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Context of 'July 1998-February 2000: CIA Renders Over Two Dozen Islamic Militant Operatives'

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In February 2000, CIA Director George Tenet testifies to Congress, “Since July 1998, working with foreign governments worldwide, we have helped to render more than two dozen terrorists to justice. More than half were associates of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization.” Renditions are a policy of grabbing a suspect off the street of one country and taken the person to another where he was wanted for a crime or questioning without going through the normal legal and diplomatic procedures. [Associated Press, 12/27/2005] The CIA had a policy of rendering Islamic Jihad suspects to Egypt since 1995 (see Summer 1995). In July 1998, the CIA discovered a laptop containing organizational charts and locations of al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad operatives, so presumably these renditions are a direct result of that intelligence find (see Late August 1998).

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Islamic Jihad

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

CIA Director George Tenet tells a Senate committee in open session that bin Laden “wants to strike further blows against America.” He points out the close links between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad and says this is part of an “intricate web of alliances among Sunni extremists worldwide, including North Africans, radical Palestinians, Pakistanis, and Central Asians.” He points out ties between drug traffickers and the Taliban and says, “There is ample evidence that Islamic extremists such as Osama bin Laden use profits from the drug trade to support their terror campaign.” But there is no mention of Pakistan’s support for al-Qaeda and the Taliban, despite CIA knowledge of this (see Autumn 1998). Instead, he claims Iran is “the most active state sponsor” of terrorism. Additionally, he does not mention that bin Laden is capable of planning attacks inside the US, even though he told that to Congress in a closed session six months earlier (see June 24, 1999). [Senate, 2/2/2000]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, US Congress, George J. Tenet, Osama bin Laden, Islamic Jihad, Taliban

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, is detained in Jordan and then let go. According to a German intelligence official speaking in 2002, Zammar is in transit through Jordan. However, the official will not say where Zammar is going, where he is coming from, or why he is held. Zammar is detained for several days and then deported back to Germany. [Washington Post, 6/12/2002] When Zammar is questioned by German intelligence shortly after 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11-October 27, 2001), he will mention his detention in Jordan. He will say that Jordanian officials “asked me about Afghanistan, the people there, my beliefs, contacts in Jordan, and my party membership. By party membership that meant whether I was a follower of Hezbollah, Hamas, [Islamic] Jihad, or Osama bin Laden.” [New York Times, 1/18/2003] Interestingly, in the beginning of July, CIA Director George Tenet made an urgent request to allied intelligence agencies to arrest anyone on a list of known al-Qaeda operatives (see July 3, 2001). In 1999, US intelligence determined that Zammar was in contact with one of Osama bin Laden’s senior operational coordinators, and the US notes Zammar’s terrorist links on numerous occasions before 9/11 (see Summer 1999), so Zammar would be a likely candidate for Tenet’s list. Zammar also was the target of a German intelligence investigation that started in 1996 and lasted at least three years (see 1996).

