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Context of 'Late January 2000: CIA Faces Legal Barriers Helping Warlord Who Wants to Kill Bin Laden'

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1995: French Set Up Bin Laden Unit

In 2007, a French newspaper will report that the French intelligence agency, the DGSE, set up a unit focusing on bin Laden by 1995. This predates the CIA unit focusing on him established in 1996 (see February 1996). As part of their efforts against bin Laden, the DGSE manipulates and turns “young candidates for the jihad from the suburbs of the big cities of Europe.” They also work with Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban, and intercept satellite telephone conversations. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Shah Massoud, Osama bin Laden, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA begins a program to track Islamist militants in Europe. The program is operated by local stations in Europe and CIA manager Michael Scheuer, who will go on to found the agency’s bin Laden unit in early 1996 (see February 1996). The program is primarily focused on militants who oppose the Egyptian government. It traces the support network that supplies money and recruits to them and that organizes their propaganda. US Ambassador to Egypt Edward Walker will later say that the operation involves intercepting telephone calls and opening mail. Suspects are identified in Egypt and in European cities such as Milan (see 1993 and After), Oslo, and London (see (Late 1995)). [Grey, 2007, pp. 125] The intelligence gathered as a part of this operation will be used for the CIA’s nascent rendition program (see Summer 1995).

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Edward Walker, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Jack Cloonan.Jack Cloonan. [Source: PBS]The Justice Department directs an existing unit called Squad I-49 to begin building a legal case against bin Laden. This unit is unusual because it combines prosecutors from the Southern District of New York, who have been working on bin Laden related cases, with the FBI’s New York office, which was the FBI branch office that dealt the most with bin Laden -related intelligence. Patrick Fitzgerald effectively directs I-49 as the lead prosecutor. FBI agent Dan Coleman becomes a key member while simultaneously representing the FBI at Alec Station, the CIA’s new bin Laden unit (February 1996) where he has access to the CIA’s vast informational database. [Lance, 2006, pp. 218-219] The other initial members of I-49 are: Louis Napoli, John Anticev, Mike Anticev, Richard Karniewicz, Jack Cloonan, Carl Summerlin, Kevin Cruise, Mary Deborah Doran, and supervisor Tom Lang. All are FBI agents except for Napoli and Summerlin, a New York police detective and a New York state trooper, respectively. The unit will end up working closely with FBI agent John O’Neill, who heads the New York FBI office. Unlike the CIA’s Alec Station, which is focused solely on bin Laden, I-49 has to work on other Middle East -related issues. For much of the next year or so, most members will work on the July 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800, because it crashed near New York and is suspected to have been carried out by Middle Eastern militants (July 17, 1996-September 1996). However, in years to come, I-49 will grow considerably and focus more on bin Laden. [Wright, 2006, pp. 240-241] After 9/11, the “wall” between intelligence collection and criminal prosecution will often be cited for the failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. But as author Peter Lance will later note, “Little more than ten months after the issuance of Jamie Gorelick’s ‘wall memo,’ Fitzgerald and company were apparently disregarding her mandate that criminal investigation should be segregated from intelligence threat prevention. Squad I-49… was actively working both jobs.” Thanks to Coleman’s involvement in both I-49 and the CIA’s Alec Station, I-49 effectively avoids the so-called “wall” problem. [Lance, 2006, pp. 220]

Entity Tags: Mike Anticev, Tom Lang, US Department of Justice, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Kevin Cruise, Dan Coleman, Carl Summerlin, Alec Station, Louis Napoli, Mary Deborah Doran, John Anticev, Jack Cloonan, I-49, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center creates a special unit focusing specifically on bin Laden. It is informally called Alec Station. About 10 to 15 individuals are assigned to the unit initially. This grows to about 35 to 40 by 9/11. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] The unit is set up “largely because of evidence linking [bin Laden] to the 1993 bombing of the WTC.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2001] Newsweek will comment after 9/11, “With the Cold War over, the Mafia in retreat, and the drug war unwinnable, the CIA and FBI were eager to have a new foe to fight.… Historical rivals, the spies and G-men were finally learning to work together. But they didn’t necessarily share secrets with the alphabet soup of other enforcement and intelligence agencies, like Customs and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and they remained aloof from the Pentagon. And no amount of good will or money could bridge a fundamental divide between intelligence and law enforcement. Spies prefer to watch and wait; cops want to get their man.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] Michael Scheuer will lead the unit until 1999. He will later become a vocal critic of the US government’s efforts to combat terrorism. He later recalls that while bin Laden is mostly thought of merely as a terrorist financier at this time, “we had run across bin Laden in a lot of different places, not personally but in terms of his influence, either through rhetoric, through audiotapes, through passports, through money-he seemed to turn up everywhere. So when we [created the unit], the first responsibility was to find out if he was a threat.” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] By the start of 1997, the unit will conclude bin Laden is a serious threat (see Early 1997).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, Alec Station, Al-Qaeda, Counterterrorist Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Robin Raphel.Robin Raphel. [Source: Mark Wilson / Agence France-Presse]Robin Raphel, Deputy Secretary of State for South Asia, speaks to the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister about Afghanistan. She says that the US government “now hopes that peace in the region will facilitate US business interests,” such as the proposed Unocal gas pipeline from Turkmenistan through Afghanistan to Pakistan. [Coll, 2004, pp. 330]

Entity Tags: Unocal, Robin Raphel, Russia

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 1996, al-Qaeda assumes control of Ariana Airlines, Afghanistan’s national airline, for use in its illegal trade network. Passenger flights become few and erratic, as planes are used to fly drugs, weapons, gold, and personnel, primarily between Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Pakistan. The Emirate of Sharjah, in the UAE, becomes a hub for al-Qaeda drug and arms smuggling. Typically, “large quantities of drugs” are flown from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to Sharjah, and large quantities of weapons are flown back to Afghanistan. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] About three to four flights run the route each day. Many weapons come from Victor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer based in Sharjah. [Los Angeles Times, 1/20/2002] Afghan taxes on opium production are paid in gold, and then the gold bullion is flown to Dubai, UAE, and laundered into cash. [Washington Post, 2/17/2002] Taliban officials regularly provide militants with false papers identifying them as Ariana Airlines employees so they can move freely around the world. For instance, one flight on a Ariana small plane in 2000 lists 33 crew members. A former National Security Council official later claims the US is well aware at the time that al-Qaeda agents regularly fly on Ariana Airlines. (However, US intelligence will not learn of the widespread use of forged Ariana IDs until after 9/11.) The CIA learns of Bout’s connection to Ariana and the Taliban in 1998, but takes no action (see 1998). The US presses the UAE for tighter banking controls, but moves “delicately, not wanting to offend an ally in an already complicated relationship,” and little changes by 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 139] Much of the money for the 9/11 hijackers flows though these Sharjah, UAE, channels. There also are reports suggesting that Ariana Airlines might have been used to train Islamic militants as pilots. The illegal use of Ariana Airlines helps convince the United Nations to impose sanctions against Afghanistan in 1999, but the sanctions lack teeth and do not stop the airline. A second round of sanctions finally stops foreign Ariana Airlines flights, but its charter flights and other charter services keep the illegal network running. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] About nine of the 9/11 hijackers work at the Kandahar airport in 2000, which is Ariana’s main hub (see Summer 2000).

Entity Tags: Taliban, United Arab Emirates, United Nations, Al-Qaeda, Ariana Airlines, Victor Bout

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Taliban forces conquering Afghanistan.Taliban forces conquering Afghanistan. [Source: Banded Artists Productions]The Taliban conquer Kabul [Associated Press, 8/19/2002] , establishing control over much of Afghanistan. A surge in the Taliban’s military successes at this time is later attributed to an increase in direct military assistance from Pakistan’s ISI. [New York Times, 12/8/2001] The oil company Unocal is hopeful that the Taliban will stabilize Afghanistan and allow its pipeline plans to go forward. According to some reports, “preliminary agreement [on the pipeline] was reached between the [Taliban and Unocal] long before the fall of Kabul .… Oil industry insiders say the dream of securing a pipeline across Afghanistan is the main reason why Pakistan, a close political ally of America’s, has been so supportive of the Taliban, and why America has quietly acquiesced in its conquest of Afghanistan.” [Daily Telegraph, 10/11/1996] The 9/11 Commission later concludes that some State Department diplomats are willing to “give the Taliban a chance” because it might be able to bring stability to Afghanistan, which would allow a Unocal oil pipeline to be built through the country. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Taliban, US Department of State, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Unocal, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

By the start of 1997, Alec Station, the CIA unit created the year before to focus entirely on bin Laden (see February 1996), is certain that bin Laden is not just a financier but an organizer of terrorist activity. It is aware bin Laden is conducting an extensive effort to get and use a nuclear weapon (see Late 1996). It knows that al-Qaeda has a military committee planning operations against US interests worldwide. However, although this information is disseminated in many reports, the unit’s sense of alarm about bin Laden isn’t widely shared or understood within the intelligence and policy communities. Employees in the unit feel their zeal attracts ridicule from their peers. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] Some higher-ups begin to deride the unit as hysterical doomsayers, and refer to the unit as “The Manson Family.” Michael Scheuer, head of the unit until 1999, has an abrasive style. He and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke do not get along and do not work well together. Scheuer also does not get along with John O’Neill, the FBI’s most knowledgeable agent regarding bin Laden. The FBI and Alec Station rarely share information, and at one point an FBI agent is caught stuffing some of the unit’s files under his shirt to take back to O’Neill. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]

