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Context of 'October 25, 2006: Vice President Cheney Says Exploitation of Yemen Hub Information Could Have Prevented 9/11'

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The Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), which helps obtain warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), discovers errors in several al-Qaeda related FISA applications under a counterterrorist program called “Catcher’s Mitt.” The OIPR verbally notifies the FISA Court of the errors, which are mostly in affidavits submitted by supervisory special agents at field offices. Then, in September and October 2000, the OIPR submits two pleadings to the court regarding approximately 75-100 applications with errors starting in July 1997. Many of the errors concern misleading statements about the nature of collaboration between criminal and intelligence agents. Most of these applications stated that the FBI New York field office, where the I-49 squad focusing on al-Qaeda was based (see January 1996 and Late 1998-Early 2002), had separate teams of agents handling criminal and intelligence investigations. But in actual fact the I-49 agents intermingled with criminal agents working on intelligence cases and intelligence agents working on criminal cases. Therefore, contrary to what the FISA Court has been told, agents working on a criminal investigation have had unrestricted access to information from a parallel intelligence investigation—a violation of the so-called “wall,” the set of bureaucratic procedures designed to separate criminal and intelligence investigations (see July 19, 1995). (Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002; Isikoff and Thomas 3/29/2004; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 36-37 pdf file) The information about al-Qaeda in these cases is also shared with assistant US attorneys without FISA permission being sought or granted first. Other errors include the FBI director wrongly asserting that the target of a FISA application was not under criminal investigation, omissions of material facts about a prior relationship between the FBI and a target, and an interview of a target by an assistant US attorney. (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court 5/17/2002) This leads the FISA Court to impose new requirements regarding the “wall” (see October 2000). Similar problems will be found in FISA applications for surveillance of Hamas operatives (see March 2001).

The King Fahd Mosque in Culver City.The King Fahd Mosque in Culver City. [Source: Damian Dovarganes]Hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi travel to Los Angeles with an associate, Mohdar Abdullah, before Almihdhar leaves the US the next day (see June 10, 2000). When they visit the King Fahd Mosque in Culver City, Abdullah is surprised that Alhazmi and Almihdhar already know several people at the mosque. Abdullah will later say, “I was surprised that anybody at the mosque knew them, because as far as I knew Alhazmi and Almihdhar hadn’t visited Los Angeles since they arrived in the US.” They meet one of the hijackers’ Los Angeles acquaintances, known as Khallam, again later that night at their motel. According to the 9/11 Commission, Khallam asks Abdullah to leave the motel room, so he can talk to Alhazmi and Almihdhar in private. However, Abdullah will later dispute this, saying he is not asked leave the room, but that Alhazmi leaves to make an international phone call from a pay phone. The identity of the person he calls is unknown, but it is possible that he talks to Ahmed al-Hada, an al-Qaeda operative whose safe house is monitored by the US and who Alhazmi sometimes calls from the US (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Khallam will apparently never be found after 9/11. The FBI will consider the possibility that he is Khallad bin Attash, as there are some reports that bin Attash is in the US at this time and met the mosque’s imam, Fahad al Thumairy. However, this theory will never be confirmed. (Krikorian and Reza 7/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 216, 514) The next day, Alhazmi, Abdullah and an unknown man make a casing video at Los Angeles Airport (see June 10, 2000). It is possible that the third man is Khallam.

Khalid Almihdhar.Khalid Almihdhar. [Source: FBI]9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar flies from San Diego to Frankfurt, Germany. (US Congress 9/20/2002) He is accompanied to the airport by another hijacker, Nawaf Alhazmi, and an unnamed associate (see June 10, 2000). Authorities later believe that Almihdhar visits his cousin-in-law Ramzi Bin al-Shibh and other al-Qaeda members in bin al-Shibh’s cell. Since the CIA fails to notify Germany about its suspicions of Almihdhar and bin al-Shibh, both of whom were seen attending the al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January, German police fail to monitor them and another chance to uncover the 9/11 plot is missed. (Schrom 10/1/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file) FBI Director Mueller and the congressional inquiry into 9/11 will claim that Almihdhar does not return to the US for over a year (US Congress 9/20/2002; US Congress 9/26/2002) , although it is possible that Almihdhar does return before then. For instance, there are indications Almihdhar attends a flight school in Arizona in early 2001. (Wagner and Zoellner 9/28/2001)

FISA court judge Royce Lamberth was angry with the FBI over misleading statements made in FISA wiretap applications.FISA court judge Royce Lamberth was angry with the FBI over misleading statements made in FISA wiretap applications. [Source: Public domain]While monitoring foreign terrorists in the US, the FBI listens to calls made by suspects as a part of an operation called Catcher’s Mitt, which is curtailed at this time due to misleading statements by FBI agents. It is never revealed who the targets of the FBI’s surveillance are under this operation, but below are some of the terrorism suspects under investigation in the US at the time:
bullet Imran Mandhai, Shuyeb Mossa Jokhan and Adnan El Shukrijumah in Florida. They are plotting a series of attacks there, but Mandhai and Jokhan are brought in for questioning by the FBI and surveillance of them stops in late spring (see November 2000-Spring 2002 and May 2, 2001);
bullet Another Florida cell connected to Blind Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman. The FBI has been investigating it since 1993 (see (October 1993-November 2001));
bullet Al-Qaeda operatives in Denver (see March 2000);
bullet A Boston-based al-Qaeda cell involving Nabil al-Marabh and Raed Hijazi. Cell members provide funding to terrorists, fight abroad, and are involved in document forging (see January 2001, Spring 2001, and Early September 2001);
bullet Fourteen of the hijackers’ associates the FBI investigates before 9/11. The FBI is still investigating four of these people while the hijackers associate with them; (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 169 pdf file)
bullet Hamas operatives such as Mohammed Salah in Chicago. Salah invests money in the US and sends it to the occupied territories to fund attacks (see June 9, 1998).
When problems are found with the applications for the wiretap warrants, an investigation is launched (see Summer-October 2000), and new requirements for warrant applications are put in place (see October 2000). From this time well into 2001, the FBI is forced to shut down wiretaps of al-Qaeda-related suspects connected to the 1998 US embassy bombings and Hamas (see March 2001 and April 2001). One source familiar with the case says that about 10 to 20 al-Qaeda related wiretaps have to be shut down and it becomes more difficult to get permission for new FISA wiretaps. Newsweek notes, “The effect [is] to stymie terror surveillance at exactly the moment it was needed most: requests from both Phoenix [with the Ken Williams memo (see July 10, 2001)] and Minneapolis [with Zacarias Moussaoui’s arrest] for wiretaps [will be] turned down [by FBI superiors],” (see August 21, 2001 and August 28, 2001). (Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002) Robert Wright is an FBI agent who led the Vulgar Betrayal investigation looking into allegations that Saudi businessman Yassin al-Qadi helped finance the embassy bombings, and other matters. In late 2002, he will claim to discover evidence that some of the FBI intelligence agents who stalled and obstructed his investigation were the same FBI agents who misrepresented the FISA petitions. (Judicial Watch 9/11/2002)

When 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar leaves the US in June (see June 10, 2000), he flies to Frankfurt, Germany, and then to Oman in the Middle East. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file) From there he returns to his family’s home in Sana’a, Yemen. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 237) His wife and children live at an al-Qaeda communications hub that is run by his father in law, Ahmed al-Hada. The hub is being monitored by the NSA and CIA. Phone calls to and from the hub, including ones made by Almihdhar and other hijackers, are intercepted, rooms in the building are bugged, and spy satellites record visitors (see Late August 1998, Late 1998-Early 2002, and Early 2000-Summer 2001). Based on information gained from monitoring this house, the CIA and local intelligence services mounted a major operation against Almihdhar, other hijackers, and several more al-Qaeda operatives in December 1999 and January 2000, when they were followed around the Middle East and South Asia and monitored during an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see December 29, 1999, January 2-5, 2000, and January 5-8, 2000). So presumably US intelligence should have been aware of this visit to the hub and who Almihdhar was, but what exactly was known and who may have known it has not been made public. He will return to the hub in February 2001 and stay an unknown length of time (see February 2001).

Document for wire transfer on June 21, 2000Document for wire transfer on June 21, 2000 [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Plot facilitator Ramzi bin al-Shibh wires over $10,000 from Germany to 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi in the US. The money is apparently withdrawn from Alshehhi’s Dresdner bank account, to which bin al-Shibh has access.
bullet On June 13, he wires $2,708.33 to Alshehhi in New York;
bullet On June 21, he wires $1,803.19 to Alshehhi in New York;
bullet On July 25, he wires $1,760.15 to Alshehhi in Florida;
bullet On September 25, he wires $4,118.14 to Alshehhi in Florida; (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 134-5 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/3/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/3/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/3/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/3/2006 pdf file) Bin al-Shibh also sends money to Zacarias Moussaoui in the US (see July 29, 2001-August 3, 2001). The hijackers also receive various other transfers (see June 2000-August 2001).

After 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar returns to the Middle East (see June 10, 2000 and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)), the NSA continues to intercept his telephone calls to and from an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, where his wife and children live. US intelligence understands that this is one of the most important al-Qaeda hot spots, and has been closely monitoring it since at least late 1998 (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). It also intercepts calls between hijacker Salem Alhazmi and the hub, as well as conversations between his brother, hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, in the US and the hub (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001). (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Wright 2006, pp. 343) The NSA had previously intercepted calls made by the hijackers to and from the communications hub, both when they were in the US and outside it (see Early 2000-Summer 2001).

Ziad Jarrah (left) at his flight school in the second half of 2000.Ziad Jarrah (left) at his flight school in the second half of 2000. [Source: National Geographic]Some 9/11 hijackers open bank accounts in Florida around the time they start flight training there (see July 6-December 19, 2000). Ziad Jarrah opens an account at the First Florida National Bank with a $2,000 deposit and, nine days later, hijacker pilots Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi open a joint account at SunTrust Bank in Venice, Florida. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 139 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia; Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file) It is unclear whether more accounts are opened at this time, although the New York Times will also say that an account is opened with the Century Bank and that money is paid into this account from abroad (see (July-August 2000)). (van Natta, and Zernike 11/4/2001) It will initially be claimed that the hijackers provide fake and randomly made up social security numbers. (Risen 7/10/2002) However, the 9/11 Commission will say that they did not present or give false numbers, but that in some cases bank employees completed the social security number field with a hijacker’s date of birth or visa control number. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 140 pdf file) Reports of the number of accounts the hijackers open in the US vary over time (see Late-September 2001-August 2004), although the hijackers are known to have had several other bank accounts (see February 4, 2000, Early September 2000, May 1-July 18, 2001 and June 27-August 23, 2001).

Jeddah consular officer Shayna Steinger (center) and eight of the 10 hijackers she issued visas to. Clockwise from top left: Wail Alshehri, Hani Hanjour, Ahmed Alnami, Salem Alhazmi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alghamdi, and Khalid Almihdhar.Jeddah consular officer Shayna Steinger (center) and eight of the 10 hijackers she issued visas to. Clockwise from top left: Wail Alshehri, Hani Hanjour, Ahmed Alnami, Salem Alhazmi, Ahmed Alhaznawi, Saeed Alghamdi, Ahmed Alghamdi, and Khalid Almihdhar. [Source: FBI / Facebook]Shayna Steinger, a consular official who issues the future 9/11 hijackers with 12 US visas, arrives at the US consulate in Jeddah to start her first Foreign Service assignment. (Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State) 1/30/2003) Steinger will issue visas to future 9/11 hijackers Ahmed Alghamdi (see September 3, 2000), Saeed Alghamdi (see September 4, 2000), Hani Hanjour (see September 10, 2000 and September 25, 2000), Wail and Waleed Alshehri (see October 24, 2000), Ahmed Alnami (see October 28, 2000), Ahmed Alhaznawi (see November 12, 2000), Alnami again (see April 23, 2001), Saeed Alghamdi again (see June 12, 2001), Abdulaziz Alomari (see June 18, 2001), Khalid Almihdhar (see June 13, 2001), and Salem Alhazmi (see June 20, 2001). (9/11 Commission 12/30/2002, pp. 2) The 9/11 Commission will not refer to Steinger in its main report, but will say that a single official issued multiple visas to the hijackers in Jeddah in its Terrorist Travel monograph. The Commission gives the number of visas issued as 11. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 33 pdf file) However, a list found in the Commission’s records will give 12 visas as being issued by Steinger. (9/11 Commission 12/30/2002, pp. 2) That list appears to be accurate as there is no information indicating one of these 12 visas was issued by another consular officer. The Commission makes another apparent error with the hijackers’ visas, claiming that Salem Alhazmi did not receive a US visa in April 1999, when other sources indicate he did (see April 3-7, 1999).

Huffman Aviation logo.Huffman Aviation logo. [Source: Huffman Aviation]9/11 hijackers Marwan Alshehhi and Mohamed Atta attend Huffman Aviation, a flight school in Venice, Florida and enroll in its Accelerated Pilot Program, aiming to get commercial pilot licenses. According to the school’s owner Rudi Dekkers, Atta already has a private pilot’s license—though where and how he gained this is unstated—and wants to obtain a commercial license. Alshehhi wants to obtain both licenses. They begin their training in a Cessna 172 with instructor Thierry Leklou. According to the 9/11 Commission, by the end of July both are already taking solo flights. However, in August Leklou complains to Chief Flight Instructor Daniel Pursell that the two are failing to follow instructions and have bad attitudes. Pursell considers expelling them, but, according to Dekkers, after a warning they improve their behavior and continue without further problems. (US Congress 3/19/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 224, 227; Martin 7/25/2004) Yet Pursell later testifies that the school’s instructors breathed “a collective sigh of relief” when the two left Huffman. (Associated Press 3/23/2006) Furthermore, reportedly, “Atta and al-Shehhi would rent a plane from Huffman and be gone for days at a time, Pursell said. They could fly to 20 airports across the state and never be noticed.” (Martin 7/25/2004) Mark Mikarts, another of the school’s instructors, says Atta has “big problems with authority,” and doesn’t take instructions well. (Mollenkamp et al. 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 17 pdf file) Susan Hall, Huffman’s office manager, refers to Atta as “the little terrorist” while he is at the school, because, she later says, “I just didn’t like the aura he gave off.” (Reuters 3/22/2006) In the middle of their training, in late September, Atta and Alshehhi enroll at another flight school, in nearby Sarasota. However, they are soon asked to leave it, and return to Huffman in October (see Late September-Early October 2000). While Atta and Alshehhi attend Huffman Aviation, another of the alleged hijackers, Ziad Jarrah, is taking lessons at a flight school just down the road from them (see (June 28-December 2000)). Yet no reports describe the three ever meeting up while they are all in Venice. According to official accounts, Atta and Alshehhi complete their schooling at Huffman on December 19, 2000, when they take their commercial pilot license tests. Rudi Dekkers says that after returning to the school to settle their bills, they leave and are never seen there again. (US Congress 3/19/2002; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 17 pdf file) Yet Daniel Pursell will later allege that early in 2001 the two are still connected with Huffman, being reported to the school for practicing nighttime landings in one of its planes at another Florida airport (see Between January and February 2001).

