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Context of 'Early June 2001: FBI Misses Tip on Likely Al-Qaeda Cell in Buffalo'

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Two Yemeni men are detained after guards see them taking photos at 26 Federal Plaza in New York City. They are questioned by INS agents and let go. A few days later, their confiscated film is developed, showing photos of security checkpoints, police posts, and surveillance cameras of federal buildings, including the FBI’s counterterrorism office. The two men are later interviewed by the FBI and determined not to be a threat. However, they had taken the pictures on behalf of a third person said to be living in Indiana. By the time the FBI looks for him, he has fled the country and his documentation is found to be based on a false alias. In 2004, the identity of the third man reportedly still will be unknown. The famous briefing given to President George W. Bush on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001), will mention the incident, warning that the FBI is investigating “suspicious activity in this country consistent with the preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.” When Bush’s August 6 briefing will be released in 2004, a White House fact sheet will fail to mention the still missing third man. (Guart 7/1/2001; Stevenson 9/16/2001; Pincus and Eggen 5/16/2004) In 2004, it will be reported that Dhiren Barot (a.k.a. Issa al-Hindi or Issa al-Britani), an alleged al-Qaeda operative in British custody, was sent to the US in early 2001 by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to case potential targets in New York City. He headed a three-man team that surveyed the New York Stock Exchange and other buildings. While there are obvious similarities between the two Yemeni man with an unknown boss and Barot with two helpers, it is not known if the two cases are related. (Jehl and Rashbaum 8/7/2004)

Steven Emerson.Steven Emerson. [Source: Publicity photo]Steven Emerson and Daniel Pipes, both experts on the Middle East and Islamist terrorism, write in the Wall Street Journal that al-Qaeda is “planning new attacks on the US.” Their article is written as a response to the recent guilty verdicts in a New York court against four men accused of planning the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). “Unfortunately,” Emerson and Pipes write, “the trial does almost nothing to enhance the safety of Americans.… Indeed, recent information shows that al-Qaeda is not only planning new attacks on the US but is also expanding its operational range to countries such as Jordan and Israel.”
Al-Qaeda Is 'the Most Lethal Terrorist Organization Anywhere in the World' - Emerson and Pipes also write that tens of thousands of pages from the trial transcript “provide a full and revealing picture of al-Qaeda, showing it to be the most lethal terrorist organization anywhere in the world.” The transcript shows that “al-Qaeda sees the West in general, and the US in particular, as the ultimate enemy of Islam. Inspired by their victory over the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the leaders of al-Qaeda aspire to a similar victory over America, hoping ultimately to bring Islamist rule here.”
Al-Qaeda Personnel Have Been Taught 'How to Destroy Large Buildings' - The article states that Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, has “set up a tightly organized system of cells in an array of American cities, including Brooklyn, NY; Orlando, Fla.; Dallas; Santa Clara, Calif.; Columbia, Mo.; and Herndon, Va.” Furthermore, according to Emerson and Pipes, court documents show that “[o]fficials of the Iranian government helped arrange advanced weapons and explosives training for al-Qaeda personnel in Lebanon, where they learned, for example, how to destroy large buildings.”
America Must Fight Al-Qaeda 'as We Would in a War' - Emerson and Pipes conclude that the recent trial “shows that trials alone are not enough” when dealing with al-Qaeda. They suggest that al-Qaeda operatives “are better thought of as soldiers, not criminals.” Therefore, they write, “To fight al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups… we must fight them as we would in a war.” This would mean that, “as in a conventional war, America’s armed forces, not its policemen and lawyers, are primarily deployed to protect Americans.” Furthermore, the two men opine: “If a perpetrator is not precisely known, then those who are known to harbor terrorists will be punished. This way, governments and organizations that support terrorism will pay the price, not just the individuals who carry it out.” (Emerson and Pipes 5/31/2001)
Writers Have Been Accused of Anti-Muslim Bias - Emerson and Pipes are controversial figures. Emerson, an award-winning investigative reporter, has been called “the nation’s foremost journalistic expert on terrorism” by the New York Post. (Oppenheim 10/22/1999) And White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke called him “sort of the Paul Revere of terrorism.” But according to Brown University’s alumni magazine, he spent the 1990s “fighting to be taken seriously, and fending off charges of racism and anti-Muslim bias.” (Block 11/2002) Pipes, a foreign policy analyst, and commentator on terrorism and Islam, “appears regularly in the US media, where he is regarded as an authority on the Middle East,” The Guardian will report. Arab-Americans, however, “regard him as a Muslim basher and a staunch supporter of Israel.” According to The Nation, he “labored in comparative obscurity during the 1990s, writing a series of books and articles that advanced a hard line on Arab countries… and darkly warning that Muslim Americans posed a threat to the United States.” (Whitaker 9/10/2001; Press 4/22/2004)

Sahim Alwan.Sahim Alwan. [Source: PBS]The FBI’s Buffalo, New York, field office receives an anonymous, handwritten letter from someone in the Yemeni community of Lackawanna, near Buffalo. The letter says that a group has traveled to “meet bin Laden and stay in his camp for training.” The person who wrote it adds, “I can not give you my name because I fear for my life.” It says that “two terrorists” have been recruiting in Lackawanna, and that eight men have gone to train in Afghanistan, and four more are planning to go later. It gives the names of the men. In fact, all eight of the men named are currently in an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. This group will later be dubbed the “Lackawanna Six,” for the six of them that eventually return to the US (see September 13, 2002). The letter is assigned to FBI agent Edward Needham, the only Buffalo agent at this time working on counterterrorism. He runs the names through criminal databases and finds that many of them have criminal records for drug dealing and cigarette smuggling. He is skeptical that drug dealers would fight for al-Qaeda, but he sends the letter up the chain of command and formally opens an investigation on June 15. Three of them—Faysal Galab, Shafel Mosed, and Yaseinn Taher—are stopped on June 27 when they arrive in New York on a flight back from Pakistan, because Needham put their names on an FBI watch list. But they are merely questioned for two hours and released. He keeps occasional tabs on the men as they return from Afghanistan over the next months, but does not learn they actually were in an al-Qaeda training camp until after 9/11. (PBS Frontline 10/16/2003; Temple-Raston 2007, pp. 124-125, 129)

9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah spends three days in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. On June 2, Jarrah flies from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to Philadelphia International Airport. He has a round trip ticket, with his return flight booked for June 9. Upon arriving in Philadelphia, he rents a Chevrolet Cavalier from Alamo Rent a Car at the airport. Jarrah stays for the three days at the Best Western Hotel in northeast Philadelphia, registering there in his own name. On June 3 and 4, he pays for three sessions of computer use—lasting 45 minutes, 51 minutes, and 48 minutes—at the Kinko’s store in Philadelphia, and spends time on the Internet. Also on those two days, Jarrah has sessions training at the Hortman Aviation flight school (see June 3-4, 2001). Jarrah’s whereabouts on June 6 are unknown; he will not use the “back end” of his round trip ticket to fly back to Fort Lauderdale that day. On June 7, Jarrah will drive the rented Chevrolet to Baltimore-Washington International Airport and leave it at the Alamo car rental location there, having driven 455 miles in it. He will then fly to Las Vegas (see June 7-10, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 3/20/2002, pp. 48, 50-51; 9/11 Commission 1/2004 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 54-55 pdf file)

Ziad Jarrah.Ziad Jarrah. [Source: National Geographic]9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah takes a trip to Las Vegas, and will reportedly later say he was followed on the trip. One of the hijackers’ associates, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, will later say that Jarrah felt he was followed on a flight from New York to California by “security officers.” Bin al-Shibh will also say that fellow hijacker Marwan Alshehhi was followed on a similar flight (see May 24-27, 2001). Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar also thought they were followed on a flight to the US (see January 15, 2000 and Mid-July 2000). (Fouda and Fielding 2003, pp. 135) Jarrah flies first class from Baltimore to Los Angeles on a United Airlines Boeing 757, the same type of plane he will apparently fly on 9/11, and then continues to Las Vegas. Three days later he returns his rental car, having driven 350 miles, and flies back to Baltimore, where he boards a plane back to Fort Lauderdale. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 23 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 55 pdf file) His uncle will describe the trip as a “gambling junket.” (Williams 10/23/2001) Several other hijackers also travel to Vegas (see May 24-August 14, 2001).

A small number of Branch Davidians, who live a quiet existence outside of Waco, Texas, and worship in a church dedicated in April 2000 (see September 18, 1999 - April 19, 2000) and built very near the site of the April 1993 conflagration that killed almost 80 of their fellow Davidians (see April 19, 1993), say they have no connection to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. McVeigh, a racist white separatist who evidence shows used the 1993 tragedy as a spark for his decision to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City on the second anniversary of the Davidian tragedy (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), is due to be executed for his crime (see June 2, 1997). Davidian leader Clive Doyle says his group does not appreciate McVeigh’s actions. “I don’t see that blowing up a building that kills a whole bunch of kids really makes a strike against the government or law enforcement, if that’s what you’re against,” he says. “It didn’t hurt them all that much and it didn’t help us.” Doyle escaped the April 1993 fire that destroyed the Mt. Carmel compound, but lost his 18-year-old daughter in the flames. Doyle and others say that in recent weeks more and more radical-right extremists have come to view the site of the conflagration; he has begun building a security fence to keep out unwanted visitors. Robert Darden, an English professor who wrote a book on the Branch Davidians and the Waco siege, says the sect is generally peaceful, and had been so until its leader David Koresh led its members down a path of armed militancy. Doyle says he does not believe Koresh would have approved of either the McVeigh bombing or any armed assault against government authorities. He recalls Koresh welcoming a man who offered to rally thousands of militiamen in an attack on federal agents, but also says Koresh discouraged such an action. Ron Goins, who is not a Davidian but who often visits the new church and its members, says, “I felt the same rage [as McVeigh], but I didn’t feel the responsibility upon myself to take lives, especially since there were innocent people who died in Oklahoma City.” Moreover, Goins says, McVeigh’s bombing shifted public attention away from scrutiny of the government and toward “mad bombers, lone gunmen, and things like that.” Doyle says he is unhappy that people now connect the Davidian tragedy with the Oklahoma City bombing. (Embry 6/10/2001)

Margaret Gillespie.Margaret Gillespie. [Source: Doug Dreyer / Associated Press]The FBI and the CIA hold a meeting to discuss the investigation into the USS Cole bombing and a possible connection between it and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). However, the CIA and FBI headquarters refuse to share all they know, and agents investigating the Cole bombing become angry over this.
Attendees - The meeting, which lasts between two and four hours, is attended by CIA officer Clark Shannon, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA named Margaret Gillespie, FBI agent Steve Bongardt, FBI agent Russell Fincher, and Assistant US Attorney David Kelley.
Purpose - Although there is no agenda for the meeting and Corsi will later say it is a brainstorming session, author Lawrence Wright will say that one of the reasons for the meeting is that CIA officer Tom Wilshire, an associate of Shannon’s, “want[ed] to know… what the FBI knew” about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. (ABC News 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 289-294 pdf file; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) FBI agent Ali Soufan will also say that he later learned that Wilshire “was fishing to see if the FBI knew anything about the men in the photos.” (Soufan 2011, pp. 243)
Photos Shown - Initially, Bongardt and Fincher brief Shannon on progress in the Cole investigation. Corsi then shows the two Cole investigators three photographs taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), showing future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and another man, and Shannon asks if the agents recognize Fahad al-Quso, who is thought to have attended the Malaysia summit and has been interviewed by the FBI. However, one of the photos shows Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a tree, and the CIA has already recognized Almihdhar and Alhazmi, so it is unclear how the Cole investigators are supposed to recognize al-Quso in the photo. Corsi received the photographs from Wilshire, but Wilshire did not provide her with all the relevant information about them (see Late May, 2001).
Questions Asked - Bongardt and Fincher ask who is in the pictures, why were taken, and whether there are other photos of the meeting. Shannon refuses to say, but Corsi eventually admits one of the men is named Khalid Almihdhar. As a name alone is not sufficient reason to start an investigation, Bongardt asks for a date of birth or other details that will allow him to know which Khalid Almihdhar in the world is being discussed, but Shannon refuses to provide them. Shannon admits that Almihdhar was traveling on a Saudi passport and then leaves the meeting. Lawrence Wright will say that providing a date of birth is “standard procedure—the first thing most investigators would do.” Realizing that the photos pertain to the Cole investigation, Bongardt and Fincher become angry at the lack of information being provided and the meeting descends into a “shouting match.” (ABC News 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 289-294 pdf file; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file)
What Shannon Knew - Shannon will later admit that at this time he knew Almihdhar had a US visa, that Alhazmi had traveled to the US in 2000, that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had been recognized in one of the photos, and that Alhazmi was known to be an experienced operative. However, he does not tell any of this to any FBI agents, as he apparently thinks he does not have the authority. He does not let them keep copies of the photos either and will give conflicting accounts of the meeting after 9/11 (see Between September 12, 2001 and October 17, 2002). (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 289-292 pdf file)
Corsi Withholds Information - Corsi has NSA information saying Almihdhar and Alhazmi attended the Malaysia meeting, but apparently believes that the Cole agents cannot be told more because of restrictions on sharing intelligence with criminal agents (see July 19, 1995). However, one of the Cole agents present is an intelligence agent, so the information can be communicated to him immediately without Corsi obtaining permission from the NSA and/or Justice Department. In addition, the NSA sent the information to the FBI’s New York field office, where the Cole investigators are based, in 1999 (see December 1999-January 2000). Furthermore, when she asks the NSA’s permission to share the information 10 weeks later, the NSA approves the request on the same day (see August 27-28, 2001). She does not share the information at this time, but promises Bongardt and Fincher to try to do so later. The Cole agents will not receive more information for months. (US Congress 9/20/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 269, 537)
Almihdhar Gets New Visa - Two days after this meeting, Almihdhar has no trouble getting a new, multiple reentry US visa (see May 2001 and June 13, 2001). (Pound 12/12/2001; US Congress 9/20/2002)

Following a meeting at which FBI agents investigating the attack on the USS Cole were shown pictures of operatives who attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, including 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, but were not given all the relevant information (see June 11, 2001), deputy head of the investigation Steve Bongardt continues to ask for the material, but FBI headquarters fails to provide it. Bongardt apparently has “heated telephone conversations and e-mail exchanges” with FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi over the passage of the information. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 291, 294 pdf file) Bongardt will tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, “I’ve had several conversations with the analyst [Corsi] after that, because we would talk on other matters, and almost every time I would ask her, ‘What’s the story with the Almihdhar information, when is it going to get passed, do we have anything yet, when is it going to get passed,’ and each time I was told that the information had not been passed yet. And the sense I got from here, based on our conversations, was that she was trying as hard as she could to get the information passed or at least the ability to tell us about the information.” (US Congress 9/20/2002) But in fact Corsi does not appear to take any steps towards having the information passed to the Cole investigators for two and a half months after the meeting. Part of the relevant information is from a wiretap on Almihdhar’s phone (see Shortly Before December 29, 1999) and, due to measures related to the “wall,” the NSA general counsel has to approve its passage to criminal agents. Corsi finally asks the NSA to approve passage of the information on August 27; the NSA immediately agrees, but Corsi continues to withhold the information from Bongardt (see August 27-28, 2001). The other part of the information consists of photos of the two hijackers in Malaysia with other extremists (see January 5-8, 2000). Corsi will later say she “probably” has follow up conversations about passing the photographs with the two CIA officers, Tom Wilshire and Clark Shannon, who gave them to her (see Late May, 2001), but these alleged conversations do not result in the photos being passed to Bongardt, even though Wilshire will later say that, as far as he was concerned at this point, they could be distributed through the FBI. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 294 pdf file) After Corsi is told that Almihdhar is in the US (see August 21-22, 2001), this information is made available to intelligence investigators at the FBI (see August 28, 2001), but not to the team investigating the Cole bombing (see August 28, 2001).

Future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar obtains a second US visa from the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 24-25 pdf file) The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the future 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) Almihdhar’s passport, which was issued two weeks previously (see June 1, 2001), lacks an expiry date, but contains an indicator of possible terrorist affiliation used by the Saudi authorities to track suspected radicals (see November 2, 2007). His application form is incomplete, as it lists his occupation as “businessman,” but does not give his employer’s name and address.
Lies on Application Form - The form, which is submitted through the Visa Express program (see May 2001), meaning Almihdhar is not interviewed, contains two lies: Almihdhar says he has never received an American visa or traveled to the US, whereas he received a visa in 1999 (see April 3-7, 1999) and traveled to the US on it in 2000 (see January 15, 2000). As Almihdhar’s first visa was also issued by the Jeddah consulate, through which the CIA sent radical Arabs to the US for training during the Soviet-Afghan war (see September 1987-March 1989), consular officials could discover he is lying, but information about prior visas issuances is not automatically displayed to them.
Known Terrorist - By this time, several intelligence agencies are aware that Almihdhar is an al-Qaeda operative; for example, the CIA (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), NSA (see December 29, 1999), FBI (see January 5-6, 2000), a US Army intelligence program (see January-February 2000), the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency (see 1997), Malaysian Special Branch (see January 5-8, 2000), and an intelligence service in the United Arab Emirates (see January 2-5, 2000)).
Parallels to Case of Blind Sheikh - Almihdhar will re-enter the US on the visa three weeks later (see July 4, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will find that the series of missteps preceding the issuance of visas to Almihdhar and the other future 9/11 hijackers has some “eerie parallels” to the “series of exceptional failures” that led to US visas being issued to the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see December 15, 1986-1989 and July 1990). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 24-27, 33, 49 pdf file)

Documentation used by Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi in the United Arab Emirates.Documentation used by Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi in the United Arab Emirates. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi assists four hijackers transiting Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on their way to the US: Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Salem Alhazmi, Abdulaziz Alomari, and Saeed Alghamdi. Banihammad stays at al-Hawsawi’s flat in nearby Sharjah for two or three weeks and they open bank accounts together (see June 25, 2001 and Early August-August 22, 2001), and al-Hawsawi recognizes Alghamdi and Alhazmi from Afghanistan. He coordinates their arrival dates in telephone conversations with Mohamed Atta (see Late June-August, 2001) and then purchases tickets for them, paying for Alomari and Alhazmi. Al-Hawsawi provides this information to the US under interrogation, which is considered by some to make it unreliable (see June 16, 2004), and then again before a military tribunal in Guantanamo Bay to determine his combat status (see March 9-April 28, 2007). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file; US department of Defense 3/21/2007 pdf file) It is unclear who assisted the nine muscle hijackers who transited Dubai before this: Waleed Alshehri, Satam Al Suqami, Ahmed Alghamdi, Maqed Moqed, Hamza Alghamdi, Mohand Alshehri, Ahmed Alnami, Ahmed Alhaznawi, and Wail Alshehri (see April 11-June 28, 2001 and April 23-June 29, 2001).

