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Context of 'June 16, 2002: Government Threat Analyst Accuses Media of ‘Treason’ for Reporting Nation’s Vulnerabilities, Information about 9/11 Hijackers'

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Bomb damage in underground levels of the WTC in 1993.Bomb damage in underground levels of the WTC in 1993. [Source: Najlah Feanny/ Corbis]An attempt to topple the World Trade Center fails, but six people are killed and over 1000 are injured in the misfired blast. An FBI explosives expert later states that, “If they had found the exact architectural Achilles’ heel or if the bomb had been a little bit bigger, not much more, 500 pounds more, I think it would have brought her down.” Ramzi Yousef, who has close ties to bin Laden, organizes the attempt. [Village Voice, 3/30/1993; US Congress, 2/24/1998] The New York Times later reports on Emad Salem, an undercover agent who will be the key government witness in the trial against Yousef. Salem testifies that the FBI knew about the attack beforehand and told him they would thwart it by substituting a harmless powder for the explosives. However, an FBI supervisor called off this plan, and the bombing was not stopped. [New York Times, 10/28/1993] Other suspects were ineptly investigated before the bombing as early as 1990. Several of the bombers were trained by the CIA to fight in the Afghan war, and the CIA later concludes, in internal documents, that it was “partly culpable” for this bombing (see January 24, 1994). [Independent, 11/1/1998] 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is an uncle of Yousef and also has a role in the WTC bombing (see March 20, 1993). [Independent, 6/6/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] One of the attackers even leaves a message which will later be found by investigators, stating, “Next time, it will be very precise.” [Associated Press, 9/30/2001]

Entity Tags: World Trade Center, Ramzi Yousef, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Emad Salem, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Matchboxes with the photographs and reward information of suspects like Ramzi Yousef.Matchboxes with the photographs and reward information of suspects like Ramzi Yousef. [Source: Jeffrey Markowitz / Corbis]The FBI places Ramzi Yousef on its “Ten Most Wanted” list, after determining his prominent role in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993). An international manhunt ensues. The FBI works with a State Department program that publicly offers generous rewards and a new identity for informants giving information about wanted terrorists. A $2 million reward is announced for information on Yousef and a large publicity campaign about the reward is launched, with a focus on Pakistan, India, Malaysia, and the Philippines. Huge numbers of matchboxes are distributed with Yousef’s photograph and reward information on them. In early 1995, one of Yousef’s associates will learn of the program and turn Yousef in for the reward money (see February 3-7, 1995). The matchbox program will be used for other wanted suspects, such as Abdul Rahman Yasin and Mir Kansi. However, Yousef’s uncle Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) will never be placed on the most wanted list before 9/11, and while there eventually will be a $2 million reward for him, no similar massive manhunt or large publicity campaign will take place for him, even after he is identified as a mastermind in the WTC bombing, Bojinka plot, African embassy bombings, and many other attacks. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 42-43, 56-57]

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Mir Kansi, Abdul Rahman Yasin, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

One day after returning to Pakistan with Ramzi Yousef from a failed attempt to blow up US airliners (see January 31-February 2, 1995), his accomplice Istaique Parker calls the US embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan and tells them he wants to turn in Yousef for reward money. Yousef had just told Parker that Parker’s name was on Yousef’s laptop that he left behind in the Philippines after the foiled Bojinka plot (see January 7-11, 1995). Parker realizes that it is just a matter of time before he is caught and he also had recently purchased a Newsweek magazine that had an article mentioning a $2 million reward for information leading to Yousef’s capture. Parker works with FBI and Pakistani agents and leads them to Yousef on February 7 (see February 7, 1995). Parker gets the reward money and a new identity in the US. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 105-106]

