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Context of 'January-June 2004: 9/11 Commission Staffer Discovers Material Possibly Linking Iran to 9/11 Figures Unnoticed in NSA Archives'

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9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alghamdi apparently flies to Beirut. Based on NSA reporting drafted shortly after September 11, the 9/11 Commission will say that a senior Hezbollah operative is on the same flight, although it will point out that this is “perhaps by coincidence.” The commission will suggest this is the first leg on a journey to Afghanistan, and say that this flight may be part of Iranian assistance to al-Qaeda consisting of allowing operatives to transit Iran without stamping their passports on the way to and from Afghanistan (see After October 12, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240, 529; Shenon, 2008, pp. 370-3] Alghamdi obtained a US visa in Saudi Arabia on September 3, 2000. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 13 pdf file] What he did between obtaining the visa and taking this flight is unknown, as is the place from which he flies to Beirut.

Entity Tags: Ahmed Alghamdi, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Waleed Alshehri.Waleed Alshehri. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Based on intelligence reports, the 9/11 Commission will later say that 9/11 hijackers Wail Alshehri, Waleed Alshehri, and Ahmed Alnami travel in a group from Saudi Arabia to Beirut and then onward to Iran in mid-November 2000. An associate of a senior Hezbollah operative is also on the flight from Beirut to Iran. According to US intelligence, Hezbollah officials in Beirut and Iran are expecting the arrival of a group at around this time and this group is important enough to merit the attention of senior figures in Hezbollah. The commission will say that this flight may be part of Iranian assistance to al-Qaeda consisting of allowing operatives to transit Iran without stamping their passports on the way to and from Afghanistan (see After October 12, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240, 529]
Contradicted by Families' Claims - However, two to three years before the 9/11 Commission publishes these claims, the families of both Ahmed Alnami and the Alshehri brothers will deny they travel anywhere at this time, and say they leave home in December, not the middle of November. After 9/11, Alnami’s father will initially say Alnami has been missing since December 2000 and will later repeat that he left home in December 2000 in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. [Washington Post, 9/25/2001; Daily Telegraph, 9/15/2002] The Alshehri brothers’ family will also claim they do not leave until after mid-November 2000. Initially, the father will say that they left “last Ramadan.” [Arab News, 9/17/2001] The month of Ramadan begins on November 27 in 2000. [Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 11/26/2000] Based on a 2002 interview with one of their brothers, the Boston Globe will also later say that they leave in December. [Boston Globe, 3/3/2002] If this is true, the story of their travel with a Hezbollah operative would probably be incorrect.
9/11 Commission's Sourcing - The 9/11 Commission cites intelligence reports, mostly drafted between October and December 2001, as its sources. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240, 529] These reports come from the NSA. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 370-373]
Alnami Possibly Tracked by Saudi Intelligence - According to the 9/11 Commission, Alnami may have had a passport with an indicator of Islamic extremism (see November 6, 1999). Such indicators were used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007).