The INS extends future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi’s permitted stay in the US, 11 months after he filed a late application to extend it (see July 12-27, 2000). The INS should not grant the extension due to the late filing, but does so anyway. It is unclear why it has taken 11 months to process the application. The approval retroactively extends Alhazmi’s stay for six months, from the date it originally expired until January 14, 2001. While his unlawful US presence after July 14, 2000 is retroactively legalized, Alhazmi’s presence after January 14, 2001 remains unlawful, and no other applications for extensions will be filed. (Immigration and Naturalization Service 2002; INS email 3/20/2002; Immigration and Naturalization Service 5/26/2002; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 12, 25 pdf file) An INS report will note, “The application shouldn’t have been approved because it was filed 13 days late.” However, an official, whose name will be redacted, will write in an INS e-mail:  “Per [redacted]. This is a common occurrence that is within the adjudicator’s discretion to forgive a late filing, if it is brief and the applicant has a good story.… How do you suppose the press may spin this, and more importantly, how will the INS defend itself?” (Immigration and Naturalization Service 2002; INS email 3/20/2002) Alhazmi never receives notification of the extension, as the notice will be returned as undeliverable on March 25, 2002. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 25 pdf file) His passport contains an indicator of Islamist extremism used to track terrorists by the Saudi authorities (see March 21, 1999). The 9/11 Commission will comment that this extension is “[y]et another opportunity to spot the suspicious indicator,” but US authorities fail to do so. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 12 pdf file) The precise state of US knowledge about the indicator at this time is unknown (see Around February 1993). The CIA will learn of it no later than 2003, but will still not inform immigration officials then (see February 14, 2003).

9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi flies from Newark to Miami and presumably meets the other hijackers there. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 243) Earlier in the month the CIA showed the FBI a photo of Alhazmi taken at a meeting in Malaysia with other al-Qaeda members, but refused to identify him in the photo (see June 11, 2001). The CIA will watchlist Alhazmi in August (see August 23, 2001), but his Florida trip apparently fails to lead US intelligence to the other hijackers. He obtains a Florida driver’s license on June 25 (see April 12-September 7, 2001), giving the same address as two of the other Florida-based hijackers, but this will not be noticed before 9/11 either. (Bousquet and Ulferts 9/16/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 26 pdf file) Alhazmi purchased his ticket for the outward journey at Apollo Travel in Paterson, New Jersey, which was also used by Mohamed Atta (see March 2001-September 1, 2001), and perhaps some of the other hijackers (see July 2001). (CNN 10/29/2001)

Future 9/11 hijacker Salem Alhazmi obtains a US visa from the American consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. There are some problems with his visa application, which is submitted through the Visa Express program (see May 2001):
bullet The application is incomplete;
bullet Alhazmi gives his occupation as “unemployed” (this does not concern consular staff because Saudi Arabia is a rich country);
bullet His passport is only four days old;
bullet The passport contains a suspicious indicator of Islamic extremism placed their by Saudi intelligence in order to track him (see June 16, 2001 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. 25-6 pdf file)
bullet Some of the other future hijackers who apply for visas around this time lie on their applications, claiming never to have received a US visa before, although the opposite is true (see April 23, 2001, June 12, 2001, and June 13, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will not discuss whether Alhazmi claims on this application to have received a US visa before or not, as the Commission will appear to be unaware of any such previous application by him. However, according to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Alhazmi did previously obtain a US visa, in 1999 (see April 3-7, 1999); (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004 pdf file)
bullet The NSA has been intercepting calls between Alhazmi and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen for at least two years (see Early 1999, Shortly Before December 29, 1999, and Summer 2000);
bullet The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the future 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)

9/11 hijacker Salem Alhazmi leaves Saudi Arabia. The precise date is unknown, although it must be some time between June 20, when he obtains a US visa in Jeddah (see June 20, 2001) and June 29, when he arrives in the US from the United Arab Emirates (see April 23-June 29, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 25-27 pdf file) According to the 9/11 Commission, Alhazmi has a passport containing an indicator of Islamic extremism (see June 20, 2001). Such indicators are used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007).

Abduraham Alamoudi (far left), Bush (center), and Rove (far right). Judging from the background, this picture was probably taken in 2000.Abduraham Alamoudi (far left), Bush (center), and Rove (far right). Judging from the background, this picture was probably taken in 2000. [Source: PBS] (click image to enlarge)Sami al-Arian attends a meeting in the White House complex with President Bush’s adviser Karl Rove. Al-Arian is one of 160 members of the American Muslim Council who are briefed on political matters by Rove and others. Al-Arian had been under investigation for at least six years by this time, and numerous media accounts reported that US investigators suggested al-Arian had ties to US-designated terrorist groups. Yet al-Arian passes the Secret Service’s stringent security check, enabling him to attend the meeting. (Clemetson and Naughton 7/16/2001; Allen and Leiby 2/22/2003) “A law-enforcement official… [said] the Secret Service had flagged al-Arian as a potential terrorist prior to the event,” Newsweek later reports. “But White House aides, apparently reluctant to create an incident, let him through anyway.” (Isikoff 3/3/2003) In 2005, al-Arian will be found innocent of serious terrorism charges, but sentenced to almost three years in a US prison on lesser charges (see December 6, 2005). Abduraham Alamoudi is also at the meeting. US intelligence have suspected Alamoudi of ties to bin Laden and Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman since 1994 (see Shortly After March 1994). Rove and Bush met with Alamoudi in 1999 and 2000 as well (see 1999 and July 2000). Alamoudi will later be sentenced to 23 years in a US prison for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004). (Allen and Leiby 2/22/2003)

Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan are friends with each other and suspected associates of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. On June 23, 2001, al-Bayoumi moves out of the Parkwood Apartments in San Diego where Almihdhar and Alhazmi had lived the year before, and possibly live in again just before 9/11 (see Early September 2001). Basnan had been living in an apartment complex nearby, but he moves into the Parkwood Apartments in July. On the rental application, Basnan lists al-Bayoumi as a personal reference and a friend. A classified FBI report shortly after 9/11 suggests that the fact that Basnan moved in shortly after al-Bayoumi left “could indicate he succeeded Omar al-Bayoumi and may be undertaking activities on behalf of the Government of Saudi Arabia.” Both Basnan and al-Bayoumi have been suspected to be Saudi government agents. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/3/2001 pdf file) Al-Bayoumi moves to Britain (see September 21-28, 2001). Basnan remains in San Diego through 9/11. According to one US official, Basnan later “celebrate[s] the heroes of September 11” and talks about “what a wonderful, glorious day it had been” at a party shortly after the attacks. (Isikoff and Thomas 11/24/2002; Reno 9/2003)

John Miller.John Miller. [Source: FBI]ABC News reporter John Miller gives a speech in which he discusses the growing indications that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has plans to carry out an attack in the United States. Miller gives his speech at the annual conference of the International Association of Bomb Technicians and Investigators. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 286-287) The conference, held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, from June 24 to June 30, is attended by around 700 law enforcement officers from around the world. (German 6/15/2001) Miller will later explain some of the thinking behind his claim that bin Laden could be planning an attack in the US. “At that time,” he will write, “US authorities were divided over where bin Laden would strike next. Most officials believed that he was aiming at ‘soft’ US targets overseas, based on his past actions and electronic phone intercepts of al-Qaeda members around the world.” Other officials, though, taking into account al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam’s failed plot to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on December 31, 1999 (see December 14, 1999), believe his next attack will take place on US soil. Miller will write that a “spike in phone traffic among suspected al-Qaeda members in the early part of the summer, as well as debriefings of Ressam,” have convinced investigators that bin Laden is planning “a significant operation” and he is “planning it soon.” Furthermore, he will comment, “[N]o one working on the problem seemed to doubt bin Laden’s intentions to target Americans.” (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 287) Miller has been a correspondent for ABC News, with a primary focus on terrorism, since 1995. Notably, he interviewed bin Laden in Afghanistan in May 1998 (see May 28, 1998). Before joining ABC News, he spent many years as a television crime reporter in New York, and between 1994 and 1995 served as deputy police commissioner of New York City. (Miller 5/28/1998; Kiesewetter 1/16/2002; Federal Bureau of Investigation 8/23/2005; Powers 10/17/2011)

Fayez Ahmed Banihammad.Fayez Ahmed Banihammad. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]9/11 facilitator Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi uses a cash deposit to open a checking account at a Standard Chartered Bank branch in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). (Al-Hawsawi is thought by some to be an alias for Saeed Sheikh, see September 7-10, 2001 and September 24, 2001-December 26, 2002). Hijacker Fayez Ahmed Banihammad opens a savings account and a checking account with approximately $30,000 in UAE currency, at the same branch. (MSNBC 12/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 138 pdf file) Banihammad, a UAE national apparently from the Emirate of Sharjah, flies to the US two days later. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file) Banihammad gives power of attorney to al-Hawsawi on July 18. Then al-Hawsawi sends Visa and ATM cards to Banihammad in Florida and deposits an extra $4,900 in Banihammad’s account (see Early August-August 22, 2001). Banihammad uses the Visa card to buy his and Mohand Alshehri’s airplane ticket for 9/11. (MSNBC 12/11/2001; Eggen 12/13/2001; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file) Several other hijackers have foreign accounts that they use while they are in the US (see December 5, 2000).

A courtroom artist’s depiction of Mahmoud Jaballah.A courtroom artist’s depiction of Mahmoud Jaballah. [Source: CBC]On June 27, 2001, Nabil al-Marabh is arrested while trying to enter the US from Canada in the back of a tractor-trailer, carrying a forged Canadian passport and a bogus social insurance card. (Walter 10/2/2001) The New York Times will note that, “American officials had plenty of reason to believe that he was up to no good. Nine months earlier, he had been identified to American intelligence agents as one of Osama bin Laden’s operatives in the United States. American customs agents knew about money he had transferred to an associate of Osama bin Laden in the Middle East. And the Boston police had issued a warrant for his arrest after he violated probation for stabbing a friend with a knife. But [US officials] simply let him go.” (Zernike 10/14/2001) The US turns him back to the Canadians. He is held for two weeks, then released on bail despite evidence linking him to militants (see Shortly Before July 11, 2001). During his two-week detention in a Canadian prison, al-Marabh boasts to other prisoners that he remains in contact with the FBI. When one prisoner asks him why, his reply is “because I’m special.” After 9/11, these prisoners will be puzzled that the FBI has not tried to interview them on what they know about al-Marabh. Al-Marabh will fail to show up for a Canadian deportation hearing in August and for a court date in September. It appears he quickly sneaks back into the US instead. (Walter 10/2/2001) Al-Marabh’s Boston landlord will later be asked if he thought al-Marabh could have been a terrorist. The landlord will reply, “He was too stupid, number one, to be a terrorist. Because terrorists today are very intelligent people. But he might be used by some smarter or intelligent sources, who use people like that.” (ABC News 7 (Chicago) 1/31/2002) In July, just after he is released on bail in Canada, the Boston police will go to his former Boston address with a warrant for his March arrest, but he will not be there. (Risen and Engelberg 10/14/2001) Also at some point in July, Canadian authorities inform US Customs about some dubious financial transactions involving al-Marabh, and apparently the information is used in a Customs money-laundering probe (see Spring 2001). (Hosenball 10/1/2001) One prominent former Canadian intelligence official will say that whether a more detailed look at al-Marabh at this time could have stopped the 9/11 attacks is an “intriguing question.… It becomes ever more intriguing as evidence seeps in.” (Dimmock and Sands 10/29/2001)

The three authors of the book Germs, Judith Miller (left), Stephen Engelberg (top), and William Broad (bottom). This was the book Miller was working on before 9/11; it was published several weeks after 9/11.The three authors of the book Germs, Judith Miller (left), Stephen Engelberg (top), and William Broad (bottom). This was the book Miller was working on before 9/11; it was published several weeks after 9/11. [Source: Publicity photo]New York Times reporter Judith Miller learns her government counterterrorism sources are worried that al-Qaeda is going to attack a US target on the Fourth of July holiday. There has been an increase in chatter about an impending attack. In 2005, Miller will recall, “Everyone in Washington was very spun-up in the counterterrorism world at that time. I think everybody knew that an attack was coming—everyone who followed this.… I got the sense that part of the reason that I was being told of what was going on was that the people in counterterrorism were trying to get the word to the president or the senior officials through the press, because they were not able to get listened to themselves.”
Conversation Overheard - She has a conversation with a still-anonymous top-level White House source who reveals there is some concern about a top-secret NSA intercept between two al-Qaeda operatives. She explains, “They had been talking to one another, supposedly expressing disappointment that the United States had not chosen to retaliate more seriously against what had happened to the [USS] Cole. And one al-Qaeda operative was overheard saying to the other, ‘Don’t worry; we’re planning something so big now that the US will have to respond.’ And I was obviously floored by that information. I thought it was a very good story: (1) the source was impeccable; (2) the information was specific, tying al-Qaeda operatives to, at least, knowledge of the attack on the Cole; and (3) they were warning that something big was coming, to which the United States would have to respond. This struck me as a major page one-potential story.”
Not Printed - Miller tells her editor Stephen Engelberg about the story the next day. But Engelberg says, “You have a great first and second paragraph. What’s your third?” Miller finds only one other source to confirm these details.
Yemen Connection - She later learns from her first source that the conversation occurred in Yemen. Though the telephone number is never disclosed, some circumstances suggest one of the parties taking part in the call may have been at the al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, that is monitored by US intelligence. One of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, lives there with his wife and children (see Late August 1998), and communicates there will be forthcoming attacks to at least one family member (see Late October 2000-July 4, 2001). The hijackers in the US apparently call the Yemen hub around this time (see (August 2001)). On July 3, the CIA will request the arrest of Djamel Beghal (see July 3, 2001), an al-Qaeda operative whose calls to the hub are apparently being monitored at this time (see Before July 3, 2001).
Regrets - Miller later regrets not following through more because she “had a book coming out” as well as other stories and that there wasn’t a “sense of immediacy” about the information. In 2005, Engelberg will confirm Miller’s story and agree that he wanted more specifics before running the story. Engelberg also later wonders “maybe I made the wrong call,” asking, “More than once I’ve wondered what would have happened if we’d run the piece?” The New York Times has yet to mention the warning in all of their post-9/11 reporting and the 9/11 Commission has never mentioned anything about the warning either. In 2005, Miller will spend 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal a source and then leave the New York Times after widespread criticism about her reporting. (McCollam 9/2005; O'Connor and Malone 5/18/2006; Strupp 5/18/2006)

The CIA hears an individual who had recently been in Afghanistan say, “Everyone is talking about an impending attack.” (US Congress 9/18/2002; Milbank 9/19/2002) This corresponds with evidence that bin Laden and others were telling many in Afghanistan about the attacks at this time (see Summer 2001).

CIA Director Tenet makes an urgent special request to 20 friendly foreign intelligence services, asking for the arrests of anyone on a list of known al-Qaeda operatives. (Gellman 5/17/2002) Also in late June, the CIA orders all its station chiefs overseas to share information on al-Qaeda with their host governments and to push for immediate disruptions of al-Qaeda cells. Vice President Cheney asks Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah for help on July 5, and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke makes appeals to other foreign officials. As a result, several terrorist operatives are detained by foreign governments. According to a later analysis by the 9/11 Commission, this possibly disrupts operations in the Persian Gulf and Italy (see June 13, 2001) and perhaps averts attacks against two or three US embassies. For instance, al-Qaeda operative Djamel Beghal is detained by the French government in July and gives up information about a plot to attack the US embassy in France (see July 24 or 28, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 534) Perhaps as part of Tenet’s request for help, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, is detained in Jordan in July 2001 and then let go (see July 2001).

9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar departs Saudi Arabia, flying to the US. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 237) According to the 9/11 Commission, Almihdhar has a passport containing an indicator of Islamic extremism (see June 1, 2001). Such indicators are used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007), so the Saudis presumably register his departure.

9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar reenters the US. The CIA and FBI have recently been showing interest in him, but have still failed to place him on a watch list of US-designated terrorists. Had he been placed on a watch list by this date, he would have been stopped and possibly detained as he tried to enter the US. He enters on a new US visa obtained in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on June 13, 2001. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 169 pdf file)
Invalid Passport, Indicator of Terrorist Affiliation - His passport is invalid, as it lacks an expiry date. However, his passport does contain an indicator that he is a terrorist, an indicator used by the Saudi authorities to track his movements (see June 1, 2001 and July 4, 2001), but this indicator is not recognized by US officials. The precise state of US knowledge about the indicator at this time is not known (see Around February 1993). The CIA will learn of it no later than 2003, but will still not inform immigration officials then (see February 14, 2003). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 27 pdf file) His visa application said that he had not previously been to the US, which is not true (see January 15, 2000), so his entry is illegal. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 351 pdf file)
'Muscle' Have Already Arrived - The FBI will note that he returns just days after the last of the hijacker “muscle” has entered the US, and will speculate that he returns because his job in bringing them over is finished. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 169 pdf file)
Source: Lists WTC as Destination - According to a stipulation introduced at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, he lists the Marriot Hotel in the World Trade Center complex as his destination, but does not stay there that night. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 52 pdf file)

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).

