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Context of 'February-July 2001: Trial Presents FBI with Information About Pilot Training Scheme'

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Mohammed al-Zawahiri, brother of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri, is arrested at Dubai airport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). While much less known than his brother, Mohammed quietly served an important role as Ayman’s deputy in Islamic Jihad, and as the group’s military commander (see 1993). He apparently disagreed with the increasing unification between Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda, and quit in 1998 over that issue. (Jacquard 2002, pp. 108) He is arrested in the UAE and then flown to Egypt as a part of the CIA’s rendition program (see Summer 1995). A senior former CIA officer will later confirm US involvement in the operation. (Grey 2007, pp. 246, 299) Mohammed had been sentenced to death in absentia in Egypt the year before. (Wright 9/9/2002) But his execution is not carried out, and he is said to reveal what he knows about Islamic Jihad. In 2007 it will be reported that his sentence is likely to be lessened in return for agreeing to renounce violence. (Jacquard 2002, pp. 108; Associated Press 4/20/2007) Note: there is a dispute about when he was arrested. Some sources indicate it was in the spring of 1999. (Grey 2007, pp. 246; Associated Press 4/20/2007) Others indicate it was a year later. (Jacquard 2002, pp. 108; Wright 9/9/2002)

According to the 9/11 Commission, al-Qaeda financial facilitator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali uses the name “Mr. Ali” to make the first wire transfer from abroad to the 9/11 hijackers in the US. Five thousand dollars is wired from the Wall Street Exchange Center in Dubai to an account of an acquaintance of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in San Diego. The Exchange Center makes a copy of Ali’s work ID and notes his cell phone number and work address, which is helpful to the FBI after 9/11. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 220; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 134 pdf file) Ali, who is a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, is also accused of wiring hijacker Marwan Alshehhi $115,000 (see June 29, 2000-September 18, 2000). Although in a 2007 US military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay he will admit sending this amount to Alshehhi, he will deny sending $5,000 to Alhazmi, saying that his personal information was distributed to “thousands of people from different parts of the world,” so it could have been used by somebody else. Some reports indicate that Saeed Sheikh may also have wired the hijackers some money this year (see Summer 2000). (US Department of Defense 4/12/2007, pp. 17 pdf file) Although the hijackers have at least one US bank account (see February 4, 2000), they tell the administrator of their local mosque, Adel Rafeea, that they do not have one and ask him to allow the money to be paid into his account. It is unclear why they do this. The administrator will come forward after 9/11 and say that Alhazmi and Almihdhar initially described themselves as Saudi government clerks and needed his help to find an English school. After declining Alhazmi’s request for a loan, he permits his account to be used, but then distances himself from them because he is suspicious of the transfer: it came from the United Arab Emirates, not Saudi Arabia, where Alhazmi said it would come from, and the sender is only identified as “Ali.” This causes him to worry that Almihdhar might be an intelligence agent of the Saudi government. (US Congress 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 517; McDermott 2005, pp. 191)

Workers put the finishing touches on the Oklahoma City National Memorial. The time of the bombing, ‘9:01,’ is inscribed on the side of the memorial.Workers put the finishing touches on the Oklahoma City National Memorial. The time of the bombing, ‘9:01,’ is inscribed on the side of the memorial. [Source: Associated Press]On the fifth anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), dedication ceremonies are held at the Oklahoma City National Memorial, built on the site of the bombed-out Murrah Federal Building. The memorial is on three acres of land, and contains a reflecting pool and 168 chairs—149 larger chairs representing the adults killed in the blast and 19 for the children who died in the bombing. (Douglas O. Linder 2001; Indianapolis Star 2003)

TIPOFF is a US no-fly list of individuals who should be detained if they attempt to leave or enter the US. There are about 60,000 names on this list by 9/11 (see December 11, 1999). Apparently there had been no prohibition of travel inside the US, but on this day an FAA security directive puts six names on a newly created domestic no-fly list. All six are said to be associates of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, including his uncle, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). On August 28, 2001, six more names will be added to this list. Apparently all 12 names are associated with al-Qaeda or other Islamic extremist groups. 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey will later note the discrepancy of the 60,000-name list with the 12-name list and comment, “seems to me, particularly with what was going on at the time, that some effort would have been made to make—to produce a larger list than [only 12 names].” (9/11 Commission 1/27/2004) The FAA’s chief of security in 2001, Cathal Flynn, will later say that he was “unaware of the TIPOFF list” until after the September 11 attacks. 9/11 Commissioner Slade Gorton will say that this admission is “stunning, just unbeleivable,” and an “example of absolute incompetence” at the FAA. Other FAA officials will say they are aware of the larger list, but do not make much use of it. (Shenon 2008, pp. 115) On the day of 9/11, two of the 9/11 hijackers will be on the 60,000-name TIPOFF list but not the 12-name domestic list, so airport security does not know to stop them from boarding the planes they hijack that day (see August 23, 2001).

Johnelle Bryant.Johnelle Bryant. [Source: ABC News]9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta reportedly has a very strange meeting with Johnelle Bryant of the US Department of Agriculture. Incidentally, this meeting takes place one month before the official story claims he arrived in the US for the first time. According to Bryant, in the meeting Atta does all of the following:
bullet He initially refuses to speak with one who is “but a female.”
bullet He asks her for a loan of $650,000 to buy and modify a crop-dusting plane.
bullet He mentions that he wants to “build a chemical tank that would fit inside the aircraft and take up every available square inch of the aircraft except for where the pilot would be sitting.”
bullet He uses his real name even as she takes notes, and makes sure she spells it correctly.
bullet He says he has just arrived from Afghanistan.
bullet He tells about his travel plans to Spain and Germany.
bullet He expresses an interest in visiting New York.
bullet He asks her about security at the WTC and other US landmarks.
bullet He discusses al-Qaeda and its need for American membership.
bullet He tells her bin Laden “would someday be known as the world’s greatest leader.”
bullet He asks to buy the aerial photograph of Washington hanging on her Florida office wall, throwing increasingly large “wads of cash” at her when she refuses to sell it. (Ross 6/6/2002)
bullet After Bryant points out one of the buildings in the Washington photograph as her former place of employment, he asks her, “How would you like it if somebody flew an airplane into your friends’ building?”
bullet He asks her, “What would prevent [me] from going behind [your] desk and cutting [your] throat and making off with the millions of dollars” in the safe behind her.
bullet He asks, “How would America like it if another country destroyed [Washington] and some of the monuments in it like the cities in [my] country had been destroyed?”
bullet He gets “very agitated” when he isn’t given the money in cash on the spot.
bullet Atta later tries to get the loan again from the same woman, this time “slightly disguised” by wearing glasses. Three other terrorists also attempt to get the same loan from Bryant, but all of them fail. Bryant turns them down because they do not meet the loan requirements, and fails to notify anyone about these strange encounters until after 9/11. Government officials not only confirm the account and say that Bryant passed a lie detector test, but also elaborate that the account is consistent with other information they have received from interrogating prisoners. Supposedly, failing to get the loan, the terrorists switched plans from using crop dusters to hijacking aircraft. Other department employees also remember the encounter, again said to take place in April 2000. The 9/11 Commission has failed to mention any aspect of Johnelle Bryant’s account. (Weiss and Blum 9/25/2001; Ross 6/6/2002; Doran 6/8/2002) Compare Atta’s meeting with FBI Director Mueller’s later testimony about the hijackers: “There were no slip-ups. Discipline never broke down. They gave no hint to those around them what they were about.” (CNN 9/28/2002)

The front of the Manchester manual, deceptively covered with flowers.The front of the Manchester manual, deceptively covered with flowers. [Source: FBI]Al-Qaeda leader Anas al-Liby is arrested in Manchester, England, and then let go. According to Ali Soufan, an FBI agent from 1997 to 2005, the I-49 squad, a mix of FBI agents and US attorneys, uncovers evidence that al-Liby is living in Manchester. FBI agent John O’Neill assembles a team, including Soufan, to go there. Soufan will later say that they are met by local police, and he tells them: “Anas al-Liby is a senior al-Qaeda operative. He’s a computer expert and was part of the team that did surveillance on the embassy in Nairobi [that resulted in the 1998 bombing there (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998)]. This is potentially a big win for us.” Al-Liby is caught in his residence and taken to a local police station. However, he denies any involvement in terrorism. According to Soufan, al-Liby is smart and careful, and no incriminating documents or computer files can be quickly found in his residence. O’Neill wants him held until his possessions can be searched more thoroughly, but he is immediately released. Al-Liby evades a team sent to follow him, and skips the country. Not long afterwards, Soufan, who speaks Arabic, discovers a terrorist training manual written in Arabic in al-Liby’s possessions (see May 2000). In a book he writes that is published in 2011, Soufan curiously will not mention the timing of this arrest, even though timing is given to most other events discussed in the book. But the arrest is placed between events that occur in late 1999 and early 2000. (Soufan 2011, pp. 113-114) In April 2001, the New York Times will first report on the manual, and will mention that it was discovered in a raid in Manchester in May 2000. (Feuer and Weiser 4/5/2001) Shortly after 9/11, it will be revealed that the raid was of al-Liby’s residence. (Associated Press 9/21/2001; Observer 9/22/2001) In 2002, it will be reported that al-Liby was not at home during the raid, and then escaped the country. Furthermore, al-Liby has been living openly in Britain since 1995, apparently as part of a political deal after he had taken part in a plot with the British intelligence agency MI6 to assassinate Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi in 1996 (see Late 1995-May 2000 and 1996). (Bright 11/10/2002) The embarrassing fact that al-Liby is actually arrested and then released will not be revealed until September 2011, in Soufan’s book. (Soufan 2011, pp. 113-114) The US will later post a $25 million reward for al-Liby, and his death or arrest will never be confirmed. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 2002)

Fred Sorbi, and the Cessna 172 used by the hijackers. Fred Sorbi, and the Cessna 172 used by the hijackers. [Source: San Diego Channel 10]9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar arrive at Sorbi’s Flying Club, a small school in San Diego, and announce that they want to learn to fly Boeing airliners. Alhazmi had previously had a lesson at another nearby flying school (see April 4, 2000). (Goldstein 9/30/2001) They are there with someone named “Hani”—possibly 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour—but only the two of them go up in an airplane. The 9/11 Commission will say that Hanjour is outside the US at this time, although some media reports will place him in San Diego (see (Early 2000-November 2000)). (Lipka 9/28/2001) Instructor Rick Garza says that the dream to fly big jets is the goal of practically every student who comes to the school, but he notices an unusual lack of any basic understanding of aircraft in these two. When he asks Almihdhar to draw the aircraft, Almihdhar draws the wings on backwards. Both speak English poorly, but Almihdhar in particular seems impossible to communicate with. Rather than following the instructions he was given, he would vaguely reply, “Very good. Very nice.” (Brandon 9/30/2001) The two offer extra money to Garza if he will teach them to fly multi-engine Boeing planes, but Garza declines. (Goldstein 9/30/2001) “I told them they had to learn a lot of other things first… It was like Dumb and Dumber. I mean, they were clueless. It was clear to me they weren’t going to make it as pilots.” (Helmore and Vulliamy 10/7/2001 Sources: Rick Garza)

Abdussattar Shaikh.
Abdussattar Shaikh. [Source: courtesy Daniel Hopsicker]While future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar live in the house of an FBI informant, Abdussattar Shaikh, the asset continues to have contact with his FBI handler. The handler, Steven Butler, later claims that during the summer, Shaikh mentions the names “Nawaf” and “Khalid” in passing and says that they are renting rooms from him. (Isikoff 9/9/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 51 pdf file; Hettena 7/25/2003; 9/11 Commission 4/23/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 220) In early media reports after 9/11, the two will be said to have moved in around September 2000, but the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will imply that Shaikh lied about this, and they moved in much earlier. Alhazmi stays until December (see December 12, 2000-March 2001); Almihdhar appears to be mostly out of the US after June (see June 10, 2000). (Thornton 9/16/2001; Mollenkamp et al. 9/17/2001; Lipka 9/28/2001; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file) On one occasion, Shaikh tells Butler on the phone he cannot talk because Khalid is in the room. (Isikoff 9/9/2002)
Shaikh Refuses to Reveal Hijackers' Last Names Despite Suspicious Contacts - Shaikh tells Butler Alhazmi and Almihdhar are good, religious Muslims who are legally in the US to visit and attend school. Butler asks Shaikh for their last names, but Shaikh refuses to provide them. Butler is not told that they are pursuing flight training. Shaikh tells Butler that they are apolitical and have done nothing to arouse suspicion. However, according to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, he later admits that Alhazmi has “contacts with at least four individuals [he] knew were of interest to the FBI and about whom [he] had previously reported to the FBI.” Three of these four people are being actively investigated at the time the hijackers are there. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 51 pdf file) The report will mention Osama Mustafa as one, and Shaikh will admit that suspected Saudi agent Omar al-Bayoumi was a friend. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 51 pdf file; Reza, Connell, and Lopez 7/25/2003) Alhazmi and Shaikh will remain in contact after Alhazmi leaves San Diego in December. Alhazmi will call Shaikh to tell him he intends to take flying lessons in Arizona and that Almihdhar has returned to Yemen. He also will e-mail Shaikh three times; one of the e-mails is signed “Smer,” an apparent attempt to conceal his identity, which Shaikh later says he finds strange. However, Alhazmi will not reply to e-mails Shaikh sends him in February and March of 2001. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223)
Best Chance to Stop the 9/11 Plot? - The FBI will later conclude that Shaikh is not involved in the 9/11 plot, but it has serious doubts about his credibility. After 9/11 he will give inaccurate information and has an “inconclusive” polygraph examination about his foreknowledge of the 9/11 attack. The FBI will believe he had contact with another of the 9/11 hijackers, Hani Hanjour, but claimed not to recognize him. There will be other “significant inconsistencies” in Shaikh’s statements about the hijackers, including when he first met them and his later meetings with them. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will conclude that had the asset’s contacts with the hijackers been capitalized upon, it “would have given the San Diego FBI field office perhaps the US intelligence community’s best chance to unravel the September 11 plot.” (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 51 pdf file) The FBI will try to prevent Butler and Shaikh from testifying before the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry in October 2002. Butler will end up testifying (see October 9, 2002), but Shaikh will not (see October 5, 2002). (Schmidt 10/11/2002)

David Boim.David Boim. [Source: Public domain]The parents of a US teenager killed in a West Bank attack sue Mohammad Salah, Mousa Abu Marzouk, the Holy Land Foundation, Quranic Literacy Institute, and Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) for $600 million. Stanley and Joyce Boim claim these people and entities were a “a network of front organizations” in the US that funded the attack that killed their 17-year-old David Boim. Their son was gunned down in 1996 while waiting at a bus stop; the attack was blamed on Hamas. Suing suspected terrorists for damages is allowed under a 1992 law, but it had never been done before. The suit claims that the Hamas finance network paid for the vehicle, machine guns, and ammunition used to kill Boim. The case is based on the investigative work of FBI agent Robert Wright and his Vulgar Betrayal investigation. Salah’s house and bank accounts were seized as part of the investigation. (Schweid 5/14/2000; Associated Press 6/6/2002) The Holy Land Foundation is defended in the suit by Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, a Washington law firm said to have influence with the Bush family. For instance, one firm partner is James Langdon, one of the future President Bush’s close Texas friends. (Mulvihill, Wells, and Meyers 12/11/2001) On December 9, 2004, it will be announced that the elder Boims have won the suit. All of the above-mentioned people and entities will be found guilty and ordered to pay the Boims a total of $156 million. There is little chance the Boims will ever see all of that large sum, especially since the organizations will be shut down and have their assets frozen in the years since the suit began. Joyce Boim will say, “I finally have justice for David. He’s up there, smiling down.” (Associated Press 12/9/2004)

Abdussattar Shaikh’s house in Lemon Grove, California.Abdussattar Shaikh’s house in Lemon Grove, California. [Source: Newsweek]While 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are living with FBI informer Abdussattar Shaikh in San Diego (see May 10-Mid-December 2000), they are apparently visited frequently by hijacker Mohamed Atta, as well as hijacker Hani Hanjour, according to neighbors interviewed after 9/11. (KGTV 10 (San Diego) 9/27/2001; Hettena 9/29/2001; Brandon 9/30/2001; KGTV 10 (San Diego) 10/11/2001; Puit and Kalil 10/26/2001) However, Shaikh will deny Atta’s visits and the FBI will not mention them. (Hettena 9/29/2001) Shaikh will also deny having met Hanjour, but the 9/11 Commission will say that it has “little doubt” Shaikh met Hanjour at least once. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 518) The two San Diego-based hijackers also receive a series of mysterious late night visits at this time (see Mid-May-December 2000).

