is permissible. According to Yoo, the Fourth Amendment requirement for probable cause and warrants prior to conducting a search pertain primarily to criminal investigations, and in any case cannot be construed to restrict presidential responsibility and authority concerning national security. Yoo further argues that in the context of the post-9/11 world, with the threat posed by terrorism and the military nature of the fight against terrorism, warrantless monitoring of communications is reasonable. Some information indicates the NSA began a broad program involving domestic surveillance prior to the 9/11 attacks, which contradicts the claim that the program began after, and in response to, the attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). (US Department of Justice 9/25/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; Lewis 3/2/2009; Inspectors General 7/10/2009)
Yoo Memo Used to Support Legality of Warrantless Surveillance - Yoo’s memo will be cited to justify the legality of the warrantless domestic surveillance program authorized by President Bush in October 2001 (see October 4, 2001). NSA Director General Michael Hayden, in public remarks on January 23, 2006, will refer to a presidential authorization for monitoring domestic calls having been given prior to “early October 2001.” Hayden will also say, “The lawfulness of the actual authorization was reviewed by lawyers at the Department of Justice and the White House and was approved by the attorney general.” The various post-9/11 NSA surveillance activities authorized by Bush will come to be referred to as the President’s Surveillance Program (PSP), and the first memo directly supporting the program’s legality will be issued by Yoo on November 2, 2001, after the program has been initiated (see November 2, 2001). Many constitutional authorities will reject Yoo’s legal rationale. (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
Yoo Memo Kept Secret from Bush Officials Who Might Object - According to a report by Barton Gellman and Jo Becker in the Washington Post, the memo’s “authors kept it secret from officials who were likely to object,” including ranking White House national security counsel John Bellinger, who reports to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. Bellinger’s deputy, Bryan Cunningham, will tell the Post that Bellinger would have recommended having the program vetted by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees surveillance under FISA. Gellman and Becker quote a “senior government lawyer” as saying that Vice President Dick Cheney’s attorney, David Addington, had “open contempt” for Bellinger, and write that “more than once he accused Bellinger, to his face, of selling out presidential authority for good ‘public relations’ or bureaucratic consensus.” (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007)
The Army’s Surgeon General, Admiral David Satcher, estimates that a terrorist assault on a US chemical plant (see April 1999 and December 1999) might kill or injure as many as 2.4 million people, a figure far higher than previous estimates. (Roberts 2008, pp. 93)
One of Sibel Edmond’s main assignments as a contract FBI translator is to expedite requested translations from field agents. Shortly after she is hired by the FBI, an Arizona field agent requests that certain material be re-translated. He is concerned that the original translation may not have been thorough enough. When she does the re-translation, she discovers that it contains information extremely relevant to the September 11 attacks, including references to “blueprints, pictures, and building material for skyscrapers being sent overseas” It also “reveals certain illegal activities in obtaining visas from certain embassies in the Middle East, through network contacts and bribery” (see July-August 2001). (Edmonds 8/1/2004) After re-translating the documents, she goes to supervisor Mike Feghali and says, “I need to talk to this agent over a secure line because what we came across in this retranslating is gigantic, it has specific information about certain specific activity related to 9/11.” But Feghali refuses to send the retranslation to the same agent, telling her, “How would you like it if another translator did this same thing to you? The original translator is going to be held responsible.” The agent never receives the re-translation he requested from Edmonds. Instead he is told by the Washington field office that the original translation is fine. (Kornblut 7/5/2004; Edmonds 8/1/2004)
