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Context of 'Shortly Before August 21, 1997: Expert FBI Agent Not Allowed to Join Al-Qaeda Raid'

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In 1995, the FBI is given the CIA’s files on bin Laden, and they discover that the CIA has been conducting a vigorous investigation on Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary and a US citizen (see October 1995). The FBI had already started investigating El-Hage in 1991 (see March 1991), and in 1993 they found out he had bought weapons for one of the 1993 WTC bombers (see Summer 1993). Thanks to the CIA files, the FBI learns that in early 1992 El-Hage moved to Sudan and worked there as bin Laden’s personal secretary. [PBS Frontline, 4/1999; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149] Then, in 1994, he moved to Nairobi, Kenya, and officially started running a bogus charity there called “Help Africa People.” [PBS Frontline, 4/1999; CNN, 10/16/2001] In fact, El-Hage is running an al-Qaeda cell that will later carry out the 1998 African embassy bombings. He stays in close contact with top al-Qaeda leaders. [PBS Frontline, 4/1999] Apparently El-Hage is under US surveillance in Kenya, or at least people he is calling are under surveillance. For instance, a phone call between El-Hage in Kenya and Ali Mohamed in California is recorded in late 1994 (see Late 1994).and there are many calls recorded between El-Hage and bin Laden in Sudan. FBI agent Dan Coleman will analyze all this information about El-Hage and eventually supervise a raid on his Kenya house in 1997 (see August 21, 1997). [Wright, 2006, pp. 242-244]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Help Africa People, Dan Coleman, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Wadih El-Hage

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

David Cohen.David Cohen. [Source: Ting-Li Wang / New York Times]David Cohen, head of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, wants to test the idea of having a “virtual station,” which is a station based at CIA headquarters and focusing on one target. He chooses Michael Scheuer to run it. Scheuer is running the Islamic Extremist Branch of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center at the time and had suggested creating a station to focus just on bin Laden. The new unit, commonly called Alec Station, begins operations in February 1996 (see February 1996). The 9/11 Commission will later comment that Scheuer had already “noticed a recent stream of reports about bin Laden and something called al-Qaeda.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 109] It has been widely reported that US intelligence was unaware of the term al-Qaeda until after defector Jamal al-Fadl revealed it later in 1996 (see June 1996-April 1997). But Billy Waugh, an independent contractor hired by the CIA to spy on bin Laden and others in Sudan in 1991 to 1992, will later claim that the CIA was aware of the term al-Qaeda back then (see February 1991- July 1992). And double agent Ali Mohamed revealed the term to the FBI in 1993 (see May 1993). The term will first be used by the media in August 1996 (see August 14, 1996).

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Counterterrorist Center, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station, David Cohen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

By the start of 1997, Alec Station, the CIA unit created the year before to focus entirely on bin Laden (see February 1996), is certain that bin Laden is not just a financier but an organizer of terrorist activity. It is aware bin Laden is conducting an extensive effort to get and use a nuclear weapon (see Late 1996). It knows that al-Qaeda has a military committee planning operations against US interests worldwide. However, although this information is disseminated in many reports, the unit’s sense of alarm about bin Laden isn’t widely shared or understood within the intelligence and policy communities. Employees in the unit feel their zeal attracts ridicule from their peers. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] Some higher-ups begin to deride the unit as hysterical doomsayers, and refer to the unit as “The Manson Family.” Michael Scheuer, head of the unit until 1999, has an abrasive style. He and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke do not get along and do not work well together. Scheuer also does not get along with John O’Neill, the FBI’s most knowledgeable agent regarding bin Laden. The FBI and Alec Station rarely share information, and at one point an FBI agent is caught stuffing some of the unit’s files under his shirt to take back to O’Neill. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]

Entity Tags: John O’Neill, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alec Station, Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden, Richard A. Clarke, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Michael Scheuer, the first head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will later write, “For most of a year the bin Laden unit prepared for an operation in a foreign city that was set to come to fruition in late-summer 1997. The unit’s lead US-based officer on this operation was an extraordinarily able analyst from [the FBI]; she knew the issue cold. Days before the operation occurred the [FBI] ordered her back to its headquarters. She protested, but was told that she would not be promoted if she balked at returning. I protested to my superiors and to the three most senior officers of the [FBI] who were then in charge of terrorism. All refused to intervene. The operation was much less well exploited because of the loss of this officer.” Other clues mentioned by Scheuer indicate this operation is the raid on Wadih El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya (see August 21, 1997). [Atlantic Monthly, 1/2004; Scheuer, 2005, pp. 191-192]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Michael Scheuer, Wadih El-Hage, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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