On July 12, two days before his visa expires, an I-539 application (dated July 7, 2000) to extend 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi’s US stay is filed with the California Service Center (CSC) of the INS. (Nawaf Alhazmi 7/27/2000) The I-539 form is not received by the CSC until July 27, 2000, and officially it is considered a late filing. (unknown: INS 2002; INS email 3/20/2002; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 12, 25 pdf file) The name of the form-preparer is redacted, but according to INS records, Alhazmi’s I-539 is submitted “in care of” Abdussattar Shaikh, an FBI informant Alhazmi is living with (see May 10-Mid-December 2000), and “appears to have been filed [sic] out by Shaikh.” (unknown: INS 2002; Immigration and Naturalization Service 5/26/2002) Alhazmi had been issued a one-year, multiple-entry visa on April 3, 1999, but when he arrived in the United States with Khalid Almihdhar on January 15, 2000, the immigration inspector approved a six-month stay for both of them (see January 15, 2000). Alhazmi’s I-539 visa extension will be approved on June 18, 2001, 11 months later (see June 18, 2001). No other extensions of stay will be filed by, or on behalf of, Alhazmi. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 10, 12, 25 pdf file)

According to a post-9/11 confession obtained from 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), al-Qaeda operative Khallad bin Attash persuades hijacker Khalid Almihdhar to return to Afghanistan to meet with KSM. At the meeting, Almihdhar complains about life in the US but says he is confident he will be able to obtain another visa, as he left the US before his first one expired. He also tells Mohammed about the problems he and Nawaf Alhazmi have had enrolling in language schools and says they believe they were monitored when they flew from Bangkok to the US in January 2000 (see January 15, 2000) (it is not clear who may have monitored them). Supposedly, KSM is angry that Almihdhar left the US without permission and wishes to exclude Almihdhar from the mission, but bin Laden himself intervenes and keeps Almihdhar involved. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 237, 269; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia 7/31/2006, pp. 20-21 pdf file) Doubts have been raised about the reliability of KSM’s confession, as it was obtained using torture (see June 16, 2004). According to author Ron Suskind, at one point interrogators even threaten to hurt KSM’s children, a seven-year-old boy and a nine-year-old girl, unless he provides more information. (Suskind 2006, pp. 230)

Between July 20 and November 18, 2000, future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi receives 16 phone calls from someone living overseas named Ashraf Suboh. At the time, Alhazmi is living in San Diego, California, at the house of an FBI informant named Abdussattar Shaikh (see May 10-Mid-December 2000). Alhazmi apparently does not make any important calls using the phone in the house, and these are the only important calls he receives. It is unknown if Suboh is someone’s real name or an alias. The name will be discovered in a raid on an al-Qaeda safe house in Pakistan in May 2002. Suboh’s name and address will be discovered as part of a printout of an e-mail dated January 9, 2001. The 9/11 Commission will mention this in its 2004 final report, but it will not mention where Suboh’s address was or any other information about him. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 535) The May 2002 raid is likely the same one where other information about the 9/11 hijackers is found, including passport photographs and other passport pages of hijackers Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Abdulaziz Alomari (see May 16, 2002).

9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh spends four weeks in Yemen. The exact timing of his visit is unknown, except that he arrives in August 2000 and leaves in September. (Abuza 12/24/2002; US Department of Defense 12/8/2006)
Planning Cole Bombing? - While in Yemen, it seems probable bin al-Shibh is involved in preparations for the USS Cole bombing. There are reports that he takes part in the bombing, and he flies back to Yemen to be there in time for the bombing in early October (see October 10-21, 2000).
Does He Visit Monitored Yemen Hub? - While there, it is also possible that he visits the highly monitored al-Qaeda Yemen communications hub, which is in Sana’a. It will not be confirmed or denied that he visits the hub at this time. However, bin al-Shibh is Yemeni, and he is a cousin of future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s wife, and she lives at the house where the hub is located. (Finn 6/12/2002; Finn 9/11/2002) (Note that he also has other family in Sana’a, as this is where he grew up, so it seems probable he would spend at least some of his visit in Sana’a.) (McDermott 2005, pp. 41) Furthermore, at some point before the Cole bombing, bin al-Shibh meets with al-Qaeda operatives Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Ahmed al-Hada in Yemen. It is not known where the meeting takes place, but al-Hada runs the Yemen hub (and he is also related to bin al-Shibh) (see Before October 12, 2000). Also, al-Qaeda operatives use the hub to “put everything together” for the Cole bombing, and bin al-Shibh is probably involved in preparations for the bombing at this time. The bombers also call the hub as part of their preparations (see Mid-August 1998-October 2000).
Could Bin Al-Shibh Be Tracked? - If bin al-Shibh does visit (or even just call) the Yemen hub at this time, and/or during his later visit right at the time of the Cole bombing, he would be monitored by US intelligence. The US not only listens in on the hub’s phone, but it monitors the house through bugs planted inside and through spy satellites to monitor people leaving and entering it (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Although it is uncertain, US intelligence may already be aware of bin al-Shibh through his attendance at an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in early 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000).

Yazeed al-Salmi lives with future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi for about a month in the San Diego house of an FBI informant. Alhazmi has lived in the house with Khalid Almihdhar and FBI informant Abdussattar Shaikh since May 2000 (see Mid-May-December 2000), but Almihdhar left to go overseas in June and did not return to San Diego (see June 10, 2000). Apparently there are no other new roommates for the rest of the time Alhazmi lives at the house until December 2000 except for al-Salmi. Al-Salmi moves in with Alhazmi and Shaikh just three days after arriving in the US on a student visa. Hijacker associate and suspected Saudi spy Omar al-Bayoumi, who nominally reports to al-Salmi’s uncle, Mohammed Ahmed al-Salmi of the Saudi Civil Aviation ministry, helped al-Salmi find the accommodation (see September 1998-July 1999). Curiously, al-Salmi was a childhood friend of 9/11 hijacker Hani Hanjour in Saudi Arabia. (KGTV 10 (San Diego) 10/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 222, 518; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 139 pdf file) In early September, Alhazmi apparently helps al-Salmi cash some checks (see September 5, 2000). After al-Salmi moves out of the house, he moves into a nearby apartment with Modhar Abdullah and others. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 222, 518) After 9/11, there will be reports that both al-Salmi and Abdullah may have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks (see Late August-September 10, 2001).

The FBI and other US intelligence agencies have been monitoring an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, since the attacks on US embassies in East Africa, and have used it to map al-Qaeda’s global network (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). In the run-up to the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, the FBI notices that there is increased telephone activity to and from the Sana’a hub. One of the messages says that bin Laden is planning a “Hiroshima-type event” (see (August 2000)). (PBS 10/3/2002)

According to PBS, an Egyptian informant warns US intelligence that al-Qaeda will attack an American warship. (PBS 10/3/2002) The FBI also notices increased telephone activity by al-Qaeda in Yemen around the same time (see August-Early October 2000). The USS Cole is attacked in the autumn of this year (see October 12, 2000).

Yazid Sufaat (left), and his wife, Sejarahtul Dursina (right).Yazid Sufaat (left), and his wife, Sejarahtul Dursina (right). [Source: Associated Press]Zacarias Moussaoui visits Malaysia twice, and stays at the very same condominium where the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit (see January 5-8, 2000) was held. (Fineman and Drogin 2/2/2002; Chandrasekaran 2/3/2002; Ressa 8/30/2002) After that summit, Malaysian intelligence kept watch on the condominium at the request of the CIA. However, the CIA stopped the surveillance before Moussaoui arrived, spoiling a chance to expose the 9/11 plot by monitoring Moussaoui’s later travels (see Between February and September 2000). (Isikoff and Klaidman 6/2/2002) During his stay in Malaysia, Moussaoui tells Jemaah Islamiyah operative Faiz abu Baker Bafana, at whose apartment he stays for one night, that he had had a dream about flying an airplane into the White House, and that when he told bin Laden about this, bin Laden told him to go ahead. They also discuss purchasing ammonium nitrate, and Moussaoui says that Malaysia and Indonesia should be used as a base for financing jihad, but that attacks should be focused against the US. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/8/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/8/2006) While Moussaoui is in Malaysia, Yazid Sufaat, the owner of the condominium, signs letters falsely identifying Moussaoui as a representative of his wife’s company. (Chandrasekaran 2/3/2002; Zakaria 9/20/2002) When Moussaoui is later arrested in the US about one month before the 9/11 attacks, this letter in his possession could have led investigators back to the condominium and the connections with the January 2000 meeting attended by two of the hijackers. (Kelley 1/30/2002) Moussaoui’s belongings also contained phone numbers that could have linked him to Ramzi bin al-Shibh (and his roommate, Mohamed Atta), another participant in the Malaysian meeting (see August 16, 2001). (Associated Press 12/12/2001)

9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi is helped by his landlord, FBI informant Abdussattar Shaikh, with whom he has been living for some time (see Mid-May-December 2000 and May 10-Mid-December 2000), to open an account with the Lemon Grove, California, branch of the Bank of America. Alhazmi deposits $3,000 to open the account. The origin of the $3,000 is unclear, as the last known cash injection Alhazmi received was five months earlier and totaled only $5,000 (see April 16-18, 2000). (Crary 9/21/2001; CBS News 9/27/2001) Hijacker Khalid Almihdhar had previously opened and closed a bank account in San Diego (see February 4, 2000).

Yazeed al-Salmi.Yazeed al-Salmi. [Source: Channel 10 News]A total of $1,900 is deposited in 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi’s Bank of America account from a set of traveler’s checks worth $4,000 that were issued in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia on July 16, 2000 to a man named Yazeed al-Salmi. The same day, Alhazmi withdraws $1,900. US investigators will therefore later hypothesize that Alhazmi is just helping al-Salmi cash the checks, since al-Salmi does not open a US bank account of his own until September 11, 2000. Al-Salmi arrived in San Diego on a student visa on August 7, 2000 and moved in with Alhazmi and FBI counterterrorism informant Abdussattar Shaikh three days later, staying for about one month (see August 10-September 2000 and Mid-May-December 2000). After 9/11, the FBI will detain al-Salmi as a material witness and question him because of his contacts with Alhazmi, and he will testify before a grand jury before being deported to Saudi Arabia. However, al-Salmi does not mention the traveler’s checks in the interrogation and the FBI will not find out about them until after he is deported. Also, another associate of the hijackers, Mohdar Abdullah, will later claim that al-Salmi tells him he previously knew hijacker pilot Hani Hanjour as a child in Saudi Arabia (see (Early 2000-November 2000)). When the FBI interviews al-Salmi again, in Saudi Arabia in 2004, he will claim he no longer remembers the $1,900 transaction, and the FBI will fail to ask him about his alleged childhood ties to Hanjour. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 222, 518; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 139 pdf file; Burger 8/22/2004) There are later indications that al-Salmi and some of his associates have some foreknowledge of 9/11 (see Late August-September 10, 2001).

A videotape message featuring bin Laden calling for more attacks on the US is aired on Al Jazeera. The video ends with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri saying, “Enough of words, it is time to take action against this iniquitous and faithless force [the United States], which has spread troops through Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.” (CNN 10/20/2000; Gertz 8/26/2002) Further, bin Laden is wearing a distinctive, curved Yemeni dagger. Lawrence Wright will later mention in the book The Looming Tower that this was a “teasing clue” similar to other clues he had left before other attacks. (Wright 2006, pp. 318) DIA analyst Kie Fallis later recalls, “Every time he put out one of these videotapes, it was a signal that action was coming.” He claims that after hearing of the video, he “knew then it would be within a month or two.” But nonetheless, his suggestion to put out a general attack warning will go unheeded (see May 2000-Late September 2000). An al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole follows less than a month later (see October 12, 2000). (Gertz 8/26/2002)

Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer will later claim that Captain Scott Phillpott, leader of the Able Danger program, briefs General Peter Schoomaker, head of Special Operations Command (SOCOM), that Able Danger has uncovered information of increased al-Qaeda “activity” in Aden harbor, Yemen. Shaffer, plus two other officials familiar with Able Danger later tell the New York Post that this warning was gleaned through a search of bin Laden’s business ties. Shaffer later recalls, “Yemen was elevated by Able Danger to be one of the top three hot spots for al-Qaeda in the entire world.” This warning, plus another possibly connected warning from Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst Kie Fallis (see May 2000-Late September 2000), go unheeded and no official warning is issued. The USS Cole is attacked by al-Qaeda terrorists in Aden harbor in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). Shaffer later claims that Phillpott tells the 9/11 Commission about this warning in 2004 to show that Able Danger could have had a significant impact, but the Commission’s findings fail to mention the warning, or in fact anything else about Able Danger (see July 12, 2004). (Lathem 9/17/2005; Shaffer 9/20/2005) Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) will similarly tell Fox News: “[T]wo weeks before the attack on the Cole, in fact, two days before the attack on the Cole, [Able Danger] saw an increase of activity that led them to say to the senior leadership in the Pentagon at that time, in the Clinton administration, there’s something going to happen in Yemen and we better be on high alert, but it was discounted. That story has yet to be told to the American people.” (Fox News 10/8/2005)

Faiz abu Baker Bafana, an operative of al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, receives an Arab visitor and they discuss attacks on US interests in Singapore. Bafana knows the Arab as “Bandar,” but this is not his real name and it appears that “Bandar” is an alias for 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Almihdhar again stays in Yazid Sufaat’s apartment and travels to Afghanistan after the meeting. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/8/2006; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/8/2006) The apartment is also used by Zacarias Moussaoui at around the same time (see September-October 2000), and Almihdhar and several other al-Qaeda commanders had used it for a summit at the start of the year (see January 5-8, 2000). Malaysian intelligence had been monitoring the apartment and passing the results on to the US, but the CIA did not ask for the surveillance to continue and it ended, apparently before this visit. Malaysian Legal Affairs minister Rais Yatim will express puzzlement over the CIA’s lack of interest in the apartment: “We couldn’t fathom it, really. There was no show of concern.” (Isikoff and Klaidman 6/2/2002) Almihdhar will return to Malaysia to continue the planning for the Singapore attack in the middle of 2001 (see June 2001).

Hamza Alghamdi.Hamza Alghamdi. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Future 9/11 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi flies from Iran to Kuwait on October 8, travels to Qatar the next day, and enters Saudi Arabia on October 13. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 32-33 pdf file) According to the 9/11 Commission, he is accompanied on the flight from Iran to Kuwait by fellow hijacker Mohand Alshehri. The 9/11 Commission will mention this flight in a section of its final report suggesting co-operation on travel between Iran, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda—Iran may have helped al-Qaeda by allowing operatives to transit Iran on their way to and from Afghanistan without stamping their passports (see After October 12, 2000). According to a detainee who may have been tortured, Alghamdi was in Afghanistan in the summer of 2000 (see Summer 2000); according to militant leader Luai Sakra, he was in Turkey at around this time (see Late 1999-2000), so it is unclear where Alghamdi and Alshehri are coming from. In any case, there are no direct links between this flight and actions by Iranian operatives, although the commission will note in this context that a senior Hezbollah operative visited Saudi Arabia around this time, and planned to help people in Saudi Arabia travel to Iran. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 240) The 9/11 Commission’s statement that the hijackers took this flight will be based on intelligence reports from the NSA, mostly drafted shortly after 9/11. Another source for the paragraph that mentions this flight will be “operative’s claimed identification of photos of two Sept. 11 hijackers,” dated August 2002, although it will not be clear if this applies to this trip by Alghamdi and Alshehri. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 529; Shenon 2008, pp. 370-3)

Before the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, Ramzi bin al-Shibh makes two trips to Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, and will later be said to play a role in the attack. Although bin al-Shibh is never named as a certain participant in the operation, he flies from Frankfurt, Germany, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), on October 10, 2000. The next day, he flies from Dubai to Sana’a, putting him there one day before the bombing (see October 12, 2000). He flies from Sana’a to Dubai on October 21, and where he goes from there is not certain. (Lichtblau and Williams 10/24/2001; Khan 8/11/2002 pdf file; Abuza 12/24/2002; McDermott 2005, pp. 209) Bin al-Shibh was also in Yemen for about four weeks up until a month before the bombing (see August-September 2000). Note also that the CIA is working with the Dubai airport to track all suspected militants passing through it, although it is not known if bin al-Shibh is suspected at this time (see 1999). He apparently attended an al-Qaeda summit with the other commanders of the ship-bombing operation in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000) and some media reports indicate an application for a US visa he makes after the attack is rejected due to concerns about his involvement in the bombing. For example, the Los Angeles Times, based on conversations with law enforcement officials, will report that bin al-Shibh is “linked to the terrorist attack in Yemen on the US Navy destroyer Cole.” (Lichtblau and Williams 10/21/2001) Newsweek, the BBC, and Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda will also report similar statements by law enforcement officials (see May 17, 2000-May 2001). (Thomas 11/26/2001; BBC 9/14/2002; TBS Journal 10/2002) One of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, may also be involved in the bombing (see Around October 12, 2000).

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, an al-Qaeda leader involved in the attack on the USS Cole, is said to meet two associates, Ahmed al-Hada and al-Hada’s nephew Ramzi bin al-Shibh, in Yemen. (Schrom 10/1/2002; Hosenball 12/2/2002) Al-Hada, an operative who runs a communications hub for Osama bin Laden, has been under surveillance since 1998, at least (see August 4-25, 1998). The surveillance of al-Hada is reportedly so important that his house is monitored by spy satellites, to visually identify everyone coming and going (see Late August 1998), although it is unclear where the meeting with al-Nashiri takes place. The exact timing of this meeting and that with bin al-Shibh is not known, although bin al-Shibh stays in Yemen for about four weeks up until a month before the bombing (see August-September 2000), and then arrives in Yemen again one day before the bombing (see October 10-21, 2000). (Hosenball 12/2/2002) Bin al-Shibh is repeatedly denied a US visa. Although the earlier applications are denied on the grounds he may stay in the US, it will later be suggested that his presumed role in the Cole bombing may have influenced one or more later denials (see May 17, 2000-May 2001).

Damage to the USS Cole.Damage to the USS Cole. [Source: Department of Defense]The USS Cole is bombed in the Aden, Yemen harbor by two al-Qaeda militants, Hassan al-Khamri and Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras). Seventeen US soldiers are killed and 30 are wounded. The CIA will later conclude that with just slightly more skilled execution, the attack would have killed 300 and sunk the ship. (ABC News 10/13/2000; Coll 2004, pp. 532; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 191) The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) immediately takes credit for the attack. This is a Yemen-based Muslim militant group widely believed to have close ties to al-Qaeda (see 1996-1997 and After). (Whitaker 10/14/2000) The IAA statement is released by its spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997, (June 1998), and December 28, 1998 and After). Abu Hamza says that the attack was timed to mark the anniversary of the execution of the IAA’s former commander (see October 17, 1999). (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 184) The prime minister of Yemen at the time of the bombing will say shortly after 9/11, “The Islamic Army was part of al-Qaeda.” (Whitaker 10/13/2001) The US soon learns the names of some al-Qaeda operatives involved in the attack, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Tawfiq bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso (see Early December 2000), and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000). 9/11 hijackers Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see October 10-21, 2000) and Khalid Almihdhar (see Around October 12, 2000) may also have been involved. This is a repeat of a previously attempted attack, against the USS The Sullivans, which failed and was apparently undetected (see January 3, 2000). (McDermott, Meyer, and McDonnell 12/22/2002) The 9/11 Commission will later say the Cole bombing “was a full-fledged al-Qaeda operation, supervised directly by bin Laden. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives and equipment.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 190)

Hours after the USS Cole bombing in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), President Clinton says regarding the bombing: “If, as it now appears, this was an act of terrorism, it was a despicable and cowardly act. We will find out who was responsible and hold them accountable.” (ABC News 10/12/2000) But the US will not quickly retaliate against al-Qaeda, as it did with missile strikes after the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa (see August 20, 1998), despite convincing evidence that al-Qaeda was behind the Cole bombing (see Shortly After October 12, 2000, November 2000 or After, and November 7, 2000).

In the months after the USS Cole is bombed in autumn 2000 (see October 12, 2000), the NSA intercepts about half a dozen communications between hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father in law, Ahmed al-Hada. (Myers 7/21/2004; Meyer 12/21/2005; US President 12/26/2005 pdf file) The hub and people associated with it are thought to have played a support role in the Cole bombing (see also October 14-Late November, 2000 and October 4, 2001). (CNN 2/14/2002; Myers 7/21/2004) It was also involved in the bombing of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya (see August 4-25, 1998). The NSA has been monitoring the number for at least two years (see Late August 1998) and the FBI has used it to map al-Qaeda’s global organisation (see Late 1998-Early 2002). The NSA had previously intercepted calls between hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in the US and the hub (see Spring-Summer 2000 and Early 2000-Summer 2001) and also intercepts a call between Alhazmi and the hub a few weeks before 9/11 (see (August 2001)).

Barbara Bodine at a press conference days after the bombing of the USS Cole.Barbara Bodine at a press conference days after the bombing of the USS Cole. [Source: Reuters]The first FBI agents enter Yemen two days after the bombing of the USS Cole in an attempt to discover who was responsible. However, the main part of the team initially gets stuck in Germany because they do not have permission to enter Yemen and they are then unable to accomplish much due to restrictions placed on them and tensions between lead investigator John O’Neill and US Ambassador to Yemen Barbara Bodine. All but about 50 investigators are forced to leave by the end of October. O’Neill’s boss Barry Mawn visits to assess the situation. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 237; Wright 1/14/2002; Sunday Times (London) 2/3/2002; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) Mawn will later comment, “It became clear [Bodine] simply hated his guts.” After a ten day investigation, he concludes O’Neill is doing a fine job, tells Bodine that she is O’Neill’s “only detractor,” and refuses her request to recall him. (Wright 2006, pp. 32) But O’Neill and much of his team are pressured to leave by late November and Bodine will not give him permission to return any time after that. The investigation stalls without his personal relationships to top Yemeni officials. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 237; Wright 1/14/2002; Sunday Times (London) 2/3/2002) Increased security threats force the reduced FBI team still in Yemen to withdraw altogether in June 2001. (PBS Frontline 10/3/2002) The prime minister of Yemen at the time later claims (see Early October 2001) that hijacker “Khalid Almihdhar was one of the Cole perpetrators, involved in preparations. He was in Yemen at the time and stayed after the Cole bombing for a while, then he left.” The Sunday Times later notes, “The failure in Yemen may have blocked off lines of investigation that could have led directly to the terrorists preparing for September 11.” (Sunday Times (London) 2/3/2002)

Pat Patterson.Pat Patterson. [Source: Publicity photo]Los Angeles FBI agent Pat Patterson is sent to Yemen to assist in the investigation of the USS Cole bombing (see October 14-Late November, 2000). While there, he spends several evenings with John O’Neill, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s national security division in New York, who is leading the investigation. O’Neill is the FBI’s top expert on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. The two men speculate about what bin Laden’s next target might be, and end up considering the World Trade Center. Patterson will later recall: “I thought it was unlikely they would hit a target a second time, but John was convinced of it. He said, ‘No, they definitely want to bring that building down.’ He just had that sense and was insistent about it.” (Kolker 12/17/2001; Weiss 2003, pp. 291-292 and 321) After leaving the FBI, O’Neill will actually start work as director of security for the World Trade Center shortly before 9/11 (see August 23, 2001).

Future 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alnami and candidate hijacker Mushabib al-Hamlan obtain US visas from the American consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 14-15 pdf file) Alnami’s visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000) and will issue Alnami with a second visa next year (see April 23, 2001). (9/11 Commission 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State) 1/30/2003) Alnami’s application is incomplete, as he lists his occupation as “student,” but does not provide a complete address for his school. He also gives his US address as “in Los Angeles” and writes that “my friend Moshibab” will be traveling with him. The 9/11 Commission will later suggest that Alnami’s passport may contain fraudulent travel stamps associated with al-Qaeda, although this is not certain and is apparently not noticed at this time. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 14-15 pdf file) The 9/11 Commission will also suggest that one or more of Alnami’s passports may contain a suspicious indicator of Islamist extremism, but this is not certain (see November 6, 1999 and November 2, 2007). Some of the radicals who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 also had Saudi passports with the same indicator (see Around February 1993). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 14-15 pdf file) Before obtaining the visa, Alnami and al-Hamlan followed instructions given them by al-Qaeda leaders Mohammed Atef and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and contacted future 9/11 hijacker Waleed Alshehri in Jeddah. They briefly share an apartment with Alshehri, who provides them with directions to the consulate and shows them how to fill out visa applications. Al-Hamlan will soon drop out of the plot after contacting his family. Alnami will later be said to fly to Beirut with the Alshehris (see Mid-November, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 526)

After leaving Yemen following the bombing of the USS Cole (see Around October 12, 2000), 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar travels to various countries in Asia.
bullet He is reportedly in Malaysia in October (see October 2000);
bullet From late 2000 to February 2001 he stays with his cousin in Mecca, Saudi Arabia (see Late 2000-February 2001);
bullet He then returns to Yemen, to stay with his family at an al-Qaeda communications hub monitored by US intelligence (see February 2001, Late August 1998, and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000));
bullet Following this, he goes to Afghanistan;
bullet There are some reports he travels to the United Arab Emirates in June (see June 2001);
bullet He is also said to be in Malaysia again in June (see June 2001);
bullet Finally, he goes to stay with his cousin in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for another month. Before flying to New York (see July 4, 2001), Almihdhar tells his cousin that Osama bin Laden is planning five attacks on the US and asks the cousin to watch over his family, because he has a job to do (see Between June 1 and July 4, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 237; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 137 pdf file)
After 9/11, there will be speculation that during this period Almihdhar is coordinating the arrival of the other muscle hijackers. According to FBI Director Robert Mueller, this would his explain his stay in Saudi Arabia and his return only after all the other hijackers had arrived. (US Congress 9/26/2002) However, there is some evidence suggesting that Almihdhar may have visited the US in this time frame, perhaps using a passport in a false name (see June 10, 2000).

The FBI’s investigation of the USS Cole bombing in Aden, Yemen, connects the bombers to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, the country’s capital, which has been monitored by the US for at least two years (see Late August 1998 and Mid-August 1998-October 2000). It was also used in the East African embassy bombings (see August 4-25, 1998) and will be used by the 9/11 hijackers (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). It is not known when this connection is made. No apparent action is taken against Ahmed al-Hada, the operative who runs the communications hub, before 9/11. However, this may be due to the importance of intelligence generated from his phone (see Late 1998-Early 2002). In early 2001, al-Hada will be publicly identified as an al-Qaeda operative at the embassy bombings trial, when his phone number is disclosed openly in court and reported in the media (see February 2001 and After). Yet he still is not publicly indicted for either the embassy bombings or the Cole bombing, even though a number of other fugitives are publicly indicted. In 2002, US officials will describe al-Hada as a “prominent al-Qaeda member who is believed to have been involved in the Cole bombing,” and say his phone was used by the bombers to relay messages and “put everything together” before the attack. (MSNBC 2/14/2002; Windrem 5/2005)

Zacarias Moussaoui and two of the 9/11 hijackers purchase flight training equipment from Sporty’s Pilot Shop in Batavia, Ohio.
bullet November 5, 2000: Mohamed Atta purchases flight deck videos for a Boeing 747-200 and a Boeing 757-200, as well as other items;
bullet December 11, 2000: Atta purchases flight deck videos for a Boeing 767-300ER and an Airbus A320-200;
bullet March 19, 2001: Nawaf Alhazmi purchases flight deck videos for a Boeing 747-400, a Boeing 747-200, and a Boeing 777-200, as well as another video. Alhazmi also purchases maps around this time from another shop (see March 23, 2001);
bullet June 20, 2001: Zacarias Moussaoui purchases flight deck videos for a Boeing 747-400 and a Boeing 747-200. (Sporty's 6/20/2001; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 12/11/2001 pdf file) However, it is not clear whether Moussaoui was to take part in 9/11 or some other operation (see January 30, 2003).

In the wake of the USS Cole bombing, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger meets with Defense Secretary William Cohen to discuss a new approach to targeting Osama bin Laden. Berger says: “We’ve been hit many times, and we’ll be hit again. Yet we have no option beyond cruise missiles.” He once again brings up the idea of a “boots on the ground” option—a Delta Force special operation to get bin Laden. A plan is drawn up but the order to execute it is never given. Cohen and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton oppose the plan. By December 21, the CIA reports that it strongly suspects that al-Qaeda was behind the bombing, but fails to definitively make that conclusion. That makes such an attack politically difficult. Says a former senior Clinton aide, “If we had done anything, say, two weeks before the election, we’d be accused of helping [presidential candidate] Al Gore.” (Elliott 8/12/2002; 9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)

Ahmed Alhaznawi in a video released in 2002.Ahmed Alhaznawi in a video released in 2002. [Source: Al Jazeera]9/11 Hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi receives a new passport in Saudi Arabia. It is unknown exactly when Alhaznawi receives this passport, but he uses it to apply for a US visa on November 12, 2000 (see November 12, 2000), so it must be before that. According to the 9/11 Commission, the passport may contain an “indicator of extremism” that is “associated with al-Qaeda.” However, although it is certain some of the other hijackers have such indicator in their passports, it is not certain that Alhaznawi does. The commission will merely say that there “is reason to believe” his passport may contain such indicator and note that it was “issued in the same Saudi passport office” that issued passports with the indicator to some of the other hijackers. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 564; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 9, 15, 33 pdf file) According to author James Bamford, the indicator is a “secret coded indicator, placed there by the Saudi government, warning of a possible terrorist affiliation.” (Bamford 2008, pp. 58-59) The Saudi government reportedly uses this indicator to track some of the Saudi hijackers before 9/11 “with precision” (see November 2, 2007).

Future 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi obtains a US visa from the American consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 15 pdf file) The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the 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) Alhaznawi may present a passport with fraudulent travel stamps and does not fully complete his application form, leaving blank the address of his school. He is not interviewed. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 15, 36, 180-1 pdf file) The 9/11 Commission will also suggest that Alhaznawi’s passport may contain a suspicious indicator of Islamist extremism, but this is not certain (see Before November 12, 2000 and November 2, 2007). Some of the radicals who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 also had Saudi passports with the same indicator (see Around February 1993). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 14-15 pdf file)

9/11 Hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi departs Saudi Arabia. The exact date of his departure is unknown, but it must be after he obtains a US visa at the US consulate in Jeddah on November 12 (see November 12, 2000). Although Alhaznawi’s precise destination is unknown, he reportedly returns to Afghanistan for training by early 2001 (see (December 2000-March 2001)) and will also arrive in the United Arab Emirates from Pakistan in early 2001 (see April 11-June 28, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 15, 36 pdf file) According to the 9/11 Commission, Alhaznawi may have had a passport containing an indicator of Islamic extremism (see Before November 12, 2000). Such indicators were used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007).

Waleed Alshehri.Waleed Alshehri. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Based on intelligence reports, the 9/11 Commission will later say that 9/11 hijackers Wail Alshehri, Waleed Alshehri, and Ahmed Alnami travel in a group from Saudi Arabia to Beirut and then onward to Iran in mid-November 2000. An associate of a senior Hezbollah operative is also on the flight from Beirut to Iran. According to US intelligence, Hezbollah officials in Beirut and Iran are expecting the arrival of a group at around this time and this group is important enough to merit the attention of senior figures in Hezbollah. The commission will say that this flight may be part of Iranian assistance to al-Qaeda consisting of allowing operatives to transit Iran without stamping their passports on the way to and from Afghanistan (see After October 12, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 240, 529)
Contradicted by Families' Claims - However, two to three years before the 9/11 Commission publishes these claims, the families of both Ahmed Alnami and the Alshehri brothers will deny they travel anywhere at this time, and say they leave home in December, not the middle of November. After 9/11, Alnami’s father will initially say Alnami has been missing since December 2000 and will later repeat that he left home in December 2000 in an interview with the Daily Telegraph. (Murphy and Ottaway 9/25/2001; Lamb 9/15/2002) The Alshehri brothers’ family will also claim they do not leave until after mid-November 2000. Initially, the father will say that they left “last Ramadan.” (Al-Buqami 9/17/2001) The month of Ramadan begins on November 27 in 2000. (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs 11/26/2000) Based on a 2002 interview with one of their brothers, the Boston Globe will also later say that they leave in December. (Sennott 3/3/2002) If this is true, the story of their travel with a Hezbollah operative would probably be incorrect.
9/11 Commission's Sourcing - The 9/11 Commission cites intelligence reports, mostly drafted between October and December 2001, as its sources. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 240, 529) These reports come from the NSA. (Shenon 2008, pp. 370-373)
Alnami Possibly Tracked by Saudi Intelligence - According to the 9/11 Commission, Alnami may have had a passport with an indicator of Islamic extremism (see November 6, 1999). Such indicators were used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007).

The US puts out an international arrest warrant for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). The warrant seeks KSM in connection with the 1995 Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995). (Hall 3/13/2003) It is not clear why the US waited so long to issue this warrant, considering that the US connected him to a major terrorist act back in 1993 (see March 20, 1993), learned he was a major figure in the Bojinka plot in 1995 (see After February 7, 1995-January 1996), secretly indicted him in January 1996, and placed a $2 million reward on his head in January 1998 (see January 8, 1998).

Based on information obtained during the investigation of the USS Cole bombing (see Late October-Late November 2000), the FBI asks the CIA for information about al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash and a possible al-Qaeda meeting in Southeast Asia in early 2000, but the CIA withholds the information. The request is sent by FBI Director Louis Freeh on behalf of agent Ali Soufan, who is working on the Cole investigation. Soufan began to suspect such a meeting may have taken place when he learned that two of the operatives involved in the bombing had taken money out of Yemen to give to bin Attash in Thailand before the attack (see January 13, 2000), making him think the money may have been intended for a bigger plot. The CIA is highly aware of the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), which was considered so important that CIA Director George Tenet and other CIA leaders were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000). The CIA has photos of bin Attash and al-Quso attending the meeting (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After), which took place only a few days before al-Quso’s meeting with bin Attash in Thailand. Yet the CIA does not respond to Soufan’s clearly stated request. Author Lawrence Wright will later comment, “The fact that the CIA withheld information about the mastermind of the Cole bombing and the meeting in Malaysia, when directly asked by the FBI, amount[s] to obstruction of justice in the death of seventeen American sailors [who were killed in the Cole bombing].” Although he was not told one of the 9/11 hijackers had a US visa, Freeh was briefed on the Malaysia summit when it took place (see January 6, 2000), but apparently he does not tell Soufan what he knows, and Soufan remains unaware that any kind of al-Qaeda meeting in Southeast Asia even occurred. (Wright 2006, pp. 328-9; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file)

Khallad bin Attash.Khallad bin Attash. [Source: FBI]After talks that last some time, Yemeni authorities agree to provide the FBI team investigating the USS Cole bombing with passport photos of suspects in the attack, including al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. The photos are provided to lead investigators John O’Neill and Ali Soufan, and Soufan immediately sends bin Attash’s photo to the CIA and to an FBI colleague in Islamabad, Pakistan. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 192; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) The FBI colleague is Michael Dorris. (Soufan 2011, pp. 117) The CIA agent is known only as “Chris.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 537) Chris shows the photo to a source, and the source, known only as “Omar,” confirms that the man in the photo is bin Attash. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “This suggested strongly that al-Qaeda was behind the Cole attack.” However, this does not motivate the US to retaliate against al-Qaeda (see Shortly After October 12, 2000). Around this time, the FBI also learns that Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, another al-Qaeda operative involved in the embassy bombings, had a hand in the Cole attack as well (see November-December 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 192; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file)

9/11 hijackers Satam Al Suqami and Majed Moqed fly from Bahrain to Tehran, Iran. Shortly before, they had entered Bahrain from Saudi Arabia, after obtaining US visas there. Suqami continues to Istanbul, Turkey. Moqed’s final destination is not known definitely, but al-Qaeda operative Luai Sakra will say that Moqed arrives with Al Suqami in Turkey for training (see Late 1999-2000), so presumably he takes the same flight as Al Suqami. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 107 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 34 pdf file) The 9/11 Commission will mention this flight in a section dealing with possible co-operation between Iran, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda on travel issues—Iran was allegedly allowing al-Qaeda operatives to pass through Iran on their way to and from Afghanistan without stamping their passports (see October 8-13, 2000, After October 12, 2000, and Mid-November, 2000)—but no there are no direct links between this flight and Iranian operatives. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 240-1)

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). (Johnston and Risen 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.” (Gilmore and Wiser 10/3/2002) In April 2003, al-Quso will escape from a Yemeni prison (see April 11, 2003-March 2004). (Al-Haj 4/11/2003)

9/11 hijackers Hani Hanjour and Nawaf Alhazmi move together from San Diego to Mesa, Arizona, just outside Phoenix. (US News and World Report 6/20/2004) While there, Hanjour spends time training at Arizona Aviation flight school, which he previously attended in January 1998 (see 1998). According to the 9/11 Commission, “He wanted to train on multi-engine planes, but had difficulties because his English was not good enough. The instructor advised him to discontinue but Hanjour said he could not go home without completing the training.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 226) He also attends the JetTech flight school in Phoenix (see January-February 2001). In March 2001, Hanjour moves to Paterson, New Jersey, where he rents an apartment with Salem Alhazmi (see March 2001-September 1, 2001).

The CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, writes a cable noting that further connections have been made between 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and al-Qaeda. This CIA station is already aware that Almihdhar attended an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). Due to these additional connections, the CIA believes that there may be a connection between Almihdhar and the USS Cole bombers and that Almihdhar may have met Fahad al-Quso and Khallad bin Attash, two of the operatives involved in the bombing, in Southeast Asia in January 2000 (see January 13, 2000 and Early December 2000). The station realizes this is important because bin Attash is linked to Osama bin Laden, but also speculates that bin Attash and Almihdhar may be the same person. The reason given for this speculation is that both bin Attash and Almihdhar are in Bangkok, Thailand, at the same time, in the second week of January 2000 (see Mid-Late December 2000). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 269-270 pdf file)

Khallad bin Attash (left) and Khalid Almihdhar (right) were apparently confused by the CIA.Khallad bin Attash (left) and Khalid Almihdhar (right) were apparently confused by the CIA. [Source: FBI]Because the CIA thinks 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash are in the same place at the same time—in Bangkok, Thailand, for a meeting with Fahad al-Quso, an operative involved in the attack of the USS Cole, in January 2000 (see January 5-6, 2000)—and possibly because of the similarity between Almihdhar’s first name Khalid and bin Attash’s nickname Khallad, some officers apparently theorize that bin Attash and Almihdhar may be the same person. However, the FBI is not informed of this. In order to confirm or refute this theory, the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, asks for surveillance photos of an al-Qaeda summit that Almihdhar attended, intending to show the photos to a source who knows bin Attash and has previously identified him in another photo (see November 22-December 16, 2000 and Early January 2001). However, there is no record of this theory being communicated to the FBI, even though the CIA knows bin Attash was involved in the Cole bombing and the FBI is investigating him (see Late October-Late November 2000). Some CIA cables drafted at this time contain information about bin Attash and information not related to bin Attash; CIA officers are instructed to share the information not related to bin Attash with the FBI, but are not instructed to share the information about bin Attash and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later say that if the CIA had told the FBI more about bin Attash around this time, the FBI would have asked for more information about Almihdhar and had a better chance of locating him before 9/11. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 269-270, 278 pdf file)

Damaged cars from the Christmas Eve bombings.Damaged cars from the Christmas Eve bombings. [Source: SBS Dateline]Al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) sets off two series of bombs, first in Indonesia, then in the Philippines. The Christmas Eve attacks in Indonesia comprise a series of 38 bombings in 11 cities and are directed against churches. Nineteen people are killed and over a hundred injured. (LaMoshi 10/8/2004) The attacks in the Philippines kill 22 and injure 120 in the country’s capital, Manila. The operation, involving attacks on a train, a bus, an abandoned petrol station, an airport car park, and a park, is apparently carried out by Indonesian JI operative Fathur Rohman Al-Ghozi. (BBC 2/27/2002) Many militants are arrested after the attacks. The investigation leads to JI and al-Qaeda leader Hambali, a veteran Islamic fighter who was involved in the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995), is tied to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see June 1994), and attended an al-Qaeda Malaysia summit in 2000, which was monitored by Malaysia intelligence and the CIA (see January 5-8, 2000). Although Hambali, an Indonesian, has lived in Malaysia since the mid-1990s, the authorities cannot find him and say that he has fled to Saudi Arabia (see January 2001 and after). (Jakarta Post 2/7/2001) JI’s spiritual leader, Abu Bakar Bashir, is also arrested, but then released. (CNN 2/26/2004) Hambali will finally be captured in August 2003 in Thailand (see August 12, 2003). In February 2001, evidence will come out suggesting links between some of the bombers and the Indonesian military (see February 20, 2001).

Documents obtained by Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Salem Alhazmi indicate that they are in the New Jersey / New York area at this time, although the cards may be later fakes. All three hijackers obtain USA ID cards whose expiry date is December 30, 2006. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 191-2 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006) USAID Systems, the Florida firm that manufactured the system through which the cards were issued, will later tell Time magazine that Almihdhar’s card was issued exactly six years before its expiration date. (Burger and Bennett 8/29/2005) However, according to the FBI and the 9/11 Commission, Nawaf Alhazmi is in Arizona (see December 12, 2000-March 2001), and Salem Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar are in the Middle East at this time (see June 10, 2000, Late October 2000-July 4, 2001, and April 23-June 29, 2001). Almihdhar’s card later proves to be a forgery, and may therefore not have been issued on this date. The Alhazmi brothers’ cards may also be forgeries (see (July-August 2001))

The CIA’s Counterterrorist Center passes a photo of hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and a photo of hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000) to the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan. The station is to show the photos to a source, later referred to as “Omar,” to see if he can identify Khalid Almihdhar or al-Qaeda manager Khallad bin Attash, as Omar has previously identified bin Attash in another photo (see November 22-December 16, 2000). According to cables drafted at this time, the overseas station requested the photo of Almihdhar because it thinks that Almihdhar and bin Attash might be the same person (see Mid-Late December 2000). It is unclear why the photo of Alhazmi is also passed at the same time. The CIA has numerous other photos taken at the Malaysia summit as well as video (see January 5, 2000), but these are not passed. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 269-270 pdf file)

Yemeni authorities receive photographs of operatives who attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. The exact number of photographs they receive is not known, but they include three photos, of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a man who looks like one of their associates, Fahad al-Quso, that are later shown to the FBI (see June 11, 2001). It is unclear who provides the photos to the Yemenis, but the CIA has them and is interested in the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), so presumably they come from the CIA. The photos are highly relevant to the FBI, as they connect extremists known to be involved in the Cole attack to Almihdhar and Alhazmi, but even though the FBI is in charge of the Cole investigation, the CIA continues to withhold the information from the FBI for months (see January 5, 2001 and After, February 1, 2001, Late May, 2001 and August 30, 2001). The Yemenis’ response to the photographs is unknown. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 293 pdf file) The CIA is aware by June 2001 that Almihdhar is the son-in-law of Ahmed al-Hada, a Yemeni extremist who runs a communications hub for Osama bin Laden (see Late August 1998), but it is not known whether they obtain this information now or at some other time. (Wright 2006, pp. 343)

Nawaf Alhazmi (left) and Khallad bin Attash (right) are said to have been confused by an informer.
Nawaf Alhazmi (left) and Khallad bin Attash (right) are said to have been confused by an informer. [Source: FBI]A CIA officer in Islamabad, Pakistan, known only as “Chris” shows a source known as “Omar,” who provides information on al-Qaeda, photographs of future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi taken at the al-Qaeda Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 537; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 268-271 pdf file) Omar has previously identified a photo of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see November 22-December 16, 2000) and Chris has been told that bin Attash and Almihdhar might be the same person (see Mid-Late December 2000). Omar says that the photo of Alhazmi, who the CIA apparently does not recognize at this time, actually shows bin Attash. As Omar cannot identify Almihdhar, but says he can identify bin Attash, this indicates Almihdhar and bin Attash are not the same person. The identification causes the CIA to believe that bin Attash attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. Although this belief is based on a mistaken identification, it is actually correct, as bin Attash was present at the summit—the CIA has photos of bin Attash there, but fails to show them to Omar. This identification is important because bin Attash is a known bin Laden operative connected to the USS Cole attack and East African embassy bombings. The CIA also knows that Almihdhar and Alhazmi were at the summit, so this could connect them to the Cole attack. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 268-271 pdf file) An FBI official named Michael Dorris is also at the meeting. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 272 pdf file; Soufan 2011) However, Dorris does not learn of the identification of bin Attash by “Omar.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 270-274 pdf file)

After an informer later referred to as “Omar” tells the CIA that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash was at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 4, 2001), the CIA fails to communicate this information to the FBI, even though it is important for the FBI’s investigation of the USS Cole bombing and connects future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to the Cole bombers. Omar is a joint FBI/CIA source, but the FBI assistant legal attach√© responsible for him, Michael Dorris, will later say he does not know of this identification, and documentation he drafts at this time indicates he is unaware of it. It is unclear why Dorris is unaware of the identification, although he does not speak Omar’s language and may have been out of the room making photocopies when Omar identified bin Attash in a photo of the Malaysia summit for his CIA counterpart. That officer, known only as “Chris,” will later say he has no independent recollection of any particular meeting with Omar.
Comparison with Previous Meeting - However, when Omar previously identified a photo of bin Attash provided by Yemeni authorities on December 16, 2000 (see November 22-December 16, 2000), Chris had him repeat the identification specifically for the benefit of Dorris, and the cable he drafted about the meeting said this clearly. In addition, Dorris will later say that he recalls the specific circumstances of the previous debriefing and would be able to recount them, including the identification of bin Attash in the photograph provided by the Yemenis.
Three Cables Drafted - Chris drafts three cables about the January 4 meeting; one internal cable provides little detail about it, but says bin Attash was identified in one of the photos, a cable to the general US intelligence community fails to mention the identification of bin Attash, as does a third cable, which is sent to the CIA.
CIA Later Makes False Claims - However, according to statements made by CIA officials after 9/11, at this time the CIA thinks that the FBI knows that bin Attash has been identified in the photos. For example, Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center Cofer Black will tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, “[O]ur records establish that the special agents from the FBI’s New York Field Office who were investigating the USS Cole attack reviewed the information about the Kuala Lumpur photo in late January 2001.” However, there is no documentary record of information about the second identification placing bin Attash in Kuala Lumpur with the two hijackers being passed to the FBI at this time. In addition, in July 2001 CIA manager Tom Wilshire will suggest passing this information to the FBI (see July 13, 2001), possibly meaning he thinks it is not passed at this time. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 264-278 pdf file) The CIA will not notify the FBI that Omar identified bin Attash in the photo until August 30, 2001, less than two weeks before 9/11 (see August 30, 2001).

A CIA officer in Islamabad, Pakistan, asks Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, to “touch base” with FBI agents investigating the bombing of the USS Cole who are preparing to come to Islamabad to interview a joint FBI/CIA source about the identification of one of the Cole bombers, but the suggested briefing is either never given or lacks a crucial detail. Alec Station is aware that the source, referred to later as “Omar,” has identified al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash as being present at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 4, 2001) and that the FBI agents are going to Islamabad specifically to document another identification of bin Attash by Omar (see November 22-December 16, 2000). The cable from the officer in Islamabad, known only as “Chris,” even notes that Omar is “currently of very high interest to our [FBI] colleagues,” but Alec Station fails to notify the Cole investigators that bin Attash attended the summit in Malaysia. This is important because it connects bin Attash to future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, who also attended the summit (see January 5-8, 2000). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 275-8 pdf file) Chris will meet the FBI agents in Pakistan, but will also fail to mention the identification of bin Attash at the Malaysia summit to them (see February 1, 2001).

Following a series of bombings in Indonesia and the Philippines at the end of the previous year (see December 24-30, 2000), Southeast Asian authorities begin to investigate the Islamic militant group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) with more urgency (see January 2001 and after). One of the prime suspects in the bombings is Hambali, a JI leader, and his name appears in the media. Initially, Hambali is thought to have fled to Saudi Arabia. (New Straits Times 1/25/2001; New Straits Times 1/27/2001; Jakarta Post 2/7/2001; Jakarta Post 2/9/2001) The Malaysian government finds more information out about him in the spring and puts out an all points bulletin for him (see April-May 2001). The FBI had previously connected Hambali to the Bojinka plot (see May 23, 1999) of Ramzi Yousef and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, and Hambali attended the Malaysia summit in January 2000 at which al-Qaeda apparently planned various attacks, including 9/11. The summit was monitored by Malaysian intelligence, which recognized Hambali as an attendee (see Shortly After January 8, 2000) and a report on the summit was passed on to the CIA (see January 5-8, 2000). However, the publicity Hambali receives at this point apparently does not lead to a re-examination of the Malaysia summit.

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s plan to deal with al-Qaeda is given to National Security Adviser Rice on this day. It includes a warning that al-Qaeda cells already exist in the US. The plan was outlined in a document he prepared in December 2000 (see January 25, 2001), which stated that US intelligence believes there are al-Qaeda “sleeper cells” in the US and that they’re not just a potential problem but “a major threat in being.” Clarke noted in the document that two key al-Qaeda members involved in the Millennium plot were naturalized US citizens (presumably a reference to Raed Hijazi and Khalil Deek) and that one suspect in the 1998 embassy bombings had “informed the FBI that an extensive network of al-Qaeda ‘sleeper agents’ currently exists in the US” (see August 12-25, 1998). It also said that Ahmed Ressam’s attempted December 1999 attack revealed al-Qaeda supporters in the US (see December 15-31, 1999). Finally, the Clarke warned that more attacks have almost certainly been set in motion. (Gellman 1/20/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260, 535)

The Washington Post reports that the US has confirmed the link between al-Qaeda and the October 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). (Vise and Eggen 1/27/2001) This conclusion is stated without hedge in a February 9 briefing for Vice President Cheney. (Gellman 1/20/2002) In the wake of that bombing, Bush stated on the campaign trail, “I hope that we can gather enough intelligence to figure out who did the act and take the necessary action.… There must be a consequence.” (Gellman 1/20/2002) Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz later complains that by the time the new administration is in place, the Cole bombing was “stale.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld concurs, stating that too much time had passed to respond. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The new Bush administration fails to resume the covert deployment of cruise missile submarines and gunships on six-hour alert near Afghanistan’s borders that had begun under President Clinton. The standby force gave Clinton the option of an immediate strike against targets in Afghanistan harboring al-Qaeda’s top leadership. This failure makes a possible assassination of bin Laden much more difficult. (Gellman 1/20/2002)

The Bush White House holds its first National Security Council meeting. The focus is on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Bamford 2004, pp. 261) This meeting sets the tone for how President Bush intends to handle foreign affairs. Counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke wants to focus on the threat from al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism, especially in light of the recent attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). But Bush isn’t interested in terrorism. (Unger 2007, pp. 201)
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict to be 'Tilted Back Towards Israel' - Instead, Bush channels his neoconservative advisers, particularly incoming Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (see February 18, 1992 and April-May 1999), in taking a new approach to Middle East affairs, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Referring to President Clinton’s efforts to make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Bush declares: “Clinton overreached, and it all fell apart. That’s why we’re in trouble. If the two sides don’t want peace, there’s no way we can force them. I don’t see much we can do over there at this point. I think it’s time to pull out of the situation.… We’re going to correct the imbalance of the previous administration on the Mideast conflict. We’re going to tilt it back towards Israel.” His view is that the Israeli government, currently headed by Ariel Sharon, should be left alone to deal as it sees fit with the Palestinians. “I’m not going to go by past reputations when it comes to Sharon. I’m going to take him at face value. We’ll work on a relationship based on how things go.” Justifying his position, he recalls a recent trip he took to Israel with the Republican Jewish Coalition. “We flew over the Palestinian camps. Looked real bad down there.… I don’t see much we can do over there at this point.” Secretary of State Colin Powell, surprised by Bush’s intended policy towards the 50-year old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, objects. According to Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neil, Powell “stresse[s] that a pullback by the United States would unleash Sharon and the Israeli army.” When Powell warns the president that the “consequences of that [policy] could be dire, especially for the Palestinians,” Bush shrugs. “Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things,” he suggests. (Bamford 2004, pp. 265-266; Lang 6/2004) In this and subsequent meetings, Bush’s National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, “parrot[s]… the neocon line,” in author Craig Unger’s words, by discussing Iraq. “Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region,” she says, clearly alluding to regime change and overthrow in that nation (see March 8, 1992, Autumn 1992, July 8, 1996, Late Summer 1996, Late Summer 1996, 1997-1998, January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, and Shortly after January 20, 2001). (Unger 2007, pp. 201)
Possible WMD Sites in Iraq Spark Bush to Order Plans for Ground Assaults - The meeting then moves on to the subject of Iraq. Rice begins noting “that Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region.” She turns the meeting over to CIA Director George Tenet who summarizes current intelligence on Iraq. He mentions a factory that “might” be producing “either chemical or biological materials for weapons manufacture.” The evidence he provides is a picture of the factory with some truck activity, a water tower, and railroad tracks going into a building. He admits that there is “no confirming intelligence” on just what is going on at these sites. Bush orders Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Hugh Shelton to begin preparing options for the use of US ground forces in Iraq’s northern and southern no-fly zones in support of a native-based insurgency against the Hussein regime. (Bamford 2004, pp. 267; Lang 6/2004) Author Ron Suskind later sums up the discussion: “Meeting adjourned. Ten days in, and it was about Iraq. Rumsfeld had said little, Cheney nothing at all, though both men clearly had long entertained the idea of overthrowing Saddam.” Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang later writes: “If this was a decision meeting, it was strange. It ended in a presidential order to prepare contingency plans for war in Iraq.” (Lang 6/2004)
Regime Change Intended from the Outset - US Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, later recalls: “From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go.… From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime. Day one, these things were laid and sealed.” O’Neill will say officials never questioned the logic behind this policy. No one ever asked, “Why Saddam?” and “Why now?” Instead, the issue that needed to be resolved was how this could be accomplished. “It was all about finding a way to do it,” O’Neill will explain. “That was the tone of it. The president saying ‘Go find me a way to do this.’” (CBS News 1/10/2004; Stevenson 1/12/2004; Borger 1/12/2004; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 234) Another official who attends the meeting will later say that the tone of the meeting implied a policy much more aggressive than that of the previous administration. “The president told his Pentagon officials to explore the military options, including use of ground forces,” the official will tell ABC News. “That went beyond the Clinton administration’s halfhearted attempts to overthrow Hussein without force.” (Cochran 1/13/2004) Unger later writes, “These were the policies that even the Israeli right had not dared to implement.” One senior administration official says after the meeting, “The Likudniks are really in charge now.” (Unger 2007, pp. 201)
Funding the Iraqi National Congress - The council does more than just discuss Iraq. It makes a decision to allow the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an Iraqi opposition group, to use $4 million to fund efforts inside Iraq to compile information relating to Baghdad’s war crimes, military operations, and other internal developments. The money had been authorized by Congress in late 2004. The US has not directly funded Iraqi opposition activities inside Iraq itself since 1996. (Kettle 2/3/2005)
White House Downplays Significance - After Paul O’Neill first provides his account of this meeting in 2004, the White House will attempt to downplay its significance. “The stated policy of my administration toward Saddam Hussein was very clear,” Bush will tell reporters during a visit to Mexico In January 2004. “Like the previous administration, we were for regime change.… And in the initial stages of the administration, as you might remember, we were dealing with desert badger or fly-overs and fly-betweens and looks, and so we were fashioning policy along those lines.” (Stevenson 1/12/2004)

According to the 9/11 Commission, Khalid Almihdhar may take a flight from Syria to Iran and continue from there to a point near the Afghan border. The 9/11 Commission will mention this flight in a section dealing with possible co-operation between Iran, Hezbollah, and al-Qaeda on travel issues—Iran was allegedly allowing al-Qaeda operatives to pass through it on their way to and from Afghanistan without stamping their passports (see October 8-13, 2000, After October 12, 2000, and Mid-November, 2000)—but there are no direct links between this flight and Iranian operatives. The 9/11 Commission’s statement that Almihdhar entered Iran at this time will be based on intelligence reports from the NSA, mostly drafted shortly after 9/11. The NSA has been intercepting Almihdhar’s calls for some time, so it may have obtained this information from these intercepts (see and Late August 1998 and Early 2000-Summer 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 241, 529; Shenon 2008, pp. 370-3) Almihdhar was at the Yemen hub earlier in February, which is closely monitored by US intelligence at the time, so the NSA would have had a good opportunity to track his movements from there (see February 2001).

During the trial of men accused of the 1998 East African embassy bombings, an FBI witness mentions that one of the defendants, Mohamed al-Owhali, told investigators that he had stayed in a Yemen-based al-Qaeda communications hub run by Ahmed al-Hada. He also revealed that he had called the hub before and after the Nairobi bombing. (Note: al-Hada’s surname is transliterated as “al-Hazza” during the trial.) The existence of the communications hub in Yemen is then reported by the US State Department, CNN, the Guardian, and UPI over the next few months. (Sale 2/13/2001; Aita 3/7/2001; United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14 3/7/2001; Hirschkorn 5/2/2001; Burke 8/5/2001) The hub was also previously mentioned at a big trial of Islamic Jihad operatives in Cairo (see 1999). The 9/11 hijackers have been calling the communications hub by phone since early 1999, at least (see, e.g., Early 1999). The calls are being intercepted by the NSA and some of them have originated from within the US (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Perhaps unaware that the hub’s existence has been disclosed, they will make at least one more call to the hub (see (August 2001)).

In a series of articles for UPI, journalist Richard Sale reveals many details about the NSA’s electronic surveillance of al-Qaeda. “The United States has scored notable successes in an information war against the organization of terrorist suspect Osama bin Laden. US hackers have gone into foreign bank accounts and deleted or transferred money and jammed or blocked the group’s cell or satellite phones.” It is also mentioned that “Bin Laden is surrounded by US listening posts.” The articles discuss the extent to which the NSA’s Echelon satellite network is monitoring al-Qaeda, and even seems to make an oblique reference to monitoring the al-Qaeda safe house in Yemen that enabled the NSA to discover valuable information on hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see December 29, 1999). The articles also reveal that since 1995, bin Laden tried to protect his communications with a “full suite of tools,” but “codes were broken.” An expert adds that “you don’t use your highest level of secure communications all the time. It’s too burdensome, and it exposes it to other types of exploitation.” The articles also imply that Echelon is used in illegal ways. An anonymous former senior US intelligence official says, “This isn’t about legality. This is about trying to protect American lives.” (United Press International 2/9/2001; Sale 2/13/2001; Daly 2/21/2001) While bin Laden’s communications were certainly thoroughly monitored before 9/11 (see November 1996-Late August 1998), no evidence has come to light since 9/11 that the US was hacking into bank accounts or jamming signals.

Location of the Indonesian cities hit in the Christmas Eve bombings.Location of the Indonesian cities hit in the Christmas Eve bombings. [Source: SBS Dateline]A series of 38 church bombings on Christmas Eve, 2000, killed 19 people in 11 Indonesian cities. The al-Qaeda affiliate Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) is blamed (see December 24-30, 2000). However, in February 2001, the respected Indonesian newsweekly Tempo publishes a cover story suggesting links between the bombings and the Indonesian military, the TNI. The article points out that Edi Sugiarto, who was quickly arrested and confessed to assembling 15 of the bombs used in the town of Medan, has long run a car repair shop in the province of Aceh, where a separatist group named GAM has been fighting for many years. Members of TNI and Indonesia’s special forces, Kopassus, regularly went to his shop for repairs and just to hang out. As a result, GAM claimed he was a TNI lackey and burned down his shop and house in 1997. Phone records also indicate that Sugiarto called Fauzi Hasbi seven times before the bombings. Hasbi is a leader of JI, but Tempo outs him as an Indonesian government mole. In 2005, two years after Hasbi’s death, the Australian television program SBS Dateline will provide additional evidence of Hasbi’s long-time links to the TNI (see 1979-February 22, 2003). Fasbi also called Jacob Tanwijaya, a businessman well connected with the TNI, 35 times. That businessman in turn talked on the phone to Lt. Col. Iwan Prilianto, a Kopassus special forces intelligence officer, over 70 times. However, these potential military links are never investigated and only Sugiarto and other alleged JI figures are arrested and later convicted for a role in the bombings. SBS Dateline will later report that “reputable sources claim [Sugiarto] was so severely tortured before his trial he would have admitted to anything.” (Tempo 2/20/2001; SBS Dateline 10/12/2005) Fasbi also made at least one call to another key figure in the bombings. The International Crisis Group, an international think tank, will later comment, “[I]t is hard to avoid the suspicion that someone in the armed forces must have known that at least the Medan part [of the bombings] was in the works…” (International Crisis Group 12/11/2002)

After entering the US, Zacarias Moussaoui engages in activities that appear to mirror those of the 9/11 hijackers. Both Moussaoui and the hijackers do the following:
bullet Take flight training (see February 23-June 2001 and July 6-December 19, 2000);
bullet Physically import large amounts of cash (see October 2000-February 2001 and January 15, 2000-August 2001);
bullet Purchase knives with short blades that can be carried onto airliners (see August 16, 2001 and July 8-August 30, 2001);
bullet Take fitness training (see August 16, 2001 and May 6-September 6, 2001);
bullet Obtain several identification documents (see April 12-September 7, 2001 and August 1-2, 2001); and
bullet Purchase flight deck videos from the same shop (see November 5, 2000-June 20, 2001).
In addition, Moussaoui is supported by some of the same al-Qaeda operatives as the 9/11 hijackers: Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see July 29, 2001-August 3, 2001 and June 13-September 25, 2000) and Yazid Sufaat (see September-October 2000 and January 5-8, 2000). At Moussaoui’s trial, the prosecution will cite these parallel activities in its argument that Moussaoui was connected to 9/11, rather than some follow-up plot. There is also one reported meeting between Moussaoui and two of the lead hijackers before 9/11 (see August 1, 2001), but this will not be mentioned at the trial (see March 6-May 4, 2006). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006)

Joseph Nacchio.Joseph Nacchio. [Source: publicity photo via Business Week]Qwest CEO Joe Nacchio meets with NSA officials in Fort Meade, Maryland, to discuss two topics of mutual interest: a $100 million infrastructure upgrade that Qwest, one of the US’s largest telecommunications firms, can perform for the agency, and another topic that remains classified. (The meeting will be revealed in heavily redacted court documents released six years later—see October 12, 2007). Observers believe the discussion is about the NSA’s warrantless wiretapping program of US citizens, which the government will conceal for years (see December 15, 2005), and which the Bush administration will insist did not come about until after the 9/11 attacks (see December 17, 2005). Nacchio meets with NSA officials to discuss the agency’s “Groundbreaker” project (see February 2001), which the NSA will later claim is merely a modernization and upgrade of its technological infrastructure. A June 2006 lawsuit against AT&T over that firm’s cooperation with the NSA alleges that “Groundbreaker” is part of a secret domestic surveillance operation. According to the court documents, Nacchio and the NSA are unable to agree on an unrevealed topic of discussion; after that disagreement, the NSA will withdraw its “Groundbreaker” contract from consideration for Qwest. Nacchio, according to the documents, believes that the unrevealed topic of discussion involves illegal and inappropriate actions. He asks the agency officials whether “a warrant or other legal process had been secured.” The NSA officials, according to the documents, have a “disinclination on the part of the authorities to use any legal process,” leading Nacchio to conclude that “the requests violated the privacy requirements of the Telecommunications Act.” When Nacchio refuses to cooperate with the NSA, the agency withdraws its offer of the “Groundbreaker” contract. (Juliano 10/12/2007; Marketwatch 10/13/2007) James F.X. Payne, the former chief of Qwest’s government business unit, will later tell investigators, “There was a feeling also that the NSA acted as agents for other government agencies.” (Harris 11/2/2007) In 2007, the New York Times will reveal that Qwest refuses to give the NSA access to its most localized communications switches, carrying largely domestic phone calls. The arrangement would have permitted neighborhood-by-neighborhood surveillance of phone traffic without a court order. (Lichtblau, Risen, and Shane 12/16/2007) The NSA has more success with other companies—and has enjoyed a long and fruitful relationship with Qwest as well (see February 2001).

The National Security Agency (NSA) engages in apparently illegal surveillance of US citizens beginning shortly after the inauguration of George W. Bush as president. This will not be revealed to the public until media reports in January 2006, a month after the press revealed that the NSA had engaged in similar illegal wiretaps and surveillance of American citizens after the 9/11 attacks, using those attacks as justification for the surveillance (see December 15, 2005). The former NSA and counterterrorism officials who reveal the pre-9/11 spying will claim that the wiretaps, e-mail monitoring, and Internet surveillance were all “inadvertent,” as NSA computers “unintentionally” intercepted US citizens’ international phone calls and e-mails when the computers flagged keywords. NSA protocol demands that such “inadvertent” surveillance end as soon as NSA analysts realize they are spying on those citizens, and the names of the monitored citizens are supposed to be deleted from the NSA databases. Instead, the NSA is instructed to continue monitoring some citizens that are characterized as “of interest” to White House officials. Those officials include President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, say the former NSA and counterterrorism officials. In December 2000, the NSA told the incoming Bush administration that some US citizens are being inadvertently targeted for surveillance, but the names of the citizens are deleted because the law expressly prohibits the NSA from spying on US citizens, US corporations, or even permanent US residents (see December 2000). However, once Bush takes office in January 2001, that practice undergoes a radical change. In the first few months of the administration, President Bush assigns Vice President Cheney to make himself more of a presence at the various US intelligence agencies, particularly the CIA, NSA, and DIA. Cheney, along with other officials at the State and Defense Departments, begins making repeated requests to the NSA to reveal the identities of those Americans which had previously been deleted, so that administration officials can more fully understand the context and scope of the intelligence. Such requests are technically legal. But Cheney goes well beyond the law when he requests, as he frequently does, that the NSA continue monitoring specific Americans already caught up in the NSA’s wiretaps and electronic surveillance. A former White House counterterrorism official will later claim that Cheney advised Bush of what he was learning from the NSA. “What’s really disturbing is that some of those people the vice president was curious about were people who worked at the White House or the State Department,” says another former counterterrorism official. “There was a real feeling of paranoia that permeated from the vice president’s office and I don’t think it had anything to do with the threat of terrorism. I can’t say what was contained in those taps that piqued his interest. I just don’t know.” (Leopold 1/17/2006)

Al- Qaeda leader Hambali.Al- Qaeda leader Hambali. [Source: Virtual Information Center]In April 2001, the Malaysian government connects al-Qaeda leader Hambali with a gun-smuggling syndicate, and as a result police place an all points bulletin for him. A month later, Hambali is connected to a botched bank robbery also in Malaysia. Twenty-six members of the Malaysian militant group Kumpulan Militan Malaysia (KMM) are arrested and questioned about the robbery. Authorities discover the group has been responsible for a number of attacks, including the bombing of a Hindu temple, and that Hambali is a top leader. (Pereira 2/10/2002; New Straits Times 8/16/2003) A photograph of Hambali is found in a raid at this time, and is matched with a photo of him discovered in 1995 on Ramzi Yousef’s computer that contained files detailing the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995). (Pereira 2/2/2002) His picture appears in the media no later than mid-August. (Emmanuel 8/18/2001; Ahmad 9/9/2001) The US is already aware of Hambali’s involvement in the Bojinka plot (see May 23, 1999). However, this new evidence of Hambali’s importance does not lead to any renewed focus on the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit attended by Hambali and two of the 9/11 hijackers that was monitored by Malaysian intelligence (see January 5-8, 2000).

One of the approximately 30 radomes at the Echelon station in Menwith Hill, England. A radome covers an antenna to protect it from the weather and disguise the direction it is pointing.One of the approximately 30 radomes at the Echelon station in Menwith Hill, England. A radome covers an antenna to protect it from the weather and disguise the direction it is pointing. [Source: Matt Crypto / Public domain]The BBC reports on advances in electronic surveillance. The US’s global surveillance program, Echelon, has become particularly effective in monitoring mobile phones, recording millions of calls simultaneously and checking them against a powerful search engine designed to pick out key words that might represent a security threat. Laser microphones can pick up conversations from up to a kilometer away by monitoring window vibrations. If a bug is attached to a computer keyboard, it is possible to monitor exactly what is being keyed in, because every key on a computer has a unique sound when depressed. (BBC 4/4/2001) Furthermore, a BBC report on a European Union committee investigation into Echelon one month later notes that the surveillance network can sift through up to 90 percent of all Internet traffic, as well as monitor phone conversations, mobile phone calls, fax transmissions, net browsing history, satellite transmissions and so on. Even encryption may not help much. The BBC suggests that “it is likely that the intelligence agencies can crack open most commercially available encryption software.” (BBC 5/29/2001)

Ahmed Shah Massoud speaking before European Parliament.Ahmed Shah Massoud speaking before European Parliament. [Source: Robert Sanchez/ Black Star]Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, has been trying to get aid from the US but his people are only allowed to meet with low level US officials. In an attempt to get his message across, he addresses the European Parliament: “If President Bush doesn’t help us, these terrorists will damage the US and Europe very soon.” (Islam 4/7/2001; Elliott 8/12/2002) A classified US intelligence document states, “Massoud’s intelligence staff is aware that the attack against the US will be on a scale larger than the 1998 embassy bombings, which killed over two hundred people and injured thousands (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).” (Defense Intelligence Agency 11/21/2001 pdf file) Massoud also meets privately with some CIA officials while in Europe (see Early April 2001). He tells them that his guerrilla war against the Taliban is faltering and unless the US gives a significant amount of aid, the Taliban will conquer all of Afghanistan. No more aid is forthcoming. (Coll 2/23/2004)

The muscle hijackers arrive in Dubai on their way to the US (see April 23-June 29, 2001):
bullet April 11: It is not known when Ahmed Alghamdi first arrives in Dubai, but he leaves on April 8, traveling to an unknown destination, and returns on April 11;
bullet April 12: Satam al Suqami arrives in the United Arab Emirates from Malaysia (see April 1-May 27, 2001);
bullet May 7, 2001: Ahmed Alhaznawi arrives in Abu Dhabi from Karachi by plane;
bullet May 13: Ahmed Alnami arrives in the United Arab Emirates by plane from Saudi Arabia;
bullet May 26: Hamza Alghamdi enters the United Arab Emirates;
bullet May 27: Abdulaziz Alomari arrives in Dubai from Malaysia (see April 1-May 27, 2001);
bullet June 1: It is not known when Wail Alshehri first arrives in Dubai, but he leaves on May 29, traveling to an unknown destination, and returns on June 1 with Ahmed Alhaznawi, who previously arrived on May 7, but must have left in the meantime;
bullet June 12: Saeed Alghamdi arrives in the United Arab Emirates from Saudi Arabia;
bullet June 28: Salem Alhazmi arrives in the United Arab Emirates from Saudi Arabia. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 42-50 pdf file)
The hijackers typically remain in Dubai for a few weeks before moving on to the US (see April 23-June 29, 2001). While in Dubai the hijackers purchase traveler’s checks:
bullet April 28: Majed Moqed purchases $2,980 in MasterCard travelers’ checks from the Thomas Cook Exchange in the nearby emirate of Sharjah;
bullet May 27, 2001: Ahmed Alnami purchases $10,000 of American Express travelers’ checks and Hamza Alghamdi purchases the same amount of Visa travelers’ checks in Dubai;
bullet June 6, 2001: Ahmed Alhaznawi purchases $3,000 of American Express travelers’ checks in Dubai;
bullet June 7, 2001: Wail Alshehri purchases $14,000 of American Express travelers’ checks in Sharjah;
bullet June 24: Fayez Ahmed Banihammad purchases $4,000 of Thomas Cook travelers’ checks in Sharjah. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 44-48 pdf file)
In addition, Wail Alshehri obtains an international driving permit in Sharjah on June 5. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 47 pdf file) Some of these hijackers are assisted by plot facilitator Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi (see Early-Late June, 2001). It is not clear who helps the others, although Dubai-based Ali Abdul Aziz Ali previously assisted some of the hijackers (see June 29, 2000-September 18, 2000), and Saeed Sheikh, who has Dubai connections, may also assist some of them (see Early August 2001). In addition, Victor Bout, an arms dealer who flies shipments for al-Qaeda and the Taliban through the UAE, is based in Sharjah (see Mid-1996-October 2001).

Dale Watson, head of the FBI’s counterterrorism program, sends a memo to FBI Director Louis Freeh warning that Islamic radicals are planning a “terrorist operation.” The memo states that “Sunni extremists with links to Ibn al Kahhatb, an extremist leader in Chechnya, and to Osama bin Laden [have been involved in] serious operational planning… since late 2000, with an intended culmination in late spring 2001.” Watson says the planning was sparked by the renewal of the Palestinian Intifada in September 2000. “[A]ll the players are heavily intertwined,” the memo notes. Additionally, the memo says that “[m]ultiple sources also suggest that [bin Laden’s] organization is planning a terrorist attack against US interests.” The memo is also sent to other FBI officials, such as International Terrorism Operations Section (ITOS) chief Michael Rolince, who will later be involved in the case of Zacarias Moussaoui (see Late August 2001 and (August 30-September 10, 2001)) (Federal Bureau of Investigation 4/2001 pdf file) Based on this report, ITOS sends an e-mail (see April 13, 2001) to all field offices, asking agents to help identify information pertaining to the “current operational activities relating to Sunni extremism.” The e-mail does not mention Ibn Khattab. (Sniffen 3/21/2006) These plans may be for the 9/11 attacks—at least some of the alleged hijackers are linked to bin Laden (see January 5-8, 2000), and Zacarias Moussaoui is linked to Ibn Khattab (see Late 1999-Late 2000). Some of the hijackers fought in Chechnya and therefore might also be linked to Ibn Khattab (see 1996-December 2000). Officials at FBI headquarters will later refuse a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings saying they believe Ibn Khattab is not closely connected to Osama bin Laden and is not hostile to the US (see August 22, 2001 and August 23-27, 2001).

Shortly after discovering that Osama bin Laden and Chechen rebel leader Ibn Khattab may be planning an attack against the US (see Before April 13, 2001), the FBI sends a message to all its field offices summarizing intelligence reporting to date on the Sunni extremist threat (see February 6, 2001). (Bin Laden is the most wanted Sunni extremist by this time.) The offices are told to task all resources, including human sources and electronic databases, for any information pertaining to “current operational activities relating to Sunni extremism.” No specific domestic threat is mentioned, but the FBI’s mission is to protect domestic security while the CIA is in charge of overseas threats. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 255; US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 1 pdf file) There is no mention about what is done, if anything, in response to this message. This also appears to be the last time before 9/11 that FBI field offices are tasked to work on any Muslim extremist threat in the US. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 264)

While staying in a flat in Alexandria, Virginia (see Early April-Early May, 2001), 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Hani Hanjour tell two roommates that they had thought of going to Afghanistan for jihad. According to the 9/11 Commission, “The al-Qaeda operatives spent little time with their roommates, but did mention at one point that they had considered going to Afghanistan for jihad.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 523) In fact, Alhazmi, an al-Qaeda veteran, has already spent time in Afghanistan (see 1993-1999). Hanjour may also have traveled to Afghanistan already (see (Early 2000-November 2000)). Alhazmi made similar comments when he lived in San Diego (see (Spring 2000)).

Ahmed Alnami receives a new passport from Saudi Arabia. According to the 9/11 Commission, the passport may contain an “indicator of extremism” that is “associated with al-Qaeda.” However, although it is certain some of the other hijackers have such indicator in their passports, it is not certain that Alnami does. The commission will merely say that there “is reason to believe” his passport may contain such indicator and note that it was “issued in the same Saudi passport office” that issued passports with the indicator to some of the other hijackers. In addition, Alnami obtains two passports before 9/11 (see also November 6, 1999), and it is not clear whether the commission thinks both of the passports have the indicator, or just one of them. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 564; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 9, 21, 33 pdf file) According to author James Bamford, the indicator is a “secret coded indicator, placed there by the Saudi government, warning of a possible terrorist affiliation.” (Bamford 2008, pp. 58-59) The Saudi government reportedly uses this indicator to track some of the Saudi hijackers before 9/11 “with precision” (see November 2, 2007).

After acquiring a new Saudi passport (see April 21, 2001), future 9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alnami obtains a new US visa at the US consulate in Jeddah, even though he already has a valid US visa in his old passport (see October 28, 2000). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 21 pdf file) The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000) and had issued Alnami’s previous visa. (9/11 Commission 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State) 1/30/2003) A handwritten note on Alnami’s application indicates that he is interviewed briefly, either by Steinger or another staff member.
Previous Visa - Alnami marks the “no” box in response to a question asking if he has ever applied for a US visa previously, but changes his answer to “yes,” possibly due to the brief interaction with Steinger or another consular official. However, he fails to specify when he applied for the visa. Had he done so, it would have been clear that he was applying for another visa long before his previous visa had expired, which would have raised questions. The information about his previous visa is available at the consulate, but is not accessed, as consular workers do not usually examine previous visa issuances, only refusals.
Not Interviewed - The 9/11 Commission will later say that Saudis were rarely interviewed at this time. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 21, 184-5 pdf file) However, according to a consular officer serving in Jeddah at the time, while most Saudis may not have been interviewed, “the majority” of males traveling alone aged between 16 and 40 are interviewed and officers are “not shy” of turning them down on security grounds. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 36 pdf file)
Suspicious Indicator in Passport - The 9/11 Commission will also suggest that one or more of Alnami’s passports may contain a suspicious indicator of Islamic extremism, but this is not certain (see April 21, 2001 and November 2, 2007). Some of the radicals who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 also had Saudi passports with the same indicator (see Around February 1993). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 14-15 pdf file)

Khalil Deek, member of an al-Qaeda cell in Anaheim, California, is mysteriously released in Jordan and allowed to go free. Deek had been arrested on suspicions that he masterminded a series of planned millennium attacks in Jordan (see December 11, 1999). Investigators believe he may have masterminded an attempted bombing of the Los Angeles airport as well (see December 15-31, 1999), and in fact US intelligence had been interested in him since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s, December 14-25, 1999, and May 2000). But despite is the seemingly strong evidence against him, he is released this month after mounting a hunger strike. Relatives tell a US newspaper that US government officials pressured Jordan to let him go. (Campbell and Brown 9/12/2005) Despite the fact that US officials had previously labeled him a terrorist mastermind, they do not protest his release. (Schou 6/15/2006) The Jordanian government claims they lacked evidence Deek was aware of terrorist activities. (Schou 6/17/2004) The Los Angeles Times reports that he had cooperated with US investigators in deciphering al-Qaeda computer documents. (Drogin and Wilkinson 3/29/2000) He is deported to the United Arab Emirates. He is rearrested there and held for several days, and then let go again. (Schou 5/31/2001) A few days later, Deek emerges at the US embassy in Pakistan with his wife and family. He approaches the embassy gates, asking staffers there help to bring his family back to the US. However, he is only able to speak to someone through an intercom and is not allowed in the building. He is told to come back in two weeks. A newspaper will later comment, “Given that the US government already considered him a dangerous man, it’s not surprising that embassy officials weren’t eager to provide him with travel visas. But it is weird that they didn’t let him inside the building and simply arrest him.” (Schou 6/15/2006) It will later be alleged that Deek was actually a mole for the Jordanian government (see Shortly After December 11, 1999).

Ziad Jarrah’s computer record at the US1 Fitness gym.Ziad Jarrah’s computer record at the US1 Fitness gym. [Source: Patrick Durand/ Corbis]Some 9/11 hijackers work out at various gyms, presumably getting in shape for the hijacking. Ziad Jarrah appears to train intensively from May to August, and Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi also take exercising very seriously. (Serrano and Dahlburg 9/20/2001; Golden, Mos, and Yardley 9/23/2001) However, these three are presumably pilots who would need the training the least. For instance, Jarrah’s trainer says, “If he wasn’t one of the pilots, he would have done quite well in thwarting the passengers from attacking.” (Serrano and Dahlburg 9/20/2001) From September 2-6, Flight 77 hijackers Hani Hanjour, Majed Moqed, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi show up several times at a Gold’s Gym in Greenbelt, Maryland, signing the register with their real names and paying in cash. According to a Gold’s regional manager, they “seemed not to really know what they were doing” when using the weight machines. (Masters, Smith, and Shear 9/19/2001; Serrano and Dahlburg 9/20/2001; Crary 9/21/2001; Frank 9/23/2001) Three others—Waleed Alshehri, Wail Alshehri and Satam Al Suqami— “simply clustered around a small circuit of machines, never asking for help and, according to a trainer, never pushing any weights. ‘You know, I don’t actually remember them ever doing anything… They would just stand around and watch people.’” (Golden, Mos, and Yardley 9/23/2001) Those three also had a one month membership in Florida—whether they ever actually worked out there is unknown. (Serrano and Dahlburg 9/20/2001)

9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alhaznawi enters Saudi Arabia. The exact date on which he does so is unknown, but it must be between May 7, when he arrives in the United Arab Emirates from Pakistan (see April 11-June 28, 2001) and June 1, when he leaves Saudi Arabia (see June 1, 2001). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 151 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 42-50 pdf file) According to the 9/11 Commission, Alhaznawi may have had a passport with an indicator of Islamic extremism (see Before November 12, 2000). Such indicators were used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007).

CIA officer Tom Wilshire, currently assigned to the FBI, discusses al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit with another CIA officer called Clark Shannon, who is assigned to the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and wrote a report on the USS Cole bombing (see January 2001). Shannon gives Wilshire a timeline of events related to the Cole attack and they discuss Fahad al-Quso, a member of the bombing team in custody at this point (see Early December 2000), and Khallad bin Attash. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 282 pdf file) Around this time, Wilshire also accesses a March 2000 cable about travel to the US by 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and a companion following the summit (see May 15, 2001). According to Margaret Gillespie, an FBI agent on loan to the CIA, Wilshire “had always been interested in the Malaysia summit and he was especially concerned about any potential ties between the USS Cole investigation and the Malaysia summit.” (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file)

9/11 hijacker Ahmed Alnami departs Saudi Arabia, traveling to the United Arab Emirates. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 142 pdf file) According to the 9/11 Commission, Alnami may have had a passport with an indicator of Islamic extremism (see April 21, 2001). Such indicators were used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007).

Tom Wilshire, a former deputy chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit on attachment to the FBI, sends a request to CIA headquarters for the surveillance photos of the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Three days later, Wilshire will explain the reason for his interest in an e-mail to a CIA analyst, writing, “I’m interested because Khalid Almihdhar’s two companions also were couriers of a sort, who traveled between [the Far East] and Los Angeles at the same time ([H]azmi and [S]alah).” Hazmi refers to future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and Salah Said is the alias al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash traveled under during the summit. Apparently, Wilshire will receive the photos. Toward the end of May, a CIA analyst will contact a specialist working at FBI headquarters about the photographs. The CIA wants the FBI analyst to review the photographs and determine if a person who had carried money to Southeast Asia for bin Attash in January 2000 could be identified. The CIA will fail to tell the FBI analyst anything about Almihdhar or Alhazmi. Around the same time, the CIA analyst will receive an e-mail mentioning Alhazmi’s travel to the US. These two analysts will travel to New York the next month and again the CIA analyst will fail to divulge what he knows. (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 283 pdf file)

Tom Wilshire.Tom Wilshire. [Source: Ray Lustig / Washington Post]Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer detailed to the FBI, discusses three photographs of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000) with CIA analyst Clark Shannon. Based on an identification by a source inside al-Qaeda, one of the photos is thought to show al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, who was involved in the bombing of the USS Cole (see January 4, 2001). However, Wilshire tells Shannon that he does not see bin Attash in any of the photos and that he is “missing something” or “someone saw something that wasn’t there.” Wilshire is correct—the photo actually shows 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi not bin Attash, but it is unclear why Wilshire would think this; he has apparently not read the cable stating the source identified the man in the photo as bin Attash, but he is aware that bin Attash has been identified in the photo. The three photos will later be passed to the FBI and shown to investigators working on the bombing of the USS Cole (see Mid-May 2001, Late May, 2001, and June 11, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 284-5 pdf file)

In an email sent to a fellow CIA officer Clark Shannon and copied to FBI agent Margaret Gillespie, who is working on the USS Cole bombing and the Malaysia summit, Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer assigned to the FBI, misrepresents the travel of 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and an associate to the US. According to the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, the e-mail says that Alhazmi and an associate traveled from Bangkok to Los Angeles to Hong Kong, indicating they did not remain in the US and left for Hong Kong. However, Alhazmi and hijacker Khalid Almihdhar traveled from Bangkok to Hong Kong and then to Los Angeles. Gillespie and Shannon will subsequently attend a meeting at which this information should be shared, but is not (see June 11, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 282-3, 288, 300 pdf file)

Margaret Gillespie, an FBI agent detailed to the CIA who has been asked to research the connection between al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit and the bombing of the USS Cole, checks a CIA database and finds some NSA information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and their travel to an al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that was monitored by the US. The database she uses is Intelink, which only has information the CIA makes available to other intelligence agencies. However, she does not also examine the CIA’s Hercules database. It is unclear why she does not do so and whether, as an FBI agent, she has access to it. If she did access it, she would have a complete picture of the CIA’s knowledge of Almihdhar and Alhazmi and would know Almihdhar had a US visa and Alhazmi had traveled to the US (see January 2-5, 2000 and March 5, 2000). As Gillespie is only working this line of inquiry in her free time, she does not put together the information contained in the Hercules system until late August (see August 21-22, 2001). (Wright 2006, pp. 340, 425)

9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi takes a three-day trip to Las Vegas, and will later say he was followed on the trip. One of the hijackers’ associates, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, will later say in a 2002 interview that Alshehhi felt he was followed on a flight from New York to California by “security officers.” Bin al-Shibh will also say that fellow hijacker Ziad Jarrah felt he was followed on a similar flight (see June 7-10, 2001). 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar have also been concerned about possibly having been followed on a flight to the US (see January 15, 2000 and Mid-July 2000). (Fouda and Fielding 2003, pp. 135) After arriving in New York from Florida and spending the night there, Alshehhi flies from New York to Las Vegas via San Francisco. He spends all but one night in Las Vegas at the St. Louis Manor hotel. He is clearly remembered by staff, who recall his face, manners, and that he was once visited by another man of Middle Eastern descent. He returns via the same route. (Smith 10/31/2001; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 53-4 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 3, 19 pdf file) Several other hijackers also travel to Vegas (see May 24-August 14, 2001).

Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer on loan to the FBI, obtains three photographs from the surveillance of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), and passes them to Dina Corsi, an agent with the FBI’s bin Laden unit. Corsi learned of the photographs’ existence following a discussion with CIA officer Clark Shannon. Although Wilshire does not have a “substantive conversation” with Corsi about the photos, he does identify hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in one of them, and says Almihdhar traveled from Sana’a, Yemen, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and then Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in early January 2000. However, Wilshire omits to mention that Almihdhar has a US visa, his associate hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi has traveled to the US, or another associate, Khallad bin Attash, has been identified in the photos. He also does not say why the photos were taken. Author Lawrence Wright will later say the photos are passed because Wilshire wants to know what the FBI knows. The CIA says it thinks the photos may show Fahad al-Quso, an al-Qaeda operative involved in the USS Cole bombing. Corsi understands that the photos are “not formally passed” to the FBI, but are only for limited use at a forthcoming meeting. Therefore, only limited information about them is provided at the meeting, causing a disagreement (see June 11, 2001). However, Wilshire will later say that Corsi could give the photos to the FBI, but the FBI could not then give them to a foreign government (note: the photos had been provided to a foreign government five months previously, so this restriction is meaningless). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 286-7, 293-4 pdf file; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) Other pictures of the summit are available to the CIA, and there is even video footage (see February 2000 and Mid-May 2001), but these are not shared with the FBI or widely discussed.

Future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar probably visits the closely monitored al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen again. While it will not be reported that he is at the hub at this time, it is known that he flies from Sana’a, Yemen, to Saudi Arabia on May 26, 2001 (see May 26, 2001), and the Yemen hub is in Sana’a. (Bamford 2008, pp. 64) Furthermore, Almihdhar’s wife, his recently born baby, and other family members live in the hub (which is run by his father-in-law Ahmed al-Hada). It would seem highly likely he would not pass through Sana’a without visiting his family. Almihdhar stayed at the hub for around a month in June 2000 (see (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)) and then visited it again in February 2001 (see February 2001). Details of Almihdhar’s travels are unclear, but he may have traveled to Afghanistan via Iran later in February (see February 2001). He is in the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia in June 2001. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 237) Each time Almihdhar visits the hub presents a great opportunity for the CIA and NSA, because they have been closely monitoring the hub for years. Phone calls to and from the hub, including ones made by Almihdhar and other 9/11 hijackers, are intercepted, rooms in the building are bugged, and spy satellites record visitors (see Late August 1998, Late 1998-Early 2002, and Early 2000-Summer 2001). Based on information gained from monitoring this house, the CIA and local intelligence services mounted a major operation against Almihdhar, other 9/11 hijackers, and several more al-Qaeda operatives in December 1999 and January 2000, when they were followed around the Middle East and South Asia and monitored during an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see December 29, 1999, January 2-5, 2000, and January 5-8, 2000). So presumably US intelligence should be aware of this visit to the hub and who Almihdhar is, but what exactly is known and who may know it will not be made public.

Steve Gaudin.Steve Gaudin. [Source: BBC]John O’Neill, special agent in charge of the FBI’s national security division in New York, tells FBI agent Steve Gaudin that more al-Qaeda attacks are going to occur. (Graff 2011, pp. 259) Today, a jury convicts four men for their involvement in the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and February-July 2001). (CNN 5/29/2001) O’Neill sat in on the closing arguments in the trial and after the verdict is given, he draws Gaudin aside. He puts his arm around the agent and tells him: “I’m sending you to a language school in Vermont. You’re gonna learn Arabic.” (Wright 2006, pp. 339) “The case is over,” Gaudin protests, but O’Neill tells him, “No, there’s more coming.” (Graff 2011, pp. 259) “You know this fight ain’t over,” O’Neill explains. Referring to Mohamed al-Owhali, one of the men convicted for his role in the embassy bombings, he continues: “What did al-Owhali tell you? He said, ‘We have to hit you outside so they won’t see us coming on the inside.’” (Wright 2006, pp. 339) (Al-Owhali told Gaudin in 1998: “We have a plan to attack the US, but we’re not ready yet. We need to hit you outside the country in a couple of places so you won’t see what is going on inside. The big attack is coming. There’s nothing you can do to stop it.” (Wright 2006, pp. 279) ) O’Neill is “the FBI’s top expert on al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden,” according to New York magazine. (Kolker 12/17/2001) According to journalist and author Murray Weiss, he has, since 1995, told any official in Washington, DC, who will listen that he is “sure bin Laden would attack on American soil.” (Weiss 2003, pp. 360)

Two Yemeni men are detained after guards see them taking photos at 26 Federal Plaza in New York City. They are questioned by INS agents and let go. A few days later, their confiscated film is developed, showing photos of security checkpoints, police posts, and surveillance cameras of federal buildings, including the FBI’s counterterrorism office. The two men are later interviewed by the FBI and determined not to be a threat. However, they had taken the pictures on behalf of a third person said to be living in Indiana. By the time the FBI looks for him, he has fled the country and his documentation is found to be based on a false alias. In 2004, the identity of the third man reportedly still will be unknown. The famous briefing given to President George W. Bush on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001), will mention the incident, warning that the FBI is investigating “suspicious activity in this country consistent with the preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York.” When Bush’s August 6 briefing will be released in 2004, a White House fact sheet will fail to mention the still missing third man. (Guart 7/1/2001; Stevenson 9/16/2001; Pincus and Eggen 5/16/2004) In 2004, it will be reported that Dhiren Barot (a.k.a. Issa al-Hindi or Issa al-Britani), an alleged al-Qaeda operative in British custody, was sent to the US in early 2001 by Khalid Shaikh Mohammed to case potential targets in New York City. He headed a three-man team that surveyed the New York Stock Exchange and other buildings. While there are obvious similarities between the two Yemeni man with an unknown boss and Barot with two helpers, it is not known if the two cases are related. (Jehl and Rashbaum 8/7/2004)

