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Context of 'September 12, 2001: Inside Help for Terrorists at Airports?'

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Italian information peddler Rocco Martino agrees to pay Laura Montini, an employee at the Niger embassy in Rome, the sum of £350 per month in exchange for any documents that might shed light on rumours that “rogue states” are trying to acquire uranium from Niger (see Between 1999 and 2000). Martino wants to sell the documents to the French who are investigating the rumours. France is concerned about the security of a French consortium that controls Niger’s only two uranium mines. Martino has reportedly been on French intelligence’s payroll since 1999 (see June or July 1999). Martino learned of Montini through his friend Antonio Nucera, deputy chief of the SISMI center in Viale Pasteur in Rome (see Early 2000). Up until this point, Montini, age 60, has been working as an informant for Italian intelligence. She goes by the name “La Signora.” [Sunday Times (London), 8/1/2004; Financial Times, 8/2/2004; La Repubblica (Rome), 10/24/2005; Marshall, 11/10/2005; Sunday Times (London), 4/9/2006; Vanity Fair, 7/2006, pp. 150] One of the first documents she gives to Martino is one relating to Wissam al-Zahawie’s 1999 visit to Niger (see February 1999). Martino reportedly passes the document on to the French. [Sunday Times (London), 4/9/2006] Over the next several months, La Signora reportedly provides Martino with numerous documents—a “codebook,” a dossier including a mixture of fake and genuine documents, and then finally, a purported agreement between Niger and Iraq on the sale of 500 tons of uranium oxide, also known as “yellowcake.” [Marshall, 11/10/2005]

Entity Tags: Antonio Nucera, Laura Montini, Rocco Martino

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Chris Lyons, a newspaper delivery driver, sees four or five Middle Eastern men near the entrance of Portland airport, from where alleged hijackers Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari will later take a plane to Boston (see (6:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The men are speaking Arabic among themselves and hauling about ten suitcases into the airport. Lyons later says they “stuck out because usually no one is around at that hour.” After 9/11, local police will say they don’t think the men are connected to the attacks. However, Lyons is concerned that they might have been “support people,” because, he says, “It’s just too much of a coincidence that this group of businessmen was leaving Portland the morning of the terrorist attacks.” [Portland Press Herald, 9/22/2001; Portland Press Herald, 10/21/2001]

Entity Tags: Chris Lyons, Portland International Jetport

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Abdulaziz Alomari (a passport stamp overlaps part of his face).Abdulaziz Alomari (a passport stamp overlaps part of his face). [Source: FBI]Having spent the previous night at the Comfort Inn in Portland, Maine (see September 10, 2001), hijackers Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari check out at 5:33 a.m. and drive their rented Nissan to the nearby Portland International Jetport Airport, entering its parking lot at 5:40 a.m. The FBI will later seize their car there. [Observer, 9/16/2001; Portland Press Herald, 10/5/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/5/2001; Newsday, 4/17/2006] Their flight is due to take off for Boston at 6:00 a.m. (see (6:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The Boston Globe points out, “Any significant delay would foil [Atta’s] big plans for the day.” [Boston Globe, 9/16/2001] The 9/11 Commission later concludes: “The Portland detour almost prevented Atta and Omari from making Flight 11 out of Boston.” [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004]

Entity Tags: Abdulaziz Alomari, Portland International Jetport, Mohamed Atta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari’s flight from Portland to Boston takes off. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/4/2001] Their plane, Colgan Air Flight 5930, is a 19-seat Beechcraft 1900. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 3] Fellow passengers Vincent Meisner and Roger Quirion will later say Atta and Alomari board separately, keep quiet, and do not draw attention to themselves. [Chicago Sun-Times, 9/16/2001; Washington Post, 9/16/2001] Quirion, says: “They struck me as business travelers. They were sitting down, talking, seems like they were going over some paperwork.” [CBS News, 10/12/2001]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Abdulaziz Alomari, Vincent Meisner, Roger Quirion