On July 5, 2001, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gave a dramatic briefing to representatives from several domestic agencies on the urgent al-Qaeda threat (see July 5, 2001). However, the warnings given generally are not passed on by the attendees back to their respective agencies. The domestic agencies were not questioned about how they planned to address the threat and were not told what was expected of them. According to the 9/11 Commission, attendees later “report that they were told not to disseminate the threat information they received at the meeting. They interpreted this direction to mean that although they could brief their superiors, they could not send out advisories to the field.” One National Security Council official has a different recollection of what happened, recalling that attendees were asked to take the information back to their agencies and “do what you can” with it, subject to classification and distribution restrictions. But, for whatever reason, none of the involved agencies post internal warnings based on the meeting, except for Customs which puts out a general warning based entirely on publicly known historical facts. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 264) The FAA issues general and routine threat advisories that don’t reflect the level of urgency expressed by Clarke and others (see January-August 2001). FAA Administrator Jane Garvey later claims she was unaware of a heightened threat level, but in 2005 it will be revealed that about half of the FAA’s daily briefings during this time period referred to bin Laden or al-Qaeda (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). (Johnston and Dwyer 4/18/2004) Clarke said rhetorically in the meeting that he wants to know if a sparrow has fallen from a tree. A senior FBI official attended the meeting and promised a redoubling of the FBI’s efforts. However, just five days after Clarke’s meeting, FBI agent Ken Williams sends off his memo speculating that al-Qaeda may be training operatives as pilots in the US (see July 10, 2001), yet the FBI fails to share this information with Clarke or any other agency. (Gellman 5/17/2002; Clarke 2004, pp. 236-37) The FBI will also fail to tell Clarke about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), or what they know about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see August 23, 2001).

An adapted 9/11 Commission chart of knives purchased by the hijackers.An adapted 9/11 Commission chart of knives purchased by the hijackers. [Source: 9/11 Commission]Several 9/11 hijackers purchase multi-use tools and small knives that “may actually have been used in the attacks.” according to the 9/11 Commission. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 248-249)
bullet On July 8, Flight 11 hijacker Mohamed Atta buys two Victorinox Swiss Army knives at Zurich Airport, Switzerland, while on his way to Spain (see July 8-19, 2001). He possibly attempts to buy box cutters in Florida on August 27. On August 30, he buys a Leatherman multi-tool in Boynton Beach, Florida. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 530; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 4, 85)
bullet On August 13, Flight 175 hijackers Marwan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, and Hamza Alghamdi buy knives and multi-tools. Alshehhi buys a Cliphanger Viper and an Imperial Tradesman Dual Edge, both short-bladed knives. Banihammad buys a Stanley two-piece snap knife set, and Alghamdi buys a Leatherman Wave multi-tool. All purchases are made in the same city, though the 9/11 Commission does not say where this is. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 17)
bullet On August 27, Flight 77 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi buys Leatherman multi-tool knives. (9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 27) Although it is unknown whether any of these knives and tools are used on 9/11, the 9/11 Commission will point out, “While FAA rules did not expressly prohibit knives with blades under four inches long, the airlines’ checkpoint operations guide (which was developed in cooperation with the FAA), explicitly permitted them.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 84) Regarding Flight 93, personal financial records do not reflect weapons being purchased by any of the hijackers. However, the FBI will reportedly recover “14 knives or portions of knives, including a box cutter,” at the crash site. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 457; 9/11 Commission 8/26/2004, pp. 35)

Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab promises some “very big news” to his fighters and this statement is communicated to the CIA. The CIA then forwards the warning to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice together with several similar pieces of intelligence, saying it is evidence that an al-Qaeda attack is imminent (see July 10, 2001). (Tenet 2007, pp. 151) The FBI is already aware that Ibn Khattab and Osama bin Laden, who have a long relationship (see 1986-March 19, 2002), may be planning a joint attack against US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). One of the operatives, Zacarias Moussaoui, will be arrested a month later (see August 16, 2001), but a search warrant for his belongings will not be granted (see August 16, 2001, August 22, 2001 and August 28, 2001).

FBI agent Ken Williams.FBI agent Ken Williams. [Source: FBI]Phoenix, Arizona, FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum warning about suspicious activities involving a group of Middle Eastern men taking flight training lessons in Arizona. The memo is titled: “Zakaria Mustapha Soubra; IT-OTHER (Islamic Army of the Caucasus),” because it focuses on Zakaria Soubra, a Lebanese flight student in Prescott, Arizona, and his connection with a terror group in Chechnya that has ties to al-Qaeda. It is subtitled: “Osama bin Laden and Al-Muhjiroun supporters attending civil aviation universities/colleges in Arizona.” (Behar 5/22/2002; House 7/24/2003) Williams’ memo is based on an investigation of Sorba that Williams had begun in 2000 (see April 2000), but he had trouble pursuing because of the low priority the Arizona FBI office gave terror investigations (see April 2000-June 2001). Additionally, Williams had been alerted to suspicions about radical militants and aircraft at least three other times (see October 1996; 1998; November 1999-August 2001). In the memo, Williams does the following:
bullet Names nine other suspect students from Pakistan, India, Kenya, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. (Schrom 10/1/2002) Hijacker Hani Hanjour, attending flight school in Arizona in early 2001 and probably continuing into the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), is not one of the students, but, as explained below, it seems two of the students know him. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; Smith 7/25/2003)
bullet Notes that he interviewed some of these students, and heard some of them make hostile comments about the US. Additionally, he noticed that they were suspiciously well informed about security measures at US airports. (Schrom 10/1/2002)
bullet Notes an increasing, “inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” taking flight lessons in Arizona. (Schrom 10/1/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file)
bullet Suspects that some of the ten people he has investigated are connected to al-Qaeda. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file) One person on the list, Ghassan al Sharbi, will be arrested in Pakistan in March 2002 with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Al Sharbi attended a flight school in Prescott, Arizona. He also apparently attended the training camps in Afghanistan and swore loyalty to bin Laden in the summer of 2001. He apparently knows Hani Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). He also is the roommate of Soubra, the main target of the memo. (Krikorian 1/24/2003; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 521)
bullet Discovers that one of them was communicating through an intermediary with Abu Zubaida. This apparently is a reference to Hamed al Sulami, who had been telephoning a Saudi imam known to be Zubaida’s spiritual advisor. Al Sulami is an acquaintance of Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). (Mercury News (San Jose) 5/23/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 520-521, 529)
bullet Discusses connections between several of the students and a radical group called Al-Muhajiroun. (Mercury News (San Jose) 5/23/2002) This group supported bin Laden, and issued a fatwa, or call to arms, that included airports on a list of acceptable terror targets. (Solomon 5/22/2002) Soubra, the main focus of the memo, is a member of Al-Muhajiroun and an outspoken radical. He met with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of Al-Muhajiroun in Britain, and started an Arizona chapter of the organization. After 9/11, some US officials will suspect that Soubra has ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. He will be held two years, then deported to Lebanon in 2004. (Connell 10/28/2001; Krikorian 1/24/2003; Wagner 5/2/2004; Sherman 11/2004) Though Williams doesn’t include it in his memo, in the summer of 1998, Bakri publicized a fax sent by bin Laden to him that listed al-Qaeda’s four objectives in fighting the US. The first objective was “bring down their airliners.” (see Summer 1998). (Connell 10/28/2001)
bullet Warns of a possible “effort by Osama bin Laden to send students to the US to attend civil aviation universities and colleges” (Behar 5/22/2002) , so they can later hijack aircraft. (Schrom 10/1/2002)
bullet Recommends that the “FBI should accumulate a listing of civil aviation universities and colleges around the country. FBI field offices with these types of schools in their area should establish appropriate liaison. FBI [headquarters] should discuss this matter with other elements of the US intelligence community and task the community for any information that supports Phoenix’s suspicions.” (House 7/24/2003) (The FBI has already done this, but because of poor FBI communications, Williams is not aware of the report.)
bullet Recommends that the FBI ask the State Department to provide visa data on flight school students from Middle Eastern countries, which will facilitate FBI tracking efforts. (Risen 5/4/2002)
The memo is addressed to the following FBI Agents:
bullet Dave Frasca, chief of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters;
bullet Elizabeth Harvey Matson, Mark Connor and Fred Stremmel, Intelligence Operations Specialists in the RFU;
bullet Rod Middleton, acting chief of the Usama bin Laden Unit (UBLU);
bullet Jennifer Maitner, an Intelligence Operations Specialist in the UBLU;
bullet Jack Cloonan, an agent on the New York FBI’s bin Laden unit, the I-49 squad; (see January 1996 and Spring 2000).
bullet Michael S. Butsch, an agent on another New York FBI squad dealing with other Sunni terrorists. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 7/10/2001 pdf file; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file)
However, the memo is not uploaded into the FBI’s information system until the end of the month and is apparently not received by all these people (see July 27, 2001 and after). Williams also shares some concerns with the CIA (see (July 27, 2001)). (Mercury News (San Jose) 5/23/2002) One anonymous government official who has seen the memo says, “This was as actionable a memo as could have been written by anyone.” (Insight 5/27/2002) However, the memo is merely marked “routine,” rather than “urgent.” It is generally ignored, not shared with other FBI offices, and the recommendations are not taken. One colleague in New York replies at the time that the memo is “speculative and not very significant.” (Schrom 10/1/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file) Williams is unaware of many FBI investigations and leads that could have given weight to his memo. Authorities later claim that Williams was only pursuing a hunch, but one familiar with classified information says, “This was not a vague hunch. He was doing a case on these guys.” (Mercury News (San Jose) 5/23/2002)

CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black and Richard Blee, a manager responsible for the CIA’s bin Laden unit, meet with CIA Director George Tenet and review the latest intelligence about al-Qaeda. Black lays out a case based on communications intercepts and other intelligence suggesting a growing chance that al-Qaeda will attack the US soon. There is no smoking gun per se, but there is a huge volume of data indicating an attack is coming (see July 9-10, 2001). The case is so compelling—Tenet will later say it “literally made my hair stand on end”—that Tenet decides to brief the White House on it this same day (see July 10, 2001). (Woodward 10/1/2006; Tenet 2007, pp. 151)

Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House. This picture is actually taken on October 8, 2001, and President Bush is elsewhere in the room.Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House. This picture is actually taken on October 8, 2001, and President Bush is elsewhere in the room. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]CIA Director George Tenet finds the briefing that counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave him earlier in the day (see July 10, 2001) so alarming that he calls National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from his car as he heads to the White House and says he needs to see her right away, even though he has regular weekly meetings with her. (Woodward 10/1/2006) Tenet and Black let a third CIA official, Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, brief Rice on the latest intelligence. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke are also present. (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006)
'Significant Attack' - Blee starts by saying, “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!” He argues that it is impossible to pick the specific day, saying Osama bin Laden “will attack when he believes the attack will be successful.” He mentions a range of threat information including:
bullet A warning related to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see (July 9, 2001)) and seven pieces of intelligence the CIA recently received indicating there would soon be a terrorist attack (see July 9-10, 2001);
bullet A mid-June statement by bin Laden to trainees that there would be an attack in the near future (see Mid-June 2001);
bullet Information that talks about moving toward decisive acts;
bullet Late-June information saying a “big event” was forthcoming;
bullet Two separate bits of information collected “a few days before the meeting” in which people predicted a “stunning turn of events” in the weeks ahead. This may be a reference to intercepts of calls in Yemen, possibly involving the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
Multiple, Simultaneous Attacks in US Possible - Blee says that the attacks will be “spectacular,” they will be designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities and interests, there may be multiple, simultaneous attacks, and they may be in the US itself. He outlines the CIA’s efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda by spreading incorrect word that the attack plans have been compromised, in the hope that this will cause a delay in the attack. But he says this is not enough and that the CIA should go on the attack. Blee also discounts the possibility of disinformation, as bin Laden’s threats are known to the public in the Middle East and there will be a loss of face, funds, and popularity if they are not carried out. Blee urges that the US take a “proactive approach” by using the Northern Alliance. (Tenet 2007, pp. 151-4) Author Bob Woodward will later write: “Black emphasize[s] that this amount[s] to a strategic warning, meaning the problem [is] so serious that it require[s] an overall plan and strategy. Second, this [is] a major foreign policy problem that need[s] to be addressed immediately. They need […] to take action that moment—covert, military, whatever—to thwart bin Laden. The United States ha[s] human and technical sources, and all the intelligence [is] consistent.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 80; Woodward 10/1/2006) Richard Clarke expresses his agreement with the CIA about the threat’s seriousness, and Black says, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”
Rice's Response - There are conflicting accounts about the CIA’s reading of Rice’s response. According to Woodward: “Tenet and Black [feel] they [are] not getting through to Rice. She [is] polite, but they [feel] the brush-off.” They leave the meeting frustrated, seeing little prospect for immediate action. Tenet and Black will both later recall the meeting as the starkest warning they gave the White House on al-Qaeda before 9/11 and one that could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks if Rice had acted on it (see July 10, 2001) and conveyed their urgency to President Bush. (Tenet is briefing Bush on a daily basis at this time, but he will later say that Rice has a much better rapport with the president.) Black will say, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 80; Woodward 10/1/2006) Rice says that Bush will align his policy with the new realities and grant new authorities. Writing in 2007, Tenet will say that this response is “just the outcome I had expected and hoped for,” and recall that as they leave the meeting, Blee and Black congratulate each other on having got the administration’s attention. Nevertheless, Rice does not take the requested action until after 9/11. (Tenet 2007, pp. 153-4)
Rice Concerned about Genoa - Clarke will recall in 2006 that Rice focuses on the possible threat to Bush at an upcoming summit meeting in Genoa, Italy (see June 13, 2001 and July 20-22, 2001). Rice and Bush have already been briefed about the Genoa warning by this time (see July 5, 2001). Rice also promises to quickly schedule a high-level White House meeting on al-Qaeda. However, that meeting does not take place until September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001). (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006) Rice also directs that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same briefing, and they receive it a short time later (see July 11-17, 2001).
Meeting Not Mentioned in 9/11 Commission Report - The meeting will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (see August 4, 2002), and there will be controversy when it is fully revealed in 2006 (see September 29, 2006, September 30-October 3, 2006, and October 1-2, 2006).

Edward Needham, an FBI agent in Buffalo, New York, has been investigating a group of eight Yemeni-Americans in the nearby town of Lackawanna after receiving an anonymous letter saying they have been training in Afghanistan (see Early June 2001). In fact, they were, and while there they heard a speech from Osama bin Laden in which he mentioned there were 40 suicide bombers on their way to a very important mission (see (June 2001)). This group will later be known as the “Lackawanna Six” for the six of them who return to the US. Some time around July, Needham interviews Sahim Alwan, who has recently come back from Afghanistan. But Alwan says he had only traveled to Pakistan for religious training. The others who returned also fail to tell any authorities that they have been in Afghanistan or what they learned there. On September 11, 2001, hours after the 9/11 attacks, Needham calls Alwan and asks him if anyone new has come into town. Alwan says no. But in fact, Juma al-Dosari, an al-Qaeda operative who recruited the Lackawanna Six, has recently returned to Lackawanna and Alwan knows where he is staying. Al-Dosari is trying to recruit a second group of young men to go train in Afghanistan. But the training camps are closed down and al-Dosari leaves town before the FBI finds out he is there. He tells friends that he is going to fight for the Taliban. He will be captured in Pakistan in December 2001 and transferred to Guantanamo prison soon thereafter. (PBS Frontline 10/16/2003; Temple-Raston 2007, pp. 138-139, 148)

On July 12, 2001, acting FBI Director Tom Pickard briefs Attorney General Ashcroft a second time about the al-Qaeda threat (see July 12, 2001). In a later letter to the 9/11 Commission discussing the meeting, Pickard will mention, “I had not told [Ashcroft] about the meeting in Malaysia since I was told by FBI Assistant Director Dale Watson that there was a ‘close hold’ on that info. This means that it was not to be shared with anyone without the explicit approval of the CIA.” During the briefing, Pickard also strongly recommends that Ashcroft be briefed by the CIA to learn details that Pickard feels he is not allowed to reveal. The “meeting in Malaysia” is an obvious reference to the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Louis Freeh, the FBI director at the time of the summit, and other unnamed FBI officials were told some about the summit while it was taking place (see January 6, 2000). It is unknown if Pickard and Watson learned about it at that time, but Pickard’s letter shows they both knew about it by the time of this briefing. It is not known why the CIA placed a “close hold” on any mention of the Malaysian summit so strict that even the attorney general could not be told. Since two of the 9/11 hijackers attended that summit, sharing the information about the summit with other agencies may have helped stop the 9/11 attacks. (Pickard 6/24/2004)

The Bush administration again denies the CIA expanded authorities to go on the offensive against bin Laden. These authorities would include permission to assassinate bin Laden without making an attempt to capture him alive first. In March 2001, the CIA wanted to give a draft request about this to the Bush administration, but officials weren’t ready so the draft was withdrawn (see Early March 2001). On July 13, three days after a dramatic CIA presentation about a likely upcoming al-Qaeda attack (see July 10, 2001), a meeting of deputy cabinet officials is held to discuss the CIA’s expanded authorities request. However, no decisions are made. Tenet will later comment, “the bureaucracy moved slowly.” The Bush administration will grant these authorities a few days after 9/11. (Tenet 2007, pp. 154)

