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Context of 'December 26, 1998 and After: CIA Apparently Does Not Understand It Is Authorized to Assassinate Bin Laden; Bin Laden Unit Not Informed'

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Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, discovers that al-Qaeda has established a communications hub and operations center in Sana’a, Yemen, and that there are frequent calls between it and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan (see May 1996 and November 1996-Late August 1998). [Antiwar, 10/22/2008; PBS, 2/3/2009] According to Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer, the CIA learns of this “communications conduit” through a CIA officer detailed to the NSA and stationed overseas. According to Scheuer, the NSA “refuse[s] to exploit the conduit and threaten[s] legal action against the agency officer who advised of its existence.” Despite the threat, the officer continues to supply the information. Scheuer asks senior CIA officials to intervene with the NSA, but this only leads to “a desultory interagency discussion without resolution.” [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] Author James Bamford will say: “Scheuer knew how important the house [the operations center in Yemen] was, he knew NSA was eavesdropping on the house. He went to NSA, went to the head of operations for NSA,… Barbara McNamara, and asked for transcripts of the conversations coming into and going out of the house. And the best the NSA would do would be to give them brief summaries every… once a week or something like that, you know, just a report, not the actual transcripts or anything. And so he got very frustrated, he went back there and they still refused.” [Antiwar, 10/22/2008] Because of the lack of information, the CIA will actually build its own listening post to get some of the information the NSA is concealing from it (see After December 1996).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Alec Station, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Scheuer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A later review by the CIA’s inspector general will find that the CIA’s counterterrorism resources are not properly administered during this period. The review will comment that “during the same period [CIA counterterrorism managers] were appealing the shortage of resources, senior officials were not effectively managing the Agency’s counterterrorism funds.” In particular:
bullet Although counterterrorism funding increases from 1998, funds are moved from the base budget of the Counterterrorist Center to other CIA units. Some of the funds moved are “used to cover nonspecific corporate ‘taxes’ and for a variety of purposes that… were unrelated to terrorism”;
bullet No funds are moved from other programs to support counterterrorism, even after CIA Director George Tenet issues a “declaration of war” against al-Qaeda in December 1998 and says he wants no resources spared in the fight against terrorism (see December 4, 1998);
bullet Little use of reserve CIA funds is made to fight terrorism;
bullet Counterterrorism managers do not spend all the money they have, even after their funding has been reduced by diversions to other programs. [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. x-xi pdf file]
The CIA’s inspector general will recommend that accountability boards be convened to review the performance of the following officials for these failings:
bullet The executive director (David Carey from July 1997, A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard from March 2001);
bullet The deputy director for operations (Jack Downing from 1997, James Pavitt from 1999); and
bullet The chief of the Counterterrorist Center (Jeff O’Connell from 1997, Cofer Black from summer 1999). [Central Intelligence Agency, 3/16/2001; Coll, 2004, pp. xiv, 456; Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. x-xi pdf file]

Entity Tags: Jeff O’Connell, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Jack Downing, James Pavitt, Counterterrorist Center, David Carey, Central Intelligence Agency, A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard, Cofer Black

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After a renditions branch is established at the CIA in 1997, responsibility at the agency for dealing with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is transferred there. This is because he is wanted in connection with the Bojinka plot (see January 8, 1998). The 9/11 Commission will say that this both improves the CIA’s coverage of KSM—because it gives them a “man-to-man” focus—and also degrades it—as less analysis is performed related to rendition targets. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 276-7] The CIA’s inspector general will say that at this time the agency’s Counterterrorist Center considers KSM a “high-priority target for apprehension and rendition,” but will fail to recognize the importance of reporting from “credible sources” before 9/11 that shows he is a top al-Qaeda leader and is sending other terrorists to the US to work for Osama bin Laden (see June 12, 2001 and August 28, 2001). The inspector general will recommend that an accountability board review the performance of at least four officers for these failures. [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xii-xiii pdf file]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Clinton signs a Memorandum of Notification, which authorizes the CIA to plan the capture of bin Laden using force. The CIA draws up detailed profiles of bin Laden’s daily routines, where he sleeps, and his travel arrangements. The assassination never happens, supposedly because of inadequate intelligence. However, as one officer later says, “you can keep setting the bar higher and higher, so that nothing ever gets done.” An officer who helped draw up the plans says, “We were ready to move” but “we were not allowed to do it because of this stubborn policy of risk avoidance… It is a disgrace.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/16/2001] Additional memoranda quickly follow that authorize the assassination of up to ten other al-Qaeda leaders, and authorize the shooting down of private aircraft containing bin Laden. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001] However, “These directives [lead] to nothing.” [New Yorker, 7/28/2003]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), CIA managers ask Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, what it most needs to improve the agency’s capabilities against al-Qaeda. Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer will later say that he raises “our dire need for verbatim reports derived from electronic collection.” This is a reference to his desire to get verbatim transcripts of calls to and from al-Qaeda’s operations hub in Yemen, in particular ones between it and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. The NSA has the transcripts, but is refusing to provide them to the CIA, and the two agencies have been at loggerheads over the issue for nearly two years. Alec Station needs the transcripts, not the summaries the NSA provides, because the operatives talk in code on the phone and this code cannot be cracked based on the summaries, only using the transcripts (see February 1996-May 1998, December 1996, After December 1996, and After December 1996). Other senior CIA officers have similar trouble getting transcripts from the NSA. Higher officials order the NSA to comply, and they do, but only for less than 12 requests. Then the system returns to the way it was, with NSA only sharing summaries. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] The reason for the change back is unclear, although bin Laden stops using his satellite phone around this time (see Late August 1998).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Michael Scheuer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Following a declaration of war on al-Qaeda issued by CIA Director George Tenet (see December 4, 1998), little happens at the CIA. The CIA’s inspector general will later find that “neither [Tenet] nor [his deputy John McLaughlin] followed up these warnings and admonitions by creating a documented, comprehensive plan to guide the counterterrorism effort at the Intelligence Community level.” However, McLaughlin does chair a single meeting in response to the declaration of war. Although the meetings continue, McLaughlin stops attending, leaving them to the CIA’s No. 3. The meetings are attended by “few if any officers” from other agencies and soon stop discussing strategic aspects of the fight against al-Qaeda. There is no other effort, at the CIA or elsewhere in the intelligence community, to create a strategic plan to combat al-Qaeda at this time or at any other time before 9/11. [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. viii pdf file]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, John E. McLaughlin, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

