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Context of 'Between Mid-January and July 2000: CIA’s Counterterrorist Center Reorganized, Bin Laden Unit Placed in Larger Group'

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Richard Blee in 1976.Richard Blee in 1976. [Source: Phi Kappa Psi]Richard Blee, a CIA officer who will later go on to head the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit before 9/11 (see June 1999), serves in the Central African Republic. The State Department’s September 1984, January 1985, May 1985, and September 1986 publications “Key Officers of Foreign Service Posts” will list Blee as the consular officer at the US embassy in Bangui. (US Department of State 9/1984, pp. 12; US Department of State 1/1985, pp. 12; US Department of State 5/1985, pp. 12; US Department of State 9/1986, pp. 12) However, given his CIA affiliation he is presumably attached to the CIA station there.

Richard Blee, a CIA officer who will later go on to head the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit before 9/11 (see June 1999), serves in Niger. The State Department’s May 1989, September 1989, January 1990, September 1990, and January 1991 publications “Key Officers of Foreign Service Posts” will list him as the political officer at the US embassy in Niamey. (US Department of State 5/1989, pp. 35; US Department of State 9/1989, pp. 35; US Department of State 1/1990, pp. 35; US Department of State 9/1990, pp. 32; US Department of State 1/1991, pp. 62) However, given his CIA affiliation, Blee is presumably attached to the CIA station there.

GIA logo.GIA logo. [Source: Public domain]The Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA), established in 1991, allegedly is an Islamist militant group linked to al-Qaeda, but there are allegations it was manipulated by the Algerian government from its inception (see 1991). Militants launch their first attack in December 1991, shortly before an Algerian army coup (see January 11, 1992), striking a military base, killing conscripts there and seizing weapons. The GIA competes with an existing militant group, the Armed Islamic Movement (MIA), which changes its name to the Islamic Salvation Army (AIS) in 1993 and becomes the armed wing of the banned FIS party. After the army coup, the GIA and AIS stage many attacks in Algeria. The GIA is more active, targeting many government employees, intellectuals, and foreigners for assassination, and attacking factories, railroads, bridges, banks, military garrisons, and much more. They generally try to minimize civilian casualties, but hope to create a state of fear that will lead to paralysis and the collapse of the government. The group goes through four leaders during this time. But in October 1994 a new leader will take over, dramatically changing the direction of the group (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996). (Crotty 2005, pp. 291)

A large rally for the FIS on January 9, 1992, in Algiers, Algeria. A large rally for the FIS on January 9, 1992, in Algiers, Algeria. [Source: Gyori Antoine / Corbis]Starting in 1989, the Algerian government allows political reform and elections. The country has been ruled by one party, the National Liberation Front (FLN), since independence. In June 1990, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) won by large margins in local elections. Journalist Jonathan Randal will later comment that “the outcome was more a massive no-confidence vote against the corrupt, incompetent, and self-satisfied secular establishment than an endorsement of an Islamic republic.” In legislative elections in December 1991, the FIS wins again. They seem poised to win a runoff election one month later that would put them in power. But on January 11, 1992, the army stages a coup, overthrowing President Chadli Benjedid and canceling the runoff elections. Within months, the FIS is banned, its local officials elected in 1990 are removed from office, and tens of thousands of suspected sympathizers imprisoned and often tortured. Radical Islamists go underground and launch a number of violent militant groups. Over 150,000 will die over the next decade. (Randal 2005, pp. 165-167)

After the junta ruling Algeria suspends elections and declares martial law (see January 11, 1992), the US decides to tacitly support the junta’s actions. Islamist groups were poised to take power. Secretary of State James Baker will later explain, “We pursued a policy of excluding the radical fundamentalists in Algeria even as we recognized that this was somewhat at odds with our support of democracy.” A State Department report will later comment that the US supported the Algerian junta with “something of a wink and a nod.” Algeria will become embroiled in a civil war and the Algerian government’s crackdown on opponents will become increasingly brutal, but the US will continue to support the junta. (Dreyfuss 2005, pp. 315-316)

The groundwork for al-Qaeda’s network in Europe is laid in the early 1990s by militant groups from North Africa, in particular the Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) of Algeria. However, the GIA is penetrated both at home and abroad by the Algerian army and intelligence establishment and is sometimes even led by moles (see 1991, October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996 and July-October 1995). After elections are canceled in Algeria (see January 11, 1992), it begins to set up logistical support networks in border countries such as Spain and Germany, as well as in Britain and Belgium (see Mid 1994-March 2, 1995) and joins up with al-Qaeda (see 1993). A senior French investigator will say that the GIA was “part of a franchising company known as al-Qaeda.” This provides al-Qaeda with a well-established network of cells to carry out a broader jihad from its European base against Islamic countries to which al-Qaeda is hostile. (Sennott 8/4/2002) The government penetration of the GIA will be so complete by 1996 that Osama bin Laden will withdraw his support from the organization (see Mid-1996).

The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) logo.The Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) logo. [Source: Public domain]The Italian government hosts a meeting in Rome of Algerian political parties, including the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), whose probable election win was halted by an army coup in 1992 (see January 11, 1992). Eight political parties representing 80 percent of the vote in the last multi-party election agree on a common platform brokered by the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio, Italy, known as the Sant’Egidio Platform. The militant Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) is the only significant opposition force not to participate in the agreement. The parties agree to a national conference that would precede new multi-party elections. They call for an inquiry into the violence in Algeria, a return to constitutional rule, and the end of the army’s involvement in politics. The Independent notes the agreement “[does] much to bridge the enmity between religious and lay parties and, most significantly, pushe[s] the FIS for the first time into an unequivocal declaration of democratic values.” French President Francois Mitterrand soon proposes a European Union peace initiative to end the fighting in Algeria, but the Algerian government responds by recalling its ambassador to France. (Gumbel 2/5/1995) The Washington Post notes that the agreement “demonstrate[s] a growing alliance between the Islamic militants [such as the GIA], waging a deadly underground war with government security forces, and the National Liberation Front,” Algeria’s ruling party, as both are opposed to peace with the FIS and other opposition parties. (Drozdiak 1/14/1995) The Guardian will later report that these peace overtures “left [Algeria’s] generals in an untenable position. In their desperation, and with the help of the DRS [Algeria’s intelligence agency], they hatched a plot to prevent French politicians from ever again withdrawing support for the military junta.” The GIA is heavily infilrated by Algerian government moles at this time and even the GIA’s top leader, Djamel Zitouni, is apparently working for Algerian intelligence (see October 27, 1994-July 16, 1996). Some GIA moles are turned into agent provocateurs. GIA leader Ali Touchent, who the Guardian will say is one of the Algerian moles, begins planning attacks in France in order to turn French public opinion against the Algerian opposition and in favor of the ruling Algerian government (see July-October 1995). The GIA also plots against some of the FIS’s leaders living in Europe. (Bouteldja 9/8/2005)

Osama bin Laden’s brother-in-law, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, helps fund a militant group in Yemen that will later take credit for the 2000 USS Cole bombing. The group, the Islamic Army of Aden, is apparently formed in 1996 or 1997, but is not heard from until May 1998, when it issues the first of a series of political statements. The group will kidnap 16 mainly British tourists in December 1998 and four of the tourists will be killed during a shootout with police. The remaining hostages are rescued. (Yemen Gateway 1/1999) Evidence ties Khalifa to the 1995 Bojinka plot and other violent acts, though he has denied all allegations that he is linked to terrorist groups. Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, later claims that not only did Khalifa fund the Islamic Army of Aden, but that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar had ties to the group as well. (A San Diego friend of Almihdhar’s will later say that Almihdhar told him he was a member of the group (see Around October 12, 2000).) (Golden, Bandler, and Levine 9/19/2001) Cannistraro further notes that Khalifa went on to form the group after being deported from the US in 1995. “He should never have been allowed to leave US custody.” (Hoge 10/24/2001) The group praises bin Laden and uses a training camp reportedly established by him in southern Yemen. But the group is more clearly tied to Sheikh Abu Hamza al-Masri, a handless, one-eyed Afghan war veteran living and preaching openly in London. (Struck et al. 9/23/2001)

After fleeing Qatar, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) travels the world and plans many al-Qaeda operations. He previously was involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, and the Operation Bojinka plot. (McGirk 1/20/2003) He is apparently involved in the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), and other attacks. One US official later says, “There is a clear operational link between him and the execution of most, if not all, of the al-Qaeda plots over the past five years.” (McDermott, Meyer, and McDonnell 12/22/2002) He lives in Prague, Czech Republic, through much of 1997. (McDermott 9/1/2002) By 1999, he is living in Germany and visiting with the hijackers there. (Risen 6/8/2002; Risen 9/22/2002) Using 60 aliases and as many passports, he travels through Europe, Africa, the Persian Gulf, Southeast Asia and South America, personally setting up al-Qaeda cells. (McDermott, Meyer, and McDonnell 12/22/2002; McGirk 1/20/2003)

Abu Hamza.Abu Hamza. [Source: Ian Waldie / Reuters / Corbis]London-based imam Abu Hamza al-Masri starts working with two branches of the British security services, the police’s Special Branch and MI5, the domestic counterintelligence service. The relationships continue for several years and there are at least seven meetings between Abu Hamza and MI5 between 1997 and 2000 (see October 1, 1997, November 20, 1997, and September 1998). Based on records of the meetings, authors Daniel O’Neill and Sean McGrory will describe the relationship as “respectful, polite, and often cooperative.”
Rhetoric - One theme in the meetings, which take place at Abu Hamza’s home and a mosque he runs in Finsbury Park, is that the security services tell Abu Hamza that they do not want any trouble and ask him to tone down some of his more inflammatory comments. Abu Hamza listens politely, but always replies he is committed to jihad. However, over this period Abu Hamza’s rhetoric changes subtly, and he begins attacking “Zionists,” rather than simply “Jews.” Abu Hamza will later say that he asks security officers if his sermons are inappropriate, and they reply, “No, freedom of speech, you don’t have to worry unless we see blood on the streets.”
Information - Abu Hamza provides the security services with information about the ideology of various extremist factions, as well as “tidbits” of information about others, although in one case he provides specific intelligence that leads to the detention of two terrorist suspects. He also likes to “tell tales” about one of his rival preachers, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, and his Al-Muhajiroun organization.
Favors - Sometimes Abu Hamza asks for favors from his handlers. For example, on one occasion he requests the release of some associates after promising that they are not a threat in Britain.
Beyond the Reach of British Law - Abu Hamza will tell his aides that he is “beyond the reach of British law,” and will neglect to pay the mosque’s electricity and water bills. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later comment: “Increasingly, Abu Hamza acted as if Finsbury Park had divorced itself from Britain and was operating as an independent Muslim state. He contacted extremist groups, offering his services as an ambassador for them in [Britain] and presenting the mosque as a place of guaranteed asylum.” (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 96-97, 143-5)

Beginning in 1998, if not before, Uzbekistan and the CIA secretly create a joint counterterrorist strike force, funded and trained by the CIA. This force conducts joint covert operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. (Times of India 10/14/2001; Ricks and Glasser 10/14/2001; Zeman et al. 11/2004) In February 1999, radical Muslims fail in an attempt to assassinate Islam Karimov, the leader of Uzbekistan, leading to a crackdown on Uzbek militants. CIA counterterrorism head Cofer Black and bin Laden unit chief Richard Blee see this as an opportunity to increase co-operation with Uzbekistan, and fly to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent to seal an agreement with Karimov. One hope is that a strike force will be established to snatch Osama bin Laden or one of his lieutenants. Karimov also allows CIA transit and helicopter operations at Uzbek air bases, as well as the installation of CIA and NSA monitoring equipment to intercept Taliban and al-Qaeda communications. The CIA is pleased with the new allies, thinking them better than Pakistan’s ISI, but at the White House some National Security Council members are skeptical. One will comment, “Uzbek motivations were highly suspect to say the least.” There are also worries about Uzbek corruption, human rights abuses, and scandal. (Coll 2004, pp. 456-460)

The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) begins issuing what authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will describe as “provocative political statements.” The IAA is headed by Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, who claims to have fought in Afghanistan with Osama bin Laden, and the organization will go on to have links with al-Qaeda (see Early 2000 and October 12, 2000). The Yemeni government had previously ignored the group, but is now irked by the statements and asks the elders of Almihdhar’s tribe to muzzle him. However, this strategy does not work, so the government offers a reward for his capture, dead or alive. Despite this, the IAA will plot a series of attacks later in the year (see Before December 23, 1998). (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 163)

Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading British imam and an informer for the British security services (see Early 1997), concludes an agreement with Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the Yemen-based Islamic Army of Aden, who he had met in Afghanistan in the early 1990s. Abu Hamza sends followers for low-key militant training in Britain (see (Mid-1997) and (1998)), but this training consists of little more than survival courses and he needs a location where firearms can be used more freely. Therefore, Almihdhar agrees to provide training in Yemen, at a cost of £1,200 (about $1,800) per group of trainees. In return, Abu Hamza agrees to act as his press spokesman, and gives him a satellite phone costing £2,000 (about $3,200). Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will later describe the training: “The climate was brutal, the food inedible, and most of [the British recruits] complained that they missed their computer games and creature comforts. They got to ride horses, fire off several rounds of ammunition from an automatic rifle, and were instructed how to rig explosive devices by men who had fought in Afghanistan. They were also taught what else they would need to do to kill hundreds of innocents in an attack planned for Christmas day.” (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 157-158, 162, 164-165) A group of Abu Hamza’s supporters who travel to Yemen for militant training with Almihdhar will later be arrested by police (see December 23, 1998) and Abu Hamza and Almihdhar will talk on the satellite phone during a kidnapping organized to engineer their release (see December 28-29, 1998).

Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right).Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right). [Source: Associated Press]Two US embassies in Africa are bombed within minutes of each other. At 10:35 a.m., local time, a suicide car bomb attack in Nairobi, Kenya, kills 213 people, including 12 US nationals, and injures more than 4,500. Mohamed al-Owhali and someone known only as Azzam are the suicide bombers, but al-Owhali runs away at the last minute and survives. Four minutes later, a suicide car bomb attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, kills 11 and injures 85. Hamden Khalif Allah Awad is the suicide bomber there. The attacks will be blamed on al-Qaeda. (PBS Frontline 2001; United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38 5/2/2001) The Tanzania death toll is low because, remarkably, the attack takes place on a national holiday so the US embassy there is closed. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 195) The attack shows al-Qaeda has a capability for simultaneous attacks. The Tanzania bombing appears to have been a late addition, as one of the arrested bombers will allegedly tell US agents that it was added to the plot only about 10 days in advance. (United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14 3/7/2001) A third attack against the US embassy in Uganda does not take place due to a last-minute delay (see August 7, 1998). (Associated Press 9/25/1998) August 7, 1998, is the eighth anniversary of the arrival of US troops in Saudi Arabia and some people will speculate that this is the reason for the date of the bombings. (Gunaratna 2003, pp. 46) In the 2002 book The Cell, reporters John Miller, Michael Stone, and Chris Mitchell will write: “What has become clear with time is that facets of the East Africa plot had been known beforehand to the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, and to Israeli and Kenyan intelligence services.… [N]o one can seriously argue that the horrors of August 7, 1998, couldn’t have been prevented.” They will also comment, “Inexplicable as the intelligence failure was, more baffling still was that al-Qaeda correctly presumed that a major attack could be carried out by a cell that US agents had already uncovered.” (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 195, 206) After 9/11, it will come to light that three of the alleged hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi, had some involvement in the bombings (see October 4, 2001, Late 1999, and 1993-1999) and that the US intelligence community was aware of this involvement by late 1999 (see December 15-31, 1999), if not before.

