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Context of 'June 30, 2001: White House Warned ‘Bin Laden Planning High-Profile Attacks’'

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National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice later testifies to the 9/11 Commission that in the first eight months of Bush’s presidency before 9/11, “the president receive[s] at these [Presidential Daily Briefings] more than 40 briefing items on al-Qaeda, and 13 of those [are] in response to questions he or his top advisers posed.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2004] The content of the warnings in these briefings are unknown. However, CIA Director George Tenet claims that none of the warnings specifically indicates terrorists plan to fly hijacked commercial aircraft into buildings in the US. [New York Times, 4/4/2004] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later emphasize, “Tenet on 40 occasions in… morning meetings mentioned al-Qaeda to the president. Forty times, many of them in a very alarmed way, about a pending attack.” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] These briefings are normally given in person by CIA Director George Tenet, and are usually attended by Vice President Cheney and National Security Adviser Rice. In the Clinton administration, up to 25 officials recieved the PDB. But in the Bush adminisration before 9/11, this was sharply reduced to only six people (see After January 20, 2001). Other top officials have to make due with an Senior Executive Intelligence Brief generally released one day later, which is similar to the PDB but often contains less information (see August 7, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256, 533]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB), entitled “Sunni Terrorist Threat Growing,” is sent to top White House officials. It indicates a heightened threat of Sunni extremist attacks, particularly in the Middle East and Europe, against US facilities and personnel. (Bin Laden is the most wanted Sunni extremist by this time.) The briefing states this is considered the most significant spike in threat reporting since the Millennium. The SEIB is usually released one day after the corresponding President Daily Briefing is given to the president and contains similar content (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable Bush is given this warning. Based on this warning, a terrorist threat advisory will be shared throughout the US intelligence community on March 30, and the FBI will send out a warning to its field offices in April (see April 13, 2001). [US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 1 pdf file]

Entity Tags: White House, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On April 19, 2001, the interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke discusses recent reports that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is planning an attack. The next day, a Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) with the title “Bin Laden Planning Multiple Operations” is sent to top White House officials. The New York Times will later report that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were among those who received this warning. Since SEIBs are usually based on previous days’ President Daily Briefings, President Bush probably learned about this report on April 19 (see January 20-September 10, 2001). [New York Times, 4/18/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 2 pdf file]

Entity Tags: White House, Richard A. Clarke, Abu Zubaida, George W. Bush, Counterterrorism and Security Group, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Bush administration finally has its first Deputy Secretary-level meeting on terrorism. [Time, 8/12/2002] According to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, he advocates that the Northern Alliance needs to be supported in the war against the Taliban, and the Predator drone flights need to resume over Afghanistan so bin Laden can be targeted. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 231] Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says the focus on al-Qaeda is wrong. He states, “I just don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden,” and “Who cares about a little terrorist in Afghanistan?” Wolfowitz insists the focus should be Iraqi-sponsored terrorism instead. He claims the 1993 attack on the WTC must have been done with help from Iraq, and rejects the CIA’s assertion that there has been no Iraqi-sponsored terrorism against the US since 1993 (see April 30, 2001). (A spokesperson for Wolfowitz later calls Clarke’s account a “fabrication.”) [Clarke, 2004, pp. 30, 231; Newsweek, 3/22/2004] Wolfowitz repeats these sentiments immediately after 9/11 and tries to argue that the US should attack Iraq. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage agrees with Clarke that al-Qaeda is an important threat. Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley, chairing the meeting, brokers a compromise between Wolfowitz and the others. The group agrees to hold additional meetings focusing on al-Qaeda first (in June and July), but then later look at other terrorism, including any Iraqi terrorism. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 30, 231-32] Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin also attend the hour-long meeting. [Time, 8/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Richard Armitage, Richard A. Clarke, Taliban, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, John E. McLaughlin, Northern Alliance, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) about Osama bin Laden sent to top White House officials on May 3, 2001, is entitled, “Bin Laden Public Profile May Presage Attack.” Apparently it suggests that recent public comments by bin Laden could be hinting at future attacks, but details of what exactly he said or did to cause this warning have not be made public. The New York Times will later report that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were among those who received this warning. Since SEIBs are typically based on the previous day’s President Daily Briefings (see January 20-September 10, 2001), President Bush was probably informed about this warning on May 2. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 2 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, White House

