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Context of 'May 2001: Report Warns of Al-Qaeda Infiltration from Canada'

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A Spanish newspaper later will claim that Ahmed Ressam, the al-Qaeda operative who attempted to bomb the Los Angeles airport at the turn of the millennium (see December 14, 1999), meets Mohamed Atta in the Alicante region of Spain in this year. It is unclear whether the men trained at the same camp while they were in Afghanistan. [Reuters, 11/26/2001; CTV, 9/14/2002] According to other Spanish reports, in 1997 or 1998 Atta was a student in Valencia under an assumed name (see 1997 or 1998). Valenica is less than 100 miles from Alicante. After his arrest, Ressam began cooperating with US investigators in the summer of 2001 (see May 30, 2001), leading to the possibility that he could have confirmed Atta’s identity as an al-Qaeda operative before 9/11, if he had been asked.

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Ahmed Ressam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Diana Dean.Diana Dean. [Source: Seattle Times]Al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam is arrested in Port Angeles, Washington, attempting to enter the US with components of explosive devices. One hundred and thirty pounds of bomb-making chemicals and detonator components are found inside his rental car. He subsequently admits he planned to bomb Los Angeles International Airport on December 31, 1999. [New York Times, 12/30/2001] Alert border patrol agent Diana Dean stops him; she and other agents nationwide had been warned recently to look for suspicious activity. Ressam’s bombing would have been part of a wave of attacks against US targets over the New Year’s weekend (see December 15-31, 1999). He is later connected to al-Qaeda and convicted. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Diana Dean, Ahmed Ressam, Los Angeles International Airport, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA issues repeated warnings that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida may be planning an attack for the near future. One report cites a source indicating an attack on Israel, Saudi Arabia, or India. At this time, the CIA believes Zubaida was a major figure in the Millennium plots (see May 30, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke relays these reports to National Security Adviser Rice. She is also briefed on Zubaida’s activities and the CIA’s efforts to locate him. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 1 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Central Intelligence Agency, Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US intelligence obtains information that al-Qaeda is planning to infiltrate the US from Canada and carry out an operation using high explosives. The report does not say exactly where, when, or how an attack might occur. Two months later, the information is shared with the FBI, the INS, the US Customs Service, and the State Department, and it will be shared with President Bush in August. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; Washington Post, 9/19/2002] This information could come from captured al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam, who warns around this month that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida has been seeking Canadian passports as part of a plot to attack the US, possibly by planting explosives in several US cities (see May 30, 2001 and May 2001). [Calgary Herald, 4/3/2002]

Entity Tags: US Customs Service, George W. Bush, US Department of State, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Ahmed Ressam, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On May 16, an anonymous person calls the US embassy in the United Arab Emirates and warns that bin Laden supporters have been in the US and are planning an attack in the US using “high explosives.” The caller mentions that operatives are infiltrating the US from Canada, but there is no mention of when or where the attack might occur. The next day, based on this warning, the first item on the agenda for counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) is entitled: “[Osama bin Laden]: Operation Planned in US.” The anonymous caller’s tip cannot be later corroborated. In July, the CIA will share the warning with the FBI, the INS, the US Customs Service, and the State Department. It will also be mentioned in the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing given to President Bush (see August 6, 2001) and Bush will be told that the CIA and FBI are investigating it. But eventually, neither the CIA nor FBI is able to corraborate the information in the call. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; Washington Post, 9/19/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255, 262, 535] There are some other possibly interlinked warnings this month also warning of an al-Qaeda plot to attack the US from Canada using explosives (see May 30, 2001, May 2001, and May 2001).