Security is extremely poor at USAMRIID, the Fort Detrick, Maryland, laboratory linked to the 2001 anthrax attacks, as well as other bio-weapons facilities, in the years prior to the anthrax attacks. The security flaws are documented in two reports that will be completed in 2002. One report will be produced by Sandia National Laboratories, which focused on USAMRIID, and the other by the US Army Inspector General’s office, which examined security at Fort Detrick, as well as other locations, including Battelle Memorial Institute. The existence of these reports will first be disclosed in a joint news report by McClatchy Newspapers, ProPublica, and PBS’s Frontline. According to the McClatchy/ProPublica/PBS article, the reports “describe a haphazard system in which personnel lists included dozens of former employees, where new hires were allowed to work with deadly germs before background checks were done, and where stocks of anthrax and other pathogens weren’t adequately controlled.” Additionally, “The existing security procedures… were so lax they would have allowed any researcher, aide, or temporary worker to walk out of the Army bio-weapons lab at Fort Detrick, Md., with a few drops of anthrax.” The FBI will later claim to have identified, and eliminated as suspects, 419 people at Fort Detrick and other locations who either had access to the lab where Bruce Ivins worked, or who had received samples from anthrax flask RMR-1029. The FBI and Justice Department will claim that RMR-1029 was the source of the anthrax used in the attacks, and that Ivins was the sole perpetrator of the attacks (see August 6, 2008). Both of these claims will be called into question (see August 1-10, 2008, August 3-18, 2008, August 5, 2008, August 9, 2008, April 22, 2010, and February 15, 2011). (Engelberg 10/24/2011)
The National Security Agency, as part of its huge, covert, and possibly illegal wiretapping program directed at US citizens (see Spring 2001 and After September 11, 2001), begins collecting telephone records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by telecommunications firms such as AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth (see February 5, 2006). The media will not report on this database until May 2006 (see May 11, 2006). The program collects information on US citizens not suspected of any crime or any terrorist connections. Although informed sources say the NSA is not listening to or recording actual conversations, the agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity. “It’s the largest database ever assembled in the world,” says one anonymous source. The NSA intends “to create a database of every call ever made.” As a result, the NSA has detailed records of the phone activities of tens of millions of US citizens, from local calls to family and friends to international calls. The three telecommunications companies are working with the NSA in part under the Communications Assistance Act for Law Enforcement (CALEA) (see January 1, 1995 and June 13, 2006) and in part under contract to the agency.
Surveillance Much More Extensive Than Acknowledged - The wiretapping program, which features electronic surveillance of US citizens without court warrants or judicial oversight, is far more extensive than anything the White House or the NSA has ever publicly acknowledged. President Bush will repeatedly insist that the NSA focuses exclusively on monitoring international calls where one of the call participants is a known terrorist suspect or has a connection to terrorist groups (see December 17, 2005 and May 11, 2006), and he and other officials always insist that domestic calls are not monitored. This will be proven false. The NSA has become expert at “data mining,” sifting through reams of information in search of patterns. The warrantless wiretapping database is one source of information for the NSA’s data mining. As long as the NSA does not collect “personal identifiers”—names, Social Security numbers, street addresses, and the like—such data mining is legal. But the actual efficacy of the wiretapping program in learning about terrorists and possibly preventing terrorist attacks is unclear at best. And many wonder if the NSA is not repeating its activities from the 1950s and 1960s, when it conducted “Operation Shamrock” (see 1945-1975), a 20-year program of warrantless wiretaps of international phone calls at the behest of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Operation Shamrock, among other things, led to the 1978 passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). (Cauley 5/11/2006) In May 2006, former NSA director Bobby Ray Inman will say, “[T]his activity is not authorized” (see May 12, 2006). (Democracy Now! 5/12/2006)
Secret Data Mining Center - In May 2006, retired AT&T technician Mark Klein, a 22-year veteran of the firm, will file a court affidavit saying that he saw the firm construct a secret data-mining center in its San Francisco switching center that would let the NSA monitor domestic and international communications (see January 2003). And former AT&T workers say that, as early as 2002, AT&T has maintained a secret area in its Bridgeton, Missouri, facility that is likely being used for NSA surveillance (see Late 2002-Early 2003).
Domestic Surveillance Possibly Began Before 9/11 - Though Bush officials admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, some evidence indicates that the domestic surveillance program began some time before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).
