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Context of 'August 2, 2002: FBI Questions Members of 9/11 Congressional Inquiry about 9/11 Leaks'

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Around this time, the NSA intercepts telephone conversations between 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, but apparently it does not share the information with any other agencies. The FBI has had a $2 million reward for KSM since 1998 (see January 8, 1998), while Atta is in charge of hijacker operations inside the US. [Knight Ridder, 6/6/2002; Independent, 6/6/2002] The monitored calls between the two of them continue until September 10, one day before the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). The NSA either fails to translate these messages in a timely fashion or fails to understand the significance of what was translated. [Knight Ridder, 6/6/2002] However, it will later be revealed that an FBI squad built an antenna in the Indian Ocean some time before 9/11 with the specific purpose of listening in on KSM’s phone calls, so they may have learned about these calls to Atta on their own (see Before September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, National Security Agency, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The NSA intercepts “multiple phone calls from Abu Zubaida, bin Laden’s chief of operations, to the United States.” The timing and information contained in these intercepted phone calls has not been disclosed. [ABC News, 2/18/2002] In 2007, author and former CIA officer Robert Baer will comment that “apparently, when Abu Zubaida was captured, telephone records, including calls to the United States, were found in the house he was living in. The calls stopped on September 10, and resumed on September 16 (see September 16, 2001 and After). There’s nothing in the 9/11 Commission report about any of this, and I have no idea whether the leads were run down, the evidence lost or destroyed.” [Time, 12/7/2007] US intelligence had just been warned about a week earlier that Zubaida may be planning an attack on the US (see August 24, 2001). Zubaida’s exact position within al-Qaeda is disputed; he will be captured in 2002 (see March 28, 2002). It appears that a number of Western intelligence agencies were monitoring Zubaida’s calls since at least late 1998 (see October 1998 and After), and continue monitoring his calls in the weeks after 9/11 (see October 8, 2001).

Entity Tags: Robert Baer, Abu Zubaida, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Massoud’s two assassins pictured just before their assassination attempt. One holds the rigged video camera.Massoud’s two assassins pictured just before their assassination attempt. One holds the rigged video camera. [Source: CNN]General Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, is assassinated by two al-Qaeda agents posing as Moroccan journalists. [Time, 8/12/2002] A legendary mujaheddin commander and a brilliant tactician, Massoud had pledged to bring freedom and democracy to Afghanistan. The BBC says the next day, “General Massoud’s death might well have meant the end of the [Northern] alliance” because there clearly was no figure with his skills and popularity to replace him. [BBC, 9/10/2001; BBC, 9/10/2001] “With Massoud out of the way, the Taliban and al-Qaeda would be rid of their most effective opponent and be in a stronger position to resist the American onslaught.” [St. Petersburg Times, 9/9/2002] It appears the assassination was supposed to happen earlier: the “journalists” waited for three weeks in Northern Alliance territory to meet Massoud. Finally on September 8, an aide says they “were so worried and excitable they were begging us.” They were granted an interview after threatening to leave if the interview did not happen in the next 24 hours. Meanwhile, the Taliban army (together with elements of the Pakistani army) had massed for an offensive against the Northern Alliance in the previous weeks, but the offensive began only hours after the assassination. Massoud was killed that day but Northern Alliance leaders pretend for several days that Massoud was only injured in order to keep the Northern Alliance army’s morale up, and they are able to stave off total defeat. The timing of the assassination and the actions of the Taliban army suggest that the 9/11 attacks were known to the Taliban leadership. [Time, 8/12/2002] Though it is not widely reported, the Northern Alliance releases a statement the next day: “Ahmed Shah Massoud was the target of an assassination attempt organized by the Pakistani [intelligence service] ISI and Osama bin Laden” (see September 10, 2001). [Radio Free Europe, 9/10/2001; Newsday, 9/15/2001; Reuters, 10/4/2001] This suggests that the ISI may also have had prior knowledge of the attack plans.

