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Context of 'March 6, 2000 and After: Numerous CIA Officers Learn 9/11 Hijacker Almihdhar Is in US; Fail to Inform FBI'

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A photocopy of Nawaf Alhazmi’s passport. No image of Khalid Almihdhar’s passport has been released, but it would have looked similar to this one.A photocopy of Nawaf Alhazmi’s passport. No image of Khalid Almihdhar’s passport has been released, but it would have looked similar to this one. [Source: FBI]The CIA is aware that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is staying at a highly monitored al-Qaeda communication hub (see Late 1998-Early 2002) and is planning to travel to an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia. He is closely watched as leaves the hub and flies from Sana’a, Yemen, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on his way to Malaysia. Agents from eight CIA offices and six friendly foreign intelligence services are all asked to help track him, in the hopes he will lead them to bigger al-Qaeda figures. [Stern, 8/13/2003; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file] The CIA and local authorities are running an operation to track militants transiting Dubai airport (see 1999), and United Arab Emirates officials secretly make copies of his passport as he is passing through it, immediately reporting this to the CIA. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224] Another account suggests CIA agents break into Almihdhar’s Dubai hotel room and photocopy the passport there. Either way, the information is immediately faxed to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. [Wright, 2006, pp. 311] The CIA not only learns his full name, but also discovers the vital fact that he has a multiple entry visa to the US that is valid from April 1999 to April 2000. But even though the CIA now knows about this US visa which indicates he plans to go to New York City, they do not place him on a terror watch list and they fail to tell the FBI about the visa. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file]

Entity Tags: United Arab Emirates, Nawaf Alhazmi, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On January 8, 2000, hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar plus al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash fly from Malaysia to Thailand together, sitting next to each other. Malaysian intelligence soon informs the CIA that Almihdhar was on the flight, sitting next to someone with the last name of Alhazmi and someone with the name Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf (see January 8, 2000). This is an alias for bin Attash, and in fact is the same alias he used when applying for a US visa in 1999 (see April 3, 1999). Two months later, the CIA learns that several days later, Nawaf Alhazmi flew from Thailand to the US, which means he had to have had a US visa (see March 5, 2000 and March 6, 2000 and After). In fact, Almihdhar, Alhazmi, and bin Attash, using the “bin Yousaf” alias, all applied for US visas within days of each other (see April 3-7, 1999). Alhazmi and bin Attash even applied on the same day. However, apparently no check of visa application records is made that would reveal this. US intelligence also suspects that Alhazmi has a militant brother named Salem, which he does, and Salem Alhazmi also applied for and received a US visa from the same consulate on nearly the same day as his brother Nawaf, but this is not discovered either. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 155-6, 181-2, 492; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 9 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 pdf file] The US will miss other opportunities to learn more about this alias (see After December 16, 2000 and After August 23, 2001).

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After the CIA learns that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa (see January 2-5, 2000) and 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and a companion have arrived in Los Angeles (see March 5, 2000), operational documents reporting this are accessed by numerous CIA officers, most of whom are in the Counterterrorism Division. [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005 pdf file] In addition, the day after the cable reporting Alhazmi’s arrival in Los Angeles is received, “another overseas CIA station note[s], in a cable to the bin Laden unit at CIA headquarters, that it had ‘read with interest’ the March cable, ‘particularly the information that a member of this group traveled to the US…’” [US Congress, 9/20/2002] However, it is unclear what is done with this information as CIA Director George Tenet and Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black will later incorrectly testify that nobody read the cable stating Alhazmi had entered the US (see October 17, 2002), so the use to which the information is put is never investigated. In addition, the CIA fails to inform the FBI that Alhazmi has entered the US. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 182]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In sworn testimony to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, CIA Director George Tenet repeatedly claims that a March 2000 cable sent to CIA headquarters reporting that hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi had entered the US was not read by anybody. He says, “I know that nobody read that cable,” “Nobody read that cable in the March timeframe,” and “[N]obody read that information only cable.” [New York Times, 10/17/2002] Former Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black will also claim that the cable was not read. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 51 pdf file] However, a later investigation by the CIA Office of Inspector General will find that numerous CIA officers had actually read the cable shortly after it was sent (see March 6, 2000 and After). Nevertheless, the 9/11 Commission will later assert that, “No-one outside the Counterterrorist Center was told any of this” (about Alhazmi’s arrival in the US) and neglect to mention that Tenet had previously misstated the CIA’s knowledge of the hijackers. Neither will the 9/11 Commission investigate the cause of the CIA’s apparent inaction. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, 9/11 Commission, Nawaf Alhazmi, Cofer Black, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer involved in the failed search for hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar before 9/11, is interviewed by the Congressional Inquiry and comments on some of the failures. When asked about the failure to watchlist Nawaf Alhazmi based on a cable telling CIA headquarters he had arrived in the US and was a terrorist (see March 5, 2000 and March 6, 2000 and After), Wilshire says: “It’s very difficult to understand what happened with [the] cable when it came in. I don’t know exactly why it was missed. It would appear that it was missed.” Commenting on a meeting in June 2001 where the CIA failed to tell the FBI what it knew about Almihdhar and Alhazmi despite showing them photographs of the two hijackers (see June 11, 2001), Wilshire says: “[E]very place that something could have gone wrong in this over a year and a half, it went wrong. All the processes that had been put in place, all the safeguards, everything else, they failed at every possible opportunity. Nothing went right.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 147, 151 pdf file]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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