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Context of 'July 2001: CIA Rejects Third FBI Request for Malaysia Summit Information'

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A series of calls by al-Qaeda operatives, some of whom are under surveillance by the CIA and the Malaysian Special Branch at this time, links three sites involved in the bombing of the USS Cole. Even though the CIA is aware of the calls, it will later say it is unable to find the hijackers in Bangkok, the location of one of the call sites. The calls made by the operatives are between the following three locations:
bullet A payphone in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, near an apartment where about a dozen al-Qaeda operatives are holding a summit (see January 5-8, 2000);
bullet The Washington Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand. Al-Qaeda operatives Ibrahim al-Thawar and Fahad al-Quso are staying at the hotel around this time (see January 5-6, 2000). They will go on to be involved in the Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). They are later joined in the hotel by summit attendees Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Khallad bin Attash;
bullet Al-Quso’s house in Yemen. The calls from the payphone to this location are made by bin Attash.
Although bin Attash and possibly others call the Washington Hotel while they are under surveillance, the CIA will be unable to locate them there during the week they spend in Bangkok, from January 8-15 (see January 13, 2000). Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “Although the CIA later denied that it knew anything about the phone, the number was recorded in the Malaysians’ surveillance log, which was given to the agency.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 156-160, 181-2; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] The FBI team investigating the Cole bombing will later learn some of this information before 9/11 and ask the CIA for details. However, the CIA will fail to disclose what it knows about the Malaysia summit or that it looks for the hijackers and associates in Thailand after January 8 (see July 2001).

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Ibrahim al-Thawar, Nawaf Alhazmi, Central Intelligence Agency, Fahad al-Quso, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On January 6, 2000, the CIA station in Malaysia begins passing details from the Malaysian government’s surveillance of the al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to the CIA Counterterrorist Center (CTC) (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). Cofer Black, head of the CTC, orders that he be continually informed about the meeting. CIA Director George Tenet is frequently informed as well. They are given continual updates until the meeting ends on January 8. [Stern, 8/13/2003] National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, FBI Director Louis Freeh, and other top officials are briefed, but apparently President Clinton is not. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 225-26] However, it appears that the CIA deliberately and repeatedly fails to tell the FBI that one attendee, future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, has an active visa to visit the US (see Mid-July 2004, January 6, 2000, and January 5-6, 2000). No evidence will be presented suggesting anyone else outside the CIA is told this crucial fact either. The Malaysia summit ends on January 8. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237] Officially, the CIA will later claim to have lost future hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar as they left the meeting (see January 8, 2000). However, Almihdhar will later report back to al-Qaeda that he thought he was followed to the US (see Mid-July 2000). It will not be reported whether any of the other attendees are monitored after leaving the meeting.

