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Context of 'After January 8, 2000: US Apparently Does Not Realize Al-Qaeda Leader Has Applied for US Visa'

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Sarbarz Mohammed / Sam Malkandi.Sarbarz Mohammed / Sam Malkandi. [Source: Public domain via Seattle Post-Intelligencer]Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash unsuccessfully applies for a US visa in Sana’a, Yemen. His application, which is made under the alias Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, is denied because he fails to submit sufficient documentation in support of it. Three actual hijackers obtain US visas in Saudi Arabia on the same day and shortly after (see April 3-7, 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 492]
Already Known to US Intelligence - Bin Attash is already known to the US intelligence community at this point (see Summer 1999), at least partly because he briefed Mohamed al-Owhali, one of the 1998 African embassy bombers who was captured after the attack, and helped him make a martyrdom video in Pakistan. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/9/1998 pdf file] The US will begin to associate this alias with terrorist activity no later than early 2000, when bin Attash uses it to take a flight with Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, who are under US and allied surveillance at that point (see January 8, 2000). However, the alias will not be watchlisted by the US until August 2001 (see August 23, 2001). Apparently, when the US learns the alias is associated with terrorism there is no check of visa application records, and this application and the fact it was made by an al-Qaeda leader will not be discovered until after 9/11 (see After January 8, 2000, After December 16, 2000, and After August 23, 2001).
US Contact - On the application, bin Attash gives his reason for going to the US as getting a new prosthesis for his missing leg, and he says Bothell, Washington State, is his final destination. Bin Attash’s contact in Bothell is a man named Sarbarz Mohammed. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 155-6, 492] Mohammed contacts a clinic in the area and speaks to bin Attash once on the phone, but bin Attash says the new leg would cost too much and hangs up. Mohammed, who will later change his name to Sam Malkandi, will deny knowing bin Attash was a terrorist and say that he thought he was just helping a friend of a friend. However, he will later admit lying on his green card application and be arrested in 2005. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/17/2005]

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Sarbarz Mohammed

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, traveling under their real names. Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash also travels with them and the three sit side by side in the airplane, but bin Attash travels under the false name “Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf” (see After January 8, 2000). [Associated Press, 9/20/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 131 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 pdf file] Malaysian intelligence and the CIA are aware of this flight (see January 8, 2000).

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On January 8, 2000, hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar plus al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash fly from Malaysia to Thailand together, sitting next to each other. Malaysian intelligence soon informs the CIA that Almihdhar was on the flight, sitting next to someone with the last name of Alhazmi and someone with the name Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf (see January 8, 2000). This is an alias for bin Attash, and in fact is the same alias he used when applying for a US visa in 1999 (see April 3, 1999). Two months later, the CIA learns that several days later, Nawaf Alhazmi flew from Thailand to the US, which means he had to have had a US visa (see March 5, 2000 and March 6, 2000 and After). In fact, Almihdhar, Alhazmi, and bin Attash, using the “bin Yousaf” alias, all applied for US visas within days of each other (see April 3-7, 1999). Alhazmi and bin Attash even applied on the same day. However, apparently no check of visa application records is made that would reveal this. US intelligence also suspects that Alhazmi has a militant brother named Salem, which he does, and Salem Alhazmi also applied for and received a US visa from the same consulate on nearly the same day as his brother Nawaf, but this is not discovered either. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 155-6, 181-2, 492; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 9 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248 pdf file] The US will miss other opportunities to learn more about this alias (see After December 16, 2000 and After August 23, 2001).

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

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

After the CIA learns that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa (see January 2-5, 2000) and 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and a companion have arrived in Los Angeles (see March 5, 2000), operational documents reporting this are accessed by numerous CIA officers, most of whom are in the Counterterrorism Division. [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005 pdf file] In addition, the day after the cable reporting Alhazmi’s arrival in Los Angeles is received, “another overseas CIA station note[s], in a cable to the bin Laden unit at CIA headquarters, that it had ‘read with interest’ the March cable, ‘particularly the information that a member of this group traveled to the US…’” [US Congress, 9/20/2002] However, it is unclear what is done with this information as CIA Director George Tenet and Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black will later incorrectly testify that nobody read the cable stating Alhazmi had entered the US (see October 17, 2002), so the use to which the information is put is never investigated. In addition, the CIA fails to inform the FBI that Alhazmi has entered the US. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 182]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After the FBI and CIA obtain a passport photo of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see November 22-December 16, 2000), they are unable to connect him to one of his aliases, Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, even though he had submitted an application for a US visa using this alias the year before (see April 3, 1999). Presumably, a search of visa applications would have turned up a photograph similar to the one the US now has of him, allowing the US to connect bin Attash to the alias. However, no such search is made, even though the CIA knows the alias is connected to 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see January 8, 2000), who obtained US visas at the same time bin Attash’s application was denied (see April 3-7, 1999). No such search is made even after the CIA connects bin Attash to Alhazmi and Almihdhar under bin Attash’s real name as well in early 2001 (see January 4, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 192-3, 538; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248, 267-278 pdf file] The US misses other opportunities to learn more about this alias (see After January 8, 2000 and After August 23, 2001).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khallad bin Attash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

When the US intelligence community watchlists the alias Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, which is used by al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see August 23, 2001), it fails to realize that “bin Yousaf” is really bin Attash, who is known to be one of the masterminds of the USS Cole bombing (see Late October-Late November 2000 and November 22-December 16, 2000). The CIA knows that both bin Attash and “Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf” were in Malaysia with 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000, January 8, 2000, and January 4, 2001). Furthermore, the CIA has a photo of bin Attash provided by the Yemeni government, and surveillance photos and video of bin Attash with Alhazmi and Almihdhar at an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After and January 5, 2000). And when bin Attash applied for a US visa, he used the “bin Yousaf” alias (see April 3, 1999), so presumably a comparison of his photo from that application with other photos would reveal that “bin Yousaf” and bin Attash are one and the same person. However, apparently no check is made for any US visa of “bin Yousaf,” even after he is watchlisted to prevent him from coming into the US, which would require a visa. Had a check been made, it would have been discovered that he applied for a visa at the same time as both Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see April 3-7, 1999), the very people who have been watchlisted together with him. Presumably, discovering that Alhazmi and Almihdhar had applied for US visas with one of the Cole masterminds would have greatly increased the urgency of finding them. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 248, 300-3 pdf file] The US missed other opportunities to learn more about this alias (see After January 8, 2000 and After December 16, 2000).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khallad bin Attash

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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