Ramzi bin al-Shibh.Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [Source: FBI]During these months, Hamburg al-Qaeda cell member Ramzi bin al-Shibh tries several times to get a US visa, but all his attempts fail, some possibly due to a link to the USS Cole bombing. In 2000, he tries to a get a visa three times from Germany, and once from Yemen, but all these attempts fail. He may also make a fifth attempt in May 2001, although the 9/11 Commission will not include that in their final report. One of the applications says he will be visiting Agus Budiman, a Hamburg associate, in Washington (see October-November 2000). (Lichtblau and Williams 10/24/2001; Abuza 12/24/2002; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 11-15 pdf file; McDermott 2005, pp. 209) Most accounts claim that bin al-Shibh is refused a visa on economic grounds based on fears that he will overstay his visa and work in the US. One official later suggests it was “only by luck” that he was turned down. (CBS News 6/6/2002; Finn 7/14/2002) However, Bin al-Shibh is in Yemen during the two months before the bombing of the Cole in that country, and investigators later conclude that he may have been involved in that attack (see October 10-21, 2000 and October 12, 2000). Possibly for this reason other accounts note that, as the London Times will put it, he was “turned down on security grounds.” (Kennedy 9/9/2002) Newsweek will later report, “One senior law-enforcement official told Newsweek that bin al-Shibh’s efforts to obtain a US visa were rebuffed because of suspicions that he was tied to the bombing of the USS Cole.” (Lichtblau and Williams 10/21/2001; Thomas 11/26/2001; BBC 9/14/2002) In addition, Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda will say that according to his US intelligence sources, bin al-Shibh’s visas were “turned down because he was implicated in the USS Cole attack.” (TBS Journal 10/2002) But no journalist will ever question why this information didn’t lead to the unraveling of the 9/11 plot. Not only is there the obvious visa connection to Ziad Jarrah while he is training at a US flight school, but also during this same time period bin al-Shibh wires money to Marwan Alshehhi, Zacarias Moussaoui, and others, sometimes using his own name. (CBS News 6/6/2002) It is unclear how the US would know about his ties to the bombing at this time, though it’s possible that the consular official who reviews his fourth attempt in Berlin in October/November 2000 sees that al-Shibh entered Yemen one day before the attack and leaves shortly after it (see October 10-21, 2000). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 15 pdf file)

Kie Fallis, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) terrorism intelligence analyst, has been gathering evidence of an upcoming al-Qaeda attack or attacks. In 2002, he will describe to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry a research process similar to what Able Danger is using at the same time: “I began to notice there was a voluminous amount of information, as others have testified, regarding al-Qaeda. Most of it appeared to be unrelated to other pieces of information. It appeared to be almost chat. By using a piece of [commercial software called ‘Analyst’s Notebook’] I was able to put these small snippets of information into, and graphically represent them as well, I was able to, over a course of many months, to determine certain linkages between these items—linkages that would never be apparent without the use of this tool. It would be lost in the weeds. And there were a lot of weeds to look through.” (Gertz 8/26/2002; US Congress 10/8/2002) In his research, he claims to find links between al-Qaeda and Iranian intelligence. By May 2000, he writes a classified report on his conclusion that “terrorists were planning two or three major attacks against the United States. The only gaps were where and when.” Apparently, he envisions at least one of these attacks will use a small boat to blow up a US warship. However, the DIA has already issued a report concluding that such a method of attack would be impossible to carry out successfully, and the agency sticks by this assessment. A video message put out by bin Laden in mid-September convinces Fallis that an al-Qaeda attack will happen in the next month or two.(see Mid-September 2000). Shortly after learning about this message, Fallis reaches “the ‘eureka point‘… in determining an impending terrorist attack.” This comes “from a still-classified intelligence report in September 2000, which he will not discuss.” (Gertz 8/26/2002) This may be a reference to a lead by the Able Danger team on increased al-Qaeda activity in Yemen at this time (see Late September 2000), and/or it may refer to other intelligence leads. Fallis goes to his supervisor and asks that at least a general warning of an attack in the Middle East be issued. He hopes such a warning will at least put US military forces in the region on a higher alert. His superior turns him down, and other superiors fail to even learn of his suggested warning. The USS Cole will be successfully attacked in the port of Aden, Yemen, by a small boat of terrorists on October 12, 2000 (see October 12, 2000) . (Gertz 8/26/2002) One day after the Cole attack, Fallis will resign in protest. According to Senator John Warner (R-VA),“What [Fallis] felt is that his assessment was not given that proper level of consideration by his superiors and, as such, was not incorporated in the final intelligence reports provided to military commanders in the [Middle East region].” (CNN 10/25/2000)

A Pakistani businessman called Mohammed Atta (spelt with three ‘m’s) arrives in Prague aboard a Lufthansa flight from Saudi Arabia via Frankfurt. As he does not have a Czech visa, he is sent back, although he remains in the transit area at Prague Ruzyne airport for six hours. Unfortunately, he spends most of his time at the airport out of range of the security cameras. In the confusion immediately after 9/11, Czech counterintelligence will believe he may be the real lead hijacker Mohamed Atta (spelled with two ‘m’s)—he paid cash for his ticket and names are often spelled wrong—and that he had a meeting that could not wait, although this theory is eventually discounted. The real Mohamed Atta has a Czech visa, but it will not come into effect until the next day. Atta arrives in Prague on June 2 (see June 2-3, 2000). (Epstein 11/19/2003; Crewdson 8/29/2004; Kenety 9/3/2004)

The FBI extracts a full confession from L’Houssaine Kherchtou, also known as “Joe the Moroccan,” a member of the cell that bombed the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see Late 1993-Late 1994 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). However, in contrast with methods used on al-Qaeda operatives after 9/11, he is not tortured and the FBI is at pains to treat him well.
Relaxing Surroundings, Respectful Treatment - FBI agent Jack Cloonan will later say of the initial interrogation, which took place in Morocco, “The setting was beautiful, it was this grand house with stables out back, gazelles bouncing in the background, palm trees, three-course meals.” Kherchtou had a relationship with the British intelligence service MI6 (see Mid-Summer 1998 and Shortly After August 7, 1998), but had broken off contact with it and has to be lured to Morocco, where his debriefing is headed by Patrick Fitzgerald. Cloonan will later describe the questioning: “We advised [Kherchtou] of his rights. We told him he could have a lawyer anytime, and that he could pray at any time he wanted. We were letting the Moroccans sit in on this, and they were dumbfounded.… The Moroccans said he’d never talk. He never shut up for 10 days.” Fitzgerald denies Kherchtou a plea bargaining agreement, and says he must plead guilty to conspiracy to murder, for which he may receive a life sentence, though Fitzgerald promises to ask the judge for leniency. However, Cloonan will later say, “His wife needed money for medical treatment in Khartoum, and al-Qaeda had failed to provide it.” It is Cloonan’s “in” with Kherchtou, who is also sure that the US will not torture him. When Kherchtou wavers, Cloonan steps in. As he recalls: “I said, ‘Joe, you understand English, so I’d like you to go out and pray on this with your two Moroccan brothers.’ I thought Fitzy was going to give birth. Joe went out and prayed and came back and said yes.” He provides the FBI with details of the plot and becoming a star witness at the trial (see September 2000). (Vest 6/19/2005; Rose 12/16/2008)
Invaluable Information - Kherchtou’s information, provided at a time when the US knows comparatively little about al-Qaeda, is, in Cloonan’s assessment, invaluable. “He told us about a lot of things,” Cloonan later says. “We learned how they recruited people, their front organizations, how they used NGOs [non-governmental organizations], false passports, what they thought about kidnapping, how they developed targets, did their surveillance, a day in the life of Osama bin Laden, what weapons they used, what vehicles they drove, who was the principal liaison with the Sudanese government, that there was a relationship between al-Qaeda and Hezbollah, how they did their training exercises, their finances, and their membership.” After the trial, he enters the witness protection program in the US. Four of his onetime associates will receive life sentences as a direct result of his information. (Rose 12/16/2008)
FBI Use Kherchtou as Example of Successful Interrogation Tacticss - FBI officials will later compare this outcome favorably to procedures used by other US agencies after 9/11. For example, following the detainee abuse scandals after 9/11, FBI manager Tom Harrington will write that the FBI has “been successful for many years obtaining confessions via non-confrontational interviewing techniques.” Cloonan will later contrast Kherchtou’s treatment with that of al-Qaeda training manager Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi in December 2001, when the US sent al-Libi to Egypt to be tortured and interrogated, but some of the information he provided there turned out to be false (see December 19, 2001 and January 2002 and After). (Vest 6/19/2005)

9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta arrives in the early morning in Prague, Czech Republic, by bus from Cologne, Germany. He plays on slot machines at the Happy Day Casino, then disappears. It will never be discovered where he sleeps in Prague. He takes the midday flight to New York the next day (see June 3, 2000). (Kenety 9/3/2004) After 9/11, this trip will fuel the controversy over whether Atta meets an Iraqi agent in Prague in 2001 (see April 8, 2001 and September 18, 2001-April 2007). It is not entirely clear why Atta chooses to fly to the US from the Czech Republic, although 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed will be reported to have lived in Prague in the late 1990s (see Mid-1996-September 11, 2001).

A portion of Mohamed Atta’s US visa obtained in May 2000.
A portion of Mohamed Atta’s US visa obtained in May 2000. [Source: 9/11 Commission]9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta supposedly arrives in the US for the first time, flying from Prague to Newark on a tourist visa issued May 18 in Berlin. (Morgan, Kidwell, and Corral 9/22/2001; Australian Broadcasting Corporation 11/12/2001) Official investigations will late assume that this is the first time Atta was in the US. However, there are reports that he was in the US before this (see September 1999, April 2000, and Late April-Mid-May 2000).

While in the US, future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta generally makes phone calls using pay phones with a variety of prepaid calling cards. One day after arriving in New York City on June 3, 2000 (see June 3, 2000), Atta buys a cell phone and calling card at a store in Manhattan. Later in the month, he uses the phone to make more than a dozen calls to al-Qaeda facilitator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali in the Middle East (see June 28-30, 2000). But after about a month, he stops using that phone, and uses pay phones and more difficult to trace prepaid calling cards for his overseas calls. For instance, from February 10 to 12, 2001, he makes a series of calls to his relatives in Egypt (mother, father, sister, and grandfather) from a pay phone in Georgia. At the same time, he generally uses a cell phone to make calls within the US. For instance, he leases a cell phone from January 2001 to the end of May 2001, and he uses others. Other hijackers, like Marwan Alshehhi and Hani Hanjour, also have their own cell phones for calls inside the US. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 69 pdf file; Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 119, 124, 147 pdf file; Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001 pdf file) But the hijackers use pay phones with prepaid calling cards often. Investigators will later determine that the hijackers used at least 133 different prepaid calling cards, making them hard to track. (Bamford 2008, pp. 53)

The King Fahd Mosque in Culver City.The King Fahd Mosque in Culver City. [Source: Damian Dovarganes]Hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi travel to Los Angeles with an associate, Mohdar Abdullah, before Almihdhar leaves the US the next day (see June 10, 2000). When they visit the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, Abdullah is surprised that Alhazmi and Almihdhar already know several people at the mosque. Abdullah will later say, “I was surprised that anybody at the mosque knew them, because as far as I knew Alhazmi and Almihdhar hadn’t visited Los Angeles since they arrived in the US.” They meet one of the hijackers’ Los Angeles acquaintances, known as Khallam, again later that night at their motel. According to the 9/11 Commission, Khallam asks Abdullah to leave the motel room, so he can talk to Alhazmi and Almihdhar in private. However, Abdullah will later dispute this, saying he is not asked leave the room, but that Alhazmi leaves to make an international phone call from a pay phone. The identity of the person he calls is unknown, but it is possible that he talks to Ahmed al-Hada, an al-Qaeda operative whose safe house is monitored by the US and who Alhazmi sometimes calls from the US (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Khallam will apparently never be found after 9/11. The FBI will consider the possibility that he is Khallad bin Attash, as there are some reports that bin Attash is in the US at this time and met the mosque’s imam, Fahad al Thumairy. However, this theory will never be confirmed. (Krikorian and Reza 7/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 216, 514) The next day, Alhazmi, Abdullah and an unknown man make a casing video at Los Angeles Airport (see June 10, 2000). It is possible that the third man is Khallam.

Hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and one of his associates, Mohdar Abdullah, go to Los Angeles airport with hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who is returning to the Middle East via Germany (see June 10, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 222) Together with a third man, Alhazmi and Abdullah shoot videocamera footage there. They appear to be scouting out the airport and record secretly near the security area. The identity of the third man is not known, but he may be Khallam, an associate of Alhazmi and Almihdhar’s who they met the day before (see June 9, 2000). Al-Qaeda had plotted to bomb Los Angeles Airport not long before (see December 14, 1999). The tapes, which are not found until Abdullah is deported, will cause the FBI to re-start their investigation of him in 2006. (US District Court, Southern District of California 10/29/2004 pdf file; Myers 9/8/2006)

FISA court judge Royce Lamberth was angry with the FBI over misleading statements made in FISA wiretap applications.FISA court judge Royce Lamberth was angry with the FBI over misleading statements made in FISA wiretap applications. [Source: Public domain]While monitoring foreign terrorists in the US, the FBI listens to calls made by suspects as a part of an operation called Catcher’s Mitt, which is curtailed at this time due to misleading statements by FBI agents. It is never revealed who the targets of the FBI’s surveillance are under this operation, but below are some of the terrorism suspects under investigation in the US at the time:
bullet Imran Mandhai, Shuyeb Mossa Jokhan and Adnan El Shukrijumah in Florida. They are plotting a series of attacks there, but Mandhai and Jokhan are brought in for questioning by the FBI and surveillance of them stops in late spring (see November 2000-Spring 2002 and May 2, 2001);
bullet Another Florida cell connected to Blind Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The FBI has been investigating it since 1993 (see (October 1993-November 2001));
bullet Al-Qaeda operatives in Denver (see March 2000);
bullet A Boston-based al-Qaeda cell involving Nabil al-Marabh and Raed Hijazi. Cell members provide funding to terrorists, fight abroad, and are involved in document forging (see January 2001, Spring 2001, and Early September 2001);
bullet Fourteen of the hijackers’ associates the FBI investigates before 9/11. The FBI is still investigating four of these people while the hijackers associate with them; (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 169 pdf file)
bullet Hamas operatives such as Mohammed Salah in Chicago. Salah invests money in the US and sends it to the occupied territories to fund attacks (see June 9, 1998).
When problems are found with the applications for the wiretap warrants, an investigation is launched (see Summer-October 2000), and new requirements for warrant applications are put in place (see October 2000). From this time well into 2001, the FBI is forced to shut down wiretaps of al-Qaeda-related suspects connected to the 1998 US embassy bombings and Hamas (see March 2001 and April 2001). One source familiar with the case says that about 10 to 20 al-Qaeda related wiretaps have to be shut down and it becomes more difficult to get permission for new FISA wiretaps. Newsweek notes, “The effect [is] to stymie terror surveillance at exactly the moment it was needed most: requests from both Phoenix [with the Ken Williams memo (see July 10, 2001)] and Minneapolis [with Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest] for wiretaps [will be] turned down [by FBI superiors],” (see August 21, 2001 and August 28, 2001). (Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002) Robert Wright is an FBI agent who led the Vulgar Betrayal investigation looking into allegations that Saudi businessman Yassin al-Qadi helped finance the embassy bombings, and other matters. In late 2002, he will claim to discover evidence that some of the FBI intelligence agents who stalled and obstructed his investigation were the same FBI agents who misrepresented the FISA petitions. (Judicial Watch 9/11/2002)

When 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar leaves the US in June (see June 10, 2000), he flies to Frankfurt, Germany, and then to Oman in the Middle East. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file) From there he returns to his family’s home in Sana’a, Yemen. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 237) His wife and children live at an al-Qaeda communications hub that is run by his father in law, Ahmed al-Hada. The hub is being monitored by the NSA and CIA. Phone calls to and from the hub, including ones made by Almihdhar and other hijackers, are intercepted, rooms in the building are bugged, and spy satellites record visitors (see Late August 1998, Late 1998-Early 2002, and Early 2000-Summer 2001). Based on information gained from monitoring this house, the CIA and local intelligence services mounted a major operation against Almihdhar, other hijackers, and several more al-Qaeda operatives in December 1999 and January 2000, when they were followed around the Middle East and South Asia and monitored during an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see December 29, 1999, January 2-5, 2000, and January 5-8, 2000). So presumably US intelligence should have been aware of this visit to the hub and who Almihdhar was, but what exactly was known and who may have known it has not been made public. He will return to the hub in February 2001 and stay an unknown length of time (see February 2001).

