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Context of 'February 1991- July 1992: CIA Already Spying on Bin Laden in Sudan'

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CIA contractor Billy Waugh trains various al-Qaeda operatives around the globe, possibly for more than a decade. In his 2004 autobiography he will write, “I worked right there with these al-Qaeda operatives and heard these arguments [about the badness of US policy] firsthand many times, especially during an assignment in Yemen.” This training must take place between 1989, when he is hired by the CIA, and 2001, when he begins his last assignment for the agency in Afghanistan. The reference to Yemen may indicate that Waugh worked there during the 1994 civil war, when the US supported the religiously-oriented North Yemen against the breakaway south (see May 21-July 7, 1994). The descriptions of the extremists’ arguments and attitudes contained in his autobiography indicate that Waugh, who conducted surveillance against Osama bin laden in Sudan in the early 1990s (see February 1991- July 1992), has intimate knowledge of the extremists. For example, he will write, “I have spoken to some of those terrorists [from al-Qaeda and related organizations], and they consider terror attacks against the general public their only outlet to hurt and destroy the infidels who have wrongfully ousted them from their homes so many years in the past.” [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 173, 303, 308]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Billy Waugh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

CIA contractor Billy Waugh, who is conducting surveillance against Osama bin Laden in Khartoum, Sudan (see February 1991- July 1992), drafts a plan to assassinate bin Laden. Waugh will later say that the plan, one of “hundreds” of such proposals he prepares for the CIA, is drafted as a natural part of the surveillance and “isn’t anything special,” but is just written “in case someone decided that was the necessary course of action.” The plan is to kill bin Laden while he is traveling, because that is when his security is worst. One CIA car would follow bin Laden on one of his regular trips out of town, another would approach bin Laden’s car from the opposite direction and ram into it. The driver of the trailing car would then get out and shoot bin Laden. Given the poor quality of the Sudanese security services, Waugh thinks it would be simple to evade capture after the shooting. However, the plan is not approved because of restrictions on assassinations at the CIA and because of a lack of specific intelligence tying bin Laden to terrorism at this point. Waugh then considers killing bin Laden himself from one of his surveillance positions without permission, but decides not to do so. [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 207-210]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Billy Waugh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Billy Waugh.Billy Waugh. [Source: Billy Waugh]The CIA monitors bin Laden in Khartoum, Sudan, where he has just moved (see Summer 1991). Billy Waugh, an independent contractor working for the CIA, moves to Khartoum and is given the task of spying on him. Waugh is a legendary fighter already in his sixties who has performed special operations for the US Army and CIA for many years and will continue to do so until he is in his seventies. The Associated Press will later report that Waugh “played a typecast role as an aging American fitness enthusiast and would regularly jog past bin Laden’s home. He said he often came face-to-face with bin Laden, who undoubtedly knew the CIA was tailing him. Neither said anything, but Waugh recalled exchanging pleasantries with bin Laden’s Afghan guards.” [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 121; Associated Press, 6/4/2005] Waugh will later recall, “I was on a tracking team in Sudan keeping track of [bin Laden] in his early days as a possible terrorist network leader. Our CIA Chief of Station there told me upon arrival that [he] was one of our targets, that he was a wealthy Saudi financier and possible supporter of the terrorist outfit called al-Qaeda. He ran companies there and even owned an entire street block in the al-Riyadh section of the city.… At the time of our surveillance operations against him in 1991-92, [he] was not a particularly high priority, though evidence was gathering about him. At the time, it would have been very easy to take him out.” Waugh also claims that he saw bin Laden “in the mountains of the Pakistan/Afghanistan border in the late 1980’s when we were training the [mujaheddin] resistance.” [Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International, 6/2005]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Billy Waugh, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden moves his base of operations from Afghanistan to Sudan (see Summer 1991), and asks US-al-Qaeda double agent Ali Mohamed to assist in the move. The New York Times will later report that US officials claim, “this was a complex operation, involving the transfer through several countries of Mr. bin Laden and at least two dozen of his associates.” Mohamed also stays busy frequenting mosques in the US, apparently recruiting operatives for al-Qaeda. [New York Times, 12/1/1998; Washington File, 5/15/2001] Ihab Ali Nawawi, an al-Qaeda operative based in Florida, helps Mohamed with the move. [Lance, 2006, pp. 123]