A witness questioned during the FBI’s investigation of the African embassy bombings says that al-Qaeda operative Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri intends to attack a US vessel in Aden. The USS Cole will be bombed in Aden harbor two years later (see October 12, 2000) and al-Nashiri, who provided a fake passport for one of the embassy bombers (see August 22-25 1998), will be one of the managers of the operation (see November-December 2000). (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/9/1998 pdf file; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file)

Mohamed al-Owhali is arrested and immediately begins confessing to FBI investigators his role in the recent al-Qaeda bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). In addition to revealing the existence of an al-Qaeda network in the US planning an attack there (August 12-25, 1998) and also revealing the phone number of a key al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998), it appears he also reveals al-Qaeda plans for an attack in Yemen. In October 2000, Al-Qaeda operatives bombed the USS Cole in a port in Yemen (see October 12, 2000). In January 2001, in coverage of al-Owhali’s trial for his role in the embassy bombings, a court document mentions that during his interrogation he mentioned “a possible attack in Yemen.” (Hirschkorn 1/19/2001) However, one newspaper notes, “It could not be learned how the authorities followed up on the information or how detailed it was.” (Weiser 1/18/2001) It will later be revealed that al-Owhali identified the two leaders of the Cole bombing as participants in the planning for the US embassy bombings. (Hirschkorn 10/16/2001)

Dan ColemanDan Coleman [Source: CNN]Beginning in the autumn of 1998, the FBI uses the phone records of an al-Qaeda communications hub run by operative Ahmed al-Hada and his son Samir to build a map of al-Qaeda’s global organization. A map showing all the places in the world that have communicated with the hub is posted on the wall of the interagency counterterrorism I-49 squad in New York. The hub’s telephone number was uncovered during the East African embassy bombings investigation (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late August 1998). (Arrabyee 2/21/2002; Myers 7/21/2004; Wright 2006, pp. 343; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) According to FBI agent and I-49 squad member Dan Coleman, al-Hada is “uncle of half the violent jihadists we knew in the country.” (Suskind 2006, pp. 94) Several of his sons and sons-in-law are al-Qaeda operatives and some die fighting and training with radical Islamists; this is known to US intelligence before 9/11. Hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is also a son-in-law of al-Hada. (MSNBC 2/14/2002; Fox News 2/14/2002; Meyer 12/21/2005) The number is monitored by the NSA and over the next three years it mines intelligence that helps authorities foil a series of plots, including planned attacks on the US Embassy in Paris and the US Consulate in Istanbul, along with an attempted airline hijacking in Africa. However, the hub also serves as a planning center for the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, which is successful (see October 12, 2000). (Kaplan and Whitelaw 3/15/2004) The CIA, as the primary organization for gathering foreign intelligence, has jurisdiction over conversations on the al-Hada phone. Helped by the NSA, it stakes out the house—tapping the phone, planting bugs, and taking satellite photographs of its visitors. However, the CIA apparently does not provide the FBI with all the relevant information it is obtaining about al-Qaeda’s plans. (Wigmore 6/9/2002; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) For example, the FBI is not informed that hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi make calls to the communications hub from the US between spring 2000 and summer 2001 (see Spring-Summer 2000 and Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001). The FBI also asks the NSA to pass any calls between the communications hub and the US to the FBI, but the NSA does not do this either (see Late 1998). (Suskind 2006, pp. 94)

The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), a local militant group linked to al-Qaeda (see Early 2000 and October 12, 2000), plots a series of strikes against Western-related targets in Aden, Yemen. According to the Yemeni authorities, the plot encompasses:
bullet An attack on the Movenpick hotel, which is used by Western tourists and had already been bombed in 1992 (see December 29, 1992);
bullet Firing rockets into a clinic in the grounds of Aden’s only Christian church;
bullet Murdering British diplomats at the British consulate;
bullet Attacks on the Al Shadhrawan nightclub;
bullet Hitting the UN office in Aden; and
bullet Attacking a hotel used by US troops.
However, the plot, headed by IAA leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, will be broken up on December 23, when six of the plotters linked to leading British imam Abu Hamza al-Masri are arrested by police in Aden (see December 23, 1998). (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 159-160)

Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic Army of Aden (see Early 2000 and October 12, 2000), telephones Abu Hamza al-Masri, a London-based imam and informer for the British security services (see Early 1997). Six operatives sent by Abu Hamza to Yemen for training had become involved in a bomb plot, but were arrested four days ago (see December 23, 1998). Almihdhar makes two calls to Abu Hamza, and tells him of the capture of the operatives, who include Abu Hamza’s stepson and former bodyguard. The two men apparently come up with a plan to capture some Western tourists, and Abu Hamza purchases more airtime worth £500 (about $800) for Almihdhar’s satellite phone. After the tourists are captured the next day (see December 28-29, 1998), Almihdhar will immediately telephone Abu Hamza and, according to one of the tourists’ drivers, say, “We’ve got the goods that were ordered, 16 cartons marked Britain and America.” This is not the only telephone contact between the two men, and authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will add, “What was apparent from the first hours of the hostage crisis was that the short-tempered [Almihdhar] needed the advice and reassurance of his spokesman in North London.” The calls are intercepted by the Government Communications Headquarters, Britain’s wiretapping agency, using a base in Cyprus. Although the communications cannot be used in court under British law, they are useful to the intelligence services in determining what is going on between Almihdhar and Abu Hamza. However, the intercepts are also shared with the FBI, which will later indicate it may use them in a US prosecution of Abu Hamza stemming from the fact that two of the kidnap victims are American nationals. (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 156-157, 161, 180)

Radical imam and British intelligence informer Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997) defends the kidnapping of Western hostages in Yemen by the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA—see December 28-29, 1998) in the British media. The IAA is an al-Qaeda affiliate (see Early 2000 and October 12, 2000) and Abu Hamza acts as its press officer. Although it is unusual for radical Islamists to appear on television in Britain at this time, Abu Hamza does not shy away from the publicity. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will even call him a “publicity junkie,” and comment on his television appearances: “[Abu Hamza] tried to defend the indefensible by appearing on television and supporting the gunmen holding innocent Western hostages in the desert. Much of what he had to say in his strangled English about ‘jihad’ and martyrdom baffled his armchair British audience, most of who at the time had never heard of al-Qaeda.… He would stab his hook at the camera lens as he issued his bloodcurdling threats against politicians who did not heed his advice. His language was provocative, his demeanour threatening, but he had achieved one ambition—people in Britain suddenly knew the name of Abu Hamza.” His appearances do not go down well with the media, and, in O’Neill and McGrory’s words, he is “vilified .. after he admitted that he was the press officer for the kidnappers from the pompously named Islamc Army of Aden and Abyan.” Abu Hamza will later admit that this is the biggest mistake he ever makes. According to O’Neill and McGrory: “He [loses] friends and credibility, and [becomes] a marked man by the security authorities in Britain. But his standing with young British extremists [is] boosted.” (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 158-159, 172-173)

Nabil al-Marabh will claim in a 2002 statement that in May 1999, the FBI approaches him in Boston, looking for Raed Hijazi. Al-Marabh will say he lied and said he did not know Hijazi, even though he knew him well. Hijazi apparently has not been involved in any violent crime yet, but will participate in a failed attempt to bomb a hotel in Jordan (see November 30, 1999) and will help plan the USS Cole bombing in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). (Fainaru 9/4/2002) In August 1999 FBI agents again visit al-Marabh’s Boston apartment to ask him about another man. Al-Marabh’s wife will later recall that the first name of this man is Ahmed. (Zernike 10/14/2001) He is from Jordan and had lived in their apartment for two months. (Wilgoren and Miller 9/21/2001) Around the same time, the Boston FBI is looking for another associate of al-Marabh’s, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi (see 1997 and 1999). They work at the same taxi company and fought together in Afghanistan.

Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar’s US visas.Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar’s US visas. [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi, and Khalid Almihdhar obtain US visas through the US Consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (US Congress 7/24/2003) Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are already “al-Qaeda veterans” and battle-hardened killers. Almihdhar’s visa is issued on April 7, and he can thereafter leave and return to the US multiple times until April 6, 2000. (Laabs 8/13/2003) Nawaf Alhazmi gets the same kind of visa; details about Salem are unknown. All three men have indicators in their passports marking them as Islamist radicals (see March 21, 1999, April 4, 1999, and April 6, 1999). These indicators are used to track them by the Saudi authorities, but are apparently not noticed by US officials. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 9, 33 pdf file) The CIA claims the hijackers then travel to Afghanistan to participate in “special training” with at least one other suicide bomber on a different mission. The training is led by Khallad bin Attash, who applies for a US visa on April 3 from Yemen, but fails to get one (see April 3, 1999). The CIA will learn about Almihdhar’s visa in January 2000 (see January 2-5, 2000). The Jeddah Consulate records the fact that Nawaf and Salem Alhazmi obtain US visas a couple of days before Almihdhar, but apparently these records are never searched before 9/11. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file)

Richard Blee. The only known public photo of Blee is this one taken from a school yearbook, when he was nine years old.Richard Blee. The only known public photo of Blee is this one taken from a school yearbook, when he was nine years old. [Source: Public domain]Following the firing of Michael Scheuer, the founding head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see June 1999), a new chief of the station is appointed. The chief, Richard Blee, worked in Algeria as a case officer during the civil war there in the early 1990s (see January 11, 1992) and prior to his appointment as station chief was an executive assistant to CIA management. (Coll 2004, pp. 456) He also served on an Iraqi task force attempting to destabilize Saddam Hussein’s regime in the mid-1990s. (Silverstein 1/28/2007) According to author Steve Coll: “Since he came directly from [CIA Director George] Tenet’s leadership group, his arrival was seen as a signal of renewed high-level interest in the bin Laden case. The new chief’s connections presumably would help attract resources to the cause and smooth decision-making.” In addition, “He [knows] the bin Laden issue, he [knows] the Third World and he [does] not mind high-risk travel.”
Criticism of Management Style - However, Blee’s management style will attract some criticism. Coll will say that he is “intense and sometimes emotional and combative” and that he is seen by some colleagues as “typical of the unyielding zealots” at Alec Station. (Coll 2004, pp. 456, 540) Author James Bamford will comment, “But the most serious problem was [Blee]‘s lack of management, his myopic obsession with bin Laden, and his focus on the fun and adventure part of the job.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 218-9) Journalist Ken Silverstein will say: “[S]ources have told me that [Blee] has frequently been divisive and ineffective in previous positions.… His reputation and relationship with the military, especially the special-ops community, is very bad, based on substantive issues that arose during his time [in Afghanistan and Pakistan] post-9/11.… Another former official called [Blee] a ‘smart guy‘…, but described him as a terrible manager.” (Silverstein 1/28/2007)

Following the replacement of Michael Scheuer by Richard Blee as chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see June 1999 and June 1999), the relationship between Alec Station and its FBI counterpart headed by John O’Neill does not improve. The relationship between Scheuer and O’Neill was extremely stormy, but Blee’s arrival does nothing to calm matters. As O’Neill is the FBI manager most knowledgeable about al-Qaeda, the combative nature of the relationship may hamper interagency counterterrorism efforts. Author James Bamford will write, “The epicenter of the clash between the two cultures [of the FBI and CIA] was the relationship between [Blee] and John P. O’Neill, the flashy, outspoken chief of the FBI’s National Security Division in New York.” An associate of O’Neill’s will say of Alec Station staff, “They despised the FBI and they despised John O’Neill.” A CIA officer will add, “The working relationships were very difficult at times.” (Bamford 2004, pp. 217-8)

The government of Yemen says that it has executed Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar, leader of the al-Qaeda affiliate group the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), for his part in a kidnapping and murder plot (see December 28-29, 1998). However, the execution is not public and his body is not returned to his family. This leads Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading supporter of the IAA, to speculate that Almihdhar is still alive in prison. Yemeni journalist Bashraheel Bashraheel will also comment: “The execution would have sparked a civil war.… The tribal leaders know [Almihdhar] is still alive and have been bribed to persuade their followers not to rebel.” (Quin 2005, pp. 126, 157-8, 187) It will later be suggested that Almihdhar is a distant relative of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. (Risen and Bonner 12/7/2001)

The FBI’s New York field office, which specializes in international terrorism and houses the I-49 squad that focuses on Osama bin Laden (see January 1996), receives information from the NSA about a wiretap on the phone of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. The information concerns travel by Almihdhar, fellow alleged hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, and other operatives to an al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see December 29, 1999, Shortly Before December 29, 1999, and January 5-8, 2000), but the office, like the rest of the FBI, is not told Almihdhar has a US visa (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). However, the New York office apparently does not realize it has this information and when investigators become aware of its importance in June 2001 they will conduct a running argument with FBI headquarters and the CIA over whether they can receive it again (see June 11, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 293 pdf file)

The NSA, monitoring a telephone in an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002), has listened in on phone calls revealing that hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi are to attend an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 (see Shortly Before December 29, 1999). Almihdhar’s full name was mentioned, as well as the first names of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi. On this day, the NSA shares this information with the CIA’s Alec Station bin Laden unit. Other US intelligence agencies, including FBI headquarters and the FBI’s New York field office, are told as well. Although Khalid Almihdhar’s full name was mentioned in one call, the NSA only passes on his first name. Also, the NSA has already learned from monitoring the Yemen hub that Nawaf’s last name is Alhazmi and that he is long-time friends with Almihdhar (see Early 1999). However, they either don’t look this up in their records or don’t pass it on to any other agency. (9/11 Commission 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 239 pdf file; Wright 2006, pp. 310) An NSA analyst makes a comment that is shared between US intelligence agencies, “Salem may be Nawaf’s younger brother.” This turns out to be correct. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file) A CIA officer will later tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that information from the Africa embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) was reviewed in late 1999 during a worldwide effort to disrupt millennium attack plots (see December 15-31, 1999) and “a kind of tuning fork… buzzed when two [of the hijackers] reportedly planning a trip to [Malaysia] were linked indirectly to what appeared to be a support element… involved with the Africa bombers.” (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file) The fact that they are connected to the Yemen communication hub already indicates some importance within al-Qaeda. It is learned they are connected to the embassy bombings in some way (see October 4, 2001 and Late 1999). (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; 9/11 Commission 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file) The NSA report about them on this day is entitled, “Activities of Bin Laden Associates,” showing the clear knowledge of their ties to bin Laden. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 502; Zeman et al. 11/2004) The CIA will track Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to the Malaysia summit (see January 2-5, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000).

Following a raid on suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Dublin, Ireland, on December 21, 1999 (see December 21, 1999), FBI investigators begin monitoring the al-Qaeda cell there. The cell is believed to specialize in providing travel and identity documents for others committing violent acts. It will later be reported that “further investigation led to the tracing of telephone calls between Dublin and the Yemen in the period before al-Qaeda launched” its attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). (Cusack 7/31/2002) Additional details such as what was said in these calls have not been reported. The calls to Yemen may well have been to a Yemeni al-Qaeda communications hub that was under US surveillance since at least 1998 (see Late August 1998).

A photocopy of Nawaf Alhazmi’s passport. No image of Khalid Almihdhar’s passport has been released, but it would have looked similar to this one.A photocopy of Nawaf Alhazmi’s passport. No image of Khalid Almihdhar’s passport has been released, but it would have looked similar to this one. [Source: FBI]The CIA is aware that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is staying at a highly monitored al-Qaeda communication hub (see Late 1998-Early 2002) and is planning to travel to an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia. He is closely watched as leaves the hub and flies from Sana’a, Yemen, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on his way to Malaysia. Agents from eight CIA offices and six friendly foreign intelligence services are all asked to help track him, in the hopes he will lead them to bigger al-Qaeda figures. (Laabs 8/13/2003; 9/11 Commission 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file) The CIA and local authorities are running an operation to track militants transiting Dubai airport (see 1999), and United Arab Emirates officials secretly make copies of his passport as he is passing through it, immediately reporting this to the CIA. (Bamford 2004, pp. 224) Another account suggests CIA agents break into Almihdhar’s Dubai hotel room and photocopy the passport there. Either way, the information is immediately faxed to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. (Wright 2006, pp. 311) The CIA not only learns his full name, but also discovers the vital fact that he has a multiple entry visa to the US that is valid from April 1999 to April 2000. But even though the CIA now knows about this US visa which indicates he plans to go to New York City, they do not place him on a terror watch list and they fail to tell the FBI about the visa. (Bamford 2004, pp. 224; 9/11 Commission 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file)

The USS The Sullivans.The USS The Sullivans. [Source: US Navy]An al-Qaeda attack on USS The Sullivans in Yemen’s Aden harbor fails when their boat filled with explosives sinks. This is one of a series of failed al-Qaeda attacks planned to take place around the turn of the millennium (see December 31, 1999-January 1, 2000). But the attack remains undiscovered, and a duplication of the attack by the same people will successfully hit the USS Cole in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). (PBS Frontline 10/3/2002) The US will first learn of the planned The Sullivans attack when interrogating a suspect in the Cole bombing in early November 2000. (Myers 11/10/200)