President Bill Clinton signs a memorandum of notification authorizing the CIA to kill Osama bin Laden. The memo is sent to Clinton by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, apparently at the request of CIA Director George Tenet, who has discussed the memo with Berger and seems to have given it his blessing. The highly classified memo concerns operations by a group of CIA tribal assets in Afghanistan who are monitoring bin Laden. Their task had previously been to capture bin Laden and they had been banned from assassinating him, but these rules are now changed and a kill operation is authorized. The memo makes it very clear that “the president [is] telling the tribal leaders they could kill bin Laden.” 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow will later recall the memo tells the tribal leaders: “you may conduct an operation to kill him,” adding, “There were no euphemisms in the language.” Although the CIA is still legally prevented from assassinating people, Clinton administration lawyers now say that bin Laden is an imminent danger to the US, so he can be killed as a part of pre-emptive self-defense. Despite his role in drafting the memo, Tenet and his deputies will later claim to the 9/11 Commission that Clinton never issued such clear authorization (see Before January 14, 2004). However, the order to assassinate bin Laden is garbled within the CIA and the CIA’s bin Laden unit appears not to receive it (see December 26, 1998 and After). [Washington Post, 2/22/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 357-8]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Osama bin Laden, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA seems not to understand permission given by President Bill Clinton to assassinate Osama bin Laden (see December 24, 1998). The instruction was contained in a memorandum of notification signed by Clinton authorizing the agency to use a group of tribal fighters to kill bin Laden. Previously, the tribal leaders had only been authorized to capture bin Laden, and this new memo marks an important shift in policy. According to author Philip Shenon, the memo is “written in stark language” and it makes it very clear “that the president was telling the tribal leaders they could kill bin Laden.” However, the actual memo is closely held within the CIA, and the 9/11 Commission will comment, “This intent [to have bin Laden killed] was never well communicated or understood within the agency.” Apparently, it is never even communicated to Michael Scheuer, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Scheuer will later express his frustration at not being allowed to try to kill bin Laden, “We always talked about how much easier it would have been to kill him.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 133; Shenon, 2008, pp. 358]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Michael Scheuer, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

