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Deforest B. Soaries Jr.Deforest B. Soaries Jr. [Source: MSNBC]On July 6, John Kerry named John Edwards as his running mate. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] This produced a slight increase in the opinion polls and a media focus on the Kerry campaign. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] Two days later, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warns that “Al-Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process.” [Department of Homeland Security, 7/8/2004] Officials cite “alarming” intelligence about a possible al-Qaeda strike inside the United States this fall and admit they are reviewing a proposal that could allow for the postponement of the November presidential election in the event of an attack. Officials point to the recent Madrid train bombings as an attempt by al-Qaeda to influence the political process in a democratic nation (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Intercepted chatter leads one analyst to say, “they want to interfere with the elections.” It is reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently asked the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to analyze the necessary legal steps that would permit the postponement of the election were an attack to take place. [Newsweek, 7/19/2004] The head of the US Election Assistance Commission, Deforest B. Soaries Jr., confirms he has written to Tom Ridge to discuss this prospect. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] Soaries notes that, while a primary election in New York on September 11, 2001 was suspended by the State Board of Elections after the attacks, “the federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election.” Soaries advises Ridge to seek emergency legislation from Congress that would grant such power to the DHS. DHS spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says, “We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election.” [Newsweek, 7/19/2004] A top European spy says of the threat, “I am aware of no intelligence, nothing that shows there will be an attack before the US presidential election.” No attack will materialize and no further information on the threat will be presented to the public. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] Ridge will later concede that he had no “precise knowledge” of the attack he warned against, and he never made plans to raise the color-coded threat level. [Rich, 2006, pp. 146]

Entity Tags: US Election Assistance Commission, Deforest B. Soaries Jr., John Edwards, John Kerry, Tom Ridge, Brian Roehrkasse

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 2004 Elections

Former White House counsel John Dean examines the idea that the government may postpone the presidential elections in the light of an alleged terror threat (see July 8, 2004), and finds it wanting. Dean notes that the idea of postponing the elections is bogus: “There is no such proposal. In fact, it is not legally possible because there are no laws giving the president, or anyone else, such authority.” A Homeland Security spokesperson has said, “DHS is not looking into a contingency plan,” and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice has said, “I don’t know where the idea that there might be some postponement of elections comes from.” As others have noted, Rice pointed out that even during the Civil War, then-President Abraham Lincoln refused to consider the idea of postponing the 1864 elections. Christopher Cox (R-CA), the chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, said flatly: “Were we to postpone the elections, it would represent a victory for the terrorists.… The election is going to go forward.” Dean writes “that the Bush administration has completely disregarded the need to protect the workings of our electoral process, which is highly susceptible to terror attacks,” noting that large-scale, well-timed terror strikes could catastrophically disrupt the election process. [FindLaw, 7/26/2004] Author and media critic Frank Rich is more prosaic, writing in 2006 that both the terror alerts and the vague threats to consider suspending the elections are merely attempts to frighten and cow the American citizenry. [Rich, 2006, pp. 146]

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security, House Homeland Security Committee, Condoleezza Rice, Christopher Cox, Frank Rich, John Dean

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Pleasant Mann, a 16-year FEMA veteran, says in an interview with the Independent Weekly that changes made to the agency by the Bush administration have so severely harmed FEMA staff morale that people are leaving “in droves.” Part of the problem, he says, has to do with the people Bush selected to run the agency. “The biggest frustration here is that we at FEMA have responded to disasters like Oklahoma City and 9/11, and here are people who haven’t responded to a kitchen fire telling us how to deal with terrorism. You know, there were a lot of people who fell down on the job on 9/11, but it wasn’t us… . Since last year, so many people have left who had developed most of our basic programs. A lot of the institutional knowledge is gone. Everyone who was able to retire has left, and then a lot of people have moved to other agencies.” Mann also complains that FEMA’s “priority is no longer on prevention.” FEMA’s merger into the Department of Homeland Security has made mitigation “the orphaned stepchild,” he says. [Independent Weekly, 9/22/2004]

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Federal Emergency Management Agency, US Department of Homeland Security, Pleasant Mann

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

The White House decides that the Department of Homeland Security should raise the threat level to orange in the days before the presidential election. The ostensible reason for this is an Osama bin Laden videotaped speech (see October 29, 2004). However, many in the administration, including Homeland Security chief Tom Ridge, believe the proposal to raise the threat level may be politically motivated (see October 29, 2004). In his 2009 book The Test of Our Times, Ridge will write: “The timing of the tape may have been a surprise; the content was not. Within the department no one felt it necessary to consider additional security measures or to call the Homeland Security Council into session.” The situation is different among White House officials. “A vigorous, some might say dramatic, discussion ensued” over the need for the alert, Ridge will write. “Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft strongly urged an increase in the threat level and was supported by then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.… There was absolutely no support for that position within our department. None. I wondered, ‘Is this about security or politics?’ Post-election analysis demonstrated a significant increase in the president’s approval rating in the days after the raising of the threat level.” Ridge will continue: “As the minutes passed at our video conference, we concluded that others in the administration were operating with the same threat information that we had at DHS, and they didn’t know any more than we did. And we concluded that the idea was still a bad one. It also seemed possible to me and to others around the table that something could be afoot other than simple concern about the country’s safety.” The administration chooses not to raise the threat level. Ridge will write: “I believe our strong interventions had pulled the ‘go-up’ advocates back from the brink. But I consider the episode to be not only a dramatic moment in Washington’s recent history, but another illustration of the intersection of politics, fear, credibility, and security.” He will write that the episode is a strong influence on his upcoming decision to resign his post and leave Washington. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 8/9/2009; TPM Muckraker, 8/20/2009; MSNBC, 9/2/2009]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Bush administration (43), Donald Rumsfeld, John Ashcroft, US Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Advisory Council, Tom Ridge

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Theo van Gogh.Theo van Gogh. [Source: Column Film]Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh is killed by al-Qaeda linked figures. He is shot while on the streets of Amsterdam, then his throat is slit and a note is pinned to his chest with a knife. Van Gogh had received death threats after the release of his short film Submission, which criticized the mistreatment of Muslim women. A Dutch Moroccan named Mohammed Bouyeri is soon captured after a shootout with police. He is later sentenced to life in prison for van Gogh’s murder. About 13 other mostly North African men are linked to Bouyeri, and most of them are later convicted for various crimes. This group is said to have ties to al-Qaeda cells in Spain and Belgium, and links to bombings in Casablanca and Madrid (see May 16, 2003 and 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). [PBS Frontline, 1/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Bouyeri, Theo van Gogh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Recently retired Spanish Prime Minister Jose María Aznar says to a parliamentary investigation, “There is absolute proof that shows… a connection between ETA terrorists and Islamic terrorism.… I am one of those who believe that all [forms of] terrorism end up being connected.” ETA are a Basque separatist group. According to the Guardian, Aznar’s political party lost a national election three days after the March 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) “partly because voters mistrusted his government’s initial insistence that ETA, rather than Islamists, was to blame.” Since then, little evidence has come forward suggesting any ETA link with the bombing, although some of the Arab bomb suspects had contacts with some ETA associates in prison several years before. Aznar denies that his government lied about what it knew regarding who was responsible for the bombings. “My conscience is clear… we told the truth about what we knew.” [Guardian, 11/29/2004] Many Spaniards, especially supporters of Aznar’s conservative Popular Party, continue to assert that there was an ETA link. The Observer comments, “Few experts, however, give credence to the ETA theory. Some see it as an attempt by the [Popular] Party to muddy the waters in a vain bid to save the party’s battered reputation.” [Observer, 11/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Euzkadi Ta Azkatasuna, Jose Maria Aznar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Retired Maj. Gen. Bruce Lawlor, formerly part of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, a panel made up of business representatives, academic leaders, and security experts appointed by President Bush, says that the Homeland Security warning system had outlived its usefulness. “I’m not suggesting that we do away with communications with the public. What I’m suggesting is that maybe you do away with the color-coded system.” [North County Times, 12/15/2004] The Department of Homeland Security has also been accused on a number of occasions for manipulating the alert level for political reasons. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge acknowledges criticisms of the system, saying that the color-coded system has invited “questions and even occasional derision.” However, he also states that “the system is here to stay.” [Associated Press, 12/15/2004] He agrees with a report released by the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies that recommends reform of the system. The report specifically suggests the removal of the color-coded system in favor of a system of regional alerts. The Homeland Security Advisory Council votes to collect information from the public and the media about the threat system. Other recommendations they adopt include plans to identify potential private-sector terror targets, suggestions on how to improve terrorism-related fields of study and how to bolster terror-related training. [North County Times, 12/15/2004]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, US Department of Homeland Security, Bruce Lawlor, Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Tom Ridge, Homeland Security Advisory Council

