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Context of 'February 1996: CIA Forms New Counterterrorism Bin Laden Unit'

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Friday prayers outside the Islamic Cultural Institute, on October 19, 2001. Friday prayers outside the Islamic Cultural Institute, on October 19, 2001. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]The Islamic Cultural Institute in Milan, Italy, has numerous ties to terrorist activities during this period and after 9/11, and the Treasury Department will call the mosque “the main al-Qaeda station house in Europe.” It is initially headed by Anwar Shaaban (see Late 1993-December 14, 1995 and December 14, 1995), an opponent of the current Egyptian regime and a supporter of the Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya militant group, which is run by the ‘Blind Sheikh,’ Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see Late 1993-1994).
bullet It recruits fighters for militant Islamic causes and sends them to Afghanistan for training. One of the recruits, L’Houssaine Kherchtou, who will testify for the prosecution at the trial of men accused of bombing US embassies in Africa in 1998, will say that he knew Shaaban well, adding: “He was my guide. I went there every weekend to be with him.” After studying with Shaaban for some time, Shaaban arranges for Kherchtou and a group of other men to receive military training in Afghanistan. [Chicago Tribune, 10/22/2001]
bullet There is heavy telephone traffic between the Institute and the New York mosque run by Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, and Italian police say it is a logistical base for the WTC bombing (see Late 1993-1994).
bullet The Algerian militant group Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) gains influence in the mosque after Shaaban dies in the Bosnian Civil War (see After 1995).
bullet It creates a “cottage industry in supplying false passports and other bogus documents” according to European intelligence officials, and serves as a gateway to Europe for operatives from Afghanistan. [Boston Globe, 8/4/2002]

Entity Tags: L’Houssaine Kherchtou, Islamic Cultural Institute, Al-Qaeda, Anwar Shaaban, Omar Abdul-Rahman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

1995: French Set Up Bin Laden Unit

In 2007, a French newspaper will report that the French intelligence agency, the DGSE, set up a unit focusing on bin Laden by 1995. This predates the CIA unit focusing on him established in 1996 (see February 1996). As part of their efforts against bin Laden, the DGSE manipulates and turns “young candidates for the jihad from the suburbs of the big cities of Europe.” They also work with Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban, and intercept satellite telephone conversations. [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Shah Massoud, Osama bin Laden, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA begins a program to track Islamist militants in Europe. The program is operated by local stations in Europe and CIA manager Michael Scheuer, who will go on to found the agency’s bin Laden unit in early 1996 (see February 1996). The program is primarily focused on militants who oppose the Egyptian government. It traces the support network that supplies money and recruits to them and that organizes their propaganda. US Ambassador to Egypt Edward Walker will later say that the operation involves intercepting telephone calls and opening mail. Suspects are identified in Egypt and in European cities such as Milan (see 1993 and After), Oslo, and London (see (Late 1995)). [Grey, 2007, pp. 125] The intelligence gathered as a part of this operation will be used for the CIA’s nascent rendition program (see Summer 1995).

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Edward Walker, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA proposes a policy of abducting Islamic Jihad militants and sending them to Egypt which will soon be approved by President Bill Clinton (see June 21, 1995). The Clinton administration began a policy of allowing abductions, known as “renditions,” in 1993 (see 1993). At first, renditions were rarely used because few countries wanted the suspects. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is one of the architects of a 1995 agreement with Egypt to send rendered militants there. He will later recall: “It was begun in desperation.… We were turning into voyeurs. We knew where these people were, but we couldn’t capture them because we had nowhere to take them,” due to legal and diplomatic complications. The CIA realized that “we had to come up with a third party.” Egypt was the obvious choice because the Islamic Jihad is the prime political enemy of the Egyptian government, and many Islamic Jihad militants also work for al-Qaeda, an enemy of the US.
Turning a Blind Eye - However, the Egyptian secret police force, the Mukhabarat, is notorious for its torture of prisoners. As part of the program, the US helps track, capture, and transport suspects to Egypt (see Before Summer 1995) and then turns a blind eye while the Egyptians torture them. Scheuer claims the US could give the Egyptian interrogators questions they wanted put to the detainees in the morning and get answers by the evening. Because torture is illegal in the US, US officials are never present when the torture is done. Further, the CIA only abducts suspects who have already been convicted in absentia. Talaat Fouad Qassem is the first known person the CIA renders to Egypt (see September 13, 1995). But the number of renditions greatly increases in 1998, when the CIA gets a list of Islamic Jihad operatives around the world (see Late August 1998). These renditions result in a big trial in Egypt in 1999 that effectively destroys Islamic Jihad as a major force in that country (see 1999). [New Yorker, 2/8/2005]
CIA, NSC, Justice Department Lawyers Consulted - Scheuer will say that lawyers inside and outside the CIA are intensively consulted about the program: “There is a large legal department within the Central Intelligence Agency, and there is a section of the Department of Justice that is involved in legal interpretations for intelligence work, and there is a team of lawyers at the National Security Council, and on all of these things those lawyers are involved in one way or another and have signed off on the procedure. The idea that somehow this is a rogue operation that someone has dreamed up is just absurd.” [Grey, 2007, pp. 140-141]
Leadership of Program - The rendition program does not focus solely on al-Qaeda-linked extremists, and other suspected terrorists are also abducted. Scheuer will later tell Congress, “I authored it and then ran and managed it against al-Qaeda leaders and other Sunni Islamists from August 1995, until June 1999.” [US Congress, 4/17/2007 pdf file] A dedicated Renditions Branch will be established at CIA headquarters in 1997 (see 1997), but the relationship between Scheuer and its manager is not known—it is unclear whether this manager is a subordinate, superior, or equal of Scheuer, or whether Scheuer takes on this responsibility as well. After Scheuer is fired as unit chief in May 1999 (see June 1999), his role in the rendition program will presumably be passed on to his successor, Richard Blee, who will go on to be involved in rendition after 9/11 (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). In a piece apparently about Blee, journalist Ken Silverstein will say that he “oversaw… the [Counterterrorist Center] branch that directed renditions.” [Harper's, 1/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Mukhabarat (Egypt), Richard Blee, Islamic Jihad, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Egypt, Michael Scheuer

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Diplomats at the US embassy in Egypt are not informed of the CIA’s rendition program. At this time the program is primarily aimed at locating enemies of the Egyptian regime and bringing them back to Egypt, where they are tortured (see Summer 1995 and Before Summer 1995). The only exception to this is US ambassador to Egypt Edward Walker, who is read into the CIA program although he is actually a State Department employee. One of the diplomats’ jobs is to report on Egypt’s extremely poor human rights record, including its torture methods. Walker will later comment, “It wasn’t a question of mincing words… I think the human rights reports were correct.” He will add that there are Chinese walls at the embassy to keep the CIA program secret from the diplomats: “The walls were huge and they only come together at the ambassador level… [The diplomats working on human rights] might have been a little upset if they knew what was going on.” [Grey, 2007, pp. 126]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Edward Walker

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

In June 1995, al-Qaeda sponsors a failed assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (see June 26, 1995 and Shortly After June 26, 1995). Some time in 1995, al-Qaeda leader Anas al-Liby moves to Britain and applies for political asylum. Not long after he arrives, Egypt asks the British government to extradite him for his alleged role in the assassination attempt. They send a detailed file on him, including information on how he had fought with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and then moved with him to Sudan. But the extradition request is refused. British officials question whether al-Liby could get a fair trial in Egypt and fear he could face the death penalty. The next year, British intelligence hires al-Liby, a Libyan, to assassinate Libyan ruler Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi (see 1996). Al-Liby will continue to live openly in Britain until 2000 (see Late 1995-May 2000 and May 2000). [Times (London), 1/16/2003]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Anas al-Liby, Hosni Mubarak, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Jack Cloonan.Jack Cloonan. [Source: PBS]The Justice Department directs an existing unit called Squad I-49 to begin building a legal case against bin Laden. This unit is unusual because it combines prosecutors from the Southern District of New York, who have been working on bin Laden related cases, with the FBI’s New York office, which was the FBI branch office that dealt the most with bin Laden -related intelligence. Patrick Fitzgerald effectively directs I-49 as the lead prosecutor. FBI agent Dan Coleman becomes a key member while simultaneously representing the FBI at Alec Station, the CIA’s new bin Laden unit (February 1996) where he has access to the CIA’s vast informational database. [Lance, 2006, pp. 218-219] The other initial members of I-49 are: Louis Napoli, John Anticev, Mike Anticev, Richard Karniewicz, Jack Cloonan, Carl Summerlin, Kevin Cruise, Mary Deborah Doran, and supervisor Tom Lang. All are FBI agents except for Napoli and Summerlin, a New York police detective and a New York state trooper, respectively. The unit will end up working closely with FBI agent John O’Neill, who heads the New York FBI office. Unlike the CIA’s Alec Station, which is focused solely on bin Laden, I-49 has to work on other Middle East -related issues. For much of the next year or so, most members will work on the July 1996 crash of TWA Flight 800, because it crashed near New York and is suspected to have been carried out by Middle Eastern militants (July 17, 1996-September 1996). However, in years to come, I-49 will grow considerably and focus more on bin Laden. [Wright, 2006, pp. 240-241] After 9/11, the “wall” between intelligence collection and criminal prosecution will often be cited for the failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. But as author Peter Lance will later note, “Little more than ten months after the issuance of Jamie Gorelick’s ‘wall memo,’ Fitzgerald and company were apparently disregarding her mandate that criminal investigation should be segregated from intelligence threat prevention. Squad I-49… was actively working both jobs.” Thanks to Coleman’s involvement in both I-49 and the CIA’s Alec Station, I-49 effectively avoids the so-called “wall” problem. [Lance, 2006, pp. 220]

Entity Tags: Mike Anticev, Tom Lang, US Department of Justice, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Kevin Cruise, Dan Coleman, Carl Summerlin, Alec Station, Louis Napoli, Mary Deborah Doran, John Anticev, Jack Cloonan, I-49, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center creates a special unit focusing specifically on bin Laden. It is informally called Alec Station. About 10 to 15 individuals are assigned to the unit initially. This grows to about 35 to 40 by 9/11. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] The unit is set up “largely because of evidence linking [bin Laden] to the 1993 bombing of the WTC.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2001] Newsweek will comment after 9/11, “With the Cold War over, the Mafia in retreat, and the drug war unwinnable, the CIA and FBI were eager to have a new foe to fight.… Historical rivals, the spies and G-men were finally learning to work together. But they didn’t necessarily share secrets with the alphabet soup of other enforcement and intelligence agencies, like Customs and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and they remained aloof from the Pentagon. And no amount of good will or money could bridge a fundamental divide between intelligence and law enforcement. Spies prefer to watch and wait; cops want to get their man.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] Michael Scheuer will lead the unit until 1999. He will later become a vocal critic of the US government’s efforts to combat terrorism. He later recalls that while bin Laden is mostly thought of merely as a terrorist financier at this time, “we had run across bin Laden in a lot of different places, not personally but in terms of his influence, either through rhetoric, through audiotapes, through passports, through money-he seemed to turn up everywhere. So when we [created the unit], the first responsibility was to find out if he was a threat.” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] By the start of 1997, the unit will conclude bin Laden is a serious threat (see Early 1997).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, Alec Station, Al-Qaeda, Counterterrorist Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

