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Context of 'September 4-5, 2001: FBI Agent Fails to Conduct Simple Credit Card Check that Could Have Stopped 9/11 Attacks'

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Hijacker Khalid Almihdhar buys his 9/11 plane ticket on-line using a credit card; hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi does the same two days later, and also buys a ticket for his brother Salem (see August 25-September 5, 2001). Both men were put on a terrorist watch list on August 23 (see August 23, 2001), but the watch list only means they will be stopped if trying to enter or leave the US. There is another watch list that applies to domestic flights that some of their associates are on, but they are only placed on the international watch list (see April 24, 2000). Procedures are in place for law enforcement agencies to share watch list information with airlines and airports and such sharing is common, but the FAA and the airlines are not notified about this case, so the purchases raise no red flags. [Los Angeles Times, 9/20/2001; US Congress, 9/26/2002] An official later states that had the FAA been properly warned, “they should have been picked up in the reservation process.” [Washington Post, 10/2/2002] On September 4 and 5, 2001, an FBI agent will attempt to find Alhazmi and Almihdhar in the US, but will fail to conduct a simple credit card check that should have revealed these purchases (see September 4-5, 2001).

Entity Tags: Salem Alhazmi, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Aviation Administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FBI Agent Robert Fuller.FBI Agent Robert Fuller. [Source: Lyric Cabral]On September 4 and 5, 2001, FBI agent Robert Fuller attempts to find hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in the US. However, he fails to perform many basic checks, including a check of credit card usage (see September 4-5, 2001). In 2006, journalist Bob Woodward will report that CIA Director George Tenet believed that FBI could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks. Woodward will write, paraphrasing Tenet, “If the FBI had done a simple credit card check on the two 9/11 hijackers who had been identified in the United States before 9/11, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, they would have found that the two men had bought 10 tickets for early morning flights for groups of other Middle Eastern men for September 11, 2001. That was knowledge that might conceivably have stopped the attacks.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 79-80] Alhazmi and Almihdhar did buy some tickets for themselves and Nawaf Alhazmi also bought a ticket for his brother Salem Alhazmi, but it has not been reported that they bought as many as ten tickets (see August 25-27, 2001 and August 25-September 5, 2001).

Entity Tags: Salem Alhazmi, Robert Fuller, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Almihdhar, Bob Woodward, George J. Tenet, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Robert Fuller, a rookie FBI agent at the bureau’s New York field office, contacts Dina Corsi, an agent in the bin Laden unit at FBI headquarters, about the search for Khalid Almihdhar. Fuller, who has been tasked to look for Almihdhar in the US, proposes that the FBI try to obtain additional data on Almihdhar, such as a credit card number from Saudi Airlines, with which Almihdhar flew to the US (see July 4, 2001). However, according to Fuller, Corsi tells him that it would not be prudent to do so. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006, pp. 65 pdf file] As a result, Fuller does not do the credit check (see September 4-5, 2001). It is not known why Corsi advises this.

Entity Tags: Usama bin Laden Unit (FBI), Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI New York Field Office, Dina Corsi, FBI Headquarters, Robert Fuller

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mohamed Alanssi, a Yemeni currently in the US on business, goes to the FBI’s New York field office to offer his services as an informant against al-Qaeda. He offers the bureau information on alleged al-Qaeda financers working in Yemen and quickly becomes an important mole. His case is handled by Robert Fuller, an FBI agent who failed to locate the 9/11 hijackers in the US before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001, September 4-5, 2001, and September 4-5, 2001). Alanssi travels to Yemen to gather intelligence on occasions, and will film a key terrorism financier, Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad, making incriminating statements in 2003 (see January 2003). In an affidavit supporting Moayad’s arrest warrant, Fuller will say that he has been working with a Yemeni informant, apparently Alanssi, since November 2001 and that the informant has provided reliable information and “contributed, in part, to the arrests of 20 individuals and the seizure of over $1 million.” However, the relationship between Alanssi and the bureau will later go sour and Alanssi will immolate himself in front of the White House (see November 15, 2004). [Washington Post, 11/16/2004]

Entity Tags: FBI New York Field Office, Mohamed Alanssi, Robert Fuller, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

FBI agent Robert Fuller interrogates Canadian citizen Omar Khadr at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. Fuller is an FBI agent who failed to locate the 9/11 hijackers in the US before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001, September 4-5, 2001, and September 4-5, 2001), while Khadr is a minor accused of throwing a hand grenade that killed a US soldier in Afghanistan. The interrogation lasts from October 7 to October 22. On the first day, Fuller shows Khadr a black-and-white photograph provided by the FBI in Massachusetts of Maher Arar, a Canadian terror suspect the US has been holding in New York (see September 26, 2002). Fuller will later say that Khadr identifies Arar as someone he has seen in a safe house run by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and that he also “may have” seen Arar at a terror training camp near Kabul. However, at the time Khadr says he saw Arar in Afghanistan—September and October 2001—Arar was first in the US and then in Canada under surveillance by the local authorities, according to Walter Ruiz, a lawyer who will later represent Khadr. Ruiz will also point out that it takes Khadr several minutes to identify Arar. Another of Khadr’s lawyers, Lieutenant Commander Bill Kuebler, will say that Khadr repeatedly lies to his interrogators to avoid being abused. Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson decides that Arar will be deported to Syria on this day (see October 7, 2002), and the deportation is soon carried out (see October 8, 2002). However, it is unclear whether Thompson’s decision is motivated by Fuller’s interrogation of Khadr or other factors. [CBC News, 1/20/2009; Canwest News Service, 1/20/2009] Fuller will testify about the identification at a Guantanamo hearing (see January 19, 2009), but facts calling it into question will emerge under cross-examination (see January 20, 2009).

