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Context of 'Early June 2001: Taliban Leader Mullah Omar Claims Interest in Resolving Bin Laden Issue'

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The Movenpick hotel in Aden, Yemen.The Movenpick hotel in Aden, Yemen. [Source: Al Bab]Bombs explode at two hotels, the Movenpick and the Gold Mohur, in Aden, Yemen, killing a tourist and a hotel worker. US soldiers involved in an operation in Somalia are sometimes billeted nearby, but none are killed or injured in the blasts. [Bergen, 2001, pp. 176; Scheuer, 2006, pp. 147] US intelligence will conclude in April 1993 that “[Bin Laden] almost certainly played a role” in this attack. However, there is little chance of a successful prosecution due to lack of evidence. [Bergen, 2001, pp. 176; US Congress, 7/24/2003] Other operatives involved in the bombing are reputedly “point man” Tariq Nasr al-Fadhli, a leading Afghan veteran and tribal leader who later lives on a Yemeni government stipend, and Jamal al-Nahdi, who is said to have lost a hand in the blast. [New York Times, 11/26/2000] The Yemen government sends an armored brigade to arrest al-Fadhli and he eventually surrenders, but is soon set free. Author Peter Bergen will later comment: “[T]he Yemeni government seems to have developed amnesia: al-Fadhli became a member of the president’s personally selected consultative council and his sister is married to General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, a member of President Saleh’s family; al-Nahdi is a businessman in Sana’a and a member of the permanent committee of Yemen’s ruling party.” [Bergen, 2001, pp. 176] The US announces it is withdrawing from Yemen shortly after the bombings (see Shortly After December 29, 1992).

Entity Tags: US intelligence, Tariq Nasr al-Fadhli, Jamal al-Nahdi, Osama bin Laden, Peter Bergen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following attacks on two hotels near where US troops stayed (see December 29, 1992), the US announces it will no longer use Yemen as a base to support operations in Somalia. [Bergen, 2001, pp. 176] Although no US troops are killed, the attacks are regarded as a success by militant Islamists. In 1998, Osama bin Laden will say, “The United States wanted to set up a military base for US soldiers in Yemen, so that it could send fresh troops to Somalia… The Arab mujaheddin related to the Afghan jihad carried out two bomb explosions in Yemen to warn the United States, causing damage to some Americans staying in those hotels. The United States received our warning and gave up the idea of setting up its military bases in Yemen. This was the first al-Qaeda victory scored against the Crusaders.” [Scheuer, 2006, pp. 147]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, US Department of the Army

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

According to a confession made later to Indian police, Pakistani militant leader Maulana Masood Azhar travels to Somalia to help al-Qaeda operatives train local forces the US is attacking. Azhar is assisted by other radicals linked to Osama bin Laden (see Late 1992-October 1993). The training will culminate in the Black Hawk Down incident in October 1993 (see October 3-4, 1993).
Trip - Azhar initially travels to Nairobi, Kenya, on the orders of Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, leader of the Pakistani militant organization Harkat ul-Ansar (later known as Harkat ul-Mujahedeen). In Nairobi, he meets with leaders of the Somali group Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, and gives them money and equipment, as well as making three journeys to Somalia itself. Azhar will also say that some of the militants helping the anti-American Somalis are the same people who fought as the mujaheddin in the Soviet-Afghan War, but were expelled from Pakistan after the war.
Alleged Yemen Connection - Indian authorities will also say that Azhar helped with the movement of mercenaries from Yemen to Somalia, and that he was assisted in this by a Yemeni militant leader named Tariq Nasr al-Fadhli. Tariq is said to have fought in Afghanistan against the Soviets and to have been involved in an anti-US bombing in Yemen in late 1992 (see December 29, 1992). [Los Angeles Times, 2/25/2002] Azhar is also associated with Pakistan’s ISI. He will be imprisoned briefly in Pakistan after 9/11 and then released (see December 14, 2002).

Entity Tags: Al-Ittihad al-Islamiya, Tariq Nasr al-Fadhli, Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil, Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, Maulana Masood Azhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

French intelligence secretly monitors a meeting of Saudi billionaires at the Hotel Royale Monceau in Paris this month with the financial representative of al-Qaeda. “The Saudis, including a key Saudi prince joined by Muslim and non-Muslim gun traffickers, [meet] to determine who would pay how much to Osama. This [is] not so much an act of support but of protection—a payoff to keep the mad bomber away from Saudi Arabia.” [Palast, 2002, pp. 100] Participants also agree that Osama bin Laden should be rewarded for promoting Wahhabism (an austere form of Islam that requires literal interpretation of the Koran) in Chechnya, Kashmir, Bosnia, and other places. [Fifth Estate, 10/29/2003 pdf file] This extends an alleged secret deal first made between the Saudi government and bin Laden in 1991. Later, 9/11 victims’ relatives will rely on the “nonpublished French intelligence report” of this meeting in their lawsuit against important Saudis. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 8/16/2002] According to French counterterrorism expert Jean-Charles Brisard and/or reporter Greg Palast, there are about 20 people at the meeting, including Saudi intelligence head Prince Turki al-Faisal, an unnamed brother of bin Laden, and an unnamed representative from the Saudi Defense Ministry. [Fifth Estate, 10/29/2003 pdf file; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/29/2003] Palast will claim that Saudi businessman Abdullah Taha Bakhsh attends the meeting. Bakhsh saved George W. Bush’s Harken Oil from bankruptcy around 1990. Palast will claim the notorious Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi also attends the meeting. [Democracy Now!, 3/4/2003; Santa Fe New Mexican, 3/20/2003] In a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner, Slate will claim that Khashoggi is a “shadowy international arms merchant” who is “connected to every scandal of the past 40 years.” Amongst other things, he was a major investor in BCCI and a key player in the Iran-Contra affair. [Slate, 12/4/2000; Slate, 11/14/2001; Slate, 3/12/2003] Palast, noting that the French monitored the meeting, will ask, “Since US intelligence was thus likely informed, the question becomes why didn’t the government immediately move against the Saudis?” [Palast, 2002, pp. 100]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Greg Palast, Turki al-Faisal, Abdullah Bakhsh, Adnan Khashoggi, France

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The State Department issues a fact sheet on bin Laden, calling him “one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world today.” The text ties bin Laden to funding specific attacks, such as the attempt to kill dozens of US soldiers in Yemen in 1992 (see December 29, 1992). The fact sheet is also mentions the term “al-Qaeda,” leading to the first media reports using that term the next day (see August 14, 1996). The fact sheet also contains details about bin Laden’s finances, such as the allegation that he co-founded the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in Sudan in 1990 with a group of wealthy Sudanese and capitalized it with $50 million of his fortune. [US Department of State, 8/14/1996; New York Times, 8/14/1996] Much of this information appears to come from al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl. The CIA had just finished debriefing him weeks before (see June 1996-April 1997).

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Al-Shamal Islamic Bank, Osama bin Laden, Jamal al-Fadl

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

An Inmarsat Compact M satellite phone, the type used by bin Laden.An Inmarsat Compact M satellite phone, the type used by bin Laden. [Source: Inmarsat]During this period, Osama bin Laden uses a satellite phone to direct al-Qaeda’s operations. The phone—a Compact M satellite phone, about the size of a laptop computer—was purchased by a student in Virginia named Ziyad Khaleel for $7,500 using the credit card of a British man named Saad al-Fagih. After purchasing the phone, Khaleel sent it to Khalid al-Fawwaz, al-Qaeda’s unofficial press secretary in London (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). Al-Fawwaz then shipped it to bin Laden in Afghanistan. [CNN, 4/16/2001] It appears US intelligence actually tracks the purchase as it occurs (see November 1996-Late December 1999), probably because an older model satellite phone bin Laden has is already being monitored (see Early 1990s). Bin Laden’s phone (873682505331) is believed to be used by other top al-Qaeda leaders as well, including Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammad Atef. Al-Fawwaz also buys satellite phones for other top al-Qaeda leaders around the same time. Though the calls made on these phones are encrypted, the NSA is able to intercept and decrypt them. As one US official will put it in early 2001, “codes were broken.” [United Press International, 2/13/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The Los Angeles Times will report that the monitoring of these phones “produced tens of thousands of pages of transcripts over two years.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] Bin Laden’s satellite phone replaces an older model he used in Sudan that apparently was also monitored by the NSA (see Early 1990s). Billing records for his new phone are eventually released to the media in early 2002. Newsweek will note, “A country-by-country analysis of the bills provided US authorities with a virtual road map to important al-Qaeda cells around the world.” [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] The countries called are:
bullet Britain (238 or 260). Twenty-seven different phone numbers are called in Britain. Accounts differ on the exact number of calls. Khalid al-Fawwaz, who helps publish statements by bin Laden, receives 143 of the calls, including the very first one bin Laden makes with this phone. Apparently most of the remaining calls are made to pay phones near him or to his associates. He also frequently calls Ibrahim Eidarous, who works with al-Fawwaz and lives near him. [CNN, 4/16/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 111]
bullet Yemen (221). Dozens of calls go to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, which is run by the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see Late August 1998). [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Bamford, 2008, pp. 8]
bullet Sudan (131). Bin Laden lived in Sudan until 1996 (see May 18, 1996), and some important al-Qaeda operatives remained there after he left (see February 5, 1998). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Iran (106). Newsweek will later report: “US officials had little explanation for the calls to Iran. A Bush administration official said that US intelligence has believed for years that hard-line anti-American factions inside Iran helped bin Laden’s organization operate an ‘underground railroad’ smuggling Islamic militants to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.” [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Azerbaijan (67). An important al-Qaeda operative appears to be based in Baku, Azerbaijan. [Washington Post, 5/2/2001] This is most likely Ahmad Salama Mabruk, who is very close to al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri and is said to be the head of the al-Qaeda cell there. He kidnapped by the CIA in Baku in late August 1998 (see Late August 1998).
bullet Kenya (at least 56). In the embassy bombings trial, prosecutors introduce evidence showing 16 calls are made on this phone to some of the embassy bombers in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), apparently all before a raid in August 1997 (see August 21, 1997). The defense introduces evidence showing at least 40 more calls are made after that time (see Late 1996-August 1998). [CNN, 4/16/2001]
bullet Pakistan (59).
bullet Saudi Arabia (57).
bullet A ship in the Indian Ocean (13).
bullet The US (6).
bullet Italy (6).
bullet Malaysia (4).
bullet Senegal (2). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Egypt (unknown). Newsweek reports that calls are made to Egypt but doesn’t say how many. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002]
bullet Iraq (0). Press reports note that the records indicate zero calls were made to Iraq. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] 1,100 total calls are made on this phone. Adding up the above numbers means that the destination of over 100 calls is still unaccounted for. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The use of this phone stops two months after the August 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. However, it appears bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders continue to use other satellite phones occasionally after this time. Shortly after 9/11, James Bamford, an expert authority on the agency, says “About a year or so ago the NSA lost all track of him.… He may still use [satellite phones] occasionally to talk about something mundane, but he discovered that the transmitters can be used for honing.” [CNN, 9/21/2001] According to a different account, bin Laden will attempt to use a different phone communication method, but US intelligence will soon discover it and continue monitoring his calls (see Late 1998 and After).