TWA Flight 800 crashes off the coast of Long Island, New York, killing the 230 people on board. The cause of the crash is debated for a long time afterward, and terrorism is considered a possibility. With this accident in mind, President Clinton requests, and Congress approves, over $1 billion in counterterrorism-related funding in September 1996. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 130]

Entity Tags: US Congress, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, writes a report based on information from al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl saying that al-Qaeda intends to get nuclear weapons (see Late 1993). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 190] Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer will write in 2004 that, by this time, his unit has “acquired detailed information about the careful, professional manner in which al-Qaeda [is] seeking to acquire nuclear weapons… there could be no doubt after this date that al-Qaeda [is] in deadly earnest in seeking nuclear weapons.” [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] Scheuer will add that due to al-Qaeda’s “extraordinarily sophisticated and professional effort to acquire weapons of mass destruction… by the end of 1996, it [is] clear that this [is] an organization unlike any other one we had ever seen.” [CBS News, 11/14/2004] The 50-paragraph report, which describes in detail how Osama bin Laden sought the scientists and engineers he needed to acquire enriched uranium and then weaponize it, is sent to CIA headquarters. However, Scheuer’s superiors refuse to distribute the report, saying it is alarmist. Instead, only two of the paragraphs are circulated, buried in a larger memo. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 190] However, according to Scheuer: “Three officers of the [CIA]‘s bin Laden cadre [protest] this decision in writing, and [force] an internal review. It [is] only after this review that this report [is] provided in full to [US intelligence] leaders, analysts, and policymakers.” [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] The memo’s final distribution will come about a year after it is written. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 190]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Scheuer, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

By the start of 1997, Alec Station, the CIA unit created the year before to focus entirely on bin Laden (see February 1996), is certain that bin Laden is not just a financier but an organizer of terrorist activity. It is aware bin Laden is conducting an extensive effort to get and use a nuclear weapon (see Late 1996). It knows that al-Qaeda has a military committee planning operations against US interests worldwide. However, although this information is disseminated in many reports, the unit’s sense of alarm about bin Laden isn’t widely shared or understood within the intelligence and policy communities. Employees in the unit feel their zeal attracts ridicule from their peers. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] Some higher-ups begin to deride the unit as hysterical doomsayers, and refer to the unit as “The Manson Family.” Michael Scheuer, head of the unit until 1999, has an abrasive style. He and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke do not get along and do not work well together. Scheuer also does not get along with John O’Neill, the FBI’s most knowledgeable agent regarding bin Laden. The FBI and Alec Station rarely share information, and at one point an FBI agent is caught stuffing some of the unit’s files under his shirt to take back to O’Neill. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]

Entity Tags: John O’Neill, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alec Station, Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden, Richard A. Clarke, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Mary Jo White.Mary Jo White. [Source: CNN]Mary Jo White, US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, which handles a lot of terrorism investigations, complains about the “wall” procedures regulating the passage of intelligence information to US attorneys and criminal agents at the FBI. The rules were recently formalized (see July 19, 1995), but she says that the 1995 procedures are building “unnecessary and counterproductive walls that inhibit rather than promote our ultimate objectives [and that] we must face the reality that the way we are proceeding now is inherently and in actuality very dangerous.” Following her complaints, an exception is created for the Southern District of New York Attorneys’ Office. The office works with the FBI’s I-49 squad, which handles international terrorism matters (see January 1996 and Late 1998-Early 2002). The FBI can now notify this office of evidence of a crime directly, without consulting the Justice Department. Once this is done, the office would then contact two units in the Justice Department, the Criminal Division and the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 29 pdf file]

Entity Tags: I-49, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mary Jo White, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, US Department of Justice, Southern District of New York Attorneys’ Office

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Michael Scheuer, the head of the CIA Counter Terrorism Center’s special unit focusing on bin Laden from 1996 to 1999 (see February 1996), later will claim that before 9/11 members of the bin Laden family in the US are nearly completely off limits to US law enforcement. Author Douglas Farah, a former longtime Washington Post reporter, later will write that “All the bin Ladens living in the United States were granted Saudi diplomatic passports in 1996.… In 1998, when the FBI’s New York office actually sought to investigate some of the bin Laden family’s activities in this country because of suspicions of ties to terrorism, the State Department forced them to shut down the entire operation. Because the bin Laden’s were ‘diplomats’ and as such enjoyed diplomatic immunity, making such investigations illegal.” Scheuer will comment about the 1998 investigation, “My counterparts at the FBI questioned one of the bin Ladens. But then the State Department received a complaint from a law firm, and there was a huge uproar. We were shocked to find out that the bin Ladens in the United States had diplomatic passports, and that we weren’t allowed to talk to them.” Scheuer believes that these unusual diplomatic privileges may help explain how the bin Ladens will be able to depart so quickly just after 9/11 (see September 13, 2001; September 14-19, 2001). Farah later says he interviewed Scheuer about this and claims to have found a second source to verify the information. [Farah, 12/5/2004; Der Spiegel (Hamburg), 6/6/2005] The issue of diplomatic passports for the bin Laden family has generally not been reported in the US media, although a 2005 New Yorker article will mention in passing that in 1996, “the State Department stymied a joint effort by the CIA and the FBI to question one of bin Laden’s cousins in America, because he had a diplomatic passport, which protects the holder from US law enforcement.” [New Yorker, 2/8/2005] This is a probable reference to the 1996 investigation of Abdullah Awad bin Laden (although he is bin Laden’s nephew, not cousin (see February-September 11, 1996)). It is unclear what connection there may be, if any, between that investigation and this 1998 investigation.

Entity Tags: Bin Laden Family, Michael Scheuer, Douglas Farah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA’s bin Laden unit, first created in early 1996 (see February 1996), is ordered disbanded. It is unclear who gave the order. The unit appears to have been the most vocal section of the US government pushing for action against bin Laden. Apparently CIA Director George Tenet is unaware of the plans to disband the unit. He intervenes in mid-May and preserves the unit. Michael Scheuer, the head of the unit, later will comment that by doing so, Tenet “dodged the bullet of having to explain to the American people why the [CIA] thought bin Laden was so little of a threat that it had destroyed the bin Laden unit weeks before two US embassies were demolished.” Scheuer also will comment, “the on-again, off-again signals about the unit’s future status made for confusion, distraction, and much job-hunting in the last few weeks” before the embassy attacks. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Apparently, this surveillance photo of a C-130 transport plane from the United Arab Emirates plays a key role in the decision not to strike at bin Laden.Apparently, this surveillance photo of a C-130 transport plane from the United Arab Emirates plays a key role in the decision not to strike at bin Laden. [Source: CBC]Intelligence reports foresee the presence of Osama bin Laden at a desert hunting camp in Afghanistan for about a week. Information on his presence appears reliable, so preparations are made to target his location with cruise missiles. However, intelligence also puts an official aircraft of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and members of the royal family from that country in the same location. Bin Laden is hunting with the Emirati royals, as he does with leaders from the UAE and Saudi Arabia on other occasions (see 1995-2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] According to Michael Scheuer, the chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, the hunting party has “huge fancy tents, with tractor trailers with generators on them to run the air-conditioning.” Surveillance after the camp is established shows the “pattern of bin Laden’s visits—he would come for evening prayers or he would come for dinner and stay for evening prayers.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 192] Local informants confirm exactly where bin Laden will be in the camp on February 11, and a strike is prepared. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] But policy makers are concerned that a strike might kill a prince or other senior officials, and that this would damage relations with the UAE and other Persian gulf countries. Therefore, the strike is called off. Bin Laden will leave the camp on February 12. A top UAE official at the time denies that high-level officials are there, but evidence subsequently confirms their presence. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 192] Scheuer will claim in 2004 that “the truth has not been fully told” about this incident. He will claim that the strike is cancelled because senior officials at the CIA, White House, and other agencies, decide to accept assurances from an unnamed Islamic country that it can acquire bin Laden from the Taliban. “US officials accepted these assurances despite the well-documented record of that country withholding help—indeed, it was a record of deceit and obstruction—regarding all issues pertaining to bin Laden” in previous years. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] This may be a reference to Saudi Arabia. In mid-1998, the CIA called off a plan to capture bin Laden in favor of an ultimately unfulfilled Saudi promise to bribe the Taliban to hand bin Laden over (see May 1998). Many in US intelligence will be resentful over this missed opportunity and blame a conflict of interest with the Emirati royals (see Shortly After February 11, 1999).

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden, Alec Station, United Arab Emirates

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The failure to strike at bin Laden in February 1999, despite having unusually good intelligence about his location (see February 11, 1999), causes strong resentment in the US intelligence community. It is believed that the US held its fire because of the presence of royalty from the United Arab Emirates(UAE), but some felt those royals were legitimate targets as well since they were associating with bin Laden there. Further, intelligence at the time suggests the planes carrying these royals to Afghanistan were also bringing weapons to the Taliban in defiance of United Nations bans. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, is particularly upset. He reportedly sends a series of e-mails to others in the CIA that are, in the opinion of one person who read them, “angry, unusual, and widely circulated.” His anger at this decision not to strike at bin Laden will apparently contribute to him losing his position leading the bin Laden unit a few months later (see June 1999). Some resentment is directed at counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who voted against the missile strike. Clarke was known to be close to the UAE’s royal family. He’d negotiated many arms deals and other arrangements with them, including an $8 billion deal in May 1998 to buy F-16 fighters from the US (see Early February 1999). [Coll, 2004, pp. 447-450] In March 1999, Clarke calls Emirati royals and asks them to stop visiting bin Laden. However, he apparently did not have permission from the CIA to make this call. Within one week, the camp where the Emiratis and bin Laden met is abandoned. CIA officers are irate, feeling that this ruined a chance to strike at bin Laden if he made a return visit to the location. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Richard A. Clarke, Michael Scheuer, Alec Station, United Arab Emirates

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Michael Scheuer.
Michael Scheuer. [Source: Publicity photo]CIA Director George Tenet removes Michael Scheuer as head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Scheuer had headed the unit since its inception in 1996 (see February 1996), and was known as a strong advocate for more government action against bin Laden. The full name of the new head of the unit has not been released and little is known about his performance. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Deputy Director of Operations Jack Downing tells Scheuer he is being fired because he is “mentally burned out” and because of a recent disagreement with the FBI over whether the deputy chief of Alex Station, who was detailed to the CIA from the FBI, could release information to the FBI without Scheuer’s approval. Downing tells Scheuer he was in the right, but that the criticism of his subordinate “should not have been put on paper”, and the FBI’s management is angry with him. Downing says he will get a medal and a monetary award, but should tell his subordinates he has resigned. Scheuer refuses to lie to his officers, signs a memo saying he will not accept a monetary award, and tells Downing “where he should store the medal.” [Scheuer, 2005, pp. 263-4; Wright, 2006, pp. 313] According to author Steve Coll, Scheuer’s CIA colleagues “could not be sure exactly [why Scheuer left] but among at least a few of them a believe settled in that [he] had been exiled, in effect, for becoming too passionate about the bin Laden threat…” In particular, he was angry about two recent missed opportunities (see 1997-May 29, 1998 and February 11, 1999) to assassinate bin Laden. [Coll, 2004, pp. 449-450] Scheuer will write in 2004 that, “On moving to a new position, I forwarded a long memorandum to the Agency’s senior-most officers—some are still serving—describing an array of fixable problems that were plaguing America’s attack on bin Laden, ones that the bin Laden unit had encountered but failed to remedy between and among [US intelligence agencies]… The problems outlined in the memorandum stood in the way of attacking bin Laden to the most effective extent possible; many remain today.” Problems include poor cooperation between agencies and a lack of experienced staff working on the bin Laden issue. Scheuer never receives a response to his memo. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Jack Downing, George J. Tenet, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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]

