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Context of 'January 5-9, 2000: Malaysian Authorities Send CIA Information about Al-Qaeda Summit'

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The Malaysian Special Branch sends the CIA material it gathers about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). The information is sent progressively, so that Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit coordinating surveillance of the operatives at the summit, can brief CIA leaders and other top security officials in the US (see January 6, 2000 and January 6-9, 2000). The material includes reports on the attendees’ movements and actions (see (January 5-8, 2000)) and photographs (see (January 5-8, 2000)). A video recording made of the attendees on the first day will also be sent, but not until February (see January 5, 2000 and February 2000). However, no audio recording is made. [Ottawa Citizen, 9/17/2001; Observer, 10/7/2001; New Yorker, 1/14/2002; CNN, 3/14/2002; Newsweek, 6/2/2002; Stern, 8/13/2003; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/29/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181-2, 502-3] All the material except the video is passed to the CIA by January 9. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 pdf file; Stern, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FBI Director Louis Freeh and other top FBI officials are briefed about the ongoing al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) as part of their regular daily update. They are told the CIA is in the lead and that the CIA promises to let the FBI know if an FBI angle to the case develops. But they are not told that the CIA has just found out that one of the participants, Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] It is unclear who the other top FBI officials that are briefed are. However, Dale Watson, the assistant director of the counterterrorism division, and Thomas Pickard, the FBI’s deputy director at this time and its acting director in the summer of 2001, will also learn of the summit by July 2001, although it is unclear exactly when they are informed (see July 12, 2001). [Pickard, 6/24/2004] According to Vanity Fair, Richard Blee, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, “provided surveillance updates for [the CIA’s] top officers, the FBI, and the White House” while the summit is in progress. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] One FBI official familiar with the case will later complain: “[The CIA] purposely hid [Almihdhar] from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau.… The thing was, they didn’t want John O’Neill and the FBI running over their case. And that’s why September 11 happened.… They have blood on their hands.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224] Jack Cloonan, an FBI agent in the I-49 squad that focuses on al-Qaeda, will later say: “If that information [got] disseminated, would it have had an impact on the events of 9/11? I’m telling you that it would have.” [ABC News, 5/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Louis J. Freeh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jack Cloonan, John O’Neill, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorism Division (FBI), Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Although the CIA passes information to the FBI about the attendance of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, it repeatedly fails to mention that Almihdhar has a US visa (see January 6, 2000, 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, January 5-6, 2000). It also fails to check that the FBI has received this information. The CIA’s inspector general will say it “found no indication that anyone in [the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center] checked to ensure FBI receipt of the information, which, a few [Osama bin Laden] Station officers said, should have been routine practice.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xv pdf file]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Some attendees at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, including 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, use an Internet café while on a shopping trip. They spend “many hours in front of the computers,” all the while under surveillance by the Malaysian Special Branch. After they leave the café, the Malaysians search the hard drives of the computers that were used. What information is learned and what use is made of this information is not known. However, information about the summit is passed to the CIA around this time (see January 5-9, 2000). [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; Australian, 12/24/2002; Stern, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Fifty to sixty CIA officers read cables reporting on travel by 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. The cables are generated in connection with al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, which Almihdhar and Alhazmi attend and the CIA monitors (see January 5-8, 2000). Even though some of the cables state that Almihdhar has a US visa and Alhazmi has arrived in the US, the FBI is not informed of this (see, for example, January 6, 2000 and March 5, 2000), and the two men are not watchlisted until the summer of 2001 (see August 23, 2001). The cables are drafted at four field offices and at headquarters and are read by overseas officers, headquarters personnel, operations officers, analysts, managers, junior employees, CIA staff, and officers on attachment from the NSA and FBI. The CIA’s inspector general will comment: “Over an 18-month period, some of these officers had opportunities to review the information on multiple occasions, when they might have recognized its significance and shared it appropriately with other components and agencies.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xiv pdf file]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

About a month after the Malaysia al-Qaeda summit (see January 5-8, 2000), “The CIA obtain[s] a surveillance videotape” from Malaysian intelligence “that shows men arriving at the meeting, according to a US intelligence official. The tape, he said, has no sound and [isn’t] viewed as very significant at the time.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] Apparently, only the first day of the summit was videotaped (see January 5, 2000). Contents of the tape, which might definitively prove who was at the meeting, have never been made public, but the US Treasury will later mention that al-Qaeda leader Hambali and 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar were on the tape. [US Department of the Treasury, 1/24/2003 pdf file] There is no evidence the CIA shares the videotape with any other agency before 9/11, and it has never been made public.

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Malaysian Secret Service, Hambali

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Based on information obtained during the investigation of the USS Cole bombing (see Late October-Late November 2000), the FBI asks the CIA for information about al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash and a possible al-Qaeda meeting in Southeast Asia in early 2000, but the CIA withholds the information. The request is sent by FBI Director Louis Freeh on behalf of agent Ali Soufan, who is working on the Cole investigation. Soufan began to suspect such a meeting may have taken place when he learned that two of the operatives involved in the bombing had taken money out of Yemen to give to bin Attash in Thailand before the attack (see January 13, 2000), making him think the money may have been intended for a bigger plot. The CIA is highly aware of the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), which was considered so important that CIA Director George Tenet and other CIA leaders were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000). The CIA has photos of bin Attash and al-Quso attending the meeting (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After), which took place only a few days before al-Quso’s meeting with bin Attash in Thailand. Yet the CIA does not respond to Soufan’s clearly stated request. Author Lawrence Wright will later comment, “The fact that the CIA withheld information about the mastermind of the Cole bombing and the meeting in Malaysia, when directly asked by the FBI, amount[s] to obstruction of justice in the death of seventeen American sailors [who were killed in the Cole bombing].” Although he was not told one of the 9/11 hijackers had a US visa, Freeh was briefed on the Malaysia summit when it took place (see January 6, 2000), but apparently he does not tell Soufan what he knows, and Soufan remains unaware that any kind of al-Qaeda meeting in Southeast Asia even occurred. [Wright, 2006, pp. 328-9; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Louis J. Freeh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lawrence Wright, Ali Soufan, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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; New Yorker, 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.

Entity Tags: Tom Wilshire, Khallad bin Attash, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, Dina Corsi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Clark Shannon, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ali Soufan, an FBI agent working on the investigation into the USS Cole bombing, submits a third request to the CIA for information about travel by al-Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia (see Late November 2000 and April 2001). Whereas in previous requests to the CIA he had only asked for information about a possible meeting somewhere in Southeast Asia, he has now developed a much clearer understanding of the relationship between al-Qaeda manager Khallad bin Attash and the Cole conspirators, and correctly suspects some operatives met in Malaysia in January 2000. He asks the CIA about this and about a trip by bin Attash to Bangkok to meet another two members of the Cole bombing team (see January 13, 2000). The CIA actually monitored the meeting Soufan suspects took place in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and considered it so important that the CIA director and other top officials were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000), but the CIA does not respond to his inquiry. FBI managers are also aware of some of this information, including the existence of an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia at the time Soufan suspects one took place, but they apparently do not tell Soufan either (see January 6, 2000). [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] Author Lawrence Wright will later say: “The FBI’s investigating the death of 17 American sailors and they’re asking the CIA for information that would solve the crime. And the CIA is refusing, essentially obstructing justice.” [Federal News Service, 10/5/2006]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Ali Soufan, Lawrence Wright, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On July 12, 2001, acting FBI Director Tom Pickard briefs Attorney General Ashcroft a second time about the al-Qaeda threat (see July 12, 2001). In a later letter to the 9/11 Commission discussing the meeting, Pickard will mention, “I had not told [Ashcroft] about the meeting in Malaysia since I was told by FBI Assistant Director Dale Watson that there was a ‘close hold’ on that info. This means that it was not to be shared with anyone without the explicit approval of the CIA.” During the briefing, Pickard also strongly recommends that Ashcroft be briefed by the CIA to learn details that Pickard feels he is not allowed to reveal. The “meeting in Malaysia” is an obvious reference to the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Louis Freeh, the FBI director at the time of the summit, and other unnamed FBI officials were told some about the summit while it was taking place (see January 6, 2000). It is unknown if Pickard and Watson learned about it at that time, but Pickard’s letter shows they both knew about it by the time of this briefing. It is not known why the CIA placed a “close hold” on any mention of the Malaysian summit so strict that even the attorney general could not be told. Since two of the 9/11 hijackers attended that summit, sharing the information about the summit with other agencies may have helped stop the 9/11 attacks. [Pickard, 6/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, John Ashcroft, Thomas Pickard, Dale Watson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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