Entity Tags: White House, Osama bin Laden, Counterterrorism and Security Group, Richard A. Clarke, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ahmed Ressam as pictured in his Canadian passport.Ahmed Ressam as pictured in his Canadian passport. [Source: FBI]Ahmed Ressam is convicted in the spring of 2001 for attempting to bomb the Los Angeles International Airport (see December 14, 1999). Facing the likelihood of life in prison, he starts cooperating with authorities in an attempt to reduce his sentence. On this day, he details his experiences in al-Qaeda training camps and his many dealings with top al-Qaeda deputy Abu Zubaida. According to FBI notes from Ressam’s interrogation, Zubaida asked Ressam to send him six original Canadian passports to help Zubaida “get people to America” (see May 2001 and May 2001). Zubaida “wanted an operation in the US” and talked about the need to get explosives into the US for this operation, but Ressam makes it clear this was a separate plot from the one he was involved with. Notes from this day further explain that Ressam doesn’t know if any explosives made it into the US because once an operation is initiated, operators are not supposed to talk about it to anyone. [Calgary Herald, 4/3/2002; Newsweek, 4/28/2005] Zubaida told this to Ressam in 1999, but also indicated that he is willing to wait a year or more to make sure the plot comes to fruition successfully. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 146]
Similarity to 9/11 Attacks - There’s no concrete evidence that Ressam knows any detail of the 9/11 attacks. [Newsweek, 4/28/2005] However, Fox News will later report that roughly around this time Ressam testifies “that attack plans, including hijackings and attacks on New York City targets, [are] ongoing.” [Fox News, 5/17/2002] Questioned shortly after 9/11, Ressam will point out that given what he’s already told his US interrogators, the 9/11 attacks should not be surprising. He notes that he’d described how Zubaida talked “generally of big operations in [the] US with big impact, needing great preparation, great perseverance, and willingness to die.” Ressam had told of “plans to get people hired at airports, of blowing up airports, and airplanes.” [Newsweek, 4/28/2005]
Sharing the Warning - The CIA learns of this warning in June. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 146] Ressam will repeat some of this in a public trial in July (see July 8, 2001). Apparently, the FBI also waits until July to share the information from this debriefing with most other intelligence agencies, the INS, Customs Service, and the State Department. Ressam’s warnings will first be mentioned to Bush in his now famous August 6, 2001 briefing (see August 6, 2001), but as Newsweek will note, “The information from Ressam that was contained in [Bush’s] PDB [is] watered down and seem[s] far more bland than what the Algerian terrorist was actually telling the FBI.” Zubaida’s second plot will be boiled down to one sentence in the PDB: “Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaida was planning his own US attack.” [Newsweek, 4/28/2005]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Ahmed Ressam, Los Angeles International Airport, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

