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Context of 'Early September 2001: CIA Assets Penetrated Al-Qaeda Training Camps by This Time'

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During a post-9/11 trial in Germany, Shadi Abdellah, a militant who briefly served as one of Osama bin Laden’s bodyguards, will claim that in early 2001: “Bin Laden spoke in a speech of an attack against the United States and said there would be thousands of dead.… When there was an attack, we weren’t told. They just said to us, ‘Pray for your brothers.’” [Guardian, 11/28/2002; Associated Press, 11/2/2004] According to another account, Abdellah hears bin Laden say: “We will hit America’s spine soon. Thousands will die. We will hit them hard.” [Los Angeles Times, 11/28/2002] Abdellah spent time at al-Qaeda training camps from early 2000 until May 2001, so presumably this speech was in May 2001 or before then. Abdellah will be captured in Germany in 2002 for a role in helping to plot attacks against Jewish targets there (see April 2002). [Guardian, 11/28/2002; Associated Press, 11/2/2004] Bin Laden will make other similar public comments hinting at a massive attack against the US later in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001). While it is unknown if US intelligence is aware of such speeches before 9/11, by July 2001 the CIA will report that a source in Afghanistan has said, “Everyone is talking about an impending attack” (see July 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Shadi Abdellah

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Lackawanna Six. Top row, from left: Faysal Galab, Mukhtar al-Bakri, and Sahim Alwan. Bottom row, from left: Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed, and Yaseinn Taher.The Lackawanna Six. Top row, from left: Faysal Galab, Mukhtar al-Bakri, and Sahim Alwan. Bottom row, from left: Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed, and Yaseinn Taher. [Source: Associated Press]A group of seven men in Lackawanna, near Buffalo, New York, are influenced by religious discussions with two al-Qaeda operatives, Kamal Derwish and Juma al-Dosari. The seven US citizens—Yaseinn Taher, Yahya Goba, Shafel Mosed, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Sahim Alwan, Faysal Galab, and Jaber Elbaneh—leave for jihad training in Afghanistan. They tell friends they are merely going to Pakistan for religious instruction. Escorted by Derwish, the men travel separately and attend a six-week long weapons course at the Al Farooq camp. Some of them meet Osama bin Laden in Kandahar and they all hear him give a speech (see (June 2001)). However, most of them apparently think they are in over their heads and find excuses to cut their basic training course short and return home. The six who return show little to no evidence of any al-Qaeda plotting in the following months. Jaber Elbaneh, however, becomes committed and stays overseas with al-Qaeda. The six who return will later be arrested and dubbed an al-Qaeda cell known as the “Lackawanna Six” (see September 13, 2002). [PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003]

Entity Tags: Yaseinn Taher, Al Farooq training camp, Shafel Mosed, Yahya Goba, Osama bin Laden, Faysal Galab, Jaber Elbaneh, Juma al-Dosari, Sahim Alwan, Mukhtar al-Bakri, Kamal Derwish

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

John Walker Lindh.
John Walker Lindh. [Source: Alexandria, Virginia, Sheriff's Department]John Walker Lindh, a young Caucasian man from California who has converted to Islam, travels to Peshawar, Pakistan, in an attempt to fight for Islamic causes. He had been studying the Koran for about six months elsewhere in Pakistan, but otherwise had no particularly special training, qualifications, or connections. Within days, he is accepted into al-Qaeda and sent to the Al Farooq training camp in Afghanistan. Seven other US citizens are already training there (see April-August 2001). He inadvertently learns details of the 9/11 attacks. In June, he is told by an instructor that “bin Laden had sent forth some fifty people to carry out twenty suicide terrorist operations against the United States and Israel.” He learns that the 9/11 plot is to consist of five attacks, not the four that actually occur. The other fifteen operations are to take place later. He is asked if he wants to participate in a suicide mission, but declines. [Mahoney, 2003, pp. 162, 216; Bamford, 2004, pp. 234-36]
News of Upcoming Attacks Are Widespread in Camps - Although Lindh does not tell this information to any US officials, the fact that he learns this much so quickly is indicative of how widely news of the upcoming attacks are spreading in the al-Qaeda training camps. For instance, early 2001, bin Laden gave a speech at one of the camps talking about an attack on the US that would kill thousands (see Early 2001). In the summer, bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs (see Summer 2001). By July, a source will tell the CIA that (see July 2001)
What Could an Informant in the Camps Learn? - Author James Bamford comments, “The decision to keep CIA employees at arm’s length from [al-Qaeda] was a serious mistake. At the same moment the CIA was convinced al-Qaeda was impenetrable, a number of American citizens were secretly joining al-Qaeda in Afghanistan—and being welcomed with open arms.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 161]