Entity Tags: John O’Neill, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alec Station, Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden, Richard A. Clarke, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Michael Scheuer, the head of the CIA Counter Terrorism Center’s special unit focusing on bin Laden from 1996 to 1999 (see February 1996), later will claim that before 9/11 members of the bin Laden family in the US are nearly completely off limits to US law enforcement. Author Douglas Farah, a former longtime Washington Post reporter, later will write that “All the bin Ladens living in the United States were granted Saudi diplomatic passports in 1996.… In 1998, when the FBI’s New York office actually sought to investigate some of the bin Laden family’s activities in this country because of suspicions of ties to terrorism, the State Department forced them to shut down the entire operation. Because the bin Laden’s were ‘diplomats’ and as such enjoyed diplomatic immunity, making such investigations illegal.” Scheuer will comment about the 1998 investigation, “My counterparts at the FBI questioned one of the bin Ladens. But then the State Department received a complaint from a law firm, and there was a huge uproar. We were shocked to find out that the bin Ladens in the United States had diplomatic passports, and that we weren’t allowed to talk to them.” Scheuer believes that these unusual diplomatic privileges may help explain how the bin Ladens will be able to depart so quickly just after 9/11 (see September 13, 2001; September 14-19, 2001). Farah later says he interviewed Scheuer about this and claims to have found a second source to verify the information. [Farah, 12/5/2004; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 6/6/2005] The issue of diplomatic passports for the bin Laden family has generally not been reported in the US media, although a 2005 New Yorker article will mention in passing that in 1996, “the State Department stymied a joint effort by the CIA and the FBI to question one of bin Laden’s cousins in America, because he had a diplomatic passport, which protects the holder from US law enforcement.” [New Yorker, 2/8/2005] This is a probable reference to the 1996 investigation of Abdullah Awad bin Laden (although he is bin Laden’s nephew, not cousin (see February-September 11, 1996)). It is unclear what connection there may be, if any, between that investigation and this 1998 investigation.

Entity Tags: Bin Laden Family, Michael Scheuer, Douglas Farah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA’s bin Laden unit, first created in early 1996 (see February 1996), is ordered disbanded. It is unclear who gave the order. The unit appears to have been the most vocal section of the US government pushing for action against bin Laden. Apparently CIA Director George Tenet is unaware of the plans to disband the unit. He intervenes in mid-May and preserves the unit. Michael Scheuer, the head of the unit, later will comment that by doing so, Tenet “dodged the bullet of having to explain to the American people why the [CIA] thought bin Laden was so little of a threat that it had destroyed the bin Laden unit weeks before two US embassies were demolished.” Scheuer also will comment, “the on-again, off-again signals about the unit’s future status made for confusion, distraction, and much job-hunting in the last few weeks” before the embassy attacks. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Julie Sirrs.Julie Sirrs. [Source: Julie Sirrs]Julie Sirrs, a military analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), travels to Afghanistan. Fluent in local languages and knowledgeable about the culture, she made a previous undercover trip there in October 1997. She is surprised that the CIA was not interested in sending in agents after the failed missile attack on Osama bin Laden in August 1998, so she returns at this time. Traveling undercover, she meets with Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. She sees a terrorist training center in Taliban-controlled territory. Sirrs will later claim: “The Taliban’s brutal regime was being kept in power significantly by bin Laden’s money, plus the narcotics trade, while [Massoud’s] resistance was surviving on a shoestring. With even a little aid to the Afghan resistance, we could have pushed the Taliban out of power. But there was great reluctance by the State Department and the CIA to undertake that.” She partly blames the interest of the US government and the oil company Unocal to see the Taliban achieve political stability to enable a trans-Afghanistan pipeline (see May 1996 and September 27, 1996). She claims, “Massoud told me he had proof that Unocal had provided money that helped the Taliban take Kabul.” She also states, “The State Department didn’t want to have anything to do with Afghan resistance, or even, politically, to reveal that there was any viable option to the Taliban.” After two weeks, Sirrs returns with a treasure trove of maps, photographs, and interviews. [ABC News, 2/18/2002; ABC News, 2/18/2002; New York Observer, 3/11/2004] By interviewing captured al-Qaeda operatives, she learns that the official Afghanistan airline, Ariana Airlines, is being used to ferry weapons and drugs, and learns that bin Laden goes hunting with “rich Saudis and top Taliban officials” (see Mid-1996-October 2001 and 1995-2001). [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] When Sirrs returns from Afghanistan, her material is confiscated and she is accused of being a spy. Says one senior colleague, “She had gotten the proper clearances to go, and she came back with valuable information,” but high level officials “were so intent on getting rid of her, the last thing they wanted to pay attention to was any information she had.” Sirrs is cleared of wrongdoing, but her security clearance is pulled. She eventually quits the DIA in frustration in 1999. [ABC News, 2/18/2002; New York Observer, 3/11/2004] Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) will claim that the main DIA official behind the punishment of Sirrs is Lieutenant General Patrick Hughes, who later becomes “one of the top officials running the Department of Homeland Security.” [Dana Rohrabacher, 6/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Unocal, Osama bin Laden, US Department of State, Northern Alliance, Patrick Hughes, Defense Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Al-Qaeda, Julie Sirrs, Central Intelligence Agency, Dana Rohrabacher, Ariana Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA decides to increase its links with Ahmed Shah Massoud, an Afghan commander fighting the Taliban in northern Afghanistan. The decision is pushed through by Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, and Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. According to author Steve Coll, Black and Blee see Massoud “as his admirers in Europe [do], as an epochal figure, extraordinarily skillful and determined,” and believe that Massoud is the key to capturing bin Laden. However, the CIA’s Near East Division is skeptical of the potential for this liaison, partly because they remember problems they had with Massoud during the Soviet-Afghan War. Near East officers also think Massoud can only be of limited usefulness against bin Laden because of the geographical distance between Massoud’s forces in the north of Afghanistan and bin Laden’s base in the country’s south. [Coll, 2004, pp. 460-1] The CIA will soon send more personnel into Afghanistan to meet Massoud and discuss co-operation (see October 1999). However, a plan to make the increase substantial will be rejected in late 2000 and Massoud will still not be receiving much aid by 9/11 (see December 20, 2000).