Entity Tags: Ahmed Shah Massoud, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Northern Alliance

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

At least two messages in Arabic are intercepted by the NSA. One states, “The match is about to begin” and the other states, “Tomorrow is zero hour.” Later reports translate the first message as, “The match begins tomorrow.” [Reuters, 9/9/2002] The messages were sent between someone in Saudi Arabia and someone in Afghanistan. The NSA will claim that they are not translated until September 12, and that even if they had been translated in time, “they gave no clues that authorities could have acted on.” [ABC News, 6/7/2002; Reuters, 6/19/2002] Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Bob Graham will later confirm that the messages were from al-Qaeda sources—a location or phone number—that made them a high priority, but that they were not from bin Laden or one of his top commanders. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 139] On the morning of September 12, 2001, the CIA will tell President Bush that a recently intercepted message from al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida referred to the 9/11 attacks as “zero hour,” but it is not clear if this is the same message or a different message (see September 12, 2001). These messages turn out to be only two of about 30 pre-9/11 communications from suspected al-Qaeda operatives or other militants referring to an imminent event. An anonymous official will say of these messages, including the “Tomorrow is zero hour” message: “You can’t dismiss any of them, but it does not tell you tomorrow is the day.” [Reuters, 9/9/2002] There will be a later attempt to explain the messages away by suggesting they referred to the killing of Afghan opposition leader Ahmed Shah Massoud the day before (see September 9, 2001). [Reuters, 10/17/2002]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Shah Massoud, Al-Qaeda, National Security Agency, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Within the headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA) in Fort Meade, Maryland is a little-known unit called the Defense Special Missile and Astronautics Center (DEFSMAC). According to author James Bamford, who is an expert on the NSA, the center’s purpose is “to serve as the nation’s chief warning bell for a planned attack on America. It serves as the focal point for ‘all-source’ intelligence—listening posts, early-warning satellites, human agents, and seismic detectors.” According to one former NSA official, DEFSMAC “has all the inputs from all the assets, and is a warning activity. They probably have a better feel for any worldwide threat to this country from missiles, aircraft, or overt military activities, better and more timely, at instant fingertip availability, than any group in the United States.” If they received indications that an attack was imminent, DEFSMAC officials could “immediately send out near-real-time and in-depth, all-source intelligence alerts to almost 200 ‘customers,’ including the White House Situation Room, the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon, the [Defense Intelligence Agency] Alert Center, and listening posts around the world.” Its analysts could be “closely monitoring all intercepts flooding in; examining the latest overhead photography; and analyzing data from early-warning satellites 22,300 miles above the equator. DEFSMAC would then flash the intelligence to the US Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, NORAD at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, and other emergency command centers.” But on this morning, as Bamford will conclude, “DEFSMAC learned of the massive airborne attacks after the fact—not from America’s multibillion-dollar spy satellites or its worldwide network of advanced listening posts, or its army of human spies, but from a dusty, off-the-shelf TV set.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 33-35] The NSA had in fact intercepted numerous calls between some of the hijackers in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen, beginning in early 2000 and ending just weeks before 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] It also intercepted two messages in Arabic on September 10, stating, “The match is about to begin,” and “Tomorrow is zero hour,” but these are supposedly not translated until September 12 (see September 10, 2001). [Washington Post, 6/20/2002] The NSA even intercepted a series of communications between 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta beginning in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), continuing to a message where KSM gives Atta the final go-ahead for the attacks on September 10, 2001 (see September 10, 2001). Michael Hayden, the director of the NSA, will later claim that the “NSA had no [indications] that al-Qaeda was specifically targeting New York and Washington… or even that it was planning an attack on US soil” (see October 17, 2002). [National Journal, 6/19/2006]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Michael Hayden, Defense Special Missile and Astronautics Center, James Bamford