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

An extremist arrested and interrogated in Saudi Arabia appears to disclose details of an operation that is strikingly similar to the 7/7 London bombings that will occur in mid-2005 (see July 7, 2005). However, the intelligence does not yield any results before the attacks, even though it is shared with the US and Britain. It will later be unclear whether the arrested man, known as Adel, provided a truthful account or was a fabricator who just happened to predict some details of the plot. Adel is arrested in Buraydah, Saudi Arabia, in late 2004 for using a fraudulent passport, and a memo on his interrogation dated December 14 of that year, which is sent to the CIA and British intelligence, seems to reveal details of a multifaceted operation. Some details match those of the actual attack: it is to be carried out by four people in London in the middle of 2005, some of them British citizens, and will include a location around “Edgewood Road” (one of the bombs will explode at Edgeware Road tube station). The target is said to be a subway station or a nightclub. However, Adel, who is said to know Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, also says the explosives will come from Bosnia and the plot will be coordinated by a Libyan businessman in London, who will help with safe houses and transport. In addition, one of the bombers is said to have tattoos on his fingers. The Saudis send Britain and the US a second report in February 2005, providing more details about the alleged bombers, who are supposed to be from different countries, although there are also apparently Caucasian British and Germans involved. The CIA checks a Syrian phone number mentioned in one of the memos, but finds nothing. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 400-2; Observer, 2/5/2006] After the bombings, Saudi ambassador to London Prince Turki will say in a statement, “There was certainly close liaison between the Saudi Arabian intelligence authorities and the British intelligence authorities some months ago, when information was passed to Britain about a heightened terrorist threat to London,” although it is unclear whether this statement refers to this warning, another Saudi warning about a possible attack in Britain (see April 2005 or Shortly Before), or both. [New Statesman, 11/1/2007] Interest in the detainee will be revived after the attack and even President Bush will become involved, but veteran reporter Bob Woodward, who examines the story in a 2006 book, will conclude that Adel is a fabricator. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 400-2] However, a Saudi security adviser will later say that he is “convinced” the information passed on was “directly linked” to the 7/7 bombings. [Observer, 2/5/2006]

Entity Tags: Bob Woodward, Central Intelligence Agency, UK Security Service (MI5), Turki al-Faisal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The media learns that the Department of Homeland Security has hired former actress Bobbie Faye Ferguson to serve as its liaison to Hollywood’s movie and television industries. Ferguson, who has performed similar duties for NASA for seven years, is reviewing some 14 movie, television, and documentary projects. If she approves a script or idea, DHS will offer advice and technical help to the directors, producers, and actors in portraying what USA Today calls “the nation’s homeland defenders.” Ferguson, interviewed while touring the California-Mexico border, says: “I’ve had dozens and dozens of inquiries. It’s always been a topic they’ve been interested in, but more so now.” Last year DHS provided guidance for the production of The Terminal, a thriller starring Tom Hanks as an immigrant stranded at a New York airport; it has also provided assistance to the television shows CSI: Miami and NCIS. At least six other governmental agencies, most notably the Defense Department, have long employed liaisons between themselves and the film and television industries. But some have long held that agencies such as the Pentagon have used Hollywood as a vehicle for showing the federal government in positive fashions. Each branch of the military has offices in Hollywood; the military has provided assistance in film and television projects since the creation of the Defense Department in 1947. Homeland Security spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says Ferguson will help “give the public a better understanding of how the department… protects the country.” Keith Ashdown of Taxpayers for Common Sense says the money is not a wise use of taxpayer dollars: “Agencies pay for public relations and spin to make the public like them more, but it doesn’t mean it’s a good expenditure.” [USA Today, 3/8/2005] Two months later, the House of Representatives will cut Ferguson’s $136,000 salary from DHS’s 2006 budget (see May 18, 2005).

Entity Tags: Brian Roehrkasse, Bobbie Faye Ferguson, US Department of Defense, US Department of Homeland Security, Keith Ashdown

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

On March 18, 2005, Mouhannad Almallah is arrested in Madrid, Spain. The next day, his brother Moutaz Almallah is arrested in Slough, near London. Both are accused of involvement in the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). [Independent, 3/20/2005] The arrests come less than two weeks after it was widely reported that in 2004 police had found a sketch of the New York Grand Central Station terminal in an apartment where Mouhannad was living, leading to suspicions that he was involved in a planned attack on New York. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/2/2005] It appears that Moutaz was under surveillance in Spain for al-Qaeda links since 1995, and Mouhannad since 1998 (see November 1995). Mouhannad was arrested shortly after the Madrid bombings, but then released (see March 16, 2004). Moutaz will be extradited to Spain in March 2007, but he has yet to be put on trial. [Reuters, 3/8/2007] In 2007, Mouhannad will be sentenced to 12 years in prison for a role in the Madrid bombings (see October 31, 2007).

Entity Tags: Moutaz Almallah, Mouhannad Almallah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), an official at the Saudi Arabian embassy will tell a British journalist that before the attack Saudi Arabia provided intelligence to Britain that was sufficient to dismantle the plot, but British authorities failed to act on it. The information is quite detailed, containing names of senior al-Qaeda members said to be involved in the plot, including Kareem al-Majati, whose calls the Saudis have been intercepting and who may have been in contact with lead bomber Mohammad Sidique Khan. Al-Majati is said to have been involved in attacks in Morocco (see May 16, 2003) and Madrid (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), before being killed in a shoot-out in Saudi Arabia in April 2005. Calls from Younes al-Hayari, an al-Qaeda logistics expert and al-Majati’s lieutenant, are also traced to Britain. Al-Hayari will die in a shootout in Saudi Arabia four days before the 7/7 bombings. Details of calls, e-mails, and text messages between an al-Qaeda cell in Saudi Arabia and a group in Britain are passed on to the British intelligence agencies MI5 and MI6. After the bombings, Saudi ambassador to Britain Prince Turki al-Faisal issues a statement, “There was certainly close liaison between the Saudi Arabian intelligence authorities and the British intelligence authorities some months ago, when information was passed to Britain about a heightened terrorist threat to London,” although it is not clear if this statement refers to this warning, another Saudi warning about a possible attack in Britain (see December 14, 2004-February 2005), or both. The public response by British authorities when asked about this alleged warning changes over time; initially they deny having received it at all, but after the issue is reignited by King Abdullah in 2007 (see October 29, 2007), they will say that the warning was not specific enough to act on. [Observer, 8/7/2005; New Statesman, 11/1/2007]

Entity Tags: Younes al-Hayari, Turki al-Faisal, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Kareem al-Majati, Mohammad Sidique Khan, UK Security Service (MI5)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge admits to further problems with the terror alert system. In defense of his administration of the Department of Homeland Security, he says that Administration decisions to raise the threat level were sometimes unjustified by evidence and unsupported by his department. “More often than not we were the least inclined to raise it,” says Ridge. “Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don’t necessarily put the country on [alert].… There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, for that?” Ridge had previously disagreed with Attorney General John Ashcroft on the communication of threat information to the public. These comments mark the first time that dissension among the Homeland Security Advisory Council, a panel made up of business representatives, academic leaders, and security experts appointed by President Bush, is discussed with the press. Reform of the terror alert system is under review by current Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff. Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says “improvements and adjustments” may be announced within the next few months. [USA Today, 5/10/2005] As of 2007, no such announcement have been made.