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Cofer Black, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Alec Station, Counterterrorist Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The CIA drafts a new plan to combat al-Qaeda. The document, entitled “The Plan,” has several elements:
bullet Continue with the CIA’s rendition program, which had begun some time previously (see Summer 1995);
bullet Continue with disruption operations against al-Qaeda;
bullet Hire and train better officers with counterterrorism skills;
bullet Recruit more assets and try to penetrate al-Qaeda’s ranks;
bullet Close gaps in the collection of signals and imagery intelligence;
bullet Increase contacts with the Northern Alliance (see Summer 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 142]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Ahmed Shah Massoud.
Ahmed Shah Massoud. [Source: French Ministry of Foreign Affairs]Worried about intercepts showing a growing likelihood of al-Qaeda attacks around the millennium, the CIA steps up ties with Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. The CIA sends a team of agents, led by bin Laden unit chief Richard Blee, to Massoud’s headquarters in a remote part of northern Afghanistan, seeking his help to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. The CIA team and Massoud meet twice, and Blee tells him, “We have a common enemy.” Massoud complains that the US is too focused on bin Laden, and is not interested in the root problems of Taliban, Saudi, and Pakistani support for terrorism that is propping him up. He agrees to help nonetheless, and the CIA gives him more aid in return. However, the US is officially neutral in the Afghan civil war and the agents are prohibited from giving any aid that would “fundamentally alter the Afghan battlefield.” The CIA team will later be reported to admire Massoud greatly. They see him as “a Che Guevara figure, a great actor on history’s stage,” and “a poet, a military genius, a religious man, and a leader of enormous courage who defied death and accepted its inevitability.” Author Steve Coll will write: “The CIA team had gone into the Panjshir [Valley, where Massoud’s headquarters is located] as unabashed admirers of Massoud. Now their convictions deepened even as they recognized that the agency’s new partnership with the Northern Alliance would be awkward, limited, and perhaps unlikely to succeed.” Perhaps because of this, the team members agree with Massoud’s criticism of US policy and agree to lobby for a policy change in his favor in Washington. [Coll, 2004, pp. 469-472; Washington Post, 2/23/2004] DIA agent Julie Sirrs, newly retired, is at Massoud’s headquarters at the same time as the CIA team (see October 1998). She gathers valuable intelligence from captured al-Qaeda soldiers while the CIA agents stay in their guesthouse. She will publish much of what she learns on this trip and other trips in the summer of 2001. [Washington Post, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Osama bin Laden, Richard Blee, Northern Alliance, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Alec Station, Al-Qaeda, Julie Sirrs

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A US satellite photo of the Darunta camp.A US satellite photo of the Darunta camp. [Source: US military]By the start of 2000, US intelligence has had a particular focus on Darunta Camp, one of al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan. This simple camp near Jalalabad draws attention because of intelligence gathered during the last year indicating that al-Qaeda is experimenting with poisons and chemical weapons. The CIA has inserted a special device in the vicinity that can take high quality photographs of the camp from over ten miles away. Sometime in late January, the CIA learns that bin Laden has arrived in the camp. They pass this information on to Ahmed Shah Massoud and his Northern Alliance, who are fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Massoud dispatches a small team on mules to get near the camp and fire rockets at bin Laden. However, when Massoud tells the CIA about this, the CIA’s lawyers are alarmed. They don’t want the CIA legally complicit if the operation kills innocent civilians and they order Massoud to withdraw his team. But due to poor communications the team goes ahead anyway and apparently shells the camp. However, bin Laden is not hurt and the incident passes without notice. Some US intelligence officials are upset at the legal policy that led to the order for Massoud’s team to withdraw. A new policy is drawn up allowing the CIA to assist Massoud on an operation if the primary purpose of the operation is to kill bin Laden or one of his top assistants. Otherwise, the US officially remains neutral in the war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. [Coll, 2004, pp. 487-490]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency, Taliban, Northern Alliance, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Shah Massoud

