!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News

Context of 'August 23, 2001: CIA Director Tenet Told of Moussaoui, but Does Not Inform White House and Takes No Action'

This is a scalable context timeline. It contains events related to the event August 23, 2001: CIA Director Tenet Told of Moussaoui, but Does Not Inform White House and Takes No Action. You can narrow or broaden the context of this timeline by adjusting the zoom level. The lower the scale, the more relevant the items on average will be, while the higher the scale, the less relevant the items, on average, will be.

Djamel Beghal.
Djamel Beghal. [Source: Public domain]High-level al-Qaeda operative Djamel Beghal is arrested in Dubai on his way back from Afghanistan. Earlier in the month the CIA sent friendly intelligence agencies a list of al-Qaeda agents they wanted to be immediately apprehended, and Beghal was on the list (see July 3, 2001).
Information Obtained - Beghal quickly starts to talk, and tells French investigators about a plot to attack the American embassy in Paris. Crucially, he provides new details about the international-operations role of top al-Qaeda deputy Abu Zubaida, whom he had been with a short time before. [New York Times, 12/28/2001; Time, 8/12/2002] One European official says Beghal talks about “very important figures in the al-Qaeda structure, right up to bin Laden’s inner circle. [He] mention[s] names, responsibilities and functions—people we weren’t even aware of before. This is important stuff.” [Time, 11/12/2001] One French official says of Beghal’s interrogations, “We shared everything we knew with the Americans.” [Time, 5/19/2002]
Link to 9/11 - The New York Times later will report, “Enough time and work could have led investigators from Mr. Beghal to an address in Hamburg where Mohamed Atta and his cohorts had developed and planned the Sept. 11 attacks.” Beghal had frequently associated with Zacarias Moussaoui. However, although Moussaoui is arrested (see August 16, 2001) around the same time that Beghal is revealing the names and details of all his fellow operatives, Beghal is apparently not asked about Moussaoui. [New York Times, 12/28/2001; Time, 8/12/2002]
Timing of Arrest - Most media accounts place the arrest on July 28. However, in a 2007 book CIA Director George Tenet will say he received a briefing about the arrest on July 24. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 156-157]

Entity Tags: Djamel Beghal, Al-Qaeda, Mohamed Atta, George J. Tenet, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Following the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, the FBI fails to brief the Counterterrorism and Security Group (CSG) chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke at the National Security Council (NSC) on the case. CIA director George Tenet will later say that briefing the CSG on such an arrest is “standard practice.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 200] In July 2001, Clarke had told the FBI he wanted to be informed of anything unusual, even if a sparrow fell from a tree (see Shortly After July 5, 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Counterterrorism and Security Group, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George J. Tenet, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CIA records show that CIA Director George Tenet briefed President Bush twice in August—once in Crawford, Texas, on August 17, and once in Washington, on August 31. [Washington Post, 4/15/2004] In Tenet’s 2007 book, he will briefly mention that “A few weeks after the August 6 PDB [titled ‘Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US’ (see August 6, 2001)] was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the president stayed current on events. That was my first visit to the ranch.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 145] Later asked about what he told Bush at this meeting, Tenet will only say, “I held nothing back from the president. He understood our concerns about threats. He understood what we were doing around the world at the time.” [MSNBC, 5/7/2007] By the time of the second briefing, Tenet has been briefed about Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest (see August 23, 2001), but, apparently, he fails to tell Bush about it. [Washington Post, 4/15/2004] In April 2004, Tenet will testify under oath before the 9/11 Commission that he had no direct communication with President Bush during the month of August. [New York Times, 4/15/2004] This is quickly discovered to be untrue. A CIA spokesperson will then claim, “He momentarily forgot [about the briefings]” (see April 14, 2004). [Washington Post, 4/15/2004] Tenet will personally brief Bush six more times before 9/11 and will still apparently fail to mention Moussaoui to him (see September 1-8, 2001).