Entity Tags: John Walker Lindh, James Bamford, Al-Qaeda, Al Farooq training camp, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Word begins to spread within al-Qaeda that an attack against the US is imminent, according to later prison interrogations of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Many within al-Qaeda are aware that Mohammed has been preparing operatives to go to the US. Additionally, bin Laden makes several remarks hinting at an upcoming attack, spawning rumors throughout Muslim extremist circles worldwide.
bullet In a recorded speech at the Al Farooq training camp in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004]
bullet Members of the “Lackawanna Six” see bin Laden give a recorded speech at the Al Farooq camp in which he urges trainees to pray for 40 en route on a very important mission. It is not known if this is the same as the other Al Farooq speech or a separate one (see (June 2001)).
bullet A bin Laden bodyguard later will claim that in May 2001 or earlier in the year he heard bin Laden tell people in Afghanistan that the US would be hit with an attack, and thousands would die (see Early 2001). [Guardian, 11/28/2002]
bullet In mid-June 2001, bin Laden tells training camp trainees there will be an attack in the near future. US intelligence soon learns of this (see Mid-June 2001).
bullet In June 2001, the CIA hears that Arabs in Afghanistan are said to be anticipating as many as eight celebrations, and al-Qaeda operatives are being told to await important news within days (see June 2001).
bullet John Walker Lindh learns details of the 9/11 attack despite being a Caucasian and US citizen who only recently converted to Islam (see May-June 2001).
There are other indications that knowledge of the attacks spreads in Afghanistan. The Daily Telegraph later reports that “the idea of an attack on a skyscraper [is] discussed among [bin Laden’s] supporters in Kabul.” At some unspecified point before 9/11, a neighbor in Kabul sees diagrams showing a skyscraper attack in a house known as a “nerve center” for al-Qaeda activity. [Daily Telegraph, 11/16/2001] US soldiers will later find forged visas, altered passports, listings of Florida flight schools and registration papers for a flight simulator in al-Qaeda houses in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 12/6/2001]

Entity Tags: Al Farooq training camp, Al-Qaeda, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Osama Bin Laden tells trainees in his Afghanistan training camps that there will be an attack in the near future. US intelligence learns of this comment and it is mentioned to top US leaders in an early July 2001 briefing (see July 10, 2001). More details, such as how the US learned this or how many people bin Laden told this to, have not been made public. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 152] But in the summer of 2001, bin Laden is overheard making a number of similar comments hinting at upcoming attacks (see Summer 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, US intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The CIA hears an individual who had recently been in Afghanistan say, “Everyone is talking about an impending attack.” [US Congress, 9/18/2002; Washington Post, 9/19/2002] This corresponds with evidence that bin Laden and others were telling many in Afghanistan about the attacks at this time (see Summer 2001).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CBS later reports, in a long story on another topic: “Just days after [Mohamed] Atta return[s] to the US from Spain, Egyptian intelligence in Cairo says it received a report from one of its operatives in Afghanistan that 20 al-Qaeda members had slipped into the US and four of them had received flight training on Cessnas. To the Egyptians, pilots of small planes didn’t sound terribly alarming, but they [pass] on the message to the CIA anyway, fully expecting Washington to request information. The request never [comes].” [CBS News, 10/9/2002] This appears to be just one of several accurate Egyptian warnings from their informants inside al-Qaeda. Around this time, word of the upcoming 9/11 attacks is spreading widely in the training camps in Afghanistan. For instance, in a recorded speech played at one of the camps, Osama bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs (see Summer 2001).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In a 2007 book about the “Lackawanna Six” entitled The Jihad Next Door, author Dina Temple-Raston will write that al-Qaeda “shuttered the training camps in August 2001, leaving little sign of the encampments that once dotted the Pakistan-Afghan border.” After 9/11, the camps are not reopened. [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 130] One article shortly after 9/11 suggests that bin Laden moves his training camps in Afghanistan “in the days before the attacks.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/16/2001] Presumably the CIA notices. CIA Director George Tenet will later claim a group of men from an allied intelligence agency penetrated the camps not long before 9/11 (see Early September 2001), satellites are monitoring Afghanistan from the sky, and the CIA had over 100 assets in Afghanistan before 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). FBI agent Jack Cloonan will also later say, “There were agents run into the camps” (see Before September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CIA Director George Tenet will claim in his 2007 book that “a group of assets from a Middle Eastern service” is unknowingly working for the CIA by this time. Out of the more than twenty people in this group, one third are working against al-Qaeda. By September 2001, two assets have successfully penetrated al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 145] The name of the Middle Eastern country is not known. It is also not known when this group first started working for the CIA nor when the assets first penetrated the camps. Nor has it been reported what information these assets may have shared with the CIA before 9/11. It is known that bin Laden was dropping hints about the upcoming 9/11 attacks to training camp trainees in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001). Further, US citizen John Walker Lindh was told details of the 9/11 attacks within weeks of joining a training camp that summer (see May-June 2001).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In a 2007 book, CIA Director George Tenet will say, “As a result of the intelligence community’s efforts, in concert with our foreign partners, by September 11, Afghanistan was covered in human and technical operations.” Tenet claims:
bullet The CIA is working with eight separate Afghan tribal networks.
bullet The CIA has “more than 100 recruited sources inside Afghanistan.”
bullet Satellites are repositioned over Afghanistan.
bullet Al-Qaeda training camps are systematically mapped.
bullet Efforts are stepped up to closely monitor news about al-Qaeda in the media around the world.
bullet “Major collection facilities” are placed on the borders of Afghanistan.
bullet Other “conventional and innovative collection methods” are used to penetrate al-Qaeda worldwide.
bullet According to Tenet, “Leadership of the FBI [is] given full transparency” into the CIA’s efforts. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 120-121] Tenet has not explained how the CIA managed to miss learning about the 9/11 attacks if this is so, given that a major attack was being widely discussed in Afghanistan training camps in the months before 9/11 (see Summer 2001).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