President Bill Clinton rewrites a memo authorizing the CIA to use the Northern Alliance in an operation to assassinate Osama bin Laden. This memo follows another one signed by Clinton the previous year that allowed the agency to use a group of tribal fighters to kill bin Laden (see December 24, 1998). The draft February memo contains similar language to the earlier one, but applies to the Northern Alliance, not just the tribal assets. However, Clinton himself deletes the wording authorizing an operation to simply kill bin Laden. Clinton will later tell the 9/11 Commission that he does not recall why he gives the CIA permission to kill bin Laden through the tribal assets, but not through the Northern Alliance. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 360]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Clinton administration issues more instructions to the CIA governing operations against Osama bin Laden, but these instructions do not include wording allowing the CIA to assassinate him. Following the 1998 embassy bombings, Clinton allowed the CIA to mount an operation aimed at killing bin Laden with one group of assets (see December 24, 1998), but not another (see February 1999). These new instructions, drafted by administration lawyers, do not cover the ground of the two previous sets of instructions, but deal with “a wider set of contingencies,” and they authorize the use of force only within the context of a capture operation, not an assassination attempt. The CIA is therefore allowed to try to kill bin Laden only using one specific group of assets—tribal leaders tracking bin Laden in Afghanistan, still based on the earlier instructions. But the CIA does not test “the limits of available legal authority,” apparently because the CIA’s bin Laden unit is not told of the kill authorization (see December 26, 1998 and After) and due to confusion (see February 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 133]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA sends an officer from its Counterterrorist Center (CTC) to the NSA to review raw transcripts of intercepted communications between terrorists. However, the officer is only there for a “brief period” and is subsequently withdrawn and not replaced, damaging the CIA’s ability to exploit the information gleaned from the intercepts. The CIA only previously received summaries of intercepted calls, not the transcripts themselves, and had been arguing for years that it needed the actual transcripts to better understand the material (see February 1996-May 1998, December 1996, After December 1996, After December 1996, and Late August 1998). After the single officer leaves the NSA, which intercepts calls between the US-based 9/11 hijackers and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen around this time (see Early 2000-Summer 2001), the reason the CIA gives for not replacing him is “resource constraints.” In 2005, the CIA’s Office of Inspector General will regard this failure as so serious that it will recommend an accountability board be convened to review the performance of the CTC managers responsible, and will suggest that officers should have been detailed to the NSA “on a consistent, full-time basis.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xxiii pdf file] The CIA and NSA are obtaining information about people in the US from phone companies to support “black ops” at this time (see After July 11, 1997).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Counterterrorist Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Victims’ family members Lorie Van Auken (right) and Kristen Breitweiser (left) are shocked to learn Tom Wilshire blocked a cable to the FBI about Khalid Almihdhar’s visa. Victims’ family members Lorie Van Auken (right) and Kristen Breitweiser (left) are shocked to learn Tom Wilshire blocked a cable to the FBI about Khalid Almihdhar’s visa. [Source: Banded Artists]Doug Miller, an FBI agent assigned to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, reads CIA cables reporting that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa and drafts a cable to the FBI to inform it of this. The CIA obtained the information through a tap on Almihdhar’s phone in Yemen (see December 29, 1999) and by monitoring him as he passed through Dubai (see January 2-5, 2000) on his way to an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000).
Draft Cable - Miller writes that Almihdhar has a US visa (see April 3-7, 1999) and that the visa application states his destination is New York and he intends to stay for three months. The draft cable mentions the tap on Almihdhar’s phone, his planned travel to Malaysia, and the links between his phone and the 1998 East African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and October 4, 2001). It also says that the CIA has obtained photographs of Almihdhar and these will be sent separately. Miller asks the FBI for feedback resulting from an FBI investigation.
Blocked - Another CIA officer named Michael Anne Casey accesses Miller’s draft about an hour after he writes it. The cable is then blocked on the orders of the station’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire, as a few hours after Miller drafts the cable Casey attaches a message to it saying, “pls hold off on [cable] for now per [Tom Wilshire].” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 240 pdf file] Miller is also told, “This is not a matter for the FBI.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 311]
'No Reason to Kill the Message' - Author James Bamford will later comment: “A potential terrorist and member of al-Qaeda was heading for the US, the FBI’s jurisdiction—its turf—and he [Miller] was putting the FBI on notice so it could take action. There was no reason to kill the message.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 19] Miller will later say he has no “rational answer” as to why the cable was blocked, but will speculate that Alec Station officers were annoyed he had encroached on their territory. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] Casey drafts a cable falsely saying that the information about Almihdhar’s visa has been shared with the FBI (see Around 7:00 p.m. January 5, 2000) and there will be a discussion the next day about whether the cable should be sent (see January 6, 2000). The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later call the failure to pass the information to the FBI a “significant failure” but will be unable to determine why the information was not passed on. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 250 pdf file] The 9/11 Commission will know of the incident, but will relegate it to an endnote in its final report, omitting Wilshire’s role entirely. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502] The CIA inspector general will falsely claim that the cable is not sent, “[a]pparently because it was in the wrong format or needed editing.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xv pdf file]

Entity Tags: Michael Anne Casey, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Almihdhar, Doug Miller, 9/11 Commission, Alec Station, Tom Wilshire, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Inspector General (CIA)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Although the CIA passes information to the FBI about the attendance of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, it repeatedly fails to mention that Almihdhar has a US visa (see January 6, 2000, 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, January 5-6, 2000). It also fails to check that the FBI has received this information. The CIA’s inspector general will say it “found no indication that anyone in [the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center] checked to ensure FBI receipt of the information, which, a few [Osama bin Laden] Station officers said, should have been routine practice.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xv pdf file]