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)

A CIA manager says that an additional intelligence officer, Doug Miller, will be assigned to help an ongoing low-key review of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit when Miller returns from holiday (see January 5-8, 2000 and Mid-May 2001). The statement is made in response to an e-mail by CIA manager Tom Wilshire, who pointed out that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash attended the summit, meaning it was important (see January 4, 2001). Presumably, the manager that sends this e-mail is Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Blee appears to have received the e-mail to which this is a response (see July 13, 2001). The review is currently only being conducted by one intelligence officer, Margaret Gillespie, who is only told to do it in her spare time and whom it takes over three months to find CIA cables indicating two of the future 9/11 hijackers have entered the US (see August 21-22, 2001). Miller’s help would certainly benefit the review, as he is already aware one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa, but a cable he drafted to notify the FBI about this was blocked by Wilshire (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). However, there is no mention of Miller actually being given the assignment on his return and no sign he does any work on this. Wilshire also asked that the FBI be officially told bin Attash attended the summit in Malaysia, but this information is again withheld (see January 5, 2001 and After). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 298-9 pdf file)

Jean Waldorf, the owner of the Shipping Post, a mail service business in Punta Gorda, Florida, will later report seeing Mohamed Atta and an unidentified associate visiting her store some four to six times. According to Waldorf, Atta purchases US postal money orders in denominations of $100 to $200, paying for them with cash, but she does not know how they are spent. Waldorf says that the money orders, which can only be cashed in the US, are “not traceable.” The owner of a local childcare center, Anna Brookbank, later says she recognizes Atta, having seen him shopping at a Punta Gorda supermarket during this period. (CNN 10/1/2001; Margasak 10/2/2001; Arnold 10/2/2001; Arnold and Martin 10/3/2001) Punta Gorda is about 30 miles south of Venice, where Atta, along with Marwan Alshehhi, previously attended flight school in 2000 (see July 6-December 19, 2000). According to official accounts, the only time Atta was in this area was during his time at the flight school. (US Congress 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223-253)

British intelligence agencies send a report to British Prime Minister Tony Blair and other top officials warning that al-Qaeda is in “the final stages” of preparing an attack in the West. The prediction is “based on intelligence gleaned not just from [British intelligence] but also from US agencies, including the CIA and the National Security Agency,” which cooperate with the British. “The contents of the July 16 warning would have been passed to the Americans, Whitehall sources confirmed.” The report states there is “an acute awareness” that the attack is “a very serious threat.” (Evans 6/14/2002) This appears to be similar, but not identical, to a warning to British leaders from MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, 10 days earlier (see July 6, 2001).

An unknown intelligence agency intercepts a telephone call between alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and his associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh. (9/11 Commission 2004; 9/11 Commission 3/18/2004) In the call, KSM and bin al-Shibh discuss the state of the 9/11 plot, in particular the fact that Ziad Jarrah, one of the proposed pilots, may drop out. They speak in a code, substituting unexceptional words for what they really mean. (9/11 Commission 3/18/2004) KSM instructs bin al-Shibh to send the “skirts,” meaning money forwarded to bin al-Shibh by an associate of KSM, to “Sally,” meaning Moussaoui. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 246) The reason for this is that “Teresa,” meaning Jarrah, is “late,” i.e. he is wavering and may drop out of the plot, due to possible conflicts with lead hijacker Mohamed Atta about Jarrah’s isolation from the conspiracy. It therefore appears that KSM is thinking of Moussaoui as a replacement for Jarrah. According to a 9/11 Commission memo, KSM says something like, “if there is a divorce, it will cost a lot of money.” Bin al-Shibh then tries to reassure him, saying it will be okay. The conversation also mentions “Danish leather,” an apparent reference to failed “20th hijacker” Mohamed al-Khatani (see August 4, 2001). (9/11 Commission 3/18/2004) The agency which intercepts this call is never identified to the public, although the NSA is reportedly intercepting such calls to and from KSM at this time (see Summer 2001). The 9/11 Commission will mention the call in a staff statement and its final report, but will not mention that it was intercepted, merely citing detainee interrogations as the source of information about it. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004, pp. 16-17; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 246, 530)

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).

FBI headquarters.FBI headquarters. [Source: GlobeXplorer]FBI headquarters receives the Phoenix Memo, but does not act on it. The memo was drafted by Arizona FBI agent Ken Williams and warns that a large number of Islamic extremists are learning to fly in the US. It is dated 17 days earlier, but is not uploaded until this date (see July 10, 2001). Although the memo is addressed to eight specific agents, it is apparently not received by all of them. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later say that the memo was not delivered directly to the addressees, but uploaded to a central dispatching point, from where it was assigned to Radical Fundamentalist Unit agent Elizabeth Matson on July 30. Before sending the memo, Williams called both Matson and her colleague Fred Stremmel to talk to them about it. Matson pulls up the memo, which has “routine” precedence, and prints and reads it. However, she thinks it should go to the bin Laden unit. A week later she discusses the matter with bin Laden unit agent Jennifer Maitner and they agree that Maitner will do some research and then they will talk again. Matson will later tell the Office of Inspector General she may have mentioned the memo to her superior, but is not sure. Her superior will say he was not consulted. Maitner discusses the memo with bin Laden unit chief Rod Middleton and also sends it to the FBI’s Portland, Oregon, field office, which was previously interested in one of the men named in the memo. However, she does not do anything else with it before 9/11, apparently due to her high workload. The FBI will later acknowledge the memo did not receive the sufficient or timely analysis that it deserved. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 65-77, 80 pdf file) The memo is also seen by the FBI’s New York field office (see July 27, 2001 or Shortly After), another RFU agent researching the Moussaoui case (see August 22, 2001) and possibly the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see (July 27, 2001)).

An FBI agent assigned to the CIA’s bin Laden unit locates a CIA cable that says 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa, but fails to disseminate the information to the FBI. It is not clear why the agent, Margaret Gillespie, fails to do this. However, at the same time she locates another CIA cable which mistakenly states that the information about the visa has already been passed to the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 299 pdf file)

A Western Union money transfer between Ahad Sabet (Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s alias) and Moussaoui in Norman, Oklahoma.A Western Union money transfer between Ahad Sabet (Ramzi bin al-Shibh’s alias) and Moussaoui in Norman, Oklahoma. [Source: FBI]According to the Justice Department indictment against Zacarias Moussaoui, Moussaoui and 9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh are in communication for several days. Moussaoui makes several calls from Norman, Oklahoma, to Dusseldorf, Germany. Then, around July 31 someone using the name “Hashim Abdulrahman” in the United Arab Emirates sends two wire transfers totaling about $15,000 to an “Ahad Sabet” in Hamburg, Germany. Sabet is claimed to be an alias for bin al-Shibh. Then bin al-Shibh, again using the Sabet name, wires about $14,000 to Moussaoui in Oklahoma. (MSNBC 12/11/2001) Moussaoui immediately moves to Minnesota and begins studying at a flight school there (see August 10-11, 2001). The passport with the name Ahad Sabet that bin al-Shibh used appears to belong to an innocent US doctor who had his passport stolen in Spain several years earlier (see July 7, 1998). (Hirschkorn 8/7/2002)

CBS later reports, in a long story on another topic: “Just days after [Mohamed] Atta return[s] to the US from Spain, Egyptian intelligence in Cairo says it received a report from one of its operatives in Afghanistan that 20 al-Qaeda members had slipped into the US and four of them had received flight training on Cessnas. To the Egyptians, pilots of small planes didn’t sound terribly alarming, but they [pass] on the message to the CIA anyway, fully expecting Washington to request information. The request never [comes].” (CBS News 10/9/2002) This appears to be just one of several accurate Egyptian warnings from their informants inside al-Qaeda. Around this time, word of the upcoming 9/11 attacks is spreading widely in the training camps in Afghanistan. For instance, in a recorded speech played at one of the camps, Osama bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs (see Summer 2001).

With the approaching third anniversary of the US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the FBI reissues a warning that overseas law enforcement agencies may be targets. It notes that although most reporting indicates a potential for attacks on US interests abroad, the possibility of an attack in the US cannot be discounted. (CNN 3/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260, 534)

The Federal Reserve Board of Governors issues a non-routine supervisory letter to Federal Reserve banks, emphasizing the need to continue monitoring suspicious activity reports (SARs). The letter gives no explanation why it has been sent out at this particular time, but states, “Reserve banks must continue to conduct a thorough and timely review of all material SARs filed by supervised financial institutions in their districts.” It adds, “A periodic, comprehensive review of SARs will assist Reserve banks in identifying suspicious or suspected criminal activity occurring at or through supervised financial institutions; provide the information necessary to assess the procedures and controls used by the reporting institutions to identify, monitor, and report violations and suspicious illicit activities; and assist in the assessment of the adequacy of anti-money laundering programs.” (Spillenkothen 8/2/2001) While the letter does not say if there are specific reasons why the banks should currently be watching for suspicious activities, William Bergman, an economist who works at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago from 1990 to 2004, will later point out, “Intelligence warnings on terrorism were rising significantly in mid-2001.” He will therefore question whether, “with terrorism and its financing already recognized as an important element of the national money laundering strategy,” this letter is “related to these warnings.” He will also point out, “negotiations between the Taliban and representatives of the United States over energy production issues in Afghanistan ended on August 2, 2001” (see August 2, 2001), and that, “Four days later, President Bush received a ‘PDB’—a presidential daily brief—with a headline warning that bin Laden was ‘determined to strike in US,’ and the body text of the PDB referred to ‘patterns of suspicious activity’” (see August 6, 2001). (Bergman 1/4/2006) When, in December 2003, Bergman asks the Board of Governors staff why it issued the August 2 letter, and if the letter was related to intelligence about heightened terrorist threats, he will receive no reply and subsequently be told he has “committed an egregious breach of protocol in calling the Board staff and asking the question.” (Bergman 5/14/2006) Also around this time, between June and August 2001, there is an unexplained surge in the amount of US currency in circulation (see June-August 2001). (Bergman 9/16/2005)

Customs agent Jose Melendez-Perez.
Customs agent Jose Melendez-Perez. [Source: US Senate]A Saudi named Mohamed al-Khatani is stopped at the Orlando, Florida, airport and denied entry to the US. Jose Melendez-Perez, the customs official who stops him, later says he was suspicious of al-Khatani because he had arrived with no return ticket, no hotel reservations, spoke little English, behaved menacingly, and offered conflicting information on the purpose of his travel. At one point, al-Khatani said that someone was waiting for him elsewhere at the airport. After 9/11, surveillance cameras show that Mohamed Atta was at the Orlando airport that day. 9/11 Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste says: “It is extremely possible and perhaps probable that [al-Khatani] was to be the 20th hijacker.” Al-Khatani boards a return flight to Saudi Arabia. He is later captured in Afghanistan and sent to a US military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba (see December 2001). Melendez-Perez says that before 9/11, customs officials were discouraged by their superiors from hassling Saudi travelers, who were seen as big spenders. (Miller and Meyer 1/27/2004; Zagorin and Duffy 6/12/2005) Al-Khatani will later confess to being sent to the US by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) (see July 2002), and in June 2001 US intelligence was warned that KSM was sending operatives to the US to meet up with those already there (see June 12, 2001).

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. (Sanger 5/15/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 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. (Sanger 5/15/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002; Schrom 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. (Pincus and Eggen 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. (Woodward and Eggen 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.” (Rich 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).

According to journalist and author Ron Suskind, just after a CIA briefer presents President Bush with the later infamous PDB (Presidential Daily Briefing) item entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001), Bush tells the briefer, “You’ve covered your ass, now.” This account is from Suskind’s 2006 book The One Percent Doctrine, which is based largely on anonymous accounts from political insiders. In the book, after describing the presentation of the PDB, Suskind will write: “And, at an eyeball-to-eyeball intelligence briefing during this urgent summer, George W. Bush seems to have made the wrong choice. He looked hard at the panicked CIA briefer. ‘All right,’ he said. ‘You’ve covered your ass, now.’” (Suskind 2006, pp. 2; Gellman 6/20/2006)

The CIA’s Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) given to President Bush on this day (see August 6, 2001) contains the important line, “The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related.” Bush will state in 2004 that, based on this, “I was satisfied that some of the matters were being looked into.” National Security Adviser Rice will explain that since the FBI had 70 “full-field investigations under way of cells” in the US, “there was no recommendation [coming from the White House] that we do something about” the large number of warnings coming in. However, the number and content of the FBI investigations appears grossly exaggerated. The FBI later will reveal that the investigations are not limited to al-Qaeda and do not focus on al-Qaeda cells. Many were criminal investigations, which typically are not likely to help prevent future terrorist acts. An FBI spokesman will say the FBI does not know how that number got into Bush’s PDB. The 9/11 Commission will later conclude, “The 70 full-field investigations number was a generous calculation that included fund-raising investigations. It also counted each individual connected to an investigation as a separate full-field investigation. Many of these investigations should not have been included, such as the one that related to a dead person, four that concerned people who had been in long-term custody, and eight that had been closed well before August 6, 2001.” (Royce and Brune 4/10/2004; Associated Press 4/11/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 262, 535)

Bush being briefed at his ranch on August 6, 2001.Bush being briefed at his ranch on August 6, 2001. [Source: Associated Press]On April 29, 2004, President Bush will testify before the 9/11 Commission, but almost no details of what he said will be publicly released. He testifies with Vice President Cheney, in private, not under oath, is not recorded, and the notes that the commissioners take are censored by the White House (see April 29, 2004). However, the 9/11 Commission will release a one paragraph summary of how Bush claims he responded to the Presidential Daily Briefing of August 6, 2001, entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). The Commission recalls, “The President told us the August 6 report was historical in nature. President Bush said the article told him that al-Qaeda was dangerous, which he said he had known since he had become President. The President said bin Laden had long been talking about his desire to attack America. He recalled some operational data on the FBI, and remembered thinking it was heartening that 70 investigations were under way (see August 6, 2001). As best he could recollect, [National Security Adviser] Rice had mentioned that the Yemenis’ surveillance of a federal building in New York had been looked into in May and June, but there was no actionable intelligence (see May 30, 2001). He did not recall discussing the August 6 report with the Attorney General or whether Rice had done so. He said that if his advisers had told him there was a cell in the United States, they would have moved to take care of it. That never happened.” The 9/11 Commission will conclude that they could find no evidence of any further discussions or actions taken by Bush and his top advisers in response to the briefing (see Between August 6 and September 10, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260)

The 9/11 Commission will later state that after the now famous “bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” memo is given to President Bush on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001), “We have found no indication of any further discussion before September 11 among the president and his top advisers of the possibility of a threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the United States.” (Isikoff and Hosenball 4/28/2005) 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey will later state to CNN,“[B]y the way, there’s a credible case that the president’s own negligence prior to 9/11 at least in part contributed to the disaster in the first place.… [I]n the summer of 2001, the government ignored repeated warnings by the CIA, ignored, and didn’t do anything to harden our border security, didn’t do anything to harden airport country, didn’t do anything to engage local law enforcement, didn’t do anything to round up INS and consular offices and say we have to shut this down, and didn’t warn the American people. The famous presidential daily briefing on August 6, we say in the report that the briefing officers believed that there was a considerable sense of urgency and it was current. So there was a case to be made that wasn’t made.… The president says, if I had only known that 19 Islamic men would come into the United States of America and on the morning of 11 September hijack four American aircraft, fly two into the World Trade Center, one into the Pentagon, and one into an unknown Pennsylvania that crashed in Shanksville, I would have moved heaven and earth. That’s what he said. Mr. President, you don’t need to know that. This is an Islamic Jihadist movement that has been organized since the early 1990s, declared war on the United States twice, in ‘96 and ‘98. You knew they were in the United States. You were warned by the CIA. You knew in July they were inside the United States. You were told again by briefing officers in August that it was a dire threat. And what did you do? Nothing, so far as we could see on the 9/11 Commission.” (CNN 11/8/2004)

Zacarias Moussaoui.Zacarias Moussaoui. [Source: US Justice Department]Zacarias Moussaoui moves from Oklahoma to Minnesota, in order to attend flight school training there. Moussaoui drives there with Hussein al-Attas, a friend who will stay with him in Minnesota. Curiously, on August 11, someone breaks into the Norman, Oklahoma, apartment that remained unoccupied since Moussaoui moved out of it at the end of May 2001. A neighbor’s bicycle is used to break through the door of the vacant apartment and a bloodstain is left on the wall. A neighbor “[tells] reporters that furniture was overturned as if someone was looking for something.” (MSNBC 12/11/2001; Linsk 9/10/2002; US Congress 10/17/2002)

Mohamed Atta stayed at the Las Vegas Econolodge.Mohamed Atta stayed at the Las Vegas Econolodge. [Source: Chris Farina/Corbis]The lead hijackers meet in Las Vegas for a summit a few weeks before 9/11. Investigators will believe that this is the “most crucial planning in the United States,” but will not understand why the hijackers choose Vegas, since they are all living on the East Coast at this time (see March 2001-September 1, 2001 and August 6-September 9, 2001). One senior official will speculate, “Perhaps they figured it would be easy to blend in.” (van Natta, and Zernike 11/4/2001) At least three of the plot leaders are in Las Vegas at this time. Hani Hanjour and Nawaf Alhazmi fly from Dulles Airport to Los Angeles on an American Airlines Boeing 757, the same sort of plane they hijack on 9/11, and then continue to Las Vegas. Mohamed Atta also flies to Las Vegas from Washington National Airport. This is his second trip to Vegas, which was also previously visited by some of the other hijackers (see May 24-August 14, 2001). A few weeks earlier, Atta had traveled to Spain, possibly with some of the other hijackers, to finalize the plans for the attack with their associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see July 8-19, 2001). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 1, 17, 21 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 57-8 pdf file) Alhazmi will later be recalled by a hotel employee, who will say she ran into him at the Days Inn. According to her later account, he is “cold and abrupt,” in Vegas on “important business,” and will soon be traveling to Los Angeles. He asks for a list of Days Inns in Los Angeles, but does not want a reservation to be made. He also claims to be from Florida, although he is only thought to have spent a week there (see June 19-25, 2001). (Puit and Kalil 10/26/2001) A close associate of the hijackers, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, will later say in a 2002 interview that Ziad Jarrah, Marwan Alshehhi, and Khalid Almihdhar are also present in Vegas at this time. (Fouda and Fielding 2003, pp. 137) Newsweek calls Vegas an “odd location” and comments: “They stayed in cheap hotels on a dreary stretch of the Strip frequented by dope dealers and $10 street hookers. Perhaps they wished to be fortified for their mission by visiting a shrine to American decadence. Or maybe they just wanted a city that was easy to reach by air from their various cells in Florida, New Jersey and San Diego.” (Thomas 10/15/2001)

In a 2007 book about the “Lackawanna Six” entitled The Jihad Next Door, author Dina Temple-Raston will write that al-Qaeda “shuttered the training camps in August 2001, leaving little sign of the encampments that once dotted the Pakistan-Afghan border.” After 9/11, the camps are not reopened. (Temple-Raston 2007, pp. 130) One article shortly after 9/11 suggests that bin Laden moves his training camps in Afghanistan “in the days before the attacks.” (Bowden 9/16/2001) Presumably the CIA notices. CIA Director George Tenet will later claim a group of men from an allied intelligence agency penetrated the camps not long before 9/11 (see Early September 2001), satellites are monitoring Afghanistan from the sky, and the CIA had over 100 assets in Afghanistan before 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). FBI agent Jack Cloonan will also later say, “There were agents run into the camps” (see Before September 11, 2001).

Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi moves to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Elzahabi has a long association with al-Qaeda, and has just returned from Chechnya where he fought as a sniper (see April 16, 2004-June 25, 2004). His “name was known to the FBI well before the Sept. 11 attacks, according to law enforcement officials who declined to be identified. He also was on a list of possible or suspected terrorists” circulated to foreign airlines and banks shortly after 9/11. (Herridge and Stolley 6/26/2004; Gordon and Chanen 6/30/2004) In fact, Canadian intelligence began investigating him for suspected militant ties in 1997, and the Boston FBI began investigating him in 1999, but lost track of him when he left the US later that year (see 1997 and 1999). He was connected to al-Qaeda operatives Raed Hijazi, Nabil al-Marabh, and Bassam Kanj. He worked as a Boston taxi driver with them (see June 1995-Early 1999), and also fought with them in Afghanistan (see Late 1980s). Fox News will later note that Elzahabi has a “potential link to Zacarias Moussaoui” since Moussaoui moved to Minneapolis in early August 2001 and is arrested on August 15, but no firm connection between the two has been shown. It has not been reported exactly when Elzahabi arrives in Minneapolis, but he applies for a commercial driver’s license on August 23, 2001. He is fingerprinted for a criminal background check at that time, which presumably would alert the FBI that he is living in Minneapolis if they do not know already. But it is not known if Minneapolis FBI agents, desperately trying to get a warrant for Moussaoui, are told about Elzahabi before 9/11. In January 2002, the FBI will run his name through a database. Despite the FBI’s knowledge of his al-Qaeda ties, he is cleared to get the license. This allows him to haul hazardous materials. His friend and al-Qaeda operative Nabil al-Marabh received a similar license the year before (see August 2000-January 2001). Elzahabi will apply for a license allowing him to carry general freight in September 2003 and he will get insurance clearance to start work in April 2004. However, he will be arrested by FBI that same month (see April 16, 2004-June 25, 2004). (Herridge and Stolley 6/26/2004; Gordon and Chanen 6/30/2004)

CIA records show that CIA Director George Tenet briefed President Bush twice in August—once in Crawford, Texas, on August 17, and once in Washington, on August 31. (Priest 4/15/2004) In Tenet’s 2007 book, he will briefly mention that “A few weeks after the August 6 PDB [titled ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US’ (see August 6, 2001)] was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the president stayed current on events. That was my first visit to the ranch.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 145) Later asked about what he told Bush at this meeting, Tenet will only say, “I held nothing back from the president. He understood our concerns about threats. He understood what we were doing around the world at the time.” (MSNBC 5/7/2007) By the time of the second briefing, Tenet has been briefed about Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest (see August 23, 2001), but, apparently, he fails to tell Bush about it. (Priest 4/15/2004) In April 2004, Tenet will testify under oath before the 9/11 Commission that he had no direct communication with President Bush during the month of August. (Jehl 4/15/2004) This is quickly discovered to be untrue. A CIA spokesperson will then claim, “He momentarily forgot [about the briefings]” (see April 14, 2004). (Priest 4/15/2004) Tenet will personally brief Bush six more times before 9/11 and will still apparently fail to mention Moussaoui to him (see September 1-8, 2001).

John O’Neill.
John O’Neill. [Source: FBI]An article in the New York Times reveals that the FBI has launched an internal investigation of John O’Neill, one of its most senior counterterrorism officials, for losing a briefcase that contained highly classified information. (Johnston and Risen 8/19/2001) O’Neill, special agent in charge of the FBI’s national security division in New York, had his briefcase, which contained his division’s annual field office report, stolen when he left it unattended during a conference in Orlando, Florida, in July 2000 (see July 2000). The briefcase was found a few hours later with the report still in it. (Wright 2006, pp. 317; Graff 2011, pp. 260) However, the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility immediately launched an investigation to determine whether any criminal charges should be brought against O’Neill. (Weiss 2003, pp. 281) That investigation recently ended with a decision not to prosecute, but the FBI’s internal affairs unit subsequently began an investigation to determine whether O’Neill had violated FBI rules. According to the Times: “FBI officials were alarmed, in part, because of the sensitivity of the documents involved, including details about the bureau’s counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations. One document contained highly sensitive information about an FBI source.” (Johnston and Risen 8/19/2001)
Story Appears Timed to Stop O'Neill Getting a Job on the NSC - The New Yorker will later comment that the leaking of the details of the FBI investigation to the Times “seemed to be timed to destroy O’Neill’s chance of being confirmed for [a National Security Council] job.” The leak was “somebody being pretty vicious to John,” Thomas Pickard, acting FBI director, will say. (Wright 1/14/2002)
Several Officials Will Be Suspected of Being the Article's Source - A number of people will be suspected of leaking the details of the investigation to the Times. (Weiss 2003, pp. 347) O’Neill will suspect Pickard. The acting director “was out to get John for a long time and John never really knew why,” Valerie James, O’Neill’s longtime girlfriend, will say. Pickard will deny being the leaker, though, when O’Neill confronts him about the issue. (PBS 10/3/2002) Other possible sources of the leak, according to journalist and author Murray Weiss, include Dale Watson, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division; Barbara Bodine, the US ambassador to Yemen; and Richard Clarke, the White House counterterrorism chief. (Weiss 2003, pp. 347)
O'Neill Has Overseen Major Terrorism Investigations - O’Neill’s job is among the most powerful in the FBI, and O’Neill has overseen cases such as the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). (Johnston and Risen 8/19/2001) He is the FBI’s “most committed tracker of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network of terrorists,” according to the New Yorker. But he will retire from the FBI on August 22 and take up a new job as head of security at the World Trade Center a day later (see August 22, 2001 and August 23, 2001). (Wright 1/14/2002; Weiss 2003, pp. 349-350)

The FBI Minneapolis field office wishes to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings, which will later be found to contain enough information to potentially stop 9/11 (see August 16, 2001). To do so it must get the approval of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters. However, the RFU throws obstacles in the warrant request’s path:
bullet RFU chief Dave Frasca stops the Minneapolis office from pursuing a criminal warrant (see August 21, 2001);
bullet When French authorities say that Moussaoui is connected to the Chechen rebels, RFU agent Mike Maltbie insists that the FBI representative in Paris go through all telephone directories in France to see how many Zacarias Moussaouis live there (see August 22, 2001);
bullet Maltbie stops Minneapolis from informing the Justice Department’s Criminal Division about the case (see August 22, 2001);
bullet When RFU agent Rita Flack, who is working on the Moussaoui case, reads the Phoenix memo suggesting that bin Laden is sending pilots to the US for training, she apparently does not tell her colleagues about it, even though it was addressed to several of them, including Frasca (see July 10, 2001 and August 22, 2001);
bullet The RFU does not provide the relevant documentation to attorneys consulted about the request. In particular, Flack does not tell them about the Phoenix Memo, even though one of the attorneys will later say she asked Flack if anyone is sending radical Islamists to the US to learn to fly (see August 22-28, 2001);
bullet When Minneapolis learns Moussaoui apparently wants to go on jihad, Frasca is not concerned and says jihad does not necessarily mean holy war. However, a top Justice Department attorney will later say “he would have tied bells and whistles” to this comment in a request for a search warrant had he known this (see August 17, 2001 and August 29, 2001);
bullet Maltbie tells the Minneapolis office that getting a warrant will “take a few months” (see August 24, 2001). He also tells Minneapolis, “We know what’s going on. You will not question us.” (see August 27, 2001);
bullet Maltbie weakens the warrant request by editing it and removing a statement by a CIA officer that Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab was closely connected to Osama bin Laden, despite there being intelligence linking that leader to bin Laden (see August 28, 2001);
bullet In a key meeting with an attorney about the request, Maltbie and Flack, who are submitting the warrant, are adamant that it is not sufficiently supported (see August 28, 2001);
bullet Frasca opposes a plan to put an undercover officer in the jail cell with Moussaoui to find out more information about his connections to Islamic militants (August 29, 2001 and Shortly After);
bullet The RFU does not want a Minneapolis agent to accompany Moussaoui when he is deported (see (August 30-September 10, 2001));
bullet The RFU does not re-consider getting a criminal search warrant after a decision is taken not to seek a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see After August 28, 2001);
bullet Frasca and Maltbie are said to oppose a search warrant after 9/11 (see September 11, 2001).
It is unclear why the RFU opposes the warrant so strongly. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later criticize the RFU staff, but will conclude that they did not intentionally sabotage the warrant application. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 101-222 pdf file) A 2004 book by independent researcher Mike Ruppert will speculate that Frasca is actually a CIA agent. Ruppert suggests that the CIA placed Frasca in the FBI to prevent CIA operations from being compromised by FBI investigations. But he does not provide any direct evidence of ties between Frasca and the CIA (see October 1, 2004). The Minneapolis agents will offer a different interpretation of RFU actions. Coleen Rowley will say, “I feel that certain facts… have, up to now, been omitted, downplayed, glossed over and/or mischaracterized in an effort to avoid or minimize personal and/or institutional embarrassment on the part of the FBI and/or perhaps even for improper political reasons.” She asks, “Why would an FBI agent deliberately sabotage a case? The superiors acted so strangely that some agents in the Minneapolis office openly joked that these higher-ups ‘had to be spies or moles… working for Osama bin Laden.’… Our best real guess, however, is that, in most cases avoidance of all ‘unnecessary’ actions/decisions by FBI [headquarters] managers… has, in recent years, been seen as the safest FBI career course. Numerous high-ranking FBI officials who have made decisions or have taken actions which, in hindsight, turned out to be mistaken or just turned out badly… have seen their careers plummet and end. This has in turn resulted in a climate of fear which has chilled aggressive FBI law enforcement action/decisions.” (Time 5/21/2002) Minneapolis FBI agent Harry Samit will agree with explanation, telling the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General that the RFU is guilty of “obstructionism, criminal negligence, and careerism.” (Sniffen 3/20/2006) Samit will also say that Maltbie even told him he was acting this way to “preserve the existence of his advancement potential” in the FBI. (Riley 3/21/2006)

Dave Frasca of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) denies a request from the Minneapolis FBI field office to seek a criminal warrant to search the belongings of Zacarias Moussaoui, who was arrested on August 15 as part of an intelligence investigation (see August 16, 2001 and August 16, 2001). Minneapolis agents believe they had uncovered sufficient evidence that Moussaoui is involved in a criminal conspiracy, and want to obtain a criminal search warrant instead of a warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). But because they originally opened an intelligence investigation, they cannot go directly to the local US attorney’s office for the warrant. In order to begin a parallel criminal investigation, they must first obtain permission from the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR) so they can pass the information over the “wall.” (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006) Harry Samit, a Minneapolis FBI agent on the Moussaoui case, calls Dave Frasca, the head of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters, to discuss the request. Samit tells Frasca that they have already completed the paperwork for a criminal investigation, but, according to Samit, Frasca says, “You will not open it, you will not open a criminal case.” Frasca says that argument for probable cause in seeking a criminal warrant is “shaky” and notes that if they fail to obtain a criminal warrant, they will be unable to obtain a warrant under FISA. Samit, who has only been with the FBI since 1999, defers to his superior, and writes on the paperwork, “Not opened per instructions of Dave Frasca.” Samit then tells his Chief Division Counsel, Coleen Rowley, about the conversation, and she also advises him that it would be better to apply for a warrant under FISA. When the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) interviews Frasca after 9/11, he will claim he never spoke to Samit about this matter, and that the conversation was with Chris Briese, one of Samit’s superiors. However, Briese will deny this and the OIG will conclude that the conversation was between Samit and Frasca. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 128-132 pdf file; US Department of Justice 3/1/2006 pdf file) To get a FISA search warrant for Moussaoui’s belongings the FBI must now show there is probable cause to believe Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006) A criminal warrant to search Moussaoui’s belongings will be granted only after the 9/11 attacks (see September 11, 2001).

An FBI agent detailed to the CIA’s bin Laden unit locates CIA cables saying that future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi entered the US in early 2000. The agent, Margaret Gillespie, then checks with the US Customs Service and discovers that another future 9/11 hijacker, Khalid Almihdhar, entered the US on July 4, 2001, and there is no record he has left the country. As there is “an imperative to find anyone affiliated with al-Qaeda if they [are] believed to be in the US,” Gillespie immediately contacts Dina Corsi, an FBI agent in its bin Laden unit. Gillespie, who has been examining the USS Cole bombing and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit for some time, will later say that when she learns of their arrival in the US, “it all clicks for me.” The Justice Department’s office of inspector general will find that Gillespie’s “actions on receipt of the information clearly indicate that she understood the significance of this information when she received it. She took immediate steps to open an intelligence investigation.” Gillespie and Corsi meet with Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer involved in the investigation (see August 22, 2001), and Almihdhar and Alhazmi are soon watchlisted (see August 23, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 300-301, 313 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file)

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)

FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi learns that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash attended a summit in Malaysia that was also attended by 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 5-8, 2000); an e-mail sent by Corsi on this date contains the first reference in FBI documents to bin Attash’s presence at the Malaysia summit. Although it is her job to support the investigation into the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), which bin Attash commanded, and she is aware that bin Attash is important to the Cole investigation, even saying that she is focused on his identity and whereabouts, she fails to communicate this information to the agents investigating the bombing, who do not receive it before 9/11 (see August 30, 2001). After 9/11, she will say she cannot recall how she learned this information and an investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will fail to find any documents that cast light on the matter. Although she does not do anything with this information before another FBI agent tells her Khalid Almihdhar is in the US (see August 21-22, 2001), she will later say that the information bin Attash was at the Malaysia summit was important, as it connected Almihdhar and Alhazmi to the Cole bombing. She will also say that CIA officers Tom Wilshire and Clark Shannon, who she discussed al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit with and who knew that bin Attash was in Malaysia with Alhazmi and Almihdhar (see Late May, 2001, Mid-May 2001 and June 11, 2001), did not give her this information. Although Corsi and others know that bin Attash is an important al-Qaeda leader, he is not watchlisted at this point, although one of his aliases is watchlisted in August (see August 23, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 280, 284, 286, 293, 296, 302 pdf file)

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

When the US intelligence community watchlists the alias Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, which is used by al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see August 23, 2001), it fails to realize that “bin Yousaf” is really bin Attash, who is known to be one of the masterminds of the USS Cole bombing (see Late October-Late November 2000 and November 22-December 16, 2000). The CIA knows that both bin Attash and “Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf” were in Malaysia with 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000, January 8, 2000, and January 4, 2001). Furthermore, the CIA has a photo of bin Attash provided by the Yemeni government, and surveillance photos and video of bin Attash with Alhazmi and Almihdhar at an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After and January 5, 2000). And when bin Attash applied for a US visa, he used the “bin Yousaf” alias (see April 3, 1999), so presumably a comparison of his photo from that application with other photos would reveal that “bin Yousaf” and bin Attash are one and the same person. However, apparently no check is made for any US visa of “bin Yousaf,” even after he is watchlisted to prevent him from coming into the US, which would require a visa. Had a check been made, it would have been discovered that he applied for a visa at the same time as both Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see April 3-7, 1999), the very people who have been watchlisted together with him. Presumably, discovering that Alhazmi and Almihdhar had applied for US visas with one of the Cole masterminds would have greatly increased the urgency of finding them. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 538; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 248, 300-3 pdf file) The US missed other opportunities to learn more about this alias (see After January 8, 2000 and After December 16, 2000).