US News and World Report reveals that US intelligence has a growing number of al-Qaeda informants. The magazine comments, “Once thought nearly impossible to penetrate, al-Qaeda is proving no tougher a target than the KGB or the Mafia—closed societies that took the US government years to get inside.” An unnamed US intelligence official says: “We’re getting names, the different camps they trained at, the hierarchy, the infighting. It’s very promising.” Many prisoners have begun to reveal what they know as knowledge of al-Qaeda increases and their interrogations are based on more information about them. One official says, “Now when you go to interrogate people, you know when they’re lying.” [US News and World Report, 9/22/2002]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, US intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 2006, journalist Ron Suskind will report that by late 2002, the CIA had developed “a source from within Pakistan who was tied tightly into al-Qaeda management.” He gives him the alias “Ali.” He claims that many within al-Qaeda like Ali thought the 9/11 attacks were a mistake, and that as a result US intelligence began “working a few potential informants.” He claims that by early 2003, Ali’s reports over the previous six months “had been almost always correct, including information that led to several captures.” Ali also warned of a new chemical bomb al-Qaeda has developed and revealed the name of the top al-Qaeda operative in Saudi Arabia (see February-Late March 2003). But Suskind will give no further details about Ali or what becomes of him, and no details about the other “potential informants” that he hints at. However, he will comment, “It has been generally acknowledged that the United States does not have any significant human sources… inside al-Qaeda. That is not true.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 216-218]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Ron Suskind, Al-Qaeda, Ali

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

On January 16, 2007, a young man known as Asim arrives in Barcelona. He had recently been living in the Pakistani tribal region of Waziristan as an informant for French intelligence. He comes to Barcelona to inform on a group of Pakistanis living in that town who spent time in Pakistani training camps and allegedly are planning a series of suicide attacks in Spain and possibly other European countries. He is posing as one of the suicide bombers. Fearing that an attack is imminent, Spanish authorities arrest most of the suspects three days later (see January 19, 2008). But the Spanish decide that they don’t have enough physical evidence to successfully prosecute the arrested suspects, and they turn Asim into a protected witness for the prosecution. The New York Times will comment, “the case has caused diplomatic friction among investigators. Spain’s handling of the French informant has enraged officials at France’s intelligence agencies and eroded trust between the countries, French and other European officials said. The informant’s value as a source was destroyed when he was made a prosecution witness and the contents of his statements were leaked to the news media.” Asim’s case contradicts the commonly held notion that intelligence agencies have been unable to penetrate al-Qaeda’s central command (see March 20, 2008). But many questions remain. It is unclear when he first penetrated Waziristan as an informant, how much time he spent there, and how high level his al-Qaeda contacts there were. [New York Times, 2/10/2008]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Asim

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Moroccan police arrest 35 people for involvement in a radical militant group led by an informant for the Belgian government. Over the next several weeks, it will gradually be leaked to the media that the arrested leader of the group, Abdelkader Belliraj, has worked for Belgian intelligence and possibly the CIA since at least 2000 (see February 29, 2008). Belliraj holds both Belgian and Moroccan citizenship and is a Shiite. His unnamed group has both Shiite and Sunni Muslim links, and is linked to Islamist militant groups like al-Qaeda as well as to traditional organized crime. Others arrested in Morocco with Belliraj include local politicians, businessmen, a police commander and Hezbollah television station correspondent. A large stockpile of weapons is found in police raids, including assault rifles, machine guns, and detonators. Two days after the raids, the small Islamist party al-Badil al-Hadari is officially dissolved after several of those arrested are found to have links to the party, including the party’s secretary general. The Moroccan government claims Belliraj’s group was planning a series of political assassinations in Morocco. [Los Angeles Times, 2/27/2008; Terrorism Focus, 3/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Abdelkader Belliraj