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to an article on the conservative news website WorldNetDaily, alleged lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta almost misses Flight 11 and has to rush to the departure gate at Boston’s Logan Airport. The article is based on the account of an unnamed American Airlines employee at Logan, and claims Atta is running late because his connecting flight from Portland was delayed (see (6:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the 9/11 Commission claims that this plane was “on time,” and says Atta is observed at Logan with Abdulaziz Alomari, asking for directions in a parking lot (see 6:45 a.m. September 11, 2001). The employee says that at the baggage check-in, when asked security questions, Atta claims he does not speak English. A supervisor is called for, who just sends him towards the departure gate, as it is close to his plane’s take-off time. Atta rushes through the security checkpoint, then down to the gate, where he shows up perspiring. The employee comments, “The nitwit. You know, they’d been planning it for five years, and he’s running late for the flight.” An American Airlines spokeswoman will refuse to comment on this account, saying all American employees have been ordered not to speak to the press. [WorldNetDaily, 9/21/2001; 9/11 Commission, 8/26/2004, pp. 3, 5]

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, Logan International Airport

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

An unnamed gate agent at Logan Airport in Boston calls Donald Bennett, the crew chief for Flight 11, and asks him if the two suitcases of a passenger who has just boarded the plane have arrived from US Airways. Bennett replies that the suitcases, which belong to lead 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, have arrived, but Flight 11’s baggage compartment has already been locked for departure, so they will not be loaded. Atta flew from Portland to Boston on a Colgan Air flight operated for US Airways (see (6:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). American Airlines baggage expediter Philip Depasquale will later claim that bags from US Airways are always late, and so this problem is a common occurrence. The luggage is turned over to Depasquale to have it sent to Los Angeles on another flight. According to Salvatore Misuraca, a ramp service manager for American Airlines at Logan Airport, gate agents do not usually call about a bag unless the passenger that owns it has specifically asked about it, to ensure that their bags have been put on their flight. Atta’s luggage will remain at Logan Airport and be found after the attacks, revealing important clues (see September 11-13, 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/11/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/17/2001; 9/11 Commission, 2/10/2004]

Entity Tags: Salvatore P. Misuraca, Philip Depasquale, Logan International Airport, Mohamed Atta, Donald Bennett, American Airlines

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Billie Vincent, a former FAA security director, suggests the hijackers had inside help at the airports. “These people had to have the means to take control of the aircrafts. And that means they had to have weapons in order for those pilots to relinquish control. Think about it, they planned this thing out to the last detail for months. They are not going to take any risks at the front end. They knew they were going to be successful before they started… It’s the only thing that really makes sense to me.” [Miami Herald, 9/12/2001] The same day, the Boston Globe reports, “A former TWA official said he knew of at least two cases in which members of a cleaning crew smuggled weapons on board which were later used to hijack planes.… One source familiar with the airline industry said that, given enough time and money, it would not be difficult for terrorists to smuggle weapons onto a domestic flight. He said terrorists could arrange to have weapons moved onto an airliner by having terrorists or sympathizers hired as air cargo handlers or airline cleaners. The weapons could then be brought on board and concealed without ever having to pass through a security checkpoint. ‘If you have a year or more to plan, how hard can it be to get someone hired to clean the trash out of an airplane,’ the source said.” [Boston Globe, 9/12/2001]

Entity Tags: Billie Vincent

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italy’s military intelligence service (SISMI—see (After October 18, 2001) and September 9, 2002), responds to the CIA’s request for clarification on the alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger (see October 15, 2001). Pollari’s page and a half letter explains that “the information comes form a creditable source, La Signora [Laura Montini],” who has in the past “given SISMI the cryptographic codes and memorandum ledgers from the Niger Embassy.” [La Repubblica (Rome), 11/11/2005] Some time around this same date, according to La Repubblica, Pollari discusses the issue with Italy’s Minister of Defense, Antonio Martino (no relation to Rocco Martino, the document peddler—see March 2000, Late June 2002, Afternoon October 7, 2002, and Summer 2004). Martino tells Pollari to expect a visit from “an old friend of Italy,” Martino’s longtime friend and colleague Michael Ledeen (see (After October 18, 2001) and April 3, 2005). Ledeen will later deny that any such meeting with Pollari ever happened. Pollari will deny any involvement with the Iraq-Niger affair. [Unger, 2007, pp. 235-236]

Entity Tags: Nicolo Pollari, Central Intelligence Agency, Antonio Martino, Laura Montini, Michael Ledeen