Hijacker Khalid Almihdhar buys his 9/11 plane ticket on-line using a credit card; hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi does the same two days later, and also buys a ticket for his brother Salem (see August 25-September 5, 2001). Both men were put on a terrorist watch list on August 23 (see August 23, 2001), but the watch list only means they will be stopped if trying to enter or leave the US. There is another watch list that applies to domestic flights that some of their associates are on, but they are only placed on the international watch list (see April 24, 2000). Procedures are in place for law enforcement agencies to share watch list information with airlines and airports and such sharing is common, but the FAA and the airlines are not notified about this case, so the purchases raise no red flags. (Lichtblau 9/20/2001; US Congress 9/26/2002) An official later states that had the FAA been properly warned, “they should have been picked up in the reservation process.” (Washington Post 10/2/2002) On September 4 and 5, 2001, an FBI agent will attempt to find Alhazmi and Almihdhar in the US, but will fail to conduct a simple credit card check that should have revealed these purchases (see September 4-5, 2001).

The NSA’s representative to the FBI asks the NSA for permission to pass intelligence information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to FBI criminal agents investigating the bombing of the USS Cole and permission is granted the same day, but FBI headquarters does not forward this information to the Cole investigators. The request is made on behalf of FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, but Corsi does not want the agents to launch a criminal investigation to find Almihdhar in the US—she believes the information will be useful to them because of Almihdhar’s connection to the Cole bombing. The information identifies Almihdhar as an “Islamic extremist” and says that he traveled to Kuala Lumpur, where he met an associate named Nawaf (see January 5-8, 2000). This links Almihdhar to the Cole bombing because the FBI thinks one of the bombers, Fahad al-Quso, may have traveled to Kuala Lumpur at the same time as Almihdhar. Although the 9/11 Commission will say that Corsi “had permission to share the information” with the Cole investigators, she apparently does not do so, even though it is clear from conversations they have around this time that they want it (see August 28, 2001, and August 28, 2001, August 28-29, 2001, and August 29, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 271, 539; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 276-7, 283, 286, 294, 304 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file)

The FBI’s Minneapolis field office has submitted a memorandum to the Radical Fundamental Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters for a search warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 23-27, 2001). Before it is submitted, RFU agent Mike Maltbie makes several alterations to the memo. In particular, he deletes a key section saying that a CIA officer had described Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab, to whom Moussaoui was connected, as an associate of bin Laden. He deletes this even though the FBI was recently warned that bin Laden and Ibn Khattab may be working together on attacks against US interests (see Before April 13, 2001). However, Minneapolis FBI agent Greg Jones objects in a lengthy e-mail that “we are setting this up for failure if we don’t have the foreign power connection firmly established for the initial review.” Jones also complains about other changes made by Maltbie, including:
bullet Maltbie changes a statement about Moussaoui “preparing himself to fight” to one saying he and an associate “train together in defensive tactics.”
bullet Maltbie changes the sentence, “Moussaoui was unable to give a convincing explanation for his paying $8300 for 747-400 training,” to “Moussaoui would give an explanation for his paying $8300 in cash for 747-700 flight simulation training.”
bullet Maltbie changes a statement that Moussaoui has no convincing explanation for the large sums of money he had to “Moussaoui would not explain the large sums of money known to have been in his possession.”
Maltbie responds by saying that they will attempt to put something together for the foreign power requirement and by changing some, but not all of the sections Jones complains about. However, Minneapolis is still unhappy and the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will state that after Jones’ complaints are taken into consideration the memo is only “slightly less persuasive.” The key section about Chechnya is not reinstated, but Moussaoui’s links to Chechnya are discussed at the relevant meeting with an attorney about the request (see August 28, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 161-4, 209-211 pdf file)

FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi asks the FBI’s New York field office to open an intelligence investigation into future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and locate him in the US. Corsi’s written request mentions Almihdhar’s arrival in the US in July 2001 (see July 4, 2001), his previous travel to the US in January 2000 with Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 15, 2000), his attendance at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), his association with an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001), and similarities between his travel and that of Fahad al-Quso, Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras), and Khallad bin Attash (see January 13, 2000), operatives involved in the bombing of the USS Cole. Corsi does not mention that the CIA knows bin Attash also attended the Malaysia summit, as this information has not officially been passed to the FBI yet. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 304 pdf file)

Mike Maltbie and Rita Flack of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) forward a request for a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 21, 2001) to National Security Law Unit chief Spike Bowman. The request was submitted by the Minneapolis field office (see August 22-28, 2001), which has been trying to obtain a warrant for some time. Earlier in the day, Maltbie edited the request, removing information connecting Moussaoui to al-Qaeda through a rebel group in Chechnya (see August 28, 2001). RFU chief Dave Frasca was to attend the meeting, but is called away at the last minute. According to Bowman, who is already very familiar with the facts in this case, Maltbie is adamant that there is not enough evidence to issue the warrant. Bowman agrees, saying that the evidence fails to implicate Moussaoui as an agent of a foreign power. The FBI thus abandons the effort to obtain a FISA warrant and begins planning his deportation (see (August 30-September 10, 2001)). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 164-6, 168 pdf file; US Department of Justice 3/1/2006 pdf file)

Steve Bongardt, an FBI criminal agent investigating the bombing of the USS Cole, receives an e-mail from FBI headquarters asking the FBI’s New York office to start looking for future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar under an intelligence investigation, but is forced to delete it following an argument with headquarters. The e-mail was not addressed to Bongardt, but forwarded to him by a supervisor, possibly in error. However, Bongardt calls Dina Corsi, the headquarters agent who wrote the e-mail, and expresses his surprise at the information contained in it, saying: “Dina, you got to be kidding me! Almihdhar is in the country?” He tells her the search should be conducted as a criminal investigation, not an intelligence investigation. Corsi incorrectly replies that the “wall” prevents the search from being carried out by criminal agents (see Early 1980s and July 19, 1995), as the investigation requires intelligence from the NSA that criminal agents cannot have, and she forces Bongardt to delete the e-mail from his computer (see August 29, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 271; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 304 pdf file; Wright 2006, pp. 353)

FBI New York agent Steve Bongardt, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, and acting FBI Osama bin Laden unit head Rod Middleton, who is Corsi’s supervisor, discuss whether the search for future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar should be an intelligence or criminal investigation. Bongardt argues that the search should be a criminal investigation because of Almihdhar’s connection to the bombing of the USS Cole and because more agents could be assigned to a criminal investigation. (Note: the office only has one rookie intelligence agent available.) He also says a criminal investigation would have better tools, such as grand jury subpoenas, which are faster and easier to obtain than the tools in an intelligence investigation. Corsi and Middleton say that the “wall” prevents the intelligence information necessary for the case being shared with criminal investigators, so the search must be an intelligence investigation. (Note: Corsi and Middleton are wrong (see August 29, 2001).) Bongardt is unhappy with this and requests an opinion from the Justice Department’s national security law unit (see August 28-29, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 307 pdf file)

FBI headquarters agents Dina Corsi and Rod Middleton contact Justice Department lawyer Sherry Sabol to ask her opinion on the search for 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, but Sabol will later say that Corsi misrepresents her advice to other agents. Corsi contacts Sabol, an attorney at the national security law unit, to ask her about legal restrictions on the search for Almihdhar, because of an argument she has had with New York agent Steve Bongardt about whether the search should be an intelligence or criminal investigation (see August 28, 2001 and August 28, 2001). Corsi will later tell Bongardt that Sabol told her that the information needed for the investigation cannot be passed on to criminal agents at the FBI, only intelligence agents, and that if Almihdhar is located, a criminal agent cannot be present at an interview. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 307-8 pdf file) Corsi’s understanding of the issue is wrong, and the “wall,” which restricted the passage of some intelligence information to criminal agents at the FBI, does not prevent the information in question being shared with criminal agents (see August 29, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will comment that Corsi “appears to have misunderstood the complex rules that could apply to the situation.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 271) In addition, Sabol will later insist that her advice was very different than what Corsi claims it is. She will deny saying a criminal agent could not interview Almihdhar, arguing that she would not have given such inaccurate advice. She will also say the caveat on the intelligence information from the NSA would not have stopped criminal agents getting involved and, in any case, the NSA would have waived the caveat if asked. (Note: the NSA did so at Corsi’s request just one day earlier (see August 27-28, 2001), but presumably Corsi does not tell Sabol this.) (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 271) Larry Parkinson, the FBI’s general counsel at this time, will later say there was no legal bar to a criminal agent being present at an interview and that he would be shocked if Sabol had actually told Corsi this. (9/11 Commission 2/24/2004) Furthermore, Corsi apparently does not tell Sabol that Almihdhar is in the US illegally. The illegal entry is a crime and means criminal FBI agents can search for him (see August 29, 2001).

Although the FBI is aware that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar lied in an application for a visa on which he entered the US the previous month (see July 4, 2001), it does not fully realize that this means his entry into the US was illegal. If the FBI realized this, it would be able to open a criminal investigation to locate Almihdhar, instead of an intelligence investigation. The New York office, which conducts the search for him, would have preferred a criminal investigation, as more agents could have worked on it, possibly allowing the office to locate Almihdhar before and stop 9/11. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will remark after 9/11: “Thus, there was a clear basis to charge Almihdhar criminally with false statements or visa fraud. Significantly, this information had been provided to the FBI without the restrictive caveats placed on NSA reports and other intelligence information. As a result, if Almihdhar had been found, he could have been arrested and charged with a criminal violation based on the false statements on his visa application. However, the FBI did not seem to notice this when deciding whether to use criminal or intelligence resources to locate Almihdhar.” Almihdhar’s passport also lacks an expiry date and he is a terrorist posing as a tourist (see July 4, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 351 pdf file)

FBI agent Robert Fuller in 2009.FBI agent Robert Fuller in 2009. [Source: Associated Press]The FBI’s New York office opens a full field intelligence investigation to locate Khalid Almihdhar. New York FBI agent Robert Fuller, new to the international terrorism squad, is the only person assigned to the task. The New York office had been given a “heads up alert” about Almihdhar on August 23, but the search only begins after the FBI decides on August 28 to conduct an intelligence investigation instead of a criminal investigation (see August 29, 2001). Another agent had labeled the search request “routine,” meaning that Fuller has 30 days to find his target. However, Fuller will be busy with another matter and won’t begin work on finding Almihdhar until September 4 (see September 4-5, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004)

According to author Lawrence Wright, on this day there is a conference call between FBI field agent Steve Bongardt, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, and a CIA supervisor at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, who tells Bongardt to stand down in the search for future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Corsi and Bongardt have been arguing over whether the search for Almihdhar in the US should be a criminal or intelligence investigation (see August 28, 2001 and August 28, 2001), and the CIA supervisor apparently sides with Corsi, saying the search should be an intelligence investigation, and so Bongardt, a criminal agent, cannot be involved in it. Bongardt is angry with this and remarks, “If this guy [Almihdhar] is in the country, it’s not because he’s going to f___ing Disneyland!” (Wright 2006, pp. 353-4) However, there will be no mention of this conversation in the 9/11 Commission Report or the Justice Department’s report into the FBI’s performance before 9/11. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 271; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 306-7 pdf file) According to the Justice Department report, there is a similar conference call between Bongardt, Corsi, and her supervisor at the FBI around this time (see August 28, 2001). It is possible Wright is confusing the supervisor of the CIA’s bin Laden unit with the supervisor of the FBI’s bin Laden unit, meaning that the CIA supervisor is not involved in this argument.

The FBI opens an intelligence investigation to find future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, despite protests from the FBI New York field office that FBI headquarters has wrongly insisted on an intelligence investigation, when a criminal investigation would be more appropriate and have a better chance of finding him. The Justice Department’s office of inspector general will later conclude that “the designation of the Almihdhar matter as an intelligence investigation, as opposed to a criminal investigation, undermined the priority of any effort to locate Almihdhar.” Upon learning of the decision, Steve Bongardt, an investigator working on the USS Cole bombing investigation, writes to headquarters agent Dina Corsi to express his frustration. He points out that she is unable to produce any solid documentary evidence to support her view of the “wall,” a mechanism that restricts the passage of some intelligence information to criminal agents at the FBI (see Early 1980s and July 19, 1995), and that her interpretation of the “wall” is at odds with the purpose for which it was established. He adds: “Whatever has happened to this—someday someone will die—and wall or not—the public will not understand why we were not more effective and throwing every resource we had at certain ‘problems.’ Let’s hope the [Justice Department’s] National Security Law Unit will stand behind their decisions then, especially since the biggest threat to us now, UBL [Osama bin Laden], is getting the most ‘protection.’” (US Congress 9/20/2002; Firestone and Risen 9/21/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 307-9 pdf file; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) Both the Justice Department’s office of inspector general and the 9/11 Commission will later back Bongardt and say the investigation should have been a criminal investigation, as the “wall” procedures did not apply. The inspector general will comment that Bongardt “was correct that the wall had been created to deal with the handling of only [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] information and that there was no legal barrier to a criminal agent being present for an interview with Almihdhar if it occurred in the intelligence investigation.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 351 pdf file) The 9/11 Commission will remark that Corsi “misunderstood” the wall and that, “Simply put, there was no legal reason why the information [Corsi] possessed could not have been shared with [Bongardt].” It will conclude: “It is now clear that everyone involved was confused about the rules governing the sharing and use of information gathered in intelligence channels. Because Almihdhar was being sought for his possible connection to or knowledge of the Cole bombing, he could be investigated or tracked under the existing Cole criminal case. No new criminal case was needed for the criminal agent to begin searching for [him]. And as the NSA had approved the passage of its information to the criminal agent, he could have conducted a search using all available information. As a result of this confusion, the criminal agents who were knowledgeable about al-Qaeda and experienced with criminal investigative techniques, including finding suspects and possible criminal charges, were thus excluded from the search.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 271, 539)

The CIA finally tells the FBI that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash attended an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 with future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 5-8, 2000). The CIA monitored the meeting and has known that bin Attash attended it for at least eight months (see January 4, 2001), but repeatedly failed to tell the FBI of this (see Shortly Before February 1, 2001, February 1, 2001, Mid-May 2001, and June 11, 2001). The CIA will later say that it thought the FBI knew of the identification in January 2001 (see January 5, 2001 and After), but a CIA manager asked for permission to pass the information to the FBI in July 2001, implying he knew the FBI did not have the information (see July 13, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 298, 305, 310 pdf file) In addition, the text of the notifiction states, “We wish to advise you that, during a previously scheduled meeting with our joint source,” bin Attash was identified in a surveillance photo. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 150 pdf file) The cable containing the information is for Rodney Middleton, acting head of the FBI’s bin Laden unit, and also says that, if the FBI thinks it does not have all the photographs it needs of the Malaysia summit, it should ask the CIA for them. Middleton is aware that the FBI is investigating Almihdhar (see August 29, 2001), but there is no record of him or anyone else providing this information to either the agent investigating Almihdhar or the main investigation of the USS Cole bombing, which bin Attash commanded. The information was requested by FBI agent Dina Corsi and was passed through a CIA Counterterrorist Center representative to the FBI, presumably Tom Wilshire. Although one of bin Attash’s aliases was watchlisted one week ago (see August 23, 2001), he is not watchlisted under his real name even at this point, meaning the commander of the USS Cole attack can enter the US under his own name as he pleases. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 298, 305, 310 pdf file)

Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service for 24 years, is replaced. No explanation is given. He is replaced by Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz, his nephew and the king’s brother, who has “no background in intelligence whatsoever.” (Agence France-Presse 8/31/2001; Henderson 10/22/2001; Seattle Times 10/29/2001) The Wall Street Journal later reports: “The timing of Turki’s removal—August 31—and his Taliban connection raise the question: Did the Saudi regime know that bin Laden was planning his attack against the US? The current view among Saudi-watchers is probably not, but that the House of Saud might have heard rumors that something was planned, although they did not know what or when. (An interesting and possibly significant detail: Prince Sultan, the defense minister, had been due to visit Japan in early September, but canceled his trip for no apparent reason less than two days before an alleged planned departure.)” (Henderson 10/22/2001) It will later come out that Turki’s removal takes place during a time of great turmoil in the relationship between the US and Saudi Arabia, though it is not known if there is a connection (see August 27, 2001, August 29-September 6, 2001, and September 6, 2001). Turki is later sued in August 2002 for his role in 9/11 (see August 15, 2002), and is later appointed ambassador to Britain (see October 18, 2002) and then ambassador to the US (see August 21, 2005).

CIA Director George Tenet will claim in his 2007 book that “a group of assets from a Middle Eastern service” is unknowingly working for the CIA by this time. Out of the more than twenty people in this group, one third are working against al-Qaeda. By September 2001, two assets have successfully penetrated al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. (Tenet 2007, pp. 145) The name of the Middle Eastern country is not known. It is also not known when this group first started working for the CIA nor when the assets first penetrated the camps. Nor has it been reported what information these assets may have shared with the CIA before 9/11. It is known that bin Laden was dropping hints about the upcoming 9/11 attacks to training camp trainees in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001). Further, US citizen John Walker Lindh was told details of the 9/11 attacks within weeks of joining a training camp that summer (see May-June 2001).

Said Bahaji at his 1999 wedding.Said Bahaji at his 1999 wedding. [Source: Public domain]Members of Mohamed Atta’s Hamburg al-Qaeda cell leave Germany for Pakistan. Said Bahaji flies out of Hamburg on September 3, 2001, using his real name. (Crewdson, Swanson, and Simpson 2/25/2003) German intelligence already has Bahaji under surveillance, and German border guards are under orders to report if he leaves the country, yet the border guards fail to note his departure (see September 3, 2001). (Schrom and Laabs 2/2/2003) German agents later discover two other passengers on the same flight traveling with false passports who stay in the same room with Bahaji when they arrive in Karachi, Pakistan. (McDermott 9/1/2002) Investigators now believe his flight companions were Ismail Bin Murabit (a.k.a. Ismail Ben Mrabete) and Labed Ahmed (a.k.a. Ahmed Taleb), both Algerians in their late 40s. Three more associates—Mohammed Belfatmi, an Algerian extremist from the Tarragona region of Spain, and the brothers Mohammad Sarwar Joia and Patrick Joia—also travel on the same plane. (Crewdson, Swanson, and Simpson 2/25/2003; Crewdson, Swanson, and Simpson 2/25/2003) Ramzi bin al-Shibh flies out of Germany on September 5 and stays in Spain a few days before presumably heading for Pakistan (see September 5, 2001). (McDermott 9/1/2002) Some of these men are reported to meet in Karachi around this time, possibly with others (see September 4-5, 2001).