Entity Tags: Ziyad Khaleel, Saad al-Fagih, Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim Eidarous, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Mohammed Atef, Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Ahmad Salama Mabruk

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, discovers that al-Qaeda has established a communications hub and operations center in Sana’a, Yemen, and that there are frequent calls between it and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan (see May 1996 and November 1996-Late August 1998). [Antiwar, 10/22/2008; PBS, 2/3/2009] According to Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer, the CIA learns of this “communications conduit” through a CIA officer detailed to the NSA and stationed overseas. According to Scheuer, the NSA “refuse[s] to exploit the conduit and threaten[s] legal action against the agency officer who advised of its existence.” Despite the threat, the officer continues to supply the information. Scheuer asks senior CIA officials to intervene with the NSA, but this only leads to “a desultory interagency discussion without resolution.” [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] Author James Bamford will say: “Scheuer knew how important the house [the operations center in Yemen] was, he knew NSA was eavesdropping on the house. He went to NSA, went to the head of operations for NSA,… Barbara McNamara, and asked for transcripts of the conversations coming into and going out of the house. And the best the NSA would do would be to give them brief summaries every… once a week or something like that, you know, just a report, not the actual transcripts or anything. And so he got very frustrated, he went back there and they still refused.” [Antiwar, 10/22/2008] Because of the lack of information, the CIA will actually build its own listening post to get some of the information the NSA is concealing from it (see After December 1996).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Alec Station, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Scheuer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Imagery of bin Laden’s Tarnak Farms compound prepared for the aborted operation.Imagery of bin Laden’s Tarnak Farms compound prepared for the aborted operation. [Source: CBC]In 1997 and early 1998, the US develops a plan to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. A CIA-owned aircraft is stationed in a nearby country, ready to land on a remote landing strip long enough to pick him up. However, problems with having to hold bin Laden too long in Afghanistan make the operation unlikely. The plan morphs into using a team of Afghan informants to kidnap bin Laden from inside his heavily defended Tarnak Farm complex. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, calls the plan “the perfect operation.” Gary Schroen, the lead CIA officer in the field, agrees, and gives it about a 40 percent chance of succeeding. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 220-221; Washington Post, 2/22/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] The Pentagon also reviews the plan, finding it well crafted. In addition, there is “plausible denialability,” as the US could easily distance itself from the raid. Scheuer will comment, “It was the perfect capture operation becauase even if it went completely wrong and people got killed, there was no evidence of a US hand.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 192] However, higher-ups at the CIA are skeptical of the plan and worry that innocent civilians might die. The plan is given to CIA Director George Tenet for approval, but he rejects it without showing it to President Clinton. He considers it unlikely to succeed and decides the Afghan allies are too unreliable. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 220-221; Washington Post, 2/22/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Additionally, earlier in May 1998, the Saudis promised to try to bribe the Taliban and try bin Laden themselves, and apparently Tenet preferred this plan (see May 1998). Scheuer is furious. After 9/11 he will complain, “We had more intelligence against this man and organization than we ever had on any other group we ever called a terrorist group, and definitive and widely varied [intelligence] across all the ends, and I could not understand why they didn’t take the chance.” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] There will be later speculation that the airstrip used for these purposes is occupied and will be used as a base of operations early in the post-9/11 Afghan war. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Former US ambassador Joe Wilson and CIA officer Valerie Plame meet for the first time at a reception held at the Turkish ambassador’s residence. Wilson is a political adviser to the Commander in Chief of the US Armed Forces in Europe. Plame describes herself as an “energy executive living in Brussels.” Wilson and Plame will marry a year later and will become involved in the “Plame Affair,” when Plame’s affiliation with the CIA is disclosed in the media (see July 14, 2003). After her marriage, Plame will generally be referred to by the name Plame Wilson. Wilson, who is accompanied by General James Jamerson, is there to receive an award from the American-Turkish Council. The reason for Plame’s presence there is not known. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 239-242, 273] However, the American-Turkish Council will later be said to be involved in the smuggling of nuclear weapons material to Turkey and other countries (see Late 1990s-Early 2001 and Mid-Late 1990s), and Plame’s job at the CIA is in its non-proliferation section (see Late February 1999), so she may be there for operational reasons. [Sunday Times (London), 1/6/2008; Sunday Times (London), 1/27/2008]

Entity Tags: James Jamerson, American-Turkish Council, Valerie Plame Wilson, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, later will claim that in a one-year period starting in May 1998, the CIA gives the US government “about ten chances to capture bin Laden or kill him with military means. In all instances, the decision was made that the ‘intelligence was not good enough.’ This assertion cannot be debated publicly without compromising sources and methods. What can be said, however, is that in all these cases there was more concern expressed by senior bureaucrats and policymakers about how international opinion would react to a US action than there was concern about what might happen to Americans if they failed to act. Indeed, on one occasion these senior leaders decided it was more important to avoid hitting a structure near bin Laden’s location with shrapnel, than it was to protect Americans.” He will later list six of the attempts in a book:
bullet May 1998: a plan to capture bin Laden at his compound south of Kandahar, canceled at the last minute (see 1997-May 29, 1998).
bullet September 1998: a capture opportunity north of Kandahar, presumably by Afghan tribals working for the CIA (see September-October 1998).
bullet December 1998: canceled US missile strike on the governor’s palace in Kandahar (see December 18-20, 1998).
bullet February 1999: Military attack opportunity on governor’s residence in Herat (see February 1999).
bullet February 1999: Multiple military attack opportunities at a hunting camp near Kandahar attended by United Arab Emirates royals (see February 11, 1999).
bullet May 1999: Military attack opportunities on five consecutive nights in Kandahar (see May 1999).
bullet Also in late August 1998, there is one failed attempt to kill bin Laden.(see August 20, 1998) [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004; Scheuer, 2008, pp. 284]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later will strongly disagree with Scheuer’s assessment, claiming that the intelligence needed for such an attack on bin Laden was never very good. But he will also point out that the National Security Council and White House never killed any of the operations Scheuer wanted. It was always CIA Director George Tenet and other top CIA leaders who rejected the proposals. Scheuer will agree that it was always Tenet who turned down the operations. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, George J. Tenet, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Clinton administration, National Security Council, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

During his interview with John Miller, bin Laden is positioned in front of East Africa on a map, and US embassies will be bombed in East Africa several months later. Bin Laden has considered it his religious duty to give warning before attacks and thus has left clues like this.During his interview with John Miller, bin Laden is positioned in front of East Africa on a map, and US embassies will be bombed in East Africa several months later. Bin Laden has considered it his religious duty to give warning before attacks and thus has left clues like this. [Source: CNN]In an interview with ABC News reporter John Miller, Osama bin Laden indicates he may attack a US military passenger aircraft using antiaircraft missiles. Bin Laden says: “We are sure of our victory. Our battle with the Americans is larger than our battle with the Russians.… We predict a black day for America and the end of the United States as United States, and will be separate states, and will retreat from our land and collect the bodies of its sons back to America.” In the subsequent media coverage, Miller will repeatedly refer to bin Laden as “the world’s most dangerous terrorist,” and “the most dangerous man in the world.” [ABC News, 5/28/1998; ABC News, 6/12/1998; Esquire, 2/1999; US Congress, 7/24/2003] The book The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright will later note, “Looming behind his head was a large map of Africa, an unremarked clue.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 264] Bin Laden admits to knowing Wali Khan Amin Shah, one of the Bojinka plotters (see June 1996), but denies having met Bojinka plotter Ramzi Yousef or knowing about the plot itself. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] A Virginia man named Tarik Hamdi (see March 20, 2002) helped set up Miller’s interview. He goes with Miller to Afghanistan and gives bin Laden a new battery for his satellite phone (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will later claim that this battery was somehow bugged to help the US monitor bin Laden. [Newsweek, 8/10/2005] In 2005, Miller will become the FBI’s assistant director of the Office of Public Affairs. [All Headline News, 8/24/2005]

Entity Tags: John Miller, Operation Bojinka, Osama bin Laden, Vincent Cannistraro, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Tarik Hamdi, Ramzi Yousef

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Relations between Taliban head Mullah Omar and bin Laden grow tense, and Omar discusses a secret deal with the Saudis, who have urged the Taliban to expel bin Laden from Afghanistan. Head of Saudi intelligence Prince Turki al-Faisal travels to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and brokers the deal. According to Turki, he seeks to have the Taliban turn bin Laden over to Saudi custody. Omar agrees in principle, but requests that the parties establish a joint commission to work out how bin Laden would be dealt with in accordance with Islamic law. [Coll, 2004, pp. 400-02] Note that some reports of a meeting around this time—and the deal discussed—vary dramtically from Turki’s version (see May 1996 and July 1998). If this version is correct, before a deal can be reached, the US strikes Afghanistan in August in retaliation for the US African embassy bombings (see August 20, 1998), driving Omar and bin Laden back together. Turki later states that “the Taliban attitude changed 180 degrees,” and that Omar is “absolutely rude” to him when he visits again in September (see Mid-September 1998). [Guardian, 11/5/2001; London Times, 8/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Turki al-Faisal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Taliban officials allegedly meet with Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi intelligence, to continue talks concerning the Taliban’s ouster of bin Laden from Afghanistan. Reports on the location of this meeting, and the deal under discussion differ. According to some reports, including documents exposed in a later lawsuit, this meeting takes place in Kandahar. Those present include Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi Arabian intelligence, Taliban leaders, senior officers from the ISI, and bin Laden. According to these reports, Saudi Arabia agrees to give the Taliban and Pakistan “several hundred millions” of dollars, and in return, bin Laden promises no attacks against Saudi Arabia. The Saudis also agree to ensure that requests for the extradition of al-Qaeda members will be blocked and promise to block demands by other countries to close down bin Laden’s Afghan training camps. Saudi Arabia had previously given money to the Taliban and bribe money to bin Laden, but this ups the ante. [Sunday Times (London), 8/25/2002] A few weeks after the meeting, Prince Turki sends 400 new pickup trucks to the Taliban. At least $200 million follow. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/23/2001; New York Post, 8/25/2002] Controversial author Gerald Posner gives a similar account said to come from high US government officials, and adds that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida also attends the meeting. [Posner, 2003, pp. 189-90] Note that reports of this meeting seemingly contradict reports of a meeting the month before between Turki and the Taliban, in which the Taliban agreed to get rid of bin Laden (see June 1998).

Entity Tags: Taliban, Turki al-Faisal, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Abu Zubaida, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sayyid Iskandar Suliman. This picture is from a poor photocopy of his passport found in Sudanese intelligence files.Sayyid Iskandar Suliman. This picture is from a poor photocopy of his passport found in Sudanese intelligence files. [Source: Public domain via Richard Miniter]On August 4, 1998, Sudanese immigration suspects two men, Sayyid Nazir Abbass and Sayyid Iskandar Suliman, arriving in Sudan, apparently due to something in their Pakistani passports. They attempt to rent an apartment overlooking the US embassy. Three days later, US embassies are bombed in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Within hours, Sudanese officials arrest Abbass and Suliman. The two of them had just come from Kenya, and one of them quickly admits to staying in the same hotel in Kenya as some of the embassy bombers. Sudanese intelligence believes they are al-Qaeda operatives involved in the bombings. [Observer, 9/30/2001; Vanity Fair, 1/2002; Randal, 2005, pp. 132-135] The US embassy in Sudan has been shut down for several years. But around August 14, a Sudanese intelligence official contacts an intermediary and former White House employee named Janet McElligott and gives her a vague message that Sudan is holding important suspects and the FBI should send a team immediately to see if they want to take custody of them. [Randal, 2005, pp. 132-135] The FBI wants the two men, but on August 17, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright forbids their extradition. The US has decided to bomb a factory in Sudan in retaliation for the embassy bombings instead of cooperating with Sudan. But FBI agent John O’Neill is not yet aware of Albright’s decision, and word of the Sudanese offer reaches him on August 19. He wants immediate approval to arrest the two suspects and flies to Washington that evening to discuss the issue with counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. But Clarke tells O’Neill to speak to Attorney General Janet Reno. Later that night, O’Neill talks to Reno and she tells him that the decision to retaliate against Sudan instead has already been made. Mere hours later, the US attack a factory in Sudan with cruise missiles (see August 20, 1998). Within days, it becomes apparent that the factory had no link to al-Qaeda (see September 23, 1998), and no link between the bombings and the Sudanese government will emerge (although Sudan harbored bin Laden until 1996). [Randal, 2005, pp. 132-138] The Sudanese will continue to hold the two men in hopes to make a deal with the US. But the US is not interested, so after two weeks they are send to Pakistan and set free there (see August 20-September 2, 1998).

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Sayyid Nazir Abbass, Sayyid Iskandar Suliman, Sudan, Osama bin Laden, Janet Reno, John O’Neill, Madeleine Albright, Richard A. Clarke, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right).Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right). [Source: Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)Two US embassies in Africa are bombed within minutes of each other. At 10:35, local time, a suicide car bomb attack in Nairobi, Kenya, kills 213 people, including 12 US nationals, and injures more than 4,500. Mohamed al-Owhali and someone known only as Azzam are the suicide bombers, but al-Owhali runs away at the last minute and survives. Four minutes later, a suicide car bomb attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, kills 11 and injures 85. The attacks are blamed on al-Qaeda. Hamden Khalif Allah Awad is the suicide bomber there. [PBS Frontline, 2001; United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001] The Tanzania death toll is low because, remarkably, the attack takes place on a national holiday so the US embassy there is closed. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195] The attack shows al-Qaeda has a capability for simultaneous attacks. The Tanzania bombing appears to have been a late addition, as one of the arrested bombers allegedly told US agents that it was added to the plot only about 10 days in advance. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001] A third attack against the US embassy in Uganda does not take place due to a last minute delay (see August 7, 1998). [Associated Press, 9/25/1998] August 7, 1998, is the eighth anniversary of the arrival of US troops in Saudi Arabia, and some speculate that is the reason for the date of the bombings. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 46] In the 2002 book The Cell, reporters John Miller, Michael Stone, and Chris Miller will write, “What has become clear with time is that facets of the East Africa plot had been known beforehand to the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, and to Israeli and Kenyan intelligence services.… [N]o one can seriously argue that the horrors of August 7, 1998, couldn’t have been prevented.” They will also comment, “Inexplicable as the intelligence failure was, more baffling still was that al-Qaeda correctly presumed that a major attack could be carried out by a cell that US agents had already uncovered.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195, 206] After 9/11, it will come to light that three of the alleged hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi, had some involvement in the bombings (see October 4, 2001, Late 1999, and 1993-1999) and that the US intelligence community was aware of this involvement by late 1999 (see December 15-31, 1999), if not before.