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, John O’Neill, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, James Bamford

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

On December 5, 1999, a Jordanian raid discovers 71 vats of bomb making chemicals in this residence.On December 5, 1999, a Jordanian raid discovers 71 vats of bomb making chemicals in this residence. [Source: Judith Miller]Jordanian officials successfully uncover an al-Qaeda plot to blow up the Radisson Hotel in Amman, Jordan, and other sites on January 1, 2000. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] The Jordanian government intercepts a call between al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida and a suspected Jordanian terrorist named Abu Hoshar. Zubaida says, “The training is over.” [New York Times, 1/15/2001] Zubaida also says, “The grooms are ready for the big wedding.” [Seattle Times, 6/23/2002] This call reflects an extremely poor code system, because the FBI had already determined in the wake of the 1998 US embassy bombings that “wedding” was the al-Qaeda code word for bomb. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 214] Furthermore, it appears al-Qaeda fails to later change the system, because the code-name for the 9/11 attack is also “The Big Wedding.” [Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002] Jordan arrests Hoshar while he’s still on the phone talking to Zubaida. In the next few days, 27 other suspects are charged. A Jordanian military court will initially convict 22 of them for participating in planned attacks, sentencing six of them to death, although there will be numerous appeals (see April 2000 and After). In addition to bombing the Radisson Hotel around the start of the millennium, the plan calls for suicide bombings on two border crossings with Israel and a Christian baptism site. Further attacks in Jordan are planned for later. The plotters had already stockpiled the equivalent of 16 tons of TNT, enough to flatten “entire neighborhoods.” [New York Times, 1/15/2001] Key alleged plotters include:
bullet Raed Hijazi, a US citizen who is part of a Boston al-Qaeda cell (see June 1995-Early 1999). He will be arrested and convicted in late 2000 (see September 2000 and October 2000). [New York Times, 1/15/2001]
bullet Khalid Deek, who is also a US citizen and part of an Anaheim, California al-Qaeda cell. He will be arrested in Pakistan and deported to Jordan, but strangely he will released without going to trial.
bullet Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. He will later be a notorious figure in the Iraq war starting in 2003. [Washington Post, 10/3/2004]
bullet Luai Sakra. The Washington Post will later say he “played a role” in the plot, though he is never charged for it. Sakra apparently is a CIA informant before 9/11, perhaps starting in 2000 (see 2000). [Washington Post, 2/20/2006]
The Jordanian government will also later claim that the Al Taqwa Bank in Switzerland helped finance the network of operatives who planned the attack. The bank will be shut down shortly after 9/11 (see November 7, 2001). [Newsweek, 4/12/2004]

Entity Tags: Raed Hijazi, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Al Taqwa Bank, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Khalil Deek, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Abu Hoshar, Jordan, Luai Sakra

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, I-49, FBI New York Field Office, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI’s most senior representative at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, develops cancer and is forced to resign, meaning no FBI agent assigned to Alec Station has the power to release information from the CIA for months. A key cable informing the FBI that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa will fail to be released to the FBI around this time (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). The representative, who is referred to in documents as “Eric”, is deputy chief of Alec Station. He has the power to release information to the FBI having acquired this power in a row with former Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer (see June 1999). The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will say Eric left the unit in mid-January, which would have given him over a week to give the FBI information about Almihdhar discovered during the surveillance of an al-Qaeda summit held from January 5-8 (see January 5-8, 2000). It is known Eric accessed a cable related to the Malaysia summit on January 5 and discussed surveillance photos taken of the summit with CIA officer Tom Wilshire (see (Mid-January 2000)). Author Lawrence Wright will comment: “None of the… FBI agents remaining in Alec had the seniority to release information, and consequently had to rely on the agency to give them permission for any transfer of classified cable traffic.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 241, 320 pdf file; Wright, 2006, pp. 313]

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), “Eric”, Alec Station, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Justice Department’s Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), which helps obtain warrants under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), discovers errors in several al-Qaeda related FISA applications under a counterterrorist program called “Catcher’s Mitt.” The OIPR verbally notifies the FISA Court of the errors, which are mostly in affidavits submitted by supervisory special agents at field offices. Then, in September and October 2000, the OIPR submits two pleadings to the court regarding approximately 75-100 applications with errors starting in July 1997. Many of the errors concern misleading statements about the nature of collaboration between criminal and intelligence agents. Most of these applications stated that the FBI New York field office, where the I-49 squad focusing on al-Qaeda was based (see January 1996 and Late 1998-Early 2002), had separate teams of agents handling criminal and intelligence investigations. But in actual fact the I-49 agents intermingled with criminal agents working on intelligence cases and intelligence agents working on criminal cases. Therefore, contrary to what the FISA Court has been told, agents working on a criminal investigation have had unrestricted access to information from a parallel intelligence investigation—a violation of the so-called “wall,” the set of bureaucratic procedures designed to separate criminal and intelligence investigations (see July 19, 1995). [Newsweek, 5/27/2002; Newsweek, 3/29/2004; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 36-37 pdf file] The information about al-Qaeda in these cases is also shared with assistant US attorneys without FISA permission being sought or granted first. Other errors include the FBI director wrongly asserting that the target of a FISA application was not under criminal investigation, omissions of material facts about a prior relationship between the FBI and a target, and an interview of a target by an assistant US attorney. [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, 5/17/2002] This leads the FISA Court to impose new requirements regarding the “wall” (see October 2000). Similar problems will be found in FISA applications for surveillance of Hamas operatives (see March 2001).

Entity Tags: Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, US Department of Justice, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, I-49, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FBI New York Field Office, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Catcher’s Mitt

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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.” [Fortune, 5/22/2002; Arizona Republic, 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. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 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; Washington Post, 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. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002]
bullet Notes an increasing, “inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” taking flight lessons in Arizona. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 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. [Los Angeles Times, 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. [Associated Press, 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. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001; Los Angeles Times, 1/24/2003; Arizona Republic, 5/2/2004; Arizona Monthly, 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). [Los Angeles Times, 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” [Fortune, 5/22/2002] , so they can later hijack aircraft. [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 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.” [Arizona Republic, 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. [New York Times, 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.” [Die Zeit (Hamburg), 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]

Entity Tags: Jennifer Maitner, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Fred Stremmel, Ghassan al Sharbi, Hani Hanjour, I-49, Jack Cloonan, Elizabeth Matson, Islamic Army of the Caucasus, David Frasca, Michael Butsch, Al-Muhajiroun, Zakaria Mustapha Soubra, Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, Al-Qaeda, Rod Middleton, Osama bin Laden, Radical Fundamentalist Unit, Mark Connor, Ken Williams, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

I-49, a squad of FBI agents and Justice Department prosecutors that began focusing on bin Laden in 1996 (see January 1996), is upset that the NSA is not sharing its monitoring of the phone calls of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). The squad builds their own antenna in Madagascar specifically to intercept KSM’s calls. [Wright, 2006, pp. 344] It has not been revealed when this antenna was built or what was learned from this surveillance. However, there have been media reports that the NSA monitored some phone calls between KSM and Mohamed Atta in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001). Further, US intelligence monitored a call between KSM and Atta a day before 9/11 that was the final go-ahead for the attacks (see September 10, 2001). So presumably the I-49 squad should have known about these calls as well if this antenna did what it was designed to do.

Entity Tags: Mohamed Atta, National Security Agency, I-49, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Michael Scheuer, former head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see February 1996), returns to the unit to serve as an adviser, but is not allowed to debrief detainees. Scheuer, who was fired from the unit in 1999 (see June 1999), remains with Alec Station until 2004, when he resigns from the CIA and authors Imperial Hubris, a book critical of the CIA and the US government’s fight against terrorism in general. He had finished his first book, Through Our Enemies’ Eyes, before 9/11, and it is released in 2002. He will later complain that he is given a job title but no official duties. Other CIA officers seek out his services, but these requests are blocked, apparently by James Pavitt, the Deputy Director of Operations. Scheuer comments: “The CIA knew that Through Our Enemies’ Eyes was respected by Islamists and that, as the author, I would be an effective debriefer. Mr. Pavitt, however, put burying my career above using me to elicit information to defend America.” [Scheuer, 2005, pp. 264; Scheuer, 2006, pp. xvii]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Scheuer, Alec Station, James Pavitt

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

After a complete air flight ban in the US began during the 9/11 attacks, some commercial flights begin resuming this day. However, all private flights are still banned from flying. Nonetheless, at least one private flight carrying Saudi royalty takes place on this day. And in subsequent days, other flights carry royalty and bin Laden family members. These flights take place even as fighters escort down three other private planes attempting to fly. Most of the Saudi royals and bin Ladens in the US at the time are high school or college students and young professionals. [New York Times, 9/30/2001; Vanity Fair, 10/2003] The first flight is a Lear Jet that leaves from a private Raytheon hangar in Tampa, Florida, and takes three Saudis to Lexington, Kentucky. [Tampa Tribune, 10/5/2001] This flight apparently takes place several hours after a private meeting between President Bush and Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US. Some think the idea of the flights were approved at that meeting (see September 13, 2001). For two years, this violation of the air ban is denied by the FAA, FBI, and White House, and decried as an urban legend except for one article detailing them in a Tampa newspaper. [Tampa Tribune, 10/5/2001] Finally, in 2003, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke confirms the existence of these flights, and Secretary of State Powell confirms them as well. [MSNBC, 9/7/2003; Vanity Fair, 10/2003] However, the White House remains silent on the matter. [New York Times, 9/4/2003] Officials at the Tampa International Airport finally confirm this first flight in 2004. But whether the flight violated the air ban or not rests on some technicalities that remain unresolved. [Lexington Herald-Leader, 6/10/2004] The Saudis are evacuated to Saudi Arabia over the next several days (see September 14-19, 2001).

