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Context of 'Before September 11, 2001: CIA Uses Other Intelligence Agencies to Infiltrate Al-Qaeda'

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Khalil Deek, an al-Qaeda operative living in California for most of the 1990s, moves to Peshawar, Pakistan, around this time. Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is also operating from the same town and is a close associate of Deek. In fact, US intelligence have been investigating the two of them since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). It appears Deek is under surveillance by this time. The Wall Street Journal will claim, “US intelligence officials had tracked the onetime California resident for years before they had tied him, [in December 1999], to [an] alleged Jordanian plot.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/8/2000] A 2005 book by counterterrorism expert Jean-Charles Brisard will similarly relate that by the spring of 1999, “For several months the Jordanian government, with the help of the American FBI, had been stepping up pressure on [Pakistan] to arrest [Deek].” [Brisard, 2005, pp. 65] Deek lives in a rented villa surrounded by high walls. He runs a small computer school and repair shop. He helps encrypt al-Qaeda’s Internet communications. He exports drums of local honey to the Middle East. Deek and Zubaida apparently use the honey to hide the shipment of drugs and weapons (see May 2000). [Wall Street Journal, 3/8/2000; Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] Deek also creates an electronic version of an al-Qaeda terrorist manual known as the Encyclopedia of Afghan Jihad. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004] “US authorities say his house near the Afghan border also served as a way station for recruits heading in and out of terrorist training camps in Afghanistan.” [Wall Street Journal, 3/8/2000] Zubaida also screens recruits and directs them to training camps in Afghanistan. Deek and Zubaida share a Peshawar bank account. [Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006] It appears that Western intelligence agencies are monitoring Zubaida’s phone calls from 1998, if not earlier (see October 1998 and After and (Mid-1996)). Deek will be arrested on December 11, 1999, quickly deported to Jordan, and then released in 2001 (see December 11, 1999). It will later be alleged that Deek was a mole for the Jordanian government all along (see Shortly After December 11, 1999).

Entity Tags: Khalil Deek, Abu Zubaida, Jordan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Khalil Deek, a US citizen accused of helping to plot an al-Qaeda linked millennium attack in Jordan, reportedly cooperates against al-Qaeda shortly after being deported to Jordan (see December 11, 1999). Journalist Jonathan Randal will later assert that “a highly placed American in [Jordan] did claim that early on Deek had sung,” meaning he revealed all that he knew. [Randal, 2005, pp. 6] The Los Angeles Times reports in March 2000 that Deek “reportedly has cooperated with US investigators in deciphering [al-Qaeda] computer disks.” [Los Angeles Times, 3/29/2000] The London Times will later report the same thing. [London Times, 11/4/2001] Deek will be mysteriously released from Jordanian prison in mid-2001, fueling speculation about his cooperation (see May 2001). In 2003, journalist Jason Burke will claim in a book that Deek “was, in fact, an agent for the Jordanian secret services.” Burke mentions this in passing and does not explain how he would know this. [Burke, 2004, pp. 317] In 2005, Randal will echo Burke’s claim in a book, saying, “If [Deek] indeed did sing, one possible explanation is that Deek may have been a Jordanian intelligence mole all along and had tipped his masters off to the impending millennium plot and perhaps much more about al-Qaeda. That would elucidate why he was jailed, but never charged or tried.” [Randal, 2005, pp. 6] If true, it would suggest that Jordan had great insight into al-Qaeda for many years. Deek has been considered an important al-Qaeda leader with knowledge about many other al-Qaeda operatives. For instance, one US official calls him a “concierge” or “travel agent” for al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 2/4/2000] He is also considered a close associate of high ranking al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. If Deek is a Jordanian mole, this might explain why it will later be reported that US intelligence has been investigating Zubaida and Deek since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). It also might explain why US intelligence was seemingly uninterested in intelligence that Deek was running militant training camps in California in the early 1990s (see Early 1990s), running an al-Qaeda sleeper cell in California for most of the 1990s (see March 1993-1996 and December 25, 1999), and why the US never officially charged Deek with any crimes (see Spring 2004). But it would be harder to explain why Deek’s associates have yet to be been arrested or deported from the US (see January 2002) or why Deek apparently moved to remote areas of Pakistan dominated by al-Qaeda after it was reported he helped decipher al-Qaeda’s computer codes (see Spring 2004).

