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Context of 'July 5, 2001: Counterterrorism ‘Tsar’ Clarke Warns Domestic Agencies of ‘Something Spectacular’ Planned by Al-Qaeda'

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On May 16, an anonymous person calls the US embassy in the United Arab Emirates and warns that bin Laden supporters have been in the US and are planning an attack in the US using “high explosives.” The caller mentions that operatives are infiltrating the US from Canada, but there is no mention of when or where the attack might occur. The next day, based on this warning, the first item on the agenda for counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) is entitled: “[Osama bin Laden]: Operation Planned in US.” The anonymous caller’s tip cannot be later corroborated. In July, the CIA will share the warning with the FBI, the INS, the US Customs Service, and the State Department. It will also be mentioned in the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing given to President Bush (see August 6, 2001) and Bush will be told that the CIA and FBI are investigating it. But eventually, neither the CIA nor FBI is able to corraborate the information in the call. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; Washington Post, 9/19/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255, 262, 535] There are some other possibly interlinked warnings this month also warning of an al-Qaeda plot to attack the US from Canada using explosives (see May 30, 2001, May 2001, and May 2001).

Entity Tags: White House, Osama bin Laden, Counterterrorism and Security Group, Richard A. Clarke, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI shares information on terrorist threats with state and local law enforcement entities through National Law Enforcement Threat System (NLETS) reports. However, at this time, the heightened state of alert for an attack in the US is not reflected at all in these NLETS reports. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry notes, “In a May 2001 NLETS report, for example, the FBI assessed the risk of terrorism as ‘low,’ and, in a July 2, 2001 NLETS report, stated that the FBI had no information indicating a credible threat of terrorist attack in the United States, although the possibility of such an attack could not be discounted.” Further reports focus only on the potential of attacks against US interests overseas. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] On July 5 and 6, 2001, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke specifically warns FBI officials that al-Qaeda is planning “something spectacular,” and says, “They may try to hit us at home. You have to assume that is what they are going to do.” Yet apparently the FBI doesn’t pass any of Clarke’s warnings or sense of urgent emergency to the state and local emergency responders (see July 5, 2001) (see July 6, 2001).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Al-Qaeda, Richard A. Clarke, National Law Enforcement Threat System

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At the request of National Security Adviser Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke leads a meeting of the Counterterrorism Security Group, attended by officials from a dozen federal agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the FAA, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, Customs, the CIA, and the FBI. The CIA and FBI give briefings on the growing al-Qaeda threat. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Time, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258] Then Clarke later recalls saying, “You’ve just heard that CIA thinks al-Qaeda is planning a major attack on us. So do I. You heard CIA say it would probably be in Israel or Saudi Arabia. Maybe. But maybe it will be here. Just because there is no evidence that says that it will be here, does not mean it will be overseas. They may try to hit us at home. You have to assume that is what they are going to do.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 236] Two attendees later recall Clarke stating that “something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon.” One who attended the meeting later calls the evidence that “something spectacular” is being planned by al-Qaeda “very gripping.” [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Time, 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256] Clarke directs every counterterrorist office to cancel vacations, defer non-vital travel, put off scheduled exercises, and place domestic rapid-response teams on much shorter alert. However, there is very poor follow up to the meeting and the attendees don’t share the warnings with their home agencies (see Shortly After July 5, 2001). By early August, all of these emergency measures are no longer in effect. [CNN, 3/2002; Washington Post, 5/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, US Coast Guard, US Customs Service, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Counterterrorism and Security Group, Federal Aviation Administration, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Andrew Card, Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA warns the interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) that al-Qaeda members “believe the upcoming attack will be ‘spectacular,’ qualitatively different from anything they have done to date.” [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who leads the CSG, similarly warned the CSG of a “spectacular” al-Qaeda attack the day before (see July 5, 2001).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorism and Security Group, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The CIA cable watchlisting Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and two others (the sections mentioning Shakir and bin Attash are blacked out).The CIA cable watchlisting Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and two others (the sections mentioning Shakir and bin Attash are blacked out). [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)Thanks to the request of Margaret Gillespie, an FBI analyst assigned to the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, the CIA sends a cable to the State Department, INS, Customs Service, and FBI requesting that “bin Laden-related individuals” Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, and Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf (an alias for Khallad bin Attash) be put on the terrorism watch list. All four individuals had attended the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). The cable mostly focuses on Almihdhar, briefly outlining his attendance at the Malaysia summit and his subsequent travel to the US in January 2000 and July 2001. Since March 2000, if not earlier, the CIA has had good reason to believe Alhazmi and Almihdhar were al-Qaeda operatives living in the US, but apparently did nothing and told no other agency about it until now. The hijackers are not located in time, and both die in the 9/11 attacks. FBI agents later state that if they been told about Alhazmi and Almihdhar sooner, “There’s no question we could have tied all 19 hijackers together” given the frequent contact between these two and the other hijackers. [Newsweek, 6/2/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 32-36, 302] However, in what the Washington Post calls a “critical omission,” the FAA, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and the FBI’s Financial Review Group are not notified. The two latter organizations have the power to tap into private credit card and bank data, and claim they could have readily found Alhazmi and Almihdhar, given the frequency the two used credit cards. [Washington Post, 7/25/2003] Furthermore, counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke and his Counterterrorism Security Group are not told about these two operatives before 9/11 either. [Newsweek, 3/24/2004] The CIA later claims the request was labeled “immediate,” the second most urgent category (the highest is reserved for things like declarations of war). [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001] The FBI denies that it was marked “immediate” and other agencies treated the request as a routine matter. [Los Angeles Times, 10/18/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002] The State Department places all four men on the watch list the next day. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file] However, this watch list, named TIPOFF, checks their names only if they use international flights. There is another watch list barring suspected terrorists from flying domestically. On 9/11, it contains only 12 names, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures, and some names are added as late as August 28, 2001. But none of these four men are added to this domestic list before 9/11.(see April 24, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Margaret Gillespie, Khallad bin Attash, TIPOFF, Richard A. Clarke, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, US Department of State, US Customs Service, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration, Counterterrorism and Security Group

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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