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Context of '(1:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001: CIA Briefer Tells President Bush He Blames Bin Laden for Today’s Attacks'

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President Bush asks Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, who is responsible for today’s attacks on the US and Morell says he is sure al-Qaeda is to blame. About 15 minutes after Air Force One left Barksdale Air Force Base (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001), White House chief of staff Andrew Card enters the staff section of the plane, where Morell is seated, and tells Morell that the president wants to see him. Morell goes to Bush’s office, where he then sits alone with the president and Card.
CIA Briefer Says He'd Bet Al-Qaeda Was behind the Attacks - Bush wants to know who Morell thinks is responsible for today’s attacks. “Michael, who did this?” he asks. Morell explains that he doesn’t have any intelligence indicating who is to blame, so he will simply provide his personal opinion. “I said that there were two countries capable of carrying out an attack like this, Iran and Iraq, but I believed both would have everything to lose and nothing to gain from the attack,” he will later recall. The culprit was almost certainly a non-state actor, he says, adding that he has no doubt that the trail of evidence will lead to the doorstep of Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda. “I’d bet my children’s future on that,” he says.
Briefer Is Unsure How Long It Will Take to Determine Who Is Responsible - “When will we know?” Bush asks. Morell replies, “I can’t say for sure,” and then goes over some recent terrorist attacks and says how long it took the CIA to determine, with any certainty, who was responsible. He says that in the case of the 1998 bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), it took a couple of days; with the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen in 2000 (see October 12, 2000), it took a couple of months; but with the 1996 bombing of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996), it had taken over a year. He says the CIA may know soon who is to blame for today’s attacks, but then again it might take some time. Bush says nothing in response once Morell has finished giving his views on who is responsible for today’s attacks and the men sit in silence for a while. Finally, Morell asks, “Is there anything else, Mr. President?” and Bush replies, “No, Michael, thank you.” Morell then returns to his seat in the staff section of the plane. [Studies in Intelligence, 9/2006 pdf file; Morell and Harlow, 2015, pp. 55-56; Politico Magazine, 9/9/2016] Bush will learn that the CIA has linked al-Qaeda to today’s attacks later this afternoon, after Air Force One lands at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001). During a video teleconference, CIA Director George Tenet will tell him that early signs indicate the terrorist group is behind the attacks (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326; Bowden, 2012, pp. 17-18]

Entity Tags: Michael J. Morell, George W. Bush, Andrew Card

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush takes part in a video teleconference at Offutt Air Force Base. Chief of Staff Andrew Card sits on his left, and Admiral Richard Mies sits on his left.
President Bush takes part in a video teleconference at Offutt Air Force Base. Chief of Staff Andrew Card sits on his left, and Admiral Richard Mies sits on his left. [Source: White House]At Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, President Bush convenes the first meeting of the National Security Council since the attacks occurred. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 26] He begins the video conference call from a bunker beneath the base. He and Chief of Staff Andrew Card visually communicate directly with Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, CIA Director Tenet, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and others. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Washington Times, 10/8/2002] According to Clarke, Bush begins the meeting by saying, “I’m coming back to the White House as soon as the plane is fueled. No discussion.” But according to Condoleezza Rice, he begins with the words, “We’re at war.” Clarke leads a quick review of what has already occurred, and issues that need to be quickly addressed. Bush asks CIA Director Tenet who he thinks is responsible for the day’s attacks. Tenet later recalls, “I told him the same thing I had told the vice president several hours earlier: al-Qaeda. The whole operation looked, smelled, and tasted like bin Laden.” Tenet tells Bush that passenger manifests show that three known al-Qaeda operatives had been on Flight 77. According to Tenet, when he tells the president in particular about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (two of the alleged Flight 77 hijackers), Bush gives Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, “one of those ‘I thought I was supposed to be the first to know’ looks.” (Other evidence indicates the third al-Qaeda operative whose name is on the passenger manifest would be Salem Alhazmi (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).) Tenet tells the meeting that al-Qaeda is “the only terrorist organization capable of such spectacular, well-coordinated attacks,” and that “Intelligence monitoring had overheard a number of known bin Laden operatives congratulating each other after the attacks. Information collected days earlier but only now being translated indicated that various known operatives around the world anticipated a big event. None specified the day, time, place or method of attack.” Richard Clarke later corroborates that Tenet had at this time told the president he was certain that al-Qaeda was to blame. Yet only six weeks later, in an October 24, 2001 interview, Rice will claim differently. She will say, “In the first video conference, the assumption that everybody kind of shared was that it was global terrorists.… I don’t believe anybody said this is likely al-Qaeda. I don’t think so.” Tenet also relays a warning the CIA has received from French intelligence, saying another group of terrorists is within US borders and is preparing a second wave of attacks. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld briefs on the status of US forces, and states that about 120 fighters are now above US cities. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 26-27; Clarke, 2004, pp. 21-22; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326 and 554; Tenet, 2007, pp. 169] The meeting reportedly ends around 4:00-4:15 p.m. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Washington Times, 10/8/2002]