Attendees of the Malaysian summit. Top row, from left: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Middle row, from left: Khallad bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hambali. Bottom row, from left: Yazid Sufaat, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abu Bara al-Taizi. Attendees of the Malaysian summit. Top row, from left: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Middle row, from left: Khallad bin Attash, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hambali. Bottom row, from left: Yazid Sufaat, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Abu Bara al-Taizi. [Source: FBI]About a dozen of Osama bin Laden’s trusted followers hold a secret, “top-level al-Qaeda summit” in the city of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. (Ressa 8/30/2002; Eckert 9/27/2002) According to an unnamed senior CIA official, before the summit started, the CIA learned that “11 young guys” were going to attend, and “young guys” is slang for operatives traveling. (Bamford 2008, pp. 18) Plans for the October 2000 bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the 9/11 attacks are discussed. (Kelley 2/12/2002; Ressa 8/30/2002) At the request of the CIA, the Malaysian Secret Service monitors the summit and then passes the information on to the US (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). Attendees of the summit are said to include:
Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar - The CIA and FBI will later miss many opportunities to foil the 9/11 plot through Alhazmi and Almihdhar and the knowledge of their presence at this summit. The CIA already knows many details about these two by the time the summit begins (see January 2-4, 2000), and tracked Almihdhar as he traveled to it (see January 2-5, 2000).
Yazid Sufaat - Sufaat is a Malaysian who owns the condominium where the summit is held. He is also a trained biologist and is said to be a leading figure in al-Qaeda’s attempts to get a biological or chemical weapon. (Shenon and Johnston 1/31/2002; Isikoff and Klaidman 6/2/2002) Malaysian officials also recognize Sufaat from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). (Pereira 2/10/2002) A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through Sufaat’s presence at this summit will later be missed in September 2000 (see September-October 2000). Sufaat will travel to Afghanistan in June 2001 and be arrested by Malaysian authorities when he returns to Malaysia in late 2001 (see December 19, 2001). (Abuza 12/24/2002) He will be released in 2008 (see December 4, 2008).
Hambali - An Indonesian militant known as Hambali, or Nurjaman Riduan Isamuddin (BBC 8/15/2003) , was heavily involved in the Bojinka plot, an early version of the 9/11 plot (see January 6, 1995 and June 1994). (Ressa 3/14/2002; Ressa 8/30/2002) The FBI was aware of who he was and his connections to the Bojinka plot at least by 1999 and identified a photograph of him by that time (see May 23, 1999). He will be arrested by Thai authorities in August 2003 (see August 12, 2003). (CNN 8/14/2003; CBS News 8/15/2003) Malaysian officials recognize Hambali from summit surveillance photos, as he is a long-time Malaysian resident. But the US does not tell them of his Bojinka connections, so they will not know to arrest him after the summit is over (see Shortly After January 8, 2000). (Pereira 2/10/2002)
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed - Mohammed is sometimes referred to as “KSM,” an al-Qaeda leader and the alleged “mastermind” of the 9/11 attacks. The US has known KSM is an Islamic militant since the exposure of Operation Bojinka in January 1995 (see January 6, 1995), and knows what he looks like. US officials will state that they only realized the summit was important in 2001, but the presence of KSM should have proved its importance. (Fineman and Drogin 2/2/2002) Although the possible presence of KSM at this summit will be disputed by US officials, one counterterrorism expert will testify before the 9/11 Commission in 2003 that he has access to transcripts of KSM’s interrogations since his capture, and that KSM has admitted leading this summit and telling the attendees about a planes-as-weapons plot targeting the US (see July 9, 2003). (Isikoff and Hosenball 7/9/2003; Blomquist 7/10/2003) Many other media reports will identify him as being there. (Gumbel 6/6/2002; Ressa 8/30/2002; Ressa 11/7/2002; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 10/29/2003) For instance, according to Newsweek: “Mohammed’s presence would make the intelligence failure of the CIA even greater. It would mean the agency literally watched as the 9/11 scheme was hatched—and had photographs of the attack’s mastermind… doing the plotting.” (Isikoff and Hosenball 7/9/2003) In Hambali’s 2008 Guantanamo file, it will be mentioned that KSM stays a week at Sufaat’s condominium with Alhazmi and Almihdhar, which would seem to make clear that KSM is there for the entire duration of the summit (see Early January 2000). (US Department of Defense 10/30/2008)
Khallad bin Attash - Khallad bin Attash, a “trusted member of bin Laden’s inner circle,” is in charge of bin Laden’s bodyguards, and serves as bin Laden’s personal intermediary at least for the USS Cole bombing. (Klaidman, Isikoff, and Hosenball 9/20/2001 pdf file) He is also thought to be a “mastermind” of that attack. Attash is reportedly planning to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but will be unable to get a US visa. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004, pp. 8) US intelligence had been aware of his identity as early as 1995. (US Congress 9/18/2002) A possibility to expose the 9/11 plot through bin Attash’s presence at this summit will be missed in January 2001 (see January 4, 2001). Bin Attash had been previously arrested in Yemen for suspected terror ties, but was let go (see Summer 1999). (Abuza 12/1/2002) He will be captured in Pakistan by the US in April 2003 (see April 29, 2003). In 2008, Newsweek will report that bin Attash confessed during interrogation that, while staying at Sufaat’s condominium, he and Alhazmi talked “about the possibility of hijacking planes and crashing them or holding passengers as hostages.” (Hosenball 12/16/2008)
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri - Al-Nashiri is one of al-Qaeda’s top field commanders and operates out of Malaysia while 9/11 is being prepared. (Los Angeles Times 10/10/2001; Gunaratna 2003, pp. 188; Graham and Nussbaum 2004, pp. 59) He was involved in an arms smuggling plot (see 1997) and the East African embassy bombings (see August 22-25 1998), in which his cousin was martyred (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). He also organized the attack against the USS The Sullivans (see January 3, 2000), and will be involved in the attacks against the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) and the Limburg (see October 6, 2002). He will be arrested in the United Arab Emirates in November 2002 (see Early October 2002). An al-Qaeda operative identified a photo of al-Nashiri for the FBI in late 1998 (see August 22-25 1998). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3) (Note: in the sources, al-Nashiri is referred to by two of his aliases: Muhammad Omar al-Harazi and Al Safani.) (CNN 12/11/2000; Central Intelligence Agency 9/6/2006)
Ramzi bin al-Shibh - Investigators believe he wants to be the 20th 9/11 hijacker. His presence at the summit may not be realized until after 9/11, despite the fact that US intelligence has a picture of him next to bin Attash, and has video footage of him. (Thomas 11/26/2001; Finn 7/14/2002; Elliott 9/15/2002; Schrom 10/1/2002; Ressa 11/7/2002) German police will have credit card receipts indicating bin al-Shibh is in Malaysia at this time. (McDermott 9/1/2002) Ulrich Kersten, director of Germany’s federal anticrime agency, the Bundeskriminalamt, will later say, “There are indications that Ramzi bin al-Shibh was in Kuala Lumpur for the meeting.” (Frantz and Butler 8/24/2002) Another account noting he was photographed at the summit will further note that he enters and leaves Thailand three times in the first three weeks of January 2000. (Drogin and Meyer 10/17/2001) Anonymous Malaysian officials will later claim he is at the summit, but US officials will deny it. Two local militants who serve as drivers for the attendees will later be arrested in Malaysia. They will be shown photos of the attendees, and confirm that bin al-Shibh was at the summit. (Sullivan 9/20/2002) One account will say he is recognized at the time of the summit, which makes it hard to understand why he is not tracked back to Germany and the Hamburg cell with Mohamed Atta and other 9/11 hijackers. (Gebauer 10/1/2002) Another opportunity to expose the 9/11 plot through bin al-Shibh’s presence at this summit will be missed in June. It appears bin al-Shibh and Almihdhar are directly involved in the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 (see October 10-21, 2000). (Whitaker 10/15/2001; Finn 7/14/2002; Hosenball 9/4/2002)
Salem Alhazmi - Alhazmi, a 9/11 hijacker and brother of Nawaf Alhazmi, is possibly at the summit, although very few accounts will mention it. (Abuza 12/24/2002) US intelligence intercepts from before the summit indicate that he at least had plans to attend. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 51 pdf file)
Abu Bara al-Taizi (a.k.a. Zohair Mohammed Said) - A Yemeni al-Qaeda operative, al-Taizi is reportedly meant to be one of the 9/11 hijackers, but will be unable to enter the US due to greater scrutiny for Yemenis. (9/11 Commission 6/16/2004, pp. 8) Al-Taizi will be captured in Pakistan in February 2002, and then sent to the US prison in Guantanamo a few months later (see February 7, 2002). According to his 2008 Guantanamo file, he traveled from Afghanistan to Malaysia with bin Attash about two weeks before the summit. Bin Attash was missing a leg, and he had a prosthetic leg fitted and then stayed in the hospital to recover from the surgery. Bin Attash and al-Taizi stay at Sufaat’s house for the duration of the summit. Al-Taizi then flies to Yemen to visit his family there. (US Department of Defense 10/25/2008)
Others - Unnamed members of the Egyptian-based Islamic Jihad are also said to be at the summit. (King and Bhatt 10/21/2001) Islamic Jihad merged with al-Qaeda in February 1998. (James 11/17/2001) However, according to the Wall Street Journal, bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso are suspected of being Islamic Jihad members at one point, so this may just be a reference to them. (Cloud, Wartzman, and Tkacik 10/8/2001) Note that there are a total of 10 names mentioned above, and it will be reported that the CIA learned that 11 operatives were to attend, so either not all of them make it, or some names of attendees will remain unknown.
Summit Associates - The following individuals are probably not at the summit meetings, but are in the region and assisting or linked with the attendees at this time:
Fahad Al-Quso - Al-Quso is a top al-Qaeda operative who is involved in the bombing of the USS Cole. Some sources will indicate al-Quso is present in Malaysia, and a person who looks like him will later be seen in a photograph of the meeting (see June 11, 2001). (Klaidman, Isikoff, and Hosenball 9/20/2001 pdf file) However, other sources will say al-Quso did not reach Kuala Lumpur, but met with bin Attash around this time in Bangkok, Thailand (see January 5-6, 2000 and January 8-15, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 159; Wright 2006, pp. 330) Although al-Quso apparently is not at the summit, there are a series of phone calls during the time of the summit between his hotel in Bangkok, a phone booth near the condominium where the summit is held, and his family home in Yemen (see (January 5-8, 2000)). Al-Quso will be arrested by Yemeni authorities in the fall of 2000 (see Late October-Late November 2000), but the FBI will not be given a chance to fully interrogate him before 9/11. He will escape from prison in 2003. (CNN 5/15/2003)
Ahmad Sajuli Abdul Rahman - An operative of Jemaah Islamiyah, al-Qaeda’s Southeast Asian affiliate, Sajuli takes the visiting Arabs around Kuala Lumpur, but apparently does not attend the summit meetings. (US Congress 10/17/2002) According to the later Guantanamo file of summit attendee al-Taizi, one of the attendees Sajuli escorts around town is future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Sajuli also helps arrange al-Taizi’s transportation at the end of the summit. (US Department of Defense 10/25/2008) Sajuli will be arrested in Malaysia in December 2001 (see December 29, 2001).
Ahmad Hikmat Shakir - A suspected al-Qaeda agent of Iraqi nationality, Shakir is a greeter at Kuala Lumpur airport. He meets Almihdhar there and travels with him to the apartment where the summit is held, but he probably does not attend the summit meetings. (Associated Press 10/2/2002; Isikoff and Klaidman 10/7/2002; Abuza 12/24/2002; Landay 6/12/2004) After 9/11, he will be linked to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 1995 Bojinka plot. Jordan will arrest him and let him go after the US says it doesn’t want to take custody of him (see September 17, 2001).
Dhiren Barot - Dhiren Barot (a.k.a. Abu Eissa al-Hindi) is a British citizen of Indian descent. According to a 2006 Observer article, Barot “is not believed to have been present” at the summit meetings. However, he does go to Kuala Lumpur during the time of the summit with summit attendee bin Attash. And shortly after the summit, Barot holds meetings with Hambali. It will later be reported that Barot is sent by KSM to New York City in early 2001 to case potential targets there, although whether this is part of the 9/11 plot or some other plot is unclear (see May 30, 2001). Barot will be arrested in 2004 in Britain for plotting attacks there, and sentenced to 30 years in prison (see August 3, 2004). (Doward 12/12/2006)
Another Unnamed Local Militant - Malaysian officials will say that two local Jemaah Islamiyah act as drivers for the attendees. These drivers apparently have no idea who the attendees are or what they are doing; they are just tasked to drive them around. In a 2002 Associated Press article, officials will not name these drivers, but will say that they are among the dozens of alleged Jemaah Islamiyah militants arrested in December 2001 and January 2002. Since Sajuli mentioned above is arrested at that time, he presumably is one of these drivers. It is not known who the other driver is. (Sufaat will be arrested at that time as well, but the Associated Press article will make clear Sufaat is not one of the drivers.) (Sullivan 9/20/2002)
Probably Not Involved: Mohamed al-Khatani - A Saudi, he allegedly will confess to attending the summit while being held in the US Guantanamo prison (see July 2002). He apparently will unsuccessfully attempt to enter the US in August 2001 to join the 9/11 plot (see August 4, 2001). However, al-Khatani will later recant his testimony and say he lied to avoid torture (see October 26, 2006). Furthermore, his 2008 Guantanamo file, leaked to the public in 2011, contains no hint of him even possibly attending the summit. The contents of the file must be treated with extreme caution, especially since he is repeatedly and brutally tortured (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003 and January 14, 2009). But according to the general narrative of the file, al-Khatani had no involvement with Islamist militancy in early 2000, only starts to get involved with militants in mid-2000, and first attends a militant training camp in Afghanistan in late 2000. (US Department of Defense 10/30/2008)

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. (Stein 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)

CIA officer Michael Anne Casey sends out a cable saying the information that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa has been sent to the FBI “for further investigation.” The cable does not state how the visa information was passed or by whom. Casey is with Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. The cable, which is lengthy and summarizes information about Almihdhar and three other operatives planning an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia, is sent to some overseas CIA stations, but not the FBI. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 502; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 243 pdf file) The CIA, which will be criticized for its apparent failure to tell the FBI of Almihdhar’s visa after 9/11, will repeatedly tout this cable as evidence that it had actually informed the FBI of Almihdhar’s visa, or at least thought it had done so. (US Congress 9/20/2002; New York Times 10/17/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 146 pdf file; Tenet 2007, pp. 195) However, this appears not to be true, as after 9/11 the FBI will be unable to find any record of receiving such information and the CIA will be unable to find any record of having sent it. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 502; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 249-252 pdf file) In addition, as Casey blocked the relevant notification to the FBI on this day (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000) and insists it not be passed the next day (see January 6, 2000), she must know the claim the information about Almihdhar’s visa had been passed is false. Casey will apparently lie about this cable to the Justice Department’s inspector general (see February 2004) and CIA Director George Tenet (see Before October 17, 2002 and Shortly Before April 30, 2007).

Mark Rossini.Mark Rossini. [Source: Fox News]Mark Rossini, an FBI agent on loan to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, protests in vain against a decision to deliberately withhold information about one of the future 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). One of his colleagues, Doug Miller, had tried to inform the FBI that Almihdhar had a US visa the day before, but had been blocked by a 29-year-old female CIA officer named Michael Anne Casey and the unit’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire. According to author James Bamford, Rossini was “perplexed and outraged that the CIA would forbid the bureau’s notification on a matter so important.” Rossini will later say: “So the next day I went to her and said: ‘What’s with Doug’s cable? You’ve got to tell the bureau about this.’ She put her hand on her hip and said: ‘Look, the next attack is going to happen in Southeast Asia—it’s not the bureau’s jurisdiction. When we want the FBI to know about it, we’ll let them know. But the next bin Laden attack’s going to happen in Southeast Asia.’” (Bamford 2008, pp. 19-20) Rossini protests, saying, “They’re here!” and, “It is FBI business,” but to no avail. Even though he is an FBI agent, he cannot pass on notification to the bureau without permission from his superiors at Alec Station. (Stein 10/1/2008) Casey will be promoted after 9/11. (Mayer 2008, pp. 16) In the run-up to the 9/11 attacks, Wilshire will write an e-mail expressing his fear of an al-Qaeda attack in Southeast Asia, specifically Malaysia (see July 5, 2001), and will give this as a reason he does not communicate information about Almihdhar and his partner Nawaf Alhazmi to the FBI in May 2001 (see May 15, 2001). It will be alleged after 9/11 that the notification may be withheld to stop the FBI interfering with an illegal CIA-linked operation to monitor the hijackers in the US (see 2006 and After).

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)

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. (Sullivan 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; Laabs 8/13/2003)

Doug Miller, an FBI agent detailed to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, writes to Tom Wilshire, the unit’s deputy chief, about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Miller had drafted a cable eight days before to tell the FBI that Almihdhar has a US visa, but Wilshire and another CIA officer had blocked the cable (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and January 6, 2000). Miller asks Wilshire, “Is this a no go or should I remake it in some way?” However, Wilshire does not respond. This is apparently Miller’s last attempt to inform the FBI of Almihdhar’s visa. About a month later, Miller will have some draft cables in the CIA’s computer system deleted, but will ensure that this draft cable is saved. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 241 pdf file) The Justice Department’s inspector general will criticize Miller for not following up more and ensuring the information is passed to the FBI. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 356 pdf file) However, Miller will say that he has a relatively low rank at the CIA at this time, and that he could not have passed the information without CIA approval, as he would have been fired. (Stein 10/1/2008)

Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is involved in a reorganization at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) and is merged into a larger group within the CTC. Precise details of the reorganization are not known. When FBI agent Charles Frahm is detailed to the CIA in July 2000 to replace an FBI agent who had previously been deputy manager of Alec Station (see Mid-January 2000), due to the reorganization Frahm is made deputy chief of the larger unit. Presumably therefore, Alec Station chief Richard Blee is now the head of the larger unit. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 229, 231-232, 320 pdf file) The 9/11 Commission Report will refer to Blee as “head of the section that included the bin Laden unit,” and “a group chief with authority over the bin Laden unit,” indicating that his position is indeed upgraded. (Note: this first quote from the 9/11 Commission Report refers to an event in mid-1999. Presumably, there is an error in the timing here by the Commission, as at this time Blee was head of the bin Laden unit (see June 1999), not the larger group. His position appears not to be upgraded until around the spring of 2000.) (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 142, 204) Journalist Ken Silverstein will say that at one point Blee holds the number four position at the CTC, chief of operations, which may be at this time. (Silverstein 1/28/2007)

Kie Fallis, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) terrorism intelligence analyst, later claims that around this time he uncovers an intelligence report about the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). Public details of his exact knowledge about this summit have been scant, but it suggests at least some information on the summit spreads beyond the CIA and FBI not long after it takes place. But apparently, Fallis, who had been researching terror links between al-Qaeda and Iranian intelligence, learns that US intelligence discovered at the time that Malaysian security officials traced some attendees of the summit to the Iranian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur, where they spent the night. Fallis will use this lead along with other leads to suggest a terror warning in late September 2000 (see May 2000-Late September 2000) that he believes might have stopped the USS Cole attack in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000) . (Gertz 8/26/2002)

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)

Hussein ArabHussein Arab [Source: al-bab]Yemen’s interior minister, Hussein Arab, issues a letter to al-Qaeda commander Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri instructing Yemeni authorities to give safe passage to al-Nashiri and three bodyguards without being searched or intercepted. The letter states that, “All security forces are instructed to cooperate with him and facilitate his mission.” Al-Nashiri’s mission turns out to be the attack on the USS Cole in which seventeen US sailors are killed (see October 12, 2000). Arab will be removed from his position in April 2001, but the letter will not come to light until the Cole trial in Yemen in 2004, when it is read out in court by the defense. Jamal Amer, editor of the weekly Al-Wasat, will comment that the letter “proves that there is a link between the security authorities and these groups.” (Associated Press 8/25/2004) In May 2001, UPI will report, “According to several US government sources, one of the reasons the attack on the Cole succeeded was involvement by the ‘highest levels’ of the Yemen government of President Ali Abdallah Saleh, although Saleh himself personally was not, one said.” (Sale 5/20/2001)