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

According to a later report by the Senate Intelligence Committee, Pentagon officials conceal potentially life-saving intelligence gleaned from Iranian agents. The report will find that in 2001, the officials, Larry Franklin and Harold Rhode, fail to pass along information gained from Iranian agents to US intelligence agencies, including reports that Iran has sent “hit squads” to Afghanistan to kill Americans. The findings will be based on information from highly unreliable sources: Iranian arms merchant Manucher Ghorbanifar and former Pentagon official Michael Ledeen, both of whom have often provided false or questionable information gathered from questionable sources (see April 3, 2005). In a series of meetings authorized by then-Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley (see December 9, 2001, December 12, 2001, June 2002, July 2002, and June 2003), two Pentagon officials, including one who reported to then-Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Douglas Feith (see September 2002), meet with Ghorbanifar, Ledeen, and other Iranians. Hadley does not fully brief CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage about the meetings. The head of the DIA is briefed on the meeting but is not authorized to keep a written summary of it or to discuss it on the orders of then-Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. For his part, Ledeen will say he twice briefed the US ambassador to Italy about the meetings. “Any time the CIA wanted to find out what was going on all they had to do was ask,” he will say. Though the report will admit that the sources of the intelligence are unreliable, it will still criticize the Pentagon for failing to allow what it calls “potentially useful and actionable intelligence” to be shared with intelligence agencies. [Associated Press, 6/5/2008; Senate Intelligence Committee, 6/5/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, George J. Tenet, Douglas Feith, Manucher Ghorbanifar, Stephen J. Hadley, Michael Ledeen, Richard Armitage, Paul Wolfowitz, Senate Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran

FBI agents John Vincent (left), and Robert Wright (right) appear on ABC News.FBI agents John Vincent (left), and Robert Wright (right) appear on ABC News. [Source: ABC News]In early March 2002, New York Times reporter Judith Miller hears that FBI agent Robert Wright is complaining about the FBI’s mishandling of the Vulgar Betrayal investigation. Miller submits a list of written questions to Wright about his allegations. She also submits a similar list to FBI agent John Vincent, who also worked on Vulgar Betrayal and shares many of Wright’s views. Wright and Vincent quickly reply, but the FBI does not allow Miller to read their answers. Meanwhile, Miller contacts some other FBI officials to hear their side of the issue. She is allowed to speak to them. Because Miller is unable to hear from Wright or Vincent, she decides not to write the story. In December 2002, the Justice Department will hear an appeal from Wright and rule that no classified information was contained in the answers to Miller’s questions. But as of the end of 2005, all of Wright and Vincent’s answers still have not been released by the FBI. [Robert G. Wright, Jr., v. Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/16/2005]

Entity Tags: John Vincent, Judith Miller, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert G. Wright, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Days after FBI agent Robert Wright renewed efforts to make his disputes with the FBI public (see Early March 2002), the Associated Press releases a story that seems designed to counter Wright’s upcoming claims that the FBI has let large numbers of Hamas operatives live and fundraise openly in the US. The article says the FBI is conducting a “broad financial assault” against an “elaborate network of businesses and charities supporting Hamas” in the US. Further, “FBI terrorist tracking units monitoring, intercepting, and disrupting financial transactions from US supporters to Hamas overseas are moving closer to building criminal cases against some of the players.” The article notes that the FBI’s current efforts are based on Wright’s pre-9/11 work in Chicago. The article also says, “Information developed during and after [Wright’s] Chicago case has resulted in the execution of several national security warrants permitting electronic intercepts of key suspects here and overseas… In several instances, the FBI and other US agencies have decided to forgo arrests or indictments and instead have secretly disrupted Hamas activities so that agents could continue to monitor suspects and the flow of their money, officials said.” [Associated Press, 3/15/2002] Presumably, if any of the Hamas operatives were not suspicious that they were under surveillance before reading this article, they would be after reading it.

Entity Tags: Hamas, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Robert G. Wright, Jr.