Entity Tags: Michael Chertoff, Brian Roehrkasse, US Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Advisory Council, John Ashcroft, Tom Ridge

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Maussili Kalaji.Maussili Kalaji. [Source: El Mundo]The Madrid newspaper El Mundo reveals some curious details about Spanish police officer Ayman Maussili Kalaji and the 2004 Madrid bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004):
bullet Born in Syria, Kalaji belonged to the militant group Al Fatah and was also a Soviet intelligence agent. He moved to Spain in the early 1980s as a political refugee and eventually became a citizen and joined the national police by the late 1980s. He rose through the ranks and at some point he was the bodyguard to Baltasar Garzon, the Spanish judge presiding over trials of al-Qaeda-linked militants in Spain such as Barakat Yarkas.
bullet In 1995, Kalaji sold an apartment to Moutaz Almallah. Almallah is considered a key link between the bombing cell and al-Qaeda operatives overseas. His apartment is said to be a nerve center for the plot. Kalaji admits to being in close contact with Almallah.
bullet When a different apartment owned by Almallah was raided after the Madrid bombing, two documents were found with Kalaji’s name on it. One referenced the 1995 purchase, and the second was from 2001. This apartment, on Virgen de Coro street in Madrid, was a key hub of the Madrid bombers and was under surveillance for a full year leading up to the bombings (see January 17, 2003-Late March 2004).
bullet Kalaji is also said to have been on friendly terms with Barakat Yarkas, the leader of the al-Qaeda cell in Madrid until his arrest in November 2001. Kalaji played a role in the arrest.
bullet In 2001, Kalaji was investigated for credit card fraud.
bullet For many years, Kalaji’s sister Lina Kalaji was in charge of translating the monitored telephone calls from Islamist cells in Spain. In 2002, she translated the intercepts of Serhane Abdelmajid Fakhet, considered one of the bombing masterminds (see 2002).
bullet His ex-wife Marisol Kalaji is also a police officer and was the first on the scene to a van discovered the day of the bombings containing a cassette tape of the Koran. This is what first led investigators to believe the bombing was the work of Islamist and not Basque militants (see 10:50 a.m.-Afternoon, March 11, 2004).
bullet He owns a cell phone store. The phones used to trigger the bombs were bought in a different store, but in Kalaji’s store the phones’ internal codes were reset so they could be used by other phone services.
He is said to go on leave not long after the bombings, due to all his curious connections. He also gives a statement to investigators regarding his role in changing the phone codes, but he is not charged for any crime. [El Mundo (Madrid), 5/17/2005; National Review, 5/18/2005; El Mundo (Madrid), 5/20/2005; El Mundo (Madrid), 8/22/2005] For days after El Mundo publishes its first story about Kalaji, a Spanish police commissioner will officially request Kalaji be arrested, but apparently he never is (see May 20, 2005). In August 2005, El Mundo will conclude that “it is becoming increasingly evident” that Kalaji played a “leading role” in the Madrid bombings. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/22/2005] Almallah will be arrested in Britain in 2005 and extradited to stand trial in Spain in 2007 (see March 18-19, 2005). [London Times, 3/9/2007]

Entity Tags: Barakat Yarkas, Baltasar Garzon, Lina Kalaji, Marisol Kalaji, Moutaz Almallah, Ayman Maussili Kalaji

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The House of Representatives, as part of its trimming of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)‘s proposed $31.8 billion appropriations for 2006, cuts the $136,000 allocated for a liaison to Hollywood. The DHS had planned to pay former actress Bobbie Faye Ferguson, a veteran of such television shows as The Dukes of Hazzard and Designing Women, to work with Hollywood producers and scriptwriters to generate films and television shows that would portray the department in a positive light (see March 8, 2005). DHS spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said of Ferguson’s position, “This is a similar function that numerous other federal agencies possess, and is necessary in helping those in multimedia make their projects as accurate as possible.” One example Roehrkasse gave was the propensity for some movies to inaccurately refer to the Immigration and Nationalization Service (INS), which is now part of DHS. But Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO) is unconvinced by Roerhkasse’s arguments, noting that the DHS should not be spending its money on Hollywood projects. “We should direct this money to actually help the people who respond and save lives,” she says. “The people of this country have high expectations about their security after being violated on 9/11.” Musgrave successfully proposes that the salary for Ferguson be redirected to funding state and local disaster teams. [Salon, 5/18/2005]

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security, Bobbie Faye Ferguson, Brian Roehrkasse, Marilyn Musgrove, Immigration and Nationalization Service

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Spains’ Commissioner General of Police, Telesforo Rubio, recommends in a report that a Spanish police officer named Ayman Maussili Kalaji should be arrested for a role in the 2004 Madrid bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). The report, addressed to Juan del Olmo, the judge in charge of the bombers’ trial, comes three days after the Madrid newspaper El Mundo reported on Kalaji’s numerous links to some of the accused bombers, as well as the investigation itself (see May 16, 2005). The report requesting Kalaji’s arrest is leaked to El Mundo in July. The judge’s reply is unknown, but Kalaji is never arrested. Reportedly, the report claims that after the bombing, he gave the suspects warnings about the investigation. [El Mundo (Madrid), 7/29/2005] The report also notes that Kalaji has a background in electronics and is the most likely suspect to have soldered wires in cell phones to connect the vibrators with the bomb detonators. None of the arrested suspects have the expertise to solder the wires. The report concludes that although there is no proof he acted maliciously in adjusting the cell phones used in the bombings, there are many reasons to doubt that he did so naively. [El Mundo (Madrid), 8/22/2005] Kalaji will testify in the Madrid bombings trial in 2007, and it will be reported that he retired after being interrogated several days after the bombings. [El Mundo (Madrid), 3/21/2007]