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mike Morell.Mike Morell. [Source: Public domain]CIA Director George Tenet arrives at the White House to give the president his daily intelligence briefing. With him is Mike Morell, the president’s regular CIA briefer. They meet with Bush at 8 a.m. in the Oval Office, joined by Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) on this day is about ten to twelve pages long, and a further twelve pages includes full reports from case officers, the Directorate of Intelligence, and the National Security Agency. The PDB includes a review of the available intelligence tracing the previous day’s attacks back to Osama bin Laden and his top al-Qaeda associates. Among the evidence presented:
bullet Several reports identify Capitol Hill and the White House as intended targets of the attacks.
bullet One report says a bin Laden associate incorrectly “gave thanks for the explosion in the Congress building.”
bullet A key figure in the al-Qaeda charity front the Wafa Humanitarian Organization had initially claimed that “The White House has been destroyed,” but then had to correct himself.
bullet A report shows that al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan had said at 9:53 a.m. the previous day that the attackers were following through with “the doctor’s program” (see 9:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). This is thought to be a reference to the second-ranking member of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician often referred to as “the Doctor.”
bullet The CIA and the FBI have evidence connecting at least three of the alleged hijackers to Osama bin Laden and his training camps in Afghanistan. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Salem Alhazmi were quickly linked to al-Qaeda on the day of 9/11, as two of them were on a US watch list even before 9/11 (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001). The attacks were also consistent with intelligence reports throughout the summer that indicated bin Laden was planning “spectacular attacks” against US targets.
bullet A report out of Kandahar, Afghanistan shows the attacks were “the results of two years’ planning.”
bullet Another report says the attacks were “the beginning of the wrath.”
bullet A key piece of evidence involves Abu Zubaida, who has been identified as the chief field commander for the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. A supposedly reliable report received after the 9/11 attacks stated that Zubaida had referred to September 11 as “zero hour.” It is not known is an intercepted message from before 9/11 saying “tomorrow is zero hour,” or some other message (see September 10, 2001).
According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, “For Tenet, the evidence on bin Laden was conclusive—game, set, match.” Though Tenet, along with Rice and other officials, has already spent several months working on a plan to vastly expand covert action in Afghanistan and worldwide, he tells Bush that an even more extensive plan will soon be presented for approval, and this will be very expensive. The president tells him, “Whatever it takes.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 39-41; Washington Post, 1/28/2002; Kessler, 2003, pp. 231-233; Tenet, 2007, pp. 165] Bush will approve Tenet’s plan by the following Monday (see September 17, 2001).

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi, Michael J. Morell, Osama bin Laden, Khalid Almihdhar, George J. Tenet, Wafa Humanitarian Organization, Abu Zubaida, George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Richard Shelby (R-AL), the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaks highly classified information to Fox News political correspondent Carl Cameron just minutes after his committee learns it in a closed-door hearing with NSA Director Michael Hayden, according to later testimony. Shelby learns that telephone calls intercepted by the NSA on September 10, 2001 warned of an imminent al-Qaeda attack, but the agency failed to translate the intercepts until September 12, the day after the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Cameron does not report the story, but instead gives the material to CNN reporter Dana Bash. A half-hour after Cameron’s meeting with Bash, CNN broadcasts the story, citing “two Congressional sources” in its report. CNN does not identify Shelby as a source. Moments after the broadcast, a CIA official upbraids committee members who have by then reconvened to continue the hearing. USA Today and the Washington Post publish more detailed stories on the NSA intercepts the next day. White House and intelligence community officials will quickly claim that the leak proves Congress cannot be trusted with classified information, but experts in electronic surveillance will later say the information about the NSA’s intercepts contains nothing harmful because it does not reveal the source of the information or the methods used to gather it. [Washington Post, 8/5/2004; National Journal, 2/15/2007] The next day, a furious Vice President Dick Cheney will threaten Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) with termination of the White House’s cooperation with the 9/11 Congressional inquiry unless Graham and his House Intelligence Committee counterpart, Porter Goss (R-FL), push for an investigation (see June 20, 2002). Shelby will deny any involvement in the leak (see August 5, 2004).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Carl Cameron, CNN, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Al-Qaeda, Dana Bash, Michael Hayden, Richard Shelby, Senate Intelligence Committee, USA Today, Washington Post, Porter J. Goss, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Vice President Dick Cheney phones Senate Intelligence Committee chairman Bob Graham (D-FL). Cheney’s call comes early in the morning, and Graham takes it while still shaving. Cheney is agitated; he has just read in the newspaper that telephone calls intercepted by the NSA on September 10, 2001 warned of an imminent al-Qaeda attack. But, the story continues, the intercepts were not translated until September 12, the day after the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Cheney is enraged that someone leaked the classified information from the NSA intercepts to the press. As a result, Cheney says, the Bush administration is considering terminating all cooperation with the joint inquiry by the Senate and House Intelligence Committees on the government’s failure to predict and prevent the attacks (see September 18, 2002). (Graham co-chairs the inquiry.) Classified records would no longer be made available to the committees, and administration witnesses would not be available for interviews or testimony. Furthermore, Cheney says, unless the committee leaders take action to find out who leaked the information, and more importantly, take steps to ensure that such leaks never happen again, President Bush will tell the citizenry that Congress cannot be trusted with vital national security secrets. “Take control of the situation,” Cheney tells Graham. The senator responds that he, too, is frustrated with the leaks, but Cheney is unwilling to be mollified.
Quick Capitulation - At 7:30 a.m., Graham meets with the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Porter Goss (R-FL), and the ranking members of the committees, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL, who will later be accused of leaking the information) and Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). They decide to request that the Justice Department conduct a criminal inquiry into whether anyone on either committee, member or staffer, leaked the information to the press. One participant in the meeting later says, “It was a hastily made decision, made out of a sense of panic… and by people with bleary eyes.” Another person involved in the decision later recalls: “There was a real concern that any meaningful oversight by Congress was very much at stake. The political dynamic back then—not that long after September 11—was completely different. They took Cheney’s threats very seriously.” In 2007, reporter Murray Waas will observe that Cheney and other administration officials saw the leak “as an opportunity to undercut Congressional oversight and possibly restrict the flow of classified information to Capitol Hill.”
Graham: Congress Victimized by White House 'Set Up' - In 2007, after his retirement from politics, Graham will say: “Looking back at it, I think we were clearly set up by Dick Cheney and the White House. They wanted to shut us down. And they wanted to shut down a legitimate Congressional inquiry that might raise questions in part about whether their own people had aggressively pursued al-Qaeda in the days prior to the September 11 attacks. The vice president attempted to manipulate the situation, and he attempted to manipulate us.… But if his goal was to get us to back off, he was unsuccessful.” Graham will add that Goss shared his concerns, and say that in 2003, he speculates to Goss that the White House had set them up in order to sabotage the joint inquiry; according to Graham, Goss will respond, “I often wondered that myself.” Graham will go on to say that he believes the NSA leak was not only promulgated by a member of Congress, but by White House officials as well; he will base his belief on the fact that Washington Post and USA Today reports contain information not disclosed during the joint committee hearing. “That would lead a reasonable person to infer the administration leaked as well,” he will say, “or what they were doing was trying to set us up… to make this an issue which they could come after us with.”
White House Goes Public - The same day, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tells reporters, “The president [has] very deep concerns about anything that would be inappropriately leaked that could… harm our ability to maintain sources and methods and anything else that could interfere with America’s ability to fight the war on terrorism.”
Investigation Will Point to Senate Republican - An investigation by the Justice Department will determine that the leak most likely came from Shelby, but Shelby will deny leaking the intercepts, and the Senate Ethics Committee will decline to pursue the matter (see August 5, 2004). [National Journal, 2/15/2007]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Ari Fleischer, House Intelligence Committee, Nancy Pelosi, Senate Ethics Committee, Senate Intelligence Committee, Richard Shelby, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Porter J. Goss, US Department of Justice, Murray Waas

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Senator Richard Shelby.
Senator Richard Shelby. [Source: US Senate]The Washington Post reveals that FBI agents have questioned nearly all 37 senators and congresspeople making up the 9/1 Congressional Inquiry about 9/11-related information leaks. In particular, in June 2002 the media reported that the day before 9/11 the NSA intercepted the messages “The match is about to begin” and “Tomorrow is zero hour”(see September 10, 2001). The FBI has asked the members to submit to lie detector tests but most have refused. Congresspeople express “grave concern” for this historically unprecedented move. A law professor states: “Now the FBI can open dossiers on every member and staffer and develop full information on them. It creates a great chilling effect on those who would be critical of the FBI.” [Washington Post, 8/2/2002] Senator John McCain (R-AZ) suggests that “the constitutional separation of powers is being violated in spirit if not in the letter. ‘What you have here is an organization compiling dossiers on people who are investigating the same organization. The administration bitterly complains about some leaks out of a committee, but meanwhile leaks abound about secret war plans for fighting a war against Saddam Hussein. What’s that about? There’s a bit of a contradiction here, if not a double standard.’” [Washington Post, 8/3/2002] Later the search for the source of the leak intensifies to unprecedented levels as the FBI asks 17 senators to turn over phone records, appointment calendars, and schedules that would reveal their possible contact with reporters. [Washington Post, 8/24/2002] Most, if not all, turn over the records, even as some complain that the request breaches the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. One senator says the FBI is “trying to put a damper on our activities and I think they will be successful.” [Associated Press, 8/29/2002] In January 2004, it will be reported that the probe is focusing on Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL). He will not be charged with any crime relating to the leak. [Washington Post, 1/22/2004] In November 2005, the Senate Ethics Committee will announce it has dropped a probe of Shelby, citing insufficient evidence. [Reuters, 11/13/2005] Inquiry co-chair Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) will write in a book in late 2004 that, at the time, he guessed “the leak was intended to sabotage [the inquiry’s] efforts. I am not by nature a conspiracy theorist, but the fact that we were hit with this disclosure at the moment we began to make things uncomfortable for the Bush administration has stuck with me. Over a year later, I asked [inquiry co-chair] Congressman [Porter] Goss (R-FL) whether he thought we had been set up. Nodding, he replied, ‘I often wonder that myself.’” [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 140] Author Philip Shenon will observe that this tactic of intimidation worked, as “Members of the joint committee and their staffs were frightened into silence about the investigation.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 55]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Philip Shenon, Porter J. Goss, Richard Shelby, John McCain, House Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

National Public Radio (NPR) learns of the administration’s tough approach to what it calls a pattern of information leaks from Congress and government employees. The FBI is investigating a number of Congressmen who are suspected of leaking information about the administration’s Iraq policies to the press (regardless of the presumption that members of Congress have the right to reveal unclassified information as they see fit), but the administration wants more from the FBI than questioning legislators. The administration is pushing the FBI to administer lie detector tests to legislators and federal employees it suspects of talking to reporters. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants to jail leakers who work for the government. And one of Rumsfeld’s analysts has suggested that police SWAT teams be sent to reporters’ homes to help find leakers. [Unger, 2007, pp. 256] By August 2002, the FBI also questioned nearly all senators and congresspeople making up the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry to uncover which one of them leaked information to the press (see August 2, 2002).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Public Radio, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

NSA Director Michael Hayden.
NSA Director Michael Hayden. [Source: NSA]NSA Director Michael Hayden testifies before the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that the “NSA had no [indications] that al-Qaeda was specifically targeting New York and Washington… or even that it was planning an attack on US soil.” Before 9/11, the “NSA had no knowledge… that any of the attackers were in the United States.” Supposedly, a post-9/11 NSA review found no intercepts of calls involving any of the 19 hijackers. [Reuters, 10/17/2002; US Congress, 10/17/2002; USA Today, 10/18/2002] Yet, in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), the NSA intercepted communications between Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and hijacker Mohamed Atta, when he was in charge of operations in the US. [Independent, 6/6/2002; Independent, 9/15/2002] What was said between the two has not been revealed. The NSA also intercepted multiple phone calls from al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida to the US in the days before 9/11 (see Early September 2001). But who was called or what was said has not been revealed. [ABC News, 2/18/2002] In addition, Hayden testified three times in secret on June 18, June 19, and July 18, but little is known about what he said, as not much information is disclosed in the media and many sections of the Inquiry’s final report about the NSA are heavily redacted. The main revelations at the time of the summer hearings are that the NSA intercepted two messages apparently pertaining to the forthcoming attack one day before 9/11, and this sparks a controversial leak inquiry by the FBI (see August 2, 2002). [CNN, 6/18/2002; CBS News, 6/19/2002; CNN, 6/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, National Security Agency, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Michael Hayden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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