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Wail Alshehri, Ahmed Alnami, Waleed Alshehri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 Commission staffer Lorry Fenner.9/11 Commission staffer Lorry Fenner. [Source: Public domain]9/11 Commission staffer Lorry Fenner, who is reading through NSA material related to al-Qaeda on her own initiative (see January 2004), finds material possibly linking Iran and Hezbollah to al-Qaeda. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 157, 370-1] The material indicates that between eight and ten of the future hijackers traveled between Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, and other destinations via Iran. For example, in November 2000, one of the hijackers, Ahmed Alghamdi, took the same flight as a senior Hezbollah official (see November 2000), although the 9/11 Commission report will say this may be a “coincidence.” An associate of a senior Hezbollah operative took the same flight as another three of the hijackers in November 2000, and Hezbollah officials were expecting an undefined group to arrive at the same time. However, the hijackers’ families will say they were in Saudi Arabia at this time (see Mid-November, 2000). Based on information such as this, the commission will conclude that Iran helped al-Qaeda operatives transit Iran by not stamping their passports, but that neither it nor Hezbollah had any knowledge of the 9/11 plot. Under interrogation, detainees Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Ramzi bin al-Shibh say that some of the hijackers did transit Iran, but that they had no assistance from the Iranian authorities. However, such statements were apparently made after they were tortured, bringing their reliability into question (see June 16, 2004 and August 6, 2007). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 240-1] The NSA intelligence reports the information about Iranian and Hezbollah is based on were mostly drafted between October and December 2001, so it is possible that the NSA was monitoring Hezbollah in 2000 and then matched up travel by that organization’s operatives with the 9/11 hijackers’ travel, ascertained from airlines, for example, after 9/11. One of the reports, entitled “operative’s claimed identification of photos of two Sept. 11 hijackers,” is dated August 9, 2002. It is unclear who the operative is or how he allegedly came into contact with the alleged 9/11 hijackers. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 529]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Lorry Fenner, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Hezbollah, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Iran, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission’s cursory review of NSA material related to the attacks and al-Qaeda in general does not find any reports about NSA intercepts of communications between the hijackers in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Neither does it find any reports about calls intercepted by the NSA between alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and lead hijacker Mohamed Atta (see Summer 2001 and September 10, 2001). Author Philip Shenon will write about the commission’s review of the NSA files in a 2008 book and will discuss what Commission staffers found there, but will not mention these intercepts, some of which were mentioned in declassified portions of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004). The review is only conducted by a few staffers (see January 2004, June 2004, and Between July 1 and July 17, 2004) and is not comprehensive, so it is unclear whether the NSA does not provide the reports to the 9/11 Commission, or the commission simply fails to find them in the large number of files the NSA made available to it. However, the staffers do find material possibly linking some of the hijackers to Iran and Hezbollah (see January-June 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 87-8, 155-7, 370-3] In its final report, the commission will make passing references to some of the calls the NSA intercepted without pointing out that the NSA actually intercepted them. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 87-88, 222] However, the endnotes that indicate the sources of these sections will not contain any references to NSA reports, but instead refer to an interview with NSA Director Michael Hayden and an FBI timeline of the hijackers’ activities. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 477, 518]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Lloyd Salvetti.Lloyd Salvetti. [Source: CIA]9/11 Commission staffer Lorry Fenner, who has been reviewing material the NSA provided to the 9/11 Commission on her own (see January 2004), asks two colleagues to examine information she found in the files indicating some of the 9/11 hijackers traveled through Iran (see January-June 2004). The first is Lloyd Salvetti, the aging head of the CIA’s museum who is on loan to the commission. Fenner asks for his opinion because the review of the NSA information is not her official job at the commission and she is uncomfortable about approaching the commission’s executive director, Philip Zelikow, over the issue, which she feels is important. Salvetti soon finds that Fenner’s fears are “well-founded” and the NSA files are a “gold mine, full of information about al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups dating back to the early 1990s—material that the commission should have read through months earlier.” He also forms the opinion that there may have been some co-operation between al-Qaeda and elements of Hezbollah and Iran on travel issues. Salvetti then asks another commission staffer, former CIA analyst Doug MacEachin, to look over the material. MacEachin is just as alarmed as Fenner and Salvetti and they realize that, even though the commission must issue its final report very soon, something needs to be done. The three inform both Zelikow and NSA director Michael Hayden, and a group of commission staffers soon spend a day at the NSA (see Between July 1 and July 17, 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 370-3]