Entity Tags: Bandar bin Sultan, Bin Laden Family, Federal Aviation Administration, Bush administration (43), Richard A. Clarke, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Colin Powell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Khalil bin Laden at the Orlando, Florida, airport, about to be flown out of the country in the days after 9/11.Khalil bin Laden at the Orlando, Florida, airport, about to be flown out of the country in the days after 9/11. [Source: Lions Gate Films]Following a secret flight inside the US that is in violation of a national private airplane flight ban, members of the bin Laden family and Saudi royalty quietly depart the US. The flights are only publicly acknowledged after all the Saudis have left. [Boston Globe, 9/21/2001; New York Times, 9/30/2001] About 140 Saudis, including around 24 members of the bin Laden family, are passengers in these flights. The identities of most of these passengers are not known. However, some of the passengers include:
bullet The son of the Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan. Sultan is sued in August 2002 for alleged complicity in the 9/11 plot. [Tampa Tribune, 10/5/2001] He is alleged to have contributed at least $6 million since 1994 to four charities that finance al-Qaeda. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003]
bullet Khalil bin Laden. He has been investigated by the Brazilian government for possible terrorist connections. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003]
bullet Abdullah bin Laden and Omar bin Laden, cousins of bin Laden. Abdullah was the US director of the Muslim charity World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). The governments of India, Pakistan, Philippines, and Bosnia have all accused WAMY of funding terrorism. These two relatives were investigated by the FBI in 1996 (see February-September 11, 1996) in a case involving espionage, murder, and national security. Their case is reopened on September 19, right after they leave the country. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] Remarkably, four of the 9/11 hijackers briefly lived in the town of Falls Church, Virginia, three blocks from the WAMY office headed by Abdullah bin Laden. [BBC, 11/6/2001]
bullet Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen. He is a prominent Saudi official who was in the same hotel as three of the hijackers the night before 9/11. He leaves on one of the first flights to Saudi Arabia before the FBI can properly interview him about this. [Washington Post, 10/2/2003]
bullet Akberali Moawalla. A Pakistani and business partner of Osama’s brother Yeslam bin Laden. In 2000, a transfer of over $250 million was made from a bank account belonging jointly to Moawalla and Osama bin Laden (see 2000). [Washington Post, 7/22/2004]
There is a later dispute regarding how thoroughly the Saudis are interviewed before they leave and who approves the flights. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says he agrees to the flights after the FBI assures him none of those on board has connections to terrorism and that it is “a conscious decision with complete review at the highest levels of the State Department and the FBI and the White House.” [US Congress, 9/3/2003] Clarke says the decision to approve the flights “didn’t get any higher than me.” [Hill, 5/18/2004] According to Vanity Fair, both the FBI and the State Department “deny playing any role whatsoever in the episode.” However, Dale Watson, the head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, says the Saudis on the planes “[are] identified, but they [are] not subject to serious interviews or interrogations” before they leave. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] An FBI spokesperson says the bin Laden relatives are only interviewed by the FBI “at the airport, as they [are] about to leave.” [National Review, 9/11/2002] There are claims that some passengers are not interviewed by the FBI at all. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] Abdullah bin Laden, who stays in the US, says that even a month after 9/11, his only contact with the FBI is a brief phone call. [Boston Globe, 9/21/2001; New Yorker, 11/5/2001] The FBI official responsible for coordinating with Clarke is Assistant Director Michael Rolince, who is in charge of the Bureau’s International Terrorism Operations Section and assumes responsibility for the Saudi flights. Rolince decides that the Saudis can leave after their faces are matched to their passport photos and their names are run through various databases, including some watch lists, to check the FBI has no derogatory information about them.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 196-197, 209 pdf file] Numerous experts are surprised that the bin Ladens are not interviewed more extensively before leaving, pointing out that interviewing the relatives of suspects is standard investigative procedure. [National Review, 9/11/2002; Vanity Fair, 10/2003] MSNBC claims that “members of the Saudi royal family met frequently with bin Laden—both before and after 9/11” [MSNBC, 9/5/2003] , and many Saudi royals and bin Laden relatives are being sued for their alleged role in 9/11. The Boston Globe opines that the flights occur “too soon after 9/11 for the FBI even to know what questions to ask, much less to decide conclusively that each Saudi [royal] and bin Laden relative [deserve] an ‘all clear,’ never to be available for questions again.” [Boston Globe, 9/30/2003] Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says of the secret flights: “This is just another example of our country coddling the Saudis and giving them special privileges that others would never get. It’s almost as if we didn’t want to find out what links existed.” [New York Times, 9/4/2003] Judicial Watch will disclose FBI documents that say, “Osama bin Laden may have chartered one of the Saudi flights.” [Judicial Watch, 6/20/2007]

Entity Tags: Abdullah bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Omar bin Laden, Bin Laden Family, Dale Watson, Charles Schumer, Michael Rolince, Richard A. Clarke, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counterterrorism Division (FBI), Osama bin Laden, World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, US Department of State, Khalil bin Laden, Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Patrick J. Fitzgerald is confirmed as US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois, centering in Chicago. Senator Peter Fitzgerald (R-IL—no relation to Patrick Fitzgerald) nominated Fitzgerald for the position because he felt Fitzgerald, a native New Yorker and veteran prosecutor with no ties to Chicago, would be less likely to become corrupted by what he thought to be the “Chicago Democrat machine.” Fitzgerald had come highly recommended by, among others, Louis Freeh, then the director of the FBI. White House political chief Karl Rove later says that he did not oppose Fitzgerald’s nomination, though he was somewhat disturbed by Senator Fitzgerald’s insistence on the nomination. Rove will recall: “Senator Fitzgerald’s attitude was: ‘I’m not going to submit multiple names. I will take only one name, and this is all that is going to be acceptable.’ And we asked him to submit multiple names, and we also asked him to think about people from within the districts. Our predilection was to have people from within the district selected. We thought it, you know, encouraged a civic-minded attitude among lawyers. It made certain that you had some fresh blood that would flow in. If you pick people from outside the district, they tend to be career prosecutors. And Senator Fitzgerald was particularly unimpressed by this. He said that, in Chicago, the politics in Chicago were such that no US Attorney from Chicago could exist without being subverted by the political influence peddlers in Chicago, that they would be bought off by the big law firms and the Chicago Democrat machine. And so he was going to only provide us one name for each, the Northern District and the Southern District. Following my very effective telephone conversation with him, he responded by going out and announcing to the press that the president was nominating his two names from the Northern and Southern Districts.” Rove will say that he did not oppose Fitzgerald’s nomination, and it would not have been proper for him to do so: “That wasn’t mine—once that conversation was over, it wasn’t mine to have an opinion. I believe the president has a right to appoint. And that means that senators have, by tradition, the right to recommend. But they are usurping a presidential right when they go out and name the nominee before the president has even had a chance to evaluate multiple names and settle on who he wants and do the necessary staff work to arrive at it. Fortunately, Senator Fitzgerald recommended two good names, and both of them worked out. But it was an unusual process that involved, in my opinion, a congressional usurpation of a presidential power.” Senator Fitzgerald will later say that Rove told him the selection of Patrick Fitzgerald “ticked off the [Illinois Republican] base,” a statement Rove will call “inaccurate.… I chalk it up to an overactive imagination.” Rove will go on to imply, without directly saying, that US Attorney Fitzgerald prosecutes Governor George Ryan (R-IL) as something of a political favor to Senator Fitzgerald, as the governor and the senator are political rivals within the Illinois Republican Party. Experienced in prosecuting high-profile terrorism cases (see January 1996), Fitzgerald will go on to chair the terrorism subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC) and later become special counsel for the Lewis Libby leak investigation (see December 30, 2003). [The American Lawyer, 12/11/2008; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, George Ryan, Louis J. Freeh, Peter Fitzgerald, Karl C. Rove

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

When al-Qaeda logistics manager Abu Zubaida is arrested in late March 2002 (see March 28, 2002), his computer is searched. According to the Washington Post: “When agents found Zubaida’s laptop computer, a senior law enforcement source said, they discovered that the vast majority of people he had been communicating with were being monitored under FISA warrants or international spying efforts. ‘Finally, we got some comfort’ that surveillance efforts were working, said a government official familiar with Zubaida’s arrest.” The fact some of his contacts are monitored under FISA warrants indicates that they are in the US, as FISA warrants are only used for US targets (see 1978). The monitoring of Abu Zubaida’s communications began in the mid-1990s, at the latest (see (Mid-1996) and October 1998 and After), and continued after 9/11 (see October 8, 2001). [Washington Post, 2/9/2006] Some will later suggest that Zubaida may have had mental problems (see Shortly After March 28, 2002), but this apparently did not stop him from being a key al-Qaeda contact point. FBI agent Dan Coleman, an expert on al-Qaeda, will later say that the FBI “all knew he was crazy, and they knew he was always on the damn phone.” [Washington Post, 12/18/2007] Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, says of Zubaida shortly after Zubaida’s capture, “He was the guy that had the direct contact with prominent al-Qaeda cell leaders abroad, and he knew where they all were. He would have been the guy co-ordinating new attacks.” [Observer, 4/7/2002]

Entity Tags: Dan Coleman, Vincent Cannistraro, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where Abu Zubaida is arrested.The house in Faisalabad, Pakistan, where Abu Zubaida is arrested. [Source: New York Times]Al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is captured in Faisalabad, Pakistan. He is the first al-Qaeda leader considered highly important to be captured or killed after 9/11.
Zubaida Injured during Raid - A joint team from the FBI, the CIA, and the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, raids the house where Zubaida is staying. Around 3 a.m., the team breaks into the house. Zubaida and three others wake up and rush to the rooftop. Zubaida and the others jump to a neighbor’s roof where they are grabbed by local police who are providing back-up for the capture operation. One of Zubaida’s associates manages to grab a gun from one of the police and starts firing it. A shoot-out ensues. The associate is killed, several police are wounded, and Zubaida is shot three times, in the leg, stomach, and groin. He survives. About a dozen other suspected al-Qaeda operatives are captured in the house, and more are captured in other raids that take place nearby at the same time. [New York Times, 4/14/2002; Suskind, 2006, pp. 84-89] US intelligence had slowly been closing in on Zubaida’s location for weeks, but accounts differ as to exactly how he was found (see February-March 28, 2002). He had surgically altered his appearance and was using an alias, so it takes a few days to completely confirm his identity. [New York Times, 9/10/2006]
Link to Pakistani Militant Group - A later US State Department report will mention that the building Zubaida is captured in is actually a Lashkar-e-Toiba safehouse. Lashkar-e-Toiba is a Pakistani militant group with many links to al-Qaeda, and it appears to have played a key role in helping al-Qaeda operatives escape US forces in Afghanistan and find refuge in Pakistan (see Late 2001-Early 2002). [US Department of State, 4/30/2008]
Rendition - Not long after his arrest, Zubaida is interrogated by a CIA agent while he is recovering in a local hospital (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). He then is rendered to a secret CIA prison, where he is interrogated and tortured (see Mid-May 2002 and After). Throughout his detention, members of the National Security Council and other senior Bush administration officials are briefed about Zubaida’s captivity and treatment. [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
Is Zubaida a High-Ranking Al-Qaeda Leader? - Shortly after the arrest, the New York Times reports that “Zubaida is believed by American intelligence to be the operations director for al-Qaeda and the highest-ranking figure of that group to be captured since the Sept. 11 attacks.” [New York Times, 4/14/2002] But it will later come out that while Zubaida was an important radical Islamist, his importance was probably overstated (see Shortly After March 28, 2002).
Tortured While in US Custody - Once Zubaida has sufficiently recovered from his injuries, he is taken to a secret CIA prison in Thailand for more interrogation. [Observer, 6/13/2004; New York Review of Books, 3/15/2009] One unnamed CIA official will later say: “He received the finest medical attention on the planet. We got him in very good health, so we could start to torture him.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100] Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld publicly vows that Zubaida will not be tortured, but it will later come out that he was (see Mid-May 2002 and After and April - June 2002). [New York Times, 4/14/2002]

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, National Security Council, Donald Rumsfeld, Lashkar-e-Toiba, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