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials is entitled, “Terrorist Groups Said Cooperating on US Hostage Plot.” It warns of a possible hostage plot against the US abroad to force to release of prisoners being held in the US, including Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see July 1990). The report notes operatives might hijack an aircraft or storm a US embassy overseas. SEIBs are typically based on the previous day’s President Daily Briefing (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable President Bush is given this information. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255-256, 533; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 2 pdf file] This report leads to an FAA warning to airlines noting the potential for “an airline hijacking to free terrorists incarcerated in the United States.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255-256]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, White House, Omar Abdul-Rahman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials on May 26, 2001, is entitled, “Bin Laden Network’s Plans Advancing.” Further details are unknown. The New York Times will later report that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were among those who received this warning. SEIBs are typically summaries of the previous days’ President Daily Briefings (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable Bush is given this warning on May 25. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 2 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, White House

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to a 2006 book by journalist Bob Woodward, in the months before 9/11, CIA Director Tenet believes that Defense Secretary Rumsfeld is impeding the effort to develop a coherent strategy to capture or kill bin Laden. Rumsfeld questions al-Qaeda communications intercepts by the NSA and other other intelligence. [New York Times, 9/29/2006] Woodward writes in his book, “Could all this be a grand deception? Rumsfeld had asked. Perhaps it was a plan to measure US reactions and defenses. Tenet had the NSA review all the intercepts, and the agency concluded they were of genuine al-Qaeda communications.” As a result of these doubts, on June 30, 2001, a Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials contains an article entitled, “Bin Laden Threats Are Real” (see June 30, 2001). [Woodward, 2006, pp. 50] However, apparently this does not quell the doubts. For instance, in mid-July 2001, Tenet is told that Deputy Defense Secretary and close Rumsfeld ally Paul Wolfowitz still doubts the surge of warnings and suggests that bin Laden may merely be trying to study US reactions to an attack threat (see Mid-July 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz gives a commencement address at the United States Military Academy graduation at West Point, New York, where he focuses on the danger of surprise attacks. To an audience of about 15,000 people, he points out that 2001 marks the 60th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor—“a military disaster whose name has become synonymous with surprise”—and notes that, “Interestingly, that ‘surprise attack’ was preceded by an astonishing number of unheeded warnings and missed signals.” He continues, “Yet military history is full of surprises… Very few of these surprises are the product of simple blindness or simple stupidity. Almost always there have been warnings and signals that have been missed.” He says one of the reasons these warnings have so often been missed is “a routine obsession with a few familiar dangers,” which “has gotten whole governments, sometimes whole societies, into trouble.” He stresses the need to “use the benefit of hindsight to replace a poverty of expectations with an anticipation of the unfamiliar and the unlikely,” thereby overcoming “the complacency that is the greatest threat to our hopes for a peaceful future.” [US Department of Defense, 6/1/2001; US Department of Defense, 6/2/2001] Journalist James Mann will later reflect on this speech, saying that Wolfowitz “was more prescient than he could have imagined. America was about to be attacked. Once again the United States was unable to deal with the unfamiliar and the unlikely. Once again there were unheeded warnings and missed signals.” [Mann, 2004, pp. 29] In spite of his words of caution, around this time Wolfowitz himself appears to be ignoring the danger of a possible attack by al-Qaeda. In July, he will reportedly doubt whether the recent surge in al-Qaeda warnings is really of significance (see Mid-July 2001). And at a meeting on terrorism in April, he’d complained, “I just don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden” (see April 30, 2001).

