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Context of 'August 11, 2011: Former Counterterrorism ‘Tsar’ Says CIA Deliberately Withheld Information from Him before 9/11'

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Fifty to sixty CIA officers read cables reporting on travel by 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. The cables are generated in connection with al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, which Almihdhar and Alhazmi attend and the CIA monitors (see January 5-8, 2000). Even though some of the cables state that Almihdhar has a US visa and Alhazmi has arrived in the US, the FBI is not informed of this (see, for example, January 6, 2000 and March 5, 2000), and the two men are not watchlisted until the summer of 2001 (see August 23, 2001). The cables are drafted at four field offices and at headquarters and are read by overseas officers, headquarters personnel, operations officers, analysts, managers, junior employees, CIA staff, and officers on attachment from the NSA and FBI. The CIA’s inspector general will comment: “Over an 18-month period, some of these officers had opportunities to review the information on multiple occasions, when they might have recognized its significance and shared it appropriately with other components and agencies.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xiv pdf file]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to leaks from the still-classified part of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, monthly payments to Omar al-Bayoumi increase significantly at this time. Al-Bayoumi has been receiving a salary from the Saudi civil authority of about $500 a month. However, shortly after hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar move to San Diego, al-Bayoumi’s salary increases to about $3,000 to $3,500 a month [New York Times, 7/29/2003] It is not clear whether this pay spike is from his Dallah Avco job, or an additional payment by the Saudi government [New York Times, 7/29/2003; New York Times, 8/2/2003] , but the pay spike appears to be a separate stream of money, because another report indicates his Dallah Avco job started with $3,000 a month payments and remained consistent. [Wall Street Journal, 8/11/2003] It also fits in with his claims to acquaintances at the time that he is receiving a regular government scholarship. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002]

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Dallah Avco, Omar al-Bayoumi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House. This picture is actually taken on October 8, 2001, and President Bush is elsewhere in the room.Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House. This picture is actually taken on October 8, 2001, and President Bush is elsewhere in the room. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]CIA Director George Tenet finds the briefing that counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave him earlier in the day (see July 10, 2001) so alarming that he calls National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from his car as he heads to the White House and says he needs to see her right away, even though he has regular weekly meetings with her. [Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Tenet and Black let a third CIA official, Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, brief Rice on the latest intelligence. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke are also present. [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006]
'Significant Attack' - Blee starts by saying, “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!” He argues that it is impossible to pick the specific day, saying Osama bin Laden “will attack when he believes the attack will be successful.” He mentions a range of threat information including:
bullet A warning related to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see (July 9, 2001)) and seven pieces of intelligence the CIA recently received indicating there would soon be a terrorist attack (see July 9-10, 2001);
bullet A mid-June statement by bin Laden to trainees that there would be an attack in the near future (see Mid-June 2001);
bullet Information that talks about moving toward decisive acts;
bullet Late-June information saying a “big event” was forthcoming;
bullet Two separate bits of information collected “a few days before the meeting” in which people predicted a “stunning turn of events” in the weeks ahead. This may be a reference to intercepts of calls in Yemen, possibly involving the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
Multiple, Simultaneous Attacks in US Possible - Blee says that the attacks will be “spectacular,” they will be designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities and interests, there may be multiple, simultaneous attacks, and they may be in the US itself. He outlines the CIA’s efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda by spreading incorrect word that the attack plans have been compromised, in the hope that this will cause a delay in the attack. But he says this is not enough and that the CIA should go on the attack. Blee also discounts the possibility of disinformation, as bin Laden’s threats are known to the public in the Middle East and there will be a loss of face, funds, and popularity if they are not carried out. Blee urges that the US take a “proactive approach” by using the Northern Alliance. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151-4] Author Bob Woodward will later write: “Black emphasize[s] that this amount[s] to a strategic warning, meaning the problem [is] so serious that it require[s] an overall plan and strategy. Second, this [is] a major foreign policy problem that need[s] to be addressed immediately. They need […] to take action that moment—covert, military, whatever—to thwart bin Laden. The United States ha[s] human and technical sources, and all the intelligence [is] consistent.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Richard Clarke expresses his agreement with the CIA about the threat’s seriousness, and Black says, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”
Rice's Response - There are conflicting accounts about the CIA’s reading of Rice’s response. According to Woodward: “Tenet and Black [feel] they [are] not getting through to Rice. She [is] polite, but they [feel] the brush-off.” They leave the meeting frustrated, seeing little prospect for immediate action. Tenet and Black will both later recall the meeting as the starkest warning they gave the White House on al-Qaeda before 9/11 and one that could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks if Rice had acted on it (see July 10, 2001) and conveyed their urgency to President Bush. (Tenet is briefing Bush on a daily basis at this time, but he will later say that Rice has a much better rapport with the president.) Black will say, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Rice says that Bush will align his policy with the new realities and grant new authorities. Writing in 2007, Tenet will say that this response is “just the outcome I had expected and hoped for,” and recall that as they leave the meeting, Blee and Black congratulate each other on having got the administration’s attention. Nevertheless, Rice does not take the requested action until after 9/11. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 153-4]
Rice Concerned about Genoa - Clarke will recall in 2006 that Rice focuses on the possible threat to Bush at an upcoming summit meeting in Genoa, Italy (see June 13, 2001 and July 20-22, 2001). Rice and Bush have already been briefed about the Genoa warning by this time (see July 5, 2001). Rice also promises to quickly schedule a high-level White House meeting on al-Qaeda. However, that meeting does not take place until September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001). [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006] Rice also directs that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same briefing, and they receive it a short time later (see July 11-17, 2001).