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a plan to “roll back” al-Qaeda over a period of three to five years until it is ineffectual. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The main component is a dramatic increase in covert aid to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to first tie down the terrorists and then “eliminate the sanctuary” for bin Laden. Financial support for terrorist activities will be systematically attacked, nations fighting al-Qaeda will be given aid to defeat them, and the US will plan for direct military and covert action in Afghanistan. The plan will cost several hundred million dollars. However, since there are only a few weeks left before the Bush administration takes over, it is decided to defer the decision until the new administration is in place. One senior Clinton official later says, “We would be handing [the Bush administration] a war when they took office on January 20. That wasn’t going to happen.” However, the plan is rejected by the Bush administration and no action is taken (see January 25, 2001). According to one senior Bush administration official, the proposal amounts to “everything we’ve done since 9/11.” [Time, 8/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Northern Alliance, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Clinton administration, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

CIA managers Gary Schroen, of the Near East division, and Richard Blee, responsible for Alec Station, the agency’s bin Laden unit, meet Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud in Paris, France. [Coll, 2004, pp. 560] Massoud, who is in Europe to address the European Parliament (see April 6, 2001), tells Schroen and Blee “that his own intelligence had learned of al-Qaeda’s intention to perform a terrorist act against the United States that would be vastly greater than the bombings of the American embassies in East Africa.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 337] Declassified Defense Intelligence Agency documents from November 2001 will say that Massoud has gained “limited knowledge… regarding the intentions of [al-Qaeda] to perform a terrorist act against the US on a scale larger than the 1998 bombing of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.” They will further point out he may have been assassinated two days before 9/11 (see September 9, 2001) because he “began to warn the West.” [PakTribune (Islamabad), 9/13/2003; Agence France-Presse, 9/14/2003] Blee hands Massoud a briefcase full of cash. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Schroen and Blee assure Massoud that, although he has been visited less by the CIA recently, they are still interested in working with him, and they will continue to make regular payments of several hundred thousand dollars each month. Commenting on the military situation in Afghanistan, Massoud says his defenses will hold for now, but the Northern Alliance is doing badly and no longer has the strength to counterattack. [Coll, 2004, pp. 561-2]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Wright, Gary C. Schroen, Defense Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Massoud’s two assassins pictured just before their assassination attempt. One holds the rigged video camera.Massoud’s two assassins pictured just before their assassination attempt. One holds the rigged video camera. [Source: CNN]General Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, is assassinated by two al-Qaeda agents posing as Moroccan journalists. [Time, 8/12/2002] A legendary mujaheddin commander and a brilliant tactician, Massoud had pledged to bring freedom and democracy to Afghanistan. The BBC says the next day, “General Massoud’s death might well have meant the end of the [Northern] alliance” because there clearly was no figure with his skills and popularity to replace him. [BBC, 9/10/2001; BBC, 9/10/2001] “With Massoud out of the way, the Taliban and al-Qaeda would be rid of their most effective opponent and be in a stronger position to resist the American onslaught.” [St. Petersburg Times, 9/9/2002] It appears the assassination was supposed to happen earlier: the “journalists” waited for three weeks in Northern Alliance territory to meet Massoud. Finally on September 8, an aide says they “were so worried and excitable they were begging us.” They were granted an interview after threatening to leave if the interview did not happen in the next 24 hours. Meanwhile, the Taliban army (together with elements of the Pakistani army) had massed for an offensive against the Northern Alliance in the previous weeks, but the offensive began only hours after the assassination. Massoud was killed that day but Northern Alliance leaders pretend for several days that Massoud was only injured in order to keep the Northern Alliance army’s morale up, and they are able to stave off total defeat. The timing of the assassination and the actions of the Taliban army suggest that the 9/11 attacks were known to the Taliban leadership. [Time, 8/12/2002] Though it is not widely reported, the Northern Alliance releases a statement the next day: “Ahmed Shah Massoud was the target of an assassination attempt organized by the Pakistani [intelligence service] ISI and Osama bin Laden” (see September 10, 2001). [Radio Free Europe, 9/10/2001; Newsday, 9/15/2001; Reuters, 10/4/2001] This suggests that the ISI may also have had prior knowledge of the attack plans.

Entity Tags: Ahmed Shah Massoud, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Northern Alliance

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Northern Alliance releases a statement, saying, “Ahmed Shah Massoud was the target of an assassination attempt organized by the Pakistani [intelligence service] ISI and Osama bin Laden.” Massoud was the head leader of the Northern Alliance, the main group fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, until he was assassinated the previous day (see September 9, 2001). [Radio Free Europe, 9/10/2001; Newsday, 9/15/2001; Reuters, 10/4/2001] In June 2002, the New Yorker will report that there has been little to no investigation in Afghanistan into who was responsible for Massoud’s assassination. Even though the Northern Alliance has taken power, one of the figures some suspect of a role in the assassination is Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a warlord with radical Islamist ties but who also has gained power in the new Afghan government. However, Afghan Defense Minister and Northern Alliance leader Mohammad Qasim Fahim will tell the New Yorker that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was at ISI headquarters hours after Massoud was assassinated, possibly celebrating the assassination with ISI officials there (see September 9, 2001). [New Yorker, 6/10/2002] If Fahim had been immediately aware of this intelligence, it could help explain how quickly the Northern Alliance blamed the ISI.