Entity Tags: Ihab Ali Nawawi, Osama bin Laden, Ali Mohamed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden’s house in Khartoum, Sudan.Bin Laden’s house in Khartoum, Sudan. [Source: PBS]It has not been revealed when US intelligence begins monitoring bin Laden exactly, though the CIA was tailing him in Sudan by the end of 1991 (see February 1991- July 1992). But in late 1995 the FBI is given forty thick files on bin Laden from the CIA and NSA, mostly communications intercepts (see October 1995). The sheer amount of material suggests the surveillance had been going on for several years. Dan Coleman, an FBI agent working with the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will begin examining these files and finds that many of them are transcripts from wiretapped phones tied to bin Laden’s businesses in Khartoum, Sudan, where bin Laden lives from 1991 to 1996. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149; Wright, 2006, pp. 242-244] CIA Director George Tenet will later comment, “The then-obscure name ‘Osama bin Laden’ kept cropping up in the intelligence traffic.… [The CIA] spotted bin Laden’s tracts in the early 1990s in connection with funding other terrorist movements. They didn’t know exactly what this Saudi exile living in Sudan was up to, but they knew it was not good.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 100] The London Times will later report that in Sudan, “bin Laden used an $80,000 satellite phone and al-Qaeda members used radios to avoid being bugged…” [London Times, 10/7/2001] Bin Laden is mistaken in his belief that satellite phones cannot be monitored; a satellite phone he buys in 1996 will be monitored as well (see November 1996-Late August 1998).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Osama bin Laden, Dan Coleman, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The airplane that will be bought for bin Laden.The airplane that will be bought for bin Laden. [Source: Fox News]High-ranking al-Qaeda operative Wadih El-Hage contacts Essam al Ridi, a militant who had previously helped the anti-Soviet jihad in Afghanistan (see Early 1983-Late 1984), to discuss buying a jet plane for Osama bin Laden. El Hage is at bin Laden’s base in Sudan, and al Ridi is in Texas, where he works as a flight instructor. The two men know each other from the 1980s, when they shipped equipment from the US to the mujaheddin in Afghanistan (see 1987 or 1988). The FBI has been aware of El-Hage’s terrorist connections for some time (see March 1991), and the CIA is monitoring bin Laden in Sudan (see February 1991- July 1992). There are “quite a few” communications, in which the two men discuss the price of the aircraft, the fact that the plane is for bin Laden, and the plane’s range. El-Hage says that the plane has to be able to fly 2,000 miles, as he and bin Laden want to use it to ship Stinger missiles from Peshawar, Pakistan, to Khartoum, Sudan, and al Ridi and El-Hage discuss the technicalities of shipping the missiles. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] Bin Laden sends money for the plane to al Ridi in the US (see Between August 1992 and 1993), and al Ridi then buys the plane and flies it to Sudan (see Early 1993). It is unclear if these calls are monitored, although bin Laden is under surveillance by the US at this time (see Early 1990s and Early 1990s).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Essam al Ridi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Al-Qaeda leaders travel from Khartoum, Sudan, to Mogadishu, Somalia, while US forces are present there. These forces will be attacked shortly afterwards in the infamous “Black Hawk Down” incident (see October 3-4, 1993). This is only one of several trips to Somalia at this time (see Late 1992-October 1993).
Details of Trip - The names of all five operatives who travel are not known, but one of them is Mohammed Atef (a.k.a. Abu Hafs), who will later become al-Qaeda’s military commander. According to Essam al Ridi, the pilot who flies them on the first leg of the journey to Nairobi, Kenya, they are dressed in Saudi, Western, and Yemeni outfits. The trip from Khartoum to Nairobi is arranged by an associate of Osama bin Laden’s named Wadih El-Hage, and the five men continue from Nairobi to Mogadishu in a different aircraft. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001; United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 5/8/2001] Al Ridi will later say that at some time after the flight he heard the men had gone to Somalia to stir up tribal leaders against American peacekeeping forces. [New York Times, 6/3/2002]
Surveillance - Bin Laden and his associates are under surveillance in Sudan at this time, by the CIA and Egyptian intelligence (see February 1991- July 1992 and Early 1990s), and the plane used to make the trip to Nairobi is well-known at Khartoum airport and is associated with bin Laden (see (1994-1995)), so the CIA and Egyptians may learn of this trip. However, what action they take, if any, is not known. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001; United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 5/8/2001] In addition, Sudanese intelligence will later say that only a handful of al-Qaeda operatives travel to Somalia at this time, although it is not known when and how the Sudanese obtain this information. [Wright, 2006, pp. 188]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Mohammed Atef, Essam al Ridi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden’s crashed airplane.Bin Laden’s crashed airplane. [Source: Fox News]Essam al Ridi, an associate of Osama bin Laden who previously purchased an aircraft for him (see Early 1993), is asked to sell the aircraft by Wadih El-Hage, another bin Laden associate. Al Ridi, who obtains US citizenship in 1994, agrees to check the plane out and try to sell it in Egypt, where he is living at the moment. Al Ridi goes to examine the plane, which is in Khartoum, Sudan. He travels through Nairobi, Kenya, because he is worried about surveillance by Egyptian intelligence, and meets El-Hage, who is now living in Nairobi. Upon arrival in Khartoum, El-Hage is met by Ihab Ali Nawawi, another bin Laden operative and US-trained pilot. They find that the plane is in poor condition, and try to repair it. However, both sets of brakes fail upon landing after a test flight and the plane crashes into a sandbank near the runway. The accident is noticed by the tower and “everybody else,” and is a major event because, as al Ridi will later say in court: “[T]his aircraft was very unique to Khartoum. There is no such private jet aircraft at Khartoum International Airport.” Al Ridi is extremely concerned because of bin Laden’s notoriety and because “[e]verybody knows that it is Osama bin Laden’s aircraft.” He knows Egyptian intelligence in Khartoum will soon find out about the incident and will then come looking for him, so he is “very concerned to leave,” and he takes the first plane out of the country. [United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, 1/14/2001] The CIA has been monitoring bin Laden in Sudan since he moved there in 1991 (see February 1991- July 1992 and Early 1990s), and it would make sense that the CIA would learn of the accident due to the plane’s known ownership by bin Laden. However, it is unclear if they do so and what action they take based on it, if any. During the Soviet-Afghan War, al Ridi had supplied bin Laden with assassination rifles in Afghanistan, and later said that the CIA was aware of this transaction (see Early 1989).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Ihab Ali Nawawi, Essam al Ridi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