Entity Tags: Hamden Khalif Allah Awad, Mohamed al-Owhali, Salem Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Azzam, Al-Qaeda, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

President Clinton is aware of the links between the Pakistani ISI, Taliban, and al-Qaeda. In his 2005 autobiography, he will explain why he did not warn the Pakistani government more than several minutes in advance that it was firing missiles over Pakistan in an attempt to hit Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998). He will write: “Although we were trying to work with Pakistan to defuse tensions on the Indian subcontinent, and our two nations had been allies during the Cold War, Pakistan supported the Taliban and, by extension, al-Qaeda. The Pakistani intelligence service used some of the same camps that bin Laden and al-Qaeda did to train the Taliban and insurgents who fought in Kashmir. If Pakistan had found out about our planned attacks in advance, it was likely that Pakistani intelligence would warn the Taliban or even al-Qaeda.” [Clinton, 2005, pp. 799] Despite this precaution, it appears the ISI successfully warns bin Laden in advance anyway (see August 20, 1998). Clinton takes no firm against against Pakistan for its links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, such as including Pakistan on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 1998, President Clinton faces a growing scandal about his sexual relationship with aide Monica Lewinsky, and even faces the possibility of impeachment over the matter. He is publicly interrogated about the scandal on August 17, 1998. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later claim that he worries Clinton might let the timing of the scandal get in the way of acting on new intelligence to hit Osama bin Laden with a missile strike in retaliation for the recent African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). But Clarke is reassured when Clinton tells his advisers, “Do you all recommend that we strike on the 20th? Fine. Do not give me political advice or personal advice about the timing. That’s my problem. Let me worry about that.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 185-186] Defense Secretary William Cohen also warns Clinton that he will be criticized for changing the subject from the Lewinsky scandal. [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 358]
Criticism from Politicians - Clinton gives the go-ahead for the missile strike on August 20th anyway (see August 20, 1998) and is immediately widely criticized for it. In late 1997, there was a popular movie called “Wag the Dog,” based on a fictional president who creates an artificial crisis in order to distract the public from a domestic scandal. Republicans are particularly critical and seize upon a comparison to the movie. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) initially supports the missile strike, but later criticizes it as mere “pinpricks.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 117] Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) says, “The president was considering doing something presidential to try to focus attention away from his personal problems.” [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 358-359] Sen. Daniel Coats (R-IN) says, “I just hope and pray the decision that was made was made on the basis of sound judgment, and made for the right reasons, and not made because it was necessary to save the president’s job.” [New York Times, 8/4/2004]
Media Criticism - The media is also very critical, despite a lack of any evidence that Clinton deliberately timed the missile strike as a distraction. Television networks repeatedly show clips of the “Wag the Dog” movie after the missile strike. New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh reports, “Some reporters questioned whether the president had used military force to distract the nation’s attention from the Lewinsky scandal.” [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 358-359]
9/11 Commission Commentary - The 9/11 Commission will later conclude, “The failure of the strikes, the ‘wag the dog’ slur, the intense partisanship of the period, and the [fact that one of the missile targets probably had no connection to bin Laden (see September 23, 1998)] likely had a cumulative effect on future decisions about the use of force against bin Laden.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 118]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, William S. Cohen, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Osama bin Laden, Monica Lewinsky, Daniel Coats, Arlen Specter, Newt Gingrich

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Through its own monitoring of Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone, the CIA determines that he intends to travel to a training camp in Khost, in eastern Afghanistan. The CIA has to use its own equipment to do this because of a dispute with the NSA, which refused to provide it with full details of its intercepts of bin Laden’s calls (see December 1996). Although the CIA can only get half of what the NSA gets, shortly after the attacks on US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), it determines that bin Laden will travel to Khost the next day. On that day, the US launches several missile strikes, one of which is against Khost (see August 20, 1998), but bin Laden does not travel there, evading the missiles. Some will later claim that bin Laden changes his mind on the way there for no particular reason, but there will also be allegations that the Pakistani ISI warned him of the upcoming attack (see July 1999). [Wright, 2006, pp. 283]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

El Shifa Plant in Sudan.El Shifa Plant in Sudan. [Source: US government]The US fires 66 missiles at six al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and 13 missiles at a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, Sudan, in retaliation for the US embassy bombings. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001] The US insists the attacks are aimed at terrorists “not supported by any state,” despite obvious evidence to the contrary. The Sudanese Al Shifa factory is hit in the middle of the night when it is unoccupied. Intelligence will later suggest that the factory had no links to bin Laden (see September 23, 1998). Between six and 30 people are killed in the Afghanistan attacks. But no important al-Qaeda figures die. [Observer, 8/23/1998; New Yorker, 1/24/2000; Wright, 2006, pp. 285] At least one of the missiles accidentally landed inside Pakistan and Pakistan may have been able to build their own cruise missile from examining the remains. There are additional reports that bin Laden was able to sell unexploded missiles to China for more than $10 million. [Wright, 2006, pp. 285] President Clinton is soon widely accused of using the missile strike to distract the US public from a personal sex scandal (see August 17-Late August 1998).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

State Department official Michael Malinowski.State Department official Michael Malinowski. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]Two days after the US missile strikes on militant training camps in Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998), top Taliban leader Mullah Omar unexpectedly telephones the State Department in Washington. He talks to Michael Malinowski, office director for Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh in the Bureau of South Asian Affairs. Although Mullah Omar does not threaten the US, he suggests that the missile strikes could spark more terrorist attacks. He says the Taliban is open to the idea of establishing a secure communication channel with US officials, possibly through the US embassy in Pakistan (there is no embassy in Afghanistan). The State Department comments, “Omar’s contact with a US official is rather remarkable, given his reclusive nature and his past avoidance of contact with all things American.” [US Department of State, 8/23/1998 pdf file; US Department of State, 1/14/2002] The US then sends the Taliban some evidence of bin Laden’s militant activities (see August 23, 1998), but it appears the secure communications channel never materializes.

Entity Tags: Taliban, Michael Malinowski, US Department of State, Mullah Omar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After being asked by Taliban leader Mullah Omar (see August 22, 1998), the US sends the Taliban a cable about bin Laden’s activities. The cable states, “We have detailed and solid evidence that Osama bin Laden has been engaged and is still engaged in planning, organizing, and funding acts of international terror.” However, the sections on the various plots in which bin Laden is supposed to have been involved are brief and do not include supporting evidence. For example, the Yemen bombing in 1992 (see December 29, 1992) is described in a single sentence: “Bin Laden and his network conspired to kill US servicemen in Yemen who were on their way to participate in the humanitarian mission ‘Operation Restore Hope’ in Somalia in 1992.” [US Department of State, 8/23/1998 pdf file] Afghanistan’s supreme court will later acquit bin Laden of his involvement in the 1998 embassy bombings (see (October 25-November 20, 1998)) because of the US’s refusal to provide the court with the requested evidence.

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Taliban, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden’s satellite phone is being monitored by US intelligence at the time of the US embassy bombings in early August 1998 (see November 1996-Late August 1998 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
Washington Times Article Falsely Blamed - On August 21, 1998, an article in the Washington Times says of bin Laden, “He keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones…” The Washington Post will later note, “The information in the article does not appear to be based on any government leak and made no reference to government surveillance of bin Laden’s phone.” Other articles published on the same day make similar claims. However, it will become widely believed that this article causes bin Laden to stop using his satellite phone, which is being secretly monitored by the US (see November 1996-Late August 1998). [Washington Post, 12/20/2005] For instance, the 9/11 Commission will later blame this article and President Bush will repeat the story in late 2005. However, bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone was already widely publicized. For instance, in December 1996, Time magazine noted that bin Laden “uses satellite phones to contact fellow Islamic militants in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.” In 1997, bin Laden actually talked in a CNN interview about his use of satellite phones.
First Mention that US Was Monitoring His Calls in September - It is only on September 7, 1998, after bin Laden apparently stopped using his phone, that the Los Angeles Times is the first newspaper to mention that the US is monitoring his calls. The article says that US authorities “used their communications intercept capacity to pick up calls placed by bin Laden on his Inmarsat satellite phone, despite his apparent use of electronic ‘scramblers.’” [Washington Post, 12/22/2005]
Bin Laden Tipped Off by Missile Strike? - One possible explanation is that bin Laden stops using his phone after the August 1998 missile strike aimed at him (see August 20, 1998) for fear that the phone was used as a homing device for the missiles. The phone was in fact used as a homing device, and Defense Secretary William Cohen publicly acknowledged this by early 2001. The missile strike took place just one day before the Washington Times article. [United Press International, 2/21/2001] In 1998, a US man named Tarik Hamdi delivered a new battery for bin Laden’s phone. A former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center has stated that the battery was somehow bugged to improve US monitoring of bin Laden (see May 28, 1998).
Bin Laden Tipped Off before the Strike? - Another possibility is that bin Laden stopped using his phone just before the missile strike. Sunday Times reporter Simon Reeve claims the Pakistani ISI warned him about the strike hours before it happened, and told him that his phone use was being monitored by the US (see August 20, 1998). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 201-202]

Entity Tags: William S. Cohen, Tarik Hamdi, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Afghan tribal allies of the US apparently make some failed attempts to capture Osama bin Laden around this time. The 9/11 Commission will later report that during these two months: “[T]he tribals claimed to have tried at least four times to ambush bin Laden. Senior CIA officials doubted whether any of these ambush attempts actually occurred. But the tribals did seem to have success in reporting where bin Laden was.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 127] Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, will later list a September 1998 attempt by the tribals to capture bin Laden north of Kandahar as one of the ten missed opportunities to capture him in 1998 and 1999. [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 284]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Scheuer, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

According to Saudi intelligence minister Prince Turki al-Faisal, he participates in a second meeting with Taliban leader Mullah Omar at this time. Supposedly, earlier in the year Omar made a secret deal with Turki to hand bin Laden over to Saudi Arabia (see June 1998) and Turki is now ready to finalize the deal. ISI Director Gen. Naseem Rana is at the meeting as well. But in the wake of the US missile bombing of Afghanistan (August 20, 1998), Omar yells at Turki and denies ever having made a deal. Turki leaves empty handed. [Wright, 2006, pp. 244] However, other reports stand in complete contrast to this, suggesting that earlier in the year Turki colluded with the ISI to support bin Laden, not capture him (see May 1996 and July 1998).

