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Context of 'October 17, 2002: NSA Denies Having Indications of 9/11 Planning'

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By 1997, al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is living in Peshawar, Pakistan, near the border to Afghanistan. He runs an al-Qaeda guest house there called the House of Martyrs, where all foreign recruits are interviewed before being sent to Afghanistan. As a result, Zubaida soon knows the names of thousands of al-Qaeda recruits. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 224-225] In 2006, author Gerald Posner will write that beginning in 1998, Pakistan receives several requests from US intelligence to track down Zubaida. Beginning by October 1998, the US and other countries have been monitoring Zubaida’s phone calls (see October 1998 and After), and will continue to do so through the 9/11 attacks (see Early September 2001 and October 8, 2001). But according to Posner, “Pakistan’s agency, the ISI, had claimed to have made several failed attempts, but few in the US believe they did more before September 11 than file away the request and possibly at times even warn Zubaida of the Americans’ interest.” [Posner, 2003, pp. 184] In 2008, Pakistani journalist and regional expert Ahmed Rashid will repeat the gist of Posner’s allegations, and further explain that Zubaida directly worked with the ISI. Some of the militants he directs to al-Qaeda camps are militants sent by the ISI to fight in Kashmir, a region disputed between India and Pakistan. Presumably, handing Zubaida to the US could hinder Pakistan’s covert war against India in Kashmir. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 224-225] After Zubaida is arrested in 2002, he allegedly will divulge that he has personal contacts with high-ranking officials in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia (see Early April 2002).

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

FBI reward notice for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed.FBI reward notice for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. [Source: FBI]Islamic militant Ramzi Yousef is sentenced to 240 years for his role in the 1993 WTC bombing. At the same time, prosecutors unseal an indictment against Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) for participating with Yousef in the 1995 Operation Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995). In unsealing this, US Attorney Mary Jo White calls KSM a “major player” and says he is believed to be a relative of Yousef. [Washington Post, 1/9/1998] The US announces a $2 million reward for his capture in 1998 and wanted posters with his picture are distributed. [New York Times, 6/5/2002] This contradicts the FBI’s claim after 9/11 that they did not realize he was a major terrorist before 9/11. [US Congress, 12/11/2002] For instance, a senior FBI official later says, “He was under everybody’s radar. We don’t know how he did it. We wish we knew.… He’s the guy nobody ever heard of.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/22/2002] However, another official says, “We have been after him for years, and to say that we weren’t is just wrong. We had identified him as a major al-Qaeda operative before September 11.” [New York Times, 9/22/2002] Yet strangely, despite knowing KSM is a major al-Qaeda operations planner and putting out a large reward for his capture at this time, there is no worldwide public manhunt for him as there successfully was for his nephew Ramzi Yousef. KSM’s name remains obscure and he isn’t even put on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorists list until one month after 9/11. [Lance, 2003, pp. 327-30]

Entity Tags: Ramzi Yousef, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mary Jo White, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will later write that after the US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), surveillance of al-Qaeda is stepped up around the world. “One intelligence officer attached to the French embassy in Islamabad, [Pakistan], urged his counterparts in foreign missions in Pakistan to detail the recipients of phone calls made by… al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, then living in Peshawar, to individuals in their various countries.” As a result, “several governments [launch] investigations of their own.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 245] A close associate of Zubaida in Peshawar at this time is Khalil Deek, who is actually a mole for the Jordanian government (see 1998-December 11, 1999). One such investigation is launched by the Philippine government on October 16, 1998, after being asked by French intelligence to gather intelligence on people in the Philippines in contact with Zubaida. Code named CoPlan Pink Poppy, the investigation reveals connections between al-Qaeda and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), a Philippine militant group. On December 16, 1999, Abdesselem Boulanouar and Zoheir Djalili, two French Algerians belonging to the Algerian al-Qaeda affiliate the Salafist Group for Call and Combat (GSPC), are arrested due to information learned from monitoring Zubaida’s calls to the Philippines. Boulanouar is arrested at an airport carrying a terrorist training manual he admitted writing for the MILF. Both men also are arrested carrying explosive devices. French intelligence says Boulanouar had ties to Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), and like Ressam, may have been planning to carry out attacks at the turn of the millennium. He will be deported to France and imprisoned on terrorism related charges. CoPlan Pink Poppy will be canceled in 2000 for lack of funds. [Gulf News, 3/14/2000; Ressa, 2003, pp. 132-133; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 245] However, while details are murky, it appears other governments continue to monitor Zubaida’s calls. Around the same time as the Philippines arrests, one militant in Jordan is even arrested while still in the middle of a phone call to Zubaida (see November 30, 1999). US intelligence will remain intensely focused on Zubaida before 9/11 (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001), and just days before 9/11 the NSA will monitor calls Zubaida is making to the US (see Early September 2001). It appears his calls will continue to be monitored after 9/11 as well (see October 8, 2001).

