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Context of 'January-February 2000: Secret Military Unit Identifies Al-Qaeda ‘Brooklyn’ Cell; Four 9/11 Hijackers Are Named, Including Mohamed Atta'

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A blurry photograph of a 2005 reconstruction of the pre-9/11 Able Danger chart showing Mohamed Atta and others.A blurry photograph of a 2005 reconstruction of the pre-9/11 Able Danger chart showing Mohamed Atta and others. [Source: C-SPAN]A US Army intelligence program called Able Danger identifies five al-Qaeda terrorist cells; one of them has connections to Brooklyn, New York and will become informally known as the “Brooklyn” cell by the Able Danger team. This cell includes 9/11 hijacker leader Mohamed Atta, and three other 9/11 hijackers: Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi. According to a former intelligence officer who claims he worked closely with Able Danger, the link to Brooklyn is not based upon any firm evidence, but computer analysis that established patterns in links between the four men. “[T]he software put them all together in Brooklyn.” [New York Times, 8/9/2005; Washington Times, 8/22/2005; Fox News, 8/23/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] However, that does not necessarily imply them being physically present in Brooklyn. A lawyer later representing members of Able Danger states, “At no time did Able Danger identify Mohamed Atta as being physically present in the United States.” Furthermore, “No information obtained at the time would have led anyone to believe criminal activity had taken place or that any specific terrorist activities were being planned.” [CNN, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005] James D. Smith, a contractor working with the unit, discovers Mohamed Atta’s link to al-Qaeda. [WTOP Radio 103.5 (Washington), 9/1/2005] Smith has been using advanced computer software and analysing individuals who are going between mosques. He has made a link between Mohamed Atta and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, ringleader of the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. [Fox News, 8/28/2005; Government Security News, 9/2005] Atta is said to have some unspecified connection to the Al Farouq mosque in Brooklyn, a hotbed of anti-American sentiment once frequented by Abdul-Rahman, which also contained the notorious Al-Kifah Refugee Center. [Times Herald (Norristown), 9/22/2005] Smith obtained Atta’s name and photograph through a private researcher in California who was paid to gather the information from contacts in the Middle East. [New York Times, 8/22/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer claims the photo is not the well-known menacing Florida driver’s license photo of Atta. “This is an older, more grainy photo we had of him. It was not the best picture in the world.” It is said to contain several names or aliases for Atta underneath it. [Jerry Doyle Show, 9/20/2005; Chicago Tribune, 9/28/2005] LIWA analysts supporting Able Danger make a chart, which Shaffer describes in a radio interview as, “A chart probably about a 2x3 which had essentially five clusters around the center point which was bin Laden and his leadership.” [Savage Nation, 9/16/2005] The 9/11 Commission later claims that Atta only enters the United States for the first time several months later, in June 2000 (see June 3, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 224] However, investigations in the months after 9/11 find that Mohamed Atta and another of the hijackers rented rooms in Brooklyn around this time (see Spring 2000). Other newspaper accounts have the CIA monitoring Atta starting in January 2000, while he is living in Germany (see January-May 2000). Atta, Alshehhi, Almihdhar, Alhazmi and other hijackers have connections to associates of Sheikh Abdul-Rahman (see Early 2000-September 10, 2001).

Entity Tags: Al-Kifah Refugee Center, Al-Qaeda, El Farouq, Khalid Almihdhar, Mohamed Atta, Able Danger, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Nawaf Alhazmi, Marwan Alshehhi, Al Farouq Mosque

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 hijackers have links to several people associated with “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdul-Rahman, the spiritual head of the group that bombed the World Trade Center in 1993. Abdul-Rahman has been in prison since the mid-1990s.
bullet 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi attend a mosque in San Diego that is visited by an unnamed associate of Abdul-Rahman who is under investigation by the Los Angeles FBI (see June 1999-March 2000);
bullet The mosque is also attended by Osama Basnan, who threw a party for Abdul-Rahman in 1992 (see Spring 2000);
bullet 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is seen with Adnan Shukrijumah, son of Abdul-Rahman’s former translator (see May 2, 2001) and Atta and hijacker Marwan Alshehhi may attend a mosque run by his father (see 2000-2001);
bullet Hijacker Mohand Alshehri is seen near the Minnesota clinic where Abdul-Rahman is being held (see August 2001);
bullet Some hijackers have the same mailing address as Abdul-Rahman and at least one of his associates (see Before September 11, 2001);
bullet Khalid Almihdhar and other hijackers obtain false ID cards from Mohamed el-Atriss, an associate of an unindicted co-conspirator at Abdul-Rahman’s trial (see (July-August 2001)); [Lance, 2006, pp. 373]
bullet In addition, people attending a Bronx mosque are warned to stay away from lower Manhattan on 9/11 (see Early September 2001).
In early 2000, the Able Danger data-mining program apparently identifies Atta, Alshehhi, Alhazmi, and Almihdhar as members of al-Qaeda through their associations with people linked to Abdul-Rahman (see January-February 2000).

Entity Tags: Mohamed el-Atriss, Adnan Shukrijumah, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Osama Basnan, Mohand Alshehri, Mohamed Atta, Nawaf Alhazmi, Marwan Alshehhi, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mohamed Atta and another of the 9/11 hijackers (presumably Marwan Alshehhi) rent rooms in New York City, according to a federal investigator. These rooms are in the Bronx and Brooklyn. Following 9/11, Atta is traced back to Brooklyn by a parking ticket issued to a rental car he was driving. However, immigration records have Mohamed Atta entering the US for the first time on June 3, 2000 (see June 3, 2000). The Associated Press article on this subject does not specify if Atta first stayed in New York before or after that date. [Associated Press, 12/8/2001] According to a brief mention in the 9/11 Commission’s final report, in the month of June, “As [Atta and Marwan Alshehhi] looked at flight schools on the East Coast, [they] stayed in a series of short-term rentals in New York City.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 224; Washington Post, 8/13/2005] Earlier in 2000, a US Army intelligence program called Able Danger identified an al-Qaeda terrorist cell based in Brooklyn, of which Atta is a member (see January-February 2000). Also, a number of eyewitnesses later report seeing Atta in Maine and Florida before this official arrival date (see April 2000; Late April-Mid-May 2000).

Entity Tags: Able Danger, Mohamed Atta, Marwan Alshehhi, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Erik Kleinsmith.Erik Kleinsmith. [Source: C-SPAN]Maj. Eric Kleinsmith, chief of intelligence for the Land Information Warfare Activity (LIWA) unit, is ordered to destroy data and documents related to a military intelligence program set up to gather information about al-Qaeda. The program, called Able Danger, has identified Mohamed Atta and three other future hijackers as potential threats (see January-February 2000). According to Kleinsmith, by April 2000 it has collected “an immense amount of data for analysis that allowed us to map al-Qaeda as a worldwide threat with a surprisingly significant presence within the United States.”(see January-February 2000) [Fox News, 9/21/2005; New York Times, 9/22/2005] The data is being collected on behalf of Maj. Gen. Geoffrey Lambert, the J3 at US Special Operations Command, who is said to be extremely upset when he learns that the data had been destroyed without his knowledge or consent. [US Congress. Senate. Committee on Judiciary, 9/21/2005] Around this time, a separate LIWA effort showing links between prominent US citizens and the Chinese military has been causing controversy, and apparently this data faces destruction as well (see April 2000). The data and documents have to be destroyed in accordance with Army regulations prohibiting the retention of data about US persons for longer than 90 days, unless it falls under one of several restrictive categories. However, during a Senate Judiciary Committee public hearing in September 2005, a Defense Department representative admits that Mohamed Atta was not considered a US person. The representative also acknowledges that regulations would have probably allowed the Able Danger information to be shared with law enforcement agencies before its destruction. Asked why this was not done, he responds, “I can’t tell you.” [CNET News, 9/21/2005] The order to destroy the data and documents is given to Kleinsmith by Army Intelligence and Security Command General Counsel Tony Gentry, who jokingly tells him, “Remember to delete the data—or you’ll go to jail.” [Government Executive, 9/21/2005] The quantity of information destroyed is later described as “2.5 terabytes,” about as much as one-fourth of all the printed materials in the Library of Congress. [Associated Press, 9/16/2005] Other records associated with the unit are allegedly destroyed in March 2001 and spring 2004 (see Spring 2004). [Associated Press, 9/21/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005; Fox News, 9/24/2005]

Entity Tags: Able Danger, Eric Kleinsmith, Al-Qaeda, Land Information Warfare Activity, Mohamed Atta, Tony Gentry, Geoffrey Lambert

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A portion of Mohamed Atta’s US visa obtained in May 2000.
A portion of Mohamed Atta’s US visa obtained in May 2000. [Source: 9/11 Commission]9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta supposedly arrives in the US for the first time, flying from Prague to Newark on a tourist visa issued May 18 in Berlin. [Miami Herald, 9/22/2001; Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 11/12/2001] Official investigations will late assume that this is the first time Atta was in the US. However, there are reports that he was in the US before this (see September 1999, April 2000, and Late April-Mid-May 2000).

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On three occasions, military lawyers force members of Able Danger to cancel scheduled meetings with the FBI at the last minute. Able Danger officials want to share information about the Brooklyn al-Qaeda cell they believe they’ve discovered which includes Mohamed Atta and other hijackers (see January-February 2000). The exact timing of these meetings remains unclear, but they appear to happen around the time military lawyers tell Able Danger they are not allowed to pursue Mohamed Atta and other figures (see September 2000) . [Government Security News, 9/2005] In 2005, it will be reported that Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer contacted FBI agent Xanthig Magnum in attempts to set up these meetings. Magnum is willing to testify about her communications with Shaffer, but apparently she has not yet been able to do so. [Fox News, 8/28/2005] Shaffer will later elaborate that the meetings were set up around early summer. Col. Worthington, then head of Able Danger, is one of the Special Operations Command (SOCOM) officials scheduled to meet with FBI Counterterrorism agents. Shaffer ater claims the meetings were cancelled because “SOCOM lawyers would not permit the sharing of the US person information regarding terrorists located domestically due to ‘fear of potential blowback’ should the FBI do something with the information and something should go wrong. The lawyers were worried about another ‘Waco’ situation (see April 19, 1993). The critical counterterrorism information is never passed from SOCOM to the FBI before 9-11; this information did include the original data regarding Atta and the terrorist cells in New York and the DC area.” [US Congress, 2/15/2006 pdf file] Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA), who in 2005 helps bring to light the existence of the program, says, “Obviously, if we had taken out that cell, 9/11 would not have occurred and, certainly, taking out those three principal players in that cell would have severely crippled, if not totally stopped, the operation that killed 3,000 people in America.” [Government Security News, 8/2005]

Entity Tags: Xanthig Magnum, Mohamed Atta, Special Operations Command, Curt Weldon, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Able Danger, Anthony Shaffer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Global Objectives, a British banking compliance company, identifies fifteen of the 9/11 hijackers as high-risk people and establishes profiles for them. The hijackers are regarded as high-risk for loans because they are linked to Osama bin Laden, suspected terrorists, or associates of terrorists. The list of high-risk people maintained by Global Objectives is available to dozens of banks and the hijackers’ files contain their dates and places of birth, aliases, and associates. It is unclear which fifteen hijackers are considered high-risk. It is also unknown if any Western intelligence agencies access this database before 9/11. [Associated Press, 2/21/2002] According to the 9/11 Commission, US intelligence is only aware of three of the 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi, and Khalid Almihdhar, before the attacks. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181-2] However, media reports will suggest US intelligence agencies may have been aware of another six: Ziad Jarrah (see January 30, 2000); Marwan Alshehhi (see March 1999 and January-February 2000); Mohamed Atta (see January-May 2000 and January-February 2000); and Ahmed Alghamdi, Satam al Suqami, and Hamza Alghamdi (see September 2000 and Spring 2001).

