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Context of 'September 16, 2001 and After: Zubaida Continues Making Calls to US'

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The NSA intercepts “multiple phone calls from Abu Zubaida, bin Laden’s chief of operations, to the United States.” The timing and information contained in these intercepted phone calls has not been disclosed. [ABC News, 2/18/2002] In 2007, author and former CIA officer Robert Baer will comment that “apparently, when Abu Zubaida was captured, telephone records, including calls to the United States, were found in the house he was living in. The calls stopped on September 10, and resumed on September 16 (see September 16, 2001 and After). There’s nothing in the 9/11 Commission report about any of this, and I have no idea whether the leads were run down, the evidence lost or destroyed.” [Time, 12/7/2007] US intelligence had just been warned about a week earlier that Zubaida may be planning an attack on the US (see August 24, 2001). Zubaida’s exact position within al-Qaeda is disputed; he will be captured in 2002 (see March 28, 2002). It appears that a number of Western intelligence agencies were monitoring Zubaida’s calls since at least late 1998 (see October 1998 and After), and continue monitoring his calls in the weeks after 9/11 (see October 8, 2001).

Entity Tags: Robert Baer, Abu Zubaida, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In 2007, former CIA officer Robert Baer will comment in Time magazine, “[A]pparently, when [al-Qaeda leader] Abu Zubaida was captured, telephone records, including calls to the United States, were found in the house he was living in. The calls stopped on September 10, and resumed on September 16. There’s nothing in the 9/11 Commission report about any of this, and I have no idea whether the leads were run down, the evidence lost or destroyed.” [Time, 12/7/2007] In fact, it seems likely the calls were monitored at the time by US intelligence and not just discovered after Zubaida’s capture in 2002. For instance, it has been reported elsewhere that Zubaida’s calls to the US in the week before 9/11 were being monitored by US intelligence (see Early September 2001) and 70 calls Zubaida made to operatives in Bosnia were monitored in the weeks just after 9/11 (see October 8, 2001). These calls to the US after 9/11 would suggest that al-Qaeda continues to have operatives there, but there have been no reports of any genuine al-Qaeda operatives arrested in the US in the weeks and months after 9/11 except for Nabil al-Marabh arrested on September 19, 2001 (see September 19, 2001).

Entity Tags: Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After being briefly detained in July 2001, Nabil al-Marabh went Chicago and spent the next two months working for an uncle there. [Knight Ridder, 5/23/2003] In early September, he got a job working the late shift at a quickie market and liquor store. On September 19, his uncle shows up at the store to tell al-Marabh that his face has been on television and that he is wanted by the FBI. He and his uncle are still discussing this when the FBI arrives a few minutes later and takes him away. [New York Times, 10/14/2001] He has $22,000 in cash and $25,000 worth of amber jewels in his possession when arrested, despite holding only a sporadic series of low-paying jobs. [National Post, 9/4/2002] Al-Marabh appears to have been working on some kind of plot involving hazardous materials and trucks since at least August 2000 (see August 2000-January 2001). He had just received another duplicate of his Michigan hazardous materials driver’s license on September 16 and apparently is waiting for another duplicate to arrive. [New York Times, 9/21/2001; Local 4 News (Detroit), 9/22/2001] He has applied for a job at a local trucking company but is arrested before completing the application process. [Los Angeles Times, 9/21/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] In the days after his arrest, about ten Middle Eastern men across the US will be arrested for having similar hazardous materials licenses that have been fraudulently obtained. Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, an al-Qaeda operative and friend of al-Marabh, began applying for a hazardous materials license in Minnesota in August 2001 (see Mid-August 2001). [WCVB 5 (Boston), 9/27/2001] In January 2002, it will be reported that “federal authorities now believe al-Qaeda had planted [al-Marabh in Chicago] to help prepare for the next volley of terrorist attacks.” [ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002]

Entity Tags: Nabil al-Marabh, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bensayah Belkacem at Guantanamo.Bensayah Belkacem at Guantanamo. [Source: US Defense Department]US intelligence intercepts numerous phone calls between Abu Zubaida and other al-Qaeda leaders and Bensayah Belkacem, an operative living in Bosnia. The New York Times will later report that shortly after 9/11, “American intelligence agencies, working closely with the government of neighboring Croatia, listened in as Mr. Belkacem and others discussed plans for attacks.” One US official says, “He was apparently on the phone constantly to Afghanistan, with Zubaida and others. There were dozens of calls to Afghanistan.” Belkacem, an Algerian, had moved to Bosnia to fight in the early 1990s war there, then obtained Bosnian citizenship and settled in Zenica, working for an Islamic charity. [New York Times, 1/23/2002] On October 8, 2001, Bosnian police detain Belkacem. While searching his home, they find a piece of note listing the name “Abu Zubeida” and Zubaida’s phone number. [Washington Post, 8/21/2006] It is later revealed that Belkacem made 70 calls to Zubaida between 9/11 and his arrest and more calls before then. He had repeatedly sought a visa to leave Bosnia for Germany just before 9/11. Phone transcripts show Zubaida and Belkacem discussed procuring passports. [Time, 11/12/2001] A US official will later claim that it was believed Zubaida was in Afghanistan with bin Laden at the time of Belkacem’s arrest. [New York Times, 1/23/2002] It has not been explained why this knowledge was not used to capture or kill Zubaida and/or bin Laden. It appears that Western intelligence agencies had been monitoring Zubaida’s calls as far back as 1996 (see (Mid-1996) and October 1998 and After). Belkacem and five of his associates will be renditioned to Guantanamo Bay prison in 2002 and remain imprisoned there (see January 18, 2002).