Entity Tags: Robert Fuller, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Maher Arar, Walter Ruiz, Omar Khadr, William Kuebler

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Barbara Grewe.Barbara Grewe. [Source: Barbara Grewe]Barbara Grewe, a key investigator on the Justice Department inspector general’s investigation of the FBI’s failures before 9/11, moves to the 9/11 Commission. [University of Michigan Law School, 3/7/2005] She was recommended to the Commission by a former colleague who worked at the office of inspector general at the Justice Department. [University Record Online, 3/14/2005] As special investigative counsel at the Justice Department’s office of the inspector general between July and December 2002 she had investigated and reported on the FBI’s handling of intelligence prior to 9/11, and directed part of the investigation into information sharing between the FBI and CIA, missed opportunities to locate the hijackers before 9/11, and earlier warnings about terrorists using airplanes as weapons. This is similar to the work she does on the 9/11 Commission. According to a press release for a lecture she will give in 2005, Grewe also “drafted and edited” the “relevant sections” of the Justice Department’s final report. [University of Michigan Law School, 3/7/2005; Center for American Progress Action Fund, 4/16/2008] However, it is unclear how she could have done this, as she left the Justice Department’s investigation in 2003. Although December 2002 is early on in the Justice Department inspector general’s probe, the following important interviews have been conducted by this time:
bullet Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer later detailed to the FBI who was involved in many pre-9/11 intelligence failures (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, March 5, 2000, May 15, 2001, Mid-May 2001, Late May, 2001, July 23, 2001, August 22, 2001, and August 24, 2001); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502]
bullet “Michael,” a female CIA officer who had blocked notification to the FBI saying that one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, had a US visa (see Around 7:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and January 6, 2000); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502]
bullet Dina Corsi, an FBI official who withheld intelligence information from criminal investigators in the summer of 2001 (see June 12-September 11, 2001, Before August 22, 2001, August 27-28, 2001, August 28, 2001, and August 28-29, 2001); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 474]
bullet Clark Shannon, a CIA officer who withheld information about Almihdhar from the FBI (see June 11, 2001); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 537]
bullet Margaret Gillespie, an FBI agent detailed to the FBI involved in information sharing problems (see (Late May-Early June) and August 21-22, 2001); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538]
bullet Robert Fuller, an FBI agent who searched for Almihdhar in the US just before the 9/11 attacks, but failed to find him (see September 4, 2001, September 4-5, 2001, and September 4-5, 2001); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 539]
bullet Russell Fincher and Steve Bongardt, FBI agents from whom the CIA withheld information (see June 11, 2001, June 12-September 11, 2001, and August 29, 2001); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 537]
bullet Sherry Sabol, an attorney involved in errors in the Moussaoui and Almihdhar cases (see August 22-28, 2001 and August 28-29, 2001); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538]
bullet An FBI official who handled an al-Qaeda informer in Pakistan (see January 4, 2001); [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 537]
bullet Harry Samit (see August 15-20, 2001), Greg Jones (see August 27, 2001), John Weess (see August 16, 2001), and Coleen Rowley (see May 21, 2002), FBI officials who worked on the Moussaoui case; [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 531, 540]
bullet Rodney Middleton, acting head of the FBI’s bin Laden unit before 9/11 (see July 27, 2001 and after); and [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538]
bullet Jennifer Maitner, an FBI official involved in the Phoenix memo and President Bush’s August 6 presidential daily briefing (see July 10, 2001, July 27, 2001 and after, and (August 4-5, 2001)). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 536]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, US Department of Justice, Barbara Grewe, Office of the Inspector General (DOJ)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mohamed Alanssi, an FBI counterterrorism informant (see November 2001), sets himself on fire in front of the White House in protest over how the bureau has handled him. Alanssi had previously informed the Washington Post and Robert Fuller, his FBI handler in New York, of his intention. Fuller is an FBI agent who failed to locate the 9/11 hijackers in the US before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001, September 4-5, 2001 and September 4-5, 2001). Alanssi approaches the White House and asks the Secret Service to deliver a note to President Bush. When he is turned away, he steps back and then sets his jacket on fire, suffering serious burns before the Secret Service agents can extinguish the flames. Alanssi is primarily unhappy that the FBI has confiscated his passport, because he is ill and wants to visit his family in Yemen, where his wife is sick with stomach cancer. The FBI is apparently holding the passport in an attempt to make him testify at the trial of Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad, an associate of Osama bin Laden that Alanssi informed on (see January 2003). Alanssi has also complained to the Post that the FBI has not kept all of its promises, allowing his identity to become known, endangering himself and his family, not giving him US citizenship, and paying him $100,000 after promising him he would “be a millionaire.” Alanssi told the Post: “It is my big mistake that I have cooperated with FBI. The FBI has already destroyed my life and my family’s life and made us in a very danger position.… I am not crazy to destroy my life and my family’s life to get $100,000.” [Washington Post, 11/16/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohamed Alanssi, Robert Fuller, US Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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