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Context of 'October 1997-September 10, 1998: Ali Mohamed’s California Computer Is Continually Bugged'

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At some point not long after Ali Mohamed is interviewed by the FBI in the autumn of 1993, the US government begins tracking his movements and monitoring his phone calls. Eventually, this surveillance will lead US investigators to the al-Qaeda cell in Nairobi, Kenya (see Late 1994). It is not clear which governmental agency does this. Meanwhile, he continues to have periodic contact with the FBI. They are especially interested in what he knows about bin Laden, as bin Laden’s importance becomes increasingly evident. [New York Times, 12/1/1998]

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Osama bin Laden, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

US intelligence began monitoring Ali Mohamed in the autumn of 1993 (see Autumn 1993). The San Francisco Chronicle will later report that from “1994 to 1998… FBI agents trace phone calls from Mohamed’s California residences in Santa Clara and, later, Sacramento to bin Laden associates in [Nairobi, Kenya].” In late 1994, FBI agents discover that Mohamed is temporarily living in an al-Qaeda safe house in Nairobi. The FBI contacts him there and he returns to the US a short time later to be interviewed by the FBI (see December 9, 1994). [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/21/2001] When Mohamed is making arrangements to be interviewed by the FBI, he uses the telephone of Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary who is part of the Kenya al-Qaeda cell. [United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 39, 5/3/2001] By 1996, US intelligence is continually monitoring five telephone lines in Nairobi used by the cell members, including those belonging to El-Hage (see April 1996).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A passenger ferry capsizes on Lake Victoria in East Africa and one of the more than 800 who drown is Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, al-Qaeda’s military commander (his job will be taken over by Mohammed Atef). Al-Qaeda operatives Wadih El-Hage and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) show up at the disaster scene to find out if al-Banshiri is still alive. There are many journalists covering the disaster and a Western investigator recognizes Fazul and El-Hage when they happen to appear in some of the widely broadcast footage. [Washington Post, 11/23/1998] El-Hage sends a computer file about the drowning to double agent Ali Mohamed in California. Mohamed’s computer hard drive will be copied by US intelligence in 1997 (see October 1997-September 10, 1998). The CIA already has much of El-Hage’s biography on file by this time. It appears this event, along with the defection of Jamal al-Fadl (see June 1996-April 1997), only strengthen knowledge of the Kenya cell gained earlier in the year (see April 1996). By August 1996, if not earlier, the phones of El-Hage and Fazul in Nairobi are bugged and closely monitored by the CIA and NSA. Apparently, not much is learned from these phone calls because the callers speak in code, but the CIA does learn about other al-Qaeda operatives from the numbers and locations that are being called. This information is shared with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), and the JTTF becomes “convinced that flipping El-Hage [is] the best way to get to bin Laden.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 200]

Entity Tags: Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, Ali Mohamed, Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Wadih El-Hage, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Double agent Ali Mohamed gives a hint about the upcoming African embassy bombings to an FBI agent. Harlan Bell, one of the FBI agents who met with Mohamed at an October 1997 dinner where Mohamed detailed his al-Qaeda ties (see October 1997), is apparently continuing to regularly talk to him on the phone (though it is not known what they discuss). Bell begins recording these phone calls (which are presumably being recorded by others as well since all of Mohamed’s communications are being monitored by this time (see October 1997-September 10, 1998)). FBI agent Jack Cloonan, who works with Bell in the I-49 bin Laden squad, will later recall that after the embassy bombings Bell will replay one of these taped conversations. “It became apparent from listening to one of those tapes that Ali was talking about a possible target in East Africa. He never specifically said the embassy or that he knew an attack was imminent, but he was giving this up in a sense before the attack took place.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 207-208]

Entity Tags: Ali Mohamed, Jack Cloonan, I-49, Harlan Bell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The FBI installs a wiretap in double agent Ali Mohamed’s computer (the FBI has been monitoring his phone since 1993 (see Autumn 1993 and Late 1994)). According to FBI agent Jack Cloonan, “The Sacramento [FBI] office did a wonderful job of getting into his apartment, wiring it up, and exploiting his computer. So we were able to download a lot of stuff.” [Lance, 2006, pp. 276] Not much is known about what is on his computer, but a 2001 trial will mention that Wadih El-Hage, head of the cell in Kenya planning the African embassy bombings (see Between October 1997 and August 7, 1998), sent Mohamed a computer file about the death of al-Qaeda leader Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri by drowning in Kenya in May 1996 (see May 21, 1996). [Lance, 2006, pp. 297-298] Journalist Peter Lance believes that, given Mohamed’s apparent foreknowledge of the embassy bombings, the computer probably contained references to that operation. In his book Triple Cross, he asks, “If [US agents] now had access to Mohamed’s phone and hard disk, why didn’t they come to understand his role as a key player in the embassy bombing plot?… If their motive was to lie in wait—to monitor his phone calls and e-mail traffic—why didn’t that surveillance put them right in the middle of the embassy plot?” [Lance, 2006, pp. 276]

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jack Cloonan, Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Double agent Ali Mohamed is living openly in Sacramento, California. His computer and telephone are being monitored by the FBI (see October 1997-September 10, 1998). On August 9, two days after the African embassy bombings, he told the FBI on the telephone that he knows who the bombers are but he will not reveal their names (see August 9, 1998). On August 12, one of the bombers, Mohamed al-Owhali, is secretly arrested in Kenya and immediately begins confessing what he knows (see August 12-25, 1998). Somehow al-Qaeda operative Anas al-Liby learns about al-Owhali’s arrest, even though al-Liby is living in Britain, and later that month he calls Mohamed. The call is monitored and FBI agent Jack Cloonan will later recall, “Anas says to [Mohamed], ‘Do you know that brother [al-Owhali]? ‘Cause if you do, get the f_ck out of there.” Mohamed makes plans to escape the US, but strangely he decides to respond to a subpoena and testify in New York City before he goes. He will be arrested there on September 10, just after testifying (see September 10, 1998). [Lance, 2006, pp. 297-298] Remarkably, even though al-Liby worked with Mohamed and others on the embassy bomb plot in Kenya (see Late 1993-Late 1994), he is not arrested and continues to live in Britain. His residence there will not be raided until May 2000, and by that time he will be gone (see May 2000). It will later be alleged that al-Liby is protected because he worked with British intelligence on a plot to kill Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi (see 1996).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ali Mohamed, Anas al-Liby

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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