Entity Tags: Khalil Deek, Zoheir Djalili, Moro Islamic Liberation Front, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Abdesselem Boulanouar, Philippines, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam, Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Shortly after an August 1998 US missile strike on Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998), bin Laden stops using his satellite phone, correctly deciding that it was being monitored by US intelligence (see Late August 1998). According to counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, al-Qaeda quickly “developed a system to deceive those monitoring his calls. [But] Western security and intelligence agencies were soon able to monitor the new system, which was based on transferring international calls within safe houses in Pakistan to make them seem like domestic calls.” Other al-Qaeda leaders such as Abu Zubaida will be frequently monitored as they make calls using this new system (see October 1998 and After). Gunaratna later claims to have learned this from a confidential source in a “communications monitoring agency” in Western Europe. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 15-16, 3291] It is not known how long it took until al-Qaeda realized this new system was compromised, but there are accounts of bin Laden and Zubaida’s calls being monitored days before 9/11 (see Early September 2001, September 9, 2001, and Early September 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A phone bill of one of the 9/11 hijackers. More details are unknown.A phone bill of one of the 9/11 hijackers. More details are unknown. [Source: Canadian Broadcasting Corporation]While living in the US, the 9/11 hijackers make at least 206 international phone calls. In 2006, these calls will be mentioned in a German intelligence report based on telephone records obtained from the FBI. There are 66 calls to Syria, 32 calls to Saudi Arabia, and 29 calls to Germany. A majority of the call are made from a cell phone registered to hijacker Marwan Alshehhi. Additional details on who was called, who else made the calls, when the calls were made, what other countries were called, etc… have not been made public. The Chicago Tribune will later note that the calls to Germany are not surprising since Alshehhi and some others were living there, but “the hijackers’ connections to Saudi Arabia and Syria are far from fully explained.” [Chicago Tribune, 3/8/2006] It is unknown when these calls were discovered, but reports suggest at least some of the hijackers’ international calls were being monitored by US intelligence as they were made (see Summer 2001, September 10, 2001, and Early 2000-Summer 2001).

Entity Tags: Marwan Alshehhi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