Entity Tags: Naseem Rana, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban, Mullah Omar, Turki al-Faisal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The destroyed Al Shifa factory.The destroyed Al Shifa factory. [Source: Yannick Lemieux]Senior Clinton administration officials admit they had no evidence directly linking bin Laden to the Al Shifa factory at the time of retaliatory strikes on August 20, 1998 (see August 20, 1998). However, intelligence officials assert that they found financial transactions between bin Laden and the Military Industrial Corporation—a company run by the Sudan’s government. [New York Times, 9/23/1998; PBS Frontline, 2001] A soil sample is said to show that the pharmaceutical factory was producing chemical weapons, but many doubts about the sample later arise. [New York Times, 9/21/1998; New Yorker, 10/12/1998] Two anonymous US officials will later tell NBC that the soil sample was not taken at the factory, but across the street. It also comes to light that the person the US thought owned the factory in fact had sold it five months earlier. The Sudanese government asks for a US or UN investigation of the attack, but the US is not interested. [Randal, 2005, pp. 139-140] The US later unfreezes the bank accounts of the factory owner, Salah Idriss, and takes other conciliatory actions, but admits no wrongdoing. It is later learned that of the six camps targeted in Afghanistan, only four were hit, and of those, only one had definitive connections to bin Laden. Clinton declares that the missiles were aimed at a “gathering of key terrorist leaders,” but it is later revealed that the referenced meeting took place a month earlier, in Pakistan. [Observer, 8/23/1998; New Yorker, 1/24/2000]

Entity Tags: Military Industrial Corporation, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Salah Idriss, Osama bin Laden, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later write that after the US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), surveillance of al-Qaeda is stepped up around the world. “One intelligence officer attached to the French embassy in Islamabad, [Pakistan], urged his counterparts in foreign missions in Pakistan to detail the recipients of phone calls made by… al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, then living in Peshawar, to individuals in their various countries.” As a result, “several governments [launch] investigations of their own.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 245] A close associate of Zubaida in Peshawar at this time is Khalil Deek, who is actually a mole for the Jordanian government (see 1998-December 11, 1999). One such investigation is launched by the Philippine government on October 16, 1998, after being asked by French intelligence to gather intelligence on people in the Philippines in contact with Zubaida. Code named CoPlan Pink Poppy, the investigation reveals connections between al-Qaeda and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Philippine militant group. On December 16, 1999, Abdesselem Boulanouar and Zoheir Djalili, two French Algerians belonging to the Algerian al-Qaeda affiliate the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), are arrested due to information learned from monitoring Zubaida’s calls to the Philippines. Boulanouar is arrested at an airport carrying a terrorist training manual he admitted writing for the MILF. Both men also are arrested carrying explosive devices. French intelligence says Boulanouar had ties to Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), and like Ressam, may have been planning to carry out attacks at the turn of the millennium. He will be deported to France and imprisoned on terrorism related charges. CoPlan Pink Poppy will be canceled in 2000 for lack of funds. [Gulf News, 3/14/2000; Ressa, 2003, pp. 132-133; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 245] However, while details are murky, it appears other governments continue to monitor Zubaida’s calls. Around the same time as the Philippines arrests, one militant in Jordan is even arrested while still in the middle of a phone call to Zubaida (see November 30, 1999). US intelligence will remain intensely focused on Zubaida before 9/11 (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001), and just days before 9/11 the NSA will monitor calls Zubaida is making to the US (see Early September 2001). It appears his calls will continue to be monitored after 9/11 as well (see October 8, 2001).

Entity Tags: Khalil Deek, Zoheir Djalili, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Abdesselem Boulanouar, Philippines, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam, Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke advocates an aggressive approach to dealing with terrorists and countries that harbor them, and says terrorists are likely to go after America’s “Achilles’ heel,” which is “in Washington… in New York,” and “throughout the country.” He makes these comments during a two-day conference on countering chemical and biological warfare, held in Washington, DC. [New York Times, 10/8/1998; USIS Washington File, 10/8/1998]
Enemies Could Target Washington or New York - In his speech at the conference, Clarke says, “The United States can defeat in a conventional war any other military in the world.” Therefore: “Our enemies instead will use unconventional techniques, either exclusively or as a supplement to their attack. They will use terrorism. They will use cyber attack and information warfare. And they will use chem-bio attack.” He adds that America’s enemies “will go after our Achilles’ heel,” which is “in Washington. It is in New York. It is throughout the country. For no longer can we count as a nation on the two great oceans defending us from foreign attack here at home.”
US Willing to Take 'The First Step' - Clarke says that the US government has developed a strategy for dealing with chemical and biological weapons attacks, which includes an aggressive approach toward terrorist groups and rogue states. He says these groups and states “should know that those who engage in terrorist acts, including terrorist acts involving chemical and biological weapons, can be assured that they will pay a high price.” The government’s promise to them is “attack us and you will unleash a relentless and methodical machine against you.” Furthermore, Clarke says, the US is willing to act preemptively: “The United States reserves for itself the right of self-defense, and if that means our taking the first step, we will do so. We will not tolerate terrorist organizations acquiring or maintaining stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.” [USIS Washington File, 10/8/1998]
US Will Target Countries that Harbor Terrorists - In an interview after his speech, Clarke emphasizes that countries that harbor these terrorist groups also risk being targeted by the US. He points to the recent missile attacks against Sudan in retaliation for the US embassy bombings in Africa (see August 20, 1998), and says the US will “definitely do something” about such countries. “The something depends on what the circumstances are.” [New York Times, 10/8/1998] Clarke will repeat his claim that the nation’s “Achilles’ heel” terrorists will come after is “here in the United States” in an April 2000 interview with the Washington Post (see April 2, 2000). [Washington Post, 4/2/2000]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After the Taliban is warned that bin Laden has been accused of involvement in the recent 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), it initiates judicial proceedings against him. But when the US fails to provide Afghanistan’s supreme court with sufficient evidence, bin Laden is acquitted. [Associated Press, 11/20/1998] The Taliban has already received some claims regarding bin Laden’s involvement in terrorism from the US (see August 23, 1998), but these are insufficient and more evidence is requested. Originally, there is no cut-off date for supplying evidence, but when the US does nothing, the Taliban leaders become frustrated and announce a time limit on the inquiry: “If anyone has any evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in cases of terrorism, subversion, sabotage, or any other acts, they should get it to the court before November 20. If by then there is nothing, we will close the case and in our eyes he will be acquitted.” In a November 10 cable the US embassy in Pakistan, which also handles Afghan affairs, comments: “The Taliban appear to many observers not to be totally unreasonable in their demand that the US provide them evidence on bin Laden.” [US Embassy (Islamabad), 11/10/1998 pdf file] The US then sends the Taliban a video of an interview bin Laden gave CNN in 1997, a transcript of his ABC 1998 interview, and a copy of his US indictment for the embassy bombings. [US Department of State, 11/11/1998 pdf file] The inquiry is headed by the country’s chief justice, Noor Mohamed Saqib. After the evidence is found not to be enough and bin Laden is set free, Saqib comments: “It is their shame that they have been silent. America is wrong about bin Laden… Anything that happens now anywhere in the world they blame Osama, but the reality is in the proof and they have not given us any. It’s over and America has not presented any evidence. Without any evidence, bin Laden is a man without sin… he is a free man.” [Associated Press, 11/20/1998] However, the State Department says that it did not “endorse, support, or request” the sharia court trial, but simply wanted bin Laden extradited. A White House spokesperson says, “Without commenting on the rigor of the Taliban judicial system, it is clear that Mr. bin Laden is a proven threat to US national interests.” [US Department of State, 11/11/1998 pdf file; Associated Press, 11/20/1998] The Taliban’s leadership is not satisfied with the outcome of the trial and will subsequently ask the US for help in getting rid of bin Laden (see November 28, 1998).

Entity Tags: US Embassy in Islamabad, US Department of State, Taliban, Noor Mohamed Saqib, Osama bin Laden, Supreme Court of Afghanistan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Senior Taliban spokesman Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil meets diplomats from the US embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, to examine new ways of resolving the problem of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Afghanistan after judicial proceedings against him collapse there (see (October 25-November 20, 1998)). Ahmed expresses his opinion that Taliban leaders are caught between “a rock and a hard place” since, if they expel bin Laden without cause they will have internal problems and, if they do not, they will have external ones due to the US. Ahmed suggests that the Saudis have a key to the solution. Afghan and Saudi religious scholars could convene a joint meeting and issue a ruling that bin Laden had acted illegally, for example by holding a news conference when he was under a communication ban. He could then be expelled without this causing internal unrest in Afghanistan and the problem would be resolved “in minutes, not hours.” The US would be happy if bin Laden were expelled to Saudi Arabia or Egypt, but the Saudis apparently do not favor a joint meeting and the proposal is not acted upon. [US Department of State, 11/28/1998 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, US Embassy in Islamabad, Taliban, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Shortly after an August 1998 US missile strike on Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998), bin Laden stops using his satellite phone, correctly deciding that it was being monitored by US intelligence (see Late August 1998). According to counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, al-Qaeda quickly “developed a system to deceive those monitoring his calls. [But] Western security and intelligence agencies were soon able to monitor the new system, which was based on transferring international calls within safe houses in Pakistan to make them seem like domestic calls.” Other al-Qaeda leaders such as Abu Zubaida will be frequently monitored as they make calls using this new system (see October 1998 and After). Gunaratna later claims to have learned this from a confidential source in a “communications monitoring agency” in Western Europe. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 15-16, 3291] It is not known how long it took until al-Qaeda realized this new system was compromised, but there are accounts of bin Laden and Zubaida’s calls being monitored days before 9/11 (see Early September 2001, September 9, 2001, and Early September 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The governor’s mansion in Kandahar, Afghanistan.The governor’s mansion in Kandahar, Afghanistan. [Source: CBC]On December 18, 2000, CIA receives a tip that bin Laden will be staying overnight on December 20 at the governor’s mansion in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Missile strikes are readied against him. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 130-131] Gary Schroen, head of the CIA’s Pakistan office, e-mails CIA headquarters with the message, “Hit him tonight—we may not get another chance.” However, principal advisers to President Clinton agree not to recommend a strike because of doubts about the intelligence and worries about collateral damage. The military estimates the attacks will kill about 200 people, presumably most of them innocent bystanders. Schroen will later recall, “It struck me as rather insane, frankly. They decided not to attack bin Laden because he was in a building in fairly close proximity to a mosque. And they were afraid that some of the shrapnel was going to hit the mosque and somehow offend the Muslim world, and so they decided not to shoot on that occasion. That’s the kind of reason for not shooting that the policy maker, anyway, came up with endlessly.” [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; CBC, 9/12/2006] Later intelligence appears to show that bin Laden left before the strike could be readied, but some aware of the intelligence felt it was a chance that should have been taken anyway. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 130-131] In the wake of this incident, officials attempt to find alternatives to cruise missiles, such a precision strike aircraft. However, US Central Command Chief General Anthony Zinni is apparently opposed to deployment of these aircraft near Afghanistan, and they are not deployed. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Anthony Zinni, Osama bin Laden, Gary C. Schroen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), a local militant group linked to al-Qaeda (see Early 2000 and October 12, 2000), plots a series of strikes against Western-related targets in Aden, Yemen. According to the Yemeni authorities, the plot encompasses:
bullet An attack on the Movenpick hotel, which is used by Western tourists and had already been bombed in 1992 (see December 29, 1992);
bullet Firing rockets into a clinic in the grounds of Aden’s only Christian church;
bullet Murdering British diplomats at the British consulate;
bullet Attacks on the Al Shadhrawan nightclub;
bullet Hitting the UN office in Aden; and
bullet Attacking a hotel used by US troops.
However, the plot, headed by IAA leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, will be broken up on December 23, when six of the plotters linked to leading British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri are arrested by police in Aden (see December 23, 1998). [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 159-160]

Entity Tags: Islamic Army of Aden, Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The US apparently misses an opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. In a 2008 book, Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit until mid-1999, will list a number of missed opportunities to get bin Laden (see May 1998-May 1999). He will briefly mention a “military attack opportunity” at the governor’s residence in the Afghan town of Herat during this month. This is separate from an opportunity to get bin Laden at a bird hunting camp in the same month, which he also lists (see February 11, 1999). But nothing more is known about this opportunity and the 9/11 Commission will not mention it. [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 284]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Michael Scheuer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Apparently, this surveillance photo of a C-130 transport plane from the United Arab Emirates plays a key role in the decision not to strike at bin Laden.Apparently, this surveillance photo of a C-130 transport plane from the United Arab Emirates plays a key role in the decision not to strike at bin Laden. [Source: CBC]Intelligence reports foresee the presence of Osama bin Laden at a desert hunting camp in Afghanistan for about a week. Information on his presence appears reliable, so preparations are made to target his location with cruise missiles. However, intelligence also puts an official aircraft of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and members of the royal family from that country in the same location. Bin Laden is hunting with the Emirati royals, as he does with leaders from the UAE and Saudi Arabia on other occasions (see 1995-2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] According to Michael Scheuer, the chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, the hunting party has “huge fancy tents, with tractor trailers with generators on them to run the air-conditioning.” Surveillance after the camp is established shows the “pattern of bin Laden’s visits—he would come for evening prayers or he would come for dinner and stay for evening prayers.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 192] Local informants confirm exactly where bin Laden will be in the camp on February 11, and a strike is prepared. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] But policy makers are concerned that a strike might kill a prince or other senior officials, and that this would damage relations with the UAE and other Persian gulf countries. Therefore, the strike is called off. Bin Laden will leave the camp on February 12. A top UAE official at the time denies that high-level officials are there, but evidence subsequently confirms their presence. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 192] Scheuer will claim in 2004 that “the truth has not been fully told” about this incident. He will claim that the strike is cancelled because senior officials at the CIA, White House, and other agencies, decide to accept assurances from an unnamed Islamic country that it can acquire bin Laden from the Taliban. “US officials accepted these assurances despite the well-documented record of that country withholding help—indeed, it was a record of deceit and obstruction—regarding all issues pertaining to bin Laden” in previous years. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] This may be a reference to Saudi Arabia. In mid-1998, the CIA called off a plan to capture bin Laden in favor of an ultimately unfulfilled Saudi promise to bribe the Taliban to hand bin Laden over (see May 1998). Many in US intelligence will be resentful over this missed opportunity and blame a conflict of interest with the Emirati royals (see Shortly After February 11, 1999).

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden, Alec Station, United Arab Emirates

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Yellowcake.Yellowcake. [Source: CBC]Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan takes a trip to West Africa. Ostensibly, he is going to oversee the construction of the Hendrina Khan Hotel in Timbuktu, Mali, which he bought the year before and is named after his wife, but it is believed that is just a cover for nuclear-related business. He spends several days in Khartoum, Sudan, where he is spotted touring the al-Shifa factory, bombed by the US the year before in response to al-Qaeda bombings in Africa (see August 20, 1998). In 2006, intelligence sources in India and Israel will claim that Khan actually partly owns the factory. Khan then travels to N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, Timbuktu in Mali, and Niamey, the capital of Niger. Niger has considerable uranium deposits and had been a major supplier of yellowcake uranium to Pakistan in the 1970s. Khan returns to Sudan, where he meets with the Sudanese president, and then returns to Pakistan. He is accompanied by his top nuclear aides and a number of Pakistani generals, and all expenses on the trip are paid for by the Pakistani government.
CIA Investigates Khan Trip - CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame Wilson learns about the trip, and the CIA is so concerned that it launches an investigation, especially to find out if Khan could be buying yellowcake from Niger. Plame Wilson’s husband Joseph Wilson, a former National Security Council official and US ambassador to the nearby country of Gabon who has close ties to important politicians in Niger, and who who has just set up a private consulting firm with a focus on advising clients who want to do business in Africa, is approached by officials from the CIA’s National Resources Division (NR) to visit Niger. The agency asks Wilson, who already has a business trip planned to West Africa, to find out what he can about Khan’s trip.
Illicit Uranium Sales Highly Unlikely - Wilson concludes that illicit uranium sales are very unlikely since the French government tightly controls Niger’s uranium mines and uranium sales. However, Khan’s trip does raise concern that he could be working with Osama bin Laden, because of his interest in the al-Shifa factory in Sudan, and because of intelligence that the hotel he owns in Timbuktu was paid for by bin Laden as part of a cooperative deal between them. The CIA writes and distributes a report on the trip. (In 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee will erroneously conclude that the CIA did not distribute the Wilson-Niger report—see July 9, 2004.) Wilson will keep this trip secret, even refusing to mention it in his 2004 memoir The Politics of Truth, presumably because he signed a confidentiality agreement with the CIA. In 2002, he will return to Niger to investigate if Saddam Hussein could be buying uranium in Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). That will lead to the eventual outing of his wife Plame Wilson’s status as a CIA agent. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 283-285, 516; Wilson, 2007, pp. 358-360]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Osama bin Laden, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

US intelligence obtains detailed reporting on where bin Laden is located for five consecutive nights. CIA Director Tenet decides against acting three times, because of concerns about collateral damage and worries about the veracity of the single source of information. Frustration mounts. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, writes to a colleague in the field, “having a chance to get [bin Laden] three times in 36 hours and foregoing the chance each time has made me a bit angry…” [Coll, 2004, pp. 450; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 140] An unnamed senior military officer later complains, “This was in our strike zone. It was a fat pitch, a home run.” However, that month, the US mistakenly bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, due to outdated intelligence. It is speculated Tenet was wary of making another mistake. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] There is one more opportunity to strike bin Laden in July 1999, but after that there is apparently no intelligence good enough to justify considering a strike. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden, George J. Tenet, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Hamid Gul.
Hamid Gul. [Source: Public domain]The US gains information that former ISI head Hamid Gul contacts Taliban leaders at this time and advises them that the US is not planning to attack Afghanistan to get bin Laden. He assures them that he will provide them three or four hours warning of any future US missile launch, as he did “last time.” Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later suggests Gul gave al-Qaeda warning about the missile strike in August 1998 (see August 20, 1998). [New Yorker, 7/28/2003]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Hamid Gul, Taliban, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In the winter of 1999, a covert four-man CIA and NSA team arrives in the part of Afghanistan controlled by the Northern Alliance. They set up a listening post within range of al-Qaeda’s tactical radios. The Northern Alliance is shown how to run it, and then the team leaves. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; Miniter, 2003, pp. 197-198] In March 2000, CIA agent Gary Berntsen leads a small CIA team into Northern Alliance territory (see March 2000). While there, they improve the existing listening post and set up a new one closer to Taliban-controlled territory. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 57-61] The US makes little use of the intelligence gained from these intercepts, leading Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud to conclude that the US is “not serious” about getting bin Laden. [Miniter, 2003, pp. 197-198]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Gary Berntsen, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Al-Qaeda, Northern Alliance

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke warns of the danger posed by Osama bin Laden and of the risk of a terrorist attack within the United States, and argues for an aggressive anti-terrorism strategy. His views are reported by the Washington Post, which calls him “one of the least known but most controversial members of [President] Clinton’s national security team,” who has “played a key role both in defining the new post-Cold War security threats to the United States and coming up with a response.” The Post says the central idea behind Clarke’s thinking is that “a new breed of global terrorist—embodied by bin Laden—has developed the ruthlessness and resources to carry its war to American soil.” These terrorists, Clarke says, “will come after our weakness, our Achilles heel, which is largely here in the United States.” Clarke “compares the current threat of global terrorism with the situation faced by Western democracies in the period leading up to World War II, when appeasement carried the day.” He is critical of those who are skeptical about the danger of a chemical or biological terrorist attack, saying: “The notion that this is an analytical problem and one can quantify the threat is naive.… We don’t know how many bio labs there are out there, how many tons of chemical agents. Frankly, it will only take one.” Clarke wants aggressive action to prevent terrorist attacks against Americans. He says: “We should have a very low barrier in terms of acting when there is a threat of weapons of mass destruction being used against American citizens. We should not have a barrier of evidence that can be used in a court of law.” Referring to bin Laden, he adds: “It’s not enough to be in a cat-and-mouse game, warning about his plots. If we keep that up, we will someday fail. We need to seriously think about doing more. Our goal should be to so erode his network of organizations that they no longer pose a serious threat.” [Washington Post, 4/2/2000]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

October 12, 2000: USS Cole Bombed by Al-Qaeda

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

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khallad bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Islamic Army of Aden, USS Cole, Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim al-Thawar, Khalid Almihdhar, Fahad al-Quso, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hassan al-Khamri, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), the Clinton administration discusses what standard of evidence it needs to launch a counter-strike against al-Qaeda, which it suspects of the bombing. Following the bombing of the US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the administration fired a number of cruise missiles at suspected al-Qaeda targets (see August 20, 1998). However, the administration decides it must have evidence that bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s leadership has authority, direction, and control of the attack before initiating a response. CIA Director George Tenet will comment: “This is a high threshold to cross.” Tenet will also say that this threshold was not set by the CIA, but by “policy makers.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 128] Although the bombing is tied to three known leading al-Qaeda operatives, Khallad bin Attash (see November 11, 2000), Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000), and Ahmed al-Hada (see November 2000 or After), early on in the investigation, no counterstrike is initiated (see Shortly After October 12, 2000 and Late October 2000). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will express his frustration with the inaction: “[I]n Washington neither CIA nor FBI would state the obvious: al-Qaeda did it. We knew there was a large al-Qaeda cell in Yemen There was also a large cell of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, but that group had now announced its complete merger into al-Qaeda, so what difference did it make which group did the attack? [Counterterrorism staff] had worked around the clock piecing together the evidence and had made a very credible case against al-Qaeda. CIA would agree only months later.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 223] The authors of the 2002 book The Cell will later write: “The links to bin Laden were everywhere. Each of the suspects being held in Yemen had admitted training in the Afghan camps run by bin Laden… neither the FBI nor the CIA was ever able to tell the president that they had direct proof that the Cole was a bin Laden-ordered job, though now, in retrospect, it seems terribly obvious. In any case, even if there had been compelling proof that bin Laden was behind the Cole bombing, there was little chance that the Clinton administration would have launched an attack on any Islamic country while he was trying to get the Israelis and Palestinians to the peace table.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 238]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Richard A. Clarke, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Shortly after the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), the US supposedly obtains intelligence that prompts President Clinton to consider another missile strike on bin Laden. The US presidential election is in early November. Author Lawrence Wright will later write, “Clinton maintains that, despite the awkward political timing, his administration came close to launching another missile attack… but at the last minute the CIA recommended calling it off because [bin Laden’s] presence at the site was not completely certain.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 244] Additionally, the tie between the Cole bombing and al-Qaeda had not yet been confirmed. The first strong evidence of such a tie will come in late November 2000 when details of an al-Qaeda operative’s confession are given to the FBI (see Late October-Late November 2000). The 9/11 Commission will make no mention of any planned strikes around this time in their final report while discussing the missed opportunities to strike at bin Laden. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237] However, the Washington Post will detail the opportunity, saying the target was a “stone compound, built around a central courtyard full of al-Qaeda operatives.” But the strike is canceled when CIA Director George Tenet calls National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and says about the quality of intelligence, “We just don’t have it.” [Washington Post, 12/19/2001] Ironically, it appears bin Laden was actually hoping to be attacked, anticipating that it would boost his reputation in the Muslim world. In the summer of 2001, the NSA will monitor two al-Qaeda operatives discussing how disappointed they are that the US did not retaliate after the Cole bombing (see June 30-July 1, 2001).

Entity Tags: Sandy Berger, Osama bin Laden, Clinton administration, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The FBI’s investigation of the USS Cole bombing in Aden, Yemen, connects the bombers to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, the country’s capital, which has been monitored by the US for at least two years (see Late August 1998 and Mid-August 1998-October 2000). It was also used in the East African embassy bombings (see August 4-25, 1998) and will be used by the 9/11 hijackers (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). It is not known when this connection is made. No apparent action is taken against Ahmed al-Hada, the operative who runs the communications hub, before 9/11. However, this may be due to the importance of intelligence generated from his phone (see Late 1998-Early 2002). In early 2001, al-Hada will be publicly identified as an al-Qaeda operative at the embassy bombings trial, when his phone number is disclosed openly in court and reported in the media (see February 2001 and After). Yet he still is not publicly indicted for either the embassy bombings or the Cole bombing, even though a number of other fugitives are publicly indicted. In 2002, US officials will describe al-Hada as a “prominent al-Qaeda member who is believed to have been involved in the Cole bombing,” and say his phone was used by the bombers to relay messages and “put everything together” before the attack. [MSNBC, 2/14/2002; MSNBC, 5/2005]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ahmed al-Hada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

Entity Tags: William S. Cohen, Sandy Berger, Henry Hugh Shelton, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Fahad al-Quso, Ali Soufan, Jamal al-Badawi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Reclusive top Taliban leader Mullah Omar says the Taliban would like to resolve the Osama bin Laden issue, so there can be “an easing and then lifting of UN sanctions that are strangling and killing the people of [Afghanistan].” [United Press International, 4/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Mullah Omar, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

According to British inside sources, “shortly before September 11,” bin Laden contacts an associate thought to be in Pakistan. The conversation refers to an incident that will take place in the US on, or around 9/11, and discusses possible repercussions. In another conversation, bin Laden contacts an associate thought to be in Afghanistan. They discuss the scale and effect of a forthcoming operation; bin Laden praises his colleague for his part in the planning. Neither conversation specifically mentions the WTC or Pentagon, but investigators have no doubt the 9/11 attacks were being discussed. The British government has obliquely made reference to these intercepts: “There is evidence of a very specific nature relating to the guilt of bin Laden and his associates that is too sensitive to release.” These intercepts will not be made public in British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s presentation of al-Qaeda’s guilt because “releasing full details could compromise the source or method of the intercepts.” [Sunday Times (London), 10/7/2001]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Tony Blair