Entity Tags: Counterterrorist Center, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Inspector General (CIA)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) ends and the participants leave. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar fly to Bangkok, Thailand, with al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see January 8, 2000). Other attendees depart to other locales. There have been no media reports that any of the others were followed by intelligence agents. [Associated Press, 9/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file] Before the summit started the CIA knew one attendee was named Khalid Almihdhar and that another had the first name Nawaf. At the end of the summit the CIA appears to have learned little more, and still does not know Nawaf’s last name is Alhazmi. Around this time, on January 7 and 10, the CIA searches for their names in their databases but get no hits. Yet they don’t ask for a search of the much larger NSA databases, which had vital information on them (see Early 1999). CIA headquarters asks the NSA to put Almihdhar on their watch list so they can pass on more information about him (see Mid-January 2000). However, neither Alhazmi nor Almihdhar are placed on the State Department’s watch list, which would actually prevent them from coming to the US. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] The CIA still fails to tell the FBI that Almihdhar has a valid US visa, and in fact seems to go out of their way not to tell the FBI about it (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, January 6, 2000, Mid-July 2004, and January 5-6, 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file; Stern, 8/13/2003]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Al-Qaeda, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khallad bin Attash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Fifty to sixty CIA officers read cables reporting on travel by 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. The cables are generated in connection with al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, which Almihdhar and Alhazmi attend and the CIA monitors (see January 5-8, 2000). Even though some of the cables state that Almihdhar has a US visa and Alhazmi has arrived in the US, the FBI is not informed of this (see, for example, January 6, 2000 and March 5, 2000), and the two men are not watchlisted until the summer of 2001 (see August 23, 2001). The cables are drafted at four field offices and at headquarters and are read by overseas officers, headquarters personnel, operations officers, analysts, managers, junior employees, CIA staff, and officers on attachment from the NSA and FBI. The CIA’s inspector general will comment: “Over an 18-month period, some of these officers had opportunities to review the information on multiple occasions, when they might have recognized its significance and shared it appropriately with other components and agencies.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xiv pdf file]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After being prompted by CIA colleagues in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to provide information about what happened to future 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash after they flew from Malaysia to Thailand on January 8, 2000 (see January 8, 2000 and (February 25, 2000)), the CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, sends out a cable saying that Alhazmi arrived in the US from Thailand with an apparently unnamed companion on January 15 (see January 15, 2000). This information was received from Thai intelligence, which watchlisted Almihdhar and Alhazmi after being asked to do so by the CIA (see January 13, 2000 and January 15, 2000). [New York Times, 10/17/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 502]
Companion - The companion to whom the cable refers is presumably Almihdhar. According to later testimony of a senior FBI official, the CIA learns the companion is Almihdhar at this time: “In March 2000, the CIA received information concerning the entry of Almihdhar and Alhazmi into the United States.” [US Congress, 9/20/2002] The CIA disputes this, however. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file] If the companion the cable refers to is Almihdhar, then it is unclear why he would not be named, as the NSA has been intercepting his calls for at least a year (see Early 1999), he was under CIA surveillance earlier in January (see January 5-8, 2000), he is known to have a US visa (see January 2-5, 2000), he is associated with Alhazmi (see January 8-9, 2000), and this cable is prompted by another cable specifically asking where Almihdhar is (see February 11, 2000).
Missed Opportunity - Later, CIA officials, including CIA Director George Tenet and Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black, will admit that this was one of the missed opportunities to watchlist the hijackers. Black will say: “I think that month we watchlisted about 150 people. [The watchlisting] should have been done. It wasn’t.” Almihdhar and Alhazmi will not be added to the US watchlist until August 2001 (see August 23, 2001). [New York Times, 10/17/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file]
Unclear Who Reads Cable - Although Tenet will tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that nobody at CIA headquarters reads this cable at this time (see October 17, 2002), the CIA’s inspector general will conclude that “numerous” officers access this cable and others about Almihdhar. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria District, 3/28/2006 pdf file] These officers are not named, but Tom Wilshire, the CIA’s deputy unit chief in charge of monitoring the two men at this time, will access it in May 2001 at the same time as he accesses other cables about Almihdhar from early 2000 (see May 15, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will say that the cables are “reexamined” at this time, suggesting that Wilshire may have read them before. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 267, 537] Wilshire certainly did access at least two of the cables in January 2000, indicating he may read the cable about the arrival of Alhazmi and the unnamed companion in the US in March 2000. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 240, 282 pdf file]
FBI Not Informed - The knowledge that Alhazmi has entered the US will be disseminated throughout the CIA, but not to the FBI or other US intelligence agencies (see March 6, 2000 and After). When asked about the failure by the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Wilshire will be unable to explain it, saying: “It’s very difficult to understand what happened with that cable when it came in. I do not know exactly why it was missed. It would appear that it was missed completely.” [US Congress, 9/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Nawaf Alhazmi, CIA Bangkok Station, 9/11 Commission, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Alec Station, Tom Wilshire, Khalid Almihdhar, Malaysian Secret Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The CIA cable watchlisting Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and two others (the sections mentioning Shakir and bin Attash are blacked out).The CIA cable watchlisting Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and two others (the sections mentioning Shakir and bin Attash are blacked out). [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)Thanks to the request of Margaret Gillespie, an FBI analyst assigned to the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, the CIA sends a cable to the State Department, INS, Customs Service, and FBI requesting that “bin Laden-related individuals” Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, and Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf (an alias for Khallad bin Attash) be put on the terrorism watch list. All four individuals had attended the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). The cable mostly focuses on Almihdhar, briefly outlining his attendance at the Malaysia summit and his subsequent travel to the US in January 2000 and July 2001. Since March 2000, if not earlier, the CIA has had good reason to believe Alhazmi and Almihdhar were al-Qaeda operatives living in the US, but apparently did nothing and told no other agency about it until now. The hijackers are not located in time, and both die in the 9/11 attacks. FBI agents later state that if they been told about Alhazmi and Almihdhar sooner, “There’s no question we could have tied all 19 hijackers together” given the frequent contact between these two and the other hijackers. [Newsweek, 6/2/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 32-36, 302] However, in what the Washington Post calls a “critical omission,” the FAA, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and the FBI’s Financial Review Group are not notified. The two latter organizations have the power to tap into private credit card and bank data, and claim they could have readily found Alhazmi and Almihdhar, given the frequency the two used credit cards. [Washington Post, 7/25/2003] Furthermore, counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke and his Counterterrorism Security Group are not told about these two operatives before 9/11 either. [Newsweek, 3/24/2004] The CIA later claims the request was labeled “immediate,” the second most urgent category (the highest is reserved for things like declarations of war). [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001] The FBI denies that it was marked “immediate” and other agencies treated the request as a routine matter. [Los Angeles Times, 10/18/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002] The State Department places all four men on the watch list the next day. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file] However, this watch list, named TIPOFF, checks their names only if they use international flights. There is another watch list barring suspected terrorists from flying domestically. On 9/11, it contains only 12 names, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures, and some names are added as late as August 28, 2001. But none of these four men are added to this domestic list before 9/11.(see April 24, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Margaret Gillespie, Khallad bin Attash, TIPOFF, Richard A. Clarke, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, US Department of State, US Customs Service, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration, Counterterrorism and Security Group