While the 9/11 hijackers are in the US, the NSA intercepts several calls between them and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by Ahmed al-Hada, who is hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father-in-law (see August 4-25, 1998).
Summary of Calls -
bullet The first calls are made by Almihdhar and are intercepted during the spring and summer of 2000 (see Spring-Summer 2000).
bullet More calls are made by hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi after the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000 (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001).
bullet The final call from the US is intercepted just a few weeks before 9/11 (see (August 2001)).
The NSA intercepted the hijackers’ calls outside the US before this (see Early 1999 and December 29, 1999) and continues to do so in 2000 (see Summer 2000) after Almihdhar returns to Yemen (see June 10, 2000 and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)).
Calls' Content - Some of the calls may only contain non-operational information, as they are reportedly between Almihdhar and his wife. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 343] However, the calls are also used to relay messages to the 9/11 hijackers. [Embassy of Yemen (Washington), 2/13/2002; MSNBC, 2/14/2002; MSNBC, 5/2005]
Agencies' Roles - The CIA is the lead agency monitoring the communications hub. It has planted bugs inside it and is wiretapping all calls (see Late August 1998). Intercepts of calls to and from the hub are a major plank of the US intelligence community’s effort to fight al-Qaeda. Also involved is the FBI, which is using phone records to plot these calls on a map (see Late 1998-Early 2002). Some of the calls intercepted by US intelligence come from Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone in Afghanistan (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late August 1998). After 9/11, counterterrorism officials will say that the number was one of the hottest targets being monitored by the NSA and was an “intelligence bonanza.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Wright, 2006, pp. 343]
Importance of Failure - Also after 9/11, counterterrorism officials will agree that the failure to follow leads to the US from this number was a huge missed opportunity to stop the 9/11 plot. For instance, FBI agent Kenneth Maxwell will say: “Two al-Qaeda guys living in California—are you kidding me? We would have been on them like white on snow: physical surveillance, electronic surveillance, a special unit devoted entirely to them.” [MSNBC, 7/21/2004; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file]
Discussed after 9/11 - The failure to roll up the plot based on these communications intercepts will be discussed following 9/11 (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004 and March 15, 2004 and After).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, National Security Agency, Hoda al-Hada, Ahmed al-Hada, Kenneth Maxwell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Around this time, the NSA intercepts telephone conversations between 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, but apparently it does not share the information with any other agencies. The FBI has had a $2 million reward for KSM since 1998 (see January 8, 1998), while Atta is in charge of hijacker operations inside the US. [Knight Ridder, 6/6/2002; Independent, 6/6/2002] The monitored calls between the two of them continue until September 10, one day before the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). The NSA either fails to translate these messages in a timely fashion or fails to understand the significance of what was translated. [Knight Ridder, 6/6/2002] However, it will later be revealed that an FBI squad built an antenna in the Indian Ocean some time before 9/11 with the specific purpose of listening in on KSM’s phone calls, so they may have learned about these calls to Atta on their own (see Before September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, National Security Agency, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A CIA report says that a man named “Khaled” is actively recruiting people to travel to various countries, including the US, to stage attacks. CIA headquarters presume from the details of this report that Khaled is Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). On July 11, the individual source for this report is shown a series of photographs and identifies KSM as the person he called “Khaled.” [USA Today, 12/12/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 277, 533] This report also reveals that:
bullet Al-Qaeda operatives heading to the US would be “expected to establish contact with colleagues already living there.”
bullet KSM himself had traveled to the US frequently, and as recently as May 2001.
bullet KSM is a relative of bomber Ramzi Yousef.
bullet He appears to be one of bin Laden’s most trusted leaders.
bullet He routinely tells others that he can arrange their entry into the US as well. However, the CIA doesn’t find this report credible because they think it is unlikely that he would come to the US (in fact, it appears he had (see Summer 1998)). Nevertheless, they consider it worth pursuing. One agent replies, “If it is KSM, we have both a significant threat and an opportunity to pick him up.” In July, the source clarifies that the last time he can definitely place KSM in the US was in the summer of 1998 (see Summer 1998). The CIA disseminates the report to all other US intelligence agencies, military commanders, and parts of the Treasury and Justice Departments. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will later request that the CIA inform them how CIA agents and other agencies reacted to this information, but the CIA does not respond to this. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] It appears that KSM will send at least one and probably two operatives to the US after this time and before 9/11 (see August 4, 2001 and September 10, 2001). On July 23, 2001, the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia will give KSM a US visa (he uses an alias but his actual photo appears on his application) (see July 23, 2001). Also, during this summer and as late as September 10, 2001, the NSA will intercept phone calls between KSM and Mohamed Atta, but the NSA will not share this information with any other agencies (see Summer 2001).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of Justice, US Department of the Treasury, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An unknown intelligence agency intercepts a telephone call between alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and his associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [9/11 Commission, 2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/18/2004] In the call, KSM and bin al-Shibh discuss the state of the 9/11 plot, in particular the fact that Ziad Jarrah, one of the proposed pilots, may drop out. They speak in a code, substituting unexceptional words for what they really mean. [9/11 Commission, 3/18/2004] KSM instructs bin al-Shibh to send the “skirts,” meaning money forwarded to bin al-Shibh by an associate of KSM, to “Sally,” meaning Moussaoui. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 246] The reason for this is that “Teresa,” meaning Jarrah, is “late,” i.e. he is wavering and may drop out of the plot, due to possible conflicts with lead hijacker Mohamed Atta about Jarrah’s isolation from the conspiracy. It therefore appears that KSM is thinking of Moussaoui as a replacement for Jarrah. According to a 9/11 Commission memo, KSM says something like, “if there is a divorce, it will cost a lot of money.” Bin al-Shibh then tries to reassure him, saying it will be okay. The conversation also mentions “Danish leather,” an apparent reference to failed “20th hijacker” Mohamed al-Khatani (see August 4, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/18/2004] The agency which intercepts this call is never identified to the public, although the NSA is reportedly intercepting such calls to and from KSM at this time (see Summer 2001). The 9/11 Commission will mention the call in a staff statement and its final report, but will not mention that it was intercepted, merely citing detainee interrogations as the source of information about it. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004, pp. 16-17; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 246, 530]

Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ziad Jarrah, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Mohamed al-Khatani

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission later will note that at this time, an unnamed foreign intelligence “service report[s] that [al-Qaeda deputy leader] Abu Zubaida [is] considering mounting terrorist attacks in the United States, after postponing possible operations in Europe. No targets, timing or method of attack [are] provided.” Newsweek will suggest that most or all of this information may have come from a US debriefing of al-Qaeda bomber Ahmed Ressam in May 2001 (see May 30, 2001). Newsweek will note that it is a common occurrence for foreign intelligence agencies to “simply rereport to the CIA what it had originally learned from the FBI through separate channels.” Still, even “the multiple channels for Ressam’s warnings [do] little to change thinking within the FBI or CIA…” [Newsweek, 4/28/2005; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 6 pdf file] However, it is possible the information could be more than a mirror of what Ressam said, since a number of Western intelligence agencies are monitoring Zubaida’s phone calls before 9/11 (see October 1998 and After).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, 9/11 Commission, Ahmed Ressam, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta calls 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) in Afghanistan. KSM gives final approval to Atta to launch the attacks. The specifics of the conversation haven’t been released. [Independent, 9/15/2002] Unnamed intelligence officials later tell Knight Ridder Newspapers that the call is monitored by the NSA, but only translated after the 9/11 attacks. KSM, “using coded language, [gives] Atta final approval” for the attacks. [Knight Ridder, 9/9/2002] NSA monitored other calls between KSM and Atta in the summer of 2001 but did not share the information about this with other agencies (see Summer 2001). Additionally, it will later be revealed that an FBI squad built an antenna in the Indian Ocean some time before 9/11 with the specific purpose of listening in on KSM’s phone calls, so they may have learned about this call to Atta on their own (see Before September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: United States, Mohamed Atta, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Within the headquarters of the National Security Agency (NSA) in Fort Meade, Maryland is a little-known unit called the Defense Special Missile and Astronautics Center (DEFSMAC). According to author James Bamford, who is an expert on the NSA, the center’s purpose is “to serve as the nation’s chief warning bell for a planned attack on America. It serves as the focal point for ‘all-source’ intelligence—listening posts, early-warning satellites, human agents, and seismic detectors.” According to one former NSA official, DEFSMAC “has all the inputs from all the assets, and is a warning activity. They probably have a better feel for any worldwide threat to this country from missiles, aircraft, or overt military activities, better and more timely, at instant fingertip availability, than any group in the United States.” If they received indications that an attack was imminent, DEFSMAC officials could “immediately send out near-real-time and in-depth, all-source intelligence alerts to almost 200 ‘customers,’ including the White House Situation Room, the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon, the [Defense Intelligence Agency] Alert Center, and listening posts around the world.” Its analysts could be “closely monitoring all intercepts flooding in; examining the latest overhead photography; and analyzing data from early-warning satellites 22,300 miles above the equator. DEFSMAC would then flash the intelligence to the US Strategic Command at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, NORAD at Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado, and other emergency command centers.” But on this morning, as Bamford will conclude, “DEFSMAC learned of the massive airborne attacks after the fact—not from America’s multibillion-dollar spy satellites or its worldwide network of advanced listening posts, or its army of human spies, but from a dusty, off-the-shelf TV set.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 33-35] The NSA had in fact intercepted numerous calls between some of the hijackers in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen, beginning in early 2000 and ending just weeks before 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] It also intercepted two messages in Arabic on September 10, stating, “The match is about to begin,” and “Tomorrow is zero hour,” but these are supposedly not translated until September 12 (see September 10, 2001). [Washington Post, 6/20/2002] The NSA even intercepted a series of communications between 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) and lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta beginning in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), continuing to a message where KSM gives Atta the final go-ahead for the attacks on September 10, 2001 (see September 10, 2001). Michael Hayden, the director of the NSA, will later claim that the “NSA had no [indications] that al-Qaeda was specifically targeting New York and Washington… or even that it was planning an attack on US soil” (see October 17, 2002). [National Journal, 6/19/2006]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Michael Hayden, Defense Special Missile and Astronautics Center, James Bamford

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

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, Pakistan, where Abu Zubaida is arrested.The house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where Abu Zubaida is arrested. [Source: New York Times]Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan. He is the first al-Qaeda leader considered highly important to be captured or killed after 9/11.
Zubaida Injured during Raid - A joint team from the FBI, the CIA, and the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, raids the house where Zubaida is staying. Around 3 a.m., the team breaks into the house. Zubaida and three others wake up and rush to the rooftop. Zubaida and the others jump to a neighbor’s roof where they are grabbed by local police who are providing back-up for the capture operation. One of Zubaida’s associates manages to grab a gun from one of the police and starts firing it. A shoot-out ensues. The associate is killed, several police are wounded, and Zubaida is shot three times, in the leg, stomach, and groin. He survives. About a dozen other suspected al-Qaeda operatives are captured in the house, and more are captured in other raids that take place nearby at the same time. [New York Times, 4/14/2002; Suskind, 2006, pp. 84-89] US intelligence had slowly been closing in on Zubaida’s location for weeks, but accounts differ as to exactly how he was found (see February-March 28, 2002). He had surgically altered his appearance and was using an alias, so it takes a few days to completely confirm his identity. [New York Times, 9/10/2006]
Link to Pakistani Militant Group - A later US State Department report will mention that the building Zubaida is captured in is actually a Lashkar-e-Toiba safehouse. Lashkar-e-Toiba is a Pakistani militant group with many links to al-Qaeda, and it appears to have played a key role in helping al-Qaeda operatives escape US forces in Afghanistan and find refuge in Pakistan (see Late 2001-Early 2002). [US Department of State, 4/30/2008]
Rendition - Not long after his arrest, Zubaida is interrogated by a CIA agent while he is recovering in a local hospital (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). He then is rendered to a secret CIA prison, where he is interrogated and tortured (see Mid-May 2002 and After). Throughout his detention, members of the National Security Council and other senior Bush administration officials are briefed about Zubaida’s captivity and treatment. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
Is Zubaida a High-Ranking Al-Qaeda Leader? - Shortly after the arrest, the New York Times reports that “Zubaida is believed by American intelligence to be the operations director for al-Qaeda and the highest-ranking figure of that group to be captured since the Sept. 11 attacks.” [New York Times, 4/14/2002] But it will later come out that while Zubaida was an important radical Islamist, his importance was probably overstated (see Shortly After March 28, 2002).
Tortured While in US Custody - Once Zubaida has sufficiently recovered from his injuries, he is taken to a secret CIA prison in Thailand for more interrogation. [Observer, 6/13/2004; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] One unnamed CIA official will later say: “He received the finest medical attention on the planet. We got him in very good health, so we could start to torture him.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100] Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld publicly vows that Zubaida will not be tortured, but it will later come out that he was (see Mid-May 2002 and After and April - June 2002). [New York Times, 4/14/2002]

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, National Security Council, Donald Rumsfeld, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

In the wake of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida’s arrest (see March 28, 2002), the FBI discovers much useful information (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). FBI agent Dan Coleman leads a team to sort through Zubaida’s computer files and documents. However, at the same time, some US officials come to believe that Zubaida’s prominence in al-Qaeda’s hierarchy has been overestimated. Many FBI officials conclude that he was used as little more than a travel agent for training camp attendees because he was mentally ill. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
FBI Agent Coleman: Zubaida Is Mentally Crippled - FBI counterterrorist operative Dan Coleman will go through Zubaida’s journals and other materials seized from his Faisalabad safe house. Coleman will say: “Abu Zubaydah was like a receptionist, like the guy at the front desk [of a hotel]. He takes their papers, he sends them out. It’s an important position, but he’s not recruiting or planning.” Because Zubaida is not conversant with al-Qaeda security methods, “[t]hat was why his name had been cropping up for years.” Of Zubaida’s diaries, Coleman will say: “There’s nothing in there that refers to anything outside his head, not even when he saw something on the news, not about any al-Qaeda attack, not even 9/11. All it does is reveal someone in torment. [Zubaida is physically and mentally crippled from wounds suffered fighting in Afghanistan in the early 1990s.] Based on what I saw of his personality, he could not be what they say he was.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] Coleman will add: “He knew very little about real operations, or strategy. He was expendable.” Zubaida’s diary evidences his apparent schizophrenia; he wrote it in three different personas, or voices, each with a different and distinctive personality. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
Islamist Al-Deen: Importance Overstated? - Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager, was captured along with Zubaida. The terrified al-Deen will readily answer questions from his captors, and will describe Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. Al-Deen will be sent to a detention facility in Morocco and later to Syria; his subsequent whereabouts and status will remain unknown to the public. [Washington Post, 3/29/2009]
Informant Says Zubaida Behaved Oddly - Other accounts back up this assessment. For instance, Omar Nasiri, a former informant for European intelligence agencies who met Zubaida in the 1990s, will later describe Zubaida’s odd behavior, saying he “shuffled around his home in near-total darkness, carrying a gas lantern from room to room. He barely spoke and would often communicate by pointing.” [New Yorker, 1/22/2007]
CIA Officer Scheuer: Zubaida Served as Key Hub - Michael Scheuer, who previously ran the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see February 1996), will later say of Zubaida’s importance: “I’d followed him for a decade. If there was one guy you could call a ‘hub,’ he was it.” Scheuer will describe Zubaida not as an actual al-Qaeda member, but “the main cog in the way they organized,” a point of contact for Islamists from many parts of the globe seeking combat training in the Afghan camps. Scheuer will say that Zubaida, a Palestinian, “never swore bayat [al-Qaeda’s oath of allegiance] to bin Laden,” and he was bent on causing damage to Israel, not the US. [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Involvement in Pre-9/11 Plots - However, Zubaida does appear to have been involved in numerous plots before 9/11 (see for instance November 30, 1999 and Early September 2001). Al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam cooperated with US investigators after being arrested. He worked with Zubaida and suggested Zubaida was of some importance, but not one of al-Qaeda’s highest leaders. According to Ressam, Zubaida “is the person in charge of the [training] camps. He receives young men from all countries. He accepts you or rejects you. He takes care of the expenses of the camps. He makes arrangements for you when you travel coming in or leaving.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 133] Furthermore, when Zubaida was caught, apparently he and several others staying with him were in the middle of building a bomb. According to one of the CIA officers who helped capture him, the soldering iron used in making the bomb was still hot when he was captured (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
