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Context of 'January 8-9, 2000: CIA Obtains More Information about 9/11 Hijacker Almihdhar’s Companions on Bangkok Flight, Apparently Does Not Realize Nawaf Is Alhazmi’s First Name'

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Salem Alhazmi.Salem Alhazmi. [Source: FBI]As the NSA continues to monitor an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen run by hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father-in-law (see Late August 1998), they find references to Almihdhar and the hijacker brothers, Salem and Nawaf Alhazmi. They also learn that Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are long time friends. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] In early 1999, the NSA intercepts communications mentioning the full name “Nawaf Alhazmi.” However, this information is not disseminated to the intelligence community, as it apparently does not meet NSA reporting thresholds. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will say, “Those thresholds vary, depending on the judgement of the NSA analyst who is reviewing the intercept and the subject, location, and content of the intercept.” Another intelligence organisation intercepts the same or similar calls and reports this to the NSA. The Inquiry comments: “NSA’s practice was to review such reports and disseminate those responsive to US intelligence requirements. For an undetermined reason, NSA did not disseminate the […] report.” [Associated Press, 9/25/2002; US Congress, 10/17/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file] The NSA continues to intercept such calls and finds more information a few months later (see Summer 1999 and Late Summer 1999). Near the end of 1999, there will be additional intercepts that give Khalid Almihdhar’s full name and the first names of the other two (see Shortly Before December 29, 1999). But while the NSA will provide some information about these new intercepts to the CIA and other agencies, they will not go back to the earlier intercepts to figure out Nawaf’s full name and close connection to Almihdhar (see December 29, 1999).

Entity Tags: 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Nawaf Alhazmi, National Security Agency, Salem Alhazmi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar’s US visas.Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar’s US visas. [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi, and Khalid Almihdhar obtain US visas through the US Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are already “al-Qaeda veterans” and battle-hardened killers. Almihdhar’s visa is issued on April 7, and he can thereafter leave and return to the US multiple times until April 6, 2000. [Stern, 8/13/2003] Nawaf Alhazmi gets the same kind of visa; details about Salem are unknown. All three men have indicators in their passports marking them as Islamist radicals (see March 21, 1999, April 4, 1999, and April 6, 1999). These indicators are used to track them by the Saudi authorities, but are apparently not noticed by US officials. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 9, 33 pdf file] The CIA claims the hijackers then travel to Afghanistan to participate in “special training” with at least one other suicide bomber on a different mission. The training is led by Khallad bin Attash, who applies for a US visa on April 3 from Yemen, but fails to get one (see April 3, 1999). The CIA will learn about Almihdhar’s visa in January 2000 (see January 2-5, 2000). The Jeddah Consulate records the fact that Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi obtain US visas a couple of days before Almihdhar, but apparently these records are never searched before 9/11. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After learning that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has flown from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Bangkok, Thailand, with two companions (see January 8, 2000 and January 8, 2000), the CIA obtains more information about the two men. Based on the flight manifest, it learns that one of them was traveling under the name “Alhazmi,” a reference to 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi. The CIA knows that one of the people Almihdhar associated with in Kuala Lumpur was named Nawaf, but, apparently, does not connect the first name Nawaf to the second name Alhazmi. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 227; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 5 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 353, 502] The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will say that the CIA could have put the two names together and that this could have led to his watchlisting, but this does not happen (see January 8, 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 145 pdf file] The 9/11 Commission will add that, if the State Department were asked about Nawaf Alhazmi, it would discover that he had been issued a US visa in Jeddah around the same time as Almihdhar (see April 3-7, 1999). The NSA has been intercepting Alhazmi’s calls to Almihdhar for at least a year (see Early 1999) and could promptly put Nawaf and Alhazmi together, but it is not asked (see January 9, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 353-4] The second companion is al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, who is initially reported to travel under the name “Salahsae.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181] The CIA will learn that this is part of the name Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, one of bin Attash’s aliases, no later than March 2000. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 pdf file] Bin Attash previously used this alias to apply for a US visa in Yemen (see April 3, 1999), but the CIA does not realize this (see After January 8, 2000). Bin Attash will leave Thailand in mid-January (see January 20, 2000).

