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Context of 'July 2004: Report on FBI’s 9/11 Failures Is Completed, But Remains Unreleased Until After Presidential Election'

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FBI agent Ken Williams.FBI agent Ken Williams. [Source: FBI]Phoenix, Arizona, FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum warning about suspicious activities involving a group of Middle Eastern men taking flight training lessons in Arizona. The memo is titled: “Zakaria Mustapha Soubra; IT-OTHER (Islamic Army of the Caucasus),” because it focuses on Zakaria Soubra, a Lebanese flight student in Prescott, Arizona, and his connection with a terror group in Chechnya that has ties to al-Qaeda. It is subtitled: “Osama bin Laden and Al-Muhjiroun supporters attending civil aviation universities/colleges in Arizona.” [Fortune, 5/22/2002; Arizona Republic, 7/24/2003] Williams’ memo is based on an investigation of Sorba that Williams had begun in 2000 (see April 2000), but he had trouble pursuing because of the low priority the Arizona FBI office gave terror investigations (see April 2000-June 2001). Additionally, Williams had been alerted to suspicions about radical militants and aircraft at least three other times (see October 1996; 1998; November 1999-August 2001). In the memo, Williams does the following:
bullet Names nine other suspect students from Pakistan, India, Kenya, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] Hijacker Hani Hanjour, attending flight school in Arizona in early 2001 and probably continuing into the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), is not one of the students, but, as explained below, it seems two of the students know him. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; Washington Post, 7/25/2003]
bullet Notes that he interviewed some of these students, and heard some of them make hostile comments about the US. Additionally, he noticed that they were suspiciously well informed about security measures at US airports. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
bullet Notes an increasing, “inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” taking flight lessons in Arizona. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file]
bullet Suspects that some of the ten people he has investigated are connected to al-Qaeda. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file] One person on the list, Ghassan al Sharbi, will be arrested in Pakistan in March 2002 with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Al Sharbi attended a flight school in Prescott, Arizona. He also apparently attended the training camps in Afghanistan and swore loyalty to bin Laden in the summer of 2001. He apparently knows Hani Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). He also is the roommate of Soubra, the main target of the memo. [Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 521]
bullet Discovers that one of them was communicating through an intermediary with Abu Zubaida. This apparently is a reference to Hamed al Sulami, who had been telephoning a Saudi imam known to be Zubaida’s spiritual advisor. Al Sulami is an acquaintance of Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 520-521, 529]
bullet Discusses connections between several of the students and a radical group called Al-Muhajiroun. [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002] This group supported bin Laden, and issued a fatwa, or call to arms, that included airports on a list of acceptable terror targets. [Associated Press, 5/22/2002] Soubra, the main focus of the memo, is a member of Al-Muhajiroun and an outspoken radical. He met with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of Al-Muhajiroun in Britain, and started an Arizona chapter of the organization. After 9/11, some US officials will suspect that Soubra has ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. He will be held two years, then deported to Lebanon in 2004. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001; Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003; Arizona Republic, 5/2/2004; Arizona Monthly, 11/2004] Though Williams doesn’t include it in his memo, in the summer of 1998, Bakri publicized a fax sent by bin Laden to him that listed al-Qaeda’s four objectives in fighting the US. The first objective was “bring down their airliners.” (see Summer 1998). [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001]
bullet Warns of a possible “effort by Osama bin Laden to send students to the US to attend civil aviation universities and colleges” [Fortune, 5/22/2002] , so they can later hijack aircraft. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
bullet Recommends that the “FBI should accumulate a listing of civil aviation universities and colleges around the country. FBI field offices with these types of schools in their area should establish appropriate liaison. FBI [headquarters] should discuss this matter with other elements of the US intelligence community and task the community for any information that supports Phoenix’s suspicions.” [Arizona Republic, 7/24/2003] (The FBI has already done this, but because of poor FBI communications, Williams is not aware of the report.)
bullet Recommends that the FBI ask the State Department to provide visa data on flight school students from Middle Eastern countries, which will facilitate FBI tracking efforts. [New York Times, 5/4/2002]
The memo is addressed to the following FBI Agents:
bullet Dave Frasca, chief of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters;
bullet Elizabeth Harvey Matson, Mark Connor and Fred Stremmel, Intelligence Operations Specialists in the RFU;
bullet Rod Middleton, acting chief of the Usama bin Laden Unit (UBLU);
bullet Jennifer Maitner, an Intelligence Operations Specialist in the UBLU;
bullet Jack Cloonan, an agent on the New York FBI’s bin Laden unit, the I-49 squad; (see January 1996 and Spring 2000).
bullet Michael S. Butsch, an agent on another New York FBI squad dealing with other Sunni terrorists. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 7/10/2001 pdf file; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file]
However, the memo is not uploaded into the FBI’s information system until the end of the month and is apparently not received by all these people (see July 27, 2001 and after). Williams also shares some concerns with the CIA (see (July 27, 2001)). [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002] One anonymous government official who has seen the memo says, “This was as actionable a memo as could have been written by anyone.” [Insight, 5/27/2002] However, the memo is merely marked “routine,” rather than “urgent.” It is generally ignored, not shared with other FBI offices, and the recommendations are not taken. One colleague in New York replies at the time that the memo is “speculative and not very significant.” [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file] Williams is unaware of many FBI investigations and leads that could have given weight to his memo. Authorities later claim that Williams was only pursuing a hunch, but one familiar with classified information says, “This was not a vague hunch. He was doing a case on these guys.” [Mercury News (San Jose), 5/23/2002]