CIA Chief Tenet Rejects Diagnosis of Schizophrenia - In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet will claim that the reports that Zubaida was mentally unstable were “[b]aloney.… Apparently, the source of the rumor that Abu Zubaida was unbalanced was his personal diary, in which he adopted various personas. From that shaky perch, some junior Freudians leapt to the conclusion that Zubaida had multiple personalities. In fact, agency psychiatrists eventually determined that in his diary he was using a sophisticated literary device to express himself.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 243]
Zubaida Touted as High-Level Terror Chief - Regardless, despite being briefed otherwise, President Bush and others in his administration will repeatedly tout the importance of capturing Zubaida and no hint of any doubts about his importance or sanity will be publicly expressed (see April 9, 2002 and After). [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, George J. Tenet, Dan Coleman, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Abu Zubaida, Ahmed Ressam, Omar Nasiri, Noor al-Deen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Senator Richard Shelby.
Senator Richard Shelby. [Source: US Senate]The Washington Post reveals that FBI agents have questioned nearly all 37 senators and congresspeople making up the 9/1 Congressional Inquiry about 9/11-related information leaks. In particular, in June 2002 the media reported that the day before 9/11 the NSA intercepted the messages “The match is about to begin” and “Tomorrow is zero hour”(see September 10, 2001). The FBI has asked the members to submit to lie detector tests but most have refused. Congresspeople express “grave concern” for this historically unprecedented move. A law professor states: “Now the FBI can open dossiers on every member and staffer and develop full information on them. It creates a great chilling effect on those who would be critical of the FBI.” [Washington Post, 8/2/2002] Senator John McCain (R-AZ) suggests that “the constitutional separation of powers is being violated in spirit if not in the letter. ‘What you have here is an organization compiling dossiers on people who are investigating the same organization. The administration bitterly complains about some leaks out of a committee, but meanwhile leaks abound about secret war plans for fighting a war against Saddam Hussein. What’s that about? There’s a bit of a contradiction here, if not a double standard.’” [Washington Post, 8/3/2002] Later the search for the source of the leak intensifies to unprecedented levels as the FBI asks 17 senators to turn over phone records, appointment calendars, and schedules that would reveal their possible contact with reporters. [Washington Post, 8/24/2002] Most, if not all, turn over the records, even as some complain that the request breaches the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches. One senator says the FBI is “trying to put a damper on our activities and I think they will be successful.” [Associated Press, 8/29/2002] In January 2004, it will be reported that the probe is focusing on Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL). He will not be charged with any crime relating to the leak. [Washington Post, 1/22/2004] In November 2005, the Senate Ethics Committee will announce it has dropped a probe of Shelby, citing insufficient evidence. [Reuters, 11/13/2005] Inquiry co-chair Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) will write in a book in late 2004 that, at the time, he guessed “the leak was intended to sabotage [the inquiry’s] efforts. I am not by nature a conspiracy theorist, but the fact that we were hit with this disclosure at the moment we began to make things uncomfortable for the Bush administration has stuck with me. Over a year later, I asked [inquiry co-chair] Congressman [Porter] Goss (R-FL) whether he thought we had been set up. Nodding, he replied, ‘I often wonder that myself.’” [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 140] Author Philip Shenon will observe that this tactic of intimidation worked, as “Members of the joint committee and their staffs were frightened into silence about the investigation.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 55]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Philip Shenon, Porter J. Goss, Richard Shelby, John McCain, House Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

