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Context of 'Mid-July 2004: White House Chief of Staff Likes 9/11 Commission Report, Thinks It Proves No Threat to Bush'

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On January 6, 2000, the CIA station in Malaysia begins passing details from the Malaysian government’s surveillance of the al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to the CIA Counterterrorist Center (CTC) (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). Cofer Black, head of the CTC, orders that he be continually informed about the meeting. CIA Director George Tenet is frequently informed as well. They are given continual updates until the meeting ends on January 8. [Stern, 8/13/2003] National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, FBI Director Louis Freeh, and other top officials are briefed, but apparently President Clinton is not. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 225-26] However, it appears that the CIA deliberately and repeatedly fails to tell the FBI that one attendee, future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, has an active visa to visit the US (see Mid-July 2004, January 6, 2000, and January 5-6, 2000). No evidence will be presented suggesting anyone else outside the CIA is told this crucial fact either. The Malaysia summit ends on January 8. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237] Officially, the CIA will later claim to have lost future hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar as they left the meeting (see January 8, 2000). However, Almihdhar will later report back to al-Qaeda that he thought he was followed to the US (see Mid-July 2000). It will not be reported whether any of the other attendees are monitored after leaving the meeting.

Entity Tags: Sandy Berger, Nawaf Alhazmi, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Khalid Almihdhar, Counterterrorist Center, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Cofer Black, Louis J. Freeh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) ends and the participants leave. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar fly to Bangkok, Thailand, with al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see January 8, 2000). Other attendees depart to other locales. There have been no media reports that any of the others were followed by intelligence agents. [Associated Press, 9/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file] Before the summit started the CIA knew one attendee was named Khalid Almihdhar and that another had the first name Nawaf. At the end of the summit the CIA appears to have learned little more, and still does not know Nawaf’s last name is Alhazmi. Around this time, on January 7 and 10, the CIA searches for their names in their databases but get no hits. Yet they don’t ask for a search of the much larger NSA databases, which had vital information on them (see Early 1999). CIA headquarters asks the NSA to put Almihdhar on their watch list so they can pass on more information about him (see Mid-January 2000). However, neither Alhazmi nor Almihdhar are placed on the State Department’s watch list, which would actually prevent them from coming to the US. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] The CIA still fails to tell the FBI that Almihdhar has a valid US visa, and in fact seems to go out of their way not to tell the FBI about it (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, January 6, 2000, Mid-July 2004, and January 5-6, 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file; Stern, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Al-Qaeda, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khallad bin Attash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings.President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings. [Source: White House]President Bush receives a classified presidential daily briefing (PDB) at his Crawford, Texas ranch indicating that Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. The PDB provided to him is entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” The entire briefing focuses on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the US. [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Newsweek, 5/27/2002] The analysts who drafted the briefing will say that they drafted it on the CIA’s initiative (see July 13, 2004), whereas in 2004 Bush will state that he requested a briefing on the topic due to threats relating to a conference in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001, where Western intelligence agencies believed Osama bin Laden was involved in a plot to crash an airplane into a building to kill Bush and other leaders (see April 13, 2004). The analysts will later explain that they saw it as an opportunity to convey that the threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the US was both current and serious. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260] The existence of this briefing is kept secret, until it is leaked in May 2002, causing a storm of controversy (see May 15, 2002). While National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim the memo is only one and a half pages long, other accounts state it is 11 1/2 pages instead of the usual two or three. [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Newsweek, 5/27/2002; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] A page and a half of the contents will be released on April 10, 2004; this reportedly is the full content of the briefing. [Washington Post, 4/10/2004] The briefing, as released, states as follows (note that the spelling of certain words are corrected and links have been added):
bullet Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US (see December 1, 1998). Bin Laden implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America” (see May 26, 1998).
bullet After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a -REDACTED-service (see December 21, 1998).
bullet An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told -REDACTED- service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.
bullet The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden’s first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself (see December 14, 1999), but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaida encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaida was planning his own US attack (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001).
bullet Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
bullet Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993 (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.
bullet Al-Qaeda members—including some who are US citizens—have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks (see January 25, 2001). Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US citizens (see September 15, 1998), and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s (see November 1989 and September 10, 1998).
bullet A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks (see October-November 1998).
bullet “We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [REDACTED] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and other US-held extremists” (see 1998, December 4, 1998, and May 23, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223] According to the Washington Post, this information came from a British service. [Washington Post, 5/18/2002]
bullet Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York (see May 30, 2001).
bullet The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related (see August 6, 2001). CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives (see May 16-17, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223]
In retrospect, the briefing is remarkable for the many warnings that apparently are not included (see for instance, from the summer of 2001 prior to August alone: May 2001, June 2001, June 12, 2001, June 19, 2001, Late Summer 2001, July 2001, July 16, 2001, Late July 2001, Late July 2001, Summer 2001, June 30-July 1, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Early August 2001). According to one account, after the PDB has been given to him, Bush tells the CIA briefer, “You’ve covered your ass now” (see August 6, 2001). Incredibly, the New York Times later reports that after being given the briefing, Bush “[breaks] off from work early and [spends] most of the day fishing.” [New York Times, 5/25/2002] In 2002 and again in 2004, National Security Adviser Rice will incorrectly claim under oath that the briefing only contained historical information from 1998 and before (see May 16, 2002 and April 8, 2004).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Islamic Jihad, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Los Angeles International Airport, Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, World Trade Center, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Commission, Ahmed Ressam, Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” from 1998 until October 2001, ignites a public debate by accusing President Bush of doing a poor job fighting al-Qaeda before 9/11. In a prominent 60 Minutes interview, he says: “I find it outrageous that the president is running for re-election on the grounds that he’s done such great things about terrorism. He ignored it. He ignored terrorism for months, when maybe we could have done something to stop 9/11.… I think he’s done a terrible job on the war against terrorism.” He adds: “We had a terrorist organization that was going after us! Al-Qaeda. That should have been the first item on the agenda. And it was pushed back and back and back for months.” He complains that he was Bush’s chief adviser on terrorism, yet he never got to brief Bush on the subject until after 9/11. [CBS News, 3/21/2004; CBS News, 3/21/2004; Guardian, 3/23/2004; Salon, 3/24/2004] Author Philip Shenon will call the interview “gripping” and comment that Clarke is “made for television.” This is because of his “urgent speaking style” and his “shock of white hair and ghostly pallor,” which makes it look like he has “emerged from years of hiding in sunless back rooms of the West Wing to share the terrible secrets he ha[s] learned.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 277] The next day, his book Against All Enemies is released and becomes a bestseller. [Washington Post, 3/22/2004] He testifies before the 9/11 Commission a few days later (see March 24, 2004).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Richard A. Clarke, Philip Shenon