In the wake of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida’s arrest (see March 28, 2002), the FBI discovers much useful information (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). FBI agent Dan Coleman leads a team to sort through Zubaida’s computer files and documents. However, at the same time, some US officials come to believe that Zubaida’s prominence in al-Qaeda’s hierarchy has been overestimated. Many FBI officials conclude that he was used as little more than a travel agent for training camp attendees because he was mentally ill. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
FBI Agent Coleman: Zubaida Is Mentally Crippled - FBI counterterrorist operative Dan Coleman will go through Zubaida’s journals and other materials seized from his Faisalabad safe house. Coleman will say: “Abu Zubaydah was like a receptionist, like the guy at the front desk [of a hotel]. He takes their papers, he sends them out. It’s an important position, but he’s not recruiting or planning.” Because Zubaida is not conversant with al-Qaeda security methods, “[t]hat was why his name had been cropping up for years.” Of Zubaida’s diaries, Coleman will say: “There’s nothing in there that refers to anything outside his head, not even when he saw something on the news, not about any al-Qaeda attack, not even 9/11. All it does is reveal someone in torment. [Zubaida is physically and mentally crippled from wounds suffered fighting in Afghanistan in the early 1990s.] Based on what I saw of his personality, he could not be what they say he was.” [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008] Coleman will add: “He knew very little about real operations, or strategy. He was expendable.” Zubaida’s diary evidences his apparent schizophrenia; he wrote it in three different personas, or voices, each with a different and distinctive personality. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]
Islamist Al-Deen: Importance Overstated? - Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager, was captured along with Zubaida. The terrified al-Deen will readily answer questions from his captors, and will describe Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. Al-Deen will be sent to a detention facility in Morocco and later to Syria; his subsequent whereabouts and status will remain unknown to the public. [Washington Post, 3/29/2009]
Informant Says Zubaida Behaved Oddly - Other accounts back up this assessment. For instance, Omar Nasiri, a former informant for European intelligence agencies who met Zubaida in the 1990s, will later describe Zubaida’s odd behavior, saying he “shuffled around his home in near-total darkness, carrying a gas lantern from room to room. He barely spoke and would often communicate by pointing.” [New Yorker, 1/22/2007]
CIA Officer Scheuer: Zubaida Served as Key Hub - Michael Scheuer, who previously ran the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see February 1996), will later say of Zubaida’s importance: “I’d followed him for a decade. If there was one guy you could call a ‘hub,’ he was it.” Scheuer will describe Zubaida not as an actual al-Qaeda member, but “the main cog in the way they organized,” a point of contact for Islamists from many parts of the globe seeking combat training in the Afghan camps. Scheuer will say that Zubaida, a Palestinian, “never swore bayat [al-Qaeda’s oath of allegiance] to bin Laden,” and he was bent on causing damage to Israel, not the US. [Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Involvement in Pre-9/11 Plots - However, Zubaida does appear to have been involved in numerous plots before 9/11 (see for instance November 30, 1999 and Early September 2001). Al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam cooperated with US investigators after being arrested. He worked with Zubaida and suggested Zubaida was of some importance, but not one of al-Qaeda’s highest leaders. According to Ressam, Zubaida “is the person in charge of the [training] camps. He receives young men from all countries. He accepts you or rejects you. He takes care of the expenses of the camps. He makes arrangements for you when you travel coming in or leaving.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 133] Furthermore, when Zubaida was caught, apparently he and several others staying with him were in the middle of building a bomb. According to one of the CIA officers who helped capture him, the soldering iron used in making the bomb was still hot when he was captured (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). [Senate Intelligence Committee, 4/22/2009 pdf file]
CIA Chief Tenet Rejects Diagnosis of Schizophrenia - In a 2007 book, former CIA Director George Tenet will claim that the reports that Zubaida was mentally unstable were “[b]aloney.… Apparently, the source of the rumor that Abu Zubaida was unbalanced was his personal diary, in which he adopted various personas. From that shaky perch, some junior Freudians leapt to the conclusion that Zubaida had multiple personalities. In fact, agency psychiatrists eventually determined that in his diary he was using a sophisticated literary device to express himself.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 243]
Zubaida Touted as High-Level Terror Chief - Regardless, despite being briefed otherwise, President Bush and others in his administration will repeatedly tout the importance of capturing Zubaida and no hint of any doubts about his importance or sanity will be publicly expressed (see April 9, 2002 and After). [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94-96, 100]

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, George J. Tenet, Dan Coleman, Bush administration (43), George W. Bush, Abu Zubaida, Ahmed Ressam, Omar Nasiri, Noor al-Deen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

FBI agents are able to get prisoner Abu Zubaida to confess that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. Zubaida, captured in Pakistan in March 2002 (see March 28, 2002), is considered a high-ranking prisoner, although there is controversy over just how important he was to al-Qaeda (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). FBI agents Ali Soufan and Steve Gaudin have been interrogating Zubaida using traditional non-coercive interrogation methods, while he is being held in a secret CIA prison in Thailand (see Late March through Early June, 2002). A CIA interrogation team is expected but has not yet arrived. Soufan shows Zubaida a sheaf of pictures of high priority suspects; Zubaida points at KSM’s photo and says, “That’s Mukhtar… the one behind 9/11.” Shortly before 9/11, US intelligence had learned that the alias “Mukhtar” was frequently used by KSM (see August 28, 2001), but this is important confirmation. The more stunning revelation is that KSM is “the one behind 9/11.” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 155; New York Times, 4/22/2009; Newsweek, 4/25/2009] Zubaida proceeds to lay out more details of the 9/11 plot, although exactly what and how much he says is unknown. [Vanity Fair, 7/17/2007] It is unclear how much US intelligence knew about KSM’s role in the 9/11 attacks prior to this, although at least some was known (see (December 2001)).

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaida, Ali Soufan, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Steve Gaudin, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The capture of al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) is leaked to the press shortly after it occurs and on April 9, 2002, President Bush says in a speech: “The other day we hauled in a guy named Abu Zubaida. He’s one of the top operatives planning death and destruction on the United States. He’s not plotting and planning anymore.” In the weeks and months that follow, Bush and others in his administration will repeatedly tout the importance of capturing Zubaida. He is frequently described as “chief of operations” for all of al-Qaeda and the group’s number three leader. Zubaida is the only significant al-Qaeda capture in the first year after 9/11, so there is pressure to hype his importance. However, at the time there is a raging debate among US intelligence analysts as to Zubaida’s actual importance and even his mental sanity (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). According to journalist Ron Suskind, one day, when CIA Director George Tenet reminds Bush that Zubaida was not such a top leader after all, Bush reportedly says to him: “I said he was important. You’re not going to let me lose face on this, are you?” Tenet replies, “No sir, Mr. President.” Suskind will later comment: “In the wide, diffuse ‘war on terror,’ so much of it occurring in the shadows—with no transparency and only perfunctory oversight—the administration could say anything it wanted to say.… The administration could create whatever reality was convenient.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 99-100] But in 2006, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) will issue a report containing the biographies of al-Qaeda detainees held at Guantanamo. In marked contrast to previous announcements, this biography downgrades the importance of Zubaida. It merely calls him a “leading extremist facilitator” and “one of al-Qaeda’s senior travel facilitators,” and says he is “not believed to be directly linked to the attacks on 11 September 2001.” [Office of the Director of National Intelligence, 9/6/2006 pdf file; Time, 9/6/2006; Dickey, 2009, pp. 77] In 2006, Bush will make new claims about Zubaida’s capture that are at odds with the known facts (see September 6, 2006).

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, George W. Bush, Bush administration (43), Abu Zubaida, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Around mid-April 2002, the CIA begins using aggressive interrogation techniques on al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida. A new CIA team led by psychologist James Elmer Mitchell arrives and takes control of Zubaida’s interrogation from the FBI (see Mid-April 2002). This team soon begins using techniques commonly described as torture, such as waterboarding (see April - June 2002, May 2002-2003 and Mid-May 2002 and After). Journalist James Risen will write in a 2006 book: “The assertions that the CIA’s tactics stopped short of torture were undercut by the fact that the FBI decided that the tactics were so severe that the bureau wanted no part of them, and FBI agents were ordered to stay away from the CIA-run interrogations. FBI agents did briefly see Abu Zubaida in custody, and at least one agent came away convinced that Zubaida was being tortured, according to an FBI source.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 32] Newsweek will similarly report in 2007 that Zubaida’s interrogation “sparked an internal battle within the US intelligence community after FBI agents angrily protested the aggressive methods that were used. In addition to waterboarding, Zubaida was subjected to sleep deprivation and bombarded with blaring rock music by the Red Hot Chili Peppers. One agent was so offended he threatened to arrest the CIA interrogators, according to two former government officials directly familiar with the dispute.” [Newsweek, 12/12/2007] The FBI completely withdraws its personnel, wanting to avoid legal entanglements with the dubious methods. The CIA then is able to use even more aggressive methods on Zubaida (see Mid-May 2002 and After). [New York Times, 9/10/2006] The CIA torture of Zubaida produces a raft of almost useless information (see Mid-April 2002 and June 2002). Zubaida, already mentally unstable (see Shortly After March 28, 2002), says yes to every question asked of him: if al-Qaeda is planning on bombing shopping malls, banks, supermarkets, nuclear plants, apartment buildings, and water systems. After each “confession,” the CIA cables Washington with the “intelligence,” and much of it is given to President Bush. White House officials will use Zubaida’s dubious admissions to issue many groundless terror warnings and alerts. [Savage, 2007, pp. 220]

Entity Tags: Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

In an address to the nation, President Bush labels captured Islamist militant Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations.” He says: “Among those we have captured is a man named Abu Zubaida, al-Qaeda’s chief of operations. From him, and from hundreds of others, we are learning more about how the terrorists plan and operate; information crucial in anticipating and preventing future attacks.” He warns, “[W]e now know that thousands of trained killers are plotting to attack us, and this terrible knowledge requires us to act differently.” [White House, 6/6/2002] This is, presumably, an oblique reference to the torture being inflicted on Zubaida and other detainees by CIA personnel (see April - June 2002). And by this time, senior government officials are aware that many intelligence officials believe that Zubaida’s importance and links to al-Qaeda have been overstated (see Shortly After March 28, 2002 and April 9, 2002 and After).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

At a Republican fundraiser, President Bush erroneously labels captured Islamic militant Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) as “one of the top three leaders” of al-Qaeda. Senior government officials have long been aware that many intelligence officials believe Zubaida to be little more than a low-level “gofer” for al-Qaeda (see Shortly After March 28, 2002 and April 9, 2002 and After). Bush says, apparently boasting of the deaths of some captured suspects: “I would say we’ve hauled in—arrested, or however you want to put it—a couple of thousand of al-Qaeda. Some of them are former leaders. Abu Zubaida was one of the top three leaders in the organization. Like number weren’t as lucky, they met a different kind of fate. But they’re no longer a problem. We’re slowly but surely rounding them up. The other day we got this guy, [Ramzi b]in al-Shibh. He popped his head up. He’s not a problem (see September 11, 2002). Slowly but surely. And I’m not giving up. There’s not a calendar on my desk that says, okay, on this day, you quit. That’s just not the way I think.” [White House, 10/14/2002]

Entity Tags: Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, George W. Bush