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Osama bin Laden calls his stepmother and says, “In two days, you’re going to hear big news and you’re not going to hear from me for a while.” [Daily Telegraph, 10/2/2001] US officials will later tell CNN that “in recent years they’ve been able to monitor some of bin Laden’s telephone communications with his [step]mother. Bin Laden at the time was using a satellite telephone, and the signals were intercepted and sometimes recorded.” [New York Times, 10/2/2001] Stepmother Al-Khalifa bin Laden, who raised Osama bin Laden after his natural mother died, is apparently waiting in Damascus, Syria, to meet Osama there, so he calls to cancel the meeting. [Sunday Herald (Glasgow), 10/7/2001] They had met periodically in recent years. Before 9/11, to impress important visitors, NSA analysts would occasionally play audio tapes of bin Laden talking to his stepmother. The next day government officials say about the call, “I would view those reports with skepticism.” [CNN, 10/2/2001] Bin Laden gave his natural mother a similar warning some months ago that was also overheard by the NSA (see Spring-Summer 2001).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Al-Khalifa bin Laden, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses.The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapses. [Source: Associated Press]The South Tower of the World Trade Center tilts to the southeast and then collapses. It was hit by Flight 175 at 9:03 a.m., 56 minutes earlier (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 9/12/2001; New York Times, 9/12/2001; MSNBC, 9/22/2001; USA Today, 12/20/2001; Associated Press, 8/21/2002; ABC News, 9/11/2002; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 44] The first sign of the collapse is visible on floor 82. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 87] The angle of the tilt will be disputed after 9/11 (see September-November 2005), as will the time it takes the towers to fall to the ground (see September 12, 2001-September 2005). [Scientific American, 10/9/2001; Eagar and Musso, 12/2001; PBS Nova, 5/2002; National Institute of Standards and Technology, 8/30/2006]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At around 8:00 p.m., Afghanistan time (11:30 a.m., New York time), Taliban leader Mullah Omar allegedly says, “Things have gone much further than expected.” This is according to what the New Yorker will describe as “Afghan intelligence sources” who monitor the call. (It is unclear what “Afghan intelligence sources” means, since the Taliban control nearly all of Afghanistan at this time, but it could be a reference to Northern Alliance forces; the CIA gave them equipment to monitor the Taliban (see Winter 1999-March 2000).) Omar’s comment takes place over an hour after one of the World Trade Center towers collapsed, which means thousands have been killed in the attacks, not hundreds (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). An Afghan intelligence official will later say: “They were expecting a reaction. But they thought it would be a Clinton-type reaction. They didn’t anticipate the kind of revenge that occurred.” [New Yorker, 6/10/2002] The “Clinton-type reaction” presumably is a reference to the August 1998 missile strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan during the Clinton administration (see August 20, 1998).

Entity Tags: Mullah Omar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

The Guardian reports that many in Afghanistan intelligence say former top Taliban officials are living openly in villas in Afghanistan and Pakistan. At least four top leaders who had been caught have been simply released. Yet another leader, wanted by the US for harboring al-Qaeda operatives at his compound, is able to escape a very loose house arrest in mid-December. Two soldiers were checking on him once a day. One intelligence source claims to know the exact location of many, and says they could be rounded up within hours. A former Taliban minister now working with the Northern Alliance also claims: “Some are living in luxury in fine houses, they are not hiding in holes. They could be in jail by tonight if the political will existed.” The US claims it is working hard to find and catch these leaders. [New York Times, 12/20/2001; Guardian, 12/24/2001] However, it will later be revealed that the US is aware of these Taliban living in Pakistan but will not seriously press Pakistan about them until 2006 (see 2002-2006).

Entity Tags: Bush administration (43), Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Robert Grenier, head of the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, later says that the issue of fugitive Taliban leaders living in Pakistan was repeatedly raised with senior Pakistani intelligence officials in 2002. “The results were just not there. And it was quite clear to me that it wasn’t just bad luck.” [New York Times, 8/12/2007] For instance, in December 2001 the Guardian reported that many Taliban leaders are living openly in large villas in Pakistan (see December 24, 2001). But Grenier decides that Pakistan will not act on the Taliban and urges them to focus on arresting al-Qaeda operatives instead. “From our perspective at the time, the Taliban was a spent force. We were very much focused on al-Qaeda and didn’t want to distract the Pakistanis from that.” Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador to Afghanistan, US military officials, and some Bush administration officials periodically argue that the Taliban are crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan and killing US soldiers and aid workers (see August 18, 2005 and June 18, 2005). But it is not until some time in 2006 that President Bush strenuously presses Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf about acting on the Taliban leaders living in Pakistan. Even then, Bush reportedly tells his aides that he worries the ties between the Pakistani ISI and the Taliban continue and no serious action will be taken despite Musharraf’s assurances. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]

Entity Tags: Zalmay M. Khalilzad, George W. Bush, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pervez Musharraf, Robert Grenier, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Joseph Wilson.Joseph Wilson. [Source: public domain]The CIA sends Joseph C. Wilson, a retired US diplomat, to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq had sought to purchase uranium from that country (see February 13, 2002). The CIA pays Wilson’s expenses for the trip, but does not pay him in any other respect. The identity of the party who requests the mission is later disputed. While Wilson will claim the trip was requested directly by Dick Cheney’s office, other sources will indicate that the CIA had decided (see February 19, 2002) that a delegation to Niger was needed in order to investigate questions raised by one of Dick Cheney’s aides (see (February 13, 2002)). [New York Times, 5/6/2003; Washington Post, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Independent, 6/29/2003; New York Times, 7/6/2003; US Congress, 7/7/2004]
Reason behind Request - Former CIA analyst Melvin Goodman will later note that “Wilson was asked to go to Niger for one specific purpose. It was the CIA’s idea to get Cheney off their backs. Cheney would not get off their backs about the yellowcake documents. They couldn’t get Cheney to stop pressing the issue. He insisted that was the proof of reconstitution of [Iraq’s nuclear] program.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 214]
Normal Skepticism - Wilson goes into the situation with a healthy dose of skepticism. “My skepticism was the same as it would have been with any unverified intelligence report, because there is a lot of stuff that comes over the transom every day,” he will recall in 2006. Wilson knows nothing of the influence of the Pentagon neoconservatives (see July 8, 1996, January 26, 1998, July 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, Shortly after January 20, 2001, and Shortly After September 11, 2001) or the growing rift in the intelligence community over the reports: “I was aware that the neocons had a growing role in government and that they were interested in Iraq,” he will recall. “But the administration had not articulated a policy at this stage.” He is not given a copy of the Niger documents before leaving for Africa, nor is he told of their history. “To the best of my knowledge, the documents were not in the possession of the [CIA] at the time I was briefed,” he will recall. “The discussion was whether or not this report could be accurate. During this discussion, everyone who knew something shared stuff about how the uranium business worked, and I laid out what I knew about the government in Niger, what information they could provide.” With this rather sketchy preparation, Wilson leaves for Niger. [Unger, 2007, pp. 240; Wilson, 2007, pp. 113] Wilson’s wife, senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson, will later write, “He figured that if the vice president had asked a serious and legitimate question, it deserved a serious answer and he would try to help find it.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 111]
No Trouble Finding Information - Wilson, who knows the Nigerien government and many of its officials, has little trouble finding the information he needs in the following week. In 2006, he will recall: “Niger has a simplistic government structure. Both the minister of mines and the prime minister had gone through the mines. The French were managing partners of the international consortium [which handles Niger’s uranium]. The French mining company actually had its hands on the project. Nobody else in the consortium had operators on the ground.” Wilson also personally knows Wissam al-Zahawie, Iraq’s ambassador to the Vatican who supposedly negotiated the uranium deal with Niger (see February 1999). Wilson will later observe: “Wissam al-Zahawie was a world-class opera singer, and he went to the Vatican as his last post so he could be near the great European opera houses in Rome. He was not in the Ba’athist inner circle. He was not in Saddam [Hussein]‘s tribe. The idea that he would be entrusted with the super-secret mission to buy 500 tons of uranium from Niger is out of the question.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 240-241] Wilson meets with, among other officials, Niger’s former minister of mines, Mai Manga. As later reported by the Senate Intelligence Committee (see July 9, 2004), Manga tells Wilson “there were no sales outside of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) channels since the mid-1980s,” and he “knew of no contracts signed between Niger and any rogue states for the sale of uranium.” Manga says a “French mining consortium controls Nigerien uranium mining and keeps the uranium very tightly controlled from the time it is mined until the time it is loaded onto ships in Benin for transport overseas,” and, “it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrange a special shipment of uranium to a pariah state given these controls.” [CounterPunch, 11/9/2005]
Meeting with US Ambassador - Wilson arrives in Niger on February 26, two days after Marine General Carlton W. Fulford Jr.‘s meeting (see February 24, 2002) with Nigerien officials. Wilson first meets with US Ambassador to Niger Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, a veteran Foreign Service official, whom Wilson will later describe as “crisp” and well-informed. Over tea in the US Embassy offices in Niamey, Niger’s capital, Owens-Kirkpatrick tells Wilson that she has already concluded that the allegations of uranium sales to Iraq are unfounded. “She had already debunked them in her reports to Washington,” Wilson will later recall. “She said, yeah, she knew a lot about this particular report. She thought she had debunked it—and, oh, by the way, a four-star Marine Corps general had been down there as well—Carlton Fulford. And he had left satisfied there was nothing to report.” [Wilson, 2004, pp. 20-22]
Details of Alleged Uranium Production - Niger extracts uranium from two mines, both located in remote locations in the Sahara Desert. It takes well over a day to drive from the mines to Niamey. The mines are owned by a consortium of foreign companies and the Nigerien government, and managed by a French mining company, COGEMA. Because of a recent upswing in the production of Canadian uranium, Niger’s uranium is mined at a net loss, and its only customers are consortium members. Wilson will later write, “[T]he Nigerien government has sold no uranium outside the consortium for two decades.” If Iraq had bought 500 tons of uranium, as the story is told, that would have represented a 40 percent production increase. “There is no doubt,” Wilson will later write, “that such a significant shift from historic production schedules would have been absolutely impossible to hide from the other partners, and most certainly from the managing partner, COGEMA. Everyone involved would have known about it.” Any Nigerien government decision to produce such an amount of uranium would have involved numerous government officials and many well-documented meetings. Because the transaction would have been to a foreign country, Niger’s Foreign Ministry would also have been involved in the decision. To sell Iraq uranium during that time would have been a violation of international law and of UN sanctions against Iraq, a weighty decision that would have ultimately been made by the president of Niger in conjuction with the foreign minister and the minister of mines. Such a decision would have been published in the Nigerien equivalent of the Federal Register and would have dramatic tax and revenue implications. The unexpected huge infusion of cash from the sale would have had a strong impact on the Nigerien economy, and would have been much anticipated and talked about throughout the Nigerien business community. [Wilson, 2004, pp. 22-25]
Off-the-Books Production Virtually Impossible - It is conceivable that such an enormous operation could have been conducted entirely “off the books,” Wilson will write, but virtually impossible to pull off. True, a military junta was in power at the time of the alleged sale, one that felt no responsibility or accountability to the Nigerien people. But even a secret transaction would have been impossible to conceal. Such a transaction would have involved thousands of barrels of clandestinely shipped uranium, extensive and complex adjustments to shipping schedules, and other ramifications. “It simply could not have happened without a great many people knowing about it, and secrets widely known do not remain hidden for long. And again, COGEMA, as the managing partner, would have had to know and be complicit.” Add to that Niger’s dependence on US foreign economic aid and its unwillingness to threaten the loss of that aid by secretly shipping uranium to a country that the US considers a dangerous rogue nation. All told, Wilson concludes, the possibility of such a clandestine operation is remote in the extreme. [Wilson, 2004; Wilson, 2004]
1999 Meeting with Iraqi Official - While speaking with a US Embassy official, Wilson learns about a 1999 meeting between the embassy official and an Iraqi representative in Algiers, perhaps in concert with a similar meeting between Iraqi officials and Niger’s prime minister (see June 1999). [Wilson, 2004, pp. 27-28]
Confirmation that Allegations are Unrealistic - After spending several days talking with current government officials, former government officials, and people associated with the country’s uranium business, Wilson concludes the rumors are completely false. He will later call the allegations “bogus and unrealistic.” [Washington Post, 6/12/2003 pdf file; Knight Ridder, 6/13/2003; Independent, 6/29/2003; New York Times, 7/6/2003; CBS News, 7/11/2003; Vanity Fair, 1/2004; Wilson, 2004, pp. 20-28, 424; Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 282; Wilson, 2007, pp. 113]

Entity Tags: Barbro Owens-Kirkpatrick, Wissam al-Zahawie, Carlton W. Fulford, COGEMA, Mai Manga, Valerie Plame Wilson, Muhammad Saeed al-Sahhaf, Melvin A. Goodman, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