The FBI hires Kevin Taskasen as a Turkish translator, despite him having failed language-proficiency tests for English. The FBI will later send Taskasen to Guantanamo to be the detention center’s only Turkish translator. Some time after his return, he is promoted to head of the Turkish department in the FBI translations center. (Edmonds 7/1/2004)
The first case of anthrax infection, of Robert Stevens in Florida, is reported in the media (see October 3, 2001). Letters containing anthrax will continue to be received until October 19. After many false alarms, it turns out that only a relatively small number of letters contain real anthrax (see October 5-November 21, 2001). (South Florida Sun-Sentinel 12/8/2001) In 2004, Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen will recall how a widespread sense of panic spread across the US over the next few weeks, as millions felt the anthrax could target them next. He will write, “People made anthrax-safe rooms, and one woman I know of had a mask made for her small dog. I still don’t know if that was a touching gesture or just plain madness.” He says, “The [9/11] terrorist attacks coupled with the anthrax scare unhinged us a bit—or maybe more than a bit.” But he will also mention that the panic quickly passed and was largely forgotten by most people. (Cohen 7/22/2004) Columnist Glenn Greenwald will later comment in Salon, “After 9/11 itself, the anthrax attacks were probably the most consequential event of the Bush presidency. One could make a persuasive case that they were actually more consequential. The 9/11 attacks were obviously traumatic for the country, but in the absence of the anthrax attacks, 9/11 could easily have been perceived as a single, isolated event. It was really the anthrax letters—with the first one sent on September 18, just one week after 9/11—that severely ratcheted up the fear levels and created the climate that would dominate in this country for the next several years after. It was anthrax… that created the impression that social order itself was genuinely threatened by Islamic radicalism.” (Greenwald 8/1/2008)
President Bush issues a directive authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to operate a warrantless domestic surveillance program. Author/journalist Jane Mayer will report in 2011, “[O]n October 4, 2001, Bush authorized the policy, and it became operational by October 6th,” and, “[t]he new policy, which lawyers in the Justice Department justified by citing President Bush’s executive authority as commander in chief, contravened a century of constitutional case law.” Mayer will interview NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake for her article and quote him as saying that, following the October 4 directive, “strange things were happening. Equipment was being moved. People were coming to me and saying, ‘We’re now targeting our own country!’” Bush’s directive is based on a legal opinion drafted by Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel Deputy Attorney General John Yoo (see September 25, 2001). (Mayer 5/23/2011)
Conflicting Information regarding Date of First Authorization - The existence of the NSA’s domestic surveillance program will first be made public in December 2005, following reporting by the New York Times that will cite “[n]early a dozen current and former officials” (see December 15, 2005). The Times article will state that in 2002, “[m]onths after the Sept. 11 attacks,” Bush signed an executive order authorizing the NSA to monitor domestic phone calls, including those of US citizens and permanent residents, if one end of the call was outside the country. The Times article also mentions an NSA “‘special collection program’ [that] began soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, as it looked for new tools to attack terrorism.” The difference between the October 4, 2001 directive and the 2002 executive order referred to by the Times is unclear. (Risen and Lichtblau 12/16/2005)
Other Sources for October Directive - Other sources, including Bush, NSA Director General Michael Hayden, and the inspectors general of five separate agencies, will later refer to a presidential order having been given in “October,” or “weeks” after the 9/11 attacks, and say that, subsequent to this order, international calls of US persons are targeted for content-monitoring. Following the publication of the Times article, Bush will say in a December 17, 2005 radio address: “In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with US law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al-Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. Before we intercept these communications, the government must have information that establishes a clear link to these terrorist networks” (see December 17, 2005). This presidential authorization was based on a legal opinion drafted by Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel attorney John Yoo (see October 18, 2001). (Bush 12/17/2005) Hayden, in public remarks on January 23, 2006, will refer to a presidential authorization for monitoring domestic calls having been given prior to “early October 2001,” which is when he “gathered key members of the NSA workforce… [and] introduced [the NSA’s] new operational authority to them.” Hayden will also say, “The lawfulness of the actual authorization was reviewed by lawyers at the Department of Justice and the White House and was approved by the attorney general,” and that “the three most senior and experienced lawyers in NSA… supported the lawfulness of this program.” (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006) In a July 10, 2009 jointly-issued report, the inspectors general of the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, CIA, NSA, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence will refer to the “President’s Surveillance Program” (PSP) and “the program’s inception in October 2001.” The report will say: “One of the activities authorized as part of the PSP was the interception of the content of communications into and out of the United States where there was a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication was a member of al-Qaeda or related terrorist organizations.