Entity Tags: Telesforo Rubio, Ayman Maussili Kalaji, Juan del Olmo

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The four London bombers captured on closed circuit television. From left to right, Hasib Hussain, Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sidique Khan, and Shehzad Tanweer, pictured in Luton train station at 07:21 a.m., Thursday, July 7, 2005.The four London bombers captured on closed circuit television. From left to right, Hasib Hussain, Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sidique Khan, and Shehzad Tanweer, pictured in Luton train station at 07:21 a.m., Thursday, July 7, 2005. [Source: Scotland Yard]England suffers its worst terrorist attack when four bombs go off in London during the morning rush hour. At 8:50 a.m. bombs go off on three London Underground trains within 50 seconds of each other. A fourth bomb goes off at 9:47 a.m. on a double-decker bus, near Tavistock Square. Fifty-six people, including the four bombers, are killed. The bombings become popularly known as ‘7/7.’ [Daily Telegraph, 7/7/2005; Daily Mail, 7/8/2005; CNN, 7/22/2005] The alleged bombers, all British residents between the ages of 18 and 30, are Mohammad Sidique Khan, Hasib Mir Hussain, Shehzad Tanweer, and Germaine Lindsay. All were British nationals of Pakistani descent, except Lindsay, who was born in Jamaica, but moved to England when he was five. [Daily Telegraph, 7/16/2005; BBC, 7/21/2005] In 2004, Khan had been the subject of a routine threat assessment by the British intelligence agency MI5, after his name came up during an investigation into an alleged plot to explode a truck bomb in London. However, MI5 did not consider him a threat and did not place him under surveillance. [BBC, 7/17/2005; London Times, 7/17/2005] According to the Independent, Tanweer had similarly been scrutinized by MI5 that year, but was also not considered a threat. [Independent, 12/17/2005] Khan and Tanweer had flown to Pakistan together in November 2004, returning together in February 2005. However, what they did during their stay is unclear. [BBC, 7/18/2005; CNN, 7/20/2005] Less than a month before the bombings, the British government lowered its formal threat assessment one level, from “severe general” to “substantial,” prompted by a confidential report by the Joint Terrorist Analysis Centre (JTAC). JTAC, which is made up of 100 top intelligence and law enforcement officials, concluded, “At present there is not a group with both the current intent and the capability to attack [Britain]” (see Mid-June 2005). [New York Times, 7/19/2005; London Times, 7/19/2005] The attacks also coincide with the G8 summit in Gleneagles, Scotland, attended by British Prime Minister Tony Blair and US President George W. Bush, amongst others. [Guardian, 7/7/2005] Consequently, 1,500 officers from London’s Metropolitan Police, including many anti-terrorist specialists, are away in Scotland as part of the force of 12,000 created to police the event. [Press Association (London), 7/7/2005; London Times, 7/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Germaine Lindsay, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Hasib Mir Hussain, Shehzad Tanweer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abdelkader Belliraj, a Belgian government informant leading a Moroccan militant group, allegedly helps foil an attack in Britain. Shortly after the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), Belgian intelligence gives the British government “very precise” information from Belliraj about a planned follow-up attack. Arrests are made and material is seized in Liverpool, but the incident is not reported in the media at the time. (Apparently this is a different plot to a largely unsuccessful copycat bomb plot two weeks after the 7/7 bombings (see July 21, 2005)). A Belgian newspaper will say the attacks could have killed dozens of people. Belliraj had developed links to al-Qaeda in 2001 while being paid by Belgian’s internal security service (see 2001). He will be arrested in Morocco in 2008 (see February 18, 2008). [Agence France-Presse, 3/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Abdelkader Belliraj, State Security (of Belgium)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will spend today monitoring the path of Hurricane Katrina from his Washington DC office, according to representative Russ Knocke. [Knight Ridder, 9/15/2005 Sources: Russ Knocke]

Entity Tags: Hurricane Katrina, Michael Chertoff

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

A Spanish court sentences a number of people to prison for connections to al-Qaeda. The main defendant, Imad Eddin Barakat Yarkas, is convicted of leading an al-Qaeda cell in Madrid and conspiring to commit the 9/11 attacks by hosting a meeting in Spain in July 2001 attended by Mohamed Atta, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, and others (see July 8-19, 2001). He is sentenced to 27 years in prison. [New York Times, 9/27/2005] However, in 2006, Spain’s supreme court will overturn his 9/11 conspiracy conviction, after prosecutors reverse themselves and ask that the conviction be dismissed. One of the reasons for the dismissal is that the US, which possesses evidence supporting the convictions, is reluctant to provide it (see Mid-2002-June 1, 2006). This will leave Zacarias Moussaoui the only person in the world jailed for a role in the 9/11 attacks. Yarkas will still have to serve a 12-year sentence for leading an al-Qaeda cell. [London Times, 6/1/2006] Seventeen men besides Yarkas, mostly Syrians, are also found guilty and are given sentences of six to eleven years. One of these is Tayseer Allouni, a correspondent for the Al Jazeera satellite network. He is convicted of giving $4,500 to a family of Syrian exiles in Afghanistan. The prosecutor alleged the family were al-Qaeda operatives, while Allouni argued he gave the money for humanitarian reasons. Two others, a Moroccan named Driss Chebli and a Syrian named Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun, were acquitted of being involved in the 9/11 plot, but Chebli was convicted of collaborating with a terrorist group. Ghalyoun was accused of videotaping the World Trade Center and other American landmarks in 1997 for the 9/11 plotters, but he claimed he was just a tourist (see 1998). [New York Times, 9/27/2005; Washington Post, 9/27/2005; Financial Times, 9/27/2005]

Entity Tags: Driss Chebli, Ghasoub al-Abrash Ghalyoun, Barakat Yarkas, Tayseer Allouni

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mustafa Setmarian Nasar.Mustafa Setmarian Nasar. [Source: Public domain]Around this date, al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, a.k.a. Abu Musab al-Suri, is arrested in a raid in Quetta, Pakistan. The US posted a $5 million reward for his capture in 2004. A red-haired, light-skinned Syrian citizen, he also is a citizen of Spain and long-time resident there. The raid takes place in a Quetta shop used as an office for the Madina Trust, a Pakistani charity that is linked to the Pakistani militant group Jaish-e-Mohammed. A man arrested with Nasar is believed to be a Jaish-e-Mohammed member; another man is killed in the raid. [CNN, 11/5/2005; Associated Press, 11/5/2005; Associated Press, 5/2/2006] He is believed to have taught the use of poisons and chemicals at Afghanistan training camps and he is suspected of a role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004) and the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005). But he is best known for his strategic writings. The Washington Post calls him “one of the jihad movement’s prime theorists.” He long advocated a decentralized militant movement, and was often critical of bin Laden’s and al-Qaeda’s mistakes. He says, “Al-Qaeda is not an organization, it is not a group, nor do we want it to be. It is a call, a reference, a methodology.” He is soon flown out of Pakistan and into US custody. In 2006, US intelligence sources will claim that he is now in the secret custody of another unnamed country. [Washington Post, 5/23/2006; New Yorker, 9/4/2006] In 2006, Baltasar Garzon, a Spanish judge involved in many al-Qaeda related cases, will complain that the US has not shared any information about Nasar since his secret arrest. He adds, “I don’t know where he is. Nobody knows where he is. Can you tell me how this helps the struggle against terrorism?” [New York Times, 6/4/2006]

Entity Tags: Baltasar Garzon, Mustafa Setmarian Nasar, Al-Qaeda, Jaish-e-Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Zacarias Moussaoui.Zacarias Moussaoui. [Source: WNBC / Jonathan Deinst]Zacarias Moussaoui becomes the first and only person charged in direct connection with the 9/11 attacks to stand trial in the US. [Associated Press, 3/17/2006] He was preparing to hijack an aircraft and fly it into a target when he was arrested 26 days before 9/11 (see August 16, 2001 and April 22, 2005). Although there has been disagreement whether Moussaoui was to take part in the actual attack of 9/11 or a follow-up plot (see January 30, 2003), the prosecution alleges that Moussaoui had information related to the attacks (see August 16, 2001) and facilitated them by lying and not disclosing everything he knew to the FBI. He is charged with six counts, including conspiracy to commit acts of terrorism and conspiracy to commit aircraft piracy. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 12/11/2001 pdf file] The trial receives much media coverage and the highlights include the playing of United 93’s cockpit recorder (see April 12, 2006), a row over a government lawyer coaching witnesses (see March 13, 2006), and testimony by FBI agent Harry Samit (see March 9 and 20, 2006), former FBI assistant director Michael Rolince (see March 21, 2006), and Moussaoui himself (see March 27, 2006). Moussaoui is forced to wear a stun belt, controlled by one of the marshalls, under his jumpsuit. The belt is to be used if Moussaoui lunges at a trial participant. [New York Times, 4/17/2006] He has already pleaded guilty (see April 22, 2005) and the trial is divided into two phases; in the first phase the jury decides that Moussaoui is eligible for the death penalty, but in the second phase it fails to achieve unanimity on whether Moussaoui should be executed (see May 3, 2006). [Associated Press, 4/3/2006; New York Times, 4/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Electronic Frontier Foundation files a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to obtain more information about a secret program called the Automated Targeting System (ATS) (see 2002 and After). This program allows the government to assign terror risk numbers to American citizens who enter or leave the US. The suit demands an expedited response to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request it filed earlier in the month. Frontier Foundation Senior Counsel David Sobel says, “DHS needs to provide answers, and provide them quickly, to the millions of law-abiding citizens who are worried about this ‘risk assessment’ score that will follow them throughout their lives.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 12/19/2006]