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, says, “Basically, cooked information is working its way into high-level pronouncements and there’s a lot of unhappiness about it in intelligence, especially among analysts at the CIA.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 10/10/2002]

Entity Tags: Vincent Cannistraro

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion

Journalist and radio host Ian Masters asks former CIA operative Vincent Cannistraro during an interview, in reference to the question of who forged the Niger documents (see March 2000), “If I were to say the name Michael Ledeen to you, what would you say?” Cannistraro replies, “You’re very close.” After the radio show, Ledeen denies in a statement that he has any connection to the documents. [Ian Master's Background Briefing, 4/3/2005]

Entity Tags: Michael Ledeen, Vincent Cannistraro

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

According to CounterPunch, the Italian Parliament releases a report on the forged Iraq-Niger uranium documents (see Between Late 2000 and September 11, 2001, Late September 2001-Early October 2001, October 15, 2001, December 2001, February 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, October 9, 2002, October 15, 2002, January 2003, February 17, 2003, March 7, 2003, March 8, 2003, and 3:09 p.m. July 11, 2003). The report names four people as the most likely forgers: neoconservative Michael Ledeen (see April 3, 2005), former CIA agent Duane Clarridge (see Late 1998), Iraqi National Congress (INC) head Ahmed Chalabi (see 1992-1996 and February 2002), and Chalabi’s close friend and colleague Francis Brooke, who belongs to the Rendon Group, a public relations group formed by the Pentagon in part to promote Chalabi and the INC (see May 1991 and Mid-December 2003). The report suggests the forgeries may have been planeed at a December 2001 meeting in Rome (see December 9, 2001) that involved Ledeen, head of the Italian intelligence service SISMI Nicolo Pollari (see September 9, 2002), and accused spy Larry Franklin (see December 9, 2001). [CounterPunch, 11/1/2005; CounterPunch, 11/9/2005] When the report is publicized in November 2005, Italian government officials will deny the existence of any such report, a denial bolstered by media reports. Journalist Laura Rozen will write that no such report was ever produced, nor was a parliamentary investigation into the Niger forgeries held by the Italian parliament at the time. “There is no parliamentary report,” a spokeswoman for Enzo Bianco, a member of Italy’s parliament, will say. Nor is there an unpublished report, the spokeswoman will say. Rozen will write that Bianco’s spokeswoman “does not just appear to be engaged in a cover up of a secret report. No one in Italy seriously investigating the Niger forgeries has heard of such a report.” The Italian newspaper La Repubblica will also report that no such parliamentary report was ever written. Former CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, who will say he knew of rumors about such a report at one time, will also say that no such report exists. “There is no published report,” he will tell Rozen. “If there is a report, we might expect it would have some analysis and conclusions. There is no report, at least not a published report.… I think this stuff is just getting circulated.” [Laura Rozen, 11/3/2005]

Entity Tags: La Repubblica, Enzo Bianco, Duane Clarridge, Ahmed Chalabi, Francis Brooke, Italian Parliament, Nicolo Pollari, Iraqi National Congress, Vincent Cannistraro, Laura Rozen, Larry Franklin, Michael Ledeen

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

Controversial neoconservative Michael Ledeen, a consultant for the Bush Defense Department, confirms that he was a contributor to the Italian magazine Panorama. A Panorama reporter, Elisabetta Burba, was one of the first to come across forged documents that purported to prove Iraq had attempted to obtain weapons-grade uranium from Niger (see September 12, 2002 and Afternoon October 7, 2002). Ledeen is widely suspected of playing a role in channeling those forged documents to the CIA (see October 18, 2001, December 9, 2001, and April 3, 2005), though he has always denied doing so. Ledeen confirms that “several years ago” he was a “twice a month” contributor to Panorama, but refuses to give further details. He also denies, again, any involvement in the Niger documents: “I’ve said repeatedly, I have no involvement of any sort with the Niger story, and I have no knowledge of it aside from what has appeared in the press,” he writes. “I have not discussed it with any government person in any country.” Reporter Larisa Alexandrovna notes that Ledeen wrote for Panorama during the time that the magazine received the forgeries from an Italian intelligence peddler, and sent them from the US Embassy in Rome via backchannels to the US State Department. Around that same time, Ledeen also allegedly facilitated an unusual meeting between the head of Italy’s military intelligence agency and Stephen Hadley, the deputy national security adviser in the Bush administration (see September 9, 2002). Hadley has denied discussing anything about uranium during that meeting. [Raw Story, 1/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Larisa Alexandrovna, Bush administration (43), Elisabetta Burba, US Department of State, Stephen J. Hadley, Panorama, Michael Ledeen, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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