The Library Lounge of the St. Regis Hotel, where Libby and Miller discussed the Wilsons.The Library Lounge of the St. Regis Hotel, where Libby and Miller discussed the Wilsons. [Source: Starwood Hotels]Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, meets with New York Times reporter Judith Miller for breakfast at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC. Libby has already learned that Joseph Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, is an undercover CIA agent (see 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003 and (June 12, 2003)).
Again Reveals Plame Wilson's CIA Identity - During their two-hour meeting, Libby again tells Miller, who will testify to this conversation over two years hence (see September 30, 2005), that Wilson’s wife is a CIA agent (see June 23, 2003), and this time tells Miller that she works with WINPAC, the CIA’s Weapons Intelligence, Non-Proliferation, and Arms Control bureau that deals with foreign countries’ WMD programs.
Claims that Iraq Tried to Obtain African Uranium - Libby calls Wilson’s Times op-ed (see July 14, 2003) inaccurate, and spends a considerable amount of time and energy both blasting Wilson and insisting that credible evidence of an Iraq-Niger uranium connection indeed exists. He also says that few in the CIA were ever aware of Wilson’s 2002 trip to Niger to verify the uranium claims (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). Miller will write: “Although I was interested primarily in my area of expertise—chemical and biological weapons—my notes show that Mr. Libby consistently steered our conversation back to the administration’s nuclear claims. His main theme echoed that of other senior officials: that contrary to Mr. Wilson’s criticism, the administration had had ample reason to be concerned about Iraq’s nuclear capabilities based on the regime’s history of weapons development, its use of unconventional weapons, and fresh intelligence reports.” Libby gives Miller selected information from the classified National Intelligence Estimate on Iraq (NIE—see October 1, 2002) that he says backs up the administration’s claims about Iraqi WMD and the Iraq-Niger uranium claim. That information will later be proven to be false: Cheney has instructed Libby to tell Miller that the uranium claim was part of the NIE’s “key judgments,” indicating that there was consensus on the claim’s validity. That is untrue. The claim is not part of the NIE’s key judgments, but is contained deeper in the document, surrounded by caveats such as the claims “cannot [be] confirm[ed]” and the evidence supporting the claim is “inconclusive.” Libby does not inform Miller about these caveats. [New York Times, 10/16/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216-217; Rich, 2006, pp. 183-184; Washington Post, 4/9/2006] In subsequent grand jury testimony (see March 24, 2004), Libby will admit to giving Miller a bulleted copy of the talking points from the NIE he wanted her to emphasize. He will tell prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald that he had it typed by his assistant Jenny Mayfield. “It was less than what I had been authorized to share with her,” he will say, and describes it as about a third of a page in length. This document will either not be submitted into evidence in Libby’s trial (see January 16-23, 2007) or not be made publicly available. [Marcy Wheeler, 2/22/2007]
Libby Identified as 'Former Hill Staffer' and Not White House Official - Miller agrees to refer to Libby as a “former Hill staffer” instead of a “senior administration official” in any story she will write from this interview. Though technically accurate, that characterization, if it had been used, would misdirect people into believing the information came from someone with current or former connections to Congress, and not from the White House. Miller will not write a story from this interview. In later testimony before a grand jury, Libby will falsely claim that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA identity “from reporters.” The reverse is actually true. [New York Times, 10/16/2005; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 216-217; Rich, 2006, pp. 183-184] Libby is also apparently aware of Wilson’s 1999 trip to Niger to find out whether Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan had tried to procure Nigerien uranium (see Late February 1999), as Libby’s notes include the notation “Khan + Wilson?” Cheney’s chief lawyer, David Addington, has also asked Libby about Wilson’s 1999 trip. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 361-362] Libby has authorization from Cheney to leak classified information to Miller, and understands that the authorization comes directly from President Bush (see 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003). It is unclear whether Libby has authorization from Cheney or Bush to divulge Plame Wilson’s CIA identity.
Miller Learned Plame Wilson Identity from Libby - Miller will later testify that she did not learn Plame Wilson’s identity specifically from Libby, but that testimony will be undermined by the words “Valerie Flame” (an apparent misspelling) written in her notes of this meeting. She will also testify that she pushed, without success, for her editors to approve an article about Plame Wilson’s identity. [New York Times, 10/16/2005]

Entity Tags: Jennifer Mayfield, Weapons Intelligence, Nonproliferation, and Arms Control, Judith Miller, Central Intelligence Agency, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Bush administration (43), Valerie Plame Wilson, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Joseph C. Wilson, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, David S. Addington

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Pat Roberts during a July 9, 2004 interview on PBS.Pat Roberts during a July 9, 2004 interview on PBS. [Source: PBS]The Senate Intelligence Committee releases the 511-page Senate Report on Iraqi WMD intelligence, formally titled the “Report of the Select Committee on Intelligence on the US Intelligence Community’s Prewar Intelligence Assessments on Iraq.” [US Congress, 7/7/2004; CNN, 7/9/2004] All nine Republicans and eight Democrats signed off on the report without dissent, which, as reporter Murray Waas will write, is “a rarity for any such report in Washington, especially during an election year.” [National Journal, 10/27/2005]
Report Redacted by White House - About 20 percent of the report was redacted by the White House before its release, over the objections of both Republicans and Democrats on the committee. Some of the redactions include caveats and warnings about the reliability of key CIA informants, one code-named “Red River” and another code-named “Curveball” (see Mid- and Late 2001). The source called “Red River” failed polygraph tests given to him by CIA officers to assess his reliability, but portions of the report detailing these and other caveats were redacted at the behest of Bush administration officials. [New York Times, 7/12/2004; New York Times, 7/18/2004]
Widespread Failures of US Intelligence - The report identifies multiple, widespread failures by the US intelligence community in its gathering and analysis of intelligence about Iraq WMD, which led to gross misunderstandings and misrepresentations about Iraq’s WMD programs to the American public by government officials. Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), who has previously attempted to shift blame for the intelligence misrepresentations away from the Bush administration and onto the CIA (see July 11, 2003 and After), says that intelligence used to support the invasion of Iraq was based on assessments that were “unreasonable and largely unsupported by the available intelligence.” He continues: “Before the war, the US intelligence community told the president as well as the Congress and the public that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons and if left unchecked would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Today we know these assessments were wrong.” Senator John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the ranking Democrat on the 18-member panel that created the report, says “bad information” was used to bolster the case for war. “We in Congress would not have authorized that war with 75 votes if we knew what we know now,” he says (see October 10, 2002). “Leading up to September 11, our government didn’t connect the dots. In Iraq, we are even more culpable because the dots themselves never existed.” Numerous assertions in an October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE—see October 1, 2002) were “overstated” or “not supported by the raw intelligence reporting,” including:
bullet Claims that Iraq was rebuilding its nuclear weapons program;
bullet Claims that Iraq had large stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons;
bullet Claims that Iraq was developing an unmanned aerial vehicle that could be used to deliver chemical and/or biological weapons payloads onto distant targets;
bullet The so-called “layering effect,” where “assessments were based on previous judgments, without considering the uncertainties of those judgments” (Roberts calls it an “assumption train”);
bullet The failure to explain adequately the uncertainties in the October 2002 NIE to White House officials and Congressional lawmakers;
bullet Reliance on claims by “Curveball,” noting that the use of those claims “demonstrated serious lapses in handling such an important source”;
bullet Use of “overstated, misleading, or incorrect” information in helping then-Secretary of State Colin Powell present the administration’s case to the United Nations in February 2003 (see February 5, 2003); and
bullet The failure of the CIA to share significant intelligence with other agencies. [CNN, 7/9/2004; Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
“One fact is now clear,” Roberts says. “Before the war, the US intelligence community told the president as well as the Congress and the public that Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, and if left unchecked, would probably have a nuclear weapon during this decade. Well, today we know these assessments were wrong.” [Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004] Rockefeller says the intelligence community failed to “accurately or adequately explain the uncertainties behind the judgments in the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate to policymakers.” The community’s “intelligence failures” will haunt America’s national security “for generations to come,” he says. “Our credibility is diminished. Our standing in the world has never been lower,” he says. “We have fostered a deep hatred of Americans in the Muslim world, and that will grow. As a direct consequence, our nation is more vulnerable today than ever before.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
'Group Think' and 'Corporate Culture' - Roberts says the report finds that the “flawed” information used to send the nation to war was the result of “what we call a collective group think, which led analysts and collectors and managers to presume that Iraq had active and growing WMD programs.” He says this “group think caused the community to interpret ambiguous evidence, such as the procurement of dual-use technology, as conclusive evidence of the existence of WMD programs.” Roberts blames “group think” and a “broken corporate culture and poor management,” which “cannot be solved by simply adding funding and also personnel.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
Lack of Human Intelligence in Iraq - Perhaps the most troubling finding, Roberts says, is the intelligence community’s near-total lack of human intelligence in Iraq. “Most alarmingly, after 1998 and the exit of the UN inspectors, the CIA had no human intelligence sources inside Iraq who were collecting against the WMD target,” he says. [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
No Connection between Iraq, al-Qaeda - Rockefeller says that the administration’s claims of an alliance between Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda had no basis in fact: “[N]o evidence existed of Iraq’s complicity or assistance in al-Qaeda’s terrorist attacks, including 9/11.” The report says that intelligence claims of connections between Iraq and some terrorist activities were accurate, though the contacts between al-Qaeda and Iraq from the 1990s “did not add up to an established formal relationship.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004]
Divided Opinion on Pressure from Bush Administration - Republicans and Democrats on the committee differ as to whether they believe the CIA and other intelligence agencies groomed or distorted their findings as a result of political pressure from the White House. “The committee found no evidence that the intelligence community’s mischaracterization or exaggeration of intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction capabilities was the result of politics or pressure,” Roberts says. However, Rockefeller notes that the report fails to explain fully the pressures on the intelligence community “when the most senior officials in the Bush administration had already forcefully and repeatedly stated their conclusions publicly. It was clear to all of us in this room who were watching that—and to many others—that they had made up their mind that they were going to go to war.” The analysts were subjected to a “cascade of ominous statements,” Rockefeller says, that may have pushed them to slant their analyses in the direction the White House indicated it wanted. The report finds that Vice President Dick Cheney and others who repeatedly visited intelligence agencies (see 2002-Early 2003) pressured intelligence analysts or officials to present particular findings or change their views. However, the report notes repeated instances of analysts exaggerating what they knew, and leaving out, glossing over, or omitting dissenting views. According to the report, the intelligence community released a misleading public version of the October 2002 NIE (see October 4, 2002) that eliminated caveats and dissenting opinions, thus misrepresenting “their judgments to the public which did not have access to the classified National Intelligence Estimate containing the more carefully worded assessments.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; New York Times, 7/9/2004; Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004] In an interview the evening after the report’s release, Rockefeller is asked if the report documents “a failure of a system or is this a failure of a bunch of individuals who just did their jobs poorly?” Rockefeller responds: “This is a failure of a system.… It is not fair to simply dump all of this on the Central Intelligence Agency. The Central Intelligence Agency does not make the decision, and [former Director] George Tenet does not make the decision to go to war. That decision is made at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue.… So we went to war under false pretenses, and I think that is a very serious subject for Americans to think about for our future.” Asked “if the president had known then what he knows now, he would have still taken us to war?” Rockefeller answers: “I can’t answer that question. I just ask—the question I ask is, why isn’t he, and maybe he is, why isn’t he as angry about his decision, so to speak his vote on this, as I am about mine?” [PBS, 7/9/2004]
Supporting the Claim of Iraq's Attempt to Purchase Nigerien Uranium - The report states flatly that senior CIA case officer Valerie Plame Wilson made the decision to send her husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, to Niger to investigate false claims that Iraq had attempted to purchase uranium from that nation (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The CIA has demonstrated that Plame Wilson did not make that decision (see February 19, 2002). However, as well as claiming that Plame Wilson sent Wilson to Niger, it claims that Wilson’s report, far from disproving the assertion of an attempt by Iraq to purchase uranium, actually bolstered that assertion. The report states that the question of Iraq’s attempt to buy Nigerien uranium remains “open.” It also says Wilson lied to the Washington Post in June 2004 by claiming that the documents used to support the claim were forgeries (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). “Committee staff asked how the former ambassador could have come to the conclusion that the ‘dates were wrong and the names were wrong’ when he had never seen the CIA reports and had no knowledge of what names and dates were in the reports,” the report states. Wilson told committee members he may have been confused and may have “misspoken” to some reporters (see May 2, 2004). The committee did not examine the documents themselves. [Washington Post, 7/10/2009] The committee made similar claims a year before (see June 11, 2003 and July 11, 2003 and After). Progressive reporter and columnist Joshua Micah Marshall disputes the report’s claim that Wilson’s trip to Niger actually helped prove the assertion that Iraq tried to buy Nigerien uranium. The intelligence reports making the assertion are “fruits of the same poison tree” that produced so many other false and misleading claims, Marshall writes, and were based on the assumption that the forged documents were genuine. [Joshua Micah Marshall, 7/10/2004] In 2007, Plame Wilson will write, “What was missing from the [committee] report was just as telling as the distortions it contained. The ‘Additional Views’ section… had concluded” that she was responsible for sending Wilson to Niger. Yet that was contradicted by a senior CIA official over a year before. Plame Wilson will call the “Additional Views” section “a political smear if there ever was one,” crammed with “distortions and outright lies. Yet it continues to be cited today by Joe’s critics as proof of his lack of credibility.” The Wilsons learn months later that committee Democrats decided not to fight against the attacks on Wilson’s integrity; according to one of the senior Democratic senators on the panel, there was simply too much “incoming” from the Republicans for them to fight every issue. There were “far too many serious substantial disputes” that needed solving, and the Democrats chose to allow the attacks on Wilson to proceed without comment. [Wilson, 2007, pp. 187-190]
Portion of the Report Delayed - Roberts and other Republican majority committee members were successful in blocking Democrats’ attempts to complete the second portion of the report, which delineates the Bush administration’s use of the intelligence findings. That report will not be released until after the November 2004 presidential election. Rockefeller says he feels “genuine frustration… that virtually everything that has to do with the administration” has been “relegated to phase two” and will be discussed at another time. The second part of the committee’s investigation will focus on the “interaction or the pressure or the shaping of intelligence” by the Bush administration, Rockefeller says. “It was clear to all of us that the Bush administration had made up its mind to go to war,” he says, and he believes that such a “predetermination” influenced the intelligence community. Representative Jane Harman (D-CA), the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee, says she hopes a similar House investigation would address some of those issues. However, she notes, she has been stymied by House Republicans in even launching that investigation. “There has not been the cooperation that there apparently has been on the Senate side,” she says. She has just now managed to wangle a meeting with House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss (R-FL), who is being touted as the next director of the CIA (see September 24, 2004). Harman says, “I would hope we could address [the issues] factually and on a bipartisan basis, but at the moment I don’t have a lot of confidence in it.” [CNN, 7/9/2004; Cybercast News Service, 7/9/2004] Roberts’s spokeswoman Sarah Little later says that the committee has not yet decided whether the second portion of the report will be fully classified, declassified, or even if it will hold hearings. [National Journal, 10/27/2005]
Cheney, Roberts Colluded in Interfering with Report - Over a year later, the media will find that Roberts allowed Cheney and members of his staff to interfere with the committee’s investigation and dramatically limit its scope (see October 27, 2005). Rockefeller will say that he made three separate requests for White House documents during the committee’s investigation, but never received the documents he asked for. “The fact is,” Rockefeller will say, “that throughout the Iraq investigation any line of questioning that brought us too close to the White House was thwarted.” Rockefeller’s spokesperson, Wendy Morigi, will say that Rockefeller will “sadly come to the conclusion that the Intelligence Committee is not capable of doing the job of investigating the fundamental question as to whether the administration has misused intelligence to go to war.” [National Journal, 10/30/2005] Plame Wilson will write: “In the coming months, many reliable sources told us that before the report was issued, there was considerable collusion between the vice president’s office and… Roberts on how to craft the report and its content. So much for checks and balances and the separation of powers.” [Wilson, 2007, pp. 192]