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The CIA’s inspector general, which is reviewing some aspects of the CIA’s performance with respect to 9/11, examines the agency’s analysis of Osama bin Laden-related matters before the attacks and finds it was wanting. The executive summary of the inspector general’s report will state that the US intelligence community’s understanding of al-Qaeda “was hampered by insufficient analytic focus, particularly regarding strategic analysis.” The inspector general also asks three former senior analysts to review what was produced about bin Laden. They find that there were some shortcomings, and that some important elements, such as discussions of the implications of information, were ignored. In addition they find there was:
bullet No comprehensive strategic assessment of al-Qaeda by any unit at the CIA;
bullet No comprehensive report focused on bin Laden after 1993;
bullet No examination of the possible use of planes as weapons;
bullet Limited analytic focus on the US as a target;
bullet No comprehensive analysis putting the increased threat reporting in the summer of 2001 into context;
bullet Not much strategic analysis in the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, where the analytical unit focused on current and tactical issues.
In addition, the National Intelligence Council produced its last terrorist threat assessment before 9/11 in 1995, although it was updated in 1997. Work on a new assessment began in early 2001, but was not completed by 9/11. [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xvii-xviii pdf file]

Entity Tags: Counterterrorist Center, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In interviews with the 9/11 Commission, unnamed deputies for CIA director George Tenet repeatedly claim that, before 9/11, they were never given a clear instruction to assassinate Osama bin Laden. This is false, as President Bill Clinton issued such an order following the 1998 embassy bombings (see December 24, 1998). According to author Philip Shenon, the deputies tell the commission “again and again” that they had not been given clear orders to assassinate bin Laden, but “that the CIA had instead been given a confusing set of presidential orders that allowed for bin Laden’s capture, but not his death.” Officers at the CIA apparently blamed this on “overly cautious” lawyers at the White House and Justice Department. The commission learns the deputies’ claims are false from Clinton’s former National Security Adviser Sandy Berger in January 2004 (see January 14, 2004). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 253-4]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The 9/11 Commission arranges for a final interview of CIA Director George Tenet. The Commission’s staff thinks of the interview as a “final test of Tenet’s credibility,” because they believe that both he and other CIA managers have not been telling them the full truth (see Before January 14, 2004 and January 22, 2004). In particular they want to ask him about a memorandum of notification that enabled the CIA to kill Osama bin Laden, but was not acted on (see December 24, 1998).
What Memo? - When the Commission’s Executive Director Philip Zelikow says he wants to talk about the memo, Tenet, who spent a long time revising for his sessions with the Commission (see Before January 22, 2004), replies, “What are you referring to?” Zelikow explains about the memo, but Tenet says, “I’m not sure what we’re talking about.” He then says he remembers an early draft of the memo, which did not authorize the CIA to kill bin Laden. Zelikow explains that the draft Tenet is referring to is an early version of the memo, and that a later version, apparently requested by Tenet himself, allowed the CIA to kill bin Laden. Zelikow has not been able to bring the memo with him, because it is so highly classified, and Tenet still does not remember, saying, “Well, as I say, I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Disbelief - Author Philip Shenon will write: “Zelikow and [Commission staffer Alexis] Albion looked at each other across the table in disbelief. It was the last straw with Tenet, the final bit of proof they needed to demonstrate that Tenet simply could not tell the truth to the Commission.” Zelikow will later say that he concluded Tenet’s memory lapses were not genuine, but that “George had decided not to share information on any topic unless we already had documentary proof, and then he would add as little as possible to the record.”
False Denial - However, Tenet will deny this was the case, and say he could not remember the authorization to kill bin Laden because he had been on holiday when it was signed and transmitted to Afghanistan. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 359-360] However, the 9/11 Commission will state that this memo was “given to Tenet.” In addition, the 9/11 Commission Report calls the message in which the instructions were communicated to the assets in Afghanistan that were to kill bin Laden “CIA cable, message from the DCI.” DCI stands for director of central intelligence, Tenet’s official job title. Therefore, Tenet very probably did know about it. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 132, 485]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, George J. Tenet, Philip Zelikow, Central Intelligence Agency, Alexis Albion