White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke sends a memo to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in which he warns that hundreds of Americans could die in an attack by al-Qaeda and complains that the Bush administration is not doing enough to combat the threat posed by the terrorist network. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; Eggen and Pincus 3/25/2004) The National Security Council’s principals committee—a group of senior officials who advise the president on issues of national security policy—is set to meet today to discuss al-Qaeda. Before the meeting takes place, Clarke sends a memo to Rice in which he criticizes US counterterrorism efforts.
Al-Qaeda Could Kill 'Hundreds of Americans' - The “real question” before the members of the principals committee, Clarke writes in the memo, is, “[A]re we serious about dealing with the al-Qaeda threat?” He suggests: “Decision makers should imagine themselves on a future day when the [White House Counterterrorism Security Group] has not succeeded in stopping al-Qaeda attacks and hundreds of Americans lay dead in several countries, including the US. What would those decision makers wish that they had done earlier?” “That future day could happen at any time,” he adds.
Clarke Complains about the Lack of Response to the USS Cole Bombing - Clarke criticizes the US military for failing to respond to the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). “Many in al-Qaeda and the Taliban may have drawn the wrong lesson from the Cole: that they can kill Americans without there being a US response, without there being a price,” he writes. He states that he cannot understand “why we continue to allow the existence of large-scale al-Qaeda bases where we know people are being trained to kill Americans.”
Clarke Warns of a Possible 'Big Attack, with Lots of Casualties' - Clarke complains that without adequate funding: “You are left with a modest effort to swat flies, to try to prevent specific al-Qaeda attacks by using [intelligence] to detect them, and friendly governments’ police and intelligence officers to stop them. You are left waiting for the big attack, with lots of casualties, after which some major US retaliation will be in order.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 212-213)
Rice Later Says Memo Is 'Not a Warning about September 11th' - Rice will later say of Clarke’s memo: “It would not be appropriate or correct to characterize what Dick [Clarke] wrote to me on September 4th as a warning of an impending attack. What he was doing was, I think, trying to buck me up so that when I went into this principals meeting, I was sufficiently on guard against the kind of bureaucratic inertia that he had fought all of his life.” The memo, she will say, “was a warning to me not to get dragged down by the bureaucracy, not a warning about September 11th.” (9/11 Commission 4/8/2004) The principals committee’s meeting today is the committee’s first meeting on al-Qaeda issues. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 212) Clarke had “urgently” called for such a meeting back in January this year (see January 25, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 237)

An identity card of Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi used in some of these transactions.An identity card of Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi used in some of these transactions. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]The hijackers in the US return money to Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, one of their facilitators in the United Arab Emirates:
bullet September 4: Hijacker Mohamed Atta sends al-Hawsawi a FedEx package from Florida. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file) The package contains hijacker Fayez Ahmed Banihammad’s ATM card and checkbook. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 10 pdf file) The FedEx bill will be found shortly after 9/11 in the trash at the hotel Atta stays at on the night before 9/11 (see September 11-13, 2001);
bullet September 5: $8,000 is wired from Banihammad’s SunTrust bank account to his bank account in the United Arab Emirates, to which al-Hawsawi has access (see June 25, 2001);
bullet September 8: Mohamed Atta sends $2,860 to “Mustafa Ahmed” from a Western Union office in Laurel, Maryland;
bullet September 8: Later that day Atta sends another $5,000 to “Mustafa Ahmed” from another Western Union office in the same town;
bullet September 9: Hijacker Waleed Alshehri sends $5,000 to “Ahamad Mustafa” from a Western Union office at Logan Airport in Boston;
bullet September 10: Hijacker Marwan Alshehhi sends $5,400 to “Mustafa Ahmad” from a Western Union office at the Greyhound Bus Station in Boston;
bullet September 10: Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Hani Hanjour use the name “Rawf Al Dog” to send an express mail package from Laurel, Maryland, to Sharjah, United Arab Emirates. When the FBI intercepts the package at Dulles Airport after 9/11, they find it contains the debit card and PIN for Khalid Almihdhar’s First Union Bank account, which has a balance of $9,838.31. (MSNBC 12/11/2001; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 75 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 76 pdf file)
Atta, Alshehhi, and Alshehri also call al-Hawsawi at this time to give him the numbers for the money they are sending. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 10 pdf file) Although al-Hawsawi admits receiving this money in a substitution for testimony at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui in 2006 and again at a Guantanamo Bay hearing (see March 21, 2007), some detainees are apparently subjected to torture, which has led some to doubt the reliability and validity of their statements (see June 16, 2004). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 10 pdf file; US department of Defense 3/21/2007 pdf file)

Ben Soltane Adel, a Tunisian detained in Milan, Italy, for belonging to an extremist cell (see January 24, 2001), receives a letter from a fellow militant. The envelope contains an empty chewing gum wrapper. The wrapper is from Brooklyn Gum, a popular Italian brand that features a picture of the Brooklyn Bridge, so presumably it is a hint to Adel about the 9/11 targets. Prison guards notice the wrapper when they open the envelope and think it odd. However, they do not realize the full significance of it until five days later. (Vidino 2006, pp. 226) Some Islamist militants in Milan appear to have foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks around this time (see September 7, 2001) and September 4, 2001). In January 2001, Adel was monitored talking about using forged documents to help the “brothers who are going to the United States” with Mahmoud Es Sayed, one of the people in Italy who seems to know about the 9/11 plot (see January 24, 2001 and August 12, 2000).
Release and Imprisoned Again - In early 2004, Adel will be released after serving a three and a half year sentence in Italy, and then deported to Tunisia. In June 2007, it will be reported that he is on a UN al-Qaeda and Taliban blacklist, and he is imprisoned in Tunisia. (Isle of Man Customs Division 6/11/2007)


Father Jean-Marie Benjamin.
Father Jean-Marie Benjamin. [Source: Public domain]At a wedding in Todi, Italy, Father Jean-Marie Benjamin is told of a plot to attack the US and Britain using hijacked airplanes as weapons. He is not told specifics regarding time or place. He immediately passes what he knows to a judge and several politicians. He later will state, “Although I am friendly with many Muslims, I wondered why they were telling me, specifically. I felt it my duty to inform the Italian government.” Benjamin has been called “one of the West’s most knowledgeable experts on the Muslim world.” Two days after 9/11, he will meet with the Italian Foreign Minister on this topic. He will say he learned the attack on Britain failed at the last minute. (Zenit (Vatican) 9/16/2001) An al-Qaeda cell based in nearby Milan, Italy, appears to have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see August 12, 2000) and (see January 24, 2001). It is not known if the Italian government warns the US government of this latest warning before 9/11.

A training exercise is held at New York’s La Guardia Airport, based around the scenario of a terrorist attack with a biological weapon. Mark Edelman, chief external relations officer of the Greater New York chapter of the American Red Cross, will later say the Greater New York chapter has been preparing for the possibility of a biological terrorist attack since the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995). And today—“the very Saturday before September 11”—there is “a bioterror drill at La Guardia Airport,” he will add. Details of what the exercise involves are unstated. Whether any agencies other than the Red Cross participate in the exercise is also unstated. (Philanthropy News Digest 12/7/2001) La Guardia Airport is located eight miles from midtown Manhattan in the borough of Queens, New York, and is operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. (Braun and Gjorgievska 7/27/2015; Malo 7/27/2015) Another exercise is being held there today by the New York City Fire Department Bureau of Emergency Medical Services, which is based around a simulated plane crash (see September 8, 2001). (Asaeda 3/2002)

National Security Adviser Rice, upset with a media leak, orders an investigation that will uncover evidence of widespread Israeli spying in the US. The Saudis had recently threatened to end their close alliance with the US (see August 27, 2001 and August 29-September 6, 2001), and on September 6, 2001, President Bush held a meeting attended by Rice and others to work on how to appease Saudi concerns (see September 6, 2001). Just three days after the meeting, there is a story by Jane Perlez in the New York Times accurately detailing what was discussed in the meeting. It will later be reported that Rice is furious about the leak to Perlez and immediately demands a clampdown on leakers. The determination to improve secrecy increases in the wake of the 9/11 attacks. This leak investigation focuses on Israelis in the US. No one is ever prosecuted for the leak to Perlez, but the investigation will takes on a life of its own and continue for years. (Perlez 9/9/2001; Kampeas and Berger 5/17/2005; Rozen 7/14/2005) It appears the FBI had been investigating Israeli spying in the US since at least 1999 (see April 13, 1999-2004), and there are reports of a discovery of a “massive” Israeli spy operation in the US in 2001 (see 2001) and/or the discovery of the Israeli art student spy ring (see March 23, 2001 and June 2001). It is unclear if there is any connection between these investigations and this media link investigation or not.

David O. Cooke.David O. Cooke. [Source: US Department of Defense]Some Pentagon Renovation Program workers are concerned about the possibility of a plane being deliberately crashed into the Pentagon. This is according to Stacie Condrell, the leader of the Pentagon Renovation Program’s planning, relocation, requirements integration, standards, and space management group. Condrell will say, shortly after 9/11, that although the emergency response to an attack on the Pentagon was not part of its area of responsibility, her group had been “involved, as builders, in what we can do to be smarter and better prepared against things like” the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon.
Workers Contemplate a 'Crazy Pilot' Crashing a Plane into the Pentagon - She will say that, before 9/11, “the particular plane incident” her group thought might happen would involve “one of the regularly scheduled US Air commuter flights from North Carolina that flies directly over the center courtyard [of the Pentagon] 10 or 12 times a day.” This plane “would have a crazy pilot who would crash into the building.” The reason her group had this concern, Condrell will say, is that “all of the people specifically involved in analyzing the physical threat to our environment”—such as the secretary of defense, the other military secretaries, and members of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the Defense Protective Service—“mention over and over again that [the Pentagon is] the only national military headquarters in the world that allows commercial overflight.” (Condrell 10/30/2001 pdf file)
Administrator Considers the Possibility of a Plane Hitting the Pentagon - David O. “Doc” Cooke, the Pentagon’s director of administration and management, will similarly say that the event of a plane being deliberately crashed into the Pentagon is seen as a possibility before 9/11. He will say that ways in which the Pentagon might be attacked that are considered possible include “a small aircraft, probably containing explosives, which would either drop the explosive or possibly dive into the building.” (Cooke 10/18/2001 pdf file)
An Explosion outside the Pentagon Is Seen as the Biggest Threat - However, Lee Evey, manager of the Pentagon Renovation Program from November 1997, will say that an attack involving an explosion outside the building is considered the biggest danger to the Pentagon. When asked what he had considered the most likely threat to the Pentagon before 9/11, he will say that a “blast”—meaning an external explosion—“as a threat to the building was very much on our minds.” He will add that the Oklahoma City and Khobar Towers bombings in 1995 and 1996, respectively (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995 and June 25, 1996), “really influenced our thinking.” (Evey 10/22/2001 pdf file) Due to this concern, around 1997 or 1998, the Army Corps of Engineers performs simulations to measure how much damage the Pentagon would suffer if a truck bomb exploded outside it. (Glatz 12/7/2001 pdf file; Vogel 2007, pp. 417) The Pentagon Renovation Program, which began in the early 1990s, involves a complete overhaul of the interior of the Pentagon. (Wood 9/30/2005) From 1998, upgrading security at the Pentagon is one of its priorities. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 6)

An Echelon station in Menwith Hill, Britain.An Echelon station in Menwith Hill, Britain. [Source: BBC]By the 1980s, a high-tech global electronic surveillance network shared between the US, Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand is gathering intelligence all over the world. The BBC describes Echelon’s power as “astounding,” and elaborates: “Every international telephone call, fax, e-mail, or radio transmission can be listened to by powerful computers capable of voice recognition. They home in on a long list of key words, or patterns of messages. They are looking for evidence of international crime, like terrorism.” (Bomford 11/3/1999) One major focus for Echelon before 9/11 is al-Qaeda. For instance, one account mentions Echelon intercepting al-Qaeda communications in Southeast Asia in 1996 (see Before September 11, 2001). A staff member of the National Security Council who regularly attends briefings on bin Laden states, “We are probably tapped into every hotel room in Pakistan. We can listen in to just about every phone call in Afghanistan.” However, he and other critics will claim one reason why US intelligence failed to stop terrorism before 9/11 was because there was too much of a focus on electronic intelligence gathering and not enough focus on human interpretation of that vast data collection. (Brzezinski 2/2/2002)

In a 2007 book, CIA Director George Tenet will say, “As a result of the intelligence community’s efforts, in concert with our foreign partners, by September 11, Afghanistan was covered in human and technical operations.” Tenet claims:
bullet The CIA is working with eight separate Afghan tribal networks.
bullet The CIA has “more than 100 recruited sources inside Afghanistan.”
bullet Satellites are repositioned over Afghanistan.
bullet Al-Qaeda training camps are systematically mapped.
bullet Efforts are stepped up to closely monitor news about al-Qaeda in the media around the world.
bullet “Major collection facilities” are placed on the borders of Afghanistan.
bullet Other “conventional and innovative collection methods” are used to penetrate al-Qaeda worldwide.
bullet According to Tenet, “Leadership of the FBI [is] given full transparency” into the CIA’s efforts. (Tenet 2007, pp. 120-121) Tenet has not explained how the CIA managed to miss learning about the 9/11 attacks if this is so, given that a major attack was being widely discussed in Afghanistan training camps in the months before 9/11 (see Summer 2001).

National Security Adviser Rice is scheduled to deliver a speech claiming to address “the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday.” The speech is never given due to the 9/11 attacks earlier in the day, but the text is later leaked to the media. The Washington Post calls the speech “telling Insight into the administration’s thinking” because it promotes missile defense and contains no mention of al-Qaeda, bin Laden, or Islamic extremist groups. The only mention of terrorism is in the context of the danger of rogue nations such as Iraq. In fact, there are almost no public mentions of bin Laden or al-Qaeda by Bush or other top Bush administration officials before 9/11, and the focus instead is on missile defense. (Wright 4/1/2004; unknown 4/1/2004)

Kirk Lippold.Kirk Lippold. [Source: CNN]At the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, three senior CIA officers—John Russack, Don Kerr, and Charlie Allen—are having breakfast with Navy Commander Kirk Lippold. Lippold was the commanding officer of the USS Cole when it was attacked in Yemen the previous year (see October 12, 2000). The men’s discussion is focused on terrorism. Lippold is upset that the American public still does not recognize the threat it poses, and says that it will take a “seminal event” to awaken them to the problem. Following the breakfast, Lippold heads to the Counterterrorist Center at CIA headquarters for some briefings. Just minutes later, after the WTC is hit, Charlie Allen will contact Lippold and tell him, “The seminal event just happened.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 162-163)

The US Strategic Command command center.The US Strategic Command command center. [Source: US Strategic Command]At the time the attacks in New York occur, a small group of business leaders are having breakfast at Offutt Air Force Base in Omaha, Nebraska, where the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) is headquartered. With them is Admiral Richard Mies, the commander in chief of Stratcom. They are in town for an annual charity fundraiser event due to take place later in the day, hosted by the multi-billionaire Warren Buffett. Along with other visitors who have come for the fundraiser, they are scheduled to tour the Stratcom underground command center, located 60 feet below Offutt, and receive an unclassified mission briefing. According to the Omaha World-Herald, staff members have left the command center in advance of their visit. It is only after the second attack occurs, at 9:03, that Admiral Mies excuses himself from the breakfast and the battle staff reconvenes in the center. (Leuty 2/1/2002; Dejka 2/27/2002) It is unclear what effect the absence of Mies and the members of the battle staff have upon the military’s ability to respond effectively to the first attacks. However, the command center does have significant capabilities that would, presumably, be of much use under such a crisis. Stratcom is the military command responsible for the readiness of America’s nuclear forces. (Arkin 2005, pp. 59) The Lincoln Journal Star describes its underground command center as “a military nerve center that collects and assesses information from high-tech ‘eyes and ears’ across—and above—the globe.” (Walton 10/25/2000) The cavernous room has eight giant video screens and complex communications systems. (Ruff 2/21/2002; Dejka 2/27/2002) Stratcom itself states that the senior controller in the command center “has a direct line to the National Military Command Center in Washington, DC, and to the other major command headquarters.” This system, called the Joint Chiefs of Staff Alerting Network, allows the commander in chief of Stratcom to make “prompt contact with the president, the secretary of defense, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other unified commanders.” Furthermore, “Through satellites and radio networks (VLF, LF, UHF and HF), the command center can communicate with aircraft in flight over any part of the world. A principal purpose of these networks is to pass National Command Authority [i.e. the president and secretary of defense] orders to the alert forces.” While only the president can order nuclear strikes, the commander in chief of Stratcom “can launch aircraft for survival.” (United States Strategic Command 6/22/2001) With the command center’s sophisticated capabilities, after Mies returns to it from his breakfast, the eight video screens there are “loaded up with data,” providing him with “the latest information on the unfolding drama.” (Dejka 2/27/2002) And at the time President Bush arrives at Offutt, later in the day (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001), the battle staff in the center will reportedly be “watching the skies over the United States” and “tracking a commercial airliner on its way from Spain to the United States.” (Balz and Woodward 1/27/2002; Kohn 9/11/2002)