Ramzi bin al-Shibh.Ramzi bin al-Shibh. [Source: FBI]During these months, Hamburg al-Qaeda cell member Ramzi bin al-Shibh tries several times to get a US visa, but all his attempts fail, some possibly due to a link to the USS Cole bombing. In 2000, he tries to a get a visa three times from Germany, and once from Yemen, but all these attempts fail. He may also make a fifth attempt in May 2001, although the 9/11 Commission will not include that in their final report. One of the applications says he will be visiting Agus Budiman, a Hamburg associate, in Washington (see October-November 2000). (Lichtblau and Williams 10/24/2001; Abuza 12/24/2002; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 11-15 pdf file; McDermott 2005, pp. 209) Most accounts claim that bin al-Shibh is refused a visa on economic grounds based on fears that he will overstay his visa and work in the US. One official later suggests it was “only by luck” that he was turned down. (CBS News 6/6/2002; Finn 7/14/2002) However, Bin al-Shibh is in Yemen during the two months before the bombing of the Cole in that country, and investigators later conclude that he may have been involved in that attack (see October 10-21, 2000 and October 12, 2000). Possibly for this reason other accounts note that, as the London Times will put it, he was “turned down on security grounds.” (Kennedy 9/9/2002) Newsweek will later report, “One senior law-enforcement official told Newsweek that bin al-Shibh’s efforts to obtain a US visa were rebuffed because of suspicions that he was tied to the bombing of the USS Cole.” (Lichtblau and Williams 10/21/2001; Thomas 11/26/2001; BBC 9/14/2002) In addition, Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda will say that according to his US intelligence sources, bin al-Shibh’s visas were “turned down because he was implicated in the USS Cole attack.” (TBS Journal 10/2002) But no journalist will ever question why this information didn’t lead to the unraveling of the 9/11 plot. Not only is there the obvious visa connection to Ziad Jarrah while he is training at a US flight school, but also during this same time period bin al-Shibh wires money to Marwan Alshehhi, Zacarias Moussaoui, and others, sometimes using his own name. (CBS News 6/6/2002) It is unclear how the US would know about his ties to the bombing at this time, though it’s possible that the consular official who reviews his fourth attempt in Berlin in October/November 2000 sees that al-Shibh entered Yemen one day before the attack and leaves shortly after it (see October 10-21, 2000). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 15 pdf file)

Kie Fallis, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) terrorism intelligence analyst, has been gathering evidence of an upcoming al-Qaeda attack or attacks. In 2002, he will describe to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry a research process similar to what Able Danger is using at the same time: “I began to notice there was a voluminous amount of information, as others have testified, regarding al-Qaeda. Most of it appeared to be unrelated to other pieces of information. It appeared to be almost chat. By using a piece of [commercial software called ‘Analyst’s Notebook’] I was able to put these small snippets of information into, and graphically represent them as well, I was able to, over a course of many months, to determine certain linkages between these items—linkages that would never be apparent without the use of this tool. It would be lost in the weeds. And there were a lot of weeds to look through.” (Gertz 8/26/2002; US Congress 10/8/2002) In his research, he claims to find links between al-Qaeda and Iranian intelligence. By May 2000, he writes a classified report on his conclusion that “terrorists were planning two or three major attacks against the United States. The only gaps were where and when.” Apparently, he envisions at least one of these attacks will use a small boat to blow up a US warship. However, the DIA has already issued a report concluding that such a method of attack would be impossible to carry out successfully, and the agency sticks by this assessment. A video message put out by bin Laden in mid-September convinces Fallis that an al-Qaeda attack will happen in the next month or two.(see Mid-September 2000). Shortly after learning about this message, Fallis reaches “the ‘eureka point‘… in determining an impending terrorist attack.” This comes “from a still-classified intelligence report in September 2000, which he will not discuss.” (Gertz 8/26/2002) This may be a reference to a lead by the Able Danger team on increased al-Qaeda activity in Yemen at this time (see Late September 2000), and/or it may refer to other intelligence leads. Fallis goes to his supervisor and asks that at least a general warning of an attack in the Middle East be issued. He hopes such a warning will at least put US military forces in the region on a higher alert. His superior turns him down, and other superiors fail to even learn of his suggested warning. The USS Cole will be successfully attacked in the port of Aden, Yemen, by a small boat of terrorists on October 12, 2000 (see October 12, 2000) . (Gertz 8/26/2002) One day after the Cole attack, Fallis will resign in protest. According to Senator John Warner (R-VA),“What [Fallis] felt is that his assessment was not given that proper level of consideration by his superiors and, as such, was not incorporated in the final intelligence reports provided to military commanders in the [Middle East region].” (CNN 10/25/2000)

A CIA informant reveals that a militant group based in Sidon, Lebanon that is affiliated with bin Laden is planning to attack a US naval ship somewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean, probably off the coast of Lebanon. (Miniter 2003, pp. 215) This is a probable reference to Asbat al-Ansar, the only group that fits such a profile. (US Department of State 5/21/2002) The CIA and Defense Department discount the threat, pointing out the US is not deploying ships near Lebanon. However, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later say he was alarmed by the warning because it showed increased ambitions for al-Qaeda in going after hardened military targets. (Miniter 2003, pp. 215) Al-Qaeda will successfully bomb the USS Cole several months later in Yemen (see October 12, 2000).

According to PBS, an Egyptian informant warns US intelligence that al-Qaeda will attack an American warship. (PBS 10/3/2002) The FBI also notices increased telephone activity by al-Qaeda in Yemen around the same time (see August-Early October 2000). The USS Cole is attacked in the autumn of this year (see October 12, 2000).

Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, with a few of the future 9/11 hijackers, travels to Afghanistan and meets Osama bin Laden. German intelligence soon learns of the trip, and even gets wiretapped recordings of some of his conversations there. Zammar has been an Islamist militant for a long time, and went to training camps in Afghanistan in 1991 and 1994. Living in Hamburg, he was able to collect about 12,000 Deutsche Marks (approximately $6,000 at the time) for al-Qaeda. In September 2000, he takes the money to Afghanistan. He is able to get a face-to-face meeting with bin Laden, in a training camp near Kandahar. Zammar is still at the training camp in early October, when al-Qaeda bombs the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000). He and the others in the camp have a celebration this night. This account is based on a confession Zammar will give to visiting German officials while he is secretly imprisoned in Syria in 2002 (see November 20-22, 2002). It is almost certain Zammar is frequently tortured there. However, Der Spiegel will later claim that German intelligence is able to verify many of the details of this trip on its own, because it receives wiretapped recordings of Zammar’s conversations in Afghanistan from at least one foreign intelligence agency. (Stark 11/21/2005)

A videotape message featuring bin Laden calling for more attacks on the US is aired on Al Jazeera. The video ends with al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri saying, “Enough of words, it is time to take action against this iniquitous and faithless force [the United States], which has spread troops through Egypt, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.” (CNN 10/20/2000; Gertz 8/26/2002) Further, bin Laden is wearing a distinctive, curved Yemeni dagger. Lawrence Wright will later mention in the book The Looming Tower that this was a “teasing clue” similar to other clues he had left before other attacks. (Wright 2006, pp. 318) DIA analyst Kie Fallis later recalls, “Every time he put out one of these videotapes, it was a signal that action was coming.” He claims that after hearing of the video, he “knew then it would be within a month or two.” But nonetheless, his suggestion to put out a general attack warning will go unheeded (see May 2000-Late September 2000). An al-Qaeda attack on the USS Cole follows less than a month later (see October 12, 2000). (Gertz 8/26/2002)

Lieutenant Colonel Anthony Shaffer will later claim that Captain Scott Phillpott, leader of the Able Danger program, briefs General Peter Schoomaker, head of Special Operations Command (SOCOM), that Able Danger has uncovered information of increased al-Qaeda “activity” in Aden harbor, Yemen. Shaffer, plus two other officials familiar with Able Danger later tell the New York Post that this warning was gleaned through a search of bin Laden’s business ties. Shaffer later recalls, “Yemen was elevated by Able Danger to be one of the top three hot spots for al-Qaeda in the entire world.” This warning, plus another possibly connected warning from Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) analyst Kie Fallis (see May 2000-Late September 2000), go unheeded and no official warning is issued. The USS Cole is attacked by al-Qaeda terrorists in Aden harbor in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). Shaffer later claims that Phillpott tells the 9/11 Commission about this warning in 2004 to show that Able Danger could have had a significant impact, but the Commission’s findings fail to mention the warning, or in fact anything else about Able Danger (see July 12, 2004). (Lathem 9/17/2005; Shaffer 9/20/2005) Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) will similarly tell Fox News: “[T]wo weeks before the attack on the Cole, in fact, two days before the attack on the Cole, [Able Danger] saw an increase of activity that led them to say to the senior leadership in the Pentagon at that time, in the Clinton administration, there’s something going to happen in Yemen and we better be on high alert, but it was discounted. That story has yet to be told to the American people.” (Fox News 10/8/2005)

Raed Hijazi.Raed Hijazi. [Source: Associated Press]Raed Hijazi participated in a failed attempt to bomb a hotel in Jordan at the start of the millennium (see November 30, 1999) and helped plan the USS Cole bombing in early October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). Hijazi knew Nabil al-Marabh in Boston, where they were roommates and drove taxis for the same company. In May 1999, the FBI had already approached al-Marabh looking for Hijazi, but al-Marabh will later claim he lied and said he did not know him. (Fainaru 9/4/2002) Hijazi is arrested in Syria this month and imprisoned in Jordan, where he has just been convicted for his failed bomb attempt there. He quickly begins to cooperate with investigators, identifies himself as an al-Qaeda operative, and also identifies al-Marabh as an al-Qaeda operative still living in the US. Customs agents soon discover that al-Marabh had on at least one occasion wired money to Hijazi that was used to fund the failed millennium plot. These agents will eventually learn that al-Marabh repeatedly sent money overseas to Hijazi. Ahmed Ressam, arrested in late 1999 for attempting to bomb the Los Angeles airport, helps confirm the connection between al-Marabh and Hijazi. Ressam will start cooperating with US investigators in early 2001, but it is not clear if he gave this information before 9/11 or just after it. (Golden and Miller 9/18/2001; Risen and Engelberg 10/14/2001; Fisher 10/14/2001; Godfrey 11/16/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago) 1/31/2002) Yet, the New York Times will note, “For months after the CIA learned of his ties to the bin Laden network, Mr. Marabh moved about unfettered—traveling around the [US], moving large amounts of money, getting duplicate driver’s licenses, and forging immigration documents.” (Risen and Engelberg 10/14/2001)

Before the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, Ramzi bin al-Shibh makes two trips to Yemen’s capital, Sana’a, and will later be said to play a role in the attack. Although bin al-Shibh is never named as a certain participant in the operation, he flies from Frankfurt, Germany, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), on October 10, 2000. The next day, he flies from Dubai to Sana’a, putting him there one day before the bombing (see October 12, 2000). He flies from Sana’a to Dubai on October 21, and where he goes from there is not certain. (Lichtblau and Williams 10/24/2001; Khan 8/11/2002 pdf file; Abuza 12/24/2002; McDermott 2005, pp. 209) Bin al-Shibh was also in Yemen for about four weeks up until a month before the bombing (see August-September 2000). Note also that the CIA is working with the Dubai airport to track all suspected militants passing through it, although it is not known if bin al-Shibh is suspected at this time (see 1999). He apparently attended an al-Qaeda summit with the other commanders of the ship-bombing operation in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000) and some media reports indicate an application for a US visa he makes after the attack is rejected due to concerns about his involvement in the bombing. For example, the Los Angeles Times, based on conversations with law enforcement officials, will report that bin al-Shibh is “linked to the terrorist attack in Yemen on the US Navy destroyer Cole.” (Lichtblau and Williams 10/21/2001) Newsweek, the BBC, and Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda will also report similar statements by law enforcement officials (see May 17, 2000-May 2001). (Thomas 11/26/2001; BBC 9/14/2002; TBS Journal 10/2002) One of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, may also be involved in the bombing (see Around October 12, 2000).

Damage to the USS Cole.Damage to the USS Cole. [Source: Department of Defense]The USS Cole is bombed in the Aden, Yemen harbor by two al-Qaeda militants, Hassan al-Khamri and Ibrahim al-Thawar (a.k.a. Nibras). Seventeen US soldiers are killed and 30 are wounded. The CIA will later conclude that with just slightly more skilled execution, the attack would have killed 300 and sunk the ship. (ABC News 10/13/2000; Coll 2004, pp. 532; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 191) The Islamic Army of Aden (IAA) immediately takes credit for the attack. This is a Yemen-based Muslim militant group widely believed to have close ties to al-Qaeda (see 1996-1997 and After). (Whitaker 10/14/2000) The IAA statement is released by its spokesman, Abu Hamza al-Masri (see Early 1997, (June 1998), and December 28, 1998 and After). Abu Hamza says that the attack was timed to mark the anniversary of the execution of the IAA’s former commander (see October 17, 1999). (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 184) The prime minister of Yemen at the time of the bombing will say shortly after 9/11, “The Islamic Army was part of al-Qaeda.” (Whitaker 10/13/2001) The US soon learns the names of some al-Qaeda operatives involved in the attack, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Tawfiq bin Attash and Fahad al-Quso (see Early December 2000), and Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000). 9/11 hijackers Ramzi bin al-Shibh (see October 10-21, 2000) and Khalid Almihdhar (see Around October 12, 2000) may also have been involved. This is a repeat of a previously attempted attack, against the USS The Sullivans, which failed and was apparently undetected (see January 3, 2000). (McDermott, Meyer, and McDonnell 12/22/2002) The 9/11 Commission will later say the Cole bombing “was a full-fledged al-Qaeda operation, supervised directly by bin Laden. He chose the target and location of the attack, selected the suicide operatives, and provided the money needed to purchase explosives and equipment.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 190)

Hours after the USS Cole bombing in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), President Clinton says regarding the bombing: “If, as it now appears, this was an act of terrorism, it was a despicable and cowardly act. We will find out who was responsible and hold them accountable.” (ABC News 10/12/2000) But the US will not quickly retaliate against al-Qaeda, as it did with missile strikes after the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa (see August 20, 1998), despite convincing evidence that al-Qaeda was behind the Cole bombing (see Shortly After October 12, 2000, November 2000 or After, and November 7, 2000).

Following the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), the CIA discusses possible policy changes in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Disappointed by US inaction, Alec Station chief Richard Blee decides “we’ve got to change the rules,” because he thinks al-Qaeda is getting stronger and stronger. This entails enhanced support for the Northern Alliance led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, which is the only credible opposition fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Although some CIA officers still think Alec Station’s staff is “over the top,” both the CIA’s Near East division and Counterterrorist Center chief Cofer Black agree with Blee, and they decide what is needed is aid to enable Massoud to pressure the Taliban, creating the conditions for CIA operations against bin Laden. The list of assistance includes cash to bribe commanders, trucks, helicopters, light arms, ammunition, uniforms, food, and possibly mortars and artillery. The plan will cost between $50 and $150 million, and will include a permanent CIA base in Afghan territory controlled by the Northern Alliance. CIA officers will then be able to accompany Massoud’s men on missions. It takes some time to arrive at these conclusions, which will be formalized into a plan (see December 29, 2000). However, the plan will not be accepted by the outgoing Clinton administration or the incoming Bush administration (see December 20, 2000). (Coll 2004, pp. 539-541; Coll 2/23/2004)

Fahad al-Quso, a Yemeni and known associate of Osama bin Laden, turns himself in to the Yemeni government after some of his relatives are questioned in the wake of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). (Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) He admits that he and one of the two Cole suicide bombers went to Bangkok, Thailand, and gave several thousand dollars to a man known as Khallad, who is identified as one of the masterminds of the Cole bombing. He says the money is to buy a new artificial leg for the one-legged Khallad. The transcript of the interrogation is given to the FBI a month later. FBI agent Ali Soufan sees the transcript and remembers a source he recruited in Afghanistan who spoke of a one-legged man named Khallad who is close to bin Laden. Khallad is his nickname; his real name is Tawfiq bin Attash. A mug shot of bin Attash is sent to this source, who makes a positive identification. Soufan wonders why money was being sent away from the Cole plotters and away from Yemen prior to a major planned attack and speculates that it may mean another al-Qaeda operation is being planned elsewhere. Soufan asks the CIA for information about Khallad and this other attack, which turns out to be 9/11, but the CIA withholds the information (see Late November 2000). Al-Quso will later reveal more to the FBI, leading to more missed opportunities (see Early December 2000). (Wright 2006, pp. 328-329)

Rahim al-NashiriRahim al-Nashiri [Source: AP]After several weeks of investigation, US authorities learn that al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri was involved in the plot to attack the USS Cole. Investigators find a second safe house used by the bombing team, and learn it was registered to al-Nashiri under a name variant. Al-Nashiri’s name is dimly familiar to FBI agent Ali Soufan, who remembers that a source said al-Nashiri was planning a seaborne attack against a US vessel in Aden (see After August 7, 1998). The FBI then finds that al-Nashiri rented a car in Aden before the bombing. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “It was another strong link between al-Qaeda and the Cole attack.” (Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) In addition, one of the bombers detained by Yemeni authorities, Jamal al-Badawi, identifies al-Nashiri as a person who gave instructions for the attack. Al-Badawi also says he thought al-Nashiri was working for bin Laden, but al-Nashiri did not tell al-Badawi this directly. (CNN 12/13/2000) Although al-Nashiri was the operational manager, he was actually in Afghanistan for a meeting with Osama bin Laden when the opportunity to attack arose and was not physically present at the bombing. Investigators are aware that he is the cousin of one of the bombers of the US embassy in Nairobi, which he facilitated, and a captured embassy bomber identified a photo of him for the FBI two years earlier (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and August 22-25 1998). Al-Nashiri has been known to various intelligence agencies since 1998, at least, and was monitored at the Malaysia summit of top al-Qaeda leaders at the start of the year (see January 5-8, 2000). (CNN 12/11/2000; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 152-3; Wright 2006, pp. 318) US investigators also identify another leading suspect in the case, Khallad bin Attash, at around the same time (see January 4, 2001).

Fahad al-Quso.Fahad al-Quso. [Source: FBI]In late October 2000, al-Qaeda operative Fahad al-Quso was interrogated by authorities in Yemen, and FBI agent Ali Soufan was able to use that information to discover the identity of one of the USS Cole bombing masterminds, Khallad bin Attash (see Late October-Late November 2000). In early December, while most FBI investigators are having to leave Yemen, Soufan is given the chance to interrogate al-Quso directly. Soufan gets al-Quso to admit that he had met with bin Attash and one of the Cole suicide bombers in Bangkok, Thailand, in January 2000 (see January 13, 2000). Al-Quso admits he gave bin Attash $36,000 and not the $5,000 for medical expenses that al-Quso had claimed when talking to the Yemenis the month before. Al-Quso says they stayed in the Washington Hotel in Bangkok, so Soufan checks telephone records to verify his account. Soufan finds records of phone calls between the hotel and al-Quso’s house in Yemen. They also find calls to both places from a pay phone in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. The phone happens to be directly outside the condominium where an al-Qaeda summit was taking place a few days before al-Quso went to Bangkok (see January 5-8, 2000). Soufan asks the CIA for information about bin Attash, but the CIA wrongly claims it knows nothing, and doesn’t even tell Soufan of the Malaysia summit that it had closely monitored (see Late November 2000). (Johnston and Risen 4/11/2004; Wright 2006, pp. 330-331) Meanwhile, FBI head investigator John O’Neill correctly believes that al-Quso is still holding back important information (at the very least, al-Quso is still hiding his participation in the Malaysia summit). However, O’Neill had been kicked out of Yemen by his superiors a week or two before (see October 14-Late November, 2000), and without his influential presence the Yemeni government will not allow any more interrogations. After 9/11, al-Quso will finally admit to meeting with Alhazmi and Almihdhar. One investigator calls the missed opportunity of exposing the 9/11 plot through al-Quso’s connections “mind-boggling.” (Gilmore and Wiser 10/3/2002) In April 2003, al-Quso will escape from a Yemeni prison (see April 11, 2003-March 2004). (Al-Haj 4/11/2003)

The CIA’s Counterterrorist Center completes a report on the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). The report, drafted by CIA officer Clark Shannon, finds that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are circumstantially tied to the attack. However, the report fails to mention details known to the CIA involving figures later connected to the 9/11 plot. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later observe, “The report did not mention [hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s] visa, [hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi’s] travel to the United States or the Khallad [bin Attash] identification from the Kuala Lumpur photographs” (see January 2-5, 2000, March 5, 2000, and January 4, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 283 pdf file)

Yemeni authorities receive photographs of operatives who attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. The exact number of photographs they receive is not known, but they include three photos, of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a man who looks like one of their associates, Fahad al-Quso, that are later shown to the FBI (see June 11, 2001). It is unclear who provides the photos to the Yemenis, but the CIA has them and is interested in the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), so presumably they come from the CIA. The photos are highly relevant to the FBI, as they connect extremists known to be involved in the Cole attack to Almihdhar and Alhazmi, but even though the FBI is in charge of the Cole investigation, the CIA continues to withhold the information from the FBI for months (see January 5, 2001 and After, February 1, 2001, Late May, 2001 and August 30, 2001). The Yemenis’ response to the photographs is unknown. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 293 pdf file) The CIA is aware by June 2001 that Almihdhar is the son-in-law of Ahmed al-Hada, a Yemeni extremist who runs a communications hub for Osama bin Laden (see Late August 1998), but it is not known whether they obtain this information now or at some other time. (Wright 2006, pp. 343)

Nawaf Alhazmi (left) and Khallad bin Attash (right) are said to have been confused by an informer.
Nawaf Alhazmi (left) and Khallad bin Attash (right) are said to have been confused by an informer. [Source: FBI]A CIA officer in Islamabad, Pakistan, known only as “Chris” shows a source known as “Omar,” who provides information on al-Qaeda, photographs of future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi taken at the al-Qaeda Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 537; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 268-271 pdf file) Omar has previously identified a photo of al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see November 22-December 16, 2000) and Chris has been told that bin Attash and Almihdhar might be the same person (see Mid-Late December 2000). Omar says that the photo of Alhazmi, who the CIA apparently does not recognize at this time, actually shows bin Attash. As Omar cannot identify Almihdhar, but says he can identify bin Attash, this indicates Almihdhar and bin Attash are not the same person. The identification causes the CIA to believe that bin Attash attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. Although this belief is based on a mistaken identification, it is actually correct, as bin Attash was present at the summit—the CIA has photos of bin Attash there, but fails to show them to Omar. This identification is important because bin Attash is a known bin Laden operative connected to the USS Cole attack and East African embassy bombings. The CIA also knows that Almihdhar and Alhazmi were at the summit, so this could connect them to the Cole attack. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 268-271 pdf file) An FBI official named Michael Dorris is also at the meeting. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 272 pdf file; Soufan 2011) However, Dorris does not learn of the identification of bin Attash by “Omar.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 270-274 pdf file)

After an informer later referred to as “Omar” tells the CIA that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash was at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 4, 2001), the CIA fails to communicate this information to the FBI, even though it is important for the FBI’s investigation of the USS Cole bombing and connects future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to the Cole bombers. Omar is a joint FBI/CIA source, but the FBI assistant legal attaché responsible for him, Michael Dorris, will later say he does not know of this identification, and documentation he drafts at this time indicates he is unaware of it. It is unclear why Dorris is unaware of the identification, although he does not speak Omar’s language and may have been out of the room making photocopies when Omar identified bin Attash in a photo of the Malaysia summit for his CIA counterpart. That officer, known only as “Chris,” will later say he has no independent recollection of any particular meeting with Omar.
Comparison with Previous Meeting - However, when Omar previously identified a photo of bin Attash provided by Yemeni authorities on December 16, 2000 (see November 22-December 16, 2000), Chris had him repeat the identification specifically for the benefit of Dorris, and the cable he drafted about the meeting said this clearly. In addition, Dorris will later say that he recalls the specific circumstances of the previous debriefing and would be able to recount them, including the identification of bin Attash in the photograph provided by the Yemenis.
Three Cables Drafted - Chris drafts three cables about the January 4 meeting; one internal cable provides little detail about it, but says bin Attash was identified in one of the photos, a cable to the general US intelligence community fails to mention the identification of bin Attash, as does a third cable, which is sent to the CIA.
CIA Later Makes False Claims - However, according to statements made by CIA officials after 9/11, at this time the CIA thinks that the FBI knows that bin Attash has been identified in the photos. For example, Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center Cofer Black will tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, “[O]ur records establish that the special agents from the FBI’s New York Field Office who were investigating the USS Cole attack reviewed the information about the Kuala Lumpur photo in late January 2001.” However, there is no documentary record of information about the second identification placing bin Attash in Kuala Lumpur with the two hijackers being passed to the FBI at this time. In addition, in July 2001 CIA manager Tom Wilshire will suggest passing this information to the FBI (see July 13, 2001), possibly meaning he thinks it is not passed at this time. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 264-278 pdf file) The CIA will not notify the FBI that Omar identified bin Attash in the photo until August 30, 2001, less than two weeks before 9/11 (see August 30, 2001).

The Washington Post reports that the US has confirmed the link between al-Qaeda and the October 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000). (Vise and Eggen 1/27/2001) This conclusion is stated without hedge in a February 9 briefing for Vice President Cheney. (Gellman 1/20/2002) In the wake of that bombing, Bush stated on the campaign trail, “I hope that we can gather enough intelligence to figure out who did the act and take the necessary action.… There must be a consequence.” (Gellman 1/20/2002) Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz later complains that by the time the new administration is in place, the Cole bombing was “stale.” Defense Secretary Rumsfeld concurs, stating that too much time had passed to respond. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) The new Bush administration fails to resume the covert deployment of cruise missile submarines and gunships on six-hour alert near Afghanistan’s borders that had begun under President Clinton. The standby force gave Clinton the option of an immediate strike against targets in Afghanistan harboring al-Qaeda’s top leadership. This failure makes a possible assassination of bin Laden much more difficult. (Gellman 1/20/2002)

The Bush White House holds its first National Security Council meeting. The focus is on Iraq and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. (Bamford 2004, pp. 261) This meeting sets the tone for how President Bush intends to handle foreign affairs. Counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke wants to focus on the threat from al-Qaeda and Islamist terrorism, especially in light of the recent attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). But Bush isn’t interested in terrorism. (Unger 2007, pp. 201)
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict to be 'Tilted Back Towards Israel' - Instead, Bush channels his neoconservative advisers, particularly incoming Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz (see February 18, 1992 and April-May 1999), in taking a new approach to Middle East affairs, particularly the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Referring to President Clinton’s efforts to make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians, Bush declares: “Clinton overreached, and it all fell apart. That’s why we’re in trouble. If the two sides don’t want peace, there’s no way we can force them. I don’t see much we can do over there at this point. I think it’s time to pull out of the situation.… We’re going to correct the imbalance of the previous administration on the Mideast conflict. We’re going to tilt it back towards Israel.” His view is that the Israeli government, currently headed by Ariel Sharon, should be left alone to deal as it sees fit with the Palestinians. “I’m not going to go by past reputations when it comes to Sharon. I’m going to take him at face value. We’ll work on a relationship based on how things go.” Justifying his position, he recalls a recent trip he took to Israel with the Republican Jewish Coalition. “We flew over the Palestinian camps. Looked real bad down there.… I don’t see much we can do over there at this point.” Secretary of State Colin Powell, surprised by Bush’s intended policy towards the 50-year old Israeli-Palestinian conflict, objects. According to Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neil, Powell “stresse[s] that a pullback by the United States would unleash Sharon and the Israeli army.” When Powell warns the president that the “consequences of that [policy] could be dire, especially for the Palestinians,” Bush shrugs. “Sometimes a show of strength by one side can really clarify things,” he suggests. (Bamford 2004, pp. 265-266; Lang 6/2004) In this and subsequent meetings, Bush’s National Security Adviser, Condoleezza Rice, “parrot[s]… the neocon line,” in author Craig Unger’s words, by discussing Iraq. “Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region,” she says, clearly alluding to regime change and overthrow in that nation (see March 8, 1992, Autumn 1992, July 8, 1996, Late Summer 1996, Late Summer 1996, 1997-1998, January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998, September 2000, Late December 2000 and Early January 2001, and Shortly after January 20, 2001). (Unger 2007, pp. 201)
Possible WMD Sites in Iraq Spark Bush to Order Plans for Ground Assaults - The meeting then moves on to the subject of Iraq. Rice begins noting “that Iraq might be the key to reshaping the entire region.” She turns the meeting over to CIA Director George Tenet who summarizes current intelligence on Iraq. He mentions a factory that “might” be producing “either chemical or biological materials for weapons manufacture.” The evidence he provides is a picture of the factory with some truck activity, a water tower, and railroad tracks going into a building. He admits that there is “no confirming intelligence” on just what is going on at these sites. Bush orders Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Hugh Shelton to begin preparing options for the use of US ground forces in Iraq’s northern and southern no-fly zones in support of a native-based insurgency against the Hussein regime. (Bamford 2004, pp. 267; Lang 6/2004) Author Ron Suskind later sums up the discussion: “Meeting adjourned. Ten days in, and it was about Iraq. Rumsfeld had said little, Cheney nothing at all, though both men clearly had long entertained the idea of overthrowing Saddam.” Defense Intelligence Agency official Patrick Lang later writes: “If this was a decision meeting, it was strange. It ended in a presidential order to prepare contingency plans for war in Iraq.” (Lang 6/2004)
Regime Change Intended from the Outset - US Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neill, later recalls: “From the very beginning, there was a conviction, that Saddam Hussein was a bad person and that he needed to go.… From the very first instance, it was about Iraq. It was about what we can do to change this regime. Day one, these things were laid and sealed.” O’Neill will say officials never questioned the logic behind this policy. No one ever asked, “Why Saddam?” and “Why now?” Instead, the issue that needed to be resolved was how this could be accomplished. “It was all about finding a way to do it,” O’Neill will explain. “That was the tone of it. The president saying ‘Go find me a way to do this.’” (CBS News 1/10/2004; Stevenson 1/12/2004; Borger 1/12/2004; Burrough et al. 5/2004, pp. 234) Another official who attends the meeting will later say that the tone of the meeting implied a policy much more aggressive than that of the previous administration. “The president told his Pentagon officials to explore the military options, including use of ground forces,” the official will tell ABC News. “That went beyond the Clinton administration’s halfhearted attempts to overthrow Hussein without force.” (Cochran 1/13/2004) Unger later writes, “These were the policies that even the Israeli right had not dared to implement.” One senior administration official says after the meeting, “The Likudniks are really in charge now.” (Unger 2007, pp. 201)
Funding the Iraqi National Congress - The council does more than just discuss Iraq. It makes a decision to allow the Iraqi National Congress (INC), an Iraqi opposition group, to use $4 million to fund efforts inside Iraq to compile information relating to Baghdad’s war crimes, military operations, and other internal developments. The money had been authorized by Congress in late 2004. The US has not directly funded Iraqi opposition activities inside Iraq itself since 1996. (Kettle 2/3/2005)
White House Downplays Significance - After Paul O’Neill first provides his account of this meeting in 2004, the White House will attempt to downplay its significance. “The stated policy of my administration toward Saddam Hussein was very clear,” Bush will tell reporters during a visit to Mexico In January 2004. “Like the previous administration, we were for regime change.… And in the initial stages of the administration, as you might remember, we were dealing with desert badger or fly-overs and fly-betweens and looks, and so we were fashioning policy along those lines.” (Stevenson 1/12/2004)

The CIA’s bin Laden unit, Alec Station, reduces the FBI’s access to NSA material tracking al-Qaeda members. The FBI had previously used such intercepts to map al-Qaeda’s global network (see Late 1998-Early 2002). The NSA intercepts at least one call from the 9/11 hijackers in the US to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen after this (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001 and (August 2001)), but does not tell the FBI. Authors Joe and Susan Trento will comment that by doing this and withholding the hijackers’ identities from the FBI, “the CIA effectively ended any chance in the months leading up to 9/11 of discovering that [Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi] were actually al-Qaeda agents destined to play major roles in the 9/11 attacks.” The CIA repeatedly fails to tell the FBI what it knows about Alhazmi and Almihdhar (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, January 5, 2001 and After, and June 11, 2001). (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 194) There is a long history of the NSA not wanting other US government agencies to have access to NSA material about al-Qaeda (see December 1996, Late August 1998, Between 1996 and August 1998, and Before September 11, 2001).

Tom Wilshire, a former deputy chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is detailed to the FBI to help with its counterterrorism work. Wilshire was involved in the failure to watchlist 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar during the al-Qaeda Malaysia summit (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), and will also be involved in the failed search for them in the summer of 2001 (see May 15, 2001, Late May, 2001, and July 13, 2001), as well as the failure to obtain a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 24, 2001). He acts as the CIA’s chief intelligence representative to Michael Rolince, head of the Bureau’s International Terrorism Operations Section. His primary role is apparently to help the FBI exploit information for intelligence purposes. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 282-348 pdf file)

Tom Wilshire, a former deputy chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit currently detailed to the FBI, accesses a number of cables about travel by 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in 2000 (see March 5, 2000), but fails to draw the FBI’s attention to this or ask the INS whether they are still in the US. The cables report on Khalid Almihdhar’s travel to Malaysia in January 2000, his US visa, al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, and Alhazmi’s travel from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to Bangkok, Thailand, with another person, and then to Los Angeles. Wilshire had previously blocked a notification to the FBI that Almihdhar had a US visa (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). He writes to another CIA analyst about the travel (see May 15, 2001), but does not alert the FBI to the fact Alhazmi came to the US. Neither does he check with the INS to see whether Alhazmi and Almihdhar are in the country. When one of his colleagues finds these cables in late August, she will immediately check with the INS and become alarmed when she is told they are in the US (see August 21-22, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 266-8, 537; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 283 pdf file) The 9/11 Commission will explain his failure to alert the FBI by saying he was focused on a possible terrorist attack in Malaysia: “Despite the US links evident in this traffic, [Wilshire] made no effort to determine whether any of these individuals was in the United States. He did not raise the possibility with his FBI counterpart. He was focused on Malaysia.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 268)

Although three surveillance photographs of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit are passed to the FBI at this time (see Late May, 2001 and June 11, 2001), another key photograph the CIA has of the meeting is withheld by CIA officers Clark Shannon and Tom Wilshire. The key photograph shows al-Qaeda logistics manager Khallad bin Attash, who commanded the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). Author Lawrence Wright will later comment: “Thanks to [FBI agent Ali] Soufan’s interrogation of [USS Cole bomber Fahad al-Quso], the Cole investigators had an active file on Khallad and were preparing to indict him. Knowledge of that fourth photo would likely have prompted [FBI manager John] O’Neill to demand that the CIA turn over all information relating to Khallad and his associates. By withholding the picture of Khallad attending the meeting with the future hijackers [Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi], the CIA may in effect have allowed the September 11th plot to proceed.” (Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) The CIA also has video and even more photos of the meeting (see January 5, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After), but these are not shared either, and it is unclear how aware Wilshire and Shannon are of this additional material.

Margaret Gillespie, an FBI agent detailed to the CIA who has been asked to research the connection between al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit and the bombing of the USS Cole, checks a CIA database and finds some NSA information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and their travel to an al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that was monitored by the US. The database she uses is Intelink, which only has information the CIA makes available to other intelligence agencies. However, she does not also examine the CIA’s Hercules database. It is unclear why she does not do so and whether, as an FBI agent, she has access to it. If she did access it, she would have a complete picture of the CIA’s knowledge of Almihdhar and Alhazmi and would know Almihdhar had a US visa and Alhazmi had traveled to the US (see January 2-5, 2000 and March 5, 2000). As Gillespie is only working this line of inquiry in her free time, she does not put together the information contained in the Hercules system until late August (see August 21-22, 2001). (Wright 2006, pp. 340, 425)

Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer on loan to the FBI, obtains three photographs from the surveillance of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), and passes them to Dina Corsi, an agent with the FBI’s bin Laden unit. Corsi learned of the photographs’ existence following a discussion with CIA officer Clark Shannon. Although Wilshire does not have a “substantive conversation” with Corsi about the photos, he does identify hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in one of them, and says Almihdhar traveled from Sana’a, Yemen, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and then Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in early January 2000. However, Wilshire omits to mention that Almihdhar has a US visa, his associate hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi has traveled to the US, or another associate, Khallad bin Attash, has been identified in the photos. He also does not say why the photos were taken. Author Lawrence Wright will later say the photos are passed because Wilshire wants to know what the FBI knows. The CIA says it thinks the photos may show Fahad al-Quso, an al-Qaeda operative involved in the USS Cole bombing. Corsi understands that the photos are “not formally passed” to the FBI, but are only for limited use at a forthcoming meeting. Therefore, only limited information about them is provided at the meeting, causing a disagreement (see June 11, 2001). However, Wilshire will later say that Corsi could give the photos to the FBI, but the FBI could not then give them to a foreign government (note: the photos had been provided to a foreign government five months previously, so this restriction is meaningless). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 286-7, 293-4 pdf file; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) Other pictures of the summit are available to the CIA, and there is even video footage (see February 2000 and Mid-May 2001), but these are not shared with the FBI or widely discussed.

During a regularly scheduled weekly meeting between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet, CIA official Richard Blee describes a “truly frightening” list of warning signs of an upcoming terrorist attack. He says that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is working on attack plans. CIA leaders John McLaughlin and Cofer Black are also present at this meeting, as is counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and Mary McCarthy, a CIA officer serving as National Security Council senior director. (Tenet 2007, pp. 145) Just the day before, Clarke suggested that Tenet and Rice discuss what could be done to stop Zubaida from launching “a series of major terrorist attacks,” so presumably this discussion is in response to that (see May 29, 2001). Tenet will later recall: “Some intelligence suggested that [Zubaida’s] plans were ready to be executed; others suggested they would not be ready for six months. The primary target appeared to be in Israel, but other US assets around the world were at risk.” Rice asks about taking the offensive against al-Qaeda and asks how bad the threat is. Black estimates it to be a seven on a one-to-10 scale, with the millennium threat at the start of 2000 ranking an eight in comparison. Clarke tells her that adequate warning notices have been issued to the appropriate US entities. (Tenet 2007, pp. 145-146)

Two unnamed veteran CIA Counterterrorist Center officers deeply involved in Osama bin Laden-related issues are so worried about an impending attack that they consider resigning and going public with their concerns, according to the 9/11 Commission. Apparently they are also unhappy with the Bush administration’s lack of response to recent warnings. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 259-260) In a 2008 book by journalist Philip Shenon, one of the officials will be named as Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Alec Station, from 1996 to 1999. The other may be his replacement Richard Blee (see June 1999), the CIA manager currently responsible for overseeing Alec Station. Neither will have commented publicly on their threatened resignations. (Shenon 2008, pp. 395) However, in 2004, Scheuer will say that on the day of 9/11, he turned on his TV just in time to see the second plane hit the World Trade Center. He will say that at that moment he felt “sadness more than anything else.… I was nearly physically sick that I had neither resigned in 1999 and told Congress what I knew nor resigned and published my book sooner.” (Zeman et al. 11/2004)

Margaret Gillespie.Margaret Gillespie. [Source: Doug Dreyer / Associated Press]The FBI and the CIA hold a meeting to discuss the investigation into the USS Cole bombing and a possible connection between it and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). However, the CIA and FBI headquarters refuse to share all they know, and agents investigating the Cole bombing become angry over this.
Attendees - The meeting, which lasts between two and four hours, is attended by CIA officer Clark Shannon, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA named Margaret Gillespie, FBI agent Steve Bongardt, FBI agent Russell Fincher, and Assistant US Attorney David Kelley.
Purpose - Although there is no agenda for the meeting and Corsi will later say it is a brainstorming session, author Lawrence Wright will say that one of the reasons for the meeting is that CIA officer Tom Wilshire, an associate of Shannon’s, “want[ed] to know… what the FBI knew” about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. (ABC News 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 289-294 pdf file; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file) FBI agent Ali Soufan will also say that he later learned that Wilshire “was fishing to see if the FBI knew anything about the men in the photos.” (Soufan 2011, pp. 243)
Photos Shown - Initially, Bongardt and Fincher brief Shannon on progress in the Cole investigation. Corsi then shows the two Cole investigators three photographs taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), showing future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and another man, and Shannon asks if the agents recognize Fahad al-Quso, who is thought to have attended the Malaysia summit and has been interviewed by the FBI. However, one of the photos shows Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a tree, and the CIA has already recognized Almihdhar and Alhazmi, so it is unclear how the Cole investigators are supposed to recognize al-Quso in the photo. Corsi received the photographs from Wilshire, but Wilshire did not provide her with all the relevant information about them (see Late May, 2001).
Questions Asked - Bongardt and Fincher ask who is in the pictures, why were taken, and whether there are other photos of the meeting. Shannon refuses to say, but Corsi eventually admits one of the men is named Khalid Almihdhar. As a name alone is not sufficient reason to start an investigation, Bongardt asks for a date of birth or other details that will allow him to know which Khalid Almihdhar in the world is being discussed, but Shannon refuses to provide them. Shannon admits that Almihdhar was traveling on a Saudi passport and then leaves the meeting. Lawrence Wright will say that providing a date of birth is “standard procedure—the first thing most investigators would do.” Realizing that the photos pertain to the Cole investigation, Bongardt and Fincher become angry at the lack of information being provided and the meeting descends into a “shouting match.” (ABC News 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 289-294 pdf file; Wright 7/10/2006 pdf file)
What Shannon Knew - Shannon will later admit that at this time he knew Almihdhar had a US visa, that Alhazmi had traveled to the US in 2000, that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had been recognized in one of the photos, and that Alhazmi was known to be an experienced operative. However, he does not tell any of this to any FBI agents, as he apparently thinks he does not have the authority. He does not let them keep copies of the photos either and will give conflicting accounts of the meeting after 9/11 (see Between September 12, 2001 and October 17, 2002). (US Congress 7/24/2003 pdf file; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 289-292 pdf file)
Corsi Withholds Information - Corsi has NSA information saying Almihdhar and Alhazmi attended the Malaysia meeting, but apparently believes that the Cole agents cannot be told more because of restrictions on sharing intelligence with criminal agents (see July 19, 1995). However, one of the Cole agents present is an intelligence agent, so the information can be communicated to him immediately without Corsi obtaining permission from the NSA and/or Justice Department. In addition, the NSA sent the information to the FBI’s New York field office, where the Cole investigators are based, in 1999 (see December 1999-January 2000). Furthermore, when she asks the NSA’s permission to share the information 10 weeks later, the NSA approves the request on the same day (see August 27-28, 2001). She does not share the information at this time, but promises Bongardt and Fincher to try to do so later. The Cole agents will not receive more information for months. (US Congress 9/20/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 269, 537)
Almihdhar Gets New Visa - Two days after this meeting, Almihdhar has no trouble getting a new, multiple reentry US visa (see May 2001 and June 13, 2001). (Pound 12/12/2001; US Congress 9/20/2002)

Following a meeting at which FBI agents investigating the attack on the USS Cole were shown pictures of operatives who attended al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, including 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, but were not given all the relevant information (see June 11, 2001), deputy head of the investigation Steve Bongardt continues to ask for the material, but FBI headquarters fails to provide it. Bongardt apparently has “heated telephone conversations and e-mail exchanges” with FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi over the passage of the information. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 291, 294 pdf file) Bongardt will tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, “I’ve had several conversations with the analyst [Corsi] after that, because we would talk on other matters, and almost every time I would ask her, ‘What’s the story with the Almihdhar information, when is it going to get passed, do we have anything yet, when is it going to get passed,’ and each time I was told that the information had not been passed yet. And the sense I got from here, based on our conversations, was that she was trying as hard as she could to get the information passed or at least the ability to tell us about the information.” (US Congress 9/20/2002) But in fact Corsi does not appear to take any steps towards having the information passed to the Cole investigators for two and a half months after the meeting. Part of the relevant information is from a wiretap on Almihdhar’s phone (see Shortly Before December 29, 1999) and, due to measures related to the “wall,” the NSA general counsel has to approve its passage to criminal agents. Corsi finally asks the NSA to approve passage of the information on August 27; the NSA immediately agrees, but Corsi continues to withhold the information from Bongardt (see August 27-28, 2001). The other part of the information consists of photos of the two hijackers in Malaysia with other extremists (see January 5-8, 2000). Corsi will later say she “probably” has follow up conversations about passing the photographs with the two CIA officers, Tom Wilshire and Clark Shannon, who gave them to her (see Late May, 2001), but these alleged conversations do not result in the photos being passed to Bongardt, even though Wilshire will later say that, as far as he was concerned at this point, they could be distributed through the FBI. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 294 pdf file) After Corsi is told that Almihdhar is in the US (see August 21-22, 2001), this information is made available to intelligence investigators at the FBI (see August 28, 2001), but not to the team investigating the Cole bombing (see August 28, 2001).

Future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar obtains a second US visa from the US consulate in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 24-25 pdf file) The visa is issued by Shayna Steinger, a consular official who apparently issues the future 9/11 hijackers with 12 visas (see July 1, 2000). (9/11 Commission 12/30/2002, pp. 2; Office of the Inspector General (US Department of State) 1/30/2003) Almihdhar’s passport, which was issued two weeks previously (see June 1, 2001), lacks an expiry date, but contains an indicator of possible terrorist affiliation used by the Saudi authorities to track suspected radicals (see November 2, 2007). His application form is incomplete, as it lists his occupation as “businessman,” but does not give his employer’s name and address.
Lies on Application Form - The form, which is submitted through the Visa Express program (see May 2001), meaning Almihdhar is not interviewed, contains two lies: Almihdhar says he has never received an American visa or traveled to the US, whereas he received a visa in 1999 (see April 3-7, 1999) and traveled to the US on it in 2000 (see January 15, 2000). As Almihdhar’s first visa was also issued by the Jeddah consulate, through which the CIA sent radical Arabs to the US for training during the Soviet-Afghan war (see September 1987-March 1989), consular officials could discover he is lying, but information about prior visas issuances is not automatically displayed to them.
Known Terrorist - By this time, several intelligence agencies are aware that Almihdhar is an al-Qaeda operative; for example, the CIA (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), NSA (see December 29, 1999), FBI (see January 5-6, 2000), a US Army intelligence program (see January-February 2000), the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency (see 1997), Malaysian Special Branch (see January 5-8, 2000), and an intelligence service in the United Arab Emirates (see January 2-5, 2000)).
Parallels to Case of Blind Sheikh - Almihdhar will re-enter the US on the visa three weeks later (see July 4, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will find that the series of missteps preceding the issuance of visas to Almihdhar and the other future 9/11 hijackers has some “eerie parallels” to the “series of exceptional failures” that led to US visas being issued to the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see December 15, 1986-1989 and July 1990). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 24-27, 33, 49 pdf file)

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke writes an e-mail to National Security Adviser Rice saying that the pattern of al-Qaeda activity indicating attack planning has “reached a crescendo.” He adds, “A series of new reports continue to convince me and analysts at State, CIA, DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], and NSA that a major terrorist attack or series of attacks is likely in July.” For instance, one report from an al-Qaeda source in late June warned that something “very, very, very, very” big is about to happen, and that most of bin Laden’s network is anticipating the attack. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256; US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 1 pdf file) CIA Director Tenet sends Rice a very similar warning on the same day (see June 28, 2001). The 9/11 Commission does not record Rice taking any action in response to these warnings. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 256)

Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer assigned to the FBI, sends an e-mail to managers at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, saying there is a potential connection between recent warnings of an attack against US interests and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). He notes “how bad things look in Malaysia” and points out that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar may be connected to the radicals who attacked the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). He recommends that the Cole bombing and the Malaysia summit be re-examined for potential connections to the current warnings of an attack. The e-mail ends, “all the indicators are of a massively bad infrastructure being readily completed with just one purpose in mind.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 298 pdf file) This is one of a series of e-mails sent around this time by Wilshire to Alec Station about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see July 13, 2001 and July 23, 2001). Presumably, one of the recipients at CIA headquarters is Richard Blee, the manager responsible for Alec Station, as he apparently receives at least one of the e-mails (see July 13, 2001).

On July 5, 2001, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gave a dramatic briefing to representatives from several domestic agencies on the urgent al-Qaeda threat (see July 5, 2001). However, the warnings given generally are not passed on by the attendees back to their respective agencies. The domestic agencies were not questioned about how they planned to address the threat and were not told what was expected of them. According to the 9/11 Commission, attendees later “report that they were told not to disseminate the threat information they received at the meeting. They interpreted this direction to mean that although they could brief their superiors, they could not send out advisories to the field.” One National Security Council official has a different recollection of what happened, recalling that attendees were asked to take the information back to their agencies and “do what you can” with it, subject to classification and distribution restrictions. But, for whatever reason, none of the involved agencies post internal warnings based on the meeting, except for Customs which puts out a general warning based entirely on publicly known historical facts. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 264) The FAA issues general and routine threat advisories that don’t reflect the level of urgency expressed by Clarke and others (see January-August 2001). FAA Administrator Jane Garvey later claims she was unaware of a heightened threat level, but in 2005 it will be revealed that about half of the FAA’s daily briefings during this time period referred to bin Laden or al-Qaeda (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). (Johnston and Dwyer 4/18/2004) Clarke said rhetorically in the meeting that he wants to know if a sparrow has fallen from a tree. A senior FBI official attended the meeting and promised a redoubling of the FBI’s efforts. However, just five days after Clarke’s meeting, FBI agent Ken Williams sends off his memo speculating that al-Qaeda may be training operatives as pilots in the US (see July 10, 2001), yet the FBI fails to share this information with Clarke or any other agency. (Gellman 5/17/2002; Clarke 2004, pp. 236-37) The FBI will also fail to tell Clarke about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), or what they know about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see August 23, 2001).