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

The Sunday Times publishes details of interrogations of alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), who is being held by the CIA. The article, written by Christina Lamb, indicates the information is from “transcripts” of his interrogations. It also quotes KSM as making various statements, such as “The original plan [for 9/11] was for a two-pronged attack with five targets on the East Coast of America and five on the West Coast.” The report makes the following claims:
bullet KSM introduced Osama bin Laden to Hambali, leader of the Southeast Asian militant organization Jemaah Islamiyah, who KSM first met during the Soviet-Afghan War in Peshawar, Pakistan. KSM was “impressed” with “Hambali’s connections with the Malaysian government,” and bin Laden and Hambali forged an alliance in 1996.
bullet After 1996, KSM became a “key planner in almost every attack, including the simultaneous bombings of the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998.”
bullet He was the “chief planner” for 9/11 and planning started very early, before his associate Ramzi Yousef was captured (see February 7, 1995), when they hit upon the idea of using planes to attack the US. The plan for 9/11 initially had two parts, one on the US East Coast and the other on the west, but bin Laden canceled the second half. This part was then spun off into a second, separate plot, to be carried out independently, and one of the operatives to be involved was Zacarias Moussaoui. The first two operatives selected for 9/11 were Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, followed by Mohamed Atta and his associates from Hamburg.
bullet Al-Qaeda was very surprised by the US response to the 9/11 attacks. “Afterwards we never got time to catch our breath, we were immediately on the run,” KSM is quoted as saying. He added that the US campaign seriously disrupted operations.
bullet Britain was the next target after 9/11, because, “Osama declared [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair our principal enemy and London a target.” However, a plot to attack Heathrow Airport never got beyond the planning stage.
bullet KSM also described Hambali’s departure from Afghanistan in November 2001, and said the two kept in touch through Hambali’s brother.
The article points out that “the interrogation transcripts are prefaced with the warning that ‘the detainee has been known to withhold information or deliberately mislead,’” and also mentions some allegations made against US interrogators, including sleep deprivation, extremes of heat and cold, truth drugs, and the use of Arab interrogators so that detainees thought they were in an Arab camp. [Sunday Times (London), 3/28/2004] When it becomes clear what techniques have been used to obtain information from KSM, doubts will be expressed about the reliability of his information (see June 16, 2004 and August 6, 2007). However, most of this information will appear in the relevant sections of the 9/11 Commission report, which are based on reports produced by CIA interrogators. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004] Despite this, some of the information contained in the report seems to be incorrect. For example, Abu Zubaida is described as a member of al-Qaeda’s inner shura council, although it appears he was not that close to al-Qaeda’s senior leadership (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). In addition, KSM is described as the head of al-Qaeda’s military committee, although he will later deny this (see March 10, 2007).

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

CIA official Michael Scheuer says that the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Alec Station, is still effectively less than 30 people strong. Scheuer was head of the unit until 1999 (see June 1999, and he says this was about the size of the unit when he left. Technically, the unit has hundreds of employees, but Scheuer claims this is not really true. He says: “The numbers are big, but it’s a shell game. It’s people they move in for four or five months at a time and then bring in a new bunch. But the hard core of expertise, of experience, of savvy really hasn’t expanded at all since 9/11.” [Guardian, 8/20/2004] There were about 35 to 40 people in the unit at the time of the 9/11 attacks (see Just Before September 11, 2001). The unit will be closed down altogether one year later (see Late 2005).

Entity Tags: Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

In 2005, the CIA gives President Bush a secret slide show updating him on the hunt for bin Laden. Bush is taken aback by the small number of CIA case officers posted to Afghanistan and Pakistan. A former intelligence officer will later tell Newsweek that Bush asks, “Is that all there are?” In fact, the CIA had recently doubled the number of officers in the area, but many are inexperienced and raw recruits. Most veteran officers are involved in the Iraq war instead. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] However, rather than increase the staff working on bin Laden in response to Bush’s complaint, later in the year the CIA will close Alec Station, the unit hunting bin Laden (see Late 2005).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Late 2005: CIA Closes Unit Hunting Bin Laden

The CIA closes its unit that had been in charge of hunting bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders. Analysts in the unit, known as Alec Station, are reassigned to other parts of the CIA Counterterrorist Center. CIA officials explain the change by saying the agency can better deal with high-level threats by focusing on regional trends rather than on specific organizations or individuals. Michael Scheuer, who headed the unit when if formed in 1996 (see February 1996), says the move reflects a view within the CIA that bin Laden is no longer the threat he once was, and complains, “This will clearly denigrate our operations against al-Qaeda.” Robert Grenier, head of the Counterterrorist Center in 2005, is said to have instigated the closure. [New York Times, 7/4/2006; Guardian, 7/4/2006] The White House denies the search for bin Laden has slackened, calling the move merely a “reallocation of resources” within the CIA. [Reuters, 8/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Robert Grenier, Osama bin Laden, Counterterrorist Center, Alec Station, Michael Scheuer, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Abu Zubaida circa 2008.Abu Zubaida circa 2008. [Source: Defense Department.]In a speech defending the US treatment of high-level al-Qaeda prisoners, President Bush apparently makes some false claims about how valuable the intelligence from some prisoners was. He says that Abu Zubaida, who was captured in March 2002 (see March 28, 2002), revealed that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) used the alias ‘Mukhtar.’ “This was a vital piece of intelligence that helped our intelligence community pursue KSM.” However, the 9/11 Commission’s final report published in 2004 revealed that the fact that KSM had that alias was known to US intelligence before 9/11 (see August 28, 2001). Bush also claims that Zubaida’s interrogation identified Ramzi bin al-Shibh as an accomplice in the 9/11 attacks. [New York Times, 9/8/2006] However, this was known months before Zubaida’s capture, and reported in the US press as early as September 2001. A CBS News report from that time said bin al-Shibh was “believed to have provided logistics backup for the hijackers.” [CBS News, 9/29/2001] Bush also describes the interrogation techniques used on the prisoners as “safe, lawful and effective,” and he claims torture was not used. However, the New York Times notes that “the Bush administration has yet to make public the legal papers prepared by government lawyers that served as the basis for its determination that those procedures did not violate American or international law.” [New York Times, 9/8/2006] Both the New York Times and Washington Post publish prominent stories pointing out the factual errors in Bush’s statements, but this does not become a big political issue. [Washington Post, 9/7/2006; New York Times, 9/8/2006] Bush repeatedly exaggerated the importance of Zubaida in the months after his capture as well (see Shortly After March 28, 2002).

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaida, George W. Bush, Ramzi bin al-Shibh

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

At a Guantanamo Bay tribunal to decide his combat status (see March 9-April 28, 2007), militant Islamist logistics manager Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002) is accused of heading Khaldan and Darunta training camps in Afghanistan and of co-ordinating their operation with Osama bin Laden, as well as moving money for al-Qaeda, desiring fraudulently-obtained Canadian passports for a terrorist plot, and making diary entries about planned attacks in the US. [US Department of Defense, 3/27/2007 pdf file]
Complaints of Torture, Admission of False Confessions - Zubaida complains of being tortured in US custody (see Mid-May 2002 and After and March 10-April 15, 2007). Zubaida’s statements about his treatment in US custody will be redacted from the trial transcripts, but a few remarks remain. In broken English, Zubaida states: “I was nearly before half die plus [because] what they do [to] torture me. There I was not afraid from die because I do believe I will be shahid [martyr], but as God make me as a human and I weak, so they say yes, I say okay, I do I do, but leave me. They say no, we don’t want to. You to admit you do this, we want you to give us more information… they want what’s after more information about more operations, so I can’t. They keep torturing me.” The tribunal president, a colonel whose name is also redacted, asks, “So I understand that during this treatment, you said things to make them stop and then those statements were actually untrue, is that correct?” Zubaida replies, “Yes.” [US Department of Defense, 3/27/2007 pdf file; Vanity Fair, 12/16/2008]
Denies Being Al-Qaeda Member or Enemy of US - He goes on to deny that he is an “enemy combatant,” saying that the Khaldan training camp, which he admits being logistics manager of, was around since the Soviet-Afghan War and was also used to train Muslims who wanted to fight invaders in Muslim lands, such as Chechnya, Kashmir, the Philippines, and Bosnia, where “America helped us.” After he was captured the US administration exaggerated his importance, and some media accounts have suggested his role was greatly exaggerated (see Shortly After March 28, 2002). He denies being an official member of al-Qaeda and says he disagrees with attacks on civilians. However, he admits some of his trainees subsequently decided to join al-Qaeda and that he did not prevent them from doing this. He also denies moving the money and submits a volume of his diary that apparently shows he was in Pakistan when the charges state he went to Saudi Arabia to collect the money. He requests the production of other volumes of his diaries, on which some of the charges are based, but they are not made available to the tribunal. In addition, he denies corresponding with bin Laden before 2000 and details a dispute that arose between them after that time. He says his diary entries about military targets are “strictly hypothetical,” and the passports are for non-terrorist travel. Following the US invasion of Afghanistan, he admits he helped non-aligned fighters escape from South Asia. He states that he is an enemy of the US because of its alliance with Israel, which he claims is oppressing his fellow Palestinians, saying, “A partner of a killer is also a killer.” [US Department of Defense, 3/27/2007 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Darunta training camp, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, Khaldan training camp

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck has a special segment called “War Games” during the week’s broadcasts. In today’s show, he is joined by former CIA analyst Michael Scheuer (see February 1996) and retired Army Sergeant Major, Tim Strong. The three discuss what they say is the upcoming “civil war” in America, which, they assert, will be led by “citizen militias” made up of principled, ideologically correct conservatives. Beck says that he “believes we’re on this road.” The three decide among themselves that the US military would refuse to obey President Obama’s orders to subdue the insurrection and would instead join with “the people” in “defending the Constitution” against the government. [Salon, 2/22/2009] Conservative commentator Michelle Malkin’s blog “Hot Air” features an entry that calls Beck’s rhetoric “implausible” and “nutty.” [Hot Air, 2/22/2009]

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Michelle Malkin, Tim Strong, Fox News, Glenn Beck