Document for wire transfer on June 21, 2000Document for wire transfer on June 21, 2000 [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Plot facilitator Ramzi bin al-Shibh wires over $10,000 from Germany to 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi in the US. The money is apparently withdrawn from Alshehhi’s Dresdner bank account, to which bin al-Shibh has access.
bullet On June 13, he wires $2,708.33 to Alshehhi in New York;
bullet On June 21, he wires $1,803.19 to Alshehhi in New York;
bullet On July 25, he wires $1,760.15 to Alshehhi in Florida;
bullet On September 25, he wires $4,118.14 to Alshehhi in Florida; (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 134-5 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/3/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/3/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/3/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/3/2006 pdf file) Bin al-Shibh also sends money to Zacarias Moussaoui in the US (see July 29, 2001-August 3, 2001). The hijackers also receive various other transfers (see June 2000-August 2001).

The 9/11 hijackers living in Florida receive money from abroad via wire and bank transfers. After 9/11 the FBI and the 9/11 Commission will focus on just two sets of wire transfers, one totaling approximately $10,000 from hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see June 13-September 25, 2000) and another totaling about $110,000 from a plot facilitator later identified as Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (see June 29, 2000-September 18, 2000). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 134-5 pdf file) Some reports indicate that these are not the only wire transfers and that the hijackers receive extra money that is not subsequently mentioned by the 9/11 Commission (see (July-August 2000), May 2001, Early August-August 22, 2001, Summer 2001 and before, and Late August-Early September 2001). The hijackers also receive money by other means (see January 15, 2000-August 2001).

After 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar returns to the Middle East (see June 10, 2000 and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)), the NSA continues to intercept his telephone calls to and from an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, where his wife and children live. US intelligence understands that this is one of the most important al-Qaeda hot spots, and has been closely monitoring it since at least late 1998 (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). It also intercepts calls between hijacker Salem Alhazmi and the hub, as well as conversations between his brother, hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, in the US and the hub (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001). (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Wright 2006, pp. 343) The NSA had previously intercepted calls made by the hijackers to and from the communications hub, both when they were in the US and outside it (see Early 2000-Summer 2001).

Ziad Jarrah, with dark blue shirt and sunglasses, leaning against an airplane. He is surrounded by his fellow flight school students.Ziad Jarrah, with dark blue shirt and sunglasses, leaning against an airplane. He is surrounded by his fellow flight school students. [Source: History Channel]9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah attends the Florida Flight Training Center (FFTC) in Venice, Florida, where he takes lessons in a Cessna 152. According to the FBI, he finishes his training there in December 2000. (Der Spiegel 2002, pp. 12; US Congress 9/26/2002) The school’s owner, Arne Kruithof, later says Jarrah is enrolled there until January 15, 2001. (Longman 2002, pp. 91) The 9/11 Commission says he studies there until January 31, 2001. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 12 pdf file) However, these latter two accounts conflict with other reports, according to which Jarrah is elsewhere at the same time (see Late November 2000-January 30, 2001). According to the 9/11 Commission, in early August, just weeks after commencing training, Jarrah gains a single-engine private pilot certificate. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 224) However, Arne Kruithof says that although Jarrah eventually receives his private pilot license and instrument rating, he does not do so while at FFTC. Kruithof later claims that Jarrah becomes an “average” pilot, saying, “We had to do more to get him ready than others. His flight skills seemed to be a little bit out there.” (Longman 2002, pp. 91) At the same time as Jarrah is in Venice, Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi attend Huffman Aviation, which is just up the road from FFTC. (Corte 9/9/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 224) Yet no reports describe him ever meeting them while they are so near to each other. Ramzi bin al-Shibh, who shared an apartment in Hamburg with Mohamed Atta (see November 1, 1998-February 2001), is supposed to join Jarrah at FFTC, wiring the school a $2,200 deposit in August 2000, but is repeatedly unable to obtain the necessary US visa (see May 17, 2000-May 2001). (US Congress 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 225)

Ali Abdul Aziz Ali.Ali Abdul Aziz Ali. [Source: FBI]Hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi receive a series of five money transfers from the United Arab Emirates:
bullet On June 29, $5,000 is wired by a person using the alias “Isam Mansur” to a Western Union facility in New York, where Alshehhi picks it up;
bullet On July 18, $10,000 is wired to Atta and Alshehhi’s joint account at SunTrust from the UAE Exchange Centre in Bur Dubai by a person using the alias “Isam Mansur”;
bullet On August 5, $9,500 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Isam Mansour”;
bullet On August 29, $20,000 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Mr. Ali”;
bullet On September 17 $70,000 is wired to the joint account from the UAE Exchange Centre by a person using the alias “Hani (Fawar Trading).” Some sources suggest a suspicious activity report was generated about this transaction (see (Late September 2000)). (Willman 11/29/2001; Beith 12/2/2001; Eichenwald 12/10/2001; MSNBC 12/11/2001; US Congress 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 134-5 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia; Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file) Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar previously received a transfer from the United Arab Emirates from a “Mr. Ali” (see April 16-18, 2000). The 9/11 Commission say this money was sent by Ali Abdul Aziz Ali (a.k.a. Ammar al-Baluchi), a nephew of 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 133-5 pdf file) Although he denies making the $5,000 transfer to Nawaf Alhazmi, Ali will admit sending Alshehhi these amounts and say that the money was Alshehhi’s (see March 30, 2007). He also admits receiving 16 phone calls from Alshehhi around this time (see June 4, 2000-September 11, 2001). (US Department of Defense 4/12/2007 pdf file) The hijackers may also receive another $100,000 around this time (see (July-August 2000)). It is suggested that Saeed Sheikh, who wires the hijackers money in the summer of 2001 (see Early August 2001), may be involved in one or both of these transfers. For example, French author Bernard-Henri Levy later claims to have evidence from sources inside both Indian and US governments of phone calls between Sheikh and Mahmood Ahmed, head of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence agency, during this same time period, and he sees a connection between the timing of the calls and the money transfers (see Summer 2000). (Swami 10/13/2001; Kak 10/18/2001; Levy 2003, pp. 320-324)

A CIA informant reveals that a militant group based in Sidon, Lebanon that is affiliated with bin Laden is planning to attack a US naval ship somewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean, probably off the coast of Lebanon. (Miniter 2003, pp. 215) This is a probable reference to Asbat al-Ansar, the only group that fits such a profile. (US Department of State 5/21/2002) The CIA and Defense Department discount the threat, pointing out the US is not deploying ships near Lebanon. However, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later say he was alarmed by the warning because it showed increased ambitions for al-Qaeda in going after hardened military targets. (Miniter 2003, pp. 215) Al-Qaeda will successfully bomb the USS Cole several months later in Yemen (see October 12, 2000).

Huffman Aviation logo.Huffman Aviation logo. [Source: Huffman Aviation]9/11 hijackers Marwan Alshehhi and Mohamed Atta attend Huffman Aviation, a flight school in Venice, Florida and enroll in its Accelerated Pilot Program, aiming to get commercial pilot licenses. According to the school’s owner Rudi Dekkers, Atta already has a private pilot’s license—though where and how he gained this is unstated—and wants to obtain a commercial license. Alshehhi wants to obtain both licenses. They begin their training in a Cessna 172 with instructor Thierry Leklou. According to the 9/11 Commission, by the end of July both are already taking solo flights. However, in August Leklou complains to Chief Flight Instructor Daniel Pursell that the two are failing to follow instructions and have bad attitudes. Pursell considers expelling them, but, according to Dekkers, after a warning they improve their behavior and continue without further problems. (US Congress 3/19/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 224, 227; Martin 7/25/2004) Yet Pursell later testifies that the school’s instructors breathed “a collective sigh of relief” when the two left Huffman. (Associated Press 3/23/2006) Furthermore, reportedly, “Atta and al-Shehhi would rent a plane from Huffman and be gone for days at a time, Pursell said. They could fly to 20 airports across the state and never be noticed.” (Martin 7/25/2004) Mark Mikarts, another of the school’s instructors, says Atta has “big problems with authority,” and doesn’t take instructions well. (Mollenkamp et al. 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 17 pdf file) Susan Hall, Huffman’s office manager, refers to Atta as “the little terrorist” while he is at the school, because, she later says, “I just didn’t like the aura he gave off.” (Reuters 3/22/2006) In the middle of their training, in late September, Atta and Alshehhi enroll at another flight school, in nearby Sarasota. However, they are soon asked to leave it, and return to Huffman in October (see Late September-Early October 2000). While Atta and Alshehhi attend Huffman Aviation, another of the alleged hijackers, Ziad Jarrah, is taking lessons at a flight school just down the road from them (see (June 28-December 2000)). Yet no reports describe the three ever meeting up while they are all in Venice. According to official accounts, Atta and Alshehhi complete their schooling at Huffman on December 19, 2000, when they take their commercial pilot license tests. Rudi Dekkers says that after returning to the school to settle their bills, they leave and are never seen there again. (US Congress 3/19/2002; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 17 pdf file) Yet Daniel Pursell will later allege that early in 2001 the two are still connected with Huffman, being reported to the school for practicing nighttime landings in one of its planes at another Florida airport (see Between January and February 2001).

On July 12, two days before his visa expires, an I-539 application (dated July 7, 2000) to extend 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi’s US stay is filed with the California Service Center (CSC) of the INS. (Nawaf Alhazmi 7/27/2000) The I-539 form is not received by the CSC until July 27, 2000, and officially it is considered a late filing. (unknown: INS 2002; INS email 3/20/2002; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 12, 25 pdf file) The name of the form-preparer is redacted, but according to INS records, Alhazmi’s I-539 is submitted “in care of” Abdussattar Shaikh, an FBI informant Alhazmi is living with (see May 10-Mid-December 2000), and “appears to have been filed [sic] out by Shaikh.” (unknown: INS 2002; Immigration and Naturalization Service 5/26/2002) Alhazmi had been issued a one-year, multiple-entry visa on April 3, 1999, but when he arrived in the United States with Khalid Almihdhar on January 15, 2000, the immigration inspector approved a six-month stay for both of them (see January 15, 2000). Alhazmi’s I-539 visa extension will be approved on June 18, 2001, 11 months later (see June 18, 2001). No other extensions of stay will be filed by, or on behalf of, Alhazmi. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 10, 12, 25 pdf file)

According to a post-9/11 confession obtained from 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), al-Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash persuades hijacker Khalid Almihdhar to return to Afghanistan to meet with KSM. At the meeting, Almihdhar complains about life in the US but says he is confident he will be able to obtain another visa, as he left the US before his first one expired. He also tells Mohammed about the problems he and Nawaf Alhazmi have had enrolling in language schools and says they believe they were monitored when they flew from Bangkok to the US in January 2000 (see January 15, 2000) (it is not clear who may have monitored them). Supposedly, KSM is angry that Almihdhar left the US without permission and wishes to exclude Almihdhar from the mission, but bin Laden himself intervenes and keeps Almihdhar involved. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 237, 269; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia 7/31/2006, pp. 20-21 pdf file) Doubts have been raised about the reliability of KSM’s confession, as it was obtained using torture (see June 16, 2004). According to author Ron Suskind, at one point interrogators even threaten to hurt KSM’s children, a seven-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl, unless he provides more information. (Suskind 2006, pp. 230)

The French intelligence agency, the DGSE, publishes a 13-page classified report entitled “The Networks of Osama bin Laden.” According to a 2007 article, the report describes the “context, the anecdotal details, and all the strategic aspects relative to al-Qaeda” in “black and white” terms. It mentions a payment of $4.5 million from the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) to in Laden. The US will not go after the IIRO even years after 9/11 because of the organization’s close ties to the Saudi government (see October 12, 2001 and August 3, 2006). The report also doubts Osama bin Laden’s purported estrangement from the bin Laden family: “It seems more and more likely that bin Laden has maintained contacts with certain members of his family, although the family, which directs one of the largest groups of public works in the world, has officially renounced him. One of his brothers apparently plays a role as intermediary in its professional contacts or the monitoring of its business.” French officials will later claim they regularly passed on their intelligence on al-Qaeda to the CIA. (Dasquié 4/15/2007)

The US intelligence community has been monitoring al-Qaeda telephone communications to and from a communications hub in Yemen since the late 1990s (see Late August 1998). The CIA intercepts an al-Qaeda operative say in a monitored phone call that bin Laden is planning a “Hiroshima-type event” against the US. Failed millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam, who is arrested in late 1999 (see December 14, 1999), confirms at the time that al-Qaeda is preparing such an attack. (Risen and Engelberg 10/14/2001; PBS 10/3/2002) This sets off an immediate but unsuccessful search for further evidence. Shortly after 9/11, the New York Times will report that “intelligence officials now acknowledge that they never imagined that Mr. bin Laden’s organization had the ability to kill thousands of people in coordinated attacks on the American homeland. Looking back through the prism of Sept. 11, officials now say that the intercepted message was a telling sign of a drastic shift in the ambitions and global reach of al-Qaeda during the last three years.” (Risen and Engelberg 10/14/2001) There apparently is another intercepted message talking about a “Hiroshima” event in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001).

