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Context of 'April 2, 2004: CIA Officer Involved in Failed Watchlisting Interviewed by 9/11 Commission, Misrepresents His Understanding Before Attacks'

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Victims’ family members Lorie Van Auken (right) and Kristen Breitweiser (left) are shocked to learn Tom Wilshire blocked a cable to the FBI about Khalid Almihdhar’s visa. Victims’ family members Lorie Van Auken (right) and Kristen Breitweiser (left) are shocked to learn Tom Wilshire blocked a cable to the FBI about Khalid Almihdhar’s visa. [Source: Banded Artists]Doug Miller, an FBI agent assigned to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, reads CIA cables reporting that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa and drafts a cable to the FBI to inform it of this. The CIA obtained the information through a tap on Almihdhar’s phone in Yemen (see December 29, 1999) and by monitoring him as he passed through Dubai (see January 2-5, 2000) on his way to an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000).
Draft Cable - Miller writes that Almihdhar has a US visa (see April 3-7, 1999) and that the visa application states his destination is New York and he intends to stay for three months. The draft cable mentions the tap on Almihdhar’s phone, his planned travel to Malaysia, and the links between his phone and the 1998 East African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and October 4, 2001). It also says that the CIA has obtained photographs of Almihdhar and these will be sent separately. Miller asks the FBI for feedback resulting from an FBI investigation.
Blocked - Another CIA officer named Michael Anne Casey accesses Miller’s draft about an hour after he writes it. The cable is then blocked on the orders of the station’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire, as a few hours after Miller drafts the cable Casey attaches a message to it saying, “pls hold off on [cable] for now per [Tom Wilshire].” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 240 pdf file] Miller is also told, “This is not a matter for the FBI.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 311]
'No Reason to Kill the Message' - Author James Bamford will later comment: “A potential terrorist and member of al-Qaeda was heading for the US, the FBI’s jurisdiction—its turf—and he [Miller] was putting the FBI on notice so it could take action. There was no reason to kill the message.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 19] Miller will later say he has no “rational answer” as to why the cable was blocked, but will speculate that Alec Station officers were annoyed he had encroached on their territory. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] Casey drafts a cable falsely saying that the information about Almihdhar’s visa has been shared with the FBI (see Around 7:00 p.m. January 5, 2000) and there will be a discussion the next day about whether the cable should be sent (see January 6, 2000). The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later call the failure to pass the information to the FBI a “significant failure” but will be unable to determine why the information was not passed on. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 250 pdf file] The 9/11 Commission will know of the incident, but will relegate it to an endnote in its final report, omitting Wilshire’s role entirely. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502] The CIA inspector general will falsely claim that the cable is not sent, “[a]pparently because it was in the wrong format or needed editing.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xv pdf file]

Entity Tags: Michael Anne Casey, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Almihdhar, Doug Miller, 9/11 Commission, Alec Station, Tom Wilshire, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Inspector General (CIA)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Tom Wilshire, a former deputy chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit currently detailed to the FBI, accesses a number of cables about travel by 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in 2000 (see March 5, 2000), but fails to draw the FBI’s attention to this or ask the INS whether they are still in the US. The cables report on Khalid Almihdhar’s travel to Malaysia in January 2000, his US visa, al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, and Alhazmi’s travel from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Bangkok, Thailand, with another person, and then to Los Angeles. Wilshire had previously blocked a notification to the FBI that Almihdhar had a US visa (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). He writes to another CIA analyst about the travel (see May 15, 2001), but does not alert the FBI to the fact Alhazmi came to the US. Neither does he check with the INS to see whether Alhazmi and Almihdhar are in the country. When one of his colleagues finds these cables in late August, she will immediately check with the INS and become alarmed when she is told they are in the US (see August 21-22, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 266-8, 537; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 283 pdf file] The 9/11 Commission will explain his failure to alert the FBI by saying he was focused on a possible terrorist attack in Malaysia: “Despite the US links evident in this traffic, [Wilshire] made no effort to determine whether any of these individuals was in the United States. He did not raise the possibility with his FBI counterpart. He was focused on Malaysia.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 268]

Entity Tags: International Terrorism Operations Section, Tom Wilshire, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After 9/11, Secretary of State Colin Powell will claim that the Bush administration received a “lot of signs” throughout the summer of 2001 that Islamic militants were plotting US attacks. These include al-Qaeda mentions of an impending “Hiroshima” on US soil. [USA Today, 10/15/2001] The 2002 book The Cell also describes an intercepted al-Qaeda message in the summer of 2001 talking about a “Hiroshima-type” event coming soon. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 288] So this appears to be a different warning than an intercepted communication in 2000 warning of a “Hiroshima-type event” (see (August 2000)), or perhaps a repeat of that.

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer assigned to the FBI, sends an e-mail to managers at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, saying there is a potential connection between recent warnings of an attack against US interests and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). He notes “how bad things look in Malaysia” and points out that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar may be connected to the radicals who attacked the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). He recommends that the Cole bombing and the Malaysia summit be re-examined for potential connections to the current warnings of an attack. The e-mail ends, “all the indicators are of a massively bad infrastructure being readily completed with just one purpose in mind.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298 pdf file] This is one of a series of e-mails sent around this time by Wilshire to Alec Station about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see July 13, 2001 and July 23, 2001). Presumably, one of the recipients at CIA headquarters is Richard Blee, the manager responsible for Alec Station, as he apparently receives at least one of the e-mails (see July 13, 2001).