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism, 2010 Elections

The CIA’s torture of a supposed high-ranking al-Qaeda operative, Abu Zubaida, produced no information that helped foil any terrorist attacks or plots, according to former senior government officials who closely followed the interrogations. Zubaida was subjected to intensive waterboarding and other tortures (see April - June 2002), and provided information about a fantastic array of al-Qaeda plots that sent CIA agents all over the globe chasing down his leads. But none of his information panned out, according to the former officials. Almost everything Zubaida said under torture was false, and most of the reliable information gleaned from him—chiefly the names of al-Qaeda members and associates—was obtained before the CIA began torturing him. Moreover, the US’s characterization of Zubaida as “al-Qaeda’s chief of operations” and a “trusted associate” of Osama bin Laden turned out to be false as well. Several sources have challenged the government’s characterization of Zubaida as a “high-level al-Qaeda operative” before now (see Shortly After March 28, 2002 and April 9, 2002 and After).
'Fixer' for Islamists before 9/11 - Zubaida, a native Palestinian, never even joined al-Qaeda until after 9/11, according to information obtained from court documents and interviews with current and former intelligence, law enforcement, and military sources. Instead, he was a “fixer” for a number of radical Islamists, who regarded the US as an enemy primarily because of its support for Israel. Many describe Zubaida as a “travel agent” for al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists. He joined al-Qaeda because of the US’s preparations to invade Afghanistan. US officials are contemplating what, if any, charges they can use to bring him into court. Zubaida has alleged links with Ahmed Ressam, the so-called “Millennium Bomber” (see December 14, 1999), and allegedly took part in plans to retaliate against US forces after the overthrow of the Taliban in late 2001 (see December 17, 2001). But some US officials worry that bringing him into a courtroom would reveal the extent of his torture and abuse at the hands of the CIA, and that any evidence they might have against him is compromised because it was obtained in part through torture. Those officials want to send him to Jordan, where he faces allegations of conspiracy in terrorist attacks in that country.
Defending Zubaida's Information - Some in the US government still believe that Zubaida provided useful information. “It’s simply wrong to suggest that Abu Zubaida wasn’t intimately involved with al-Qaeda,” says a US counterterrorism official. “He was one of the terrorist organization’s key facilitators, offered new insights into how the organization operated, provided critical information on senior al-Qaeda figures… and identified hundreds of al-Qaeda members. How anyone can minimize that information—some of the best we had at the time on al-Qaeda—is beyond me.… Based on what he shared during his interrogations, he was certainly aware of many of al-Qaeda’s activities and operatives.” But the characterization of Zubaida as a well-connected errand runner was confirmed by Noor al-Deen, a Syrian teenager captured along with Zubaida at a Pakistani safe house (see March 28, 2002). Al-Deen readily answered questions, both in Pakistan and in a detention facility in Morocco. He described Zubaida as a well-known functionary with little knowledge of al-Qaeda operations. (Al-Deen was later transferred to Syria; his current whereabouts and status are unknown to the public.) A former Justice Department official closely involved in the early investigation of Zubaida says: “He was the above-ground support” for al-Qaeda and other radicals. “He was the guy keeping the safe house, and that’s not someone who gets to know the details of the plans. To make him the mastermind of anything is ridiculous.” A former intelligence officer says the US spent an inestimable amount of time and money chasing Zubaida’s “leads” to no effect: “We spent millions of dollars chasing false alarms.”
Connected to KSM - Zubaida knew radical Islamist Khalid Shaikh Mohammed for years. Mohammed, often dubbed “KSM” by US officials, approached Zubaida in the 1990s about finding financial backers for a plan he had concocted to fly a small plane into the World Trade Center. Zubaida declined involvement but recommended he talk to bin Laden. Zubaida quickly told FBI interrogators of Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures such as alleged “dirty bomber” Jose Padilla (see May 8, 2002). He also revealed the plans of the low-level al-Qaeda operatives he fled Afghanistan with. Some wanted to strike US forces in Afghanistan with bombs, while others harbored ideas of further strikes on American soil. But he knew few details, and had no knowledge of plans by senior al-Qaeda operatives. At this point, the CIA took over the interrogations, and the torture began (see Mid-April-May 2002). As a result of the torture, Zubaida began alternating between obstinate silence and providing torrents of falsified and fanciful “intelligence”; when FBI “clean teams” attempted to re-interview some detainees who had been tortured in order to obtain evidence uncontaminated by abusive treatment, Zubaida refused to cooperate. Joseph Margulies, one of Zubaida’s attorneys, says: “The government doesn’t retreat from who KSM is, and neither does KSM. With Zubaida, it’s different. The government seems finally to understand he is not at all the person they thought he was. But he was tortured. And that’s just a profoundly embarrassing position for the government to be in.” Margulies and other lawyers want the US to send Zubaida to another country besides Jordan—Saudi Arabia, perhaps, where Zubaida has family. Military prosecutors have already deleted Zubaida’s name from the charge sheets of detainees who will soon stand trial, including several who were captured with Zubaida and are charged with crimes in which Zubaida’s involvement has been alleged.
Pressure from the White House - The pressure from the White House to get actionable information from Zubaida was intense (see Late March 2002), according to sources. One official recalls the pressure as “tremendous.” He says the push to force information from Zubaida mounted from one daily briefing to the next. “They couldn’t stand the idea that there wasn’t anything new. They’d say, ‘You aren’t working hard enough.’ There was both a disbelief in what he was saying and also a desire for retribution—a feeling that ‘He’s going to talk, and if he doesn’t talk, we’ll do whatever.’” [Washington Post, 3/29/2009]

Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Ressam, Abu Zubaida, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, US Department of Justice, Joseph Margulies, Central Intelligence Agency, Noor al-Deen

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Brian Kilmeade.Brian Kilmeade. [Source: Chattahbox (.com)]Brian Kilmeade, a co-host of Fox News’s morning broadcast Fox and Friends, says he “feel[s] better” knowing that alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was waterboarded 183 times in a single month (see April 16, 2009 and April 18, 2009). “Guess what?” Kilmeade says. “Maybe if he were so scared of caterpillars [referring to militant training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida’s torture by insects—see August 1, 2002]… maybe he should have thought about that before he helped plot the taking down of 3,000-plus people on 9/11.” (Kilmeade is either unaware of, or ignoring, reports that show Zubaida may not have been a member of al-Qaeda and had no involvement in the 9/11 planning—see March 28, 2002, Shortly After March 28, 2002, and April 9, 2002 and After.) Kilmeade continues: “Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, I understand, was waterboarded 183 times. Did anyone care about that? Does anyone in America walk around going, ‘I’m really upset that the mastermind of 9/11 was waterboarded 183 times.’ That makes me feel better.… It’s unbelievable that people care more about Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, uh, his health, than they would about the future attacks that are being hatched.” [Media Matters, 4/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Brian Kilmeade, Fox News

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

A person described as a “former Fox News insider” tells author and Media Matters columnist Eric Boehlert that Fox News is indeed “a propaganda outfit” calling itself a news provider. In an interview, the source tells Boehlert that Fox routinely reports false information to “prop up Republicans and knock down Democrats,” and calls the news channel a “purely partisan operation” that actively spins almost every news story to reflect a Republican/conservative slant (see November 3, 2003, April 1, 2009, April 1-6, 2009, and April 23, 2009). “I don’t think people would believe it’s as concocted as it is,” the source says; “that stuff is just made up (see February 14, 2003).… It is their MO to undermine the [Obama] administration and to undermine Democrats (see December 2002, January 2009, February 24, 2009, April 3, 2009, and August 11, 2009). They’re a propaganda outfit but they call themselves news” (see 1995, January 20, 2003, and July 2004). Boehlert says that “[e]veryone knows” Fox News has always reported news with a conservative slant: “Everyone who’s been paying attention has known that since the channel’s inception more than a decade ago” (see October 7, 1996). But over time, Boehlert writes, Fox News has become “an open and active political player, sort of one-part character assassin and one-part propagandist, depending on which party was in power.” The source confirms Boehlert’s observation, saying: “They say one thing and do another. They insist on maintaining this charade, this facade, that they’re balanced or that they’re not right-wing extreme propagandist[s].” The facade is one that, Boehlert writes, “permeates the entire Fox News culture and one that staffers and producers have to learn quickly in order to survive professionally.” The source says: “You have to work there for a while to understand the nods and the winks. And God help you if you don’t because sooner or later you’re going to get burned.” Virtually every hard-news story is presented in a way that either bolsters conservative ideology, criticizes liberal/progressive ideology, or both. “[A]nything—anything—that was a news story you had to understand what the spin should be on it,” the source says. “If it was a big enough story it was explained to you in the morning [editorial] meeting. If it wasn’t explained, it was up to you to know the conservative take on it. There’s a conservative take on every story no matter what it is. So you either get told what it is or you better intuitively know what it is” (see June 8, 2004). The source says with some apparent sarcasm: “My internal compass [on ‘spinning’ a story] was to think like an intolerant meathead. You could never error on the side of not being intolerant enough.”
Spin Training - The source reflects on how Fox News executives trained its employees to “spin” news stories, saying: “When I first got there back in the day, and I don’t know how they indoctrinate people now, but back in the day when they were ‘training’ you, as it were, they would say, ‘Here’s how we’re different.’ They’d say if there is an execution of a condemned man at midnight and there are all the live truck outside the prison and all the lives shots. CNN would go, ‘Yes, tonight John Jackson, 25 of Mississippi, is going to die by lethal injection for the murder of two girls.’ MSNBC would say the same thing. We would come out and say, ‘Tonight, John Jackson who kidnapped an innocent two-year-old, raped her, sawed her head off, and threw it in the school yard, is going to get the punishment that a jury of his peers thought he should get.’ And they say that’s the way we do it here. And you’re going, alright, it’s a bit of an extreme example but it’s something to think about. It’s not unreasonable.”
Changed over Time - Fox News officials always insisted that they were serving as “a bit of a counterpart to the screaming left wing lib media,” the source says. “So automatically you have to buy into the idea that the other media is howling left-wing. Don’t even start arguing that or you won’t even last your first day.” However, things have changed since the source first joined Fox: “For the first few years it was let’s take the conservative take on things. And then after a few years it evolved into, well it’s not just the conservative take on things, we’re going to take the Republican take on things which is not necessarily in lock step with the conservative point of view. And then two, three, five years into that it was, ‘We’re taking the Bush line on things,’ which was different than the GOP. We were a Stalin-esque mouthpiece. It was just what Bush says goes on our channel. And by that point it was just totally dangerous. Hopefully most people understand how dangerous it is for a media outfit to be a straight, unfiltered mouthpiece for an unchecked president.” As time went on, the source says, the news reporting became ever more strident and more partisan.
Siege Mentality - Using the source’s descriptions, Boehlert describes it as an “us-vs.-them mentality… a siege mentality that network boss Roger Ailes encourages, and one that colors the coverage his team produces.” The source confirms Boehlert’s observation, saying: “It was a kick-_ss mentality too. It was relentless and it never went away. If one controversy faded, godd_mn it they would find another one. They were in search of these points of friction real or imagined. And most of them were imagined or fabricated. You always have to seem to be under siege. You always have to seem like your values are under attack. The brain trust just knew instinctively which stories to do, like the War on Christmas” (a seasonal series of stories by Fox commentator Bill O’Reilly and others that regularly claim liberals, progressives, and the like “hate Christmas” and want to see it “destroyed”). It is rare for former Fox employees such as the source to share “insider” information after leaving, in part because of a strict non-disclosure agreement each exiting employee is asked to sign, and in part because of Ailes’s “siege mentality.” The source says that Ailes is bent on presenting a “unified Fox News front to the outside world,” to the point where he refuses to publicly criticize or critique other Fox employees regardless of how unprofessionally or even outlandishly they may behave on the air (see April 1, 2003, February 3-4, 2005, September 28-October 1, 2005, March 6, 2007, June 4-5, 2008, June 26, 2008, February 9-10, 2009, February 10, 2009, February 20, 2009, March 3, 2009, March 16-17, 2009, March 17-24, 2009, March 25, 2009, April 15, 2009, May 5-6, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 28, 2009, July 8, 2009, July 17, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28-29, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, September 29, 2009, November 3, 2009, March 24, 2010, and October 3, 2010). The source says: “There may be internal squabbles. But what [Ailes] continually preaches is never piss outside the tent. When he gets really crazy is when stuff leaks out the door. He goes mental on that. He can’t stand that. He says in a dynamic enterprise like a network newsroom there’s going to be in fighting and ego, but he says keep it in the house.”
Evidence Bolsters Source's Claims - Boehlert notes that along with the source’s contentions, a great deal of evidence surfaced in 2010 that showed Fox News to be deliberately propagandistic in its reporting (see March 13, 2009 and After, March 23-24, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, June 2, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 30, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 28, 2009, September 1, 2009, September 12, 2009, September 18, 2009, and November 5-8, 2009). He cites the recently leaked emails from inside Fox News in which a senior editor instructed his newsroom staffers to slant the news when reporting on issues such as climate change and health care reform (see October 27, 2009 and After and December 8, 2009 and After); the over 600 instances of Fox News personalities raising money, endorsing, and actively campaigning for Republican candidates and/or organizations; and the over $1 million donated by Fox News owner Rupert Murdoch to organizations dedicated to electing Republicans (see June 24, 2010 and After and September 30, 2010). Boehlert says that according to Media Matters estimates, Fox News has in essence donated $55 million worth of free airtime to Republican presidential hopefuls who also work for Fox News (see October 26, 2009). The source says Fox News is anything but a legitimate news outlet, and says both the Washington press corps and the general public has been duped by Murdoch’s relentless “fair and balanced” marketing campaign over the years. “People assume you need a license to call yourself a news channel,” the source says. “You don’t. So because they call themselves Fox News, people probably give them a pass on a lot of things.… I don’t think people understand that it’s an organization that’s built and functions by intimidation and bullying, and its goal is to prop up and support Republicans and the GOP and to knock down Democrats. People tend [to] think that stuff that’s on TV is real, especially under the guise of news. You’d think that people would wise up, but they don’t.”
Source Critical of Other News Outlets for Not Criticizing Fox News - The source is harshly critical of other news outlets, including their reporters and pundits, for failing to criticize Fox News for its propaganda. The source explains: “They don’t have enough staff or enough balls or don’t have enough money or don’t have enough interest to spend the time it takes to expose Fox News. Or it’s not worth the trouble. If you take on Fox, they’ll kick you in the _ss. I’m sure most [journalists] know that.” Boehlert notes that journalists who have criticized Fox News have come under heavy fire from Fox News (see November 17-18, 2010). The source says he/she was perplexed in 2009, when Obama administration officials questioned Fox News’s legitimacy as a news source (see September 18-19, 2009 and October 11, 2009), only to have Washington press corps figures rush to Fox’s defense. “That blew me away,” the source says. The White House’s critique of Fox News “happens to be true” (see October 17, 2009). [Media Matters, 2/10/2011]