Entity Tags: Mohammad Qasim Fahim, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Northern Alliance, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pervez Musharraf

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Shay Sullivan.Shay Sullivan. [Source: Longboat Observer]A group of Middle Eastern men pulls up at the resort on Longboat Key, Florida, where President Bush is staying and falsely claims to have an interview scheduled with the president, but the men are turned away from the premises, according to a local fire marshal who later hears about the incident. [Longboat Observer, 9/26/2001] Bush arrived at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key at 6:30 p.m. on September 10 and then spent the night there (see September 10, 2001). [Sammon, 2002, pp. 13; Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/10/2002] Sometime before 6:00 a.m. on September 11, or possibly on the evening of September 10, a van occupied by some Middle Eastern men pulls up at the resort. The men claim to be reporters and say they are there for a “poolside” interview with Bush. They then ask for a particular Secret Service agent by name. Security guards phone the receptionist at the resort and relay the men’s request. The receptionist has not heard of the Secret Service agent named by the men or anything about a planned interview with Bush. She passes the phone to a Secret Service agent, who similarly tells the security guards that no one knows of the agent the men referred to or is aware of any scheduled interview with the president. The Secret Service agent says the men should contact the president’s public relations office in Washington, DC, and has them turned away from the premises. [Longboat Observer, 9/26/2001; Longboat Observer, 9/7/2011]
Incident Resembles Recent Assassination Method - Some people will later note the similarity of this alleged incident to the method used to assassinate General Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, on September 9. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] Massoud was killed by a bomb hidden in the video camera of two Arab men who said they were journalists who wanted to interview him (see September 9, 2001). [Time, 8/12/2002; St. Petersburg Times, 9/9/2002] “Were the men on Longboat Key planning to kill Bush in similar fashion?” the St. Petersburg Times will ask. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004]
Fire Marshal Learns about Incident - The alleged incident on Longboat Key will come to light after reporter Shay Sullivan hears local Fire Marshal Carroll Mooneyhan describing it to a colleague during a lull in a firefighters’ union meeting and then writes an article about it for the Longboat Observer. Mooneyhan does not witness the incident firsthand, but will learn about it when he is at the front desk at the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort at around 6:00 a.m. on September 11. At that time, he will overhear the receptionist and a security guard discussing what happened. It is unclear when exactly the incident they discuss is meant to have occurred. [Longboat Observer, 9/26/2001; Longboat Observer, 9/7/2011] The Secret Service will question Mooneyhan about what he hears. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] Two weeks after 9/11, the FBI will reportedly be looking into the alleged incident. [Longboat Observer, 9/26/2001]
Incident Is Later Denied - The day after the incident is first reported in the Longboat Observer, Mooneyhan “went silent” about it, Sullivan will say. [Longboat Observer, 9/7/2011] In 2004, Mooneyhan will deny telling anyone at the Longboat Observer about the incident. “How did they get that information from me if I didn’t know it?” he will say. [St. Petersburg Times, 7/4/2004] However, Sullivan will suggest that Mooneyhan may have been “ordered to stop talking about it.” He will note that Secret Service agents visited his newspaper and “suggested we back off the story.” [Longboat Observer, 9/7/2011] Longboat Key Police Chief John Kintz will say in 2011 that he has been unable to find any evidence of the incident. “[T]here wasn’t a single person who could confirm that it happened,” he will say, adding, “We never found anyone who worked at the gate who could tell us that that happened.” [Longboat Observer, 9/7/2011]
Other Suspicious Incidents Occur - Other suspicious incidents occur in the Longboat Key area around this time. Shortly after 4:00 a.m. on September 11, a Sudanese man contacts police in Sarasota and says he is concerned that a friend of his might pose a threat to the president while he is visiting the area (see 4:07 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Summers and Swan, 2011, pp. 457] And at 8:50 a.m. on September 11, a local man will see a van in Sarasota with two Middle Eastern men screaming out the windows, “Down with Bush” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Longboat Observer, 9/26/2001] Whether these two incidents are related to the alleged incident at the Longboat Key resort is unclear.