Entity Tags: Jordan General Intelligence Department, Khalil Deek, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

CBS later reports, in a long story on another topic: “Just days after [Mohamed] Atta return[s] to the US from Spain, Egyptian intelligence in Cairo says it received a report from one of its operatives in Afghanistan that 20 al-Qaeda members had slipped into the US and four of them had received flight training on Cessnas. To the Egyptians, pilots of small planes didn’t sound terribly alarming, but they [pass] on the message to the CIA anyway, fully expecting Washington to request information. The request never [comes].” [CBS News, 10/9/2002] This appears to be just one of several accurate Egyptian warnings from their informants inside al-Qaeda. Around this time, word of the upcoming 9/11 attacks is spreading widely in the training camps in Afghanistan. For instance, in a recorded speech played at one of the camps, Osama bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs (see Summer 2001).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Jordanian intelligence (the GID) makes a communications intercept deemed so important that King Abdullah’s men relay it to Washington, probably through the CIA station in Amman. To make doubly sure the message gets through it is passed through an Arab intermediary to a German intelligence agent. The message states that a major attack, code named “The Big Wedding,” is planned inside the US and that aircraft will be used. “When it became clear that the information was embarrassing to Bush administration officials and congressmen who at first denied that there had been any such warnings before September 11, senior Jordanian officials backed away from their earlier confirmations.” The Christian Science Monitor will call the story “confidently authenticated” even though Jordan has backed away from it. [International Herald Tribune, 5/21/2002; Christian Science Monitor, 5/23/2002] It has been reported elsewhere that in July 2001, Jordan warns the US that al-Qaeda is planning an attack inside the US, but it is unknown if this is referring to the same warning or a separate one (see July 2001). In late July 2001, the king of Jordan will offer the US to send two battalions of Jordanian special forces to Afghanistan to eliminate al-Qaeda havens there (see July 24, 2001). Also in July 2001, Jordan briefly detains and interrogates Mohammed Haydar Zammar, who is a member of the Hamburg cell with three of the 9/11 hijackers (see July 2001). Zammar appears to have foreknowledge of the 9/11 plot around this time (see August 2001).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Mohammed Haydar Zammar, Jordan General Intelligence Department, Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In a 2007 book about the “Lackawanna Six” entitled The Jihad Next Door, author Dina Temple-Raston will write that al-Qaeda “shuttered the training camps in August 2001, leaving little sign of the encampments that once dotted the Pakistan-Afghan border.” After 9/11, the camps are not reopened. [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 130] One article shortly after 9/11 suggests that bin Laden moves his training camps in Afghanistan “in the days before the attacks.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/16/2001] Presumably the CIA notices. CIA Director George Tenet will later claim a group of men from an allied intelligence agency penetrated the camps not long before 9/11 (see Early September 2001), satellites are monitoring Afghanistan from the sky, and the CIA had over 100 assets in Afghanistan before 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). FBI agent Jack Cloonan will also later say, “There were agents run into the camps” (see Before September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