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Istaique Parker

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The front cover of the matchbox announcing a reward for bin Laden.The front cover of the matchbox announcing a reward for bin Laden. [Source: Saeed Khan / Getty Images]The US begins circulating matchboxes in Pakistan with a picture of bin Laden and an announcement of a large reward for information leading to his capture. The reward promises confidentiality but also only lists the reward money as $500,000 instead of the $5 million announced by Washington. Additionally, 100 rupee notes, worth about $2, are being circulated with a message stamped on them announcing the reward. There is no matchbox campaign for other known al-Qaeda leaders. [Associated Press, 2/16/2000] The reward program is notable for its late start and low profile, especially when compared to a similar matchbox reward program for Ramzi Yousef starting in 1993 (see April 2, 1993). That program was announced about a month after Yousef was determined to be a major suspect, and it eventually helped with his capture (see February 3-7, 1995). The bin Laden campaign will come to an end by early 2004 (see January 2004).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Dennis Pluchinsky, a senior intelligence analyst with the Diplomatic Security Service in the State Department, pens an op-ed for the Washington Post that begins, “I accuse the media in the United States of treason.” Pluchinsky describes himself as a veteran “threat analyst” with 25 years of government experience. He writes that the media has no business reporting on any supposed “intelligence failures” surrounding the 9/11 attacks, calling himself “appalled and confused by many of the post-9/11 articles published at home and abroad, in newspapers, news magazines and academic journals, as well as on the Internet.”
Doing Research for Terrorists - Those articles identify the nation’s weak spots, Pluchinsky argues: “our food supply, electrical grids, chemical plants, trucking industry, ports, borders, airports, special events, and cruise ships.” Terrorists would have no trouble gleaning useful tactical details from some of the articles, he says. Worse, “[n]o terrorist group that I am aware of has the time and manpower to conduct this type of extensive research on a multitude of potential targets. Our news media, and certain think tankers and academicians, have done and continue to do the target vulnerability research for them.” America is at war, Pluchinsky argues, and therefore the media must support the government in that war. He writes that some current media reporting is equivalent to giving actionable information to “Japanese and Nazi saboteurs and fifth columnists” during World War II. There is a wealth of open-source information out there already, Pluchinsky writes; the media should not add to it and thereby make terrorists’ jobs even easier.
Media Reporting on 9/11 Hijackers Aiding Terrorists - Pluchinsky writes that the media’s extensive reporting on the 9/11 hijackers—their entries into the US, their movements and actions once in the country—have done nothing but aid future terrorists. These future terrorists will learn from their predecessors’ mistakes, Pluchinsky believes. Indeed, he asserts, media reports on earlier terrorists such as Ramzi Yousef (see April 2, 1993) likely helped the 9/11 terrorists with their plans.
Only Quote Certain Government Officials - In many cases, he writes, reporters should only interview government sources who will exercise caution in giving possibly useful information to those reporters, and refuse to quote experts and specialists from oversight groups, unions, or even private technicians or consultants. “[I]f not for the media, terrorist groups would have no access to the insights and wisdom of these people,” he writes.
Instead of Reporting News, Inform Government - Instead of writing about it in public forums, Pluchinsky recommends that reporters who believe they have found evidence of vulnerability inform someone in “the proposed Department of Homeland Security” or other government agency.
'Patriotism,' Not 'Censorship' - He writes: “A skeptic would call this censorship; a patriot would call it cooperation. This type of cooperation existed during World War II and believe me, this current war is a ‘world war’ also.” The media would win the “Osama bin Laden award” if al-Qaeda gave one out, he states.
Government Must Enforce Censorship - “This type of reporting—carrying specifics about US vulnerabilities—must be stopped or censored,” he concludes. He recommends that “the Department of Homeland Security establish a program where academicians, reporters, think tankers, or any citizen could contact the department and inform them of security vulnerabilities. If the department determined that these vulnerabilities indeed existed, then it could award ‘Homeland Security Protective Security’ certificates to individuals or ‘Homeland Security Gold Stars’ to newspaper or Internet sites that put the country first during a time of war. If displayed on its banner, this star might increase circulation.” The government should “temporarily restrict… the media from publishing any security information that can be used by our enemies. This was necessary during World War II, it is necessary now. These restrictions were backed by the American public during World War II, and I believe the public would support them now.” In World War II, the slogan was, “Loose lips sink ships,” he reminds his readers. He suggests another slogan for today: “Prolific pens propagate terrorist plots.” [Washington Post, 6/16/2002]
So Extreme It Seems Like Satire, Critic Notes - Liberal pundit Jim Hightower later responds that Pluchinsky’s article is so extreme that he first thought it was satire. After realizing that Pluchinsky is serious, Hightower will note: “Osama’s troops are fairly savvy zealots who figured out how to fly commercial airliners into big buildings, so they already seem to have a pretty clear grasp of our vulnerabilities. It’s not like they’re waiting for Wolf Blitzer to identify targets for them!” A true patriot would not call Pluchinsky’s recommendations “patriotism,” Hightower concludes, “a patriot would call it stupid.” [Austin Chronicle, 7/12/2002]
Method for Hiding Incompetence - Time’s James Poniewozik attempts to take Pluchinsky’s recommendations more seriously than Hightower, and reminds readers that the same open-source information available to terrorists is also available to government officials, law-enforcement officials, and private citizens who can use that information to help counter future attacks. He also points out that Pluchinsky’s uncritical reliance on government officials to use the knowledge given to it by trusting reporters for the public good flies in the face of what we know of the government’s response to the 9/11 attacks. Indeed, Poniewozik writes, adopting Pluchinsky’s recommendations would do little more than give government officials a shield behind which to hide their errors, miscalculations, and outright incompetence. [Time, 6/18/2002] And the Toronto Star’s Lynda Hurst will observe, “[W]arnings work both ways: If anybody had written about the possibility of terrorists taking flying lessons, that alone might have put a wrench into 9/11.” [Toronto Star, 9/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Diplomatic Security Service, Dennis Pluchinsky, Jim Hightower, US Department of Homeland Security, James Poniewozik, Lynda Hurst, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