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

White House chief of staff Andy Card learns what the 9/11 Commission Report contains before it is published, as the various chapters are sent to the White House for classification review before the publication date. Card then hears back from the review teams. Despite fears about allegations made by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke (see March 21, 2004) and a key Presidential Daily Brief item (see August 6, 2001), in the words of author Philip Shenon, Card can see “that the Commission’s final report posed no threat to [President] Bush’s re-election.” This is because the report does not “single out individuals for blame. Certainly not George Bush.” The allegations by Clarke, related in a “he-said, she-said” manner in the report, also do not damage National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 411]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Andrew Card

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A redacted summary of a report by the CIA’s inspector general into some aspects of the agency’s pre-9/11 performance is released. The report’s main points are:
bullet No CIA employees violated the law or were guilty of misconduct in the run-up to 9/11;
bullet However, some officials did not perform their duties in a satisfactory manner. The report recommended accountability boards be convened to review their performance, but former CIA Director Porter Goss decided against this recommendation in 2005 (see October 10, 2005);
bullet There was no “silver bullet” that could have prevented 9/11, but if officers had performed satisfactorily, they would have had a better chance of stopping the attacks;
bullet The CIA had no comprehensive strategy to combat al-Qaeda before 9/11 (see After December 4, 1998 and Between Mid-December 2002 and June 2004);
bullet Management of counterterrorism funds was poor (see 1997-2001);
bullet Arguments between the CIA and NSA negatively impacted counterterrorism efforts (see December 1996, Late August 1998, and 2000);
bullet Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was well-known to the CIA before 9/11, but his case was badly handled (see 1997 or After);
bullet There were numerous failures related to the CIA’s monitoring of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see Mid-January-March 2000, 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, Mid-July 2004, (After January 6, 2000), and March 5, 2000);
bullet The CIA also missed “several additional opportunities” to watchlist Pentagon hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 8, 2000 and August 23, 2001). Such watchlisting could have led to them being denied entry, or being placed under surveillance in the US;
bullet The CIA was confused about whether it was authorized to assassinate Osama bin Laden or not (see Mid-August 1998, December 24, 1998, December 26, 1998 and After, February 1999, February 1999, and December 1999);
bullet There were various problems with assets and operations linked to foreign services. [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005 pdf file]
The media picks various angles in commenting on the report (see August 21, 2007), which is criticized by current CIA Director Michael Hayden (see August 21, 2007) and former Director George Tenet (see August 21, 2007).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Inspector General (CIA)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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