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The CIA fails to ask the NSA for information about Nawaf Alhazmi. The CIA is monitoring a summit of al-Qaeda operatives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, along with local authorities there (see January 5-8, 2000), and is aware that one of the attendees is sometimes referred to by the first name Nawaf, and one is sometimes referred to by the last name Alhazmi. However, it apparently fails to put these two names together (see January 8-9, 2000). If asked, the NSA, which has been monitoring Alhazmi’s calls for at least a year (see Early 1999), could easily have realized “Nawaf” and “Alhazmi” were the same person. The 9/11 Commission will comment, “NSA’s analysts would promptly have discovered who Nawaf was, that his full name might be Nawaf Alhazmi, and that he was an old friend of Khalid [Almihdhar].” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 145 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 353-4] The CIA does actually tell the NSA about Almihdhar and ask for information about him (see January 10, 2000 and Mid-January 2000), but, according to author James Bamford, “inexplicably” does not do this for Alhazmi. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 156 pdf file; Bamford, 2004, pp. 227] According to NSA director Michael Hayden, had the NSA been asked at this point, it may also have been able to identify Nawaf Alhazmi’s brother Salem, another of the hijackers. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 145 pdf file]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Hayden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Acting on a tipoff by the CIA, Thai intelligence puts 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi on its watch list. In addition, it puts an alias al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash is using (Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf) on the watch list (see January 20, 2000). The CIA is aware that the three men arrived in Bangkok on January 8 (see January 8, 2000), but seems to be unable to locate them in Thailand (see January 13, 2000). The Thai authorities will note their departure from Bangkok on January 15, but will not stop them and apparently will not inform the CIA of this for some time (see January 15, 2000 and March 5, 2000). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 230; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file] The CIA is apparently unaware of Alhazmi’s full name at this point (see January 8-9, 2000), but this does not prevent the watchlisting. The CIA will not add the three to the US watch list until late August 2001 (see August 23, 2001).

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash leaves Thailand and returns to Karachi, Pakistan. Bin Attash had come to Thailand with 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 8, 2000), who had departed for the US five days previously (see January 15, 2000). Bin Attash, Alhazmi, and Almihdhar had been under surveillance in Malaysia shortly before (see January 5-8, 2000) and were watchlisted around January 13 by the Thai authorities (see January 13, 2000), which are supposed to inform the US of the departure of the three men from Thailand. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 159, 181; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 pdf file] The CIA is informed of bin Attash’s departure in early March, but he is traveling under an alias and the CIA does not connect the alias to bin Attash. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file] Under interrogation after being captured by the US, bin Attash will say that after leaving Karachi he travels to Kandahar to meet Osama bin Laden. However, such statements are considered unreliable due to the methods used to extract them (see June 16, 2004). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 159, 494]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Khallad bin Attash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After being prompted by CIA colleagues in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to provide information about what happened to future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash after they flew from Malaysia to Thailand on January 8, 2000 (see January 8, 2000 and (February 25, 2000)), the CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, sends out a cable saying that Alhazmi arrived in the US from Thailand with an apparently unnamed companion on January 15 (see January 15, 2000). This information was received from Thai intelligence, which watchlisted Almihdhar and Alhazmi after being asked to do so by the CIA (see January 13, 2000 and January 15, 2000). [New York Times, 10/17/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 502]
Companion - The companion to whom the cable refers is presumably Almihdhar. According to later testimony of a senior FBI official, the CIA learns the companion is Almihdhar at this time: “In March 2000, the CIA received information concerning the entry of Almihdhar and Alhazmi into the United States.” [US Congress, 9/20/2002] The CIA disputes this, however. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file] If the companion the cable refers to is Almihdhar, then it is unclear why he would not be named, as the NSA has been intercepting his calls for at least a year (see Early 1999), he was under CIA surveillance earlier in January (see January 5-8, 2000), he is known to have a US visa (see January 2-5, 2000), he is associated with Alhazmi (see January 8-9, 2000), and this cable is prompted by another cable specifically asking where Almihdhar is (see February 11, 2000).
Missed Opportunity - Later, CIA officials, including CIA Director George Tenet and Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black, will admit that this was one of the missed opportunities to watchlist the hijackers. Black will say: “I think that month we watchlisted about 150 people. [The watchlisting] should have been done. It wasn’t.” Almihdhar and Alhazmi will not be added to the US watchlist until August 2001 (see August 23, 2001). [New York Times, 10/17/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file]
Unclear Who Reads Cable - Although Tenet will tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that nobody at CIA headquarters reads this cable at this time (see October 17, 2002), the CIA’s inspector general will conclude that “numerous” officers access this cable and others about Almihdhar. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria District, 3/28/2006 pdf file] These officers are not named, but Tom Wilshire, the CIA’s deputy unit chief in charge of monitoring the two men at this time, will access it in May 2001 at the same time as he accesses other cables about Almihdhar from early 2000 (see May 15, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will say that the cables are “reexamined” at this time, suggesting that Wilshire may have read them before. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 267, 537] Wilshire certainly did access at least two of the cables in January 2000, indicating he may read the cable about the arrival of Alhazmi and the unnamed companion in the US in March 2000. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 240, 282 pdf file]
FBI Not Informed - The knowledge that Alhazmi has entered the US will be disseminated throughout the CIA, but not to the FBI or other US intelligence agencies (see March 6, 2000 and After). When asked about the failure by the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Wilshire will be unable to explain it, saying: “It’s very difficult to understand what happened with that cable when it came in. I do not know exactly why it was missed. It would appear that it was missed completely.” [US Congress, 9/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Nawaf Alhazmi, CIA Bangkok Station, 9/11 Commission, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Alec Station, Tom Wilshire, Khalid Almihdhar, Malaysian Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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