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

White House chief of staff Andy Card learns what the 9/11 Commission Report contains before it is published, as the various chapters are sent to the White House for classification review before the publication date. Card then hears back from the review teams. Despite fears about allegations made by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke (see March 21, 2004) and a key Presidential Daily Brief item (see August 6, 2001), in the words of author Philip Shenon, Card can see “that the Commission’s final report posed no threat to [President] Bush’s re-election.” This is because the report does not “single out individuals for blame. Certainly not George Bush.” The allegations by Clarke, related in a “he-said, she-said” manner in the report, also do not damage National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 411]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Andrew Card

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Details of an internal CIA report (see June-November 2004) investigating the CIA’s failure to stop the 9/11 attacks are leaked to the New York Times. The report by John Helgerson, the CIA’s inspector general, was completed in June 2004 but remains classified (see June-November 2004). It sharply criticizes former CIA Director George Tenet, as well as former Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt. It says these two and others failed to meet an acceptable standard of performance, and recommends that an internal review board review their conduct for possible disciplinary action. Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center at the time of 9/11, is also criticized. However, the New York Times notes that, “It is not clear whether either the agency or the White House has the appetite to reprimand Mr. Tenet, Mr. Pavitt or others.… particularly since President Bush awarded a Medal of Freedom to Mr. Tenet last month.” It is unclear if any reprimands will occur, or even if the final version of the report will point blame at specific individuals. [New York Times, 1/7/2005] In late October 2004, the new CIA Director, Porter Goss, had asked Helgerson to modify the report to avoid drawing conclusions about whether individual CIA officers should be held accountable. [New York Times, 11/2/2004] Helgerson “appears to have accepted [Goss’s] recommendation” and will defer any final judgments to a CIA Accountability Review Board. The final version of the report is said to be completed within weeks. [New York Times, 1/7/2005] However, months pass, and in October 2005, Goss will announce that he is not going to release the report, and also will not convene an accountability board to hold anyone responsible (see October 10, 2005), although an executive summary will be released in 2007 (see August 21, 2007).

Entity Tags: John Helgerson, George W. Bush, Cofer Black, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, James Pavitt