Bruce Baughman.Bruce Baughman. [Source: Elise Moore / FEMA]Bruce Baughman, director of the planning and readiness division of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), takes charge at FEMA headquarters in Washington, DC, because more senior FEMA officials, including the agency’s director, are away from the capital. FEMA Director Joseph Allbaugh and Lacy Suiter, FEMA’s assistant director of readiness, response, and recovery, are in Big Sky, Montana, attending the annual conference of the National Emergency Management Association (see September 8-11, 2001 and After 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Baughman, who led FEMA’s response to the Oklahoma City bombing in April 1995 (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), therefore has to take charge of FEMA’s response to today’s terrorist attacks. In this capacity, he is responsible for activating FEMA’s emergency operations center, dispatching disaster medical personnel to the scenes of the attacks, and establishing emergency communications for New York. After the Twin Towers come down (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001 and 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001), he calls up the first FEMA urban search and rescue teams, which specialize in rescuing people from collapsed structures. (Block and Cooper 2006, pp. 73-75) He will subsequently personally brief President Bush on three days while response operations are underway. (9/11 Commission 11/17/2003 pdf file)
FEMA Will Help Local Agencies Respond to the Attacks - In May, Bush put FEMA in charge of responding to terrorist attacks in the United States (see May 8, 2001). (White House 5/8/2001; Gerstenzang 5/9/2001) The agency therefore plays a key role in the government’s response to today’s attacks. The emergency response team at its headquarters is activated today, along with all 10 of its regional operations centers. It also activates its federal response plan, which, it states, “brings together 28 federal agencies and the American Red Cross to assist local and state governments in response to national emergencies and disasters.” It deploys eight urban search and rescue teams to New York to search for victims in the debris from the collapsed World Trade Center buildings, and four urban search and rescue teams to the Pentagon to assist the response there. These teams consist mainly of local emergency services personnel, and are trained and equipped to handle structural collapses. (Federal Emergency Management Agency 9/11/2001; Federal Emergency Management Agency 9/11/2001; US National Response Team 2014, pp. 2 pdf file) In the days and weeks following the attacks, it will work with state and city officials to carry out the task of removing the debris from the WTC site. (Block and Cooper 2006, pp. 75)

Michael Allen Noeth.Michael Allen Noeth. [Source: Associated Press / Army Times]Personnel in the Navy Command Center at the Pentagon, which is located on the first floor of the building’s southwest face, learn of the attack on the WTC from television reports. The center is tasked with constantly monitoring global current events and also monitoring the latest status of all US Naval assets around the world. Its employees have to keep Navy leaders in Washington up to date on what is happening in the world as it directly relates to Navy operations and other security or military issues. Admiral Timothy Keating, who is the Navy’s director of operations in the Pentagon, describes it as a “nerve center.” Forty to 50 people man it constantly, 24 hours every day. Located within the center is the Chief of Naval Operations Intelligence Plot (CNO-IP), a small, highly secretive intelligence unit that constantly monitors geopolitical developments and military movements that could threaten American forces. The Navy Command Center has just been renovated, and its dozens of employees have been moving in during the past month. According to the Washington Post, the first the Command Center knows of the unfolding crisis is when Petty Officer Michael Allen Noeth sees the scene from the World Trade Center on the TV sets bolted to the wall, and shouts, “My God! What’s happened?” Another employee Lt. Kevin Shaeffer later recalls, “We quickly knew what was going on in New York City after the first plane hit the first tower… and stood up a watch to start logging events and tracking things for the Navy.” (St. Petersburg Times 9/14/2001; Becker, Vogel, and Ruane 9/16/2001; Leiby 1/20/2002; Chips 3/2003) Despite the center supposedly being a “nerve center,” those in it supposedly are not initially aware that this is a terrorist attack. According to Timothy Keating, who is presently in the Navy Command Center receiving his daily briefing, “We were quite bewildered. We couldn’t understand how a pilot could make such a significant navigational error on a day when the skies were crystal clear blue.” (Becker, Vogel, and Ruane 9/16/2001; Garamone 9/11/2006) All 30 people in the Command Center’s main room watch the footage of the WTC on the large televisions there, whispering to each other, “Think it’s an accident?” (Swift 9/7/2002) However, according to the Washington Post, “A few old hands muttered to themselves that the Pentagon was probably next.” (Becker, Vogel, and Ruane 9/16/2001) According to one officer, it is only when the second plane hits the WTC that there will be an “almost instantaneous recognition” that this is a terrorist attack. (Harnden 9/11/2002) By that time, Keating will have gone back to his office. He too supposedly only realizes this is an attack when he sees television showing the second crash. (Garamone 9/11/2006) Much of the Navy Command Center will be destroyed when the Pentagon is hit at 9:37 a.m. Forty-two of the 50 people working in it will be killed. (Leiby 1/20/2002; Kennedy 6/2003)

Michael Rolince.Michael Rolince. [Source: US Army]FBI Director Robert Mueller is alerted to the crash at the World Trade Center during his daily briefing with his senior staff, but he does not initially realize the incident is a terrorist attack. Every morning since Mueller took over as FBI director, just one week ago (see September 4, 2001), the bureau’s leaders have gathered to bring him up to date on their most important investigations. (New Yorker 9/24/2001; Graff 2011, pp. 314-315) The briefing today is taking place in the Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC), on the fifth floor of the FBI’s headquarters in Washington, DC. (9/11 Commission 1/21/2004 pdf file) All of the bureau’s assistant directors are in attendance. (New Yorker 9/24/2001) This morning, the counterterrorism team, headed by Michael Rolince, is giving a presentation on the investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). (Graff 2011, pp. 314-315) Meanwhile, FBI Deputy Director Thomas Pickard, who is in his office at the headquarters, is alerted to what happened in New York by his secretary, who comes in and tells him a plane has just hit the WTC. He turns on the television and sees the coverage of the incident. He then calls Mueller’s secretary and instructs them to get the director out of the SIOC so Mueller can join him in his office. (9/11 Commission 1/21/2004 pdf file) Someone, presumably the secretary, therefore interrupts the briefing in the SIOC and tells its participants about the crash in New York. Mueller apparently does not initially realize a terrorist attack has occurred. “How could a plane not see the tower? It’s so clear out today,” he says. (Graff 2011, pp. 315) He heads to Pickard’s office and enters it at around 9:00 a.m. (9/11 Commission 1/21/2004 pdf file) Some of the other officials at the briefing will subsequently also head to Pickard’s office and they will see the second crash on television there (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (New Yorker 9/24/2001; Graff 2011, pp. 315)

Admiral Richard Mies.
Admiral Richard Mies. [Source: Public domain]Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha, Nebraska, appears to be the headquarters of the US Strategic Command (Stratcom) exercise Global Guardian that is “in full swing” when the 9/11 attacks begin (see 8:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). At least the director of the exercise, Admiral Richard Mies, commander in chief of Stratcom, is at Offutt this morning. Because of Global Guardian, bombers, missile crews, and submarines around America are all being directed from Stratcom’s command center, a steel and concrete reinforced bunker below Offutt. (Arkin 11/12/1997; Ruff 2/21/2002; Dejka 2/27/2002; BBC 9/1/2002; Buttry 9/10/2002) This bunker is staffed with top personnel and they are at a heightened security mode because of the exercise. (Ruff 2/21/2002; Bjorkman 7/2002 pdf file)
'Doomsday' Planes Airborne for Exercise - Because of Global Guardian, three special military command aircraft with sophisticated communications equipment, based at Offutt, are up in the air this morning (see (9:27 a.m.) September 11, 2001, Shortly After 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001, and (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). These E-4B National Airborne Operations Center planes—nicknamed “Doomsday” planes during the Cold War—are intended to control nuclear forces from the air in times of crisis. They are capable of acting as alternative command posts for top government officials from where they can direct US forces, execute war orders, and coordinate the actions of civil authorities in times of national emergency. The federal advisory committee, whose chairman is retired Lieutenant General Brent Scowcroft, is aboard one of these Doomsday planes, being brought to Offutt to observe the exercise (see (Shortly After 9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Global Guardian will reportedly be put on pause at 9:11 a.m. (see 9:11 a.m. September 11, 2001), but not formally terminated until 10:44 a.m. (see (10:44 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and the battle staff at Offutt will switch to “real-world mode” once the attacks are apparent. However, even after Global Guardian is called off, the three E-4Bs will remain airborne. Also this morning, a small group of business leaders are at Offutt because of a charity fundraiser event due to take place later in the day, hosted by the multi-billionaire Warren Buffett (see (8:45 a.m.-9:03 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Dejka 2/27/2002; Bjorkman 7/2002 pdf file; BBC 9/1/2002; Dejka 9/8/2002; Bombardier 9/8/2006 pdf file)

Timothy Keating.Timothy Keating. [Source: Department of Defense]Admiral Timothy Keating, the Navy’s director of operations in the Pentagon, is back in his fourth-floor office for a 9:00 a.m. meeting with Edmund James Hull, the US ambassador-designate to Yemen. Keating has just returned from the Navy Command Center on the Pentagon’s first floor, where he’d received his daily briefing, and where he’d seen the television reports of the first crash at the World Trade Center (see (8:48 a.m.-9:02 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Despite seeing the second plane hitting the WTC on television, Keating and Hull reportedly do not question their own safety at the Pentagon. Though it is now obvious that the US is under attack, they start discussing the upcoming first anniversary of the terrorist attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). In 2002, Keating will recall, “We were discussing the fact that the Cole attack was coming up on a year’s anniversary—those were almost our exact words at the moment the plane impacted [the Pentagon],” which happens at 9:37 a.m. But in 2006, Keating will give a different account, telling Washington Post Radio that, after seeing the second crash on TV, he understands this is an attack. In response, he will claim, he makes some phone calls and is on his way back to the Navy Command Center when the Pentagon is hit. (Peterson 1/2002; Hull 10/2005; Goldberg 9/2006 pdf file; Garamone 9/11/2006) The Command Center will be mostly destroyed in the attack, and 42 of the 50 people working in it will be killed. (Leiby 1/20/2002; Kennedy 6/2003)

Flight 175 hits the WTC South Tower. The picture was taken from a traffic helicopter.Flight 175 hits the WTC South Tower. The picture was taken from a traffic helicopter. [Source: WABC 7/ Salient Stills]Flight 175 hits the South Tower of the World Trade Center (Tower Two). Seismic records pinpoint the time at six seconds before 9:03 a.m. (rounded to 9:03 a.m.). Hijackers Marwan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Mohand Alshehri, Hamza Alghamdi, and Ahmed Alghamdi presumably are killed instantly, and many more in the tower will die over the next few hours. (New York Times 9/12/2001; CNN 9/12/2001; CNN 9/17/2001; North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001; Cauchon 12/20/2001; Federal Emergency Management Agency 5/1/2002, pp. 1-10; Dwyer et al. 5/26/2002; Associated Press 8/21/2002; Moore and Cauchon 9/2/2002) According to the NIST report, the crash time is 9:02:59. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 38) According to the 9/11 Commission Report, the crash time is 9:03:11. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 8) Millions watch the crash live on television. The plane strikes the 77th through 85th floors in the 110-story building. Approximately 100 people are killed or injured in the initial impact; 600 people in the tower eventually die. The death toll is far lower than in the North Tower because about two-thirds of the South Tower’s occupants have evacuated the building in the 17 minutes since the first tower was struck. (Cauchon 12/20/2001; National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 5-9, 41) The combined death toll from the two towers is estimated at 2,819, not including the hijackers. (Associated Press 8/21/2002) The impact severs some columns on the south side of the South Tower. Each of the Twin Towers is designed as a “tube-in-tube” structure and the steel columns which support its weight are arranged around the perimeter and in the core. The plane, which is traveling at an estimated speed of around 500 mph (see October 2002-October 2005), severs 33 of the building’s 236 perimeter columns and damages another one. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 39) The perimeter columns bear about half of the tower’s weight, so the damage to them reduces the tower’s ability to bear gravity loads by about 7.1 percent. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 6) The actual damage to the 47 core columns is not known, as there are no photographs or videos of it, but there will be much speculation about this after 9/11. It will be suggested that some parts of the aircraft may be able to damage the core even after crashing through the exterior wall (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 107) According to NIST’s base case model, five of the core columns are severed and another five suffer some damage. (National Institute of Standards & Technology 9/2005, pp. 235 pdf file) This may reduce the tower’s ability to bear loads by a further approximately 8 percent, meaning that the aircraft impact accounted for a loss of about 15 percent of the building’s strength. This damage will be cited as an event contributing to the building’s collapse after 9/11 (see October 23, 2002 and October 19, 2004). NIST’s base case estimate of damage to the North Tower’s core will be similar, even though the aircraft impact there was dissimilar (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). Flight 11 hit the North Tower’s core head on, whereas Flight 175 only hits the corner of the South Tower’s core. (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 20-23, 38-41) In addition, some of the fireproofing on the steel columns and trusses may be dislodged (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). (National Institute of Standards & Technology 9/2005, pp. xxxvi, 83 pdf file) Photographs and videos of the towers will not show the state of fireproofing inside the buildings, but the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) will try to estimate the damage to fireproofing using a series of computer models. Its severe case model (see (October 2002-October 2005)) will predict that 39 of the 47 core columns are stripped of their fireproofing on one or more floors and that fireproofing is stripped from trusses covering 80,000 ft2 of floor area, the equivalent of about two floors. NIST will say that the loss of fireproofing is a major cause of the collapse (see April 5, 2005), but only performs 15 tests on fireproofing samples (see October 26, 2005). (National Institute of Standards and Technology 9/2005, pp. 41) According to NIST, less fireproofing is stripped from the North Tower (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001).

Dale Watson, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, activates the Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC) at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, from where the bureau will coordinate its response to the terrorist attacks. Watson learned about the first hijacked plane crashing into the World Trade Center during a briefing in the SIOC attended by the FBI’s assistant directors and Robert Mueller, the bureau’s director (see Shortly After 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). Mueller and some of the other officials at the briefing, presumably including Watson, subsequently headed to the office of FBI Deputy Director Thomas Pickard. There, Mueller, Pickard, and the other officials saw the second hijacked plane crashing into the WTC on television (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). It then became clear to them that this was a terrorist attack.
Deputy Director Says the FBI Needs to Open Its Operations Center - Mueller asks Pickard what they should do in response to the incident and Pickard says they need to open the SIOC. (New Yorker 9/24/2001; 9/11 Commission 1/21/2004 pdf file) According to the US government’s Interagency Domestic Terrorism Concept of Operations Plan, “Upon determination of a credible threat,” FBI headquarters is required to activate the SIOC, “to coordinate and manage the national level support to a terrorism incident.” (US Government 1/2001) Following this protocol, Watson goes to his office and activates the SIOC for crisis mode. (New Yorker 9/24/2001)
Director Goes to the Operations Center to Manage the Crisis - Mueller and Pickard go to the SIOC to manage the FBI’s response to the attacks. Pickard isolates Mueller in a conference room, restricting access to him so he is better able to stay focused on the decisions ahead. Mueller only took over as FBI director a week ago (see September 4, 2001) and Pickard will later comment, “I was worried that there was going to be this string of people running into the room with news or questions and [Mueller] would be standing there asking them who they were.” (Kessler 2002, pp. 420; Graff 2011, pp. 314-316) Meanwhile, a live communications link is established that allows them to listen in as Pentagon and FAA air traffic controllers track suspicious aircraft. (Cloud, Cohen, and Boston 10/5/2001)
Many Other Officials Go to the Operations Center - Other senior officials and FBI agents also begin pouring into the center, along with representatives from numerous other government agencies, including the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the FAA, the NSA, and the Secret Service. Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff will head to the center, as will Attorney General John Ashcroft, who arrives there early in the afternoon (see (Between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). The SIOC will become “the place to be to get information and so everyone wanted to be there,” Ashcroft will comment. (Kessler 2002, pp. 5, 421; 9/11 Commission 12/17/2003 pdf file)
Center Is Designed for Dealing with Crises - The SIOC, which opened in 1998 and cost $20 million to build, covers 40,000 square feet on the fifth floor of the FBI headquarters building. (CNN 11/20/1998) It is “a heavily fortified cluster of offices surrounded by video screens and banks of computer terminals,” according to the New York Times. (Shenon and Johnston 11/2/2001) It can function as a 24-hour watch post, a crisis management center, and an information processing center. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 1/18/2004) It operates around the clock, with at least eight staffers on duty at any one time. It is capable of managing up to five crises at a time and is designed to accommodate up to 450 members of staff during major emergencies. (CNN 11/20/1998; New Yorker 9/24/2001)
Center Is Built to Survive Attacks - The center is fortified so those in it can survive a bombing or other kind of attack. (Shenon and Johnston 11/2/2001) It has no windows to the street outside and is shielded to prevent electronic signals from entering or leaving it. (CNN 11/20/1998; Kessler 2002, pp. 421) Its 225 computer terminals have access to three types of local area networks: the regular FBI network that can connect to the networks of outside agencies; a classified network that operates at the top-secret level; and an even more highly classified Special Compartmented Information network. (McGee 10/14/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation 1/18/2004) The many computers and video screens in the center can display broadcasts from US television channels and also TV channels from other countries. (CNN 11/20/1998)
Center Will Become the 'Nerve Center' of the FBI's Investigation - By the end of the week, the SIOC will be “the headquarters of the government’s response” to today’s attacks, according to journalist and author Garrett Graff. As many as 500 people from 56 different agencies will be working in it. (Kessler 2002, pp. 421; Baker 7/1/2002; Graff 2011, pp. 317) It will become “the nerve center” of the FBI’s investigation of the attacks, according to the Wall Street Journal. (Cloud, Cohen, and Boston 10/5/2001)

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