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Context of 'September 7, 2001: State Department Issues Overseas Warning about Al-Qaeda Attack'

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A US State Department report concludes that Iraq continues to support groups on the State Department’s terrorist list. (Jentleson 1994, pp. 52)

The State Department issues an overseas caution connected to the conviction of defendants in the bombing of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. That warning says, “Americans citizens abroad may be the target of a terrorist threat from extremist groups” with links to bin Laden. The warning will be reissued on June 22. (CNN 6/23/2001)

The State Department issues a worldwide caution warning American citizens of possible attacks. (CNN 3/2002) Around the same time, the State Department notifies all US embassies about the increased terrorist threat. (US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 3 pdf file)

The State Department issues a little noticed warning, alerting against an attack by al-Qaeda. However, the warning focuses on a threat to American citizens overseas, and particularly focuses on threats to US military personnel in Asia. (US Department of State 9/7/2001) In the one-page alert, the State Department says it received information in May 2001 “that American citizens may be the target of a terrorist threat from extremist groups with links to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization. Such individuals have not distinguished between official and civilian targets.… As always, we take this information seriously. US Government facilities worldwide remain on heightened alert.” Such warnings are issued periodically and usually are so vague that few pay them serious attention. In any event, most airlines and officials will claim that they did not see this warning until after 9/11. (Matier and Ross 9/14/2001)

Willie Brown.Willie Brown. [Source: San Francisco City Government]Eight hours prior to the terrorist attacks, San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown receives a warning from his “security people at the airport,” advising him to be cautious in traveling. (Matier and Ross 9/12/2001) Later reports will claim that this is because someone saw the State Department warning of September 7 (see September 7, 2001), which focused on the threat to military personnel in Asia. Brown is scheduled to fly to New York the next morning. (US Department of State 9/7/2001; Matier and Ross 9/12/2001; Matier and Ross 9/14/2001) The source of the warning, and why it is personally issued to Brown, will remain unknown.

In the first half of September 2002, a secret report compiled by the CIA, State Department, FBI, NSA, and other US agencies lists six likely bomb targets in Indonesia, including two Bali nightclubs (the Sahid Bali Seaside Resort and the Hard Rock Hotel) that are just a short distance away from the two nightclubs that will ultimately be attacked one month later (see October 12, 2002). The CIA passes the report to its stations in Southeast Asia, alerting them to an imminent attack. The information is at least partially based on the interrogation of al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Mansour Jabarah, who revealed that al-Qaeda is planning an attack on nightclubs and restaurants in Southeast Asia, particularly in Bali (see August 21, 2002). (Borger and Aglionby 10/17/2002; Caldwell 6/26/2003) On September 26, 2002, the US embassy in Indonesia issues a public warning that states, “Americans and Westerners should avoid large gatherings, and locations known to cater primarily to a Western clientele such as certain bars, restaurants and tourist areas.” However, the US State Department does not issue any travel warning for Indonesia, and other governments such as Australia do not issue any warnings. There also is no evidence that the owners of Bali nightclubs are given any warnings. (Kingston 10/10/2003) A US intelligence source will later tell the Guardian, “The State Department didn’t act on [the early September warning] and it’s become a bubbling scandal.” The Guardian will say shortly after the October 2002 Bali bombings that the warning has “fueled a growing row” in the US, Britain, and Australia “over whether Indonesia could have acted sooner against Islamist militants or whether tourists could have been given more warning of the dangers of traveling to resorts like Bali.” (Borger and Aglionby 10/17/2002) The Sydney Morning Herald will conclude in 2003 that it is now “impossible for anyone to believe that Mohammed Mansour Jabarah’s interrogation did not result in the US learning of JI’s plan for a terrorist attack in Bali.” Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage will later call Jabarah’s warning “stunningly explicit and specific.” (Kingston 10/10/2003)


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