Entity Tags: Carroll Mooneyhan, George W. Bush, John Kintz, US Secret Service, Shay Sullivan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, wonders if the recent assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, was carried out as part of the preparations for today’s terrorist attacks on the United States and Cheney agrees when he suggests this possibility. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 41-42] Libby is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center below the White House with Cheney and other senior government officials. [White House, 11/14/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 18] While thinking about today’s attacks on the US, his mind turns to Massoud. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 41-42] Massoud was the commander of the Northern Alliance, the resistance group fighting Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban and the al-Qaeda terrorist network they shelter. He was killed on September 9 by a bomb hidden in a video camera carried by two men who claimed they were journalists who wanted to interview him (see September 9, 2001). [Time, 8/12/2002; St. Petersburg Times, 9/9/2002] In light of this, it occurs to Libby that the “strongest fighting force battling al-Qaeda and the Taliban had lost its most important leader” just two days before America was attacked. “The United States had been deprived of an ally who could have been counted on to join in any military operation against [Osama] bin Laden and his cohort,” journalist and author Kurt Eichenwald will later note. Libby wonders if Massoud’s murder was an “unlikely coincidence or perhaps more proof that bin Laden’s hand was behind the hijackings,” according to Eichenwald. He puts his thoughts down on a piece of paper, writing, “Did Massoud’s assassination pave the way for the attack in the United States?” and passes the note to Cheney. Cheney reads it, turns to Libby, and nods his head. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 41-42] The St. Petersburg Times will similarly observe that the assassination meant, “With Massoud out of the way, the Taliban and al-Qaeda would be rid of their most effective opponent, and be in a stronger position to resist the American onslaught” that was likely to follow the 9/11 attacks. “As head of the Northern Alliance and an avowed enemy of the Taliban, Massoud would have been a key figure in any attempt by America to oust the regime and the terrorists it harbored,” the St. Petersburg Times will note. [St. Petersburg Times, 9/9/2002]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Shah Massoud, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Michael Scheuer, former head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see February 1996), returns to the unit to serve as an adviser, but is not allowed to debrief detainees. Scheuer, who was fired from the unit in 1999 (see June 1999), remains with Alec Station until 2004, when he resigns from the CIA and authors Imperial Hubris, a book critical of the CIA and the US government’s fight against terrorism in general. He had finished his first book, Through Our Enemies’ Eyes, before 9/11, and it is released in 2002. He will later complain that he is given a job title but no official duties. Other CIA officers seek out his services, but these requests are blocked, apparently by James Pavitt, the Deputy Director of Operations. Scheuer comments: “The CIA knew that Through Our Enemies’ Eyes was respected by Islamists and that, as the author, I would be an effective debriefer. Mr. Pavitt, however, put burying my career above using me to elicit information to defend America.” [Scheuer, 2005, pp. 264; Scheuer, 2006, pp. xvii]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Scheuer, Alec Station, James Pavitt

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Alan Cullison, a Wall Street Journal reporter in Afghanistan, obtains two computers looted from an al-Qaeda house in Kabul. One computer apparently belonged to al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef but contained few files. The other had been used mostly by al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman Al-Zawahiri and had about 1,000 files dating back to 1997. The reporter later gives the computers to the CIA which confirms the authenticity of the files. The computer files reveal how al-Qaeda operates on a day-to-day basis. The files include correspondence, budgets, attack plans, and training manuals. Messages between various al-Qaeda’s offices reveal a fractious, contentious community of terror plotters. There are disputes about theology, strategy, and even expense reports. A montage of 9/11 television reports set to rousing victory reports shows that the computer was used after the attacks. While some of the new information is surprising, for the most part it confirms the claims made about al-Qaeda by Western governments. A letter drafted on the computer in May 2001 confirms that al-Qaeda was behind the assassination of Ahmed Shah Massoud (see September 9, 2001). Other messages shows that the organization orchestrated the 1998 embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). However, there is no material relating specifically to the plotting of the 9/11 attacks. [Wall Street Journal, 12/31/2001; Atlantic Monthly, 9/2004]