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, George J. Tenet, George W. Bush, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CIA Director George Tenet and senior CIA senior staff are briefed repeatedly about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui. When news of the case first reaches the CIA, Tenet is absent and his deputy John McLaughlin is briefed, probably around August 20, 2001. [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 541]
Series of Briefings - Tenet is informed of Moussaoui on August 23 in a briefing entitled “Islamic Extremist Learns to Fly.” The briefing states that Moussaoui paid for his training in cash, was interested to learn a plane’s doors do not open in flight, and wanted training on London to New York City flights. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria District, 7/31/2006 pdf file] At the same time Tenet is briefed on a number of other items, including the arrest of one of Moussaoui’s associates, Djamel Beghal (see July 24 or 28, 2001), and a group of Pakistanis arrested in Bolivia during preparations for a hijacking. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 200] Tenet and other CIA officials are then kept up to date with developments in the case in a series of at least five briefings. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]
No Discussion with Other Agencies - However, others such as President Bush and the White House Counterterrorism Support Group (CSG) are not told about Moussaoui until after the 9/11 attacks begin (see August 16-September 10, 2001). Even the acting director of the FBI is not told (see August 16-September 10, 2001), despite the fact that lower level FBI officials who made the arrest tried to pass on the information. Tenet later maintains that there was no reason to alert President Bush or to share information about Moussaoui during an early September 2001 Cabinet-level meeting on terrorism, saying, “All I can tell you is, it wasn’t the appropriate place. I just can’t take you any farther than that.” [Washington Post, 4/17/2004; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 6 pdf file]
'Lousy Explanation' - 9/11 Commissioner Tim Roemer will later come to the conclusion that this is, in author Philip Shenon’s words, a “lousy explanation,” and that Tenet should have called Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard to talk about the case, because Tenet was well aware that the FBI was “dysfunctional” at terrorism investigations and that it did not have a permanent director at that time. Roemer will ask, “The report about Moussaoui shoots up the chain of command at the CIA like the lit fuse on a bomb, but Director Tenet never picks up the phone to call the FBI about it?” Roemer will conclude that a call from Tenet to Pickard might have prevented 9/11, and will be amazed Tenet does not mention it at the September terrorism meeting, “If the system is blinking red, why don’t you bring it up?” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 361]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, John E. McLaughlin, Central Intelligence Agency, Zacarias Moussaoui, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Dave Frasca, head of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalism Unit (RFU), and Michael Rolince, the assistant director in charge of the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section (ITOS), have at least two brief conversations about the Zacarias Moussaoui case. Moussaoui, suspected of having ties to Islamic militants, was arrested in mid-August (see August 16, 2001). Though it is not known what Frasca and Rolince talk about, it is possible their discussions concern complaints from the Minneapolis field office about how RFU is handling the case (see August 27, 2001). According to the 9/11 Commission, there is no evidence that this discussion ever reaches Assistant Director for Counterterrorism Dale Watson or Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard. If this is true, the FBI’s handling of the case is remarkably different than the approach taken in the CIA, where Director George Tenet is briefed repeatedly on the matter (see August 23, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 275; Associated Press, 3/21/2006] A warning that Osama bin Laden and Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab were planning a joint operation against the US was sent to Rolince earlier in the year (see Before April 13, 2001) and the FBI is aware that Moussaoui had recruited for the Chechen rebels (see August 22, 2001). Rolince will be involved in preparations for Moussaoui’s deportation to France shortly before 9/11 (see (August 30-September 10, 2001)).

Entity Tags: FBI Minnesota field office, Michael Rolince, David Frasca, FBI Headquarters, Radical Fundamentalist Unit

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

With President Bush back in Washington after a long vacation, CIA Director George Tenet resumes personally delivering the Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) to him. Tenet has one meeting with Bush on August 31, 2001, after Bush’s return (see August 17 and 31, 2001), and then briefs him six more times in the first eight days of September. Bush is out of town the next few days, so he is briefed by other CIA personnel. [Agence France-Presse, 4/15/2004] By this time, Tenet has been told about the arrest of suspected terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 23, 2001). But there is no evidence he mentions this to Bush before 9/11. Further, on August 23, 2001, the CIA watchlisted 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and began looking for them in the US (see August 23, 2001), but there’s no evidence Tenet or anyone else briefed Bush about this, either.

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, George W. Bush, Khalid Almihdhar, George J. Tenet, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In a public interview with the 9/11 Commission, CIA Director George Tenet falsely claims that he had no communication with President Bush during August 2001, a period when the CIA was aware of increasing signs al-Qaeda would attack the US. Tenet actually met Bush at least twice during this period (see August 17 and 31, 2001). The claim is made in a question and answer session with Commissioner Tim Roemer, who asks Tenet about it because of its links to the mid-August arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui and Tenet’s knowledge of this (see August 17 and 31, 2001, August 23, 2001, and September 1-8, 2001).
"I Don't Believe I Do" - When Roemer asks Tenet “when do you see him [Bush] in August?” Tenet replies, “I don’t believe I do.” Roemer asks again and Tenet, who spent days reading documents to be ready for his discussions with the 9/11 Commission (see Before January 22, 2004), says: “He’s in Texas, and I’m either here or on leave for some of that time. So I’m not there.” When asked about whether he spoke to Bush on the phone in August, he says, “we talked to him directly through the spring and early summer almost every day,” but he himself did not speak to Bush in August.
Bombshell - Roemer thinks the admission CIA Director Tenet did not talk to the president for a month during a period of increased threat is a “bombshell,” and is aware that others on the commission believe that Tenet has repeatedly lied to them (see January 22, 2004 and July 2, 2004). However, as Tenet denies there were any such meetings or conversations and Roemer does not know otherwise yet, he cannot pursue the topic and moves on to the question.
Furious - However, Tenet’s statement is quickly discovered to be untrue, and later that day the CIA’s press office calls round Washington informing reporters that Tenet “momentarily forgot” about the two briefings. Roemer is then “furious” with Tenet. He had wanted to withhold judgment on Tenet despite the criticism from the Commission’s staff, but now decides that he can “assume the worst about Tenet’s veracity—and the worst about what had happened in August between him and the president.”
'Hotter than Hades - Roemer is especially skeptical of Tenet’s claim he does not recall that he flew to Texas in the middle of August: “It’s probably 110 degrees down there, hotter than Hades… You make one trip down there the whole month and you can’t remember what motivates you to go down there to talk to the president?” Roemer’s suspicion that Tenet and Bush talked about domestic terrorism will later be supported by a section in a 2007 book by Tenet, which says, “a few weeks after the Aug. 6 PDB [entitled “Bin laden Determined to Strike in US”] was delivered, I followed it to Crawford to make sure the president stayed current on events.” In the book, Tenet will recall not only flying to Texas, but also being driven around the ranch by Bush and discussing the plants and animals on it with him. [Washington Post, 4/15/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 361-362]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Tim Roemer, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ordering 

Time period


Email Updates

Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database

 
Donate

Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
Donate Now

Volunteer

If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.
Contact Us

Creative Commons License Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike