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Context of 'October 9, 2002: Handling of 9/11 Hijackers’ Visa Applications Denounced'

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1980: Afghan Fighters Begin Training in US

Some fighters opposing the Soviets in Afghanistan begin training in the US. According to journalist John Cooley, the training is done by Navy Seals and Green Beret officers who have taken draconian secrecy oaths. Key Pakistani officers are trained, as well as some senior Afghan mujaheddin. Much of the training takes place in Camp Peary, near Williamsburg, Virginia, which is said to be the CIA’s main location for training spies and assets. Other training takes place at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, Harvey Point, North Carolina, and Fort A. P. Hill, Virginia. Subjects are trained in how to detect explosives, surveillance, how to recruit new agents, how to run paramilitary operations, and more. They are taught to use many different weapons as well, including remote-controlled mines and bombs, and sophisticated timers and explosives. Cooley claims that “apparently [no] Arab or other foreign volunteers” are trained in the US. [Cooley, 2002, pp. 70-72] However, in the late 1980s, US consular official Michael Springmann will notice fighters from many Middle Eastern nations are getting US visas, apparently to train in the US for the Afghan war (see September 1987-March 1989). Additionally, more training takes place in other countries. For instance, Cooley will note, “By the end of 1980, US military trainers were sent to Egypt to impart the skills of the US Special Forces to those Egyptians who would, in turn, pass on the training to the Egyptian volunteers flying to the aid of the mujaheddin in Afghanistan.” Cooley will further note, “Time and time again, these same techniques reappear among the Islamist insurgents in Upper Egypt and Algeria, since the ‘Afghani’ Arab veterans began returning there in the late 1980s and early 1990s.” [Cooley, 2002, pp. 70-72] It is not known how long these training programs continue.

Entity Tags: Green Berets, Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Springmann, Navy Seals

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Michael Springmann.Michael Springmann. [Source: Michael Springmann]Michael Springmann, head US consular official in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, later claims that during this period he is “repeatedly ordered… to issue [more than 100] visas to unqualified applicants.” He turns them down, but is repeatedly overruled by superiors. [BBC, 11/6/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 11/25/2001] In one case, two Pakistanis apply for visas to attend a trade show in the US, but they are unable to name the trade show or city in which it will be held. When Springmann denies them a visa, he gets “an almost immediate call from a CIA case officer, hidden in the commercial section [of the consulate], that I should reverse myself and grant these guys a visa.” Springmann refuses, but the decision is reversed by the chief of the consular section. Springmann realizes that even the ambassador, Walter Cutler, is aware of the situation, which becomes “more brazen and blatant” as time goes on. On one occasion Springmann is even told, “If you want a job in the State Department in future, you will change your mind.” [CBC Radio One, 7/3/2002; Trento, 2005, pp. 344-6] Springmann loudly complains to numerous government offices, but no action is taken. He is fired and his files on these applicants are destroyed. He later learns that recruits from many countries fighting for bin Laden against Russia in Afghanistan were funneled through the Jeddah office to get visas to come to the US, where the recruits would travel to train for the Afghan war. According to Springmann, the Jeddah consulate was run by the CIA and staffed almost entirely by intelligence agents. This visa system may have continued at least through 9/11, and 11 of the 19 9/11 hijackers received their visas through Jeddah (see November 2, 1997-June 20, 2001), possibly as part of this program (see October 9, 2002 and October 21, 2002). [BBC, 11/6/2001; St. Petersburg Times, 11/25/2001; CBC Radio One, 7/3/2002; Associated Press, 7/17/2002 pdf file; Fox News, 7/18/2002]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, Michael Springmann

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

A suspected terrorism financier enters the US with apparent CIA help. Philippines investigators had begun monitoring and investigating Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, earlier in 1994 (see 1994). [Ressa, 2003] According to a 1999 book by Richard Labeviere, near the conclusion of this investigation, the Philippine government expedites an order expelling Khalifa from the country. Khalifa gets a visa to the US through the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, with the help of the CIA. The CIA had a history of using that consulate to give US visas to radical Muslim militants dating back to the 1980s (see September 1987-March 1989). [Labeviere, 1999, pp. 365; Time, 10/27/2003] Another account claims his visa “was issued, despite his notoriety, because of a computer error.” When he applied for the visa in August 1994, the address he gave was that of the bin Laden family company. [US News and World Report, 5/15/1995] He enters the US on December 1. The report detailing his terrorist connections is released on December 15 (see December 15, 1994). The next day, Khalifa is arrested in the US (see December 16, 1994-May 1995). [US News and World Report, 5/15/1995]

Entity Tags: Saudi Binladin Group, Rodolfo Mendoza, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, Central Intelligence Agency, Abu Sayyaf

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The 19 hijackers apply and receive a total of 23 visas at five different posts from November 1997 through June 2001. Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, Saeed Alghamdi and Ahmed Alnami, Saudi citizens, apply twice at Jeddah. Only Hanjour applies for a student visa, others for tourist/business visa. [United States General Accounting Office, 10/21/2002 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 7-45 pdf file]
bullet The fifteen Saudi hijackers apply for their visas in their home country. Four at the embassy in Riyadh: Hamza Alghamdi (10/17/2000), Mohand Alshehri (10/23/2000), Majed Moqed (11/20/2000) and Satam Al Suqami (11/21/2000). Eleven at the US consulate in Jeddah: Hani Hanjour (11/2/1997 and 9/25/2000), Khalid Almihdhar (4/7/1999 and 6/13/2001), Saeed Alghamdi (9/4/2000 and 6/12/2001), and Ahmed Alnami (10/28/2000 and 4/28/2001), Nawaf Alhazmi (4/3/1999), Ahmed Alghamdi (9/3/2000), Wail Alshehri (10/24/2000), Waleed M. Alshehri (10/24/2000), Abdulaziz Alomari (6/18/2001), Salem Alhazmi (6/20/2001), and Ahmed Alhaznawi (11/12/2000).
bullet Fayez Ahmed Banihammad and Marwan Alshehhi apply in their home country, the United Arab Emirates, respectively at the US embassy in Abu Dhabi on 6/18/2001 and at consulate in Dubai on 1/18/2000.
bullet Mohamed Atta (Egyptian) and Ziad Jarrah (Lebanese) apply, as third-country national applicants, at the US embassy in Berlin, respectively, on May 18 and 25, 2000.

Hani Hanjour’s September 10 US visa application, which was rejected. The fact he requested permission to stay in the US for three years is highlighted on the right.Hani Hanjour’s September 10 US visa application, which was rejected. The fact he requested permission to stay in the US for three years is highlighted on the right. [Source: National Review] (click image to enlarge)Future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour applies for a US tourist/business visa at the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. Hanjour, who has already spent a good deal of time in the US (see October 3, 1991-February 1992, Spring 1996, October 1996-December 1997, and 1998), uses a passport issued on July 24, 2000. His application is incomplete, as he says he is a student, but fails to give his school’s name and address. After his application is screened, he is referred to a consular officer for an interview. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 13, 174-5 pdf file] This consular officer is Shayna Steinger, who issues a total of 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Hanjour’s application is denied as he says he wants to stay in the US for three years, raising concerns he might become an immigrant. Hanjour also says he wants to attend flight school in the US, changing his status to “student” from “tourist” after arrival. However, this is another reason Steinger denies the visa application, “because he has been in the States long enough to decide what he wanted.” Hanjour will return to the consulate two weeks later and successfully obtain a visa from Steinger using a different application (see September 25, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 13, 174-5 pdf file] Steinger will later give a series of conflicting explanations about why she reversed her decision and issued the visa (see August 1, 2002, January 20, 2003, and December 30, 2003). After 9/11, a former consular official named Michael Springmann will say that while serving in Jeddah during the Soviet-Afghan War he was sometimes pressured to reverse denials of visa applications by the CIA for apparent mujaheddin (see September 1987-March 1989).

Entity Tags: Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, Hani Hanjour, Michael Springmann

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour again applies for a US visa at the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. An application two weeks earlier had been rejected (see September 10, 2000), but he is successful this time. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 13-14 pdf file] The application is dealt with by consular officer Shayna Steinger, who issues a total of 12 visas to the 9/11 hijackers (see July 1, 2000) and who rejected Hanjour’s previous application. [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Hanjour apparently applies for a student visa, not a tourist visa, as he had done previously, saying he wishes to attend a language school in California. Steinger will later recall that Hanjour, or someone acting on his behalf, submits an I-20 INS school enrollment form, the documentation required for the visa. She will say: “It came to me, you know, at the end of the day to look at it. I saw he had an I-20 and it [his visa] was issued.” This apparently allows Hanjour to overcome his previous rejection, as the two applications are treated as one case. The INS had approved a change of status for Hanjour to attend the same school in 1996, but Steinger does not know of this. She will later say that, if she had known, she might have denied the visa. Although a photocopy of a student visa in Hanjour’s passport will later be made public, Steinger now enters the visa in the State Department’s records as a business/tourist visa. (Note: the visa in Hanjour’s passport may be changed upon his entry to the US (see December 8, 2000).) [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 13-14, 38] Steinger will later give conflicting accounts of her issuance of this visa. She will first falsely claim to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that she issued the visa under the Visa Express program and that Hanjour was not even present during the first application on September 10 (see August 1, 2002), but will later change her story for the State Department’s inspector general (see January 20, 2003) and the 9/11 Commission (see December 30, 2003). After 9/11, a former consular official named Michael Springmann will say that while serving in Jeddah during the Soviet-Afghan War he was sometimes pressured to reverse denials of visa applications by the CIA for apparent mujaheddin (see September 1987-March 1989).

Entity Tags: US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, Hani Hanjour, Shayna Steinger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar obtains a second US visa from the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24-25 pdf file] The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the future 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State), 1/30/2003] Almihdhar’s passport, which was issued two weeks previously (see June 1, 2001), lacks an expiry date, but contains an indicator of possible terrorist affiliation used by the Saudi authorities to track suspected radicals (see November 2, 2007). His application form is incomplete, as it lists his occupation as “businessman,” but does not give his employer’s name and address.
Lies on Application Form - The form, which is submitted through the Visa Express program (see May 2001), meaning Almihdhar is not interviewed, contains two lies: Almihdhar says he has never received an American visa or traveled to the US, whereas he received a visa in 1999 (see April 3-7, 1999) and traveled to the US on it in 2000 (see January 15, 2000). As Almihdhar’s first visa was also issued by the Jeddah consulate, through which the CIA sent radical Arabs to the US for training during the Soviet-Afghan war (see September 1987-March 1989), consular officials could discover he is lying, but information about prior visas issuances is not automatically displayed to them.
Known Terrorist - By this time, several intelligence agencies are aware that Almihdhar is an al-Qaeda operative; for example, the CIA (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), NSA (see December 29, 1999), FBI (see January 5-6, 2000), a US Army intelligence program (see January-February 2000), the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency (see 1997), Malaysian Special Branch (see January 5-8, 2000), and an intelligence service in the United Arab Emirates (see January 2-5, 2000)).
Parallels to Case of Blind Sheikh - Almihdhar will re-enter the US on the visa three weeks later (see July 4, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will find that the series of missteps preceding the issuance of visas to Almihdhar and the other future 9/11 hijackers has some “eerie parallels” to the “series of exceptional failures” that led to US visas being issued to the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see December 15, 1986-1989 and July 1990). [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 24-27, 33, 49 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, Shayna Steinger, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Abdulla Noman, a former employee of the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers got their visas, says that he took money and gifts to provide fraudulent visas to foreigners. He pleads guilty and is convicted. About 50 to 100 visas were improperly issued by Noman from September 1996 until November 2001, when he was arrested. However, a former visa officer in Jeddah, Michael Springmann, has claimed in the past that the Jeddah office was notorious for purposefully giving visas to terrorists to train in the US (see September 1987-March 1989). [Associated Press, 5/21/2002]

Entity Tags: Abdulla Noman, US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Visa applications for the 15 Saudi Arabian hijackers are made public, and six separate experts agree: “All of them should have been denied entry [into the US].” Joel Mowbray, who first breaks the story for the conservative National Review, says he is shocked by what he saw: “I really was expecting al-Qaeda to have trained their operatives well, to beat the system. They didn’t have to beat the system, the system was rigged in their favor from the get-go.” A former US consular officer says the visas show a pattern of criminal negligence. Some examples: “Abdulaziz Alomari claimed to be a student but didn’t name a school; claimed to be married but didn’t name a spouse; under nationality and gender, he didn’t list anything.” “Khalid Almihdhar… simply listed ‘Hotel’ as his US destination—no name, no city, no state but no problem getting a visa.” Only one actually gave a US destination, and one stated his destination as “no.” Only Hani Hanjour had a slight delay in acquiring his visa. His first application was flagged because he wrote he wanted to visit for three years when the legal limit is two. When he returned two weeks later, he simply changed the form to read “one year” and was accepted. The experts agree that even allowing for chance, incompetence, and human error, the odds were that only a few should have been approved. [National Review, 10/9/2002; New York Post, 10/9/2002; ABC News, 10/23/2002] In response to the revelation, the State Department says, “The fact is that with 20/20 hindsight, I’m sure one can always find a reason that you might have turned down a visa.” [Nation Review Online, 10/10/2002; State Department, 10/10/2002]

Entity Tags: US Consulate, Jeddah, Saudi Arabia Office, US Department of State, Al-Qaeda, Khalid Almihdhar, Abdulaziz Alomari, Hani Hanjour

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The General Accounting Office, the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress, releases a report asserting that at least 13 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were never interviewed by US consular officials before being granted visas to enter the US. This contradicts previous assurances from the State Department that 12 of the hijackers had been interviewed. It also found that, for 15 hijackers whose applications could be found, none had filled in the documents properly. Records for four other hijackers (the four non-Saudis, i.e., Ziad Jarrah, Mohamed Atta, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, and Marwan Al Shehhi) could not be checked because they were accidentally destroyed. [National Review Online, 10/21/2002; United States General Accounting Office, 10/21/2002 pdf file; Washington Post, 10/22/2002] The State Department maintains that visa procedures were properly followed. In December 2002, Senators Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and Pat Roberts (R-KS) state in a chapter of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that “if State Department personnel had merely followed the law and not granted non-immigrant visas to 15 of the 19 hijackers in Saudi Arabia… 9/11 would not have happened.” [Associated Press, 12/19/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. pp. 653-673 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Saeed Alghamdi, Salem Alhazmi, Satam Al Suqami, US Department of State, Pat Roberts, Waleed Alshehri, Wail Alshehri, Nawaf Alhazmi, Ziad Jarrah, Mohamed Atta, Mohand Alshehri, Government Accountability Office, Ahmed Alnami, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Abdulaziz Alomari, Marwan Alshehhi, Ahmed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Hani Hanjour, Majed Moqed, Hamza Alghamdi, Khalid Almihdhar, Jon Kyl

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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