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Context of 'January 13, 2000: Thai Intelligence Puts 9/11 Hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar and Al-Qaeda Leader’s Alias on Watch List'

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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, traveling under their real names. Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash also travels with them and the three sit side by side in the airplane, but bin Attash travels under the false name “Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf” (see After January 8, 2000). [Associated Press, 9/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 pdf file] Malaysian intelligence and the CIA are aware of this flight (see January 8, 2000).

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

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

Thai authorities note that 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi depart Bangkok, Thailand, for the US (see January 15, 2000). They had been put on a Thai watch list shortly before this at the CIA’s request (see January 13, 2000), but the watchlisting only means the Thais note their departure from Thailand—they are not stopped at the airport. The reason for the watchisting was that the CIA was unable to locate them in Thailand, and wanted to be notified of the two future 9/11 hijackers’ departure, so it could start tracking them again. However, it is unclear whether this information is passed to the CIA at this time. One possibility is that the Thais do not pass this information on and, according to author James Bamford, “[What’s] worse, the CIA didn’t bother to ask for it until months later.” When the CIA asks for the information in February, only one of the names, Alhazmi’s, is allegedly passed to CIA headquarters (see March 5, 2000). [Bamford, 2004, pp. 230; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Central Intelligence Agency, 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

The CIA cable watchlisting Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and two others (the sections mentioning Shakir and bin Attash are blacked out).The CIA cable watchlisting Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and two others (the sections mentioning Shakir and bin Attash are blacked out). [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)Thanks to the request of Margaret Gillespie, an FBI analyst assigned to the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, the CIA sends a cable to the State Department, INS, Customs Service, and FBI requesting that “bin Laden-related individuals” Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, and Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf (an alias for Khallad bin Attash) be put on the terrorism watch list. All four individuals had attended the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). The cable mostly focuses on Almihdhar, briefly outlining his attendance at the Malaysia summit and his subsequent travel to the US in January 2000 and July 2001. Since March 2000, if not earlier, the CIA has had good reason to believe Alhazmi and Almihdhar were al-Qaeda operatives living in the US, but apparently did nothing and told no other agency about it until now. The hijackers are not located in time, and both die in the 9/11 attacks. FBI agents later state that if they been told about Alhazmi and Almihdhar sooner, “There’s no question we could have tied all 19 hijackers together” given the frequent contact between these two and the other hijackers. [Newsweek, 6/2/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 32-36, 302] However, in what the Washington Post calls a “critical omission,” the FAA, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and the FBI’s Financial Review Group are not notified. The two latter organizations have the power to tap into private credit card and bank data, and claim they could have readily found Alhazmi and Almihdhar, given the frequency the two used credit cards. [Washington Post, 7/25/2003] Furthermore, counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke and his Counterterrorism Security Group are not told about these two operatives before 9/11 either. [Newsweek, 3/24/2004] The CIA later claims the request was labeled “immediate,” the second most urgent category (the highest is reserved for things like declarations of war). [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001] The FBI denies that it was marked “immediate” and other agencies treated the request as a routine matter. [Los Angeles Times, 10/18/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002] The State Department places all four men on the watch list the next day. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file] However, this watch list, named TIPOFF, checks their names only if they use international flights. There is another watch list barring suspected terrorists from flying domestically. On 9/11, it contains only 12 names, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures, and some names are added as late as August 28, 2001. But none of these four men are added to this domestic list before 9/11.(see April 24, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Margaret Gillespie, Khallad bin Attash, TIPOFF, Richard A. Clarke, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, US Department of State, US Customs Service, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration, Counterterrorism and Security Group

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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