Entity Tags: Electronic Frontier Foundation, US Department of Homeland Security

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

2007: US Citizens Harassed by Customs

The Asian Law Caucus (ALC) receives over twenty complaints from Northern California residents reporting excessive and repeated screenings by US Customs and Border Protection agents upon their entering the country. The residents say they have been interrogated about their families, religious practices, volunteer activities, political beliefs, and political associations when they returned from traveling abroad, regardless of their First Amendment rights. The residents say their books, business cards, handwritten notes, personal photos, laptop computer files, and cell phone directories were examined and sometimes copied. When they complained, some of them were told, according to the ALC, “This is the border, and you have no rights.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008; Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008]
Interrogation at the Border - Nabila Mango, a US citizen from San Francisco, returns from a trip to Jordan in December 2007. She will say she is told by customs officials at San Francisco International Airport to list every person she met and every place she slept. Her Arabic music books, business cards, and cell phone are examined, and she believes some of her documents are copied. [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008] Her daughter tries repeatedly to call her on her cell phone during the interrogation, but Mango finds that customs officials erased the records of her calls. [Washington Post, 2/7/2008] “In my 40 years in this country, I have never felt as vulnerable as I did during that interrogation,” Mango will say. “I want to find out whether my government is keeping files on me and other Americans based on our associations and ideas.” A California citizen, Amir Khan, will also say he is stopped and interrogated every time he returns to the country. He has his laptop, cell phone, and personal notebooks searched. He is never told why he is being singled out. “One customs officer even told me that no matter what I do, nothing would improve,” he will say. “Why do I have to part with my civil liberties each time I return home?” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008] Software engineer Kamran Habib, a permanent US resident, has his laptop and cell phone searched three times in 2007. Now, Habib says, “every time I travel, I basically clean out my phone. It’s better for me to keep my colleagues and friends safe than to get them on the list as well.”
Search and Seizure - Maria Udy, a marketing executive in Bethesda, Maryland, will say her company laptop is seized by a federal agent as she attempts to fly from Washington’s Dulles International Airport to London. Udy, a British citizen, is told by the agent that he has “a security concern” with her. “I was basically given the option of handing over my laptop or not getting on that flight,” she will recall. Udy is told that it is standard procedure to keep the computer for 10 to 15 days; over a year later, her laptop will not have been returned, and she will not be given any explanation. A tech engineer who wishes to remain anonymous will say he has a similar experience in the same airport months earlier. The engineer, a US citizen, says a federal agent requires him to open up his laptop and type in his password. “This laptop doesn’t belong to me,” he protests. “It belongs to my company.” He has little choice; he logs on, and the agent copies down every Web site he had visited on the laptop. The Association of Corporate Travel Executives (ACTE)‘s Susan Gurley will say her organization has filed its own FOIA request to find out what happened to seized laptops and other electronic devices. “Is it destroyed right then and there if the person is in fact just a regular business traveler?” she asks. “People are quite concerned. They don’t want proprietary business information floating, not knowing where it has landed or where it is going. It increases the anxiety level.” The ALC’s Shiran Sinnar says that by examining the websites people visit and the phone numbers they store, “the government is going well beyond its traditional role of looking for contraband and really is looking into the content of people’s thoughts and ideas and their lawful political activities.” Legal experts say that if conducted inside the country, such searches would require a warrant and probable cause. The government insists that a laptop is legally the same as a suitcase, and can be opened and examined essentially at will. Law professor David Cole disagrees: “It’s one thing to say it’s reasonable for government agents to open your luggage. It’s another thing to say it’s reasonable for them to read your mind and everything you have thought over the last year. What a laptop records is as personal as a diary but much more extensive. It records every website you have searched. Every email you have sent. It’s as if you’re crossing the border with your home in your suitcase.” [Washington Post, 2/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Nabila Mango, US Customs and Border Protection, Association of Corporate Travel Executives, Asian Law Caucus, Amir Khan, David D. Cole, Maria Udy, Washington Dulles International Airport, Shirin Sinnar, Susan Gurley, Kamran Habib, San Francisco International Airport

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Transactional Records Action Clearinghouse (TRAC), a data research organization affiliated with Syracuse University, has discovered that terrorism claims formed less that 0.01 percent of immigration court charges filed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The immigration court records were obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. Of 814,073 cases brought to the immigration courts by the DHS, 12, or 0.0015 percent, were for charges of terrorism. In addition, 114 cases, or 0.014 percent, concerned individuals charged with national security violations. TRAC spokesman David Burnham says, “The DHS claims it is focused on terrorism. Well that’s just not true. Either there’s no terrorism, or they’re terrible at catching them. Either way it’s bad for all of us.” TRAC further claims that there exists an “apparent gap between DHS rhetoric about its role in fighting terrorism and what it actually has been doing.” DHS spokesman Russ Knocke calls the TRAC report “ill-conceived” and said the group “lack[s] a grasp of the DHS mission.” The DHS claims that any clampdown on immigration decreases the likelihood of terrorists entering the US. [CNN, 5/27/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security, David Burnham, Transactional Records Action Clearinghouse, Russ Knocke, Syracuse University

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On the eve of a visit to London, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia says that his intelligence service warned Britain of an impending plot before the 7/7 London bombings (see July 7, 2005), but that British authorities failed to act on the warning. King Abdullah says, “We sent information to [Britain] before the terrorist attacks in Britain but unfortunately no action was taken. And it may have been able to maybe avert the tragedy.” He also says that Britain did not take terrorism seriously for a while. However, British authorities deny all this. [BBC, 10/29/2007] Details of the warning are not specified. However, this may be a reference to one or two discussions between Saudi Arabia and Britain in early 2005 about information indicating there was to be an attack in London (see December 14, 2004-February 2005 and April 2005 or Shortly Before).

Entity Tags: Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed.Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed. [Source: Associated Press]The trial of 28 people accused of a role in the 2004 Madrid train bombings comes to an end, and 21 are found guilty. However, only three are convicted of murder and are given life sentences: Jamal Zougam, Othman El Gnaoui, and Emilio Suarez Trashorras. Seven of the principal bombers blew themselves up one month after the bombings (see 9:05 p.m., April 3, 2004). None of the accused confessed, making convictions difficult. Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed was accused of being the bombing mastermind. While living it Italy, he reportedly bragged, “I was the leader of Madrid,” and “the Madrid bombings were my project, and those who died as martyrs there were my beloved friends.” But his defense attorneys argued successfully that the tapes were mistranslated and so they were thrown out as evidence. A counterterrorism expert says the court appeared to have a very strict standard of admissible evidence. However, Ahmed is serving a ten-year prison sentence in Italy based on unrelated charges. [Washington Post, 11/14/2004; MSNBC, 10/31/2007; New York Times, 11/1/2007] Many victims’ relatives complain that the sentences are too lenient. And a spokesperson for Spain’s main opposition party comments, “We still don’t know who gave the order, we still don’t know who built those bombs, and we still don’t know who was the coordinator of these cells that carried out these attacks.” [BBC, 11/1/2007] Some of the other verdicts:
bullet Hamid Ahmidan - 23 years.
bullet Rachid Aglif - 18 years.
bullet Abdelmajid Bouchar - 18 years.
bullet Basel Ghalyoun - 12 years.
bullet Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam - 12 years.
bullet Fouad el Morabit - 12 years.
bullet Mouhannad Almallah - 12 years.
bullet Rafa Zouhier - 10 years.
bullet Youssef Belhadj - 12 years.
bullet Antonio Toro - Acquitted.
bullet Carmen Toro - Acquitted. [El Mundo (Madrid), 11/1/2007]

