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Context of '(January 5-8, 2000): Al-Qaeda Malaysia Summit Attendees Photographed'

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Although Malaysian authorities video the militants attending al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit on its first day (see January 5, 2000), photos of the meeting’s attendees are later circulated and must be taken during the meeting as well. One account says that, in general: “As the terrorists left the [condominium where the summit was held], the Malaysian police clicked away with their cameras. There was enough material for a whole photo series.” (Schrom 10/1/2002) As of March 2008, none of the photos have been made public, and information about them is scanty. However, it is known that the photos include:
bullet Three high-quality surveillance photos later shown to the FBI (see June 11, 2001). One is shot from a low angle and shows 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi standing by a tree. The two others in this set appear to show Almihdhar and Alhazmi individually, and will also later be shown to Yemeni authorities and an FBI asset in Pakistan (see Mid-Late December 2000, Early January 2001, January 3, 2001, and January 4, 2001). (Wright 2006, pp. 341)
bullet More photos of Almihdhar “meeting with other al-Qaeda operatives.” He is also “photographed in various locations meeting with several different people.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 234, 243 pdf file) The photos of Almihdhar include ones taken at his hotel, which is discovered by the Malaysians, and more coming and going from the condominium where the meeting is held. (Klaidman, Isikoff, and Hosenball 9/20/2001 pdf file; Helmore and Vulliamy 10/7/2001)
bullet A picture of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, apparently standing by Alhazmi and Almihdhar. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 285 pdf file; Wright 2006, pp. 342)
bullet Photos of USS Cole bomber Fahad al-Quso, or a person who looks like him, standing next to Almihdhar. (Klaidman, Isikoff, and Hosenball 9/20/2001 pdf file)
bullet A picture of Ramzi bin al-Shibh next to bin Attash. (Drogin and Meyer 10/17/2001; Schrom 10/1/2002)
bullet Hambali, head of an al-Qaeda affiliate in Southeast Asia, is in some photos, and is immediately recognized by Malaysian intelligence (see Shortly After January 8, 2000).
bullet Yazid Sufaat, the summit’s host, is also in some photos, and also is recognized by Malaysian intelligence. (Pereira 2/10/2002)
bullet On January 8, the CIA will be told that an unnamed new person has just joined Almihdhar and the others, and that additional photographs have been taken. It is not mentioned who the new person is. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 247 pdf file)
The total number of photos taken and then passed to the CIA is not known. It is also unclear why only two or three of the photos are circulated within the within some US intelligence agencies before 9/11 (see Early January 2001, January 3, 2001, Late May, 2001, and June 11, 2001).

While in Thailand, 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi associate with three of the operatives who will later be involved in the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). The two hijackers arrive with Khallad bin Attash, who will command the Cole operation. The three of them come from Malaysia, where they were under surveillance by the CIA (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 8, 2000). While in Bangkok, bin Attash meets Cole bombers Fahad al-Quso and Ibrahim al-Thawar, who give bin Attash some money, possibly $36,000. Some of this may be passed to Alhazmi and Almihdhar. Under interrogation after 9/11, bin Attash will claim that, even though they all stay in the same hotel for part of the time (see (January 5-8, 2000)) the two groups do not meet. However, such statements are thought to be unreliable because of the methods used to extract them (see June 16, 2004). (9/11 Commission 1/26/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 159; Wright 2006, pp. 312) Shown photographs of Alhazmi and Almihdhar after 9/11 by the FBI, al-Quso will say that he recognizes the two, but indicate that this may be because he met them at camps in Afghanistan. (Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) However, he is apparently photographed by Malaysian authorities standing next to Almihdhar in Kuala Lumpur (see (January 5-8, 2000)).

The US knows that Hambali has ties to the 1995 Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995) but apparently fails to share this information with Malaysian authorities, who therefore miss a chance to arrest him. By 1999, the US determined that Hambali was one of the founders of Konsonjaya, a front company central to funding the Bojinka plot (see May 23, 1999). US investigators also found a photograph of him on Ramzi Yousef’s computer in 1995, further tying him to the Bojinka plot. (Pereira 2/2/2002) In January 2000, Malaysian intelligence monitors an al-Qaeda summit meeting at the request of the CIA (see January 5-8, 2000). Malaysian intelligence recognize Hambali and Yazid Sufaat from photos of the meeting; both are long-time residents in Malaysia. However, because the US does not share the information about Hambali, the Malaysians decide not to arrest or question Hambali and Sufaat since they are not aware either man has any criminal ties. (Pereira 2/10/2002) As a result, Malaysian authorities fail to learn more about this summit meeting, which was attended by two 9/11 hijackers. The US also fails to follow up with Hambali, despite their knowledge of him.