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In the wake of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida’s arrest (see March 28, 2002), the FBI discovers much useful information (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). FBI agent Dan Coleman leads a team to sort through Zubaida’s computer files and documents. However, at the same time, some US officials come to believe that Zubaida’s prominence in al-Qaeda’s hierarchy has been overestimated. Many FBI officials conclude that he was used as little more than a travel agent for training camp attendees because he was mentally ill. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
FBI Agent Coleman: Zubaida Is Mentally Crippled - FBI counterterrorist operative Dan Coleman will go through Zubaida’s journals and other materials seized from his Faisalabad safe house. Coleman will say: “Abu Zubaydah was like a receptionist, like the guy at the front desk [of a hotel]. He takes their papers, he sends them out. It’s an important position, but he’s not recruiting or planning.” Because Zubaida is not conversant with al-Qaeda security methods, “[t]hat was why his name had been cropping up for years.” Of Zubaida’s diaries, Coleman will say: “There’s nothing in there that refers to anything outside his head, not even when he saw something on the news, not about any al-Qaeda attack, not even 9/11. All it does is reveal someone in torment. [Zubaida is physically and mentally crippled from wounds suffered fighting in Afghanistan in the early 1990s.] Based on what I saw of his personality, he could not be what they say he was.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] Coleman will add: “He knew very little about real operations, or strategy. He was expendable.” Zubaida’s diary evidences his apparent schizophrenia; he wrote it in three different personas, or voices, each with a different and distinctive personality. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
Islamist Al-Deen: Importance Overstated? - Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager, was captured along with Zubaida. The terrified al-Deen will readily answer questions from his captors, and will describe Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. Al-Deen will be sent to a detention facility in Morocco and later to Syria; his subsequent whereabouts and status will remain unknown to the public. [Washington Post, 3/29/2009]
Informant Says Zubaida Behaved Oddly - Other accounts back up this assessment. For instance, Omar Nasiri, a former informant for European intelligence agencies who met Zubaida in the 1990s, will later describe Zubaida’s odd behavior, saying he “shuffled around his home in near-total darkness, carrying a gas lantern from room to room. He barely spoke and would often communicate by pointing.” [New Yorker, 1/22/2007]
CIA Officer Scheuer: Zubaida Served as Key Hub - Michael Scheuer, who previously ran the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see February 1996), will later say of Zubaida’s importance: “I’d followed him for a decade. If there was one guy you could call a ‘hub,’ he was it.” Scheuer will describe Zubaida not as an actual al-Qaeda member, but “the main cog in the way they organized,” a point of contact for Islamists from many parts of the globe seeking combat training in the Afghan camps. Scheuer will say that Zubaida, a Palestinian, “never swore bayat [al-Qaeda’s oath of allegiance] to bin Laden,” and he was bent on causing damage to Israel, not the US. [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Involvement in Pre-9/11 Plots - However, Zubaida does appear to have been involved in numerous plots before 9/11 (see for instance November 30, 1999 and Early September 2001). Al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam cooperated with US investigators after being arrested. He worked with Zubaida and suggested Zubaida was of some importance, but not one of al-Qaeda’s highest leaders. According to Ressam, Zubaida “is the person in charge of the [training] camps. He receives young men from all countries. He accepts you or rejects you. He takes care of the expenses of the camps. He makes arrangements for you when you travel coming in or leaving.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 133] Furthermore, when Zubaida was caught, apparently he and several others staying with him were in the middle of building a bomb. According to one of the CIA officers who helped capture him, the soldering iron used in making the bomb was still hot when he was captured (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
CIA Chief Tenet Rejects Diagnosis of Schizophrenia - In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet will claim that the reports that Zubaida was mentally unstable were “[b]aloney.… Apparently, the source of the rumor that Abu Zubaida was unbalanced was his personal diary, in which he adopted various personas. From that shaky perch, some junior Freudians leapt to the conclusion that Zubaida had multiple personalities. In fact, agency psychiatrists eventually determined that in his diary he was using a sophisticated literary device to express himself.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 243]
Zubaida Touted as High-Level Terror Chief - Regardless, despite being briefed otherwise, President Bush and others in his administration will repeatedly tout the importance of capturing Zubaida and no hint of any doubts about his importance or sanity will be publicly expressed (see April 9, 2002 and After). [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, George J. Tenet, Dan Coleman, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Abu Zubaida, Ahmed Ressam, Omar Nasiri, Noor al-Deen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Late 2005: CIA Closes Unit Hunting Bin Laden

The CIA closes its unit that had been in charge of hunting bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders. Analysts in the unit, known as Alec Station, are reassigned to other parts of the CIA Counterterrorist Center. CIA officials explain the change by saying the agency can better deal with high-level threats by focusing on regional trends rather than on specific organizations or individuals. Michael Scheuer, who headed the unit when if formed in 1996 (see February 1996), says the move reflects a view within the CIA that bin Laden is no longer the threat he once was, and complains, “This will clearly denigrate our operations against al-Qaeda.” Robert Grenier, head of the Counterterrorist Center in 2005, is said to have instigated the closure. [New York Times, 7/4/2006; Guardian, 7/4/2006] The White House denies the search for bin Laden has slackened, calling the move merely a “reallocation of resources” within the CIA. [Reuters, 8/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Robert Grenier, Osama bin Laden, Counterterrorist Center, Alec Station, Michael Scheuer, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck has a special segment called “War Games” during the week’s broadcasts. In today’s show, he is joined by former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer (see February 1996) and retired Army Sergeant Major, Tim Strong. The three discuss what they say is the upcoming “civil war” in America, which, they assert, will be led by “citizen militias” made up of principled, ideologically correct conservatives. Beck says that he “believes we’re on this road.” The three decide among themselves that the US military would refuse to obey President Obama’s orders to subdue the insurrection and would instead join with “the people” in “defending the Constitution” against the government. [Salon, 2/22/2009] Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin’s blog “Hot Air” features an entry that calls Beck’s rhetoric “implausible” and “nutty.” [Hot Air, 2/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Michelle Malkin, Tim Strong, Fox News, Glenn Beck

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism, 2010 Elections

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