Entity Tags: Sandy Berger, Nawaf Alhazmi, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Khalid Almihdhar, Counterterrorist Center, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Cofer Black, Louis J. Freeh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, sends a cable to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, saying that it is unable to locate 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and two companions, who turn out to be 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, in Bangkok. The three had been under surveillance in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), but the CIA’s Bangkok station had been unable to pick them up at the airport when they flew to Thailand on January 8 (see January 8, 2000 and January 8, 2000). According to an official, this was because “when they arrived we were unable to mobilize what we needed to mobilize.” Despite the high priority allocated to the search by CIA headquarters (see January 9, 2000) and the fact bin Attash was under surveillance in Malaysia when he called the hotel where the three are staying in Bangkok (see (January 5-8, 2000)), they cannot be found. The precise steps taken to locate them are unknown. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 502; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 247 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Alec Station, Khallad bin Attash, CIA Bangkok Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Based on information obtained during the investigation of the USS Cole bombing (see Late October-Late November 2000), the FBI asks the CIA for information about al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash and a possible al-Qaeda meeting in Southeast Asia in early 2000, but the CIA withholds the information. The request is sent by FBI Director Louis Freeh on behalf of agent Ali Soufan, who is working on the Cole investigation. Soufan began to suspect such a meeting may have taken place when he learned that two of the operatives involved in the bombing had taken money out of Yemen to give to bin Attash in Thailand before the attack (see January 13, 2000), making him think the money may have been intended for a bigger plot. The CIA is highly aware of the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), which was considered so important that CIA Director George Tenet and other CIA leaders were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000). The CIA has photos of bin Attash and al-Quso attending the meeting (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After), which took place only a few days before al-Quso’s meeting with bin Attash in Thailand. Yet the CIA does not respond to Soufan’s clearly stated request. Author Lawrence Wright will later comment, “The fact that the CIA withheld information about the mastermind of the Cole bombing and the meeting in Malaysia, when directly asked by the FBI, amount[s] to obstruction of justice in the death of seventeen American sailors [who were killed in the Cole bombing].” Although he was not told one of the 9/11 hijackers had a US visa, Freeh was briefed on the Malaysia summit when it took place (see January 6, 2000), but apparently he does not tell Soufan what he knows, and Soufan remains unaware that any kind of al-Qaeda meeting in Southeast Asia even occurred. [Wright, 2006, pp. 328-9; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Louis J. Freeh, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lawrence Wright, Ali Soufan, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ali Soufan in Afghanistan after 9/11.Ali Soufan in Afghanistan after 9/11. [Source: FBI]Ali Soufan, a lead investigator into the bombing of the USS Cole, again requests information from the CIA about leads turned up by the investigation. He made a similar request in late 2000, but got no reply (see Late November 2000). After learning that some of the bombers made calls between one of their houses in Yemen, the Washington Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, where some of them stayed, and a payphone in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see (January 5-8, 2000) and Early December 2000), Soufan sends an official teletype with the request for information and also a photo of al-Qaeda manager Khallad bin Attash. The CIA is well aware that there was an al-Qaeda summit at a condominium near the payphone in Kuala Lumpur (see January 5-8, 2000), and in fact considered it so important that CIA Director George Tenet and other CIA leaders were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000). [New York Times, 4/11/2004; Wright, 2006, pp. 330-331; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] The CIA even has photos from the Malaysia summit of al-Quso standing next to hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, and other photos of bin Attash standing next to Almihdhar. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 pdf file] However, the CIA does not share any of what they know with Soufan, and Soufan continues to remain unaware the Malaysia summit even took place. Author Lawrence Wright will later comment, “If the CIA had responded to Soufan by supplying him with the intelligence he requested, the FBI would have learned of the Malaysia summit and of the connection to Almihdhar and Alhazmi. The bureau would have learned—as the [CIA] already knew—that the al-Qaeda operatives were in America and had been there for more than a year. Because there was a preexisting indictment for bin Laden in New York, and Almihdhar and Alhazmi were his associates, the bureau already had the authority to follow the suspects, wiretap their apartment, intercept their communications, clone their computer, investigate their contacts—all the essential steps that might have prevented 9/11.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 330-331]

Entity Tags: Ali Soufan, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lawrence Wright

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ali Soufan, an FBI agent working on the investigation into the USS Cole bombing, submits a third request to the CIA for information about travel by al-Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia (see Late November 2000 and April 2001). Whereas in previous requests to the CIA he had only asked for information about a possible meeting somewhere in Southeast Asia, he has now developed a much clearer understanding of the relationship between al-Qaeda manager Khallad bin Attash and the Cole conspirators, and correctly suspects some operatives met in Malaysia in January 2000. He asks the CIA about this and about a trip by bin Attash to Bangkok to meet another two members of the Cole bombing team (see January 13, 2000). The CIA actually monitored the meeting Soufan suspects took place in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and considered it so important that the CIA director and other top officials were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000), but the CIA does not respond to his inquiry. FBI managers are also aware of some of this information, including the existence of an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia at the time Soufan suspects one took place, but they apparently do not tell Soufan either (see January 6, 2000). [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] Author Lawrence Wright will later say: “The FBI’s investigating the death of 17 American sailors and they’re asking the CIA for information that would solve the crime. And the CIA is refusing, essentially obstructing justice.” [Federal News Service, 10/5/2006]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Ali Soufan, Lawrence Wright, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An FBI team returns to Yemen to re-commence its investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). The team, headed by FBI agent Ali Soufan and sent by retiring FBI manager John O’Neill on his last day with the FBI (see August 22, 2001), had been pulled out of Yemen in June, due to possible threats against it (see June 17, 2001). On the same day as Soufan leaves, the CIA finally tells the FBI some of what it knows about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and their attendance at an al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see August 21-22, 2001 and August 23, 2001). Soufan had requested information about the Malaysia summit from the CIA three times (see Late November 2000, April 2001 and July 2001), but the CIA had repeatedly failed to respond to his requests. While in Yemen, Soufan appears not to be aware of the new information provided to the FBI, and learns about the Malaysia summit shortly after the 9/11 attacks (see January 5-8, 2000 and September 12-Late September, 2001). [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, John O’Neill, Ali Soufan, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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