Entity Tags: Abu Zubaida, Bensayah Belkacem, US intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The house in Faisalabad where Abu Zubaida will be arrested.The house in Faisalabad where Abu Zubaida will be arrested. [Source: PBS]At some time around February 2002, intelligence leads to the location of Abu Zubaida. He will be captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan, in late March 2002 (see March 28, 2002). However, accounts on what intelligence leads to Zubaida’s location differ greatly:
Call to Yemen? - According to the Associated Press, “Pakistani intelligence officials have said quietly that a mobile phone call Abu Zubaida made to al-Qaeda leaders in Yemen led to his arrest.” [Associated Press, 4/20/2002] This could be a reference to the “Yemen hub,” an important al-Qaeda communication node in Yemen that has long been monitored by US intelligence. The hub is used until the middle of February 2002, when it is raided and shut down (see February 13, 2002).
Bribes Play Key Role? - According to books by Jane Mayer and Ron Suskind, Pakistani intelligence officers in Pakistan’s tribal region notice a caravan of vehicles carrying tall women wearing burqas who turn out to be male Islamist militants in disguise. According to Suskind’s version, the militants are arrested, but refuse to talk. According to Mayer’s version, the caravan is allowed to proceed. However, both authors agree that a bribe to the driver of one of the cars reveals that their destination is Faisalabad, Pakistan. Suskind adds that the driver gives up the name of a contact in Faisalabad, and that contact is found and reveals that Zubaida has arrived in town. US intelligence begins intensively monitoring Faisalabad. Afterwards, Mayer claims that the CIA buys the ISI’s help. A CIA source involved in the situation will later tell Mayer, “We paid $10 million for Abu Zubaida.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 84; Mayer, 2008] In 2006, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf will write in a memoir, “Those who habitually accuse us of not doing enough in the war on terror should simply ask the CIA how much prize money it has paid to the Government of Pakistan.” [Musharraf, 2006, pp. 190]
CIA Tracks Zubaida's Calls? - According to a 2008 New York Times article, in February 2002, the CIA learns that Zubaida is in Lahore or Faisalabad, Pakistani cities about 80 miles apart and with a combined population of over 10 million. The Times does not say how the CIA learns this. The CIA knows Zubaida’s cell phone number, although it is not explained how this was discovered either. (However, it had been reported elsewhere that Zubaida’s number had been monitored since at least 1998 (see October 1998 and After) and was still being monitored after 9/11 (see September 16, 2001 and After) and October 8, 2001).) Specialists use an electronic scanner that can track any operating cell phone and give its approximate location. However, Zubaida only turns his phone on briefly to collect messages, so his location cannot be pinpointed. A talented CIA official named Deuce Martinez gets involved. He posts a large, blank piece of paper on a wall, and writes Zubaida’s phone number in the middle of it. Then he and others add linked phone numbers, using the monitoring capabilities of the NSA and Pakistani intelligence. A map of Zubaida’s contacts grows. Eventually, Martinez and others are able to narrow Zubaida’s location down to 14 addresses in Lahore and Faisalabad, and these places are put under surveillance. Rather than wait any longer for more intelligence, all 14 locations are raided at once in a joint Pakistani-CIA operation on March 28, 2002, and Zubaida is found in one of the Faisalabad addresses. [New York Times, 6/22/2008]
Key Call to Bin Laden or Al-Zawahiri? - Suskind’s book will also give the story of the CIA narrowing down the locations by monitoring local phone calls. He says that teams of CIA and FBI arrive in Faisalabad on March 17 for more intensive monitoring. Then, the key break comes near the end of the month, when two calls from a certain house in Faisalabad are made to phone numbers in Afghanistan that might be linked to Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. By this account, US intelligence already has a good idea which of the 14 locations Zubaida is in, because of those calls. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 87-89]
Explanations May Not Conflict - Note that these explanations do not necessarily conflict. For instance, bribes could have provided the lead that Zubaida was in Faisalabad, and then further CIA monitoring could have narrowed down his location there. Bribes also could have helped insure that Pakistani intelligence did not tip off Zubaida prior to the raid. The calls to Yemen and/or Afghanistan may have played a role along with other intelligence.

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, National Security Agency, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Deuce Martinez, Abu Zubaida, US intelligence, Pervez Musharraf

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Following the revelation that the CIA has destroyed videotapes of detainee interrogations (see November 2005 and December 6, 2007), most of the media assume that the reason for the destruction is that the tapes must show CIA officers torturing detainees and “the CIA did not want the tapes seen in public because they are too graphic and could lead to indictments.” However, author and former CIA officer Robert Baer will suggest there may be other reasons: “I would find it very difficult to believe the CIA would deliberately destroy evidence material to the 9/11 investigation, evidence that would cover up a core truth, such as who really was behind 9/11. On the other hand I have to wonder what space-time continuum the CIA exists in, if they weren’t able to grasp what a field day the 9/11 conspiracy theorists are going to have with this… Still, the people who think 9/11 was an inside job might easily be able to believe that Abu Zubaida [one of the detainees who was videotaped] named his American accomplices in the tape that has now been destroyed by the CIA. It isn’t going to help that the Abu Zubaida investigation has a lot of problems even without destroyed evidence. When Abu Zubaida was arrested in Pakistan in 2002, two ATM cards were found on him. One was issued by a bank in Saudi Arabia (a bank close to the Saudi royal family) and the other to a bank in Kuwait. As I understand it, neither Kuwait nor Saudi Arabia has been able to tell us who fed the accounts (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). Also, apparently, when Abu Zubaida was captured, telephone records, including calls to the United States, were found in the house he was living in. The calls stopped on September 10, and resumed on September 16 (see Early September 2001 and September 16, 2001 and After). There’s nothing in the 9/11 Commission report about any of this, and I have no idea whether the leads were run down, the evidence lost or destroyed.” [Time, 12/7/2007]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Robert Baer, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

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