Entity Tags: Rachid Aglif, Mouhannad Almallah, Othman El Gnaoui, Rabei Osman Sayed Ahmed, Rafa Zouhier, Mohammed Larbi ben Sellam, Emilio Suarez Trashorras, Hamid Ahmidan, Abdelmajid Bouchar, Antonio Toro, Basel Ghalyoun, Carmen Toro, Fouad el Morabit, Jamal Zougam, Youssef Belhadj

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Two civil liberties organizations, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Asian Law Caucus (ALC), file a joint lawsuit against the US Department of Homeland Security. The two organizations file under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and demand that DHS make available its records on the questioning and searches of lawful travelers through US borders. The suit follows a large number of complaints by US citizens, immigrants, and visitors who have spoken out about what they term excessive and repeated screenings by US Customs and Border Protection agents (see 2007). ALC’s Shirin Sinnar says, “When the government searches your books, peers into your computer, and demands to know your political views, it sends the message that free expression and privacy disappear at our nation’s doorstep. The fact that so many people face these searches and questioning every time they return to the United States, not knowing why and unable to clear their names, violates basic notions of fairness and due process.” EFF’s Marcia Hofmann agrees, saying, “The public has the right to know what the government’s standards are for border searches. Laptops, phones, and other gadgets include vast amounts of personal information. When will agents read your email? When do they copy data, where is it stored, and for how long? How will this information follow you throughout your life? The secrecy surrounding border search policies means that DHS has no accountability to America’s travelers.” [Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008; Electronic Frontier Foundation, 2/7/2008] The lawsuit demands the public release of DHS’s policies on border searches and interrogations. It also demands an explanation as to how far government agents can go in questioning and searching citizens who are not suspected of any crime. The question of whether federal agents have the right to search electronic devices at all without suspicion of a crime is already under review in the federal courts.
Racial or Religious Profiling? - Almost all of the complaints come from travelers of Muslim, Middle Eastern, or South Asian descent. Many of the complainants believe they were targeted because of racial or religious profiling. US Customs and Border Protection spokeswoman Lynn Hollinger denies the charge. It is not her agency’s “intent to subject travelers to unwarranted scrutiny,” she says, and adds that a laptop may be seized if it contains information possibly tied to terrorism, narcotics smuggling, child pornography or other criminal activity. However, a Customs officers training guide says that “it is permissible and indeed advisable to consider an individual’s connections to countries that are associated with significant terrorist activity.” Law professor David Cole asks, “What’s the difference between that and targeting people because they are Arab or Muslim?” [Washington Post, 2/7/2008]

Entity Tags: Electronic Frontier Foundation, US Customs and Border Protection, Association of Corporate Travel Executives, Asian Law Caucus, David D. Cole, Marcia Hofmann, US Department of Homeland Security, Shirin Sinnar

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Moroccan police arrest 35 people for involvement in a radical militant group led by an informant for the Belgian government. Over the next several weeks, it will gradually be leaked to the media that the arrested leader of the group, Abdelkader Belliraj, has worked for Belgian intelligence and possibly the CIA since at least 2000 (see February 29, 2008). Belliraj holds both Belgian and Moroccan citizenship and is a Shiite. His unnamed group has both Shiite and Sunni Muslim links, and is linked to Islamist militant groups like al-Qaeda as well as to traditional organized crime. Others arrested in Morocco with Belliraj include local politicians, businessmen, a police commander and Hezbollah television station correspondent. A large stockpile of weapons is found in police raids, including assault rifles, machine guns, and detonators. Two days after the raids, the small Islamist party al-Badil al-Hadari is officially dissolved after several of those arrested are found to have links to the party, including the party’s secretary general. The Moroccan government claims Belliraj’s group was planning a series of political assassinations in Morocco. [Los Angeles Times, 2/27/2008; Terrorism Focus, 3/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Abdelkader Belliraj

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abdelkader Belliraj.Abdelkader Belliraj. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The Belgian media reports that Abdelkader Belliraj, a dual Belgian-Moroccan citizen arrested in Morocco earlier in the month, is actually a long-time informant for Belgium’s internal security service, State Security. [Agence France-Presse, 2/29/2008; Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2008] The Belgian government initially denies the charges but soon tacitly admits them when the head of State Security, Alain Winants, complains about the leak of the “highly classified” status of Belliraj several days later. Agence France-Presse reports that although the “accusations were at first met with scepticism in Belgium, authorities now consider them credible.” Belliraj has been personally involved in armed robberies and murders dating back to the 1980s, and has links to al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other Islamist militant groups. It remains unclear if Belliraj was committing all his crimes with the approval of Belgian officials or if he may have been duping them to some degree. One anonymous Belgian police official speculates: “How could he travel freely since the 1980s from Belgium to various terrorist hot-beds around the world? There are two possibilities: either he worked for a secret service or else the State Security is full of idiots.” [Agence France-Presse, 3/11/2008] On Belgian newspaper claims that at the same time he was a paid Belgian informant since 2000, “It’s almost certain that at the same time he worked for another foreign secret service, possibly the French DGSE or American CIA.” [Het Laatste News, 3/4/2008] Another major Belgian newspaper, De Morgen, claims that Belliraj had both French and US intelligence links while working with Belgium too. [Maghreb Arabe Presse, 3/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Abdelkader Belliraj, Alain Winants, State Security (of Belgium)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Washington Post publishes a front page story promoting the myth that al-Qaeda has never been effectively penetrated by intelligence agencies. The article by Craig Whitlock is titled After a Decade at War With West, Al-Qaeda Still Impervious to Spies. It states that “al-Qaeda’s core organization in Pakistan and Afghanistan has so far proved impervious to damaging leaks.” It quotes Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, who says that from 1992 until November 2004 (when he left the CIA), “[the CIA] worked side by side with the Egyptians, the Jordanians—the very best Arab intelligence services—and they didn’t recruit a single person who could report on al-Qaeda.” The article seems to be a reaction to the case of Abdelkader Belliraj, which was publicly exposed several weeks earlier, when Belliraj was arrested in Morocco (see February 18, 2008 and February 29, 2008). The article notes that Belliraj was a Belgian government informant and important Islamist militant leader who had al-Qaeda links for years and met with al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan (see 2001). Belliraj’s case seemingly undercuts the thrust of the article, but the rest of the article mostly quotes a series of anonymous intelligence officials who say penetrating al-Qaeda would be next to impossible. [Washington Post, 3/20/2008] Whitlock’s article ignores numerous reports that al-Qaeda has repeatedly been penetrated by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. For instance:
bullet In 2002, US News and World Report reported, “Once thought nearly impossible to penetrate, al-Qaeda is proving no tougher a target than the KGB or the Mafia—closed societies that took the US government years to get inside.” An unnamed US intelligence official said: “We’re getting names, the different camps they trained at, the hierarchy, the infighting. It’s very promising” (see September 22, 2002).
bullet In 2004, author Ronald Kessler wrote, “Often, the CIA used operatives from Arab intelligence services like those of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and other countries to infiltrate bin Laden’s organization.” He quoted a longtime CIA officer who said, “Egyptians, Jordanians, [and] Palestinians penetrated the bin Laden organization for us. It’s B.S. that we didn’t” (see Before September 11, 2001).
bullet In 2006, journalist Ron Suskind reported that by late 2002, the CIA had developed “a source from within Pakistan who was tied tightly into al-Qaeda management.” He also noted that other informants had been recruited since 9/11, and commented, “It has been generally acknowledged that the United States does not have any significant human sources… inside al-Qaeda. That is not true” (see Late 2002).
bullet In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet claimed that the CIA had over 100 assets in Afghanistan by 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). He also claimed that “a group of assets from a Middle Eastern service” sharing information with the CIA penetrated al-Qaeda, and some of them penetrated al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan before 9/11 (see Early September 2001).
bullet In February 2008, the New York Times reported that French intelligence had an informant that penetrated al-Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region (see Late January 2008).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Craig Whitlock, Michael Scheuer, Abdelkader Belliraj