FBI agent Ken Williams.FBI agent Ken Williams. [Source: FBI]Phoenix, Arizona, FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum warning about suspicious activities involving a group of Middle Eastern men taking flight training lessons in Arizona. The memo is titled: “Zakaria Mustapha Soubra; IT-OTHER (Islamic Army of the Caucasus),” because it focuses on Zakaria Soubra, a Lebanese flight student in Prescott, Arizona, and his connection with a terror group in Chechnya that has ties to al-Qaeda. It is subtitled: “Osama bin Laden and Al-Muhjiroun supporters attending civil aviation universities/colleges in Arizona.” (Behar 5/22/2002; House 7/24/2003) Williams’ memo is based on an investigation of Sorba that Williams had begun in 2000 (see April 2000), but he had trouble pursuing because of the low priority the Arizona FBI office gave terror investigations (see April 2000-June 2001). Additionally, Williams had been alerted to suspicions about radical militants and aircraft at least three other times (see October 1996; 1998; November 1999-August 2001). In the memo, Williams does the following:
bullet Names nine other suspect students from Pakistan, India, Kenya, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. (Schrom 10/1/2002) Hijacker Hani Hanjour, attending flight school in Arizona in early 2001 and probably continuing into the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), is not one of the students, but, as explained below, it seems two of the students know him. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; Smith 7/25/2003)
bullet Notes that he interviewed some of these students, and heard some of them make hostile comments about the US. Additionally, he noticed that they were suspiciously well informed about security measures at US airports. (Schrom 10/1/2002)
bullet Notes an increasing, “inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” taking flight lessons in Arizona. (Schrom 10/1/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file)
bullet Suspects that some of the ten people he has investigated are connected to al-Qaeda. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file) One person on the list, Ghassan al Sharbi, will be arrested in Pakistan in March 2002 with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Al Sharbi attended a flight school in Prescott, Arizona. He also apparently attended the training camps in Afghanistan and swore loyalty to bin Laden in the summer of 2001. He apparently knows Hani Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). He also is the roommate of Soubra, the main target of the memo. (Krikorian 1/24/2003; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 521)
bullet Discovers that one of them was communicating through an intermediary with Abu Zubaida. This apparently is a reference to Hamed al Sulami, who had been telephoning a Saudi imam known to be Zubaida’s spiritual advisor. Al Sulami is an acquaintance of Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). (Mercury News (San Jose) 5/23/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 520-521, 529)
bullet Discusses connections between several of the students and a radical group called Al-Muhajiroun. (Mercury News (San Jose) 5/23/2002) This group supported bin Laden, and issued a fatwa, or call to arms, that included airports on a list of acceptable terror targets. (Solomon 5/22/2002) Soubra, the main focus of the memo, is a member of Al-Muhajiroun and an outspoken radical. He met with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of Al-Muhajiroun in Britain, and started an Arizona chapter of the organization. After 9/11, some US officials will suspect that Soubra has ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. He will be held two years, then deported to Lebanon in 2004. (Connell 10/28/2001; Krikorian 1/24/2003; Wagner 5/2/2004; Sherman 11/2004) Though Williams doesn’t include it in his memo, in the summer of 1998, Bakri publicized a fax sent by bin Laden to him that listed al-Qaeda’s four objectives in fighting the US. The first objective was “bring down their airliners.” (see Summer 1998). (Connell 10/28/2001)
bullet Warns of a possible “effort by Osama bin Laden to send students to the US to attend civil aviation universities and colleges” (Behar 5/22/2002) , so they can later hijack aircraft. (Schrom 10/1/2002)
bullet Recommends that the “FBI should accumulate a listing of civil aviation universities and colleges around the country. FBI field offices with these types of schools in their area should establish appropriate liaison. FBI [headquarters] should discuss this matter with other elements of the US intelligence community and task the community for any information that supports Phoenix’s suspicions.” (House 7/24/2003) (The FBI has already done this, but because of poor FBI communications, Williams is not aware of the report.)
bullet Recommends that the FBI ask the State Department to provide visa data on flight school students from Middle Eastern countries, which will facilitate FBI tracking efforts. (Risen 5/4/2002)
The memo is addressed to the following FBI Agents:
bullet Dave Frasca, chief of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters;
bullet Elizabeth Harvey Matson, Mark Connor and Fred Stremmel, Intelligence Operations Specialists in the RFU;
bullet Rod Middleton, acting chief of the Usama bin Laden Unit (UBLU);
bullet Jennifer Maitner, an Intelligence Operations Specialist in the UBLU;
bullet Jack Cloonan, an agent on the New York FBI’s bin Laden unit, the I-49 squad; (see January 1996 and Spring 2000).
bullet Michael S. Butsch, an agent on another New York FBI squad dealing with other Sunni terrorists. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 7/10/2001 pdf file; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file)
However, the memo is not uploaded into the FBI’s information system until the end of the month and is apparently not received by all these people (see July 27, 2001 and after). Williams also shares some concerns with the CIA (see (July 27, 2001)). (Mercury News (San Jose) 5/23/2002) One anonymous government official who has seen the memo says, “This was as actionable a memo as could have been written by anyone.” (Insight 5/27/2002) However, the memo is merely marked “routine,” rather than “urgent.” It is generally ignored, not shared with other FBI offices, and the recommendations are not taken. One colleague in New York replies at the time that the memo is “speculative and not very significant.” (Schrom 10/1/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file) Williams is unaware of many FBI investigations and leads that could have given weight to his memo. Authorities later claim that Williams was only pursuing a hunch, but one familiar with classified information says, “This was not a vague hunch. He was doing a case on these guys.” (Mercury News (San Jose) 5/23/2002)

Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House. This picture is actually taken on October 8, 2001, and President Bush is elsewhere in the room.Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House. This picture is actually taken on October 8, 2001, and President Bush is elsewhere in the room. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]CIA Director George Tenet finds the briefing that counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave him earlier in the day (see July 10, 2001) so alarming that he calls National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from his car as he heads to the White House and says he needs to see her right away, even though he has regular weekly meetings with her. (Woodward 10/1/2006) Tenet and Black let a third CIA official, Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, brief Rice on the latest intelligence. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke are also present. (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006)
'Significant Attack' - Blee starts by saying, “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!” He argues that it is impossible to pick the specific day, saying Osama bin Laden “will attack when he believes the attack will be successful.” He mentions a range of threat information including:
bullet A warning related to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see (July 9, 2001)) and seven pieces of intelligence the CIA recently received indicating there would soon be a terrorist attack (see July 9-10, 2001);
bullet A mid-June statement by bin Laden to trainees that there would be an attack in the near future (see Mid-June 2001);
bullet Information that talks about moving toward decisive acts;
bullet Late-June information saying a “big event” was forthcoming;
bullet Two separate bits of information collected “a few days before the meeting” in which people predicted a “stunning turn of events” in the weeks ahead. This may be a reference to intercepts of calls in Yemen, possibly involving the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
Multiple, Simultaneous Attacks in US Possible - Blee says that the attacks will be “spectacular,” they will be designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities and interests, there may be multiple, simultaneous attacks, and they may be in the US itself. He outlines the CIA’s efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda by spreading incorrect word that the attack plans have been compromised, in the hope that this will cause a delay in the attack. But he says this is not enough and that the CIA should go on the attack. Blee also discounts the possibility of disinformation, as bin Laden’s threats are known to the public in the Middle East and there will be a loss of face, funds, and popularity if they are not carried out. Blee urges that the US take a “proactive approach” by using the Northern Alliance. (Tenet 2007, pp. 151-4) Author Bob Woodward will later write: “Black emphasize[s] that this amount[s] to a strategic warning, meaning the problem [is] so serious that it require[s] an overall plan and strategy. Second, this [is] a major foreign policy problem that need[s] to be addressed immediately. They need […] to take action that moment—covert, military, whatever—to thwart bin Laden. The United States ha[s] human and technical sources, and all the intelligence [is] consistent.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 80; Woodward 10/1/2006) Richard Clarke expresses his agreement with the CIA about the threat’s seriousness, and Black says, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”
Rice's Response - There are conflicting accounts about the CIA’s reading of Rice’s response. According to Woodward: “Tenet and Black [feel] they [are] not getting through to Rice. She [is] polite, but they [feel] the brush-off.” They leave the meeting frustrated, seeing little prospect for immediate action. Tenet and Black will both later recall the meeting as the starkest warning they gave the White House on al-Qaeda before 9/11 and one that could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks if Rice had acted on it (see July 10, 2001) and conveyed their urgency to President Bush. (Tenet is briefing Bush on a daily basis at this time, but he will later say that Rice has a much better rapport with the president.) Black will say, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 80; Woodward 10/1/2006) Rice says that Bush will align his policy with the new realities and grant new authorities. Writing in 2007, Tenet will say that this response is “just the outcome I had expected and hoped for,” and recall that as they leave the meeting, Blee and Black congratulate each other on having got the administration’s attention. Nevertheless, Rice does not take the requested action until after 9/11. (Tenet 2007, pp. 153-4)
Rice Concerned about Genoa - Clarke will recall in 2006 that Rice focuses on the possible threat to Bush at an upcoming summit meeting in Genoa, Italy (see June 13, 2001 and July 20-22, 2001). Rice and Bush have already been briefed about the Genoa warning by this time (see July 5, 2001). Rice also promises to quickly schedule a high-level White House meeting on al-Qaeda. However, that meeting does not take place until September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001). (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006) Rice also directs that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same briefing, and they receive it a short time later (see July 11-17, 2001).
Meeting Not Mentioned in 9/11 Commission Report - The meeting will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (see August 4, 2002), and there will be controversy when it is fully revealed in 2006 (see September 29, 2006, September 30-October 3, 2006, and October 1-2, 2006).

Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager assigned to the FBI who expressed interest two months earlier in surveillance photos from the al-Qaeda Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), now finds a cable he had been looking for regarding that summit. The cable, from January 2001, discusses al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash’s presence at the summit. Wilshire explains later that bin Attash’s presence there had been troubling him. He writes an e-mail to the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC), stating, “[Khallad] is a major league killer, who orchestrated the Cole attack (see October 12, 2000) and possibly the Africa bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).” Yet Khallad is still not put on a terrorist watch list. Wilshire asks that the FBI be passed this information, but the FBI will not actually be given the information until August 30, a week after it learns future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 298 pdf file) Although the CIA managers that receive this e-mail are not named, Richard Blee, in charge of the CIA’s bin Laden unit and Wilshire’s former boss, appears to be one of the recipients: On the same day Wilshire sends this e-mail, Blee writes his own e-mail entitled “Identification of Khallad,” which is sent to another CIA officer. (Central Intelligence Agency 7/13/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 537) An FBI analyst assigned to the CTC is given the task of reviewing all other CIA cables about the Malaysian summit. It takes this analyst until August 21—over five weeks later—to put together that Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa and that Nawaf Alhazmi had traveled to the US. Yet other CIA agents are already well aware of these facts but are not sharing the information (see August 22, 2001). Working with immigration officials, this analyst then learns that Almihdhar entered and left the US in 2000, and entered again on July 4, 2001, and that Alhazmi appears to still be in the US. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 298 pdf file)

A CIA manager says that an additional intelligence officer, Doug Miller, will be assigned to help an ongoing low-key review of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit when Miller returns from holiday (see January 5-8, 2000 and Mid-May 2001). The statement is made in response to an e-mail by CIA manager Tom Wilshire, who pointed out that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash attended the summit, meaning it was important (see January 4, 2001). Presumably, the manager that sends this e-mail is Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Blee appears to have received the e-mail to which this is a response (see July 13, 2001). The review is currently only being conducted by one intelligence officer, Margaret Gillespie, who is only told to do it in her spare time and whom it takes over three months to find CIA cables indicating two of the future 9/11 hijackers have entered the US (see August 21-22, 2001). Miller’s help would certainly benefit the review, as he is already aware one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa, but a cable he drafted to notify the FBI about this was blocked by Wilshire (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). However, there is no mention of Miller actually being given the assignment on his return and no sign he does any work on this. Wilshire also asked that the FBI be officially told bin Attash attended the summit in Malaysia, but this information is again withheld (see January 5, 2001 and After). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 298-9 pdf file)

Due to a lack of response to a previous request that information about the Cole bombing and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit be passed to the FBI (see July 13, 2001), CIA officer Tom Wilshire e-mails another CIA manager asking about the request’s status. The manager’s identity is unknown, but the previous request was received by Richard Blee, a close associate of Wilshire’s who is responsible for the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see June 1999 and Between Mid-January and July 2000), so presumably he receives this request as well. Wilshire writes: “When the next big op is carried out by [Osama bin Laden’s] hardcore cadre, [Khallad bin Attash] will be at or near the top of the command food chain—and probably nowhere near either the attack site or Afghanistan. That makes people who are available and who have direct access to him of very high interest. Khalid [Almihdhar] should be very high interest anyway, given his connection to the [redacted].” The name of the redacted event or entity is unclear. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file) However, it could be a mention of Almihdhar’s role in the 1998 US embassy bombings in East Africa, since the CIA was aware of that from at least January 2000 (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). Or, more likely, it could be a mention of Almihdhar’s role in the 2000 USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), since Wilshire mentioned earlier in the month that Almihdhar could be linked to the Cole bombers (see July 5, 2001).

FBI headquarters.FBI headquarters. [Source: GlobeXplorer]FBI headquarters receives the Phoenix Memo, but does not act on it. The memo was drafted by Arizona FBI agent Ken Williams and warns that a large number of Islamic extremists are learning to fly in the US. It is dated 17 days earlier, but is not uploaded until this date (see July 10, 2001). Although the memo is addressed to eight specific agents, it is apparently not received by all of them. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later say that the memo was not delivered directly to the addressees, but uploaded to a central dispatching point, from where it was assigned to Radical Fundamentalist Unit agent Elizabeth Matson on July 30. Before sending the memo, Williams called both Matson and her colleague Fred Stremmel to talk to them about it. Matson pulls up the memo, which has “routine” precedence, and prints and reads it. However, she thinks it should go to the bin Laden unit. A week later she discusses the matter with bin Laden unit agent Jennifer Maitner and they agree that Maitner will do some research and then they will talk again. Matson will later tell the Office of Inspector General she may have mentioned the memo to her superior, but is not sure. Her superior will say he was not consulted. Maitner discusses the memo with bin Laden unit chief Rod Middleton and also sends it to the FBI’s Portland, Oregon, field office, which was previously interested in one of the men named in the memo. However, she does not do anything else with it before 9/11, apparently due to her high workload. The FBI will later acknowledge the memo did not receive the sufficient or timely analysis that it deserved. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 65-77, 80 pdf file) The memo is also seen by the FBI’s New York field office (see July 27, 2001 or Shortly After), another RFU agent researching the Moussaoui case (see August 22, 2001) and possibly the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see (July 27, 2001)).

An FBI agent assigned to the CIA’s bin Laden unit locates a CIA cable that says 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa, but fails to disseminate the information to the FBI. It is not clear why the agent, Margaret Gillespie, fails to do this. However, at the same time she locates another CIA cable which mistakenly states that the information about the visa has already been passed to the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 299 pdf file)

CIA Director George Tenet will recall in his 2007 book that “during one of my updates in late July when, as we speculated about the kind of [al-Qaeda] attacks we could face, Rich B. suddenly said, with complete conviction, ‘They’re coming here.’ I’ll never forget the silence that followed.” Rich B. is the alias Tenet uses for Richard Blee, the official who oversees Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, at this time (see June 1999 and Between Mid-January and July 2000). It is not known who else is at the meeting. (Tenet 2007, pp. 158)

The NSA has been intercepting calls between at least two 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by al-Qaeda operative Ahmed al-Hada over an approximately 18-month period before 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). According to MSNBC, the final intercepted call comes “only weeks” before 9/11. (Myers 7/21/2004) Around the same time there is great alarm in the US intelligence community over a communications intercept in Yemen indicating there was going to be a major al-Qaeda attack against US interests (see June 30-July 1, 2001). Further, the investigation of the USS Cole bombing has reignited interest in Almihdhar and Alhazmi on the part of the US intelligence community since at least June 2001 (see June 11, 2001 and July 13, 2001). The two of them are placed on an international no-fly list in late August (see August 23, 2001).

The CIA officers who draft a presidential daily briefing (PDB) item given to George Bush on August 6 (see August 6, 2001) ask an FBI agent for additional information and also to review a draft of the memo, but she does not provide all the additional information she could. The 9/11 Commission will refer to the FBI agent as “Jen M,” so she is presumably Jennifer Maitner, an agent with the Osama bin Laden unit at FBI headquarters. The purpose of the memo is to communicate to the president the intelligence community’s view that the threat of attacks by bin Laden is both current and serious. But Maitner fails to add some important information that she has: around the end of July, she was informed of the Phoenix memo, which suggests that an inordinate number of bin Laden-related Arabs are taking flying lessons in the US (see July 10, 2001). She does not link this to the portion of the memo discussing aircraft hijackings. Responsibility for dealing with the Phoenix memo is formally transferred to her on August 7, when she reads the full text. The finished PDB item discusses the possibility bin Laden operatives may hijack an airliner and says that there are “patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings.” It is unclear whether the draft PDB item Maitner reviews contains this information. However, if it does, it apparently does not inspire her to take any significant action on the memo before 9/11, such as contacting the agents in Phoenix to notify them of the preparations for hijackings (see July 27, 2001 and after). The PDB will contain an error, saying that the FBI was conducting 70 full field investigations of bin Laden-related individuals (see August 6, 2001), but this error is added after Maitner reviews the draft, so she does not have the opportunity to remove it. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260-2, 535; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 69-77 pdf file)

Immediately after learning of Zacarias Moussaoui’s suspicious behavior, Minneapolis FBI agent Harry Samit, one of the agents who arrests Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), suspects he is preparing to hijack an airliner. He writes to a colleague, “That’s pretty ominous and obviously suggests some sort of hijacking plan.” (Linsk 4/4/2006) Interviews with Moussaoui after his arrest will reinforce the Minneapolis FBI’s suspicions that he is involved in a wider terrorist plot against airliners (see August 16-17, 2001). And after interviewing Moussaoui’s associate Hussein al-Attas as well (see August 16, 2001), Samit is unequivocally “convinced… a hundred percent that Moussaoui [is] a bad actor, [is] probably a professional mujaheddin and this [is] not a joyride, that he [is] completely bent on the use of this aircraft for destructive purposes.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 114-5, 120-2 pdf file) In the main initial memo from Samit to other FBI units, Samit describes Moussaoui as “extremely evasive” and “extremely agitated.” Samit also writes that Moussaoui appeared to by lying when he denied he had weapons training. Samit says, “Minneapolis believes that Moussaoui is an Islamic extremist preparing for some future act in furtherance of radical fundamentalist goals.” Samit expresses his belief Moussaoui is planning something with a 747-400. He is aware Moussaoui’s plan probably involves co-conspirators and writes “Moussaoui, al-Attas, and others yet unknown are conspiring to commit violations of [Federal anti-terrorism statutes],” and “there is reason to believe that Moussaoui and al-Attas are part of a larger international radical fundamentalist group.” Samit even suspects Moussaoui of two of the offenses he will eventually be charged with and plead guilty to (see April 22, 2005). The e-mail accompanying the main memo concludes, “[p]lease let me know a soon as [the Department] gives the go-ahead. We’re all counting on you!” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 120-2 pdf file; Gordon 6/4/2006)

Zacarias Moussaoui after his arrest.Zacarias Moussaoui after his arrest. [Source: FBI]After being warned that Zacarias Moussaoui has raised suspicions at flight school (see August 11-15, 2001 and August 13-15, 2001), the FBI learns they can arrest him because he is in the US illegally. Four agents, Harry Samit, John Weess, Dave Rapp (all FBI) and Steve Nordmann (INS), drive to the Residence Inn, where Moussaoui and his associate Hussein al-Attas are staying. At the hotel Samit speaks on the phone to Joe Manarang from FBI headquarters; Manarang appeals for them to take the “cautious route” and not arrest Moussaoui. However, Samit refuses, as he has already notified the hotel clerk of their interest. Moussaoui is arrested around 4:00 p.m. on an immigration violation. At first Moussaoui shows the agents some documents, but then he becomes upset at missing his flight training. The FBI confiscates his belongings, including a computer laptop, but Moussaoui refuses permission for the belongings to be searched. A search of Moussaoui’s person yields a dagger with a two-inch blade, and another knife with a three-inch blade belonging to Moussoaui is found in the car. He also has boxing gloves and shin guards, and the arresting agents note he has prepared “through physical training for violent confrontation.” Al-Attas allows the agents to search his belongings and they believe al-Attas is in the US legally, so he is not arrested. However, al-Attas tells the FBI that Moussaoui is a radical religious Muslim and later makes several statements indicating Moussaoui may be a terrorist (see August 16, 2001). (MSNBC 12/11/2001; US Congress 10/17/2002; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006; Gordon 6/4/2006) Al-Attas is arrested the next day (see August 17, 2001).