… The attorney general subsequently publicly acknowledged the fact that other intelligence activities were also authorized under the same presidential authorization, but the details of those activities remain classified.” (Inspectors General 7/10/2009) Citing “a senior administration official,” the Washington Post will report on January 4, 2006: “The secret NSA program… was authorized in October 2001.… The president and senior aides have publicly discussed various aspects of the program, but neither the White House, the NSA, nor the office of the director of national intelligence would say what day the president authorized it.” (Linzer 1/4/2006)
On October 9, 2001, Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) blocks an attempt to rush the Patriot Act to a vote with little debate and no opportunity for amendments. He criticizes the bill as a threat to civil liberties. (Holland 10/10/2001) One day earlier, in the story “Cracks in Bipartisanship Start to Show,” the Washington Post reported, “Congress has lost some of the shock-induced unity with which it first responded to the [9/11] attacks.” (Dewar 10/8/2001) Also on October 9, identical anthrax letters are postmarked in Trenton, New Jersey, with lethal doses to Senators Tom Daschle and Patrick Leahy. Inside both letters are the words, “Death to America, Death to Israel, Allah is Great” (see October 15, 2001). (Associated Press 8/7/2008)
Despite the fact that two US senators, Tom Daschle (D-SD) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), had letters laced with anthrax mailed to their offices (see October 6-9, 2001), the Bush administration’s response is, as later characterized by author Frank Rich, lackadaisical. “Bush said little about it,” Rich will write in 2006, instead “delegating the problem to ineffectual Cabinet members like [Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy] Thompson and the attorney general, John Ashcroft. The rank incompetence of these two Cabinet secretaries, at most thinly disguised by a veneer of supercilious officiousness, was farcical. They were Keystone Kops, in the costumes of bureaucrats, ready at any time to slip on a banana peel.” (Rich 2006, pp. 34-35)
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) writes to NSA Director Michael Hayden questioning the nature and extent of the apparently illegal warrantless wiretapping of US citizens by the agency. Pelosi and other members of the House Intelligence Committee were briefed on October 1, 2001, by Hayden, whose agency began conducting surveillance against US citizens after the 9/11 attacks (see After September 11, 2001). Pelosi will release the letter on January 6, 2006, three weeks after the New York Times revealed that the NSA had been conducting electronic surveillance of US citizens without warrants since at least 2002 (see December 15, 2005.) Pelosi’s office will also release Hayden’s response, but almost the entire letter from Hayden is redacted.
Letter to Hayden - Pelosi writes in part, “[Y]ou indicated [in the briefing] that you had been operating since the September 11 attacks with an expansive view of your authorities with respect to the conduct of electronic surveillance under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and related statutes, orders, regulations, and guidelines.… For several reasons, including what I consider to be an overly broad interpretation of President Bush’s directive of October 5 on sharing with Congress ‘classified or sensitive law enforcement information’ it has not been possible to get answers to my questions. Without those answers, the concerns I have about what you said on the First can not be resolved, and I wanted to bring them to your attention directly. You indicated that you were treating as a matter of first impression, [redacted ] being of foreign intelligence interest. As a result, you were forwarding the intercepts, and any information [redacted ] without first receiving a request for that identifying information to the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Although I may be persuaded by the strength of your analysis [redacted ] I believe you have a much more difficult case to make [redacted ] Therefore, I am concerned whether, and to what extent, the National Security Agency has received specific presidential authorization for the operations you are conducting. Until I understand better the legal analysis regarding the sufficiency of the authority which underlies your decision on the appropriate way to proceed on this matter, I will continue to be concerned.” The only portion of Hayden’s October 18 reply regarding Pelosi’s concerns that has not been redacted reads, “In my briefing, I was attempting to emphasize that I used my authorities to adjust NSA’s collection and reporting.” In January 2006, an NSA official will say that Pelosi’s concerns were adequately addressed in Hayden’s reply, and in a private briefing shortly thereafter. (Linzer 1/4/2006; Pelosi 1/6/2006)
Pelosi Unaware of Pre-9/11 Surveillance - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). Pelosi is apparently unaware of any of this.