A former member of the militant group Abu Sayyaf claims that the group is still being funded by a Saudi charity tied to bin Laden’s brother-in-law Mohammed Jamal Khalifa. The Philippine branch of the International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) was founded in 1991 by Khalifa. This former member, who uses the alias “Abu Anzar,” says the IIRO continues to fund the Abu Sayyaf after Khalifa’s arrest in the US in late 1994 (see December 16, 1994-May 1995). Anzar says, “Only 10 to 30 percent of the foreign funding goes to the legitimate relief and livelihood projects and the rest go to terrorist operations.” Anzar is said to be recruited by Edwin Angeles and his right hand man; since Angeles has been revealed as a deep undercover operative (see 1991-Early February 1995), it is speculated Anzar may have been working undercover too. (Herrera 8/9/2000) A 1994 Philippine intelligence report listed a Gemma Cruz as the treasurer and board member of the IIRO. In 1998, Gemma Cruz-Araneta became the tourism secretary in the cabinet of new president Joseph Estrada. Anzar claims that in 1993 and 1994 he toured IIRO projects with Khalifa and Cruz-Araneta and identifies her as the same person who is now tourism secretary. Cruz-Araneta denies all the charges as a case of mistaken identity and retains her position in the cabinet. (Herrera 8/11/2000; Herrera 8/12/2000) In 2006, the US government will officially list the Philippine IIRO branch as a terrorism financier and state that it is still being run by one of Khalifa’s associates (see August 3, 2006).

Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman.Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman. [Source: US Defense Department]Italian intelligence successfully wiretaps an al-Qaeda cell in Milan, Italy, starting in late 1999. (Sennott 8/4/2002) In a wiretapped conversation from this day, Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a section chief in Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO - roughly the equivalent to the FBI in the US) traveling on a diplomatic passport (see Spring-Summer 1998), talks about a massive strike against the enemies of Islam involving aircraft and the sky. The conversation takes place in a car on the way to a terrorist summit near Bologna (see August 12, 2000 and Shortly After), and the person Abdulrahman talks to is Mahmoud Es Sayed, a close associate of al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000). There are several significant aspects to the conversation:
bullet Abdulrahman makes comments indicating he has foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. He says that he is “studying airlines,” comments, “Our focus is only on the air,” and tells Es Sayed to remember the words “above the head.” He also says that next time they meet he hopes to bring Es Sayed “a window or piece of the airplane,” and that the security on Alitalia and at Rome airport is poor. The name of the operation is given as “Jihadia,” and Abdulrahman says, “the big blow will come from the other country: one of those blows no one can ever forget.” He adds: “[It is] moving from south to north, from east to west: whoever created this plan is crazy, but he’s also a genius. It will leave them speechless.” He also says: “We can fight any power using candles and airplanes: they will not be able to stop us with even their most powerful weapons. We must hit them. And keep your head up.… Remember, the danger in the airports.… If it happens the newspapers from all over the world will write about it.”
bullet Es Sayed remarks, “I know brothers who went to America with the trick of the wedding publications.” The phrase “Big wedding” is sometimes used by al-Qaeda as code for a bombing or attack, including 9/11 (see November 30, 1999 and Late Summer 2001), so, taken together with Abdulrahman’s remarks, this indicates an unconventional attack in the US using aircraft;
bullet The two discuss training camps in Yemen, which are “proceeding on a world scale.” They also mention youth in Italy, and presumably the youth are training;
bullet Es Sayed says, “my dream is building an Islamic state,” and Abdulrahman replies that this is possible because the Yemeni government is weak and “sooner or later we will dominate it;”
bullet Es Sayed asks after a person named Ayman, evidently al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri;
bullet Abdulrahman twice mentions the name of Abdul Mejid, apparently a reference to Abdul Mejid al-Zindani, a radical leader in Yemen and associate of Osama bin Laden (see January-August 1998);
bullet Es Sayed makes the cryptic comment, “One must be cautious, like in Iran; not a single photo.”
Beginning in October 2000, FBI experts will help Italian police analyze the intercepts and warnings. Related conversations are overheard early the next year (see January 24, 2001 and February 2001). Neither Italy nor the FBI will fully understand their meaning until after 9/11, but apparently the Italians will understand enough to give the US an attack warning in March 2001 (see March 2001). After 9/11, this conversation and others like it will cause US intelligence to think there may be a link between the 9/11 plot and Yemen’s PSO. (Rotella and Meyer 5/29/2002; Carroll 5/30/2002; Delaney 5/31/2002; Higgins and Cullison 12/20/2002; Vidino 2006, pp. 224-5) Author Lorenzo Vidino will later comment: “The chilling conversation alarmed officials before 9/11, but it took on a completely different resonance after the attacks had taken place. [Abdulrahman], who had close connections to the highest ranks of al-Qaeda, likely knew about the plan in advance and had told Es Sayed about it.” (Vidino 2006, pp. 226)

Italian counterterrorist authorities monitor a summit of leading Islamist militants near Bologna. Attendees at the meeting, which is arranged through an extremist mosque in Milan called the Islamic Cultural Institute, include:
bullet Mahmoud Es Sayed, a close associate of al-Qaeda second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Before Spring 2000). He had recently been sent by al-Zawahiri to revise the militant network in northern Italy (see Summer 2000).
bullet Abdulsalam Ali Abdulrahman, a section chief with Yemen’s Political Security Organization (PSO—roughly equivalent to the FBI). Es Sayed and Abdulrahman are overheard discussing an attack using aircraft on their way to the summit, indicating they have foreknowledge of 9/11 (see August 12, 2000). The two of them will be recorded a few months later discussing trying to get some of their associates into the US (see February 2001). In 2002, Abdulrahman will be arrested and sent to the US-run prison in Guantanamo, Cuba (see September 2002).
bullet Ayub Usama Saddiq Ali, an Islamic Jihad leader and another close associate of al-Zawahiri’s. Ali was convicted of murder in Egypt but fled to Germany and was granted political asylum there in 1999. Future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah called him once in 1999 and will call him again in August 2001 (see November 7, 1999 and August 4, 2001).
bullet Mohammed Fazazi, the spiritual leader of the Moroccan group Salafia Jihadia, which will be responsible for a 2003 attack in Casablanca (see May 16, 2003). Fazazi is also the imam at Hamburg’s Al-Quds mosque, which is attended by the core cell of future 9/11 hijacker pilots, including Jarrah (see Early 1996 and (April 1, 1999)). Fazazi’s presence indicates a further connection between the cell in Milan, which is under heavy surveillance by Italian authorities (see 2000), and the cell in Hamburg, but this link will not be exploited to prevent 9/11. (Vidino 2006, pp. 230)

The FBI and other US intelligence agencies have been monitoring an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, since the attacks on US embassies in East Africa, and have used it to map al-Qaeda’s global network (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). In the run-up to the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, the FBI notices that there is increased telephone activity to and from the Sana’a hub. One of the messages says that bin Laden is planning a “Hiroshima-type event” (see (August 2000)). (PBS 10/3/2002)

According to PBS, an Egyptian informant warns US intelligence that al-Qaeda will attack an American warship. (PBS 10/3/2002) The FBI also notices increased telephone activity by al-Qaeda in Yemen around the same time (see August-Early October 2000). The USS Cole is attacked in the autumn of this year (see October 12, 2000).

Midhat Mursi.Midhat Mursi. [Source: Washington Post]Agents of the DGSE, the French intelligence agency, examine an aerial photo and spot al-Qaeda leader Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri) standing close to Osama bin Laden. Mursi is considered al-Qaeda’s chief bomb maker and chemical weapons expert (he will apparently be killed in 2006 (see January 13, 2006). French intelligence reports from before 9/11 show that Mursi is being closely watched by intelligence agencies, with the French exchanging information about him with the Mossad, CIA, and Egyptian intelligence. (Dasquié 4/15/2007) The quality of the aerial photo must have been extremely high in order for Mursi and bin Laden to be recognized, but it has not been explained how such a photo was obtained or what other photos of bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders may have been taken before 9/11. Less than two weeks later, the US begins flying Predator drones over Afghanistan to track bin Laden (see September 7-October 2000).

In order to enter a professional flight training program, 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi are required to apply for student visas. They are currently in the US on tourist visas, attending Huffman Aviation flight school in Venice, Florida (see July 6-December 19, 2000). On August 29, 2000, according to the school’s owner Rudi Dekkers, Huffman’s student coordinator Nicole Antini sends I-20M forms demonstrating Atta and Alshehhi’s enrollment at the school to the Immigration and Naturalization Service. She also sends copies of their passports. Their forms state, “The student is expected to report to the school not later than Sept. 1, 2000, and complete studies not later than Sept. 1, 2001.” (McIntyre 3/13/2002; US Congress 3/19/2002) However, the 9/11 Commission claims that the forms are filled out later, on September 15. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 224; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 13 pdf file) Interestingly, considering these contradictory dates, Antini later tells the FBI that on “one occasion, Atta was very upset with the date of his visa and wanted it changed,” though he did not say what upset him about the date or why he wanted it changed. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 38 pdf file) Huffman only receives notification that the INS has approved the visa applications 18 months later, well after 9/11 (see March 11, 2002). Atta and Alshehhi will be cleared to stay in the US until October 1, 2001. (McIntyre 3/13/2002)

Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, with a few of the future 9/11 hijackers, travels to Afghanistan and meets Osama bin Laden. German intelligence soon learns of the trip, and even gets wiretapped recordings of some of his conversations there. Zammar has been an Islamist militant for a long time, and went to training camps in Afghanistan in 1991 and 1994. Living in Hamburg, he was able to collect about 12,000 Deutsche Marks (approximately $6,000 at the time) for al-Qaeda. In September 2000, he takes the money to Afghanistan. He is able to get a face-to-face meeting with bin Laden, in a training camp near Kandahar. Zammar is still at the training camp in early October, when al-Qaeda bombs the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000). He and the others in the camp have a celebration this night. This account is based on a confession Zammar will give to visiting German officials while he is secretly imprisoned in Syria in 2002 (see November 20-22, 2002). It is almost certain Zammar is frequently tortured there. However, Der Spiegel will later claim that German intelligence is able to verify many of the details of this trip on its own, because it receives wiretapped recordings of Zammar’s conversations in Afghanistan from at least one foreign intelligence agency. (Stark 11/21/2005)

Hani Hanjour’s September 10 US visa application, which was rejected. The fact he requested permission to stay in the US for three years is highlighted on the right.Hani Hanjour’s September 10 US visa application, which was rejected. The fact he requested permission to stay in the US for three years is highlighted on the right. [Source: National Review] (click image to enlarge)Future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour applies for a US tourist/business visa at the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Hanjour, who has already spent a good deal of time in the US (see October 3, 1991-February 1992, Spring 1996, October 1996-December 1997, and 1998), uses a passport issued on July 24, 2000. His application is incomplete, as he says he is a student, but fails to give his school’s name and address. After his application is screened, he is referred to a consular officer for an interview. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 13, 174-5 pdf file) This consular officer is Shayna Steinger, who issues a total of 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers (see July 1, 2000). (9/11 Commission 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State) 1/30/2003) Hanjour’s application is denied as he says he wants to stay in the US for three years, raising concerns he might become an immigrant. Hanjour also says he wants to attend flight school in the US, changing his status to “student” from “tourist” after arrival. However, this is another reason Steinger denies the visa application, “because he has been in the States long enough to decide what he wanted.” Hanjour will return to the consulate two weeks later and successfully obtain a visa from Steinger using a different application (see September 25, 2000). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 13, 174-5 pdf file) Steinger will later give a series of conflicting explanations about why she reversed her decision and issued the visa (see August 1, 2002, January 20, 2003, and December 30, 2003). After 9/11, a former consular official named Michael Springmann will say that while serving in Jeddah during the Soviet-Afghan War he was sometimes pressured to reverse denials of visa applications by the CIA for apparent mujaheddin (see September 1987-March 1989).

A videotape message featuring bin Laden calling for more attacks on the US is aired on Al Jazeera. The video ends with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri saying, “Enough of words, it is time to take action against this iniquitous and faithless force [the United States], which has spread troops through Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.” (CNN 10/20/2000; Gertz 8/26/2002) Further, bin Laden is wearing a distinctive, curved Yemeni dagger. Lawrence Wright will later mention in the book The Looming Tower that this was a “teasing clue” similar to other clues he had left before other attacks. (Wright 2006, pp. 318) DIA analyst Kie Fallis later recalls, “Every time he put out one of these videotapes, it was a signal that action was coming.” He claims that after hearing of the video, he “knew then it would be within a month or two.” But nonetheless, his suggestion to put out a general attack warning will go unheeded (see May 2000-Late September 2000). An al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole follows less than a month later (see October 12, 2000). (Gertz 8/26/2002)

In September 2000, Luai Sakra enters Germany seeking asylum, using the name “Louia Sakka” (one of several ways his name is transliterated). He moves with his wife and two children to a government asylum dormitory in a small town in central Germany while waiting for a verdict. (Cziesche, Dahlkamp, and Stark 8/15/2005; Agence France-Presse 10/27/2005) After his 2005 arrest in Turkey, Sakra will confess to helping some of the 9/11 hijackers. He will claim to have helped some of the 9/11 hijackers while in Bursa, a city in Turkey 60 miles south of Istanbul (see Late 1999-2000). (Vick 2/20/2006) But he will also say that he knew hijacker Mohamed Atta, which presumably would take place during Sakra’s time in Germany (see Early August 2005). He will warn the Syrian government about the 9/11 attacks one day before they happen (see September 10, 2001) and evidence will suggest he was an informant working for the CIA and other governments (see 2000). He will later admit meeting Assef Shawkat, head of Syrian intelligence, in Germany, but it is not known when this meeting took place. (BBC 11/10/2005) Apparently while still living in Germany, Sakra is indicted in Jordan for allegedly supporting planned attacks around the turn of the millennium (see November 30, 1999). His 2001 Jordanian indictment reads, “Current residence: Germany, on the run.” It is not clear if Jordan communicated with the German government about his whereabouts at this time. He will be convicted in absentia in Jordan in early 2002 and sentenced to 15 years in prison. Meanwhile, in Germany he loses his asylum appeal and leaves the country on July 24, 2001. His family flies to Syria around the same time. (Cziesche, Dahlkamp, and Stark 8/15/2005)

Future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour again applies for a US visa at the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. An application two weeks earlier had been rejected (see September 10, 2000), but he is successful this time. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 13-14 pdf file) The application is dealt with by consular officer Shayna Steinger, who issues a total of 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers (see July 1, 2000) and who rejected Hanjour’s previous application. (9/11 Commission 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State) 1/30/2003) Hanjour apparently applies for a student visa, not a tourist visa, as he had done previously, saying he wishes to attend a language school in California. Steinger will later recall that Hanjour, or someone acting on his behalf, submits an I-20 INS school enrollment form, the documentation required for the visa. She will say: “It came to me, you know, at the end of the day to look at it. I saw he had an I-20 and it [his visa] was issued.” This apparently allows Hanjour to overcome his previous rejection, as the two applications are treated as one case. The INS had approved a change of status for Hanjour to attend the same school in 1996, but Steinger does not know of this. She will later say that, if she had known, she might have denied the visa. Although a photocopy of a student visa in Hanjour’s passport will later be made public, Steinger now enters the visa in the State Department’s records as a business/tourist visa. (Note: the visa in Hanjour’s passport may be changed upon his entry to the US (see December 8, 2000).) (9/11 Commission 12/30/2002, pp. 13-14, 38) Steinger will later give conflicting accounts of her issuance of this visa. She will first falsely claim to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that she issued the visa under the Visa Express program and that Hanjour was not even present during the first application on September 10 (see August 1, 2002), but will later change her story for the State Department’s inspector general (see January 20, 2003) and the 9/11 Commission (see December 30, 2003). After 9/11, a former consular official named Michael Springmann will say that while serving in Jeddah during the Soviet-Afghan War he was sometimes pressured to reverse denials of visa applications by the CIA for apparent mujaheddin (see September 1987-March 1989).