It has been widely reported that the CIA never had any assets near bin Laden before 9/11. For instance, Lawrence Wright will write in his highly regarded 2006 book, The Looming Tower, “The fact is that the CIA had no one inside al-Qaeda or the Taliban security that surrounded bin Laden.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 265] But author Ronald Kessler will write in a 2004 book, “Often, the CIA used operatives from Arab intelligence services like those of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and other countries to infiltrate bin Laden’s organization.” A longtime CIA officer says, “Egyptians, Jordanians, [and] Palestinians penetrated the bin Laden organization for us. It’s B.S. that we didn’t.” Kessler further explains that such operations remain one of the CIA’s best-kept secrets and often occur even with intelligence agencies the CIA is sometimes otherwise at odds with. Kessler says, “In return for help, the CIA provided them with money, equipment, and intelligence on their adversaries. Over the years, the Jordanians, for example, relied on the CIA to alert them to plots against the king. Over time, the Jordanians became so good at the intelligence game that they were better at detecting plots than the CIA.” [Kessler, 2004, pp. 143] Jack Cloonan, an FBI expert on al-Qaeda, will later say, “There were agents run into the camps. But most of them were not very well placed,” and lacked access to the inner circles. [United Press International, 11/27/2006] One example of such an asset may be Khalil Deek, who worked closely with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see 1998-December 11, 1999) and was reportedly a mole for Jordanian intelligence (see Shortly After December 11, 1999). In the months before 9/11, Jordan will warn the US that al-Qaeda is planning a major attack inside the US using aircraft (see Late Summer 2001), and Egypt will warn the CIA that al-Qaeda has 20 operatives on a mission in the US, some of them training to fly (see Late July 2001).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Syria, Jack Cloonan, Jordan General Intelligence Department, Khalil Deek, Egypt

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Washington Post publishes a front page story promoting the myth that al-Qaeda has never been effectively penetrated by intelligence agencies. The article by Craig Whitlock is titled After a Decade at War With West, Al-Qaeda Still Impervious to Spies. It states that “al-Qaeda’s core organization in Pakistan and Afghanistan has so far proved impervious to damaging leaks.” It quotes Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, who says that from 1992 until November 2004 (when he left the CIA), “[the CIA] worked side by side with the Egyptians, the Jordanians—the very best Arab intelligence services—and they didn’t recruit a single person who could report on al-Qaeda.” The article seems to be a reaction to the case of Abdelkader Belliraj, which was publicly exposed several weeks earlier, when Belliraj was arrested in Morocco (see February 18, 2008 and February 29, 2008). The article notes that Belliraj was a Belgian government informant and important Islamist militant leader who had al-Qaeda links for years and met with al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan (see 2001). Belliraj’s case seemingly undercuts the thrust of the article, but the rest of the article mostly quotes a series of anonymous intelligence officials who say penetrating al-Qaeda would be next to impossible. [Washington Post, 3/20/2008] Whitlock’s article ignores numerous reports that al-Qaeda has repeatedly been penetrated by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. For instance:
bullet In 2002, US News and World Report reported, “Once thought nearly impossible to penetrate, al-Qaeda is proving no tougher a target than the KGB or the Mafia—closed societies that took the US government years to get inside.” An unnamed US intelligence official said: “We’re getting names, the different camps they trained at, the hierarchy, the infighting. It’s very promising” (see September 22, 2002).
bullet In 2004, author Ronald Kessler wrote, “Often, the CIA used operatives from Arab intelligence services like those of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and other countries to infiltrate bin Laden’s organization.” He quoted a longtime CIA officer who said, “Egyptians, Jordanians, [and] Palestinians penetrated the bin Laden organization for us. It’s B.S. that we didn’t” (see Before September 11, 2001).
bullet In 2006, journalist Ron Suskind reported that by late 2002, the CIA had developed “a source from within Pakistan who was tied tightly into al-Qaeda management.” He also noted that other informants had been recruited since 9/11, and commented, “It has been generally acknowledged that the United States does not have any significant human sources… inside al-Qaeda. That is not true” (see Late 2002).
bullet In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet claimed that the CIA had over 100 assets in Afghanistan by 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). He also claimed that “a group of assets from a Middle Eastern service” sharing information with the CIA penetrated al-Qaeda, and some of them penetrated al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan before 9/11 (see Early September 2001).
bullet In February 2008, the New York Times reported that French intelligence had an informant that penetrated al-Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region (see Late January 2008).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Craig Whitlock, Michael Scheuer, Abdelkader Belliraj

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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