Entity Tags: Jennifer Maitner, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fred Stremmel, Ghassan al Sharbi, Hani Hanjour, I-49, Jack Cloonan, Elizabeth Matson, Islamic Army of the Caucasus, David Frasca, Michael Butsch, Al-Muhajiroun, Zakaria Mustapha Soubra, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Rod Middleton, Osama bin Laden, Radical Fundamentalist Unit, Mark Connor, Ken Williams, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

August 16, 2001: Zacarias Moussaoui Arrested

Zacarias Moussaoui after his arrest.Zacarias Moussaoui after his arrest. [Source: FBI]After being warned that Zacarias Moussaoui has raised suspicions at flight school (see August 11-15, 2001 and August 13-15, 2001), the FBI learns they can arrest him because he is in the US illegally. Four agents, Harry Samit, John Weess, Dave Rapp (all FBI) and Steve Nordmann (INS), drive to the Residence Inn, where Moussaoui and his associate Hussein al-Attas are staying. At the hotel Samit speaks on the phone to Joe Manarang from FBI headquarters; Manarang appeals for them to take the “cautious route” and not arrest Moussaoui. However, Samit refuses, as he has already notified the hotel clerk of their interest. Moussaoui is arrested around 4:00 p.m. on an immigration violation. At first Moussaoui shows the agents some documents, but then he becomes upset at missing his flight training. The FBI confiscates his belongings, including a computer laptop, but Moussaoui refuses permission for the belongings to be searched. A search of Moussaoui’s person yields a dagger with a two-inch blade, and another knife with a three-inch blade belonging to Moussoaui is found in the car. He also has boxing gloves and shin guards, and the arresting agents note he has prepared “through physical training for violent confrontation.” Al-Attas allows the agents to search his belongings and they believe al-Attas is in the US legally, so he is not arrested. However, al-Attas tells the FBI that Moussaoui is a radical religious Muslim and later makes several statements indicating Moussaoui may be a terrorist (see August 16, 2001). [MSNBC, 12/11/2001; US Congress, 10/17/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/9/2006; Minneapolis Star Tribune, 6/4/2006] Al-Attas is arrested the next day (see August 17, 2001).

Entity Tags: John Weess, Zacarias Moussaoui, Steve Nordmann, Joe Manarang, Harry Samit, David Rapp, FBI Minnesota field office, Hussein al-Attas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In November 2002, as the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry was finishing its investigation, it formally asked for a report by the CIA to determine “whether and to what extent personnel at all levels should be held accountable” for the failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. [New York Times, 9/14/2004] The CIA report by the agency’s inspector general is completed in June 2004. Newsweek calls the report “hard-hitting” and says it “identifies a host of current and former officials who could be candidates for possible disciplinary procedures imposed by a special CIA Accountability Board.” [Newsweek, 10/24/2004] While the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry and 9/11 Commission Reports didn’t single out individuals for blame, this one does, and it is said to find “very senior-level officials responsible. Those who have read the classified report say that it faults about 20 intelligence officials, including former CIA Director George Tenet, his former Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt, and the former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center Cofer Black. Tenet in particular is faulted for focusing too little attention on combating al-Qaeda as a whole in the years prior to 9/11.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/19/2004; Los Angeles Times, 10/6/2005; Washington Post, 10/6/2005] The report is submitted to John McLaughlin, interim acting CIA Director, but he returns it to the inspector general with a request “for more information.” [New York Times, 9/14/2004] It continues to remain completely classified, and even the 9/11 Commissioners (who all have high level security clearances) are not allowed to see it before they complete their own 9/11 investigation. [Newsweek, 10/24/2004] In late September 2004, Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) and Jane Harman (D-CA), chairman and highest ranking Democrat of the House Intelligence Committee respectively, send a letter to the CIA. [New York Times, 10/27/2004] They request that at least their committee, as the oversight committee that originally mandated the creation of the report, be allowed to see the report. But even this committee and the Senate Intelligence Committee are not allowed to see it. One anonymous official who has read the report tells the Los Angeles Times, “It is infuriating that a report which shows that high-level people were not doing their jobs in a satisfactory manner before 9/11 is being suppressed.… The report is potentially very embarrassing for the administration, because it makes it look like they weren’t interested in terrorism before 9/11, or in holding people in the government responsible afterward.” This official says the report has been deliberately stalled, first by John McLaughlin, then by Porter Goss, his replacement as CIA Director. (Ironically, Goss was the co-chairman of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that originally called for the report.) This official further notes that the only legal and legitimate reason the CIA can give for holding back such a report is national security, yet this reason has not been invoked. The official claims that Goss is “basically sitting on the report until after the [November 2004 Presidential] election. No previous director of CIA has ever tried to stop the inspector general from releasing a report to the Congress, in this case a report requested by Congress.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/19/2004; Los Angeles Times, 10/20/2004] One anonymous CIA official says, “Everybody feels it will be better off if this hits the fan after the election.” [Newsweek, 10/24/2004] The previously mentioned official speaking to The Los Angeles Times comments that the successful delay of the report’s release until after the election has “led the management of the CIA to believe it can engage in a cover-up with impunity.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/19/2004] More details of the report are revealed to the media in January 2005.(see January 7, 2005). In October 2005, CIA Director Porter Goss will announce that he is not going to release the report, and also will not convene an accountability board to hold anyone responsible.(see October 10, 2005).