A Tunisian militant based in Italy named Sekseka Habib Waddani confesses to Italian police that he has helped run an elaborate arms smuggling ring, but it is unclear whether Italy or the US does anything to stop him. Waddani will be placed on the US Treasury Department’s list of most-wanted militants on August 29, 2002, but this “prompts questions about when the United States learned of Waddani, and whether any action was taken by Italian or US officials after Waddani’s claim that large amounts of weapons were being sold to Islamic terrorists.” When the CIA is asked in 2002 whether it did anything about Waddani, the agency will decline to comment.
Walk In - Waddani just walks in to a police station in Milan in 2000 and discloses the information, which he learned because he was involved when the weapons transited Italy and Switzerland. He approaches the police because he is being blackmailed and needs protection. The weapons smuggling scheme Waddani reports to the Italians initially involved smuggling the arms from Russia to Italy by sea, then to Croatia and on to Bosnia during the war there from 1992 to 1995. Weapons were also supplied to Albanian fighters in Kosovo in 1998. The deals were brokered by Italian and Muslim lawyers in Switzerland, who found buyers there. However, this system is abandoned as too difficult and the weapons—pistols, machine guns, missiles, and grenades—are then shipped through Uzbekistan to Pakistan for use at terrorist training camps in Pakistan, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
Companies Involved - Several European companies are involved in moving the arms, including one that handled transactions in Switzerland and is owned by a Pakistani named Haji Agka and two Swiss-based Tunisians, Ahmed and Shoyab Sharifi, and a front named the Mother Teresa of Calcutta Center of Lucerne. The two Tunisians are friends of Ahmad Huber, who reportedly facilitates “periodic and regular” weapons shipments and is accused of moving money for Osama bin Laden through the suspect Al Taqwa bank (see November 7, 2001). Huber denies the charges and, although the Italians passed the information on to Switzerland, says neither he nor any of his associates were ever even questioned about it. Waddani will be indicted in October 2001 in Italy, for trafficking in arms, explosives, chemical weapons, identity papers, receiving stolen goods, and illegal immigration. The Treasury Department will also say he is a member of the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat (GSPC). (Komisar 9/16/2002)

Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer will later claim that Captain Scott Phillpott, leader of the Able Danger program, briefs General Peter Schoomaker, head of Special Operations Command (SOCOM), that Able Danger has uncovered information of increased al-Qaeda “activity” in Aden harbor, Yemen. Shaffer, plus two other officials familiar with Able Danger later tell the New York Post that this warning was gleaned through a search of bin Laden’s business ties. Shaffer later recalls, “Yemen was elevated by Able Danger to be one of the top three hot spots for al-Qaeda in the entire world.” This warning, plus another possibly connected warning from Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst Kie Fallis (see May 2000-Late September 2000), go unheeded and no official warning is issued. The USS Cole is attacked by al-Qaeda terrorists in Aden harbor in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). Shaffer later claims that Phillpott tells the 9/11 Commission about this warning in 2004 to show that Able Danger could have had a significant impact, but the Commission’s findings fail to mention the warning, or in fact anything else about Able Danger (see July 12, 2004). (Lathem 9/17/2005; Shaffer 9/20/2005) Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) will similarly tell Fox News: “[T]wo weeks before the attack on the Cole, in fact, two days before the attack on the Cole, [Able Danger] saw an increase of activity that led them to say to the senior leadership in the Pentagon at that time, in the Clinton administration, there’s something going to happen in Yemen and we better be on high alert, but it was discounted. That story has yet to be told to the American people.” (Fox News 10/8/2005)

Raed Hijazi.Raed Hijazi. [Source: Associated Press]Raed Hijazi participated in a failed attempt to bomb a hotel in Jordan at the start of the millennium (see November 30, 1999) and helped plan the USS Cole bombing in early October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). Hijazi knew Nabil al-Marabh in Boston, where they were roommates and drove taxis for the same company. In May 1999, the FBI had already approached al-Marabh looking for Hijazi, but al-Marabh will later claim he lied and said he did not know him. (Fainaru 9/4/2002) Hijazi is arrested in Syria this month and imprisoned in Jordan, where he has just been convicted for his failed bomb attempt there. He quickly begins to cooperate with investigators, identifies himself as an al-Qaeda operative, and also identifies al-Marabh as an al-Qaeda operative still living in the US. Customs agents soon discover that al-Marabh had on at least one occasion wired money to Hijazi that was used to fund the failed millennium plot. These agents will eventually learn that al-Marabh repeatedly sent money overseas to Hijazi. Ahmed Ressam, arrested in late 1999 for attempting to bomb the Los Angeles airport, helps confirm the connection between al-Marabh and Hijazi. Ressam will start cooperating with US investigators in early 2001, but it is not clear if he gave this information before 9/11 or just after it. (Golden and Miller 9/18/2001; Risen and Engelberg 10/14/2001; Fisher 10/14/2001; Godfrey 11/16/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago) 1/31/2002) Yet, the New York Times will note, “For months after the CIA learned of his ties to the bin Laden network, Mr. Marabh moved about unfettered—traveling around the [US], moving large amounts of money, getting duplicate driver’s licenses, and forging immigration documents.” (Risen and Engelberg 10/14/2001)

According to US visa application forms later published in the National Review, 9/11 hijackers Waleed and Wail Alshehri are both issued with new passports on this day. (US Department of State 10/24/2000; US Department of State 10/24/2000) The Alshehris, who are brothers, have a family member in the Saudi passport office, and he provides them with the documents. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 525) However, the 9/11 Commission will be unable to determine whether the family member issues the passports legitimately or illegitimately. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 33 pdf file) Apparently, the Alshehris are quite well-connected; several of their brothers work for the Saudi armed forces (a large airbase is a major employer in the region where they grew up), and their uncle is a major in the kingdom’s army and a director of logistics. (Sunday Times (London) 1/27/2002) Three weeks later they will use the passports to obtain tourist visas to the US (see October 24, 2000).

Before the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, Ramzi bin al-Shibh makes two trips to Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, and will later be said to play a role in the attack. Although bin al-Shibh is never named as a certain participant in the operation, he flies from Frankfurt, Germany, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), on October 10, 2000. The next day, he flies from Dubai to Sana’a, putting him there one day before the bombing (see October 12, 2000). He flies from Sana’a to Dubai on October 21, and where he goes from there is not certain. (Lichtblau and Williams 10/24/2001; Khan 8/11/2002 pdf file; Abuza 12/24/2002; McDermott 2005, pp. 209) Bin al-Shibh was also in Yemen for about four weeks up until a month before the bombing (see August-September 2000). Note also that the CIA is working with the Dubai airport to track all suspected militants passing through it, although it is not known if bin al-Shibh is suspected at this time (see 1999). He apparently attended an al-Qaeda summit with the other commanders of the ship-bombing operation in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000) and some media reports indicate an application for a US visa he makes after the attack is rejected due to concerns about his involvement in the bombing. For example, the Los Angeles Times, based on conversations with law enforcement officials, will report that bin al-Shibh is “linked to the terrorist attack in Yemen on the US Navy destroyer Cole.” (Lichtblau and Williams 10/21/2001) Newsweek, the BBC, and Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda will also report similar statements by law enforcement officials (see May 17, 2000-May 2001). (Thomas 11/26/2001; BBC 9/14/2002; TBS Journal 10/2002) One of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, may also be involved in the bombing (see Around October 12, 2000).

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, an al-Qaeda leader involved in the attack on the USS Cole, is said to meet two associates, Ahmed al-Hada and al-Hada’s nephew Ramzi bin al-Shibh, in Yemen. (Schrom 10/1/2002; Hosenball 12/2/2002) Al-Hada, an operative who runs a communications hub for Osama bin Laden, has been under surveillance since 1998, at least (see August 4-25, 1998). The surveillance of al-Hada is reportedly so important that his house is monitored by spy satellites, to visually identify everyone coming and going (see Late August 1998), although it is unclear where the meeting with al-Nashiri takes place. The exact timing of this meeting and that with bin al-Shibh is not known, although bin al-Shibh stays in Yemen for about four weeks up until a month before the bombing (see August-September 2000), and then arrives in Yemen again one day before the bombing (see October 10-21, 2000). (Hosenball 12/2/2002) Bin al-Shibh is repeatedly denied a US visa. Although the earlier applications are denied on the grounds he may stay in the US, it will later be suggested that his presumed role in the Cole bombing may have influenced one or more later denials (see May 17, 2000-May 2001).

Damage to the USS Cole.Damage to the USS Cole. [Source: Department of Defense]The USS Cole is bombed in the Aden, Yemen harbor by two al-Qaeda militants, Hassan al-Khamri and Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras). Seventeen US soldiers are killed and 30 are wounded. The CIA will later conclude that with just slightly more skilled execution, the attack would have killed 300 and sunk the ship. (ABC News 10/13/2000; Coll 2004, pp. 532; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 191) The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) immediately takes credit for the attack. This is a Yemen-based Muslim militant group widely believed to have close ties to al-Qaeda (see 1996-1997 and After). (Whitaker 10/14/2000) The IAA statement is released by its spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997, (June 1998), and December 28, 1998 and After). Abu Hamza says that the attack was timed to mark the anniversary of the execution of the IAA’s former commander (see October 17, 1999). (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 184) The prime minister of Yemen at the time of the bombing will say shortly after 9/11, “The Islamic Army was part of al-Qaeda.” (Whitaker 10/13/2001) The US soon learns the names of some al-Qaeda operatives involved in the attack, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Tawfiq bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso (see Early December 2000), and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000). 9/11 hijackers Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see October 10-21, 2000) and Khalid Almihdhar (see Around October 12, 2000) may also have been involved. This is a repeat of a previously attempted attack, against the USS The Sullivans, which failed and was apparently undetected (see January 3, 2000). (McDermott, Meyer, and McDonnell 12/22/2002) The 9/11 Commission will later say the Cole bombing “was a full-fledged al-Qaeda operation, supervised directly by bin Laden. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives and equipment.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 190)

Hours after the USS Cole bombing in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), President Clinton says regarding the bombing: “If, as it now appears, this was an act of terrorism, it was a despicable and cowardly act. We will find out who was responsible and hold them accountable.” (ABC News 10/12/2000) But the US will not quickly retaliate against al-Qaeda, as it did with missile strikes after the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa (see August 20, 1998), despite convincing evidence that al-Qaeda was behind the Cole bombing (see Shortly After October 12, 2000, November 2000 or After, and November 7, 2000).

Author Lawrence Wright will later write about the FBI’s investigation of the USS Cole bombing in Yemen (see October 12, 2000): “The FBI was convinced that the [Cole] bombers had been tipped off about the arrival of the Cole, and they wanted to expand the investigation to include a member of the president’s own family and a colonel in [the Yemeni equivalent of the FBI]. There was scant interest on the part of the Yemen authorities in pursuing such leads.” Wright will also point out: “Yemen was a particularly difficult place to start a terrorist investigation, as it was filled with active al-Qaeda cells and with sympathizers at very high levels of government. On television, Yemeni politicians called for jihad against America. Just getting permission from the Yemeni government to go to the crime scene—the wounded warship in the Aden harbor—required lengthy negotiations with hostile officials.” Cooperation from the Yemen government is erratic at best. For instance, the Yemenis eventually show the FBI a videotape taken by a harborside security camera, but it appears the moment of the explosion has been edited out. (Wright 2006, pp. 325; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) Later, when the FBI is finally allowed to interview Fahad al-Quso, who the FBI believes is one of the main Cole plotters, a Yemeni colonel enters the room and kisses Quso on both cheeks. This is a recognized signal to everyone that al-Quso is protected. (Wright 2006, pp. 330) Between Yemeni obstructions, infighting between US officials (see October 14-Late November, 2000), and security concerns hindering movement, there will never be the same kind of investigation and trial as there was with the 1998 embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and February-July 2001).

Barbara Bodine at a press conference days after the bombing of the USS Cole.Barbara Bodine at a press conference days after the bombing of the USS Cole. [Source: Reuters]The first FBI agents enter Yemen two days after the bombing of the USS Cole in an attempt to discover who was responsible. However, the main part of the team initially gets stuck in Germany because they do not have permission to enter Yemen and they are then unable to accomplish much due to restrictions placed on them and tensions between lead investigator John O’Neill and US Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine. All but about 50 investigators are forced to leave by the end of October. O’Neill’s boss Barry Mawn visits to assess the situation. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 237; Wright 1/14/2002; Sunday Times (London) 2/3/2002; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) Mawn will later comment, “It became clear [Bodine] simply hated his guts.” After a ten day investigation, he concludes O’Neill is doing a fine job, tells Bodine that she is O’Neill’s “only detractor,” and refuses her request to recall him. (Wright 2006, pp. 32) But O’Neill and much of his team are pressured to leave by late November and Bodine will not give him permission to return any time after that. The investigation stalls without his personal relationships to top Yemeni officials. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 237; Wright 1/14/2002; Sunday Times (London) 2/3/2002) Increased security threats force the reduced FBI team still in Yemen to withdraw altogether in June 2001. (PBS Frontline 10/3/2002) The prime minister of Yemen at the time later claims (see Early October 2001) that hijacker “Khalid Almihdhar was one of the Cole perpetrators, involved in preparations. He was in Yemen at the time and stayed after the Cole bombing for a while, then he left.” The Sunday Times later notes, “The failure in Yemen may have blocked off lines of investigation that could have led directly to the terrorists preparing for September 11.” (Sunday Times (London) 2/3/2002)

Pat Patterson.Pat Patterson. [Source: Publicity photo]Los Angeles FBI agent Pat Patterson is sent to Yemen to assist in the investigation of the USS Cole bombing (see October 14-Late November, 2000). While there, he spends several evenings with John O’Neill, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s national security division in New York, who is leading the investigation. O’Neill is the FBI’s top expert on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The two men speculate about what bin Laden’s next target might be, and end up considering the World Trade Center. Patterson will later recall: “I thought it was unlikely they would hit a target a second time, but John was convinced of it. He said, ‘No, they definitely want to bring that building down.’ He just had that sense and was insistent about it.” (Kolker 12/17/2001; Weiss 2003, pp. 291-292 and 321) After leaving the FBI, O’Neill will actually start work as director of security for the World Trade Center shortly before 9/11 (see August 23, 2001).