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Abdelkader Belliraj.Abdelkader Belliraj. [Source: Agence France-Presse]The Belgian media reports that Abdelkader Belliraj, a dual Belgian-Moroccan citizen arrested in Morocco earlier in the month, is actually a long-time informant for Belgium’s internal security service, State Security. [Agence France-Presse, 2/29/2008; Los Angeles Times, 8/24/2008] The Belgian government initially denies the charges but soon tacitly admits them when the head of State Security, Alain Winants, complains about the leak of the “highly classified” status of Belliraj several days later. Agence France-Presse reports that although the “accusations were at first met with scepticism in Belgium, authorities now consider them credible.” Belliraj has been personally involved in armed robberies and murders dating back to the 1980s, and has links to al-Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other Islamist militant groups. It remains unclear if Belliraj was committing all his crimes with the approval of Belgian officials or if he may have been duping them to some degree. One anonymous Belgian police official speculates: “How could he travel freely since the 1980s from Belgium to various terrorist hot-beds around the world? There are two possibilities: either he worked for a secret service or else the State Security is full of idiots.” [Agence France-Presse, 3/11/2008] On Belgian newspaper claims that at the same time he was a paid Belgian informant since 2000, “It’s almost certain that at the same time he worked for another foreign secret service, possibly the French DGSE or American CIA.” [Het Laatste News, 3/4/2008] Another major Belgian newspaper, De Morgen, claims that Belliraj had both French and US intelligence links while working with Belgium too. [Maghreb Arabe Presse, 3/4/2008]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Abdelkader Belliraj, Alain Winants, State Security (of Belgium)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Washington Post publishes a front page story promoting the myth that al-Qaeda has never been effectively penetrated by intelligence agencies. The article by Craig Whitlock is titled After a Decade at War With West, Al-Qaeda Still Impervious to Spies. It states that “al-Qaeda’s core organization in Pakistan and Afghanistan has so far proved impervious to damaging leaks.” It quotes Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, who says that from 1992 until November 2004 (when he left the CIA), “[the CIA] worked side by side with the Egyptians, the Jordanians—the very best Arab intelligence services—and they didn’t recruit a single person who could report on al-Qaeda.” The article seems to be a reaction to the case of Abdelkader Belliraj, which was publicly exposed several weeks earlier, when Belliraj was arrested in Morocco (see February 18, 2008 and February 29, 2008). The article notes that Belliraj was a Belgian government informant and important Islamist militant leader who had al-Qaeda links for years and met with al-Qaeda second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan (see 2001). Belliraj’s case seemingly undercuts the thrust of the article, but the rest of the article mostly quotes a series of anonymous intelligence officials who say penetrating al-Qaeda would be next to impossible. [Washington Post, 3/20/2008] Whitlock’s article ignores numerous reports that al-Qaeda has repeatedly been penetrated by the CIA and other intelligence agencies. For instance:
bullet In 2002, US News and World Report reported, “Once thought nearly impossible to penetrate, al-Qaeda is proving no tougher a target than the KGB or the Mafia—closed societies that took the US government years to get inside.” An unnamed US intelligence official said: “We’re getting names, the different camps they trained at, the hierarchy, the infighting. It’s very promising” (see September 22, 2002).
bullet In 2004, author Ronald Kessler wrote, “Often, the CIA used operatives from Arab intelligence services like those of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and other countries to infiltrate bin Laden’s organization.” He quoted a longtime CIA officer who said, “Egyptians, Jordanians, [and] Palestinians penetrated the bin Laden organization for us. It’s B.S. that we didn’t” (see Before September 11, 2001).
bullet In 2006, journalist Ron Suskind reported that by late 2002, the CIA had developed “a source from within Pakistan who was tied tightly into al-Qaeda management.” He also noted that other informants had been recruited since 9/11, and commented, “It has been generally acknowledged that the United States does not have any significant human sources… inside al-Qaeda. That is not true” (see Late 2002).
bullet In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet claimed that the CIA had over 100 assets in Afghanistan by 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). He also claimed that “a group of assets from a Middle Eastern service” sharing information with the CIA penetrated al-Qaeda, and some of them penetrated al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan before 9/11 (see Early September 2001).
bullet In February 2008, the New York Times reported that French intelligence had an informant that penetrated al-Qaeda’s safe haven in Pakistan’s tribal region (see Late January 2008).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Craig Whitlock, Michael Scheuer, Abdelkader Belliraj

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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