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Context of 'September 2002: Customs Intercepts Associated Press Package'

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Satam Al Suqami.Satam Al Suqami. [Source: FBI]In the wake of the foiled al-Qaeda plot to blow up hotels in Jordan during the millennium celebrations, Jordan gives tips to the US that launch a Customs investigation into one of the plotters, Raed Hijazi, and his US connections. “Customs agents for months traced money flowing from several Boston banks to banks overseas, where officials believe the funds were intended for bin Laden’s network.” In September and October 2000, Jordanian officials gave US investigators evidence of financial transactions connecting Raed Hijazi, Nabil al-Marabh, and future 9/11 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi (see September 2000; October 2000). By spring 2001, Custom agents further connect al-Marabh and Hijazi to financial deals with future 9/11 hijackers Ahmed Alghamdi and Satam Al Suqami. The Washington Post will later note, “These various connections not only suggest that investigators are probing ties between bin Laden and the hijackers, but also that federal authorities knew about some of those associations long before the bombings.” [Washington Post, 9/21/2001] It appears that the money flowed from al-Marabh to Alghamdi and Al Suqami. [Cox News Service, 10/16/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] While accounts of these connections to Alghamdi and Al Suqami will be widely reported in the media in the months after 9/11, a Customs Service spokesman will say he can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the inquiry. [New York Times, 9/18/2001] It appears that the two hijackers are not put on any kind of watch list and are not stopped when they arrive in the US on April 23, 2001, and May 2, 2001, respectively (see April 23-June 29, 2001). British newspapers will note that Alghamdi was one of several hijackers who should have been “instantly ‘red-flagged’ by British intelligence” but in fact is not when he passes through Britain sometime in early 2001 (see January-June 2001). The 9/11 Commission Final Report will fail to mention the Customs investigation and will give no hint that these hijackers’ names were known in the US before 9/11.

Entity Tags: Satam Al Suqami, Raed Hijazi, 9/11 Commission, Nabil al-Marabh, US Customs Service, Jordan, Ahmed Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Customs Service intercepts a package sent via Federal Express from the Associated Press bureau in Manila to the AP office in Washington, and turns the contents over to the FBI. The FBI keeps the material, all unclassified and previously publicly disclosed, and fails to inform AP about this. It is claimed they do so to prevent the reporters from reporting their story, which is about government foreknowledge of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and ties with Ramzi Yousef and other Islamic militants in the Philippines. [Associated Press, 3/12/2003]

Entity Tags: US Customs Service, Federal Express, Associated Press, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Joe Webber.Joe Webber. [Source: US Customs]Joe Webber, running the Houston office of the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, starts investigating a man believed to be raising money for Islamic militants. The suspect is in direct contact with people who are known to be associated with Osama bin Laden. Webber has good cooperation with the local FBI office, federal prosecutors in Houston, and Justice Department officials in Washington. However, he claims that FBI headquarters officials tell him point blank that he will not be allowed to conduct his investigation. After many months of delays from the FBI, friends from within the bureau tell him that headquarters will not allow the investigation to proceed because it is being run by Customs and not by the FBI. Webber is so upset that he eventually becomes a whistleblower. Sen. Charles Grassley and other politicians support his case and say there are other instances where the FBI impedes investigations because of turf battles. Asked if the FBI would put a turf battle above national security, Webber says, “That’s absolutely my impression. You would think, in a post-9/11 environment, that an event like that wouldn’t occur. But it did.” [MSNBC, 6/3/2005]

Entity Tags: US Customs Service, Joe Webber, Charles Grassley, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In Lebanon, Ohio, Warren County officials close the county administration building to the public where the vote is being tallied. The lockdown—the only one to occur in the state—is a result of a decision that was made during a closed-door meeting the previous week (See October 28, 2004). Warren County Emergency Services Director Frank Young had recommended the increased security because of information received from the US Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/5/2004] An FBI agent reportedly said that Warren County ranked a “10” on a terrorism scale of 1 to 10. The threat was said to be of domestic origins. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/10/2004] But these claims are later challenged when officials from the FBI and DHS say that they were not aware of any such threats. Media organizations protest the lockdown, arguing that the officials are violating the law and the public’s rights. “The media should have been permitted into the area where there was counting,” Enquirer attorney Jack Greiner complains. “This is a process that should be done in complete transparency and it wasn’t.” In other Ohio counties, such as Butler County, people are permitted to observe ballot checkers through a window. In past elections, the Warren County commissioners’ room was open to the public so they could observe the process. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/3/2004; Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/5/2004] The news director at WCPO-TV, Bob Morford, says he’s suspicious of the decision to close the building to the public. I’ve “never seen anything like it,” he says. “Frankly, we consider that a red herring…. That’s something that’s put up when you don’t know what else to put up to keep us out.” [Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/5/2004] Additionally, election officials fail to set up an area with telephones for the media as they were supposed to. When reporters attempt to enter the building, they are refused, although they are later permitted into the building’s lobby located two floors below the elections office. The Associated Press, which has reporters at every Ohio board of elections site, says that Warren County is the only county to implement such tight restrictions. County Prosecutor Rachel Hutzel claims that having reporters and photographers around could interfere with the vote count. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/5/2004] It is later explained that these restrictions were also due to homeland security concerns. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Jack Greiner, Rachel Hutzel, Bob Morford

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Federal investigators with the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, are placed on standby to fly to the devastated region “within hours of the hurricane making landfall.” [Newsweek, 9/14/2005]

Timeline Tags: Hurricane Katrina

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