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Context of 'June 14, 2005: Terror Watch List Incomplete and Inaccurate'

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Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman.Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. [Source: FBI]Despite being on a US terrorist watch list for three years, radical Muslim leader Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman enters the US on a “much-disputed” tourist visa issued by an undercover CIA agent. [Village Voice, 3/30/1993; Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996; Lance, 2003, pp. 42] Abdul-Rahman was heavily involved with the CIA and Pakistani ISI efforts to defeat the Soviets in Afghanistan, and became famous traveling all over the world for five years recruiting new fighters for the Afghan war. The CIA gave him visas to come to the US starting in 1986 (see December 15, 1986-1989) . However, he never hid his prime goals to overthrow the governments of the US and Egypt. [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996] FBI agent Tommy Corrigan will later say that prior to Abdul-Rahman’s arrival, “terrorism for all intents and purposes didn’t exist in the United States. But [his] arrival in 1990 really stoke the flames of terrorism in this country. This was a major-league ballplayer in what at the time was a minor-league ballpark. He was… looked up to worldwide. A mentor to bin Laden, he was involved with the MAK over in Pakistan.” The charity front Maktab al-Khidamat (MAK) is also known as Al-Kifah, and it has a branch in Brooklyn known as the Al-Kifah Refugee Center. The head of that branch, Mustafa Shalabi, picks up Abdul-Rahman at the airport when he first arrives and finds an apartment for him. Abdul-Rahman soon begins preaching at Al Farouq mosque, which is in the same building as the Al-Kifah office, plus two other locals mosques, Abu Bakr and Al Salaam. [Lance, 2006, pp. 53] He quickly turns Al-Kifah into his “de facto headquarters.” [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996] He is “infamous throughout the Arab world for his alleged role in the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat.” Abdul-Rahman immediately begins setting up a militant Islamic network in the US. [Village Voice, 3/30/1993] He is believed to have befriended bin Laden while in Afghanistan, and bin Laden secretly pays Abdul-Rahman’s US living expenses. [Atlantic Monthly, 5/1996; ABC News, 8/16/2002] For the next two years, Abdul-Rahman will continue to exit and reenter the US without being stopped or deported, even though he is still on the watch list (see Late October 1990-October 1992).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Osama bin Laden, Meir Kahane, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Kifah Refugee Center, US Department of State, Abu Bakr Mosque, Al Farouq Mosque, Al Salaam Mosque, Anwar Sadat, World Trade Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA’s Counterterrorism Center sends a cable reminding all its personnel about various reporting obligations. The cable clearly states that it is important to share information so suspected members of US-designated terrorist groups can be placed on watch lists. The US keeps a number of watch lists; the most important one, TIPOFF, contains about 61,000 names of suspected terrorists by 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 9/22/2002; Knight Ridder, 1/27/2004] The list is checked whenever someone enters or leaves the US. “The threshold for adding a name to TIPOFF is low,” and even a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is connected with a US-designated terrorist group warrants being added to the database. [US Congress, 9/20/2002] Within a month, two future hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, will be identified as al-Qaeda operatives (see December 29, 1999), but the cable’s instructions will not be followed for them. The CIA will initially tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that no such guidelines existed, and CIA Director Tenet will fail to mention the cable in his testimony to the Inquiry. [New York Times, 5/15/2003; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, George J. Tenet, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Nawaf Alhazmi, Counterterrorist Center, TIPOFF

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) ends and the participants leave. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar fly to Bangkok, Thailand, with al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see January 8, 2000). Other attendees depart to other locales. There have been no media reports that any of the others were followed by intelligence agents. [Associated Press, 9/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file] Before the summit started the CIA knew one attendee was named Khalid Almihdhar and that another had the first name Nawaf. At the end of the summit the CIA appears to have learned little more, and still does not know Nawaf’s last name is Alhazmi. Around this time, on January 7 and 10, the CIA searches for their names in their databases but get no hits. Yet they don’t ask for a search of the much larger NSA databases, which had vital information on them (see Early 1999). CIA headquarters asks the NSA to put Almihdhar on their watch list so they can pass on more information about him (see Mid-January 2000). However, neither Alhazmi nor Almihdhar are placed on the State Department’s watch list, which would actually prevent them from coming to the US. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] The CIA still fails to tell the FBI that Almihdhar has a valid US visa, and in fact seems to go out of their way not to tell the FBI about it (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, January 6, 2000, Mid-July 2004, and January 5-6, 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file; Stern, 8/13/2003]

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A Justice Department review of the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center discovers that the terrorist watch list used to screen people entering the US is based on incomplete and inaccurate information. The report also criticizes the poor technical performance of the facility. In the report, Inspector General Glenn Fine writes, “While the [Terrorist Screening Database] is constantly evolving, we found that the management of its information technology, a critical part of the terrorist screening process, has been deficient.” The Justice Department also warns that missing or duplicate information hinders the usefulness of the lists. Fine states that: “We found instances where the consolidated database did not contain names that should have been included on the watch list. In addition, we found inaccurate information related to persons included in the database.” [The Register, 6/14/2005] The problems will not be corrected by 2006 (see March 2006).

Entity Tags: Glenn Fine, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Terrorist Screening Center, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

According to authors Joe and Susan Trento, writing in 2006, the CIA places employees undercover with both airlines and the Federal Air Marshal Service, as a part of a program to allow known terrorists to keep flying (see May 2006). The undercover employees allow the CIA to control arrangements when it wants a terrorist to fly openly without the airlines’ or Marshal Service’s knowledge. [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 194] One example of this is travel in 2006 by Rayed Abdullah, an associate of alleged 9/11 pilot Hani Hanjour. Abdullah is allowed to fly to New Zealand for flight training in the hope he will meet al-Qaeda operatives, who will then be put under surveillance (see February-May 30, 2006).

Entity Tags: Joseph Trento, Federal Air Marshal Service, Susan Trento, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The US interagency National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC) maintains a watch list of 325,000 names of international terrorism suspects, a number that has more than quadrupled since the the list was created in 2003 by merging other watch lists together. NCTC officials estimate that, due to aliases, some 200,000 individuals are represented on the list. The main US watch list at the time of 9/11 had 60,000 names on it (see December 11, 1999). An administration official says, “The vast majority are non-US persons and do not live in the US.” However, officials refuse to state how many on the list are US citizens and how many names on the list were obtained through the controversial wiretapping program run by the National Security Agency (NSA). Civil liberties and privacy advocates claim that the scale of the list heightens their concerns that watch lists include the names of large numbers of innocent people. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales tells the Senate Judiciary Committee that he cannot discuss specifics but says, “Information is collected, information is retained, and information disseminated in a way to protect the privacy interests of all Americans.” A September 2003 presidential directive instructs agencies to supply data for the list only about people who are “known or appropriately suspected to be… engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism.” Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center, says the scope of the NCTC list highlights the “false positive” problem, in which innocent people have been stopped from flying because their names are wrongly included or are similar to suspects’ names. “If there are that many people on the list, a lot of them probably shouldn’t be there. But how are they ever going to get off?” [Washington Post, 2/15/2006] Numerous problems with the list will be found in 2006 (see March 2006).

Entity Tags: Alberto R. Gonzales, National Counterterrorism Center, Terror Screening Center, Electronic Privacy Information Center, Marc Rotenberg, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Several problems with the US international no-fly list, which is designed to prevent suspected terrorists from flying to the US, are found by investigative reporters Joe and Susan Trento. The list has grown rapidly since 2003 (see February 15, 2006), and was found to be inaccurate in 2005 (see June 14, 2005).
bullet The list contains the names of fourteen 9/11 hijackers, who are thought to be dead (see March 2006).
bullet The list deliberately omits the names of some known terrorists, apparently so that intelligence agencies can track them as they fly (see May 2006).
bullet The information on the list makes it difficult to distinguish between people with similar names. For example, FBI special agent John E. Lewis is often stopped, as a suspected terrorist has a similar name to his. Several people called Robert Johnson are stopped regularly.
bullet The list includes Francois Genoud, who had ties to both Islamic extremists and the Nazis and committed suicide in the mid-1990s at the age of 81.
bullet The list only includes two people involved in the A. Q. Khan nuclear smuggling ring; dozens of their associates are omitted.
bullet Numerous anti-Castro Cubans with records of suspicious and criminal activity are missing from the list.
bullet However, left-wing Bolivian president Evo Morales is on the list.
A high-level official at United Airlines calls the list “a joke.” A Transportation Security Administration official says: “No-fly doesn’t protect anyone. It is every government agency’s cover-your-ass list of names. Many of the really bad guys are never put on the list because the intelligence people think the airlines are not trustworthy. That makes the incomplete list we give the airlines next to worthless.” [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 188-221; CBS News, 6/10/2006] The list will be reported to have over half a million names by June 2007 (see June 13, 2007).

Entity Tags: Transportation Security Administration, Joseph Trento, Susan Trento

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Rayed Abdullah.Rayed Abdullah. [Source: Scoop]Rayed Abdullah, an associate of hijacker pilot Hani Hanjour (see October 1996-December 1997 and October 1996-Late April 1999), enters New Zealand despite being on the watch list there and takes further pilot training. The New Zealand government claims it only ascertains his real identity after he has been in the country several months. Abdullah is then arrested and deported to Saudi Arabia, even though he was traveling on a Yemeni passport. [Associated Press, 6/9/2006; New Zealand Herald, 6/10/2006] However, FBI agents and CIA officers later say that the US released Abdullah after 9/11 in an attempt to use him to spy on al-Qaeda for Saudi Arabia’s intelligence agency. The CIA ensures he is allowed into New Zealand as a part of a joint operation. However, the New Zealanders get cold feet when Abdullah starts flight training again. A CIA official will say: “[W]e know if Rayed was part of the [9/11] plot, someone in al-Qaeda will reach out for him, and we have a chance of making that connection.” An FBI official will comment: “The amazing thing is the CIA convinced itself that by getting [Abdullah] tossed out of New Zealand, he would then be trusted and acceptable to Saudi intelligence and useful in al-Qaeda operations. For this tiny chance of success they put passengers at risk to enter into a partnership with Saudi intelligence.” [Stories that Matter, 10/9/2006]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Rayed Abdullah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In May 2006, investigative reporters Joe and Susan Trento find that the CIA is continuing a pre-9/11 policy (see July 1990 and January 8, 2000) and deliberately keeping some suspected terrorists off the US international no-fly list, which is aimed at preventing terrorists from traveling to the US and other countries. In addition, it has an agreement with some airlines to allow suspected terrorists who are on the no-fly list to fly anyway. For example, it allows Rayed Abdullah, an associate of alleged 9/11 pilot Hani Hanjour, to fly to New Zealand, where he takes flying lessons (see February-May 30, 2006). The CIA, as well as the Defense Intelligence Agency, keeps some terrorists’ names off the no-fly list because they are already intelligence assets, others are allowed to fly because the CIA hopes to recruit them, and more are allowed to travel just because the CIA wants to see where they are going and who they will meet. In addition, others are kept off the no-fly list at the request of US allies like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia. A former CIA officer says: “I cannot describe to you how reluctant our operational people were to turn over names. Many terrorists act as assets for our case officers. We do deal with bad guys, and, like cops protect snitches, we protect ours, too, and none of those guys is going to show up on the no-fly list anytime soon. So we made a deal. The CIA effectively has the ability to allow people to fly who are on the no-fly list if we deem it in the national interest—just not on domestic airlines.” There are other problems with the no-fly list (see March 2006 and March 2006) and the CIA also penetrates the Federal Air Marshal Service to ensure that terrorists can fly openly without the marshals’ knowledge (see Before 2006). [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. xiii, 187, 192-3]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Defense Intelligence Agency, Joseph Trento, Susan Trento

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The FBI terrorist watch list now includes over half a million names, which civil liberties advocates say limits its usefulness. Although the actual content of the list is classified, the FBI’s 2008 budget request refers to “the entire watch list of 509,000 names,” which is utilized by its Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force. It is common for many names on the list to be associated with one individual. The FBI foreign and domestic terror watch list, combined with the interagency National Counterterrorism Center’s (NCTC) list of suspected international terrorists, comprise the watch list used by federal security screening personnel on the lookout for terrorists. The NCTC refuses to reveal how many US citizens are on the list (see February 15, 2006). ACLU senior legislative counsel Tim Sparapani says the FBI watch list “grows seemingly without control or limitation. If we have 509,000 names on that list, the watch list is virtually useless.” Internal reviews of the list by the US Terrorist Screening Center have previously found the list to be incomplete and inaccurate (see June 14, 2005). Reviews of versions of the list reveal the names of US lawmakers; former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein, imprisoned at the time of review; al-Qaeda member Zacarias Moussaoui, also imprisoned; and 14 of the 19 9/11 hijackers, all deceased (see March 2006). [ABC News (The Blotter), 6/13/2007]

Entity Tags: Timothy Sparapani, Foreign Terrorist Tracking Task Force, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Counterterrorism Center, American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

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