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Context of 'September 12-Late September, 2001: FBI Agent Disgusted about Information CIA Hid from Him that Could Have Stopped 9/11 Attacks'

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On January 5, 2000, al-Qaeda operatives Ibrahim al-Thawar and Fahad al-Quso arrive in Bangkok, Thailand. They were part of an attempt to sink the USS The Sullivans, which failed in Yemen just a couple of days ago (see January 3, 2000). Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash has been a part of the same plot, and has been in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for the past two weeks or so (see Mid-December 1999). Al-Thawar and al-Quso are bringing thousands of dollars for bin Attash (different accounts will name different amounts, but it could be as much as $36,000), and they plan to meet in Singapore. However, all three of them are unable to get Singapore visas. Bin Attash is attending an important al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur from January 5 to 8 (see January 5-8, 2000), and Malaysia does not require visas at all for most Middle Eastern countries. However, for whatever reason, bin Attash flies to Bangkok on January 6, instead of having one or both of the others fly to Kuala Lumpur. Apparently, the money is handed over and bin Attash flies back to Kuala Lumpur the next day to continue with the summit (see January 6, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 159]
Important Consequences - These interactions will have important consequences, because al-Quso will be questioned by the FBI in Yemen later in 2000 (see Late October-Late November 2000), after taking part in the bombing of the USS Cole there (see October 12, 2000). Al-Quso will confess to giving a large sum of money to bin Attash (see Early December 2000), and FBI agents will discover phone calls between al-Quso’s Bangkok hotel and a phone booth in front of the condominium where the al-Qaeda summit was held (see (January 5-8, 2000)). But the FBI agents will be unable to find out about the summit, and the CIA will not share the information it has about it, ruining a chance for the FBI to discover the 9/11 plot that had been discussed at the summit (see for instance April 2001).

Entity Tags: Fahad al-Quso, Ibrahim al-Thawar, Khallad bin Attash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Fahad al-Quso, a Yemeni and known associate of Osama bin Laden, turns himself in to the Yemeni government after some of his relatives are questioned in the wake of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] He admits that he and one of the two Cole suicide bombers went to Bangkok, Thailand, and gave several thousand dollars to a man known as Khallad, who is identified as one of the masterminds of the Cole bombing. He says the money is to buy a new artificial leg for the one-legged Khallad. The transcript of the interrogation is given to the FBI a month later. FBI agent Ali Soufan sees the transcript and remembers a source he recruited in Afghanistan who spoke of a one-legged man named Khallad who is close to bin Laden. Khallad is his nickname; his real name is Tawfiq bin Attash. A mug shot of bin Attash is sent to this source, who makes a positive identification. Soufan wonders why money was being sent away from the Cole plotters and away from Yemen prior to a major planned attack and speculates that it may mean another al-Qaeda operation is being planned elsewhere. Soufan asks the CIA for information about Khallad and this other attack, which turns out to be 9/11, but the CIA withholds the information (see Late November 2000). Al-Quso will later reveal more to the FBI, leading to more missed opportunities (see Early December 2000). [Wright, 2006, pp. 328-329]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Fahad al-Quso, Ali Soufan, Khallad bin Attash, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Fahad al-Quso.Fahad al-Quso. [Source: FBI]In late October 2000, al-Qaeda operative Fahad al-Quso was interrogated by authorities in Yemen, and FBI agent Ali Soufan was able to use that information to discover the identity of one of the USS Cole bombing masterminds, Khallad bin Attash (see Late October-Late November 2000). In early December, while most FBI investigators are having to leave Yemen, Soufan is given the chance to interrogate al-Quso directly. Soufan gets al-Quso to admit that he had met with bin Attash and one of the Cole suicide bombers in Bangkok, Thailand, in January 2000 (see January 13, 2000). Al-Quso admits he gave bin Attash $36,000 and not the $5,000 for medical expenses that al-Quso had claimed when talking to the Yemenis the month before. Al-Quso says they stayed in the Washington Hotel in Bangkok, so Soufan checks telephone records to verify his account. Soufan finds records of phone calls between the hotel and al-Quso’s house in Yemen. They also find calls to both places from a pay phone in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The phone happens to be directly outside the condominium where an al-Qaeda summit was taking place a few days before al-Quso went to Bangkok (see January 5-8, 2000). Soufan asks the CIA for information about bin Attash, but the CIA wrongly claims it knows nothing, and doesn’t even tell Soufan of the Malaysia summit that it had closely monitored (see Late November 2000). [New York Times, 4/11/2004; Wright, 2006, pp. 330-331] Meanwhile, FBI head investigator John O’Neill correctly believes that al-Quso is still holding back important information (at the very least, al-Quso is still hiding his participation in the Malaysia summit). However, O’Neill had been kicked out of Yemen by his superiors a week or two before (see October 14-Late November, 2000), and without his influential presence the Yemeni government will not allow any more interrogations. After 9/11, al-Quso will finally admit to meeting with Alhazmi and Almihdhar. One investigator calls the missed opportunity of exposing the 9/11 plot through al-Quso’s connections “mind-boggling.” [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] In April 2003, al-Quso will escape from a Yemeni prison (see April 11, 2003-March 2004). [Associated Press, 4/11/2003]