Steven Emerson.Steven Emerson. [Source: Publicity photo]Steven Emerson and Daniel Pipes, both experts on the Middle East and Islamist terrorism, write in the Wall Street Journal that al-Qaeda is “planning new attacks on the US.” Their article is written as a response to the recent guilty verdicts in a New York court against four men accused of planning the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). “Unfortunately,” Emerson and Pipes write, “the trial does almost nothing to enhance the safety of Americans.… Indeed, recent information shows that al-Qaeda is not only planning new attacks on the US but is also expanding its operational range to countries such as Jordan and Israel.”
Al-Qaeda Is 'the Most Lethal Terrorist Organization Anywhere in the World' - Emerson and Pipes also write that tens of thousands of pages from the trial transcript “provide a full and revealing picture of al-Qaeda, showing it to be the most lethal terrorist organization anywhere in the world.” The transcript shows that “al-Qaeda sees the West in general, and the US in particular, as the ultimate enemy of Islam. Inspired by their victory over the Soviet Union in Afghanistan in the 1980s, the leaders of al-Qaeda aspire to a similar victory over America, hoping ultimately to bring Islamist rule here.”
Al-Qaeda Personnel Have Been Taught 'How to Destroy Large Buildings' - The article states that Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, has “set up a tightly organized system of cells in an array of American cities, including Brooklyn, NY; Orlando, Fla.; Dallas; Santa Clara, Calif.; Columbia, Mo.; and Herndon, Va.” Furthermore, according to Emerson and Pipes, court documents show that “[o]fficials of the Iranian government helped arrange advanced weapons and explosives training for al-Qaeda personnel in Lebanon, where they learned, for example, how to destroy large buildings.”
America Must Fight Al-Qaeda 'as We Would in a War' - Emerson and Pipes conclude that the recent trial “shows that trials alone are not enough” when dealing with al-Qaeda. They suggest that al-Qaeda operatives “are better thought of as soldiers, not criminals.” Therefore, they write, “To fight al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups… we must fight them as we would in a war.” This would mean that, “as in a conventional war, America’s armed forces, not its policemen and lawyers, are primarily deployed to protect Americans.” Furthermore, the two men opine: “If a perpetrator is not precisely known, then those who are known to harbor terrorists will be punished. This way, governments and organizations that support terrorism will pay the price, not just the individuals who carry it out.” (Emerson and Pipes 5/31/2001)
Writers Have Been Accused of Anti-Muslim Bias - Emerson and Pipes are controversial figures. Emerson, an award-winning investigative reporter, has been called “the nation’s foremost journalistic expert on terrorism” by the New York Post. (Oppenheim 10/22/1999) And White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke called him “sort of the Paul Revere of terrorism.” But according to Brown University’s alumni magazine, he spent the 1990s “fighting to be taken seriously, and fending off charges of racism and anti-Muslim bias.” (Block 11/2002) Pipes, a foreign policy analyst, and commentator on terrorism and Islam, “appears regularly in the US media, where he is regarded as an authority on the Middle East,” The Guardian will report. Arab-Americans, however, “regard him as a Muslim basher and a staunch supporter of Israel.” According to The Nation, he “labored in comparative obscurity during the 1990s, writing a series of books and articles that advanced a hard line on Arab countries… and darkly warning that Muslim Americans posed a threat to the United States.” (Whitaker 9/10/2001; Press 4/22/2004)

Associates of the 9/11 hijackers call a number in Yemen also called by the radicals who bombed two US embassies in East Africa in 1998. The calls, which MSNBC says are made “in the weeks before the attacks,” are presumably to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by Ahmed al-Hada, an associate of Nairobi embassy bomber Mohamed al-Owhali (see August 4-25, 1998). The number is monitored by US intelligence at this time and is also called by the hijackers themselves (see Early 2000-Summer 2001), at least one of the calls being around this time (see (August 2001)). But it is not clear what intelligence the NSA and CIA gleaned from these calls or which associates of the hijackers make the calls. (MSNBC 10/3/2001) However, it is thought that one of the hijackers’ associates, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, met with an associate of al-Hada’s in Yemen the year before (see Before October 12, 2000) and traveled to Yemen before the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 10-21, 2000).

Ziad Jarrah.Ziad Jarrah. [Source: National Geographic]9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah takes a trip to Las Vegas, and will reportedly later say he was followed on the trip. One of the hijackers’ associates, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, will later say that Jarrah felt he was followed on a flight from New York to California by “security officers.” Bin al-Shibh will also say that fellow hijacker Marwan Alshehhi was followed on a similar flight (see May 24-27, 2001). Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar also thought they were followed on a flight to the US (see January 15, 2000 and Mid-July 2000). (Fouda and Fielding 2003, pp. 135) Jarrah flies first class from Baltimore to Los Angeles on a United Airlines Boeing 757, the same type of plane he will apparently fly on 9/11, and then continues to Las Vegas. Three days later he returns his rental car, having driven 350 miles, and flies back to Baltimore, where he boards a plane back to Fort Lauderdale. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 23 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 55 pdf file) His uncle will describe the trip as a “gambling junket.” (Williams 10/23/2001) Several other hijackers also travel to Vegas (see May 24-August 14, 2001).

Margaret Gillespie.Margaret Gillespie. [Source: Doug Dreyer / Associated Press]The FBI and the CIA hold a meeting to discuss the investigation into the USS Cole bombing and a possible connection between it and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). However, the CIA and FBI headquarters refuse to share all they know, and agents investigating the Cole bombing become angry over this.
Attendees - The meeting, which lasts between two and four hours, is attended by CIA officer Clark Shannon, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA named Margaret Gillespie, FBI agent Steve Bongardt, FBI agent Russell Fincher, and Assistant US Attorney David Kelley.
Purpose - Although there is no agenda for the meeting and Corsi will later say it is a brainstorming session, author Lawrence Wright will say that one of the reasons for the meeting is that CIA officer Tom Wilshire, an associate of Shannon’s, “want[ed] to know… what the FBI knew” about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. (ABC News 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 289-294 pdf file; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) FBI agent Ali Soufan will also say that he later learned that Wilshire “was fishing to see if the FBI knew anything about the men in the photos.” (Soufan 2011, pp. 243)
Photos Shown - Initially, Bongardt and Fincher brief Shannon on progress in the Cole investigation. Corsi then shows the two Cole investigators three photographs taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), showing future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and another man, and Shannon asks if the agents recognize Fahad al-Quso, who is thought to have attended the Malaysia summit and has been interviewed by the FBI. However, one of the photos shows Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a tree, and the CIA has already recognized Almihdhar and Alhazmi, so it is unclear how the Cole investigators are supposed to recognize al-Quso in the photo. Corsi received the photographs from Wilshire, but Wilshire did not provide her with all the relevant information about them (see Late May, 2001).
Questions Asked - Bongardt and Fincher ask who is in the pictures, why were taken, and whether there are other photos of the meeting. Shannon refuses to say, but Corsi eventually admits one of the men is named Khalid Almihdhar. As a name alone is not sufficient reason to start an investigation, Bongardt asks for a date of birth or other details that will allow him to know which Khalid Almihdhar in the world is being discussed, but Shannon refuses to provide them. Shannon admits that Almihdhar was traveling on a Saudi passport and then leaves the meeting. Lawrence Wright will say that providing a date of birth is “standard procedure—the first thing most investigators would do.” Realizing that the photos pertain to the Cole investigation, Bongardt and Fincher become angry at the lack of information being provided and the meeting descends into a “shouting match.” (ABC News 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 289-294 pdf file; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file)
What Shannon Knew - Shannon will later admit that at this time he knew Almihdhar had a US visa, that Alhazmi had traveled to the US in 2000, that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had been recognized in one of the photos, and that Alhazmi was known to be an experienced operative. However, he does not tell any of this to any FBI agents, as he apparently thinks he does not have the authority. He does not let them keep copies of the photos either and will give conflicting accounts of the meeting after 9/11 (see Between September 12, 2001 and October 17, 2002). (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 289-292 pdf file)
Corsi Withholds Information - Corsi has NSA information saying Almihdhar and Alhazmi attended the Malaysia meeting, but apparently believes that the Cole agents cannot be told more because of restrictions on sharing intelligence with criminal agents (see July 19, 1995). However, one of the Cole agents present is an intelligence agent, so the information can be communicated to him immediately without Corsi obtaining permission from the NSA and/or Justice Department. In addition, the NSA sent the information to the FBI’s New York field office, where the Cole investigators are based, in 1999 (see December 1999-January 2000). Furthermore, when she asks the NSA’s permission to share the information 10 weeks later, the NSA approves the request on the same day (see August 27-28, 2001). She does not share the information at this time, but promises Bongardt and Fincher to try to do so later. The Cole agents will not receive more information for months. (US Congress 9/20/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 269, 537)
Almihdhar Gets New Visa - Two days after this meeting, Almihdhar has no trouble getting a new, multiple reentry US visa (see May 2001 and June 13, 2001). (Pound 12/12/2001; US Congress 9/20/2002)

Following a meeting at which FBI agents investigating the attack on the USS Cole were shown pictures of operatives who attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, including 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, but were not given all the relevant information (see June 11, 2001), deputy head of the investigation Steve Bongardt continues to ask for the material, but FBI headquarters fails to provide it. Bongardt apparently has “heated telephone conversations and e-mail exchanges” with FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi over the passage of the information. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 291, 294 pdf file) Bongardt will tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, “I’ve had several conversations with the analyst [Corsi] after that, because we would talk on other matters, and almost every time I would ask her, ‘What’s the story with the Almihdhar information, when is it going to get passed, do we have anything yet, when is it going to get passed,’ and each time I was told that the information had not been passed yet. And the sense I got from here, based on our conversations, was that she was trying as hard as she could to get the information passed or at least the ability to tell us about the information.” (US Congress 9/20/2002) But in fact Corsi does not appear to take any steps towards having the information passed to the Cole investigators for two and a half months after the meeting. Part of the relevant information is from a wiretap on Almihdhar’s phone (see Shortly Before December 29, 1999) and, due to measures related to the “wall,” the NSA general counsel has to approve its passage to criminal agents. Corsi finally asks the NSA to approve passage of the information on August 27; the NSA immediately agrees, but Corsi continues to withhold the information from Bongardt (see August 27-28, 2001). The other part of the information consists of photos of the two hijackers in Malaysia with other extremists (see January 5-8, 2000). Corsi will later say she “probably” has follow up conversations about passing the photographs with the two CIA officers, Tom Wilshire and Clark Shannon, who gave them to her (see Late May, 2001), but these alleged conversations do not result in the photos being passed to Bongardt, even though Wilshire will later say that, as far as he was concerned at this point, they could be distributed through the FBI. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 294 pdf file) After Corsi is told that Almihdhar is in the US (see August 21-22, 2001), this information is made available to intelligence investigators at the FBI (see August 28, 2001), but not to the team investigating the Cole bombing (see August 28, 2001).

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)

9/11 hijacker Salem Alhazmi receives a new passport in Saudi Arabia. According to the 9/11 Commission, the passport contains an “indicator of extremism” that is “associated with al-Qaeda.” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 9, 25, 33 pdf file) According to author James Bamford, this is a “secret coded indicator, placed there by the Saudi government, warning of a possible terrorist affiliation.” (Bamford 2008, pp. 58-59) Alhazmi’s previous passport contained the same indicator (see April 4, 1999). The Saudi government will reportedly use this indicator to track Alhazmi and other Saudi hijackers before 9/11 “with precision” (see November 2, 2007).

The INS extends future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi’s permitted stay in the US, 11 months after he filed a late application to extend it (see July 12-27, 2000). The INS should not grant the extension due to the late filing, but does so anyway. It is unclear why it has taken 11 months to process the application. The approval retroactively extends Alhazmi’s stay for six months, from the date it originally expired until January 14, 2001. While his unlawful US presence after July 14, 2000 is retroactively legalized, Alhazmi’s presence after January 14, 2001 remains unlawful, and no other applications for extensions will be filed. (Immigration and Naturalization Service 2002; INS email 3/20/2002; Immigration and Naturalization Service 5/26/2002; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 12, 25 pdf file) An INS report will note, “The application shouldn’t have been approved because it was filed 13 days late.” However, an official, whose name will be redacted, will write in an INS e-mail:¬† “Per [redacted]. This is a common occurrence that is within the adjudicator’s discretion to forgive a late filing, if it is brief and the applicant has a good story.… How do you suppose the press may spin this, and more importantly, how will the INS defend itself?” (Immigration and Naturalization Service 2002; INS email 3/20/2002) Alhazmi never receives notification of the extension, as the notice will be returned as undeliverable on March 25, 2002. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 25 pdf file) His passport contains an indicator of Islamist extremism used to track terrorists by the Saudi authorities (see March 21, 1999). The 9/11 Commission will comment that this extension is “[y]et another opportunity to spot the suspicious indicator,” but US authorities fail to do so. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 12 pdf file) The precise state of US knowledge about the indicator at this time is unknown (see Around February 1993). The CIA will learn of it no later than 2003, but will still not inform immigration officials then (see February 14, 2003).

9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi flies from Newark to Miami and presumably meets the other hijackers there. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 243) Earlier in the month the CIA showed the FBI a photo of Alhazmi taken at a meeting in Malaysia with other al-Qaeda members, but refused to identify him in the photo (see June 11, 2001). The CIA will watchlist Alhazmi in August (see August 23, 2001), but his Florida trip apparently fails to lead US intelligence to the other hijackers. He obtains a Florida driver’s license on June 25 (see April 12-September 7, 2001), giving the same address as two of the other Florida-based hijackers, but this will not be noticed before 9/11 either. (Bousquet and Ulferts 9/16/2001; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 26 pdf file) Alhazmi purchased his ticket for the outward journey at Apollo Travel in Paterson, New Jersey, which was also used by Mohamed Atta (see March 2001-September 1, 2001), and perhaps some of the other hijackers (see July 2001). (CNN 10/29/2001)

Future 9/11 hijacker Salem Alhazmi obtains a US visa from the American consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. There are some problems with his visa application, which is submitted through the Visa Express program (see May 2001):
bullet The application is incomplete;
bullet Alhazmi gives his occupation as “unemployed” (this does not concern consular staff because Saudi Arabia is a rich country);
bullet His passport is only four days old;
bullet The passport contains a suspicious indicator of Islamic extremism placed their by Saudi intelligence in order to track him (see June 16, 2001 and November 2, 2007). Some of the radicals who bombed the World Trade Center in 1993 also had Saudi passports with the same indicator (see Around February 1993); (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 563-4; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 25-6 pdf file)
bullet Some of the other future hijackers who apply for visas around this time lie on their applications, claiming never to have received a US visa before, although the opposite is true (see April 23, 2001, June 12, 2001, and June 13, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will not discuss whether Alhazmi claims on this application to have received a US visa before or not, as the Commission will appear to be unaware of any such previous application by him. However, according to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Alhazmi did previously obtain a US visa, in 1999 (see April 3-7, 1999); (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004 pdf file)
bullet The NSA has been intercepting calls between Alhazmi and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen for at least two years (see Early 1999, Shortly Before December 29, 1999, and Summer 2000);
bullet 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)

9/11 hijacker Salem Alhazmi leaves Saudi Arabia. The precise date is unknown, although it must be some time between June 20, when he obtains a US visa in Jeddah (see June 20, 2001) and June 29, when he arrives in the US from the United Arab Emirates (see April 23-June 29, 2001). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 25-27 pdf file) According to the 9/11 Commission, Alhazmi has a passport containing an indicator of Islamic extremism (see June 20, 2001). Such indicators are used by the Saudi authorities to track some of the hijackers before 9/11 (see November 2, 2007).

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