Dr. Eileen Preisser testifies before a congressional briefing. Dr. Preisser was one of four analysts in the US Army’s Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) supporting Able Danger in late 1999 and 2000 (see Fall 1999). While her testimony remains classified, the next day, Representative Christopher Shays (R-CT) gives a brief summary: “In a briefing we had yesterday, we had Eileen [Preisser], who argues that we don’t have the data we need because we don’t take all the public data that is available and mix it with the security data. And just taking public data, using, you know, computer systems that are high-speed and able to digest, you know, literally floors’ worth of material, she can take relationships that are seven times removed, seven units removed, and when she does that, she ends up with relationships to the bin Laden group where she sees the purchase of chemicals, the sending of students to universities. You wouldn’t see it if you isolated it there, but if that unit is connected to that unit, which is connected to that unit, which is connected to that unit, you then see the relationship. So we don’t know ultimately the authenticity of how she does it, but when she does it, she comes up with the kind of answer that you have just asked, which is a little unsettling.” (US Congress. House. Committee on Government Reform. Subcommittee on National Security, Veterans Affairs and International Relations 10/12/2001) Note that according to some media accounts, the CIA monitored Mohamed Atta purchasing large quantities of chemicals in Germany in the spring of 2000 (see January-May 2000). Atta also sends a series of e-mails to the US in the spring of 2000, inquiring about flight school opportunities for himself and a “small group” of his associates (see January-March 2000). Dr. Preisser is apparently willing to testify about her role in how Able Danger uncovered Atta’s name, but in September 2005 she is prohibited from publicly testifying before Congress (see September 21, 2005).
On October 11, 2001, President Bush uses his first prime-time news conference to give an update on the early stages of the war on terrorism. He confirms that the Justice Department just issued a blanket alert “in recognition of a general threat.” (CNN News 10/11/2001) This general threat never materializes. On October 29, the administration warns again of plans to strike the United States “in the next week.” In a quickly called news conference, US Attorney General John Ashcroft says intelligence sources have found “credible” information the nation could be the focus for some sort of terrorist attack within the week. No specific information is provided to the public now or later to explain what information may have caused this alert. (CNN News 10/29/2001) Bush tells Americans “to go about their lives, to fly on airplanes, to travel, to work.” (Rich 2006, pp. 36)
Attorney General John Ashcroft encourages federal agencies to deny requests for information under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). In a memo to all government departments and agencies, he states, “When you carefully consider FOIA requests and decide to withhold records, in whole or in part, you can be assured that the Department of Justice will defend your decisions.” This is a dramatic shift from the Clinton administration, which instructed federal officials to grant all information requests, using a “presumption of disclosure,” unless there was “foreseeable harm” in doing so. (Grimaldi 12/2/2002; Savage 2007, pp. 96) The New York Times notes that while the new policy was announced after 9/11, “it had been planned well before the attacks.” (Clymer 1/3/2003) In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write that Ashcroft turns the Clinton policy of foreseeable harm “on its head.” He will write: “Reviving a Reagan-era policy aimed at undermining the Freedom of Information Act, Ashcroft instructed the government to reject FOIA requests if it was at all possible to do so, under any legal reason for withholding documents—even if the information sought was harmless. And he promised to back up any decision to reject a FOIA request in court. The Ashcroft policy quickly discouraged the release of information to the public because few people were willing to go to the trouble and expense of an inevitable lawsuit.” (Savage 2007, pp. 96)
Two men, Moshe Elmakias and Ron Katar, are arrested in rural Pennsylvania after being found with a detailed video of the Sears Tower in Chicago. In addition, a woman named Ayelet Reisler is found with them, carrying conflicting identification information. They are arrested for illegal dumping, using a van with the name Moving Systems Incorporated. The video contains extensive zoom in shots of the Sears Tower; it is not known when the video was filmed. (Mowad 10/17/2001)
Twenty-eight congressional staffers test positive for anthrax. The Senate office buildings are shut down, followed by the House of Representatives. (South Florida Sun-Sentinel 12/8/2001) None of the staffers are killed by the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001).