Using new passports obtained three weeks previously (see October 3, 2000), future 9/11 hijackers Waleed and Wail Alshehri obtain tourist visas to the US. (US Department of State 10/24/2000; US Department of State 10/24/2000) The visas are issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official at the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, who apparently issues the 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). (9/11 Commission 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State) 1/30/2003) The Alshehris make several errors in the applications, which should normally lead to them being rejected. They only give their employer’s/school’s address as “South city” and the address they will be staying at as “Wasantwn,” although they do not specify whether this is the city or the state. They also say they will stay for four to six months, although it is unclear how they will support themselves during this time, and on Wail’s application form Steinger does not even bother to complete the section on checking the applicant has the necessary funds. In addition, the Alshehris say they will arrive in the US “after two weeks”—presumably meaning two weeks after the visa’s application was filed. However, according to the 9/11 Commission Report, Waleed will arrive on April 23, 2001 and Wail will arrive on June 8, 2001 (see April 23-June 29, 2001). They appear to receive their visas on the same day they apply for them. (US Department of State 10/24/2000; US Department of State 10/24/2000; Mowbray 10/9/2002) The 9/11 Commission will say that their passports may have fraudulent features, presumably related to travel stamps, although this is not certain. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4)

Future 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alnami and candidate hijacker Mushabib al-Hamlan obtain US visas from the American consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 14-15 pdf file) Alnami’s visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000) and will issue Alnami with a second visa next year (see April 23, 2001). (9/11 Commission 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State) 1/30/2003) Alnami’s application is incomplete, as he lists his occupation as “student,” but does not provide a complete address for his school. He also gives his US address as “in Los Angeles” and writes that “my friend Moshibab” will be traveling with him. The 9/11 Commission will later suggest that Alnami’s passport may contain fraudulent travel stamps associated with al-Qaeda, although this is not certain and is apparently not noticed at this time. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 14-15 pdf file) The 9/11 Commission will also suggest that one or more of Alnami’s passports may contain a suspicious indicator of Islamist extremism, but this is not certain (see November 6, 1999 and November 2, 2007). Some of the radicals who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 also had Saudi passports with the same indicator (see Around February 1993). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 14-15 pdf file) Before obtaining the visa, Alnami and al-Hamlan followed instructions given them by al-Qaeda leaders Mohammed Atef and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and contacted future 9/11 hijacker Waleed Alshehri in Jeddah. They briefly share an apartment with Alshehri, who provides them with directions to the consulate and shows them how to fill out visa applications. Al-Hamlan will soon drop out of the plot after contacting his family. Alnami will later be said to fly to Beirut with the Alshehris (see Mid-November, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 526)

Fahad al-Quso, a Yemeni and known associate of Osama bin Laden, turns himself in to the Yemeni government after some of his relatives are questioned in the wake of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). (Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) He admits that he and one of the two Cole suicide bombers went to Bangkok, Thailand, and gave several thousand dollars to a man known as Khallad, who is identified as one of the masterminds of the Cole bombing. He says the money is to buy a new artificial leg for the one-legged Khallad. The transcript of the interrogation is given to the FBI a month later. FBI agent Ali Soufan sees the transcript and remembers a source he recruited in Afghanistan who spoke of a one-legged man named Khallad who is close to bin Laden. Khallad is his nickname; his real name is Tawfiq bin Attash. A mug shot of bin Attash is sent to this source, who makes a positive identification. Soufan wonders why money was being sent away from the Cole plotters and away from Yemen prior to a major planned attack and speculates that it may mean another al-Qaeda operation is being planned elsewhere. Soufan asks the CIA for information about Khallad and this other attack, which turns out to be 9/11, but the CIA withholds the information (see Late November 2000). Al-Quso will later reveal more to the FBI, leading to more missed opportunities (see Early December 2000). (Wright 2006, pp. 328-329)

Rahim al-NashiriRahim al-Nashiri [Source: AP]After several weeks of investigation, US authorities learn that al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was involved in the plot to attack the USS Cole. Investigators find a second safe house used by the bombing team, and learn it was registered to al-Nashiri under a name variant. Al-Nashiri’s name is dimly familiar to FBI agent Ali Soufan, who remembers that a source said al-Nashiri was planning a seaborne attack against a US vessel in Aden (see After August 7, 1998). The FBI then finds that al-Nashiri rented a car in Aden before the bombing. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “It was another strong link between al-Qaeda and the Cole attack.” (Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) In addition, one of the bombers detained by Yemeni authorities, Jamal al-Badawi, identifies al-Nashiri as a person who gave instructions for the attack. Al-Badawi also says he thought al-Nashiri was working for bin Laden, but al-Nashiri did not tell al-Badawi this directly. (CNN 12/13/2000) Although al-Nashiri was the operational manager, he was actually in Afghanistan for a meeting with Osama bin Laden when the opportunity to attack arose and was not physically present at the bombing. Investigators are aware that he is the cousin of one of the bombers of the US embassy in Nairobi, which he facilitated, and a captured embassy bomber identified a photo of him for the FBI two years earlier (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and August 22-25 1998). Al-Nashiri has been known to various intelligence agencies since 1998, at least, and was monitored at the Malaysia summit of top al-Qaeda leaders at the start of the year (see January 5-8, 2000). (CNN 12/11/2000; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3; Wright 2006, pp. 318) US investigators also identify another leading suspect in the case, Khallad bin Attash, at around the same time (see January 4, 2001).

Zacarias Moussaoui and two of the 9/11 hijackers purchase flight training equipment from Sporty’s Pilot Shop in Batavia, Ohio.
bullet November 5, 2000: Mohamed Atta purchases flight deck videos for a Boeing 747-200 and a Boeing 757-200, as well as other items;
bullet December 11, 2000: Atta purchases flight deck videos for a Boeing 767-300ER and an Airbus A320-200;
bullet March 19, 2001: Nawaf Alhazmi purchases flight deck videos for a Boeing 747-400, a Boeing 747-200, and a Boeing 777-200, as well as another video. Alhazmi also purchases maps around this time from another shop (see March 23, 2001);
bullet June 20, 2001: Zacarias Moussaoui purchases flight deck videos for a Boeing 747-400 and a Boeing 747-200. (Sporty's 6/20/2001; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 12/11/2001 pdf file) However, it is not clear whether Moussaoui was to take part in 9/11 or some other operation (see January 30, 2003).

In the wake of the USS Cole bombing, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger meets with Defense Secretary William Cohen to discuss a new approach to targeting Osama bin Laden. Berger says: “We’ve been hit many times, and we’ll be hit again. Yet we have no option beyond cruise missiles.” He once again brings up the idea of a “boots on the ground” option—a Delta Force special operation to get bin Laden. A plan is drawn up but the order to execute it is never given. Cohen and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton oppose the plan. By December 21, the CIA reports that it strongly suspects that al-Qaeda was behind the bombing, but fails to definitively make that conclusion. That makes such an attack politically difficult. Says a former senior Clinton aide, “If we had done anything, say, two weeks before the election, we’d be accused of helping [presidential candidate] Al Gore.” (Elliott 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)

Jamal Badawi.Jamal Badawi. [Source: Rewards for Justice]Based on information from interviews of suspects detained during the USS Cole bombings (see Late October-Late November 2000), the FBI finds that one of the lead bombers was Khallad bin Attash, an operative also involved in the 1998 East African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The detained men, Jamal al-Badawi and Fahad al-Quso, say that they recently traveled to Afghanistan and met bin Attash there. Al-Badawi also says bin Attash helped purchase a boat used in the Cole bombing. The head of the FBI’s investigation, Ali Soufan, is startled by this news, as an informer has already provided information on bin Attash, describing him as one of bin Laden’s top lieutenants. Although the FBI wants to interview the two detained men to obtain more information, the Yemeni authorities refuse at this point, saying they have both sworn on the Koran they were not involved in the attack, so they must be innocent. Limited access to al-Quso will be granted to the FBI later, but the Yemeni authorities will indicate to him that he is still under their protection (see Early December 2000). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/9/1998 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 192; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file)

Future 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi obtains a US visa from the American consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 15 pdf file) The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). (9/11 Commission 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State) 1/30/2003) Alhaznawi may present a passport with fraudulent travel stamps and does not fully complete his application form, leaving blank the address of his school. He is not interviewed. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 15, 36, 180-1 pdf file) The 9/11 Commission will also suggest that Alhaznawi’s passport may contain a suspicious indicator of Islamist extremism, but this is not certain (see Before November 12, 2000 and November 2, 2007). Some of the radicals who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 also had Saudi passports with the same indicator (see Around February 1993). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 14-15 pdf file)

9/11 Hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi departs Saudi Arabia. The exact date of his departure is unknown, but it must be after he obtains a US visa at the US consulate in Jeddah on November 12 (see November 12, 2000). Although Alhaznawi’s precise destination is unknown, he reportedly returns to Afghanistan for training by early 2001 (see (December 2000-March 2001)) and will also arrive in the United Arab Emirates from Pakistan in early 2001 (see April 11-June 28, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 15, 36 pdf file) According to the 9/11 Commission, Alhaznawi may have had a passport containing an indicator of Islamic extremism (see Before November 12, 2000). Such indicators were used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007).

Waleed Alshehri.Waleed Alshehri. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Based on intelligence reports, the 9/11 Commission will later say that 9/11 hijackers Wail Alshehri, Waleed Alshehri, and Ahmed Alnami travel in a group from Saudi Arabia to Beirut and then onward to Iran in mid-November 2000. An associate of a senior Hezbollah operative is also on the flight from Beirut to Iran. According to US intelligence, Hezbollah officials in Beirut and Iran are expecting the arrival of a group at around this time and this group is important enough to merit the attention of senior figures in Hezbollah. The commission will say that this flight may be part of Iranian assistance to al-Qaeda consisting of allowing operatives to transit Iran without stamping their passports on the way to and from Afghanistan (see After October 12, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 240, 529)
Contradicted by Families' Claims - However, two to three years before the 9/11 Commission publishes these claims, the families of both Ahmed Alnami and the Alshehri brothers will deny they travel anywhere at this time, and say they leave home in December, not the middle of November. After 9/11, Alnami’s father will initially say Alnami has been missing since December 2000 and will later repeat that he left home in December 2000 in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. (Murphy and Ottaway 9/25/2001; Lamb 9/15/2002) The Alshehri brothers’ family will also claim they do not leave until after mid-November 2000. Initially, the father will say that they left “last Ramadan.” (Al-Buqami 9/17/2001) The month of Ramadan begins on November 27 in 2000. (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs 11/26/2000) Based on a 2002 interview with one of their brothers, the Boston Globe will also later say that they leave in December. (Sennott 3/3/2002) If this is true, the story of their travel with a Hezbollah operative would probably be incorrect.
9/11 Commission's Sourcing - The 9/11 Commission cites intelligence reports, mostly drafted between October and December 2001, as its sources. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 240, 529) These reports come from the NSA. (Shenon 2008, pp. 370-373)
Alnami Possibly Tracked by Saudi Intelligence - According to the 9/11 Commission, Alnami may have had a passport with an indicator of Islamic extremism (see November 6, 1999). Such indicators were used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007).

The US puts out an international arrest warrant for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). The warrant seeks KSM in connection with the 1995 Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995). (Hall 3/13/2003) It is not clear why the US waited so long to issue this warrant, considering that the US connected him to a major terrorist act back in 1993 (see March 20, 1993), learned he was a major figure in the Bojinka plot in 1995 (see After February 7, 1995-January 1996), secretly indicted him in January 1996, and placed a $2 million reward on his head in January 1998 (see January 8, 1998).

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; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file)

Elizabeth Colton (left) may have issued Satam al Suqami’s US visa.Elizabeth Colton (left) may have issued Satam al Suqami’s US visa. [Source: US Department of State/FBI]Future 9/11 hijacker Satam al Suqami obtains a US visa from the American embassy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Al Suqami has traveled extensively around Asia in recent years (see November 5, 1998-September 24, 2000) and uses a passport that has fraudulent travel stamps that will later be associated with al-Qaeda, but this is apparently not noticed. The application is incomplete, as al Suqami does not give the name and address of his current employer. The consular officer who issues the visa will later tell the House Committee on Government Reform that al Suqami was interviewed and will recall details of the interview: The reason for the interview is because al Suqami gives his occupation as “dealer,” which Saudis often use to mean businessman, and several questions are asked, including who is paying for his trip. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 16, 38 pdf file) The officer will repeat this claim to the State Department’s inspector general, adding that she specifically remembers the interview, has a photographic memory, and recalls al Suqami’s photo. (Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State) 2/6/2003) However, the officer will say that notes are always taken during interviews and there are no such notes on al Suqami’s application. The 9/11 Commission will say that this raises “the possibility that the officer’s memory of having conducted the interview was false.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 16 pdf file) The officer’s identity is unknown, although she may well be Elizabeth Colton. The 9/11 Commission’s Terrorist Travel monograph will say that, before joining the State Department, the officer had interviwed the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 49, 62 pdf file) Colton has previously been chief of Newsweek’s bureau in Cairo, Egypt, where the Blind Sheikh lived before immigrating to the US (see December 15, 1986-1989). (Consulate General of the United States, Dubai, UAE 8/2007) She has also met other notable personalities in the Middle East, such as Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. (Koscak 11/2000) A State Department inspector general memo of an interview of the officer will say that she helped develop the Visa Express program introduced in Saudi Arabia in May and June of 2001 (see May 2001). (Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State) 2/6/2003) The Visa Express manual will list Colton as the program’s Riyadh contact. (Embassy of the United States, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia 6/2001)

Khallad bin Attash.Khallad bin Attash. [Source: FBI]After talks that last some time, Yemeni authorities agree to provide the FBI team investigating the USS Cole bombing with passport photos of suspects in the attack, including al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. The photos are provided to lead investigators John O’Neill and Ali Soufan, and Soufan immediately sends bin Attash’s photo to the CIA and to an FBI colleague in Islamabad, Pakistan. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 192; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) The FBI colleague is Michael Dorris. (Soufan 2011, pp. 117) The CIA agent is known only as “Chris.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 537) Chris shows the photo to a source, and the source, known only as “Omar,” confirms that the man in the photo is bin Attash. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “This suggested strongly that al-Qaeda was behind the Cole attack.” However, this does not motivate the US to retaliate against al-Qaeda (see Shortly After October 12, 2000). Around this time, the FBI also learns that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, another al-Qaeda operative involved in the embassy bombings, had a hand in the Cole attack as well (see November-December 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 192; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file)

9/11 hijackers Satam Al Suqami and Majed Moqed fly from Bahrain to Tehran, Iran. Shortly before, they had entered Bahrain from Saudi Arabia, after obtaining US visas there. Suqami continues to Istanbul, Turkey. Moqed’s final destination is not known definitely, but al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra will say that Moqed arrives with Al Suqami in Turkey for training (see Late 1999-2000), so presumably he takes the same flight as Al Suqami. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 107 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 34 pdf file) The 9/11 Commission will mention this flight in a section dealing with possible co-operation between Iran, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda on travel issues—Iran was allegedly allowing al-Qaeda operatives to pass through Iran on their way to and from Afghanistan without stamping their passports (see October 8-13, 2000, After October 12, 2000, and Mid-November, 2000)—but no there are no direct links between this flight and Iranian operatives. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 240-1)

Two images of Ziad Jarrah. The photo on the right is from the wreckage of Flight 93. 
Two images of Ziad Jarrah. The photo on the right is from the wreckage of Flight 93. [Source: FBI]There is some evidence indicating hijacker pilot Ziad Jarrah transits Dubai on January 30, 2001 after spending two months in Afghanistan (see January 30, 2001). (Crewdson 12/13/2001; MacVicar and Faraj 8/1/2002) However, the Florida Flight Training Center, where Jarrah has been studying for the previous six months, later says he is in school there until January 15, 2001. His family later reports he arrives in Lebanon to visit them on January 26, five days before he supposedly passes through Dubai. His father had just undergone open-heart surgery, and Jarrah visits him every day in the hospital until after January 30. Pointing out this incident, his uncle Jamal Jarrah later asks, “How could he be in two places at one time?” (Longman 2002, pp. 101-02) Other accounts place Jarrah in Dubai one year earlier, not in 2001 (see January 30, 2000). If the 2001 version is correct, this is not the only example of Jarrah being in two places at the same time—there is also evidence he was in different places at once from March 1995-February 1996 (see March 1995-February 1996). Additionally, records seem to indicate that Jarrah flies out of the US on December 26, 2000, and then again on December 28, 2000 (see December 26-28, 2000), and then twice on the same day on July 25, 2001 (see July 25, 2001).