In 2004, Rep. Mark Steven Kirk (R-Ill) visits Pakistan to find out why the US Rewards for Justice program has generated so little information regarding al-Qaeda’s leadership. In the early 1990s, the program was effective in helping to catch al-Qaeda bomber Ramzi Yousef after a $2 million reward was announced for him and a huge number of matchboxes with his picture and the reward information on it were distributed in countries where he was likely to be (see April 2, 1993). The program has $25 million rewards for al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and lesser rewards for other al-Qaeda leaders. Kirk discovers that the US Embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan has effectively shut down the reward program. There is no radio or television advertising. A bin Laden matchbook campaign had begun in 2000 (see February 16, 2000), but the embassy has stopped giving away matchbooks with photos of bin Laden and other leaders. Kirk will later say: “We were at zero. I couldn’t believe it.” Embassy officials tell Kirk they are busy with other issues, such as assisting US troops in Afghanistan. Kirk proposes a congressional bill that would increase funding for the rewards program to advertise, extend the program to target drug kingpins (especially those who fund al-Qaeda and the Taliban), and make other reforms and improvements. But apparently the bill does not pass and the problem is not fixed. In 2008, Kirk will complain, “[T]he key thing about the Rewards for Justice program is that no one in a rural area—anywhere—knows about it.” Former CIA officer Arthur Keller will also say in 2008 that there are people in Pakistan and elsewhere with information who would be open to informing. “They’d love to have a $25 million bounty, and they aren’t supportive of Osama. But they don’t necessarily trust the US. Who do you report it to? The local police chief?… They’re not sure who to turn to or who to trust.” [US Congress, House, 2/12/2004; Washington Post, 5/17/2008] In 2006, the program will conduct a large advertising blitz in the US, seemingly one of the most unlikely places to figure leaders such as bin Laden (see December 2006).

Entity Tags: Mark Steven Kirk, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Arthur Keller

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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