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A revised version of the CIA inspector general’s report into some of the agency’s failings before 9/11 is finished and sent to CIA management. A version of the report had been completed a year earlier, but it had to be revised due to criticism (see June-November 2004). It recommends accountability boards be convened to assess the performance of several officers. Although not all the officers are named, it is sometimes possible to deduce who they are based on the circumstances. The convening of accountability boards is recommended for:
bullet CIA Director George Tenet, for failing to personally resolve differences between the CIA and NSA that impeded counterterrorism efforts;
bullet CIA Executive Director David Carey (July 1997-March 2001), CIA Executive Director A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard (March 2001-9/11), CIA Deputy Director for Operations Jack Downing (1997-1999), and CIA Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt (1999-9/11) for failing to properly manage CIA counterterrorism funds (see 1997-2001);
bullet CIA Counterterrorist Center Chief Jeff O’Connell (1997-1999) for failing to properly manage CIA counterterrorism funds (see 1997-2001), for staffing Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, with officers lacking experience, expertise and training, for failing to ensure units under him coordinated coverage of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), for poor leadership of the CIA’s watchlisting program, for poor management of a program where officers were loaned between the CIA and other agencies, and for failing to send officers to the NSA to review its material;
bullet CIA Counterterrorist Center Chief Cofer Black (Summer 1999-9/11) for failing to properly manage CIA counterterrorism funds (see 1997-2001), for staffing Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, with officers lacking experience, expertise and training, for failing to ensure units under him coordinated coverage of KSM, for poor leadership of the CIA’s watchlisting program, possibly for failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, possibly for failing to do anything about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in 2001, for poor management of a program where officers were loaned between the CIA and other agencies, and for failing to send officers to the NSA to review its material;
bullet Chief of Alec Station Richard Blee. Some sections of the report appear to refer to Blee, but are redacted. It seems to criticize him for failing to properly oversee operations related to KSM, failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, and failing to do anything about Alhazmi and Almihdhar in 2001;
bullet Deputy Chief of Alec Station Tom Wilshire. Some sections of the report appear to refer to Tom Wilshire, but are redacted. It seems to criticize him for failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, and for failing to do anything about Alhazmi and Almihdhar in 2001;
bullet Unnamed officer, possibly head of the CIA’s renditions branch, for failing to properly oversee operations related to KSM;
bullet Unnamed officer, for failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, and for failing to do anything about Alhazmi and Almihdhar in 2001;
bullet Unnamed officer(s), for failure to produce any coverage of KSM from 1997 to 2001. The type of coverage that should have been provided is redacted in the publicly released executive summary of the report.
The report may recommend accountability boards for other officers, but this is not known due to redactions and the publication of only the executive summary. CIA Director Porter Goss will decide not to convene any accountability boards (see October 10, 2005), and the report will remain secret until the executive summary is released in 2007 (see August 21, 2007). [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Jeff O’Connell, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), James Pavitt, Tom Wilshire, Jack Downing, David Carey, A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard, Central Intelligence Agency, Cofer Black, George J. Tenet, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CIA Director Porter Goss announces that the agency will not pursue disciplinary action against any current or former CIA officials who have been severely criticized in an internal report produced by John Helgerson, the CIA’s inspector general. Those who have read the classified report say that it faults about 20 intelligence officials, including former CIA Director George Tenet, his former Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt, and the former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center Cofer Black (see June 2005). Tenet in particular is faulted for focusing too little attention on combating al-Qaeda as a whole in the years prior to 9/11. However, he and others who are singled out strongly object to the report’s conclusions, and have prepared lengthy rebuttals. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, of which Goss was ironically the co-chairman, had formally requested the report in November 2002, as it was finishing its investigation. The 400-page document was completed in June 2004, but its release was delayed (see June-November 2004). John Helgerson finally delivered it to Congress in August 2005, and had urged Goss to convene “accountability boards” to assess the performance of officers it criticized. However, Goss says he has decided not to do this. He says the report in no way suggests “that any one person or group of people could have prevented 9/11,” and that “[o]f the officers named in [Helgerson’s] report, about half have retired from the Agency, and those who are still with us are amongst the finest we have.” Goss also claims the report “unveiled no mysteries,” and states that it will remain classified. [New York Times, 10/5/2005; Los Angeles Times, 10/6/2005; Washington Post, 10/6/2005] In response to Goss’s statement, Sen. John D. Rockefeller (D-WV), the senior Democrat on the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, asks, “What failures in performance, if not these, warrant the convening of an accountability board at the CIA?” 9/11 victim’s relative Kristen Breitweiser comments, “No one has been held accountable for the failures on 9/11.” [Reuters, 10/5/2005]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Porter J. Goss, John D. Rockefeller, Kristen Breitweiser

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Relatives of some of the victims of the 9/11 attacks call on the CIA to release a report drafted by its inspector general into some aspects of the agency’s failings before 9/11. The report was completed in 2004 (see June-November 2004), and rewritten in 2005 (see January 7, 2005), but was not then released (see October 10, 2005). The call is backed by 15,000 signatures on a petition calling for the release. The victims’ relatives, Patty Casazza, Monica Gabrielle, Mindy Kleinberg, and Lorie Van Auken, say the report “is the only major 9/11 government review that has still not been made publicly available,” and quote Newsweek journalist Michael Isikoff saying that the main reason for the report’s non-release is “a desire to protect the reputations of some of the main figures [named in the report].” [Raw Story, 6/18/2007] This coincides with efforts by lawmakers to get part of the report published (see Spring-Summer 2007) and is eventually partially successful (see August 21, 2007).

Entity Tags: Mindy Kleinberg, Lorie Van Auken, Monica Gabrielle, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Central Intelligence Agency, Patty Casazza

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Congressional legislation forces the CIA to declassify and release the executive summary of its inspector general’s report into some of its pre-9/11 failings. The legislation follows a long campaign by senators (see Spring-Summer 2007) and victims’ relatives (see June 18, 2007), and orders the CIA to release the summary within 30 days, together with a classified annex for Congress explaining the report’s redactions. The report was completed in 2004 (see June-November 2004), and rewritten in 2005 (see January 7, 2005), but was then not released (see October 10, 2005). Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) says, “All I can say is that it’s an extraordinarily important, independent assessment, written with a specific purpose to learn how we can improve our security.” Senator Kit Bond (R-MI) points out that “this should have been declassified a long time ago.” [The Hill, 8/8/2007] The report is released two weeks later (see August 21, 2007).