Entity Tags: Fox News, Roger Ailes, Eric Boehlert, Media Matters, Obama administration

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

A screenshot from Glenn Beck’s final show.A screenshot from Glenn Beck’s final show. [Source: Gateway Pundit (.com)]Fox News chairman Roger Ailes negotiates the departure of one of his network’s most influential stars, talk show host Glenn Beck. Beck’s departure has been predicted by outside observers for weeks; as for Beck, he has already told Ailes, “I don’t want to do cable news anymore.” Beck has been with Fox News since October 2008, when he was hired to fill the 5:00 p.m. slot that had unsuccessfully been hosted by other conservatives such as John Gibson and Laura Ingraham. He debuted the day before President Obama’s January 2009 inauguration (see January 20-21, 2009). New York Magazine reporter Gabriel Sherman will write that Ailes hired Beck “to reenergize Fox’s audience after Obama’s election.” (In January 2009, Ailes told Beck that Fox News’s primary mission was to oppose Obama, and that Beck was a major part of that effort—see January 2009 and August 11, 2009.) Beck has been hugely successful (see March 29, 2009), “tapping deep wells of resentment and igniting them into a vast, national conflagration,” as Sherman will write. However: “The problem was that it had almost engulfed Fox itself. Beck was huge and uncontrollable, and some of Fox’s other big names seemed diminished by comparison—and were speaking up about it. Beck seemed to many to be Fox News’s id made visible, saying things—Obama is a racist (see July 27, 2009 and July 28-29, 2009), Nazi tactics are progressive tactics (see July 26, 2010 and October 3, 2010)—dredged from the right-wing subconscious. These were things that weren’t supposed to be said, even at Fox (see February 20, 2009 and March 9, 2009), and they were consuming the brand. Ailes had built his career by artfully tending the emotional undercurrents of both politics and entertainment, using them to power ratings and political careers; now they were out of his control.” Beck’s show has suffered a steep drop in ratings because of an effective boycott led by a number of progressive and civil rights groups; over 400 Fox advertisers pulled their commercials from Beck’s show. Beck has become a divisive figure among other Fox hosts, with Sean Hannity complaining about his “stardom” and Bill O’Reilly, who detests Hannity, regularly scheduling Beck as a guest on his show, further angering Hannity. And Ailes is increasingly uncomfortable with the religious content of Beck’s show (at times Beck has told his viewers that God is speaking to them through him). Beck and Ailes agree that Beck will give up his 5:00 p.m. show and return for a number of network “specials.” The talks between Beck and Ailes are not without acrimony; at one point, Ailes tells a Fox executive, “I’m just going to fire him and issue a press release.” When the network announces the departure on April 6, Beck and other Fox spokespersons are careful to avoid any sort of “public meltdown,” and ensure the avoidance of what Ailes fears most: what Sherman calls the view of “Beck’s departure… as a victory for the liberal media.” Ailes tells reporters: “We felt Glenn brought additional information, a unique perspective, a certain amount of passion and insight to the channel and he did. But that story of what’s going on and why America is in trouble today, I think he told that story as well as could be told. Whether you can just keep telling that story or not… we’re not so sure.” David Brock, founder of the progressive media watchdog Web site Media Matters, says “the only surprise is that it took Fox News months to reach this decision.” And James Rucker, the chairman of ColorofChange.org, the organization behind the advertiser boycott, says, “Fox News Channel clearly understands that Beck’s increasingly erratic behavior is a liability to their ratings and their bottom line, and we are glad to see them take this action.” Beck is expected to continue his daily AM radio show and to engage in other media activities in the future. New Republic reporter James Downie observes, “In recent months, it seems, Beck’s theories became so outlandish that even conservatives—both viewers and media personalities—were having a hard time stomaching them.” Downie notes that as Beck’s show continued, Beck became caught in what he calls a “vicious circle,” having to “top himself” from week to week with ever more intricate and outlandish conspiracy theories, and more extremist rhetoric. [Associated Press, 4/6/2011; Christian Science Monitor, 4/6/2011; New York Magazine, 5/22/2011] In his own explanation for his departure, Beck compares himself to Revolutionary War hero Paul Revere, saying: “When I took this job I didn’t take it because it was going to be a career for me. Paul Revere did not get up on the horse and say, ‘I’m going to do this for the rest of my life.’ He didn’t do it. He got off the horse at some point and fought in the Revolution and then he went back to silversmithing.” [New York Daily News, 4/7/2011]

Entity Tags: Gabriel Sherman, Fox News, Bill O’Reilly, Barack Obama, Sean Hannity, Roger Ailes, Laura Ingraham, David Brock, Paul Revere, James Downie, John Gibson, Glenn Beck, James Rucker

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

Fox News chief Roger Ailes acknowledges that Fox News has undergone what he calls a “course correction” over the last year, dialing back some of the most inflammatory and partisan rhetoric that is its brand. The release of talk show host Glenn Beck (see March 28 - April 6, 2011) is one of the actions Ailes has taken to “moderate” Fox News’s stance, as is the lower profile given former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as a prominent Fox personality—once aggressively promoted by the network as the savior of the Republican Party, Palin is much less visible on the network now. Fox executives admit that after Barack Obama’s election in 2008 (see January 2009), “the entire network took a hard right turn (see February 2, 2009, February 9-10, 2009, February 10, 2009, February 20, 2009, March 16-17, 2009, March 17, 2009, March 17-24, 2009, March 18, 2009, March 23-24, 2009, March 24, 2009, March 24, 2009, March 31, 2009, April 1, 2009, April 1, 2009, April 1-2, 2009, April 3, 2009, April 3-7, 2009, April 6, 2009, April 6-13, 2009, April 6-7, 2009, April 13-15, 2009, April 15, 2009, April 16, 2009, April 22, 2009, April 23, 2009, April 28, 2009, April 29, 2009, May 5-6, 2009, May 6, 2009, May 8-15, 2009, May 13-14, 2009, May 26, 2009, May 27, 2009, June 2, 2009, July 8, 2009, July 23, 2009, July 27, 2009, July 28, 2009, July 28-29, 2009, July 30, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 3, 2009, August 7, 2009, August 8, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 10, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 11, 2009, August 14, 2009, August 28, 2009, September 1, 2009, September 12, 2009, September 18, 2009, September 29, 2009, October 11, 2009, October 16, 2009, November 3, 2009, November 5-8, 2009, November 18-19, 2009, November 24, 2009, January 27, 2010, May 20-22, 2010, June 11, 2010, June 24, 2010 and After, July 2, 2010, July 24, 2010, September 1, 2010, September 4, 2010, September 4, 2010, September 15-16, 2010, September 18, 2010, September 18, 2010, September 27, 2010, September 28, 2010, September 29, 2010, September 29, 2010, September 30, 2010, October 1, 2010, October 3, 2010, October 26, 2010, November 9-11, 2010 and After, and November 9-11, 2010 and After)… but, as the tea party’s popularity fades (see August 25, 2011), is edging back toward the mainstream” (see November 16, 2010, November 17-18, 2010, February 23, 2011, February 28, 2011, March 19-24, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 23, 2011, March 24, 2011, March 27-28, 2011, March 30, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 26, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 27, 2011, April 28, 2011, May 22, 2011, May 23-24, 2011, June 10, 2011, July 13-14, 2011, January 14, 2012, January 17-18, 2012, February 11-16, 2012, and February 12-13, 2012). Ailes has ordered the opinion show hosts such as Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly to tone down the rhetoric, in part in response to the shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) and the resultant debate about the aggressive, violent rhetoric being promulgated on the right (see March 24, 2010). Moreover, as media pundit Howard Kurtz writes, “[i]t was, in his view, a chance to boost profits by grabbing a more moderate audience.” Ailes’s contract is up in 2013, and some expect the 71-year-old media magnate not to renew his contract thereafter. Ailes continues to insist that his news network is the only “fair and balanced” (see 1995) news outlet on television, with the other broadcast and cable news providers being relentlessly liberal in their presentations, but on the other hand implicitly admits that he routinely pushes right-wing memes and talking points on his network. Today, for example, he is touting Fox News’s new “Regulation Nation” series, pushing the idea that government regulations have a stranglehold on American business. “[N]o other network will cover that subject,” he says. “I think regulations are totally out of control.” Government bureaucrats hire Ph.D.s to “sit in the basement and draw up regulations to try to ruin your life,” he says. Under Ailes’s direction, Fox News will feature stories on “over-regulation” in many of its straight-news and opinion shows. Some non-Fox News conservative pundits, such as radio host Rush Limbaugh, wonder if Ailes hasn’t given up on his commitment to conservative principles in return for ratings, saying, “Fox wants these people [Republican primary candidates] to tear each other up, ‘cause they want approval from the mainstream media.” Kurtz says that Ailes has turned the Republican primary into his own “reality show” for ratings and profits, essentially agreeing with Limbaugh. Overall, others are registering that Ailes is attempting to dial back the hyperpartisan posturing, even former Obama administration aide Anita Dunn, who says, “You have the sense that they’re trying to at least appear less of the hyperpartisan political network they had been.” [Newsweek, 9/25/2011]

Entity Tags: Gabrielle Giffords, Anita Dunn, Barack Obama, Fox News, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Howard Kurtz, Sarah Palin

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda

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