National Public Radio (NPR) learns of the administration’s tough approach to what it calls a pattern of information leaks from Congress and government employees. The FBI is investigating a number of Congressmen who are suspected of leaking information about the administration’s Iraq policies to the press (regardless of the presumption that members of Congress have the right to reveal unclassified information as they see fit), but the administration wants more from the FBI than questioning legislators. The administration is pushing the FBI to administer lie detector tests to legislators and federal employees it suspects of talking to reporters. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld wants to jail leakers who work for the government. And one of Rumsfeld’s analysts has suggested that police SWAT teams be sent to reporters’ homes to help find leakers. [Unger, 2007, pp. 256] By August 2002, the FBI also questioned nearly all senators and congresspeople making up the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry to uncover which one of them leaked information to the press (see August 2, 2002).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Public Radio, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

NSA Director Michael Hayden.
NSA Director Michael Hayden. [Source: NSA]NSA Director Michael Hayden testifies before the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that the “NSA had no [indications] that al-Qaeda was specifically targeting New York and Washington… or even that it was planning an attack on US soil.” Before 9/11, the “NSA had no knowledge… that any of the attackers were in the United States.” Supposedly, a post-9/11 NSA review found no intercepts of calls involving any of the 19 hijackers. [Reuters, 10/17/2002; US Congress, 10/17/2002; USA Today, 10/18/2002] Yet, in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), the NSA intercepted communications between Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, and hijacker Mohamed Atta, when he was in charge of operations in the US. [Independent, 6/6/2002; Independent, 9/15/2002] What was said between the two has not been revealed. The NSA also intercepted multiple phone calls from al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida to the US in the days before 9/11 (see Early September 2001). But who was called or what was said has not been revealed. [ABC News, 2/18/2002] In addition, Hayden testified three times in secret on June 18, June 19, and July 18, but little is known about what he said, as not much information is disclosed in the media and many sections of the Inquiry’s final report about the NSA are heavily redacted. The main revelations at the time of the summer hearings are that the NSA intercepted two messages apparently pertaining to the forthcoming attack one day before 9/11, and this sparks a controversial leak inquiry by the FBI (see August 2, 2002). [CNN, 6/18/2002; CBS News, 6/19/2002; CNN, 6/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, National Security Agency, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Michael Hayden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission’s cursory review of NSA material related to the attacks and al-Qaeda in general does not find any reports about NSA intercepts of communications between the hijackers in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Neither does it find any reports about calls intercepted by the NSA between alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and lead hijacker Mohamed Atta (see Summer 2001 and September 10, 2001). Author Philip Shenon will write about the commission’s review of the NSA files in a 2008 book and will discuss what Commission staffers found there, but will not mention these intercepts, some of which were mentioned in declassified portions of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004). The review is only conducted by a few staffers (see January 2004, June 2004, and Between July 1 and July 17, 2004) and is not comprehensive, so it is unclear whether the NSA does not provide the reports to the 9/11 Commission, or the commission simply fails to find them in the large number of files the NSA made available to it. However, the staffers do find material possibly linking some of the hijackers to Iran and Hezbollah (see January-June 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 87-8, 155-7, 370-3] In its final report, the commission will make passing references to some of the calls the NSA intercepted without pointing out that the NSA actually intercepted them. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 87-88, 222] However, the endnotes that indicate the sources of these sections will not contain any references to NSA reports, but instead refer to an interview with NSA Director Michael Hayden and an FBI timeline of the hijackers’ activities. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 477, 518]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

Attorney General Michael Mukasey makes an apparent reference to the intercepts of the 9/11 hijackers’ calls by the NSA before the attacks in a speech pleading for extra surveillance powers. Mukasey says: “[Officials] shouldn’t need a warrant when somebody with a phone in Iraq picks up a phone and calls somebody in the United States because that’s the call that we may really want to know about. And before 9/11, that’s the call that we didn’t know about. We knew that there has been a call from someplace that was known to be a safe house in Afghanistan and we knew that it came to the United States. We didn’t know precisely where it went.” [FORA(.tv), 3/27/2008; New York Sun, 3/28/2008] According to a Justice Department response to a query about the speech, this appears to be a reference to the Yemen hub, an al-Qaeda communications facility previously alluded to by Mukasey in a similar context (see February 22, 2008). [Salon, 4/4/2008] However, the hub was in Yemen, not Afghanistan and, although it acted as a safe house, it was primarily a communications hub (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). In addition, the NSA did not intercept one call between it and the 9/11 hijackers in the US, but several, involving both Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, not just one of the hijackers (see Spring-Summer 2000, Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001, and (August 2001)). Nevertheless, the NSA failed to inform the FBI the hub was calling the US (see (Spring 2000)). (Note: it is possible Mukasey is not talking about the Yemen hub in this speech, but some other intercept genuinely from an al-Qaeda safe house in Afghanistan—for example a call between lead hijacker Mohamed Atta in the US and alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, who may have been in Afghanistan when such call was intercepted by the NSA (see Summer 2001 and September 10, 2001). However, several administration officials have made references similar to Mukasey’s about the Yemen hub since the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program was revealed (see December 17, 2005).)

Entity Tags: Michael Mukasey

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

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