Entity Tags: Jane Harman, John E. McLaughlin, Central Intelligence Agency, Peter Hoekstra, Porter J. Goss, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections

In November 2002, as the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry was finishing its investigation, it had formally asked for a report by the Justice Department (which oversees the FBI) to determine “whether and to what extent personnel at all levels should be held accountable” for the failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. An identical request was made to the CIA (see June-November 2004). [New York Times, 9/14/2004] The Justice Department report, titled “A Review of the FBI’s Handling of Intelligence Information Related to the September 11 Attacks,” is completed this month. [Washington Post, 4/30/2005] It centers on three FBI failures before 9/11: the failure to follow up on the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001), the failure to follow up on FBI agent Ken Williams’ memo (see July 10, 2001) warning about Islamic militants training in US flight schools, and the FBI’s failure to follow up on many leads to hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. The report provides some new details about miscommunications, inaction, and other problems. [New York Times, 9/14/2004] The report remains classified. Senior Senate Judiciary Committee members Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) call for its release. The senators state, “While the needs of national security must be weighed seriously, we fear the designation of information as classified, in some cases, serves to protect the executive branch against embarrassing revelations and full accountability. We hope that is not the case here.” [Washington Times, 7/12/2004; New York Times, 9/14/2004] One problem complicating the issuing of even a declassified version is the possibility that the material would taint the criminal proceedings against Zacarias Moussaoui. In early 2005, the Justice Department inspector general’s office will ask the judge presiding over Moussaoui’s case for permission to release a declassified version of the report. But the judge will turn down the request in April 2005, even after Moussaoui pleads guilty (see April 30, 2005). The report will finally be released in June 2005 without the section on Moussaoui (see June 9, 2005). [New York Times, 2/13/2005]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, Charles Grassley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ken Williams, Patrick J. Leahy, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections

A courtroom sketch of Leonie Brinkema.A courtroom sketch of Leonie Brinkema. [Source: Art Lein / Agence France-Presse]Leonie Brinkema, the federal judge overseeing the prosecution of Zacarias Moussaoui, denies a request to make public an unclassified version of a report on the FBI’s failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. The report, written by the Justice Department’s Inspector General Glenn Fine, was completed in July 2004 (see July 2004) has been held up from publication because of the Moussaoui trial. One portion of the report deals with the FBI’s handling of Moussaoui’s arrest in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001). However, he pleaded guilty earlier in April (see April 22, 2005). Judge Brinkema doesn’t give an explanation for continuing to keep the report classified or hint when it might finally be unclassified. Most of the report has no bearing on Moussaoui. [Washington Post, 4/30/2005] The report will be released two months later with the section on Moussaoui completely removed (see June 9, 2005).

Entity Tags: Leonie Brinkema, Zacarias Moussaoui, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Glenn Fine

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The report by Justice Department’s Inspector General Glenn Fine, completed in July 2004, is finally released (see July 2004). It states that the inability to detect the 9/11 hijacking plot amounts to a “significant failure” by the FBI and was caused in large part by “widespread and longstanding deficiencies” in the way the agency handled terrorism and intelligence cases. In one particularly notable finding, the report concluded that the FBI missed at least five chances to detect the presence of two of the suicide hijackers—Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar—after they first entered the United States in early 2000. The report states, “While we do not know what would have happened had the FBI learned sooner or pursued its investigation more aggressively, the FBI lost several important opportunities to find Alhazmi and Almihdhar before the September 11 attacks.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004 pdf file; Washington Post, 6/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, Glenn Fine

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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