Entity Tags: Lloyd Salvetti, Doug MacEachin, Lorry Fenner, 9/11 Commission, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission releases a new report on how the 9/11 plot developed. Most of their information appears to come from interrogations of prisoners Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), the 9/11 mastermind, and Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a key member of the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell. In this account, the idea for the attacks appears to have originated with KSM. In mid-1996, he met bin Laden and al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef in Afghanistan. He presented several ideas for attacking the US, including a version of the 9/11 plot using ten planes (presumably an update of Operation Bojinka’s second phase plot (see February-Early May 1995)). Bin Laden does not commit himself. In 1999, bin Laden approves a scaled-back version of the idea, and provides four operatives to carry it out: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khallad bin Attash, and Abu Bara al Taizi. Attash and al Taizi drop out when they fail to get US visas. Alhazmi and Almihdhar prove to be incompetent pilots, but the recruitment of Mohamed Atta and the others in the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell solves that problem. Bin Laden wants the attacks to take place between May and July 2001, but the attacks are ultimately delayed until September. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] However, information such as these accounts resulting from prisoner interrogations is seriously doubted by some experts, because it appears they only began cooperating after being coerced or tortured. For instance, it is said that KSM was “waterboarded,” a technique in which his head is pushed under water until he nearly drowns. Information gained under such duress often is unreliable. Additionally, there is a serious risk that the prisoners might try to intentionally deceive. [New York Times, 6/17/2004] For instance, one CIA report of his interrogations is called, “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s Threat Reporting—Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies.” [Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004] The Commission itself expresses worry that KSM could be trying to exaggerate the role of bin Laden in the plot to boost bin Laden’s reputation in the Muslim world. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004] Most of what these prisoners have said is uncorroborated from other sources. [New York Times, 6/17/2004] In 2007, it will be alleged that as much as 90 percent of KSM’s interrogation could be inaccurate, and that he has recanted some of his confessions (see August 6, 2007).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, 9/11 Commission, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Shortly before the 9/11 Commission is due to release its final report (see July 22, 2004), Commission Chairman Thomas Kean says, “We believe.… that there were a lot more active contacts, frankly, [between al-Qaeda and] Iran and with Pakistan than there were with Iraq.” [Time, 7/16/2004] This is based on a review of NSA material performed by one commission staffer (see January-June 2004) and a day trip to NSA headquarters by a group of staffers to examine material there (see Between July 1 and July 17, 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 155-7, 370-373] The US media immediately runs prominent stories on the Commission’s evidence regarding Iran and nearly completely ignores evidence regarding Pakistan. The Commission’s final report mentions that around ten of the hijackers passed through Iran in late 2000 and early 2001. At least some Iranian officials turned a blind eye to the passage of al-Qaeda agents, but there was no evidence that the Iranian government had any foreknowledge or involvement in the 9/11 plot (see Mid-July 2004). [Time, 7/16/2004; Reuters, 7/18/2004] In the wake of these findings, President Bush states of Iran, “As to direct connections with September 11, we’re digging into the facts to determine if there was one.” This puts Bush at odds with his own CIA, which has seen no Iran-9/11 ties. [Los Angeles Times, 7/20/2004] Bush has long considered Iran part of his “axis of evil,” and there has been talk of the US attacking or overthrowing the Iranian government. [Reuters, 7/18/2004] Provocative articles appear, such as one in the Daily Telegraph titled, “Now America Accuses Iran of Complicity in World Trade Center Attack.” [Daily Telegraph, 7/18/2004] Yet, while this information on Iran makes front page news in most major newspapers, evidence of a much stronger connection between Pakistan and 9/11 is nearly completely ignored. For instance, only UPI reports on a document suggesting high-level Pakistani involvement in the 9/11 attacks that is revealed this same week. [United Press International, 7/22/2004] Furthermore, the 9/11 Commission’s final report will contain almost nothing on Pakistan’s ties to al-Qaeda, despite evidence given to the Commission that, according to one commissioner speaking to the Los Angeles Times, showed that Pakistan was “up to their eyeballs” in intrigue with al-Qaeda. [Los Angeles Times, 7/16/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Thomas Kean, Pakistan, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, Iran, 9/11 Commission, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections

John Brennan.John Brennan. [Source: PBS]An article in the New Yorker magazine reveals that the CIA interrogations of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) were not as reliable as they are typically made out to be. Mohammed was interrogated with methods such as waterboarding that are regarded as torture by many. CIA official John Brennan, former chief of staff for CIA Director George Tenet, acknowledges, “All these methods produced useful information, but there was also a lot that was bogus.” One former top CIA official estimates that “ninety per cent of the information was unreliable.” Cables of Mohammed’s interrogation transcripts sent to higher-ups reportedly were prefaced with the warning that “the detainee has been known to withhold information or deliberately mislead.” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] For instance, one CIA report of his interrogations was called, “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s Threat Reporting—Precious Truths, Surrounded by a Bodyguard of Lies” (see June 16, 2004). [Los Angeles Times, 6/23/2004] Former CIA analyst Bruce Riedel asks, “What are you going to do with KSM in the long run? It’s a very good question. I don’t think anyone has an answer. If you took him to any real American court, I think any judge would say there is no admissible evidence. It would be thrown out.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) says, “A guy as dangerous as KSM is, and half the world wonders if they can believe him—is that what we want? Statements that can’t be believed, because people think they rely on torture?” [New Yorker, 8/6/2007] Journalist James Risen wrote in a 2006 book, “According to a well-placed CIA source, [Mohammed] has now recanted some of what he previously told the CIA during his interrogations. That is an enormous setback for the CIA, since [his debriefings] had been considered among the agency’s most important sources of intelligence on al-Qaeda. It is unclear precisely which of his earlier statements [he] has now disavowed, but any recantation by the most important prisoner in the global war on terror must call into question much of what the United States has obtained from other prisoners around the world…” [Risen, 2006, pp. 33] In a 2008 Vanity Fair interview, a former senior CIA official familiar with the interrogation reports on Mohammed will say, “90 percent of it was total f_cking bullsh_t.” A former Pentagon analyst will add: “KSM produced no actionable intelligence. He was trying to tell us how stupid we were.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Carl Levin, John O. Brennan, Bruce Riedel, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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