Entity Tags: Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In a 2007 book about the “Lackawanna Six” entitled The Jihad Next Door, author Dina Temple-Raston will write that al-Qaeda “shuttered the training camps in August 2001, leaving little sign of the encampments that once dotted the Pakistan-Afghan border.” After 9/11, the camps are not reopened. [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 130] One article shortly after 9/11 suggests that bin Laden moves his training camps in Afghanistan “in the days before the attacks.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/16/2001] Presumably the CIA notices. CIA Director George Tenet will later claim a group of men from an allied intelligence agency penetrated the camps not long before 9/11 (see Early September 2001), satellites are monitoring Afghanistan from the sky, and the CIA had over 100 assets in Afghanistan before 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). FBI agent Jack Cloonan will also later say, “There were agents run into the camps” (see Before September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Two days before the CIA is to issue an assessment (see August 2002) on Iraq’s supposed links to militant Islamic groups, Defense Department officials working in the Office of Special Plans (OSP) deliver a briefing in the White House to several top officials, including I. Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, and Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley. The briefing is entitled “Assessing the Relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda,” and is an updated version of a briefing presented in July 2002 (see July 25, 2002). The OSP, working under Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas J. Feith, is aggressively promoting any evidence it can find to support a decision to invade Iraq (see September 2002).
bullet The briefing claims that the relationship between Iraq and al-Qaeda is “mature” and “symbiotic,” and marked by shared interests.
bullet It lists cooperation in 10 categories, or “multiple areas of cooperation,” including training, financing, and logistics. [Savage, 2007, pp. 292; New York Times, 4/6/2007; Washington Post, 4/6/2007]
bullet An alleged 2001 meeting in Prague between an Iraqi spy and 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta is listed as one of eight “Known Iraq-Al-Qaeda Contacts.” It claims that there is a “known contact” between Atta and the Iraqi intelligence agency, a claim already rejected by the CIA. [Savage, 2007, pp. 293; Washington Post, 4/6/2007]
bullet The briefing claims that “Fragmentary reporting points to possible Iraqi involvement not only in 9/11 but also in previous al-Qaeda attacks.” [Washington Post, 4/6/2007]
bullet It includes a slide criticizing the rest of the US intelligence community, which says there are “fundamental problems” with CIA intelligence gathering methods. It claims other intelligence agencies assume “that secularists and Islamists will not cooperate, even when they have common interests,” and there is a “consistent underestimation of importance that would be attached by Iraq and al-Qaeda to hiding a relationship.” [Daily Telegraph, 7/11/2004; Newsweek, 7/19/2004; Savage, 2007, pp. 293; Washington Post, 4/6/2007]
Around the same time, the briefing is also presented with slight variations to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and CIA Director George Tenet. The slide criticizing other intelligence agencies is excluded when a version of the briefing is given to Tenet. A later report by the Defense Department’s Office of Inspector General will conclude the briefing was entirely incorrect and deliberately ignored intelligence by the CIA, DIA, and other intelligence agencies that contradicted its conclusions (see February 9, 2007). [Washington Post, 4/6/2007] The CIA has already found the majority of the information in the presentation either completely false or largely unsupported by reliable evidence. [Savage, 2007, pp. 293]
Unusual Briefing - This briefing, delivered at the same time the White House is pressing Congress to authorize the upcoming war with Iraq (see October 11, 2002), is, in the words of author and reporter Charlie Savage, “highly unusual.” Usually, high-level administration officials making national security decisions rely on information vetted by top-flight analysts at the CIA, in order to ensure the information is as accurate and politically neutral as possible. No CIA analyst has ever found a meaningful link between Hussein and al-Qaeda; the few reports of such claims were seen as highly dubious. But Cheney and his supporters consider the CIA slow, pedantic, and incompetent, and believe Feith’s OSP can provide better—or at least more amenable—intelligence. Savage will write: “In Feith’s shop and elsewhere in the executive branch, neoconservative political appointees stitched together raw intelligence reports, often of dubious credibility, without any vetting or analysis by professional intelligence specialists. The officials cherry-picked the files for reports that supported the notion that Iraq had an active [WMD] program and that it was working hand-in-hand with al-Qaeda, ‘stovepiping’ such reports to top decision makers (and leaking them to the press) while discounting any skepticism mounted by the professionals.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 292]
Dismantling Intelligence Filtering System in Favor of Politically Controlled Intelligence Provisions - What the presentation accomplishes, according to former CIA intelligence analyst Kenneth Pollock, is to support a conclusion already drawn—the need to get rid of Saddam Hussein—by using slanted, altered, and sometimes entirely fabricated “intelligence.” The White House proceeded to “dismantle the existing filtering process that for 50 years had been preventing the policymakers from getting bad information.” Savage goes one step farther. He will write that the presentation is part of a larger White House strategy to alter the balance of power between the presidency and a key element of the bureaucracy. By setting up a politically controlled alternative intelligence filtering system, he will write, “the administration succeeded in diminishing the power of the CIA’s information bureaucracy to check the White House’s desired course of action.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 294]

Entity Tags: Office of Special Plans, Stephen J. Hadley, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Kenneth Pollock, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Douglas Feith, Charlie Savage, George J. Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

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