Khallad bin Attash (left) and Khalid Almihdhar (right) were apparently confused by the CIA.Khallad bin Attash (left) and Khalid Almihdhar (right) were apparently confused by the CIA. [Source: FBI]Because the CIA thinks 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash are in the same place at the same time—in Bangkok, Thailand, for a meeting with Fahad al-Quso, an operative involved in the attack of the USS Cole, in January 2000 (see January 5-6, 2000)—and possibly because of the similarity between Almihdhar’s first name Khalid and bin Attash’s nickname Khallad, some officers apparently theorize that bin Attash and Almihdhar may be the same person. However, the FBI is not informed of this. In order to confirm or refute this theory, the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, asks for surveillance photos of an al-Qaeda summit that Almihdhar attended, intending to show the photos to a source who knows bin Attash and has previously identified him in another photo (see November 22-December 16, 2000 and Early January 2001). However, there is no record of this theory being communicated to the FBI, even though the CIA knows bin Attash was involved in the Cole bombing and the FBI is investigating him (see Late October-Late November 2000). Some CIA cables drafted at this time contain information about bin Attash and information not related to bin Attash; CIA officers are instructed to share the information not related to bin Attash with the FBI, but are not instructed to share the information about bin Attash and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later say that if the CIA had told the FBI more about bin Attash around this time, the FBI would have asked for more information about Almihdhar and had a better chance of locating him before 9/11. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 269-270, 278 pdf file)

The CIA’s Counterterrorist Center passes a photo of hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and a photo of hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000) to the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan. The station is to show the photos to a source, later referred to as “Omar,” to see if he can identify Khalid Almihdhar or al-Qaeda manager Khallad bin Attash, as Omar has previously identified bin Attash in another photo (see November 22-December 16, 2000). According to cables drafted at this time, the overseas station requested the photo of Almihdhar because it thinks that Almihdhar and bin Attash might be the same person (see Mid-Late December 2000). It is unclear why the photo of Alhazmi is also passed at the same time. The CIA has numerous other photos taken at the Malaysia summit as well as video (see January 5, 2000), but these are not passed. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 269-270 pdf file)

Yemeni authorities receive photographs of operatives who attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. The exact number of photographs they receive is not known, but they include three photos, of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a man who looks like one of their associates, Fahad al-Quso, that are later shown to the FBI (see June 11, 2001). It is unclear who provides the photos to the Yemenis, but the CIA has them and is interested in the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), so presumably they come from the CIA. The photos are highly relevant to the FBI, as they connect extremists known to be involved in the Cole attack to Almihdhar and Alhazmi, but even though the FBI is in charge of the Cole investigation, the CIA continues to withhold the information from the FBI for months (see January 5, 2001 and After, February 1, 2001, Late May, 2001 and August 30, 2001). The Yemenis’ response to the photographs is unknown. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 293 pdf file) The CIA is aware by June 2001 that Almihdhar is the son-in-law of Ahmed al-Hada, a Yemeni extremist who runs a communications hub for Osama bin Laden (see Late August 1998), but it is not known whether they obtain this information now or at some other time. (Wright 2006, pp. 343)

Nawaf Alhazmi (left) and Khallad bin Attash (right) are said to have been confused by an informer.
Nawaf Alhazmi (left) and Khallad bin Attash (right) are said to have been confused by an informer. [Source: FBI]A CIA officer in Islamabad, Pakistan, known only as “Chris” shows a source known as “Omar,” who provides information on al-Qaeda, photographs of future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi taken at the al-Qaeda Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 537; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 268-271 pdf file) Omar has previously identified a photo of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see November 22-December 16, 2000) and Chris has been told that bin Attash and Almihdhar might be the same person (see Mid-Late December 2000). Omar says that the photo of Alhazmi, who the CIA apparently does not recognize at this time, actually shows bin Attash. As Omar cannot identify Almihdhar, but says he can identify bin Attash, this indicates Almihdhar and bin Attash are not the same person. The identification causes the CIA to believe that bin Attash attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. Although this belief is based on a mistaken identification, it is actually correct, as bin Attash was present at the summit—the CIA has photos of bin Attash there, but fails to show them to Omar. This identification is important because bin Attash is a known bin Laden operative connected to the USS Cole attack and East African embassy bombings. The CIA also knows that Almihdhar and Alhazmi were at the summit, so this could connect them to the Cole attack. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 268-271 pdf file) An FBI official named Michael Dorris is also at the meeting. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 272 pdf file; Soufan 2011) However, Dorris does not learn of the identification of bin Attash by “Omar.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 270-274 pdf file)

Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer on loan to the FBI, obtains three photographs from the surveillance of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), and passes them to Dina Corsi, an agent with the FBI’s bin Laden unit. Corsi learned of the photographs’ existence following a discussion with CIA officer Clark Shannon. Although Wilshire does not have a “substantive conversation” with Corsi about the photos, he does identify hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in one of them, and says Almihdhar traveled from Sana’a, Yemen, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and then Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in early January 2000. However, Wilshire omits to mention that Almihdhar has a US visa, his associate hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi has traveled to the US, or another associate, Khallad bin Attash, has been identified in the photos. He also does not say why the photos were taken. Author Lawrence Wright will later say the photos are passed because Wilshire wants to know what the FBI knows. The CIA says it thinks the photos may show Fahad al-Quso, an al-Qaeda operative involved in the USS Cole bombing. Corsi understands that the photos are “not formally passed” to the FBI, but are only for limited use at a forthcoming meeting. Therefore, only limited information about them is provided at the meeting, causing a disagreement (see June 11, 2001). However, Wilshire will later say that Corsi could give the photos to the FBI, but the FBI could not then give them to a foreign government (note: the photos had been provided to a foreign government five months previously, so this restriction is meaningless). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 286-7, 293-4 pdf file; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) Other pictures of the summit are available to the CIA, and there is even video footage (see February 2000 and Mid-May 2001), but these are not shared with the FBI or widely discussed.

Margaret Gillespie.Margaret Gillespie. [Source: Doug Dreyer / Associated Press]The FBI and the CIA hold a meeting to discuss the investigation into the USS Cole bombing and a possible connection between it and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). However, the CIA and FBI headquarters refuse to share all they know, and agents investigating the Cole bombing become angry over this.
Attendees - The meeting, which lasts between two and four hours, is attended by CIA officer Clark Shannon, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA named Margaret Gillespie, FBI agent Steve Bongardt, FBI agent Russell Fincher, and Assistant US Attorney David Kelley.
Purpose - Although there is no agenda for the meeting and Corsi will later say it is a brainstorming session, author Lawrence Wright will say that one of the reasons for the meeting is that CIA officer Tom Wilshire, an associate of Shannon’s, “want[ed] to know… what the FBI knew” about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. (ABC News 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 289-294 pdf file; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) FBI agent Ali Soufan will also say that he later learned that Wilshire “was fishing to see if the FBI knew anything about the men in the photos.” (Soufan 2011, pp. 243)
Photos Shown - Initially, Bongardt and Fincher brief Shannon on progress in the Cole investigation. Corsi then shows the two Cole investigators three photographs taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), showing future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and another man, and Shannon asks if the agents recognize Fahad al-Quso, who is thought to have attended the Malaysia summit and has been interviewed by the FBI. However, one of the photos shows Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a tree, and the CIA has already recognized Almihdhar and Alhazmi, so it is unclear how the Cole investigators are supposed to recognize al-Quso in the photo. Corsi received the photographs from Wilshire, but Wilshire did not provide her with all the relevant information about them (see Late May, 2001).
Questions Asked - Bongardt and Fincher ask who is in the pictures, why were taken, and whether there are other photos of the meeting. Shannon refuses to say, but Corsi eventually admits one of the men is named Khalid Almihdhar. As a name alone is not sufficient reason to start an investigation, Bongardt asks for a date of birth or other details that will allow him to know which Khalid Almihdhar in the world is being discussed, but Shannon refuses to provide them. Shannon admits that Almihdhar was traveling on a Saudi passport and then leaves the meeting. Lawrence Wright will say that providing a date of birth is “standard procedure—the first thing most investigators would do.” Realizing that the photos pertain to the Cole investigation, Bongardt and Fincher become angry at the lack of information being provided and the meeting descends into a “shouting match.” (ABC News 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 289-294 pdf file; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file)
What Shannon Knew - Shannon will later admit that at this time he knew Almihdhar had a US visa, that Alhazmi had traveled to the US in 2000, that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had been recognized in one of the photos, and that Alhazmi was known to be an experienced operative. However, he does not tell any of this to any FBI agents, as he apparently thinks he does not have the authority. He does not let them keep copies of the photos either and will give conflicting accounts of the meeting after 9/11 (see Between September 12, 2001 and October 17, 2002). (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 289-292 pdf file)
Corsi Withholds Information - Corsi has NSA information saying Almihdhar and Alhazmi attended the Malaysia meeting, but apparently believes that the Cole agents cannot be told more because of restrictions on sharing intelligence with criminal agents (see July 19, 1995). However, one of the Cole agents present is an intelligence agent, so the information can be communicated to him immediately without Corsi obtaining permission from the NSA and/or Justice Department. In addition, the NSA sent the information to the FBI’s New York field office, where the Cole investigators are based, in 1999 (see December 1999-January 2000). Furthermore, when she asks the NSA’s permission to share the information 10 weeks later, the NSA approves the request on the same day (see August 27-28, 2001). She does not share the information at this time, but promises Bongardt and Fincher to try to do so later. The Cole agents will not receive more information for months. (US Congress 9/20/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 269, 537)
Almihdhar Gets New Visa - Two days after this meeting, Almihdhar has no trouble getting a new, multiple reentry US visa (see May 2001 and June 13, 2001). (Pound 12/12/2001; US Congress 9/20/2002)

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