Entity Tags: Ali Soufan, John O’Neill, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Khallad bin Attash, Fahad al-Quso

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On July 12, 2001, acting FBI Director Tom Pickard briefs Attorney General Ashcroft a second time about the al-Qaeda threat (see July 12, 2001). In a later letter to the 9/11 Commission discussing the meeting, Pickard will mention, “I had not told [Ashcroft] about the meeting in Malaysia since I was told by FBI Assistant Director Dale Watson that there was a ‘close hold’ on that info. This means that it was not to be shared with anyone without the explicit approval of the CIA.” During the briefing, Pickard also strongly recommends that Ashcroft be briefed by the CIA to learn details that Pickard feels he is not allowed to reveal. The “meeting in Malaysia” is an obvious reference to the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Louis Freeh, the FBI director at the time of the summit, and other unnamed FBI officials were told some about the summit while it was taking place (see January 6, 2000). It is unknown if Pickard and Watson learned about it at that time, but Pickard’s letter shows they both knew about it by the time of this briefing. It is not known why the CIA placed a “close hold” on any mention of the Malaysian summit so strict that even the attorney general could not be told. Since two of the 9/11 hijackers attended that summit, sharing the information about the summit with other agencies may have helped stop the 9/11 attacks. [Pickard, 6/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, John Ashcroft, Thomas Pickard, Dale Watson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An FBI team returns to Yemen to re-commence its investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). The team, headed by FBI agent Ali Soufan and sent by retiring FBI manager John O’Neill on his last day with the FBI (see August 22, 2001), had been pulled out of Yemen in June, due to possible threats against it (see June 17, 2001). On the same day as Soufan leaves, the CIA finally tells the FBI some of what it knows about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and their attendance at an al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see August 21-22, 2001 and August 23, 2001). Soufan had requested information about the Malaysia summit from the CIA three times (see Late November 2000, April 2001 and July 2001), but the CIA had repeatedly failed to respond to his requests. While in Yemen, Soufan appears not to be aware of the new information provided to the FBI, and learns about the Malaysia summit shortly after the 9/11 attacks (see January 5-8, 2000 and September 12-Late September, 2001). [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, John O’Neill, Ali Soufan, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Abu Jandal.Abu Jandal. [Source: CNN]On the day of 9/11, FBI agent Ali Soufan happened to be in Yemen, working on the recently revived USS Cole bombing investigation there. For nearly a year, the CIA had hidden all information about the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia from Soufan (see Late October-Late November 2000 and Early December 2000). On September 12, 2001, he receives from the CIA a packet of information containing a complete report about the Malaysia summit and three surveillance photos from it. According to author Lawrence Wright, “When Soufan realized that the [CIA] and some people in the [FBI] had known for more than a year and a half that two of the hijackers [Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi] were in the [US], he ran into the bathroom and retched.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 362-367] A full list of the FBI officials who knew of the Malaysia summit is not known. However, in the summer of 2001 head of counterterrorism Dale Watson and acting Director Thomas Pickard were aware of it, but did not tell other officials on the CIA’s instructions (see July 12, 2001). [Pickard, 6/24/2004] Using the new information, Soufan interrogates Fahad al-Quso, an al-Qaeda operative who was involved with the Malaysia summit although he may not have actually attended it (see January 5-6, 2000). Al-Quso is living freely in Yemen but is pressured into talking to Soufan by the Yemeni government. After a few days, al-Quso admits to recognizing 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi, whom he met in Kandahar, Afghanistan, near the end of 1999. Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard, happens to be in custody in Yemen as well. After some more days, Jandal tells Soufan everything he knows about al-Qaeda. He recognizes photos of Alshehhi, Mohamed Atta, Khalid Almihdhar, and four other 9/11 hijackers, from when they were in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. [Wright, 2006, pp. 362-367]

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, Thomas Pickard, Mohamed Atta, Fahad al-Quso, Marwan Alshehhi, Dale Watson, Abu Jandal, Ali Soufan, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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