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Former CIA officer Philip Giraldi is interviewed by journalist Christopher Ketcham about the Main Core database, which apparently contains a list of potential enemies of the US state. Giraldi does not know any definite information about the database, but he speculates that it must be contained within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS): “If a master list is being compiled, it would have to be in a place where there are no legal issues”—the CIA and FBI would be restricted by oversight and accountability laws—“so I suspect it is at DHS, which as far as I know operates with no such restraints.” Giraldi notes that the DHS already maintains a central list of suspected terrorists and says it has been freely adding people who pose no reasonable threat to domestic security. “It’s clear that DHS has the mandate for controlling and owning master lists. The process is not transparent, and the criteria for getting on the list are not clear.” Giraldi continues, “I am certain that the content of such a master list [as Main Core] would not be carefully vetted, and there would be many names on it for many reasons—quite likely including the two of us.” [Radar, 5/2008]

Entity Tags: Philip Giraldi, US Department of Homeland Security

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Inslaw and PROMIS

Tom Ridge and Rachel Maddow.Tom Ridge and Rachel Maddow. [Source: Armchair Generalist]Former Homeland Security head Tom Ridge is interviewed by progressive television host Rachel Maddow. Ridge has authored a book, The Test of Our Times, a memoir of his tenure in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from October 2001 through the end of President Bush’s first term. Maddow notes that 22 federal agencies were incorporated under the leadership of DHS, from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Border Patrol to the Coast Guard and the Secret Service, “the biggest change in what we pay federal tax dollars for since we got a unified Defense Department in 1947.” She goes on to note that one of the new agency’s biggest failures was its lackadaisical and incompetent response to 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, though the Coast Guard, one of DHS’s daughter agencies, did eventually deliver what she calls “belated but frankly relatively competent aid,” and Ridge was not DHS secretary when Katrina struck.
Raising the Threat Level - Maddow’s primary focus during much of the interview is the Bush administration’s raising of the so-called “threat level” during 2004, as the presidential elections heated up (see July 8, 2004, for example). In his book, Ridge noted that he wasn’t sure events justified the raising of the threat level.
October 2004 Threat Level Escalation 'Not Political,' Ridge Says - In his book, Ridge wrote that the administration tried to raise the threat level to “orange” just days before the presidential election, on October 29, 2004 (see October 29, 2004). However, when pressed on the subject, Ridge backs away from the implications he raised in his book that politics, not national security, prompted the escalation. “Well, that’s not quite the argument that I put in here,” he tells Maddow. “That passage has generated a lot of heat, so I would like to generate a little light on it.… Further in the book, I remind everybody that the system we designed to raise the threat level could not be manipulated, could not be orchestrated, directed, or pressured by any single individual. Regardless of what anybody says, the system was designed by the president to include the homeland security cabinet group sitting around from time to time when the intelligence warranted that group discussion. If you had a YouTube video of it, you would see the secretary of defense, the attorney general, the secretary of state, and others, having a conversation as to whether the intelligence generates enough concern that we want to raise the threat level. That happened many, many times. This is a particularly dramatic moment, because it is the weekend before the election.… We don’t see anything in the department that generates it, and certainly other people agreed with us. But Secretary Rumsfeld and Attorney General Ashcroft, very strong in their opinions, as everybody had expressed opinions on any other occasions that you never heard about because we never—we never raised the threat level. At the end of the day, I am using in the book, is there more intelligence, is there something—that is new.… [A]t no time—at no time—at no time did politics enter in my judgment, anybody’s equation. These are tough judgment calls. We made them on a series of occasions throughout two years. Rarely did we make those decisions to go up. Politics was not involved.” Ridge says flatly, “I was not pressured” to raise the threat level. Maddow reads from the fly leaf of Ridge’s book, “He recounts episodes such as the pressure that the DHS received to raise the security alert on the eve of the ‘04 presidential election,” to which Ridge retorts: “Those aren’t my words.… It’s the dust jacket.”
Raising the Threat Level for Political Reasons - Maddow reminds Ridge that both in interviews and his book, he has frequently asked the question of whether the decision to raise the threat level during his tenure was made for political reasons, and notes: “I think that I am persuaded by the argument that I think you make in the book, and you may not have intended it from what you said earlier, that it is a pernicious thing for the American people to perceive that the parts of our government responsible for ensuring our security are actually making decisions that aren’t about our security at all. They’re telling us it’s about security and it’s not.” In 2005, she notes, “you said at a forum about the terror alert level, you said there were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, ‘for that?’ (see May 10, 2005) Were there times—were there times when you felt like people were wanting to raise it for reasons that weren’t about the country’s safety?” Ridge denies ever raising the question, and explains: “I do admit, there were some times when we took a look at the intelligence. Some of my colleagues said, ‘Yes, I think we better go up.’ But none of those colleagues had the responsibility of dealing with the consequences of taking the country to a higher level. And so we were always very modest.… I don’t doubt for a moment that any of my colleagues who were involved in those discussions felt the reason we should either go up or not go up, add more security or reduce the security, was based on what they thought was in the best interest of the security of the country, period.… When I said, ‘for what?’ I must tell you, a couple of times I would come back to the office and say, ‘I don’t get it.‘… I don’t think that’s enough to go up. And part of that is yours truly saying to his leadership team who has responsibilities to oversee what’s going to go on, there’s not enough here to tell the governors and the mayors and the security professionals, you have got to raise another level, you have got to increase expenses, you have got to call in personnel. In my judgment, it wasn’t enough. And by the way, at the time we made the right decision, I believe.” Maddow reminds Ridge that in his book he wrote: “[I]t seemed possible to me that something could be afoot. I wondered, is this about security or politics?” She asks, “You’re saying now that you wondered that and you shouldn’t have?” Ridge replies: “No. I mused at the time, ‘Is there something else here?’ I said, ‘Is it politics? Is it security?‘… But there wasn’t anything there.”
Praising the President in 2004 - After a brief discussion of DHS’s response to Hurricane Katrina, Maddow asks about an incident in August 2004, when Ridge praised President Bush’s leadership in the Middle East. As Maddow describes it, Ridge was asked to praise Bush’s leadership. During a subsequent press conference, Ridge said that Bush’s leadership “was causing us to better target our defensive measures here and away from home. And the implication was that going to war in Iraq was a defensive measure like homeland security stuff that we do here at home.” She asks if he regrets making that statement. Ridge says he agrees with his 2004 assessment, and says he merely “threw the sentence into the press conference.” He says his comment became a “sideshow” that “marginalized the process” and caused people to question his objectivity. Ridge tries to deny that he was specifically talking about the war effort in Iraq, though, as Maddow notes, “[W]hen you said ‘targeting our defensive measures away from home,’ this is August ‘04, so we are more than a year into the war in Iraq with the implication there was that you were talking about Iraq.” Ridge now says that he meant the general war against terrorism. “I should have never mentioned the president’s name,” he says, “because it, again, created a perception—we talked about this earlier—that somehow politics were involved, but and politics was not involved in that decision. It was driven by intelligence.”
Making the Case for War with Iraq - Maddow segues into a statement Ridge made in February 2003, when he said on ABC: “I agree that as the president has said, the world community has said this is a rogue regime that has chemical biological weapons, trying to develop nuclear weapons, has means of delivery. That’s the reason this individual needs to be disarmed. The point in fact is that the world community has known for 12 years he’s got chemical biological weapons, means of delivery, and that’s precisely the reason of the United States and its partners are trying to disarm Saddam Hussein. He’s a threat to his region, he’s a threat to our allies. He’s a threat to us.” Maddow notes: “You were a crucial authoritative part of making what turned out to be a false case to the American people about Iraq being a threat, and us needing to attack them.… You made that case on national television a month before we started invading. Do you regret that?” Ridge replies: “No.… At the time, I think [sic] it’s true, and subsequent to that, the president’s leadership and the things we have done have kept America safe.” Ridge goes on to note that “everyone” believed the intelligence showed Iraq was an imminent threat to the US at the time the invasion was being considered. “You believed it at the time,” Maddow confirms, and then asks, “You don’t still believe it, do you?” Ridge replies: “Well, it’s pretty clear that the intelligence communities of several countries who had assessed his—who claimed that he had weapons of mass destruction, we haven’t found them.… But there were other reasons to go in. That was the one that was—that everybody focused on, and everyone who has been critical of the president for going into Iraq said we never found them. But I think the president made the decisions based on the facts and the intelligence as he knew it at the time, and I think it was the right decision at the time.” He denies that anyone in the administration did anything to “skew” or politicize the intelligence on Iraq’s WMD programs. “There’s no way that anybody in that group—I just—they would commit our blood and our treasure to a cause if they didn’t think it was necessary to commit our blood and treasure to a cause to keep America safe. The intelligence may have proven to be false, but there was no doubt in my mind that they were motivated to keep America safe. In retrospect, we can say that the intelligence was faulty.”
Maddow: No Credibility on National Security until GOP Admits Fault - Maddow tells Ridge: “I think you making that argument right now is why Republicans after the Bush and Cheney administration are not going to get back the country’s trust on national security. To look back at that decision and say, we got it wrong but it was in good faith and not acknowledge the foregone conclusion that we are going to invade Iraq that pervaded every decision that was made about intelligence—looking back at that decision-making process, it sounds like you’re making the argument you would have made the same decision again. Americans need to believe that our government would not make that wrong a decision, that would not make such a foregone conclusion—take such a foregone conclusion to such an important issue, that the intelligence that proved the opposite point was all discounted, that the intelligence was combed through for any bit that would support the foregone conclusion of the policy makers. The system was broken. And if you don’t see that the system was broken and you think it was just that the intel was wrong, I think that you’re one of the most trusted voices on national security for the Republican Party, and I think that’s the elephant in the room. I don’t think you guys get back your credibility on national security until you realize that was a wrong decision made by policy makers. It wasn’t the spies’ fault.” Ridge says any suggestion that anyone would have deliberately skewed or misinterpreted the intelligence on Iraq is “radical.… Later on, it may have proven that some of the information was inaccurate, but there were plenty of reasons to go into Iraq at the time; the foremost was weapons of mass destruction. That obviously proven [sic] to be faulty. But the fact of the matter is, at that time, given what they knew—and they knew more than you and I did—it seemed to be the right thing to do, and the decision was made in what they considered to be the best interests of our country.” When democracy in Iraq is finally established, Ridge says, “the notion that we went in improperly will be obviously reversed, and the history has yet to be written.” Maddow replies: “If you can go back in time and sell the American people on the idea that 4,000 Americans ought to lose their lives and we ought to lose those trillions of dollars for democracy in Iraq, you have a wilder imagination than I do. We were sold that war because of 9/11. We were sold that war because of the threat of weapons of mass destruction from this guy who didn’t have them, and our government should have known it. And, frankly, a lot of people believe that our government did know it, and that it was a cynical decision. And maybe everybody wasn’t in on it, maybe that is a radical thing to conclude, but I think that…” Ridge interjects: “I don’t share that point of view. You do.” [MSNBC, 9/2/2009]
Reactions - Reactions to the interview are predictably split, with progressives noting how much Ridge backpedals on questions he himself raised, and conservatives declaring victory for Ridge. Talking Points Memo notes the irony in Ridge’s claim that while his words should be trusted, the words on the dust jacket of his book should not be. [TPM LiveWire, 9/2/2009] Posters on the conservative blog Free Republic write that Ridge “pwned” Maddow, video game slang for dominating or “owning” someone. [Free Republic, 9/1/2009]