Entity Tags: Joshua Micah Marshall, Pat Roberts, Murray Waas, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Valerie Plame Wilson, Porter J. Goss, Joseph C. Wilson, Senate Intelligence Committee, John D. Rockefeller, Central Intelligence Agency, House Intelligence Committee, ’Curveball’, Jane Harman, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Colin Powell, Wendy Morigi, Sarah Little, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani’s appearance on Pakistani television, June 15, 2005. Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani’s appearance on Pakistani television, June 15, 2005. [Source: Agence France-Presse]Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a senior Taliban commander, gives an interview on Pakistani television, and says Osama bin Laden is in good health and Mullah Omar remains in direct command of the Taliban. [Reuters, 6/18/2005] Several days later, US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad will criticize Pakistan, pointing out that if a TV station could get in contact with a top Taliban leader, Pakistani intelligence should be able to find them too (see June 18, 2005).

Entity Tags: Mullah Omar, Taliban, Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

US ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad criticizes Pakistan’s failure to act against Taliban leaders living in Pakistan. Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, a senior Taliban commander, recently gave an interview on Pakistani television in which he said Osama bin Laden is in good health and Mullah Omar remains in direct command of the Taliban (see June 15, 2005). Khalilzad further points out that Taliban spokesman Abdul Latif Hakimi frequently gives interviews from the Pakistani city of Quetta, and asks, “If a TV station can get in touch with them, how can the intelligence service of a country, which has nuclear bombs and a lot of security and military forces, not find them?” [Reuters, 6/18/2005]

Entity Tags: Zalmay M. Khalilzad, Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, Abdul Latif Hakimi, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Knight Ridder reports, “Nearly four years after a US-led military intervention toppled them from power, the Taliban has re-emerged as a potent threat to stability in Afghanistan. Though it’s a far cry from the mass movement that overran most of the country in the 1990s, today’s Taliban is fighting a guerrilla war with new weapons, including portable anti-aircraft missiles, and equipment bought with cash sent through Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda network, according to Afghan and Western officials.… The Taliban is now a disparate assemblage of radical groups estimated to number several thousand, far fewer than when it was in power before November 2001. The fighters operate in small cells that occasionally come together for specific missions. They’re unable to hold territory or defeat coalition troops.… The Taliban insurgents have adopted some of the terrorist tactics that their Iraqi counterparts have used to stoke popular anger at the Iraqi government and the US military. They’ve stalled reconstruction and fomented sectarian tensions in a country that remains mired in poverty and corruption, illegal drugs and ethnic and political hatred.” Most of the original top leaders were never captured. Some who were briefly held and then released, such as former Defense Minister Mullah Obaidullah Akhund (see Early January 2002), are part of the resurgence. Forty-four US soldiers have been killed in the last six months. Afghan and Western officials claim that the Taliban continues to be supported by Pakistan’s ISI. Pakistan “seeks a weak government in [Afghanistan] that it can influence.” It is claimed that the Taliban are allowed to maintain training camps and arms depots just across the border from Pakistan. [Knight Ridder, 8/18/2005]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Prince Bandar, Saudi ambassador to the US since 1983, steps down and is replaced by Prince Turki al-Faisal. It is said that Prince Bandar had been suffering health problems and is not close to the new Saudi King Abdullah (see August 1, 2005). Prince Turki was Saudi intelligence minister from the late 1970s until about one week before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001). Then he served three years as Saudi ambassador to Britain. Prince Turki has had a controversial past. He was considered a mentor to bin Laden, and encouraged him to represent Saudi Arabia in the Afghanistan war against the Soviet Union. There are allegations that Prince Turki took part in a series of secret meetings between bin Laden and the Saudis over a period of many years (see Summer 1991; May 1996; Spring 1998; June 1998; July 1998; July 4-14, 2001). There are also allegations that he went falcon hunting in Afghanistan with bin Laden during much of the 1990s (see 1995-2001). In the wake of his appointment as ambassador, US officials try to downplay his past. One unnamed US official says, “Yes, he knew members of al-Qaeda. Yes, he talked to the Taliban. At times he delivered messages to us and from us regarding Osama bin Laden and others. Yes, he had links that in this day and age would be considered problematic, but at the time we used those links.” The official adds that Prince Turki seems to have “gotten out of that business” since 2001 and “he understands that times have changed.” He was sued in 2002 by a group of 9/11 victims’ relatives for allegedly supporting al-Qaeda, but his name was dropped from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see August 15, 2002). [New York Times, 7/21/2005]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Bandar bin Sultan, Al-Qaeda, Turki al-Faisal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The online news site Raw Story publishes an article claiming that the exposure of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see June 13, 2003, June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, and July 14, 2003) caused more damage to US national security than has previously been admitted, particularly in the area of containing foreign nuclear proliferation. Editor and reporter Larisa Alexandrovna sources the story from a number of anonymous current and former intelligence officials. Plame Wilson, the officials say, was an integral part of an operation tracking distribution and acquisition of weapons of mass destruction technology to and from Iran. Alexandrovna writes, “Their [the officials’] accounts suggest that Plame [Wilson]‘s outing was more serious than has previously been reported and carries grave implications for US national security and its ability to monitor Iran’s burgeoning nuclear program.” The officials say that while previous reports indicate Plame Wilson may have been involved in monitoring nuclear “black market” activities, particularly those involving Abdul Qadeer Khan (see Late February 1999), her real focus was Iran, though her team would have come into contact with Khan’s black market network during the course of its work on Iran’s nuclear program. Khan’s network is believed to have been the primary source of Iran’s nuclear weapons efforts. The officials refuse to identify the specifics of Plame Wilson’s work, but do say that her exposure resulted in “severe” damage to her team and significantly hampered the CIA’s ability to monitor nuclear proliferation. [Raw Story, 2/13/2006] The officials also say that the CIA conducted an “aggressive” in-house assessment of the damage caused by Plame Wilson’s exposure shortly after the White House leaked her identity to the press, and found the damage done by the leak “severe” (see Before September 16, 2003).

Entity Tags: Larisa Alexandrovna, Central Intelligence Agency, Raw Story, Valerie Plame Wilson, Abdul Qadeer Khan

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Judge Reggie Walton releases a heavily redacted, 38-page document containing his November 15, 2006 opinion about the release of classified documents on behalf of the Libby defense team (see November 15, 2006 and November 22, 2006). Material pertaining to the classified documents themselves is redacted from the document. According to Walton’s ruling, Lewis Libby wants to use 129 classified documents to bolster his contention that his systemic and widespread memory failures led him to misinform investigators about his role in exposing CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson (see January 31, 2006). According to the Associated Press, if Walton decides to bar the use of some or all of those classified documents, Libby’s lawyers could then ask for a dismissal of the case. “If the case goes forward and the evidence is allowed,” the AP writes, “the trial could offer a behind-the-scenes look at the White House in the early months of the war in Iraq.” Walton has said he has tried to balance national security concerns with Libby’s right to a fair trial (see November 15, 2006 and November 22, 2006). He has said that pre-approving classified evidence “requires a court to play the role of Johnny Carson’s character Carnac the Magnificent by requiring it to render rulings before knowing the exact context of how those rulings will coincide with other evidence that has actually been developed at trial.” Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald has characterized Libby’s threat to reveal classified information during the trial “graymail” (see After October 28, 2005, January 31, 2006, February 6, 2006, and (February 16, 2006)). Libby’s defense will argue that Libby was absorbed by several major national security areas of concern during the time Plame Wilson was exposed: threats from Islamist terror groups, working with Homeland Security to bolster US defenses, countering the nuclear threat posed by Pakistani scientist A.Q. Khan (see Late February 1999) and North Korea, the Iranian threat, developing security in Iraq after the fall of the Saddam Hussein regime, Israeli-Palestinian relations, incidents between Iraq and Turkey, and the unrest in Liberia as it threatened the safety of the US Embassy in Monrovia. [US District Court of the District of Columbia, 12/1/2006 pdf file; Associated Press, 12/1/2006; MSNBC, 12/4/2006]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Associated Press, Reggie B. Walton, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Attorney general nominee Michael Mukasey uses an anecdote about a cell phone battery to argue that the current legal system is poorly equipped to fight Islamic terrorism. The anecdote is told during his confirmation hearings, but he previously used it in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal in August. Mukasey says that during Ramzi Yousef’s trial for the 1993 World Trade Center bombing: “[S]omebody testified to somebody having delivered a cell phone battery to someone else. That piece of testimony disclosed to al-Qaeda that a line of communication of theirs had been compromised and, in fact, was one of communication that our government was monitoring and from which it had gotten enormously valuable intelligence. That line of communication shut down within days of that testimony and I don’t know what we lost. Nobody knows what we lost. But we probably lost something enormously valuable.” Mukasey does not say which of Yousef’s two trials the testimony was at. [Wall Street Journal, 8/22/2007; CQ Transcripts Wire, 10/18/2007] This incident is not known and is not confirmed by other sources. It is unclear who the two militants were, and why the militant who received the cell phone battery would be unable to purchase it himself. Osama bin Laden is said to have received a doctored battery for his satellite (not cell) phone in Afghanistan, and this is said to have helped the US track him (see May 28, 1998). However, this apparently happened after Yousef was sentenced in the last of the two cases to come to trial, so it is unclear how this could have been mentioned at the trial (see January 8, 1998). A rumor later circulated that bin Laden had stopped using the satellite phone with the allegedly doctored battery based on a leak of intelligence to the press, but that appears to be an urban myth (see Late August 1998).

Entity Tags: Michael Mukasey

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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