NSA Director Michael Hayden responds to an October 11 letter from Representative Nancy Pelosi (see October 11, 2001), expressing concerns about the NSA’s post-9/11 surveillance expansion (see After September 11, 2001) that Hayden outlined for the House Intelligence Committee on October 1 (see October 1, 2001), and asking whether the president authorized it. The substance of Hayden’s October 18 reply will be redacted, except for this statement: “In my briefing, I was attempting to emphasize that I used my authorities to adjust NSA’s collection and reporting.” (Pelosi 1/6/2006) A January 4, 2006 report in the Washington Post will cite “intelligence official close to Hayden” as saying that “[Hayden’s] appearance on Oct. 1, 2001, before the House committee had been to discuss Executive Order 12333, and not the new NSA program,” and that “Pelosi’s concerns had been answered in writing and again several weeks later during a private briefing.” (Linzer 1/4/2006) In a January 23, 2006 public briefing, Hayden will say, “September 2001, I asked to update the Congress on what NSA had been doing, and I briefed the entire House Intelligence Committee on the 1st of October on what we had done under our previously existing authorities,” and, “These decisions were easily within my authorities as the director of NSA under and [sic] executive order; known as Executive Order 12333.” (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006)
Nature of Hayden's EO 12333 Surveillance Program - The full scope of Hayden’s surveillance program is unclear, but some sources indicate it includes the wholesale collection and data-mining of phone records provided by telecom companies and placement of pen registers (call trackers) on domestic phone numbers (see After September 11, 2001, October 11, 2001, After September 11, 2001, Late September, 2001, October 2001), and October 31, 2001). Some sources indicate the NSA began large-scale domestic surveillance activities prior to the 9/11 attacks (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).
The Justice Department’s John Yoo and Robert Delahunty issue a memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales claiming President Bush has sweeping powers in wartime that essentially void large portions of the Constitution. The memo, which says that Bush can order military operations inside the US (see October 23, 2001), also says that Bush can suspend First Amendment freedoms: “First Amendment speech and press rights may also be subordinated to the overriding need to wage war successfully.” It adds that “the current campaign against terrorism may require even broader exercises of federal power domestically.” (American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; Lewis 3/2/2009)
John Yoo, a deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel, and OLC special counsel Robert Delahunty issue a joint memo to White House counsel Alberto Gonzales. The memo claims that President Bush has sweeping extraconstitutional powers to order military strikes inside the US if he says the strikes are against suspected terrorist targets. In the days following the 9/11 attacks, Gonzales asked if Bush could legally order the military to combat potential terrorist activity within the US. The memo is first revealed to exist seven years later (see April 2, 2008) after future OLC head Steven Bradbury acknowledges its existence to the American Civil Liberties Union; it will be released two months after the Bush administration leaves the White House (see March 2, 2009). (US Department of Justice 10/23/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; Lewis 3/2/2009)
Granting Extraordinary, Extraconstitutional Authority to Order Military Actions inside US - Yoo and Delahunty’s memo goes far past the stationing of troops to keep watch at airports and around sensitive locations. Instead, the memo says that Bush can order the military to conduct “raids on terrorist cells” inside the US, and even to seize property. “The law has recognized that force (including deadly force) may be legitimately used in self-defense,” they write. In 2009, Reuters will write, “The US military could have kicked in doors to raid a suspected terrorist cell in the United States without a warrant” under the findings of the OLC memo. “We do not think that a military commander carrying out a raid on a terrorist cell would be required to demonstrate probable cause or to obtain a warrant,” Yoo and Delahunty write. (US Department of Justice 10/23/2001 ; Lewis 3/2/2009; Mikkelson 3/2/2009) The memo reasons that since 9/11, US soil can be legally construed as being a battlefield, and Congress has no power to restrict the president’s authority to confront enemy tactics on a battlefield. (Savage 2007, pp. 131)