Entity Tags: Federal Emergency Management Agency, Free Republic, Talking Points Memo, George W. Bush, US Secret Service, John Ashcroft, Donald Rumsfeld, Bush administration (43), Republican Party, Tom Ridge, Rachel Maddow, US Border Patrol, US Department of Homeland Security, US Coast Guard

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

The Al-Quds mosque, which was attended by three 9/11 hijackers for several years (see Early 1996), is closed down. The mosque in Hamburg, Germany, has long been known as a gathering place for radical Islamists. In recent years, it changed its name to the Taiba mosque. Police raid the mosque and shut it down, ban the cultural society linked to it, and confiscate its assets and documents. However, there are no arrests. There was a long legal battle before the police were given permission to close the mosque. Der Spiegel comments: “Every Muslim visitor must have known that he was under close scrutiny from police authorities as soon as he set foot in the building. In fact, it proved quite helpful for the Hamburg intelligence service because all the city’s Islamists would congregate here.” However, not only was the mosque associated with the 9/11 attacks, but the imam at the mosque for most of the 1990s, Mohammed Fazazi, was convicted of involvement in the 2003 bombings in Casablanca, Morocco (see 1993-Late 2001 and May 16, 2003). Furthermore, in 2009, a group of 10 radical Islamists who had attended the mosque left Hamburg for Pakistan’s tribal region in an attempt to attend militant training camps (see March 5, 2009). Some were arrested and revealed they were part of a plot to attack targets in Europe, and they also linked up with members of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell (see May 2010). One of them, Naamen Meziche, who will be killed in a US drone strike in 2010, is the son-in-law of Fazazi, the former imam at the mosque (see October 5, 2010). In recent years, the imam at the mosque has been Mamoun Darkazanli, who was linked to many in the al-Qaeda cell with the 9/11 hijackers, and was suspected of belonging to al-Qaeda well before 9/11 (see Late 1998 and October 9, 1999). Spain has filed a request for his extradition on terrorism charges, but Germany has refused to extradite him (see (see Late April 2007). [Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 8/9/2010] Some German officials believe he is still involved in al-Qaeda, but he apparently is careful not to break any German laws (see November 11, 2010).

Entity Tags: Mamoun Darkazanli, Mohammed Fazazi, Naamen Meziche

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mohammed Fazazi, the imam to some of the 9/11 hijackers in Hamburg, Germany, is freed in Morocco as part of a larger pardon of prisoners. Fazazi was the imam at the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg, Germany, in the 1990s up until not long before the 9/11 attacks (see 1993-Late 2001). Most of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, including 9/11 hijackers like Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi, frequently attended that mosque. Later, Fazazi was convicted in Morocco for a role in the 2003 Casablanca bombings and sentenced to 30 years in prison (see May 16, 2003). In April 2011, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI pardons or reduces the sentences of 190 prisoners, most of them allegedly linked to Islamist militancy. The move is believed to be in response to increased pressure for political reform and openness. After his release, Fazazi says he used to preach jihad, but he no longer supports violent attacks. He claims he never knew any of the 9/11 hijackers or their plans, and he denies having any connection to the Casablanca bombings. [New York Times, 4/27/2011]

Entity Tags: Mohammed VI, Mohamed Atta, Mohammed Fazazi, Marwan Alshehhi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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