Entity Tags: Tom Wilshire, Richard Blee, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager assigned to the FBI who expressed interest two months earlier in surveillance photos from the al-Qaeda Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), now finds a cable he had been looking for regarding that summit. The cable, from January 2001, discusses al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash’s presence at the summit. Wilshire explains later that bin Attash’s presence there had been troubling him. He writes an e-mail to the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC), stating, “[Khallad] is a major league killer, who orchestrated the Cole attack (see October 12, 2000) and possibly the Africa bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).” Yet Khallad is still not put on a terrorist watch list. Wilshire asks that the FBI be passed this information, but the FBI will not actually be given the information until August 30, a week after it learns future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298 pdf file] Although the CIA managers that receive this e-mail are not named, Richard Blee, in charge of the CIA’s bin Laden unit and Wilshire’s former boss, appears to be one of the recipients: On the same day Wilshire sends this e-mail, Blee writes his own e-mail entitled “Identification of Khallad,” which is sent to another CIA officer. [Central Intelligence Agency, 7/13/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 537] An FBI analyst assigned to the CTC is given the task of reviewing all other CIA cables about the Malaysian summit. It takes this analyst until August 21—over five weeks later—to put together that Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa and that Nawaf Alhazmi had traveled to the US. Yet other CIA agents are already well aware of these facts but are not sharing the information (see August 22, 2001). Working with immigration officials, this analyst then learns that Almihdhar entered and left the US in 2000, and entered again on July 4, 2001, and that Alhazmi appears to still be in the US. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Tom Wilshire, Richard Blee, Nawaf Alhazmi, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alec Station, Khallad bin Attash, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Due to a lack of response to a previous request that information about the Cole bombing and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit be passed to the FBI (see July 13, 2001), CIA officer Tom Wilshire e-mails another CIA manager asking about the request’s status. The manager’s identity is unknown, but the previous request was received by Richard Blee, a close associate of Wilshire’s who is responsible for the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see June 1999 and Between Mid-January and July 2000), so presumably he receives this request as well. Wilshire writes: “When the next big op is carried out by [Osama bin Laden’s] hardcore cadre, [Khallad bin Attash] will be at or near the top of the command food chain—and probably nowhere near either the attack site or Afghanistan. That makes people who are available and who have direct access to him of very high interest. Khalid [Almihdhar] should be very high interest anyway, given his connection to the [redacted].” The name of the redacted event or entity is unclear. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file] However, it could be a mention of Almihdhar’s role in the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa, since the CIA was aware of that from at least January 2000 (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). Or, more likely, it could be a mention of Almihdhar’s role in the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), since Wilshire mentioned earlier in the month that Almihdhar could be linked to the Cole bombers (see July 5, 2001).

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, Khallad bin Attash, Central Intelligence Agency, Tom Wilshire, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager detailed to the FBI (see May 2001), writes to Dave Frasca, head of the FBI’s radical fundamentalist unit, to obtain information about the progress of the case of Zacarias Moussaoui. Moussaoui was arrested by the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, which Wilshire refers to as the “Minneapolis Airplane IV crowd.” Presumably, this is a reference to the films Airplane and Airplane II, which were parodies of disaster and sci-fi movies. He asks whether leads have been sent out to obtain additional biographical information and whether the FBI has photographs it can provide the CIA. He receives a reply from one of Frasca’s subordinates telling him there are no indications Moussaoui has plans for nefarious activity (see August 24, 2001). [BBC, 3/13/2001; BBC, 3/13/2001; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 151 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, David Frasca, Zacarias Moussaoui, Central Intelligence Agency, Tom Wilshire

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer involved in the failed watchlisting of hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and May 15, 2001) and the failure to obtain a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 24, 2001), is interviewed by the 9/11 Commission. He tells them that nobody in the US intelligence community looked at the bigger picture and no analytic work foresaw the lightning that could connect the thundercloud [i.e. increased reporting that an al-Qaeda attack was imminent] to the ground [i.e. the cases that turned out to be connected to 9/11 such as the search for Almihdhar and Alhazmi, Zacarias Moussaoui, and the Phoenix memo]. The 9/11 Commission will agree with this and write in its final report: “Yet no one working on these late leads in the summer of 2001 connected the case in his or her in-box to the threat reports agitating senior officials and being briefed to the President. Thus, these individual cases did not become national priorities.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 277] However, Wilshire was receiving such threat reporting. For example, he received a report that al-Qaeda was planning an Hiroshima-like attack (see Summer 2001). [Wright, 2006, pp. 340] Wilshire also repeatedly suggested that Khalid Almihdhar may well be involved in the next big attack by al-Qaeda (see July 5, 2001, July 13, 2001, and July 23, 2001). For example, on July 23, 2001 he wrote: “When the next big op is carried out by [bin Laden] hardcore cadre, [al-Qaeda commander] Khallad [bin Attash] will be at or near the top of the command food chain—and probably nowhere near either the attack site or Afghanistan. That makes people who are available and who have direct access to him of very high interest. Khalid Almihdhar should be very high interest anyway, given his connection to the [redacted].” [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Commission, Tom Wilshire

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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