Entity Tags: Saeed Alghamdi, Salem Alhazmi, Satam Al Suqami, Waleed Alshehri, Nawaf Alhazmi, Ziad Jarrah, Wail Alshehri, Mohand Alshehri, Ahmed Alnami, Marwan Alshehhi, Ahmed Alghamdi, Abdulaziz Alomari, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Hamza Alghamdi, Hani Hanjour, Mohamed Atta, Majed Moqed, Khalid Almihdhar, Ahmed Alhaznawi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A secret military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which is tasked with assembling information about al-Qaeda networks around the world, is shut down. Some accounts say the program is shut down in January, some say February, and some say March. [Norristown Times Herald, 6/19/2005; Times Herald (Norristown), 9/12/2005; US Congress, 9/21/2005] The unit has identified Mohamed Atta and three other 9/11 hijackers as members of an al-Qaeda cell operating in the United States (see January-February 2000). According to James D. Smith, a Pentagon contractor involved with the unit, the inspector general shuts down the operation “because of a claim that we were collecting information on US citizens,” and it is illegal for the military to do this. [WTOP Radio 103.5 (Washington), 9/1/2005] Others familiar with the unit later say it is closed down because it might have led to the exposure of another data mining project that was investigating US citizens allegedly illegally transferring sensitive US technology to the Chinese government. [WTOP Radio 103.5 (Washington), 9/1/2005] Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer blames the change in leadership brought by the new Bush administration. “Once the four star [General Schoomaker] went away, it was pretty much like the world closing around us [Schoomaker retired in November 2000, but returned as Army Chief of Staff in 2003]. There was no political will to continue this at that point in time. Plus, my direct leadership: Colonel [Jerry] York and General [Bob] Harding had moved on as well. Therefore, I had a new chain of command above me. They were very risk adverse. This [Able Danger] operation, as with other operations which were very high risk / high gain, some of which are still ongoing—seemed to not be appreciated by the incoming leadership.” [American Forces Press Service, 6/17/2003; Government Security News, 9/2005] For example, Shaffer will say that Col. Mary Moffitt, who replaces Col. Gerry York around this time (“spring 2001”), “dismantled the Defense [human intelligence] support to Able Danger just months before the 9-11 attacks… [and ] became focused on shutting down our support to Able Danger under the guise of ‘reorganization’ and in the end, disestablished Stratus Ivy [the unit Shaffer headed] and its cutting edge focus.” [US Congress, 2/15/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: James D. Smith, Mary Moffitt, Al-Qaeda, Able Danger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar obtains a second US visa from the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24-25 pdf file] The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the future 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Almihdhar’s passport, which was issued two weeks previously (see June 1, 2001), lacks an expiry date, but contains an indicator of possible terrorist affiliation used by the Saudi authorities to track suspected radicals (see November 2, 2007). His application form is incomplete, as it lists his occupation as “businessman,” but does not give his employer’s name and address.
Lies on Application Form - The form, which is submitted through the Visa Express program (see May 2001), meaning Almihdhar is not interviewed, contains two lies: Almihdhar says he has never received an American visa or traveled to the US, whereas he received a visa in 1999 (see April 3-7, 1999) and traveled to the US on it in 2000 (see January 15, 2000). As Almihdhar’s first visa was also issued by the Jeddah consulate, through which the CIA sent radical Arabs to the US for training during the Soviet-Afghan war (see September 1987-March 1989), consular officials could discover he is lying, but information about prior visas issuances is not automatically displayed to them.
Known Terrorist - By this time, several intelligence agencies are aware that Almihdhar is an al-Qaeda operative; for example, the CIA (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), NSA (see December 29, 1999), FBI (see January 5-6, 2000), a US Army intelligence program (see January-February 2000), the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency (see 1997), Malaysian Special Branch (see January 5-8, 2000), and an intelligence service in the United Arab Emirates (see January 2-5, 2000)).
Parallels to Case of Blind Sheikh - Almihdhar will re-enter the US on the visa three weeks later (see July 4, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will find that the series of missteps preceding the issuance of visas to Almihdhar and the other future 9/11 hijackers has some “eerie parallels” to the “series of exceptional failures” that led to US visas being issued to the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see December 15, 1986-1989 and July 1990). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24-27, 33, 49 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) later claims that about two weeks after 9/11, he is given a chart by friends of his from the Army’s Information Dominance Center, in cooperation with special ops. The chart indicates various al-Qaeda cells that were identified by a military intelligence unit called Able Danger. Early in 2000, this unit identified, amongst others, an al-Qaeda cell based in Brooklyn, New York, which included Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers (see January-February 2000). Atta’s name is said to be on the chart given to Weldon. Shortly after being given the chart, Weldon meets with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and shows the chart to him. Weldon claims, “Hadley looked at the chart and said, Congressman, where did you get that chart from? I said, I got it from the military.… Steve Hadley said, Congressman, I am going to take this chart, and I am going to show it to the man. The man that he meant… was the President of the United States. I said, Mr. Hadley, you mean you have not seen something like this before from the CIA, this chart of al-Qaeda worldwide and in the US? And he said, No, Congressman. So I gave him the chart.” [US Congress. House, 6/27/2005; Delaware County Daily Times, 8/12/2005; Fox News, 8/22/2005] However, a spokesman for Hadley later disputes this account, and says, “Mr. Hadley does not recall any chart bearing the name or photo of Mohamed Atta. [National Security Council] staff reviewed the files of Mr. Hadley as well as of all [National Security Council] personnel… That search has turned up no chart.” [Washington Post, 9/24/2005] Representative Dan Burton (R-IN) later recalls attending the meeting and remembers the chart, but can’t recall if Atta was on it or not. [New York Times, 10/1/2005] Curt Weldon also later claims that the copy of the chart he gives to Hadley is his only one. [Time, 8/29/2005] However, apparently contradicting this, Weldon will give a speech in 2002 showing the chart (see May 23, 2002).