Fahad al-Quso.Fahad al-Quso. [Source: FBI]In late October 2000, al-Qaeda operative Fahad al-Quso was interrogated by authorities in Yemen, and FBI agent Ali Soufan was able to use that information to discover the identity of one of the USS Cole bombing masterminds, Khallad bin Attash (see Late October-Late November 2000). In early December, while most FBI investigators are having to leave Yemen, Soufan is given the chance to interrogate al-Quso directly. Soufan gets al-Quso to admit that he had met with bin Attash and one of the Cole suicide bombers in Bangkok, Thailand, in January 2000 (see January 13, 2000). Al-Quso admits he gave bin Attash $36,000 and not the $5,000 for medical expenses that al-Quso had claimed when talking to the Yemenis the month before. Al-Quso says they stayed in the Washington Hotel in Bangkok, so Soufan checks telephone records to verify his account. Soufan finds records of phone calls between the hotel and al-Quso’s house in Yemen. They also find calls to both places from a pay phone in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The phone happens to be directly outside the condominium where an al-Qaeda summit was taking place a few days before al-Quso went to Bangkok (see January 5-8, 2000). Soufan asks the CIA for information about bin Attash, but the CIA wrongly claims it knows nothing, and doesn’t even tell Soufan of the Malaysia summit that it had closely monitored (see Late November 2000). (Johnston and Risen 4/11/2004; Wright 2006, pp. 330-331) Meanwhile, FBI head investigator John O’Neill correctly believes that al-Quso is still holding back important information (at the very least, al-Quso is still hiding his participation in the Malaysia summit). However, O’Neill had been kicked out of Yemen by his superiors a week or two before (see October 14-Late November, 2000), and without his influential presence the Yemeni government will not allow any more interrogations. After 9/11, al-Quso will finally admit to meeting with Alhazmi and Almihdhar. One investigator calls the missed opportunity of exposing the 9/11 plot through al-Quso’s connections “mind-boggling.” (Gilmore and Wiser 10/3/2002) In April 2003, al-Quso will escape from a Yemeni prison (see April 11, 2003-March 2004). (Al-Haj 4/11/2003)

Hijacker pilot Hani Hanjour opens an account with Citibank in Deira, Dubai, with a deposit of $3,000. Hanjour’s movements between September 25, 2000, when he obtained a US visa in Jeddah, and this date are unclear, but he flies to the US three days later (see December 8, 2000). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 13-14 pdf file) According to the 9/11 Commission, plot facilitator Ali Abdul Aziz Ali gave him the initial $3,000 and later deposits another $5,000 in the account. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 138 pdf file) However, these deposits will not be mentioned at a military hearing to determine Ali’s combat status, although other transactions between Ali and the hijackers will be (see March 30, 2007). (US Department of Defense 4/12/2007 pdf file) Hanjour uses the money on this account, together with $9,600 that is deposited in his account with the Saudi British Bank, to pay some of his expenses in the US. Hijackers Fayez Ahmed Banihammed (see June 25, 2001), Marwan Alshehhi (see July 1999-November 2000), and possibly Mohamed Atta (see Late October 2001) also have accounts in the UAE through which money is passed to fund the plot. Khalid Almihdhar and Abdulaziz Alomari (see September 7, 2001) also draw on money from Saudi bank accounts. (US Congress 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 138 pdf file)

Hani Hanjour’s US visa issued September 25, 2000.Hani Hanjour’s US visa issued September 25, 2000. [Source: FBI]Future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour re-enters the US, flying from Dubai, via Paris to Cincinnati, then on to San Diego, where he joins fellow hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223) Three months earlier, Hanjour had applied for a four-week course in English at the ELS Language Center in Oakland, where he had studied in 1996 (see April 30-Early September 1996). Using his conditional acceptance letter from ELS, he applied in Saudi Arabia for a student visa to enter the US, which was granted by the US consulate in Jeddah (see September 10, 2000 and September 25, 2000). However, he never turns up for his course. (Associated Press 10/11/2001; Goldstein, Sun, and Lardner 10/15/2001; Fainaru and Ibrahim 9/10/2002) Hanjour applied for a student visa in Jeddah, but, for some reason, appears to have been granted a tourist visa. However, upon entry the visa is changed to a student visa. The 9/11 Commission will attempt to interview the primary inspector who makes this change. However, it will be unable to do so. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 14, 38 pdf file)

Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and June 2, 1997) gives up on his appeals and asks to be executed. In an affidavit, McVeigh writes: “I believe I am fully competent to make this decision. If the court thinks that a psychological evaluation is necessary to make certain I am competent, I will submit to such an evaluation. I will not justify or explain my decision to any psychologist, but will answer questions related to my competency.” He acknowledges that he makes his request against the advice of his attorneys, and asks that Judge Richard P. Matsch set an execution date within 120 days. McVeigh’s lawyer Nathan Chambers says that McVeigh has been considering this decision for some time now. “This is not a snap decision,” Chambers says. “The judge is going to want to make a determination that Mr. McVeigh’s decision is a decision he made voluntarily and knowingly.” McVeigh gives no further explanation, though some believe he intends to become a martyr for the far-right “patriot” movement. Eight days later, Matsch grants McVeigh’s request. (Cart 12/13/2000; The Oklahoman 4/2009; Mayhem (.net) 4/2009)

Ziad Jarrah using a flight simulator in January 2001.Ziad Jarrah using a flight simulator in January 2001. [Source: Los Angeles Times]From December 15-18, 2000, 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah attends Aeroservice Aviation in Miami, Florida where he takes lessons in Boeing 727 and 737 simulators. Around this same time, Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi take lessons in a 727 simulator, but at a different Florida center (see December 29-31, 2000). After returning to the US from a visit home to Beirut, Jarrah again attends Aeroservice Aviation on January 8, 2001. His girlfriend Aysel Senguen is with him for a ten-day stay at the time, accompanies him to the flight training session, and photographs him in the simulator. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 10/10/2001; US Congress 9/26/2002; Laabs and McDermott 1/27/2003; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 227) However, some accounts conflict with him being in Florida on this second occasion (see Late November 2000-January 30, 2001 and January 30, 2001). (Crewdson 12/13/2001; MacVicar and Faraj 8/1/2002)

After the FBI and CIA obtain a passport photo of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see November 22-December 16, 2000), they are unable to connect him to one of his aliases, Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, even though he had submitted an application for a US visa using this alias the year before (see April 3, 1999). Presumably, a search of visa applications would have turned up a photograph similar to the one the US now has of him, allowing the US to connect bin Attash to the alias. However, no such search is made, even though the CIA knows the alias is connected to 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see January 8, 2000), who obtained US visas at the same time bin Attash’s application was denied (see April 3-7, 1999). No such search is made even after the CIA connects bin Attash to Alhazmi and Almihdhar under bin Attash’s real name as well in early 2001 (see January 4, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 192-3, 538; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 248, 267-278 pdf file) The US misses other opportunities to learn more about this alias (see After January 8, 2000 and After August 23, 2001).

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)

Damaged cars from the Christmas Eve bombings.Damaged cars from the Christmas Eve bombings. [Source: SBS Dateline]Al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) sets off two series of bombs, first in Indonesia, then in the Philippines. The Christmas Eve attacks in Indonesia comprise a series of 38 bombings in 11 cities and are directed against churches. Nineteen people are killed and over a hundred injured. (LaMoshi 10/8/2004) The attacks in the Philippines kill 22 and injure 120 in the country’s capital, Manila. The operation, involving attacks on a train, a bus, an abandoned petrol station, an airport car park, and a park, is apparently carried out by Indonesian JI operative Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi. (BBC 2/27/2002) Many militants are arrested after the attacks. The investigation leads to JI and al-Qaeda leader Hambali, a veteran Islamic fighter who was involved in the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), is tied to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see June 1994), and attended an al-Qaeda Malaysia summit in 2000, which was monitored by Malaysia intelligence and the CIA (see January 5-8, 2000). Although Hambali, an Indonesian, has lived in Malaysia since the mid-1990s, the authorities cannot find him and say that he has fled to Saudi Arabia (see January 2001 and after). (Jakarta Post 2/7/2001) JI’s spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, is also arrested, but then released. (CNN 2/26/2004) Hambali will finally be captured in August 2003 in Thailand (see August 12, 2003). In February 2001, evidence will come out suggesting links between some of the bombers and the Indonesian military (see February 20, 2001).

Records indicate future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah flies from Miami, Florida, to Beirut on December 26, 2000, but then also flies from Tampa, Florida, to Dusseldorf, Germany, on December 28, 2000. The first trip has stops in Munich, Germany, and Istanbul, Turkey. The second flight has stops in Fort Myers, Florida, and Frankfurt, Germany. This is according to a 2002 FBI document about the 9/11 attacks. The document contains an analyst note pointing out that records show Jarrah left the US these two times, but doesn’t attempt to explain the discrepancy except to comment that one or the other flight may be right. Jarrah apparently returns to the US on January 5, 2001, after visiting family in Lebanon. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 4/19/2002) Additionally, around this time, there are claims that Jarrah is both training in Afghanistan and visiting family in Lebanon. One uncle of his will later ask, “How could he be in two places at one time?” (See Late November 2000-January 30, 2001). Jarrah also seems to leave the US twice in a short time period on one other occasion (see July 25, 2001).

The Bush team moves into Washington. Neoconservative Zalmay Khalilzad heads the Pentagon transition team, and he ensures that plenty of his friends and colleagues move into the civilian offices of the Defense Department. Four of the most influential advocates for the US overthrow of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein—Elliott Abrams, Douglas Feith, Richard Perle, and Abram Shulsky—are waiting to learn where they will serve in the department. But Vice President Cheney is still concerned with ensuring the placement of his own colleagues and cronies who will help him build what many will call the “imperial presidency.” Secretary of State Colin Powell, Cheney’s ideological rival, is working to install his friend and colleague Richard Armitage as deputy secretary of defense. For Cheney, Armitage would be a calamity—although Armitage is sufficiently hardline and in line with conservative foreign policy aims, he is far too centrist for Cheney and the neoconservatives. The neoconservative magazine the Weekly Standard alerts the faithful to the potential problem with an article entitled “The Long Arm of Colin Powell: Will the Next Secretary of State Also Run the Pentagon?” Powell does not get his wish; Armitage eventually becomes deputy secretary of state. Abrams will join the National Security Council; Khalilzad, Feith, and Shulksy will join the Defense Department; and Perle will head the Defense Policy Board, an independent group that advises the Pentagon. (Rees 12/25/2000 pdf file; Unger 2007, pp. 115, 191-192, 204, 249)

Shaha Ali Riza.Shaha Ali Riza. [Source: World Bank]With Donald Rumsfeld in as Defense Secretary (see December 28, 2000), Vice President Cheney is moving closer to getting a team in place that will allow him to fulfill his dream of the “unitary executive”—the gathering of power into the executive branch at the expense of the legislative and judicial branches. One key piece to Cheney’s plan is to place neoconservative academic Paul Wolfowitz as the head of the CIA. However, Wolfowitz’s personal life is proving troublesome for Cheney’s plans. Wolfowitz’s marriage is crumbling. His wife of over 30 years, Clare, is threatening to go public with her husband’s infidelities. Wolfowitz is having one affair with a staffer at the School of International Studies, and is openly romancing another woman, Shaha Ali Riza, a secular Muslim neoconservative with close ties to Iraqi oppositions groups, including Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. Smitten with the idea of a secular Muslim and a secular Jew forming a romantc liaison, Wolfowitz frequently escorts Riza, and not his wife, to neoconservative social events. Many insiders joke about Wolfowitz’s “neoconcubine.” His dalliances, particularly with a Muslim foreign national, raise questions about his ability to obtain the necessary national security clearance he will need to head the CIA. Cheney does not intend to allow questions of security clearances or wronged and vengeful wives to stop him from placing Wolfowitz at the head of the agency, but this time he does not succeed. After Clare Wolfowitz writes a letter to President-elect Bush detailing her husband’s sexual infidelities and possible security vulnerabilities, Wolfowitz is quietly dropped from consideration for the post. Current CIA Director George Tenet, after reassuring Bush that he can work with the new regime, is allowed to keep his position. Author Craig Unger later writes, “If Cheney and the neocons were to have control over the national security apparatus, it would not come from the CIA.” (Unger 2007, pp. 187-189)

The CIA’s Counterterrorist Center completes a report on the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). The report, drafted by CIA officer Clark Shannon, finds that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are circumstantially tied to the attack. However, the report fails to mention details known to the CIA involving figures later connected to the 9/11 plot. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later observe, “The report did not mention [hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s] visa, [hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi’s] travel to the United States or the Khallad [bin Attash] identification from the Kuala Lumpur photographs” (see January 2-5, 2000, March 5, 2000, and January 4, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 283 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)

After an informer later referred to as “Omar” tells the CIA that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash was at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 4, 2001), the CIA fails to communicate this information to the FBI, even though it is important for the FBI’s investigation of the USS Cole bombing and connects future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to the Cole bombers. Omar is a joint FBI/CIA source, but the FBI assistant legal attaché responsible for him, Michael Dorris, will later say he does not know of this identification, and documentation he drafts at this time indicates he is unaware of it. It is unclear why Dorris is unaware of the identification, although he does not speak Omar’s language and may have been out of the room making photocopies when Omar identified bin Attash in a photo of the Malaysia summit for his CIA counterpart. That officer, known only as “Chris,” will later say he has no independent recollection of any particular meeting with Omar.
Comparison with Previous Meeting - However, when Omar previously identified a photo of bin Attash provided by Yemeni authorities on December 16, 2000 (see November 22-December 16, 2000), Chris had him repeat the identification specifically for the benefit of Dorris, and the cable he drafted about the meeting said this clearly. In addition, Dorris will later say that he recalls the specific circumstances of the previous debriefing and would be able to recount them, including the identification of bin Attash in the photograph provided by the Yemenis.
Three Cables Drafted - Chris drafts three cables about the January 4 meeting; one internal cable provides little detail about it, but says bin Attash was identified in one of the photos, a cable to the general US intelligence community fails to mention the identification of bin Attash, as does a third cable, which is sent to the CIA.
CIA Later Makes False Claims - However, according to statements made by CIA officials after 9/11, at this time the CIA thinks that the FBI knows that bin Attash has been identified in the photos. For example, Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center Cofer Black will tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, “[O]ur records establish that the special agents from the FBI’s New York Field Office who were investigating the USS Cole attack reviewed the information about the Kuala Lumpur photo in late January 2001.” However, there is no documentary record of information about the second identification placing bin Attash in Kuala Lumpur with the two hijackers being passed to the FBI at this time. In addition, in July 2001 CIA manager Tom Wilshire will suggest passing this information to the FBI (see July 13, 2001), possibly meaning he thinks it is not passed at this time. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 264-278 pdf file) The CIA will not notify the FBI that Omar identified bin Attash in the photo until August 30, 2001, less than two weeks before 9/11 (see August 30, 2001).