No Constitutional or Other Legal Protections - “[H]owever well suited the warrant and probable cause requirements may be as applied to criminal investigations or to other law enforcement activities, they are unsuited to the demands of wartime and the military necessity to successfully prosecute a war against an enemy. [Rather,] the Fourth Amendment does not apply to domestic military operations designed to deter and prevent foreign terrorist attacks.” Any objections based on the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizures would be invalid since whatever possible infringement on privacy would be trumped by the need to protect the nation from injury by deadly force. The president is “free from the constraints of the Fourth Amendment.” The Posse Comitatus Act, which bars the military from operating inside the US for law enforcement purposes, is also moot, the memo says, because the troops would be acting in a national security function, not as law enforcement. (US Department of Justice 10/23/2001 ; American Civil Liberties Union [PDF] 1/28/2009 ; Lewis 3/2/2009; Mikkelson 3/2/2009; Sanchez 3/2/2009) There are virtually no restrictions on the president’s ability to use the military because, Yoo and Delahunty write, the nation is in a “state of armed conflict.” The scale of violence, they argue, is unprecedented and “legal and constitutional rules” governing law enforcement, even Constitutional restrictions, no longer apply. The US military can be used for “targeting and destroying” hijacked airplanes, they write, or “attacking civilian targets, such as apartment buildings, offices, or ships where suspected terrorists were thought to be.” The memo says, “Military action might encompass making arrests, seizing documents or other property, searching persons or places or keeping them under surveillance, intercepting electronic or wireless communications, setting up roadblocks, interviewing witnesses, or searching for suspects.” (Isikoff 3/2/2009) Yoo writes that the Justice Department’s criminal division “concurs in our conclusion” that federal criminal laws do not apply to the military during wartime. The criminal division is headed by Michael Chertoff, who will become head of the Department of Homeland Security. (Eggen and White 4/4/2008)
Sweeping Away Constitutional Rights - Civil litigator Glenn Greenwald will later note that the memo gives legal authorization for President Bush to deploy the US military within US borders, to turn it against foreign nationals and US citizens alike, and to render the Constitution’s limits on power irrelevant and non-functional. Greenwald will write, “It was nothing less than an explicit decree that, when it comes to presidential power, the Bill of Rights was suspended, even on US soil and as applied to US citizens.”
Justifying Military Surveillance - Greenwald will note that the memo also justifies the administration’s program of military surveillance against US citizens: “[I]t wasn’t only a decree that existed in theory; this secret proclamation that the Fourth Amendment was inapplicable to what the document calls ‘domestic military operations’ was, among other things, the basis on which Bush ordered the NSA, an arm of the US military, to turn inwards and begin spying—in secret and with no oversight—on the electronic communications (telephone calls and emails) of US citizens on US soil” (see December 15, 2005 and Spring 2004). “If this isn’t the unadorned face of warped authoritarian extremism,” Greenwald will ask, “what is?” (Greenwald 3/3/2009) If the president decides to use the military’s spy agency to collect “battlefield intelligence” on US soil, no law enacted by Congress can regulate how he goes about collecting that information, including requiring him to get judicial warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). In 2007, Yoo will say in an interview: “I think there’s a law greater than FISA, which is the Constitution, and part of the Constitution is the president’s commander in chief power. Congress can’t take away the president’s powers in running war.” (Savage 2007, pp. 131; PBS Frontline 5/15/2007) Cheney and Addington will push the NSA to monitor all calls and e-mails, including those beginning and ending on US soil, but the NSA will balk. Domestic eavesdropping without warrants “could be done and should be done,” Cheney and Addington argue, but the NSA’s lawyers are fearful of the legal repercussions that might follow once their illegal eavesdropping is exposed, with or without the Justice Department’s authorization. The NSA and the White House eventually reach a compromise where the agency will monitor communications going in and out of the US, but will continue to seek warrants for purely domestic communications (see Spring 2001, After September 11, 2001, and October 2001). (Savage 2007, pp. 131)