Entity Tags: Ron Wyden, Christopher (“Kit”) Bond, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Inspector General (CIA)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A redacted summary of a report by the CIA’s inspector general into some aspects of the agency’s pre-9/11 performance is released. The report’s main points are:
bullet No CIA employees violated the law or were guilty of misconduct in the run-up to 9/11;
bullet However, some officials did not perform their duties in a satisfactory manner. The report recommended accountability boards be convened to review their performance, but former CIA Director Porter Goss decided against this recommendation in 2005 (see October 10, 2005);
bullet There was no “silver bullet” that could have prevented 9/11, but if officers had performed satisfactorily, they would have had a better chance of stopping the attacks;
bullet The CIA had no comprehensive strategy to combat al-Qaeda before 9/11 (see After December 4, 1998 and Between Mid-December 2002 and June 2004);
bullet Management of counterterrorism funds was poor (see 1997-2001);
bullet Arguments between the CIA and NSA negatively impacted counterterrorism efforts (see December 1996, Late August 1998, and 2000);
bullet Alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was well-known to the CIA before 9/11, but his case was badly handled (see 1997 or After);
bullet There were numerous failures related to the CIA’s monitoring of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see Mid-January-March 2000, 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, Mid-July 2004, (After January 6, 2000), and March 5, 2000);
bullet The CIA also missed “several additional opportunities” to watchlist Pentagon hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 8, 2000 and August 23, 2001). Such watchlisting could have led to them being denied entry, or being placed under surveillance in the US;
bullet The CIA was confused about whether it was authorized to assassinate Osama bin Laden or not (see Mid-August 1998, December 24, 1998, December 26, 1998 and After, February 1999, February 1999, and December 1999);
bullet There were various problems with assets and operations linked to foreign services. [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005 pdf file]
The media picks various angles in commenting on the report (see August 21, 2007), which is criticized by current CIA Director Michael Hayden (see August 21, 2007) and former Director George Tenet (see August 21, 2007).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Inspector General (CIA)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In an interview, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says that the CIA purposefully withheld information from him about two future 9/11 hijackers for over a year before September 11. The interview was taped in October 2009, but is released now by documentary makers Ray Nowosielski and John Duffy ahead of a forthcoming podcast entitled “Who Is Rich Blee?” about the intelligence failures before 9/11. Clarke indicates he found out the CIA failed to pass information on to him not long after 9/11, but assumed the information had been honestly missed by a single junior officer. However, when he later learned at at least 50 officers accessed the information, he began to question this theory. (Note: the news that the information was accessed by at least 50 officers broke in August 2007—see Mid-January-March 2000 and August 21, 2007). According to Clarke, information of the sort the CIA had on two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, was automatically forwarded to him, but he never heard their names before 9/11. Clarke, who admits he cannot prove his allegation that the information was withheld deliberately, says the best explanation he can come up with is that the CIA was attempting to turn the two hijackers into double agents, which is why nobody was told outside the agency. Clarke points out that alleged Saudi intelligence operatives working in the US (see January 15-February 2000 and Spring 2000) who knew the hijackers could have helped with this. Clarke mentions four officials who would have been involved in a decision to withhold information: CIA Director George Tenet, who followed information about al-Qaeda in “microscopic detail,” Counterterrorist Center chief Cofer Black, Alec Station chief Richard Blee, and his deputy Tom Wilshire. Clarke also expresses wonder that the information was not mentioned at a key meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in July 2001 (see July 10, 2001) when Tenet, Black, and Blee were trying to get her to take strong action against al-Qaeda, because what they had on Almihdhar and Alhazmi was the “most persuasive piece of evidence” they had. He also does not understand why the CIA told the FBI in late August 2001 that the two hijackers had entered the country (see August 21-22, 2001). Clarke adds that the CIA presumably did not mention the fact that the two men were in the US at a meeting of high-level officials on September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001) because it would have angered Clarke and this would have led to an investigation in CIA “malfeasance and misfeasance” in concealing the information. However, he thinks the US authorities would have caught the hijackers with a “massive sweep” even if he had been told as late as September 4. Clarke also comments that he never asked Tenet and the other CIA officials about what had happened, as the facts became known to him over time. He also says that Tenet, Black, and Blee have got away with what they did, as they were not held to account by the Joint Congressional Inquiry or the 9/11 Commission. [John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski, 8/11/2011; Truthout (.org), 8/11/2011] Tenet, Black, and Blee received an advance copy of the interview and issued a statement in response (see August 3, 2011).

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Cofer Black, Tom Wilshire, Richard A. Clarke, Central Intelligence Agency, Ray Nowosielski, John Duffy, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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