John O’Neill.
John O’Neill. [Source: FBI]An article in the New York Times reveals that the FBI has launched an internal investigation of John O’Neill, one of its most senior counterterrorism officials, for losing a briefcase that contained highly classified information. (Johnston and Risen 8/19/2001) O’Neill, special agent in charge of the FBI’s national security division in New York, had his briefcase, which contained his division’s annual field office report, stolen when he left it unattended during a conference in Orlando, Florida, in July 2000 (see July 2000). The briefcase was found a few hours later with the report still in it. (Wright 2006, pp. 317; Graff 2011, pp. 260) However, the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility immediately launched an investigation to determine whether any criminal charges should be brought against O’Neill. (Weiss 2003, pp. 281) That investigation recently ended with a decision not to prosecute, but the FBI’s internal affairs unit subsequently began an investigation to determine whether O’Neill had violated FBI rules. According to the Times: “FBI officials were alarmed, in part, because of the sensitivity of the documents involved, including details about the bureau’s counterterrorism and counterintelligence operations. One document contained highly sensitive information about an FBI source.” (Johnston and Risen 8/19/2001)
Story Appears Timed to Stop O'Neill Getting a Job on the NSC - The New Yorker will later comment that the leaking of the details of the FBI investigation to the Times “seemed to be timed to destroy O’Neill’s chance of being confirmed for [a National Security Council] job.” The leak was “somebody being pretty vicious to John,” Thomas Pickard, acting FBI director, will say. (Wright 1/14/2002)
Several Officials Will Be Suspected of Being the Article's Source - A number of people will be suspected of leaking the details of the investigation to the Times. (Weiss 2003, pp. 347) O’Neill will suspect Pickard. The acting director “was out to get John for a long time and John never really knew why,” Valerie James, O’Neill’s longtime girlfriend, will say. Pickard will deny being the leaker, though, when O’Neill confronts him about the issue. (PBS 10/3/2002) Other possible sources of the leak, according to journalist and author Murray Weiss, include Dale Watson, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division; Barbara Bodine, the US ambassador to Yemen; and Richard Clarke, the White House counterterrorism chief. (Weiss 2003, pp. 347)
O'Neill Has Overseen Major Terrorism Investigations - O’Neill’s job is among the most powerful in the FBI, and O’Neill has overseen cases such as the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), and the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). (Johnston and Risen 8/19/2001) He is the FBI’s “most committed tracker of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network of terrorists,” according to the New Yorker. But he will retire from the FBI on August 22 and take up a new job as head of security at the World Trade Center a day later (see August 22, 2001 and August 23, 2001). (Wright 1/14/2002; Weiss 2003, pp. 349-350)

An FBI agent detailed to the CIA’s bin Laden unit locates CIA cables saying that future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi entered the US in early 2000. The agent, Margaret Gillespie, then checks with the US Customs Service and discovers that another future 9/11 hijacker, Khalid Almihdhar, entered the US on July 4, 2001, and there is no record he has left the country. As there is “an imperative to find anyone affiliated with al-Qaeda if they [are] believed to be in the US,” Gillespie immediately contacts Dina Corsi, an FBI agent in its bin Laden unit. Gillespie, who has been examining the USS Cole bombing and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit for some time, will later say that when she learns of their arrival in the US, “it all clicks for me.” The Justice Department’s office of inspector general will find that Gillespie’s “actions on receipt of the information clearly indicate that she understood the significance of this information when she received it. She took immediate steps to open an intelligence investigation.” Gillespie and Corsi meet with Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer involved in the investigation (see August 22, 2001), and Almihdhar and Alhazmi are soon watchlisted (see August 23, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 300-301, 313 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file)

Khalid Almihdhar.Khalid Almihdhar. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]It is unclear if Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, briefs CIA leaders on information that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US. Margaret Gillespie, an FBI analyst detailed to the station, discovers that Almihdhar is in the US on August 21, immediately informs the FBI (see August 21-22, 2001), and places Almihdhar, hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, and two more associates on the TIPOFF watch list the next day (see August 23, 2001). The CIA also forwards information about al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash to the FBI on August 30 (see August 30, 2001).
No Information on Briefings - There is no indication that Richard Blee, the CIA manager responsible for Alec Station, or anyone at Alec Station informs the CIA’s leadership, the White House, or Richard Clarke’s Counterterrorism Security Group (see August 23, 2001) of Almihdhar’s presence in the US and the clear implications of this presence. For example, no such briefing will be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report, although the report will mention that CIA Director George Tenet is briefed about Zacarias Moussaoui around the same time, and it does discuss the circulation of the information about Almihdhar at the FBI in detail. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 268-277) The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will not mention any such briefing, although it will discuss how the FBI handles the information. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 151-4 pdf file) No such briefing will be mentioned in a 2007 book by Tenet, although the book will mention a briefing Tenet receives about Moussaoui. (Tenet 2007, pp. 158-160, 200) The Justice Department inspector general’s report will discuss the FBI’s handling of the information in detail. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 297-313 pdf file) However, the full CIA inspector general’s report about 9/11 will not be made public, and its executive summary will not mention any such briefing. (Central Intelligence Agency 6/2005, pp. 15-16 pdf file)
Alec Station Aware of Threat and Almihdhar - Alec Station, the CIA, and the US intelligence community in general are highly aware that preparations for a large al-Qaeda attack are in the final stages (see Shortly After July 5, 2001, June 28, 2001, and June 28, 2001). Blee is, in fact, the lead briefer within the government about the threats, and has briefed not only his superiors at the CIA, but also National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see May 30, 2001 and June 28, 2001). He has also recently expressed the belief that the attack will be in the US (see Late July 2001) and has apparently received a series of e-mails in which his former deputy told him Almihdhar may well be involved in the forthcoming attack (see July 5, 2001, July 13, 2001, and July 23, 2001). The information that Almihdhar is in the US therefore confirms Blee’s belief that the attack will be in the US, but it appears Alec Station fails to pass this information on.

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. (Isikoff and Klaidman 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. (Smith 7/25/2003) Furthermore, counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke and his Counterterrorism Security Group are not told about these two operatives before 9/11 either. (Isikoff and Hosenball 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). (Drogin, Lichtblua, and Krikorian 10/28/2001) The FBI denies that it was marked “immediate” and other agencies treated the request as a routine matter. (Drogin, Lichtblau, and Krikorian 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)

Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager detailed to the FBI (see May 2001), writes to Dave Frasca, head of the FBI’s radical fundamentalist unit, to obtain information about the progress of the case of Zacarias Moussaoui. Moussaoui was arrested by the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, which Wilshire refers to as the “Minneapolis Airplane IV crowd.” Presumably, this is a reference to the films Airplane and Airplane II, which were parodies of disaster and sci-fi movies. He asks whether leads have been sent out to obtain additional biographical information and whether the FBI has photographs it can provide the CIA. He receives a reply from one of Frasca’s subordinates telling him there are no indications Moussaoui has plans for nefarious activity (see August 24, 2001). (Haflidason 3/13/2001; Haflidason 3/13/2001; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 151 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file)

The NSA’s representative to the FBI asks the NSA for permission to pass intelligence information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to FBI criminal agents investigating the bombing of the USS Cole and permission is granted the same day, but FBI headquarters does not forward this information to the Cole investigators. The request is made on behalf of FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, but Corsi does not want the agents to launch a criminal investigation to find Almihdhar in the US—she believes the information will be useful to them because of Almihdhar’s connection to the Cole bombing. The information identifies Almihdhar as an “Islamic extremist” and says that he traveled to Kuala Lumpur, where he met an associate named Nawaf (see January 5-8, 2000). This links Almihdhar to the Cole bombing because the FBI thinks one of the bombers, Fahad al-Quso, may have traveled to Kuala Lumpur at the same time as Almihdhar. Although the 9/11 Commission will say that Corsi “had permission to share the information” with the Cole investigators, she apparently does not do so, even though it is clear from conversations they have around this time that they want it (see August 28, 2001, and August 28, 2001, August 28-29, 2001, and August 29, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 271, 539; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 276-7, 283, 286, 294, 304 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 pdf file)

Steve Bongardt, an FBI criminal agent investigating the bombing of the USS Cole, receives an e-mail from FBI headquarters asking the FBI’s New York office to start looking for future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar under an intelligence investigation, but is forced to delete it following an argument with headquarters. The e-mail was not addressed to Bongardt, but forwarded to him by a supervisor, possibly in error. However, Bongardt calls Dina Corsi, the headquarters agent who wrote the e-mail, and expresses his surprise at the information contained in it, saying: “Dina, you got to be kidding me! Almihdhar is in the country?” He tells her the search should be conducted as a criminal investigation, not an intelligence investigation. Corsi incorrectly replies that the “wall” prevents the search from being carried out by criminal agents (see Early 1980s and July 19, 1995), as the investigation requires intelligence from the NSA that criminal agents cannot have, and she forces Bongardt to delete the e-mail from his computer (see August 29, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 271; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 304 pdf file; Wright 2006, pp. 353)

FBI headquarters agents Dina Corsi and Rod Middleton contact Justice Department lawyer Sherry Sabol to ask her opinion on the search for 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, but Sabol will later say that Corsi misrepresents her advice to other agents. Corsi contacts Sabol, an attorney at the national security law unit, to ask her about legal restrictions on the search for Almihdhar, because of an argument she has had with New York agent Steve Bongardt about whether the search should be an intelligence or criminal investigation (see August 28, 2001 and August 28, 2001). Corsi will later tell Bongardt that Sabol told her that the information needed for the investigation cannot be passed on to criminal agents at the FBI, only intelligence agents, and that if Almihdhar is located, a criminal agent cannot be present at an interview. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 307-8 pdf file) Corsi’s understanding of the issue is wrong, and the “wall,” which restricted the passage of some intelligence information to criminal agents at the FBI, does not prevent the information in question being shared with criminal agents (see August 29, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will comment that Corsi “appears to have misunderstood the complex rules that could apply to the situation.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 271) In addition, Sabol will later insist that her advice was very different than what Corsi claims it is. She will deny saying a criminal agent could not interview Almihdhar, arguing that she would not have given such inaccurate advice. She will also say the caveat on the intelligence information from the NSA would not have stopped criminal agents getting involved and, in any case, the NSA would have waived the caveat if asked. (Note: the NSA did so at Corsi’s request just one day earlier (see August 27-28, 2001), but presumably Corsi does not tell Sabol this.) (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 271) Larry Parkinson, the FBI’s general counsel at this time, will later say there was no legal bar to a criminal agent being present at an interview and that he would be shocked if Sabol had actually told Corsi this. (9/11 Commission 2/24/2004) Furthermore, Corsi apparently does not tell Sabol that Almihdhar is in the US illegally. The illegal entry is a crime and means criminal FBI agents can search for him (see August 29, 2001).

According to author Lawrence Wright, on this day there is a conference call between FBI field agent Steve Bongardt, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, and a CIA supervisor at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, who tells Bongardt to stand down in the search for future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Corsi and Bongardt have been arguing over whether the search for Almihdhar in the US should be a criminal or intelligence investigation (see August 28, 2001 and August 28, 2001), and the CIA supervisor apparently sides with Corsi, saying the search should be an intelligence investigation, and so Bongardt, a criminal agent, cannot be involved in it. Bongardt is angry with this and remarks, “If this guy [Almihdhar] is in the country, it’s not because he’s going to f___ing Disneyland!” (Wright 2006, pp. 353-4) However, there will be no mention of this conversation in the 9/11 Commission Report or the Justice Department’s report into the FBI’s performance before 9/11. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 271; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 306-7 pdf file) According to the Justice Department report, there is a similar conference call between Bongardt, Corsi, and her supervisor at the FBI around this time (see August 28, 2001). It is possible Wright is confusing the supervisor of the CIA’s bin Laden unit with the supervisor of the FBI’s bin Laden unit, meaning that the CIA supervisor is not involved in this argument.

The CIA finally tells the FBI that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash attended an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 with future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 5-8, 2000). The CIA monitored the meeting and has known that bin Attash attended it for at least eight months (see January 4, 2001), but repeatedly failed to tell the FBI of this (see Shortly Before February 1, 2001, February 1, 2001, Mid-May 2001, and June 11, 2001). The CIA will later say that it thought the FBI knew of the identification in January 2001 (see January 5, 2001 and After), but a CIA manager asked for permission to pass the information to the FBI in July 2001, implying he knew the FBI did not have the information (see July 13, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 298, 305, 310 pdf file) In addition, the text of the notifiction states, “We wish to advise you that, during a previously scheduled meeting with our joint source,” bin Attash was identified in a surveillance photo. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 150 pdf file) The cable containing the information is for Rodney Middleton, acting head of the FBI’s bin Laden unit, and also says that, if the FBI thinks it does not have all the photographs it needs of the Malaysia summit, it should ask the CIA for them. Middleton is aware that the FBI is investigating Almihdhar (see August 29, 2001), but there is no record of him or anyone else providing this information to either the agent investigating Almihdhar or the main investigation of the USS Cole bombing, which bin Attash commanded. The information was requested by FBI agent Dina Corsi and was passed through a CIA Counterterrorist Center representative to the FBI, presumably Tom Wilshire. Although one of bin Attash’s aliases was watchlisted one week ago (see August 23, 2001), he is not watchlisted under his real name even at this point, meaning the commander of the USS Cole attack can enter the US under his own name as he pleases. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 298, 305, 310 pdf file)

White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke sends a memo to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in which he warns that hundreds of Americans could die in an attack by al-Qaeda and complains that the Bush administration is not doing enough to combat the threat posed by the terrorist network. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; Eggen and Pincus 3/25/2004) The National Security Council’s principals committee—a group of senior officials who advise the president on issues of national security policy—is set to meet today to discuss al-Qaeda. Before the meeting takes place, Clarke sends a memo to Rice in which he criticizes US counterterrorism efforts.
Al-Qaeda Could Kill 'Hundreds of Americans' - The “real question” before the members of the principals committee, Clarke writes in the memo, is, “[A]re we serious about dealing with the al-Qaeda threat?” He suggests: “Decision makers should imagine themselves on a future day when the [White House Counterterrorism Security Group] has not succeeded in stopping al-Qaeda attacks and hundreds of Americans lay dead in several countries, including the US. What would those decision makers wish that they had done earlier?” “That future day could happen at any time,” he adds.
Clarke Complains about the Lack of Response to the USS Cole Bombing - Clarke criticizes the US military for failing to respond to the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen, in October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). “Many in al-Qaeda and the Taliban may have drawn the wrong lesson from the Cole: that they can kill Americans without there being a US response, without there being a price,” he writes. He states that he cannot understand “why we continue to allow the existence of large-scale al-Qaeda bases where we know people are being trained to kill Americans.”
Clarke Warns of a Possible 'Big Attack, with Lots of Casualties' - Clarke complains that without adequate funding: “You are left with a modest effort to swat flies, to try to prevent specific al-Qaeda attacks by using [intelligence] to detect them, and friendly governments’ police and intelligence officers to stop them. You are left waiting for the big attack, with lots of casualties, after which some major US retaliation will be in order.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 212-213)
Rice Later Says Memo Is 'Not a Warning about September 11th' - Rice will later say of Clarke’s memo: “It would not be appropriate or correct to characterize what Dick [Clarke] wrote to me on September 4th as a warning of an impending attack. What he was doing was, I think, trying to buck me up so that when I went into this principals meeting, I was sufficiently on guard against the kind of bureaucratic inertia that he had fought all of his life.” The memo, she will say, “was a warning to me not to get dragged down by the bureaucracy, not a warning about September 11th.” (9/11 Commission 4/8/2004) The principals committee’s meeting today is the committee’s first meeting on al-Qaeda issues. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 212) Clarke had “urgently” called for such a meeting back in January this year (see January 25, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 237)

Amrullah Saleh.Amrullah Saleh. [Source: Associated Press' Kamran Jebreili]Northern Alliance leader Amrullah Saleh calls the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center to inform it of the assassination of anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Massoud (see September 9, 2001). His call is taken by Richard Blee, the manager responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Although Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, an expert on Afghanistan, realizes the assassination means “something terrible [is] about to happen” (see September 9, 2001), Blee does not appear to connect the assassination to a spike in warnings about an al-Qaeda attack against US interests, even though he has been briefing senior officials about this all summer (see May 30, 2001, June 28, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Late July 2001). The Northern Alliance realizes that the Taliban will attack them immediately, because they are leaderless, and Saleh asks for support from the CIA. However, some at the CIA think that the Northern Alliance has no chance without Massoud, who held it together. Other officers “[call] frantically around Washington to find a way to aid the rump Northern Alliance before it [is] eliminated.” The CIA informs the White House of the assassination, and the news soon leaks to CNN. This prompts the Northern Alliance to call again, this time complaining about the leak. (Coll 2004, pp. 582-4)

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