Meeting Not Mentioned in 9/11 Commission Report - The meeting will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (see August 4, 2002), and there will be controversy when it is fully revealed in 2006 (see September 29, 2006, September 30-October 3, 2006, and October 1-2, 2006).

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Stephen J. Hadley, White House, Osama bin Laden, Richard A. Clarke, George J. Tenet, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Cofer Black, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An FBI agent detailed to the CIA’s bin Laden unit locates CIA cables saying that future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi entered the US in early 2000. The agent, Margaret Gillespie, then checks with the US Customs Service and discovers that another future 9/11 hijacker, Khalid Almihdhar, entered the US on July 4, 2001, and there is no record he has left the country. As there is “an imperative to find anyone affiliated with al-Qaeda if they [are] believed to be in the US,” Gillespie immediately contacts Dina Corsi, an FBI agent in its bin Laden unit. Gillespie, who has been examining the USS Cole bombing and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit for some time, will later say that when she learns of their arrival in the US, “it all clicks for me.” The Justice Department’s office of inspector general will find that Gillespie’s “actions on receipt of the information clearly indicate that she understood the significance of this information when she received it. She took immediate steps to open an intelligence investigation.” Gillespie and Corsi meet with Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer involved in the investigation (see August 22, 2001), and Almihdhar and Alhazmi are soon watchlisted (see August 23, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 300-301, 313 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Margaret Gillespie, Nawaf Alhazmi, Dina Corsi, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush’s cabinet-rank advisers discuss terrorism for the second of only two times before 9/11. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002] National Security Adviser Rice chairs the meeting; neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney attends. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says that in this meeting, he and CIA Director Tenet speak passionately about the al-Qaeda threat. No one disagrees that the threat is serious. Secretary of State Powell outlines a plan to put pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting al-Qaeda. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld appears to be more interested in Iraq. The only debate is over whether to fly the armed Predator drone over Afghanistan to attack al-Qaeda (see September 4, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 237-38] Clarke’s earlier plans to “roll back” al-Qaeda first submitted on January 25, 2001 (see January 25, 2001) have been discussed and honed in many meetings and are now presented as a formal National Security Presidential Directive. The directive is “apparently” approved, though the process of turning it into official policy is still not done. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] There is later disagreement over just how different the directive presented is from Clarke’s earlier plans. For instance, some claim the directive aims not just to “roll back” al-Qaeda, but also to “eliminate” it altogether. [Time, 8/12/2002] However, Clarke notes that even though he wanted to use the word “eliminate,” the approved directive merely aims to “significantly erode” al-Qaeda. The word “eliminate” is only added after 9/11. [Washington Post, 3/25/2004] Clarke will later say that the plan adopted “on Sept. 4 is basically… what I proposed on Jan. 25. And so the time in between was wasted.” [ABC News, 4/8/2004] The Washington Post will similarly note that the directive approved on this day “did not differ substantially from Clinton’s policy.” [Washington Post, 3/27/2004] Time magazine later comments, “The fight against terrorism was one of the casualties of the transition, as Washington spent eight months going over and over a document whose outline had long been clear.” [Time, 8/12/2002] The primary change from Clarke’s original draft is that the approved plan calls for more direct financial and logistical support to the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban groups. The plan also calls for drafting plans for possible US military involvement, “but those differences were largely theoretical; administration officials told the [9/11 Commission’s] investigators that the plan’s overall timeline was at least three years, and it did not include firm deadlines, military plans, or significant funding at the time of the September 11, 2001, attacks.” [Washington Post, 3/27/2004; Reuters, 4/2/2004]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Al-Qaeda, Northern Alliance, Donald Rumsfeld, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A redacted summary of a report by the CIA’s inspector general into some aspects of the agency’s pre-9/11 performance is released. The report’s main points are:
bullet No CIA employees violated the law or were guilty of misconduct in the run-up to 9/11;
bullet However, some officials did not perform their duties in a satisfactory manner. The report recommended accountability boards be convened to review their performance, but former CIA Director Porter Goss decided against this recommendation in 2005 (see October 10, 2005);