Military Use Considered - In 2009, a former Bush administration lawyer will tell a reporter that the memo “gave rise to the Justice Department discussing with the Defense Department whether the military could be used to arrest people and detain people inside the United States. That was considered but rejected on at least one occasion.” The lawyer will not give any indication of when this will happen, or to whom. Under the proposal, the suspects would be held by the military as “enemy combatants.” The proposal will be opposed by the Justice Department’s criminal division and other government lawyers and will ultimately be rejected; instead, the suspects will be arrested under criminal statutes. (Meyer and Barnes 3/3/2009)
Vice President Dick Cheney summons the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees to the White House for a classified briefing on the secret NSA warrantless wiretapping program (see Early 2002). Cheney makes it clear to the lawmakers that he is merely informing them about the program, and not seeking their approval. (Gellman and Linzer 12/18/2005) Officials later say that under any of the previous presidents, such a meeting of this import would involve the president. But the four lawmakers are hustled away from the Oval Office. Instead, “[w]e met in the vice president’s office,” Bob Graham (D-FL), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, later recalls. President Bush has already told Graham that “the vice president should be your point of contact in the White House.” Cheney, according to the president, “has the portfolio for intelligence activities.” (Gellman and Becker 6/24/2007) The leaders are briefed by Cheney, CIA Director George Tenet, and NSA Director Michael Hayden. The Congressional leaders will later mostly refuse to comment publicly about what they do and do not learn about the program, even after it is revealed to the public (see December 15, 2005). In 2003, when Senator John D. Rockefeller ascends to the Democratic leadership of the Senate committee, and is himself briefed on the program, he will write to Cheney expressing his concerns over it (see July 17, 2003). (Risen and Lichtblau 12/15/2005)
'No Discussion about Expanding' NSA Wiretapping - In December 2005, after the program is revealed to the public, one of the Congressmen present at the briefings, Graham, the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will discuss his knowledge of the program. In contradiction to the characterizations of Bush and other White House officials, Graham will say that he recalls “no discussion about expanding [NSA eavesdropping] to include conversations of US citizens or conversations that originated or ended in the United States,” and knew nothing of Bush’s intention to ignore the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (also known as the FISA court). “I came out of the room with the full sense that we were dealing with a change in technology but not policy,” Graham will recall, using new methodologies to intercept overseas calls that passed through US switches. He thought that NSA eavesdropping would continue to be limited to “calls that initiated outside the United States, had a destination outside the United States but that transferred through a US-based communications system.” Instead, Graham will say, it now seems that Bush decided to go “beyond foreign communications to using this as a pretext for listening to US citizens’ communications. There was no discussion of anything like that in the meeting with Cheney.” A senior intelligence official, who refuses to reveal his identity but says he is speaking with the permission of the White House, will accuse Graham of “misremembering the briefings,” which he will call “very, very comprehensive.” The official will refuse to discuss the briefings in any but the most general terms, but will say they were intended “to make sure the Hill knows this program in its entirety, in order to never, ever be faced with the circumstance that someone says, ‘I was briefed on this but I had no idea that—’ and you can fill in the rest.” Graham will characterize the official’s description as saying: “[W]e held a briefing to say that nothing is different.… Why would we have a meeting in the vice president’s office to talk about a change and then tell the members of Congress there is no change?” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who was also present at the meeting as the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, will say the briefing described “President Bush’s decision to provide authority to the National Security Agency to conduct unspecified activities.” She will note that she “expressed my strong concerns” but did not go into detail. (Gellman and Linzer 12/18/2005)
Lawmakers Unaware of Pre-9/11 Surveillance - Though Bush officials eventually admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, that assertion is disputed by evidence suggesting that the domestic surveillance program began well before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001). In the briefing, Cheney informs the lawmakers of none of this.
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