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) with the title “Bin Laden Attacks May Be Imminent” is sent to top White House officials. The details of this brief are not known. It is probable President Bush received this warning since SEIBs are usually rehashes of the previous days’ President Daily Briefing (see January 20-September 10, 2001). Also on this day a CIA cable is distributed with the title, “Possible Threat of Imminent Attack from Sunni Extremists.” The cable warns that there is a high probability of near-term “spectacular” terrorist attacks resulting in numerous casualties. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256, 534]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, White House, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials is entitled, “Bin Laden and Associates Making Near-Term Threats.” It reports that multiple attacks are expected over the coming days, including a “severe blow” against US and Israeli “interests” during the next two weeks. SEIBs usually contain the same information as the previous day’s President Daily Briefings (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable Bush received this warning. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256, 534]

Entity Tags: White House, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials is entitled, “Bin Laden Planning High-Profile Attacks.” It states that bin Laden operatives expect near-term attacks to have dramatic consequences of catastrophic proportions. Despite evidence of delays possibly caused by heightened US security, the planning for the attacks is continuing. The briefing also contains another report entitled, “Bin Laden Threats Are Real.” SEIBs are typically based on the previous day’s President Daily Briefings (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable Bush is given this warning. Also on this day, Saudi Arabia declares its highest level of terror alert. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256-257, 534; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 3 pdf file]

Entity Tags: White House, Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) entitled “Planning for Bin Laden Attacks Continues, Despite Delays” is sent to top White House officials. SEIBs are typically based on the previous day’s presidential daily briefing (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable President Bush is given this warning. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 534; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 4 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

By mid-July 2001, new intelligence indicates that the new al-Qaeda attack has been delayed, maybe for as long as two months, but not abandoned. So on this day, a Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) sent to top White House officials is entitled, “Bin Laden Plans Delayed but Not Abandoned.” On July 25, a similar SEIB will be titled, “One Bin Laden Operation Delayed, Others Ongoing.” The SEIB is usually released one day after the corresponding President Daily Briefing and contains similar content (see January 20-September 10, 2001), so it is probable Bush receives this information. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259, 534] After 9/11, it will be discovered that in fact the 9/11 attack was originally planned to take place in the early summer but was delayed (see May-July 2001).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, White House

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley tells CIA Director George Tenet that Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz questions the significance of the recent surge in al-Qaeda warnings. Wolfowitz apparently suggests that bin Laden may merely be trying to study US reactions to an attack threat. Tenet replies that he has already addressed these questions and that the reporting is convincing. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259] Tenet is likely referring to a report delivered to the White House on June 30 entitled “Bin Laden Threats Are Real” (see June 30, 2001) that was prepared to deal with nearly identical doubts from Defense Secretary Rumsfeld (see Summer 2001). In April 2001, Wolfowitz said in a meeting that the main terrorist threat to the US was from Iraq, not bin Laden (see April 30, 2001).

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Stephen J. Hadley, George J. Tenet, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

One day after President Bush receives a Presidential Daily Briefing entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US,” a version of the same material is given to other top government officials. However, this Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) does not contain the most important information from Bush’s briefing. It does not mention that there are 70 FBI investigations into possible al-Qaeda activity, does not mention a May 2001 threat of US-based explosives attacks, and does not mention FBI concerns about recent surveillance of buildings in New York City. The Associated Press will report that this type of memo “goes to scores of Cabinet-agency officials from the assistant secretary level up and does not include raw intelligence or sensitive information about ongoing law enforcement matters” due to fear of media leaks. SEIBs were sent to many more officials during the Clinton administration. The Associated Press will also state that “some who saw the memo said they feared it gave policy-makers and members of the congressional intelligence committees a picture of the domestic threat so stale and incomplete that it didn’t provide the necessary sense of urgency one month before the Sept. 11 attacks.” [Associated Press, 4/13/2004] Attorney General John Ashcroft will later say he does not recall seeing the SEIB before 9/11 (see Between August 7 and September 10, 2001).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Osama bin Laden, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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