About a month after al-Qaeda prisoner Ahmed Ressam told US interrogators new details of al-Qaeda plans to attack the US (see May 30, 2001), he conveys similar information during a public trial. As the Los Angeles Times reports at the time, “Testifying in the New York trial of an accused accomplice, Ressam said his [al-Qaeda] colleagues are intent on exporting violence to US soil. ‘If one is to carry out an operation, it would be better to hit the biggest enemy. I mean America,’ he told a federal jury. Ressam also identified a number of other Algerian terrorists who had been part of his original attack team [to bomb the Los Angeles airport in 2000], most of whom remain at large.” [Los Angeles Times, 7/8/2001]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings.President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings. [Source: White House]President Bush receives a classified presidential daily briefing (PDB) at his Crawford, Texas ranch indicating that Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. The PDB provided to him is entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” The entire briefing focuses on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the US. [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Newsweek, 5/27/2002] The analysts who drafted the briefing will say that they drafted it on the CIA’s initiative (see July 13, 2004), whereas in 2004 Bush will state that he requested a briefing on the topic due to threats relating to a conference in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001, where Western intelligence agencies believed Osama bin Laden was involved in a plot to crash an airplane into a building to kill Bush and other leaders (see April 13, 2004). The analysts will later explain that they saw it as an opportunity to convey that the threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the US was both current and serious. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260] The existence of this briefing is kept secret, until it is leaked in May 2002, causing a storm of controversy (see May 15, 2002). While National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim the memo is only one and a half pages long, other accounts state it is 11 1/2 pages instead of the usual two or three. [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Newsweek, 5/27/2002; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] A page and a half of the contents will be released on April 10, 2004; this reportedly is the full content of the briefing. [Washington Post, 4/10/2004] The briefing, as released, states as follows (note that the spelling of certain words are corrected and links have been added):
bullet Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US (see December 1, 1998). Bin Laden implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America” (see May 26, 1998).
bullet After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a -REDACTED-service (see December 21, 1998).
bullet An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told -REDACTED- service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.
bullet The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden’s first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself (see December 14, 1999), but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaida encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaida was planning his own US attack (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001).
bullet Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
bullet Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993 (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.
bullet Al-Qaeda members—including some who are US citizens—have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks (see January 25, 2001). Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US citizens (see September 15, 1998), and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s (see November 1989 and September 10, 1998).
bullet A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks (see October-November 1998).
bullet “We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [REDACTED] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and other US-held extremists” (see 1998, December 4, 1998, and May 23, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223] According to the Washington Post, this information came from a British service. [Washington Post, 5/18/2002]
bullet Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York (see May 30, 2001).
bullet The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related (see August 6, 2001). CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives (see May 16-17, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223]
In retrospect, the briefing is remarkable for the many warnings that apparently are not included (see for instance, from the summer of 2001 prior to August alone: May 2001, June 2001, June 12, 2001, June 19, 2001, Late Summer 2001, July 2001, July 16, 2001, Late July 2001, Late July 2001, Summer 2001, June 30-July 1, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Early August 2001). According to one account, after the PDB has been given to him, Bush tells the CIA briefer, “You’ve covered your ass now” (see August 6, 2001). Incredibly, the New York Times later reports that after being given the briefing, Bush “[breaks] off from work early and [spends] most of the day fishing.” [New York Times, 5/25/2002] In 2002 and again in 2004, National Security Adviser Rice will incorrectly claim under oath that the briefing only contained historical information from 1998 and before (see May 16, 2002 and April 8, 2004).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Islamic Jihad, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Los Angeles International Airport, Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, World Trade Center, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Commission, Ahmed Ressam, Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Margaret Gillespie, an FBI agent detailed to the CIA who has just found out that future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US (see August 21-22, 2001), suggests asking failed Millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam whether he recognizes Almihdhar, but the proposal is not acted on. Ressam was arrested on his way to bomb Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999), but has been co-operating with the US government against al-Qaeda (see May 30, 2001). Gillespie makes the suggestion in an e-mail to Tom Wilshire, a CIA representative to the FBI. It is unclear what Wilshire does with the suggestion, but Ressam is not interviewed. When shown photos of Almihdhar after 9/11, Ressam will not recognize him. The FBI also fails to ask Ressam about Zacarias Moussaoui before 9/11, but shortly after 9/11 Ressam will identity Moussaoui as a person that attended al-Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan (see Late August-Early September 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 275-6, 541]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Tom Wilshire, Khalid Almihdhar, Ahmed Ressam, Margaret Gillespie, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission later will note that at this time, an unnamed foreign intelligence “service report[s] that [al-Qaeda deputy leader] Abu Zubaida [is] considering mounting terrorist attacks in the United States, after postponing possible operations in Europe. No targets, timing or method of attack [are] provided.” Newsweek will suggest that most or all of this information may have come from a US debriefing of al-Qaeda bomber Ahmed Ressam in May 2001 (see May 30, 2001). Newsweek will note that it is a common occurrence for foreign intelligence agencies to “simply rereport to the CIA what it had originally learned from the FBI through separate channels.” Still, even “the multiple channels for Ressam’s warnings [do] little to change thinking within the FBI or CIA…” [Newsweek, 4/28/2005; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 6 pdf file] However, it is possible the information could be more than a mirror of what Ressam said, since a number of Western intelligence agencies are monitoring Zubaida’s phone calls before 9/11 (see October 1998 and After).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, 9/11 Commission, Ahmed Ressam, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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