bullet There was no “silver bullet” that could have prevented 9/11, but if officers had performed satisfactorily, they would have had a better chance of stopping the attacks;
bullet The CIA had no comprehensive strategy to combat al-Qaeda before 9/11 (see After December 4, 1998 and Between Mid-December 2002 and June 2004);
bullet Management of counterterrorism funds was poor (see 1997-2001);
bullet Arguments between the CIA and NSA negatively impacted counterterrorism efforts (see December 1996, Late August 1998, and 2000);
bullet Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was well-known to the CIA before 9/11, but his case was badly handled (see 1997 or After);
bullet There were numerous failures related to the CIA’s monitoring of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see Mid-January-March 2000, 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, Mid-July 2004, (After January 6, 2000), and March 5, 2000);
bullet The CIA also missed “several additional opportunities” to watchlist Pentagon hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 8, 2000 and August 23, 2001). Such watchlisting could have led to them being denied entry, or being placed under surveillance in the US;
bullet The CIA was confused about whether it was authorized to assassinate Osama bin Laden or not (see Mid-August 1998, December 24, 1998, December 26, 1998 and After, February 1999, February 1999, and December 1999);
bullet There were various problems with assets and operations linked to foreign services. [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005 pdf file]
The media picks various angles in commenting on the report (see August 21, 2007), which is criticized by current CIA Director Michael Hayden (see August 21, 2007) and former Director George Tenet (see August 21, 2007).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Inspector General (CIA)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In an interview, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says that the CIA purposefully withheld information from him about two future 9/11 hijackers for over a year before September 11. The interview was taped in October 2009, but is released now by documentary makers Ray Nowosielski and John Duffy ahead of a forthcoming podcast entitled “Who Is Rich Blee?” about the intelligence failures before 9/11. Clarke indicates he found out the CIA failed to pass information on to him not long after 9/11, but assumed the information had been honestly missed by a single junior officer. However, when he later learned at at least 50 officers accessed the information, he began to question this theory. (Note: the news that the information was accessed by at least 50 officers broke in August 2007—see Mid-January-March 2000 and August 21, 2007). According to Clarke, information of the sort the CIA had on two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, was automatically forwarded to him, but he never heard their names before 9/11. Clarke, who admits he cannot prove his allegation that the information was withheld deliberately, says the best explanation he can come up with is that the CIA was attempting to turn the two hijackers into double agents, which is why nobody was told outside the agency. Clarke points out that alleged Saudi intelligence operatives working in the US (see January 15-February 2000 and Spring 2000) who knew the hijackers could have helped with this. Clarke mentions four officials who would have been involved in a decision to withhold information: CIA Director George Tenet, who followed information about al-Qaeda in “microscopic detail,” Counterterrorist Center chief Cofer Black, Alec Station chief Richard Blee, and his deputy Tom Wilshire. Clarke also expresses wonder that the information was not mentioned at a key meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in July 2001 (see July 10, 2001) when Tenet, Black, and Blee were trying to get her to take strong action against al-Qaeda, because what they had on Almihdhar and Alhazmi was the “most persuasive piece of evidence” they had. He also does not understand why the CIA told the FBI in late August 2001 that the two hijackers had entered the country (see August 21-22, 2001). Clarke adds that the CIA presumably did not mention the fact that the two men were in the US at a meeting of high-level officials on September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001) because it would have angered Clarke and this would have led to an investigation in CIA “malfeasance and misfeasance” in concealing the information. However, he thinks the US authorities would have caught the hijackers with a “massive sweep” even if he had been told as late as September 4. Clarke also comments that he never asked Tenet and the other CIA officials about what had happened, as the facts became known to him over time. He also says that Tenet, Black, and Blee have got away with what they did, as they were not held to account by the Joint Congressional Inquiry or the 9/11 Commission. [John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski, 8/11/2011; Truthout (.org), 8/11/2011] Tenet, Black, and Blee received an advance copy of the interview and issued a statement in response (see August 3, 2011).

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Cofer Black, Tom Wilshire, Richard A. Clarke, Central Intelligence Agency, Ray Nowosielski, John Duffy, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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