David Cohen.David Cohen. [Source: Ting-Li Wang / New York Times]David Cohen, head of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations, wants to test the idea of having a “virtual station,” which is a station based at CIA headquarters and focusing on one target. He chooses Michael Scheuer to run it. Scheuer is running the Islamic Extremist Branch of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center at the time and had suggested creating a station to focus just on bin Laden. The new unit, commonly called Alec Station, begins operations in February 1996 (see February 1996). The 9/11 Commission will later comment that Scheuer had already “noticed a recent stream of reports about bin Laden and something called al-Qaeda.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 109] It has been widely reported that US intelligence was unaware of the term al-Qaeda until after defector Jamal al-Fadl revealed it later in 1996 (see June 1996-April 1997). But Billy Waugh, an independent contractor hired by the CIA to spy on bin Laden and others in Sudan in 1991 to 1992, will later claim that the CIA was aware of the term al-Qaeda back then (see February 1991- July 1992). And double agent Ali Mohamed revealed the term to the FBI in 1993 (see May 1993). The term will first be used by the media in August 1996 (see August 14, 1996).

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Counterterrorist Center, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station, David Cohen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Based on a review of the Lexis-Nexus database, the term al-Qaeda is first mentioned in the mainstream media on this day. A United Press International article draws from a State Department fact sheet released today (see August 14, 1996) and states, “Earlier, during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, Usama Bin Ladin drew on his family’s wealth ‘plus donations received from sympathetic merchant families in the Gulf region’ to organize the Islamic Salvation Foundation, or al-Qaida. The group established recruitment centers in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan that enlisted and sheltered thousands of Arab recruits to fight the Soviets. ‘This network remains active,’ the State Department said.” (The spelling is the same as in the original.) [US Department of State, 8/14/1996; United Press International, 8/14/1996] The term was first used in an overseas article by the French wire service Agence France-Presse, in May 1993 (see May 30, 1993). The CIA has been aware of the term since at least the start of 1996 (see Shortly Before February 1996) and possibly by 1991, if not earlier (see February 1991- July 1992). However, the term will remain little used and little understood by the media for the next several years. For instance, the New York Times will first mention it two years later in quoting the courtroom testimony of one of the plotters of the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). It is referred to as “al-Qaeda, an international terrorist group, led by Mr. bin Laden.” [New York Times, 8/28/1998]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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