Atta’s immigration record for his arrival on January 10, 2001, after alteration in early May.Atta’s immigration record for his arrival on January 10, 2001, after alteration in early May. [Source: 9/11 Commission]The Miami Herald will report: “INS documents, matched against an FBI alert given to German police, show two men named Mohamed Atta [arrive] in Miami on January 10, each offering different destination addresses to INS agents, one in Nokomis, near Venice, the other at a Coral Springs condo. He (they?) is admitted, despite having overstayed his previous visa by a month. The double entry could be a paperwork error, or confusion over a visa extension. It could be Atta arrived in Miami, flew to another country like the Bahamas, and returned the same day. Or it could be that two men somehow cleared immigration with the same name using the same passport number.” (Morgan, Kidwell, and Corral 9/22/2001) Officials will later call this a bureaucratic snafu, and insist that only one Atta entered the US on this date. (Corte 10/28/2001) In addition, while Atta arrives on a tourist visa, he tells immigration inspectors that he is taking flying lessons in the US, which requires an M-1 student visa. (Lardner 10/28/2001) The fact that he had overstayed his visa by over a month on a previous visit also does not cause a problem. (Williams, Dahlburg, and Reza 9/27/2001) The INS will later defend its decision, but “immigration experts outside the agency dispute the INS position vigorously.” For instance, Stephen Yale-Loehr, co-author of a 20-volume treatise on immigration law, will assert: “They just don’t want to tell you they blew it. They should just admit they made a mistake.” (Lardner 10/28/2001)

Although neoconservative Paul Wolfowitz has lost his chance of becoming director of the CIA due to his sexual entanglements with foreign nationals (see Late December 2000), he has not been entirely dismissed from consideration for high positions, and has the support of Vice President Cheney. President Bush, who has insisted that his administration’s officials comply with the highest moral standards, never learns about Wolfowitz’s infidelities. (A letter that Wolfowitz’s wife wrote to Bush about her husband’s affairs was intercepted by Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby. Wolfowitz himself unleashed a group of lawyers on his wife and forced her to sign a non-disclosure agreement to keep quiet about his affairs.) Incoming Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld chooses Wolfowitz to be his deputy, blocking incoming Secretary of State Colin Powell’s choice for the position, Richard Armitage, from taking the office (see Late December 2000 and Early January 2001). The Washington Post calls Wolfowitz’s selection “another victory for… Cheney over… Powell.” Rumsfeld knows about Wolfowitz’s sexual liaisons, as do most White House officials, and chooses to remain silent. “Rumsfeld told Wolfowitz to keep it zipped,” a State Department source later says. “He didn’t want any problems. He was basically to run the show and Wolfowitz could come on those terms.” (Unger 2007, pp. 191-192)

Convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and June 2, 1997) again says he wants to drop any further appeals (see March 8-9, 1999 and December 13, 2000) and asks to be executed. Judge Richard P. Matsch sets his execution date for May 16, 2001. (Douglas O. Linder 2001; Fox News 4/13/2005)

Marwan Alshehhi.Marwan Alshehhi. [Source: FBI]Future 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi is able to reenter the US without trouble, after a brief, mysterious trip to Morocco (see January 11-18, 2001), despite having overstayed his previous visa by about five weeks. (Los Angeles Times 9/27/2001; US Department of Justice 5/20/2002)

There are discussions among future members of the Bush administration, including Bush himself, about making the removal of Saddam Hussein a top priority once they are in office. After the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say that the Bush team had been planning regime change in Iraq since before coming to office, with newly named Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see December 28, 2000) and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz (see January 11, 2001) taking the lead. “Since the beginning of the administration, indeed well before, they had been pressing for a war with Iraq,” he will write in his book Against All Enemies. “My friends in the Pentagon had been telling me that the word was we would be invading Iraq sometime in 2002.” (Clarke 2004, pp. 7-9; Unger 2007, pp. 192) During an appearance on Good Morning America on March 22, 2004, he will say, “[T]hey had been planning to do something about Iraq from before the time they came into office.” (Clarke 3/22/2004) Evidence of pre-inaugural discussions on regime change in Iraq comes from other sources as well. Imam Sayed Hassan al-Qazwini, who heads the Islamic Center of America in Detroit, will tell the New York Times in early 2004 that he spoke with Bush about removing Saddam Hussein six or seven times, both before and after the 2000 elections. (Stevenson 1/12/2004) In 2007, author Craig Unger will write: “In certain respects, their actions were a replay of the 1976 Team B experiment (see Early 1976 and November 1976), with one very important difference. This time it wasn’t just a bunch of feverish ideologues presenting a theoretical challenge to the CIA. This time Team B controlled the entire executive branch of the United States.” (Unger 2007, pp. 192)

National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice later testifies to the 9/11 Commission that in the first eight months of Bush’s presidency before 9/11, “the president receive[s] at these [Presidential Daily Briefings] more than 40 briefing items on al-Qaeda, and 13 of those [are] in response to questions he or his top advisers posed.” (Washington Post 4/8/2004) The content of the warnings in these briefings are unknown. However, CIA Director George Tenet claims that none of the warnings specifically indicates terrorists plan to fly hijacked commercial aircraft into buildings in the US. (Semple 4/4/2004) Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later emphasize, “Tenet on 40 occasions in… morning meetings mentioned al-Qaeda to the president. Forty times, many of them in a very alarmed way, about a pending attack.” (Zeman et al. 11/2004) These briefings are normally given in person by CIA Director George Tenet, and are usually attended by Vice President Cheney and National Security Adviser Rice. In the Clinton administration, up to 25 officials recieved the PDB. But in the Bush adminisration before 9/11, this was sharply reduced to only six people (see After January 20, 2001). Other top officials have to make due with an Senior Executive Intelligence Brief generally released one day later, which is similar to the PDB but often contains less information (see August 7, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256, 533)

Shortly after George W. Bush is inaugurated, “[k]ey personnel, long-time civilian professionals” at the Pentagon’s Near East South Asia (NESA) desk are moved or replaced with people from neoconservative think tanks. (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) Joe McMillan, the Office Director, is moved to a new location outside of the Pentagon, which according to Karen Kwiatkowski, who works at the NESA desk, is odd because “the whole reason for the Office Director being a permanent civilian (occasionally military) professional is to help bring the new appointee up to speed, ensure office continuity, and act as a resource relating to regional histories and policies.” (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004; Kwiatkowski 3/10/2004) Larry Hanauer, who has long been at the Israel-Syria-Lebanon desk and who is known to be “even-handed with Israel,” is replaced by David Schenker of the Washington Institute. (Kwiatkowski 12/1/2003; Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004) Other veteran NESA employees who are banished include James Russell, who has served as the country director for Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates, and Marybeth McDevitt, the country director for Egypt. (Dreyfuss and Vest 1/2004)

An orchestrated push in the media begins to make the case for the need to invade Iraq. The San Diego Union-Tribune reprints a Weekly Standard article by William Kristol and Robert Kagan that tells readers (after comparing President Bush favorably to Ronald Reagan, Dwight D. Eisenhower, and Harry Truman, and lauding Bush’s “steely determination”) that US military action “could well be necessary to bring Saddam down.” They write: “At some point, Bush could well find himself confronted by an Iraq armed with weapons of mass destruction. During these past few years, it was relatively easy for congressional Republicans to call for arming and funding the Iraqi opposition. That remains a good idea. But the more sober of Bush’s advisers, like Robert Zoellick and Paul Wolfowitz (see February 18, 1992 and February 27, 2001), have recognized that this alone will not do the trick. Some use of American military force, both from the air and on the ground, could well be necessary to bring Saddam down, no matter how wonderfully the Iraqi opposition performs. Whether he chooses it or not, Bush may quickly be faced with the same decision his father had to make in 1990. He has in his cabinet at least one person who counseled inaction the last time [referring to Secretary of State Colin Powell]. If the crisis comes, Bush, like his father, will not be able to rely only on the judgment of the men and women around him: He will have to act from his own instincts and his own courage.” (Kagan and Kristol 1/22/2001; Unger 2007, pp. 206) In the coming weeks, an onslaught of print and television op-eds and commentaries, some from Bush administration officials, will advocate the overthrow of Hussein (see February 27, 2001, February 16, 2001, April 9, 2001, and July 30, 2001).

A CIA officer in Islamabad, Pakistan, asks Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, to “touch base” with FBI agents investigating the bombing of the USS Cole who are preparing to come to Islamabad to interview a joint FBI/CIA source about the identification of one of the Cole bombers, but the suggested briefing is either never given or lacks a crucial detail. Alec Station is aware that the source, referred to later as “Omar,” has identified al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash as being present at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 4, 2001) and that the FBI agents are going to Islamabad specifically to document another identification of bin Attash by Omar (see November 22-December 16, 2000). The cable from the officer in Islamabad, known only as “Chris,” even notes that Omar is “currently of very high interest to our [FBI] colleagues,” but Alec Station fails to notify the Cole investigators that bin Attash attended the summit in Malaysia. This is important because it connects bin Attash to future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, who also attended the summit (see January 5-8, 2000). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 275-8 pdf file) Chris will meet the FBI agents in Pakistan, but will also fail to mention the identification of bin Attash at the Malaysia summit to them (see February 1, 2001).

Following a series of bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines at the end of the previous year (see December 24-30, 2000), Southeast Asian authorities begin to investigate the Islamic militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) with more urgency (see January 2001 and after). One of the prime suspects in the bombings is Hambali, a JI leader, and his name appears in the media. Initially, Hambali is thought to have fled to Saudi Arabia. (New Straits Times 1/25/2001; New Straits Times 1/27/2001; Jakarta Post 2/7/2001; Jakarta Post 2/9/2001) The Malaysian government finds more information out about him in the spring and puts out an all points bulletin for him (see April-May 2001). The FBI had previously connected Hambali to the Bojinka plot (see May 23, 1999) of Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Hambali attended the Malaysia summit in January 2000 at which al-Qaeda apparently planned various attacks, including 9/11. The summit was monitored by Malaysian intelligence, which recognized Hambali as an attendee (see Shortly After January 8, 2000) and a report on the summit was passed on to the CIA (see January 5-8, 2000). However, the publicity Hambali receives at this point apparently does not lead to a re-examination of the Malaysia summit.

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s plan to deal with al-Qaeda is given to National Security Adviser Rice on this day. It includes a warning that al-Qaeda cells already exist in the US. The plan was outlined in a document he prepared in December 2000 (see January 25, 2001), which stated that US intelligence believes there are al-Qaeda “sleeper cells” in the US and that they’re not just a potential problem but “a major threat in being.” Clarke noted in the document that two key al-Qaeda members involved in the Millennium plot were naturalized US citizens (presumably a reference to Raed Hijazi and Khalil Deek) and that one suspect in the 1998 embassy bombings had “informed the FBI that an extensive network of al-Qaeda ‘sleeper agents’ currently exists in the US” (see August 12-25, 1998). It also said that Ahmed Ressam’s attempted December 1999 attack revealed al-Qaeda supporters in the US (see December 15-31, 1999). Finally, the Clarke warned that more attacks have almost certainly been set in motion. (Gellman 1/20/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260, 535)

The Washington Post reports that the US has confirmed the link between al-Qaeda and the October 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). (Vise and Eggen 1/27/2001) This conclusion is stated without hedge in a February 9 briefing for Vice President Cheney. (Gellman 1/20/2002) In the wake of that bombing, Bush stated on the campaign trail, “I hope that we can gather enough intelligence to figure out who did the act and take the necessary action.… There must be a consequence.” (Gellman 1/20/2002) Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz later complains that by the time the new administration is in place, the Cole bombing was “stale.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld concurs, stating that too much time had passed to respond. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The new Bush administration fails to resume the covert deployment of cruise missile submarines and gunships on six-hour alert near Afghanistan’s borders that had begun under President Clinton. The standby force gave Clinton the option of an immediate strike against targets in Afghanistan harboring al-Qaeda’s top leadership. This failure makes a possible assassination of bin Laden much more difficult. (Gellman 1/20/2002)

Hijackers Hamza Alghamdi and Mohamed Alshehri rent a post office box in Delray Beach, Florida. The timing is uncertain. Some reports indicate this occurs in January, which would be several months before they arrive in the US according to the FBI and 9/11 Commission (see April 23-June 29, 2001). (Goldstein 9/30/2001; US Congress 9/26/2002; Perry 6/30/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 528) However, a document used as evidence at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui will say the mailbox is actually rented on July 28, 2001. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 7 pdf file)

The Bush White House holds its first National Security Council meeting. The focus is on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Bamford 2004, pp. 261) This meeting sets the tone for how President Bush intends to handle foreign affairs. Counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke wants to focus on the threat from al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism, especially in light of the recent attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). But Bush isn’t interested in terrorism. (Unger 2007, pp. 201)
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict to be 'Tilted Back Towards Israel' - Instead, Bush channels his neoconservative advisers, particularly incoming Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (see February 18, 1992 and April-May 1999), in taking a new approach to Middle East affairs, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Referring to President Clinton’s efforts to make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Bush declares: “Clinton overreached, and it all fell apart. That’s why we’re in trouble. If the two sides don’t want peace, there’s no way we can force them. I don’t see much we can do over there at this point. I think it’s time to pull out of the situation.… We’re going to correct the imbalance of the previous administration on the Mideast conflict. We’re going to tilt it back towards Israel.” His view is that the Israeli government, currently headed by Ariel Sharon, should be left alone to deal as it sees fit with the Palestinians. “I’m not going to go by past reputations when it comes to Sharon. I’m going to take him at face value. We’ll work on a relationship based on how things go.” Justifying his position, he recalls a recent trip he took to Israel with the Republican Jewish Coalition. “We flew over the Palestinian camps. Looked real bad down there.… I don’t see much we can do over there at this point.” Secretary of State Colin Powell, surprised by Bush’s intended policy towards the 50-year old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, objects. According to Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neil, Powell “stresse[s] that a pullback by the United States would unleash Sharon and the Israeli army.” When Powell warns the president that the “consequences of that [policy] could be dire, especially for the Palestinians,” Bush shrugs. “Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things,” he suggests. (Bamford 2004, pp. 265-266; Lang 6/2004) In this and subsequent meetings, Bush’s National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, “parrot[s]… the neocon line,” in author Craig Unger’s words, by discussing Iraq. “Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region,” she says, clearly alluding to regime change and overthrow in that nation (see March 8, 1992, Autumn 1992, July 8, 1996, Late Summer 1996, Late Summer 1996, 1997-1998, January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, and Shortly after January 20, 2001). (Unger 2007, pp. 201)
Possible WMD Sites in Iraq Spark Bush to Order Plans for Ground Assaults - The meeting then moves on to the subject of Iraq. Rice begins noting “that Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region.” She turns the meeting over to CIA Director George Tenet who summarizes current intelligence on Iraq. He mentions a factory that “might” be producing “either chemical or biological materials for weapons manufacture.” The evidence he provides is a picture of the factory with some truck activity, a water tower, and railroad tracks going into a building. He admits that there is “no confirming intelligence” on just what is going on at these sites. Bush orders Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Hugh Shelton to begin preparing options for the use of US ground forces in Iraq’s northern and southern no-fly zones in support of a native-based insurgency against the Hussein regime. (Bamford 2004, pp. 267; Lang 6/2004) Author Ron Suskind later sums up the discussion: “Meeting adjourned. Ten days in, and it was about Iraq. Rumsfeld had said little, Cheney nothing at all, though both men clearly had long entertained the idea of overthrowing Saddam.” Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang later writes: “If this was a decision meeting, it was strange. It ended in a presidential order to prepare contingency plans for war in Iraq.” (Lang 6/2004)
Regime Change Intended from the Outset - US Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, later recalls: “From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go.… From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime. Day one, these things were laid and sealed.” O’Neill will say officials never questioned the logic behind this policy. No one ever asked, “Why Saddam?” and “Why now?” Instead, the issue that needed to be resolved was how this could be accomplished. “It was all about finding a way to do it,” O’Neill will explain. “That was the tone of it. The president saying ‘Go find me a way to do this.’” (CBS News 1/10/2004; Stevenson 1/12/2004; Borger 1/12/2004; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 234) Another official who attends the meeting will later say that the tone of the meeting implied a policy much more aggressive than that of the previous administration. “The president told his Pentagon officials to explore the military options, including use of ground forces,” the official will tell ABC News. “That went beyond the Clinton administration’s halfhearted attempts to overthrow Hussein without force.” (Cochran 1/13/2004) Unger later writes, “These were the policies that even the Israeli right had not dared to implement.” One senior administration official says after the meeting, “The Likudniks are really in charge now.” (Unger 2007, pp. 201)
Funding the Iraqi National Congress - The council does more than just discuss Iraq. It makes a decision to allow the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an Iraqi opposition group, to use $4 million to fund efforts inside Iraq to compile information relating to Baghdad’s war crimes, military operations, and other internal developments. The money had been authorized by Congress in late 2004. The US has not directly funded Iraqi opposition activities inside Iraq itself since 1996. (Kettle 2/3/2005)
White House Downplays Significance - After Paul O’Neill first provides his account of this meeting in 2004, the White House will attempt to downplay its significance. “The stated policy of my administration toward Saddam Hussein was very clear,” Bush will tell reporters during a visit to Mexico In January 2004. “Like the previous administration, we were for regime change.… And in the initial stages of the administration, as you might remember, we were dealing with desert badger or fly-overs and fly-betweens and looks, and so we were fashioning policy along those lines.” (Stevenson 1/12/2004)

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