Entity Tags: Information Dominance Center, Mohamed Atta, Dan Burton, Curt Weldon, Al-Qaeda, Special Operations Command, Central Intelligence Agency, Stephen J. Hadley, Able Danger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Following an October 2003 meeting with three members of the 9/11 Commission’s staff (see October 21, 2003), Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer tries contacting Philip Zelikow, the commission’s executive director, as requested by Zelikow himself. Shaffer is an Army intelligence officer who worked closely with a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, which identified Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers in early 2000 (see January-February 2000). He phones Zelikow’s number the first week of January 2004. The person who replies tells him, “I will talk to Dr. Zelikow and find out when he wants you to come in.” However, Shaffer receives no call back, so a week later he phones again. This time, the person who answers him says, “Dr. Zelikow tells me that he does not see the need for you to come in. We have all the information on Able Danger.” [Government Security News, 9/2005] Yet the commission doesn’t even receive the Able Danger documentation they had previously requested from the Defense Department until the following month (see February 2004). [Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, 8/12/2005 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Able Danger, Philip Zelikow, Philip Zelikow, 9/11 Commission, Anthony Shaffer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) in Washington, DC apparently destroys duplicate copies of documentation relating to a military intelligence unit called Able Danger, for unknown reasons. The documents had been maintained by one of the DIA’s employees, intelligence officer Anthony Shaffer. [US Congress, 9/21/2005] The Able Danger unit was established in fall 1999, to assemble information about al-Qaeda networks worldwide (see Fall 1999). Lt. Col. Anthony Shaffer had served as a liaison officer between the unit and the DIA. [New York Times, 8/17/2005; Guardian, 8/18/2005] Able Danger allegedly identified Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers more than a year before the attacks (see January-February 2000). Other records relating to the unit were destroyed in May and June 2000, and March 2001 (see May-June 2000). [US Congress, 9/21/2005; Fox News, 9/24/2005]

Entity Tags: Able Danger, Defense Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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