Entity Tags: Norman Mineta, Osama bin Laden, Richard Armitage, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, National Security Council, George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Andrew Card, Al-Qaeda, Condoleezza Rice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mike Morell.Mike Morell. [Source: Public domain]CIA Director George Tenet arrives at the White House to give the president his daily intelligence briefing. With him is Mike Morell, the president’s regular CIA briefer. They meet with Bush at 8 a.m. in the Oval Office, joined by Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) on this day is about ten to twelve pages long, and a further twelve pages includes full reports from case officers, the Directorate of Intelligence, and the National Security Agency. The PDB includes a review of the available intelligence tracing the previous day’s attacks back to Osama bin Laden and his top al-Qaeda associates. Among the evidence presented:
bullet Several reports identify Capitol Hill and the White House as intended targets of the attacks.
bullet One report says a bin Laden associate incorrectly “gave thanks for the explosion in the Congress building.”
bullet A key figure in the al-Qaeda charity front the Wafa Humanitarian Organization had initially claimed that “The White House has been destroyed,” but then had to correct himself.
bullet A report shows that al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan had said at 9:53 a.m. the previous day that the attackers were following through with “the doctor’s program” (see 9:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). This is thought to be a reference to the second-ranking member of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician often referred to as “the Doctor.”
bullet The CIA and the FBI have evidence connecting at least three of the alleged hijackers to Osama bin Laden and his training camps in Afghanistan. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Salem Alhazmi were quickly linked to al-Qaeda on the day of 9/11, as two of them were on a US watch list even before 9/11 (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001). The attacks were also consistent with intelligence reports throughout the summer that indicated bin Laden was planning “spectacular attacks” against US targets.
bullet A report out of Kandahar, Afghanistan shows the attacks were “the results of two years’ planning.”
bullet Another report says the attacks were “the beginning of the wrath.”
bullet A key piece of evidence involves Abu Zubaida, who has been identified as the chief field commander for the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. A supposedly reliable report received after the 9/11 attacks stated that Zubaida had referred to September 11 as “zero hour.” It is not known is an intercepted message from before 9/11 saying “tomorrow is zero hour,” or some other message (see September 10, 2001).
According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, “For Tenet, the evidence on bin Laden was conclusive—game, set, match.” Though Tenet, along with Rice and other officials, has already spent several months working on a plan to vastly expand covert action in Afghanistan and worldwide, he tells Bush that an even more extensive plan will soon be presented for approval, and this will be very expensive. The president tells him, “Whatever it takes.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 39-41; Washington Post, 1/28/2002; Kessler, 2003, pp. 231-233; Tenet, 2007, pp. 165] Bush will approve Tenet’s plan by the following Monday (see September 17, 2001).

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi, Michael J. Morell, Osama bin Laden, Khalid Almihdhar, George J. Tenet, Wafa Humanitarian Organization, Abu Zubaida, George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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