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Context of 'Late December 2001: US Decides to Accept Iran’s Help against Al-Qaeda but Offer Nothing in Return'

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Some attendees of the Camp David meeting on September 15, 2001. From left to right: I. Lewis Libby, John Ashcroft, Dick Cheney, George Bush, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz.Some attendees of the Camp David meeting on September 15, 2001. From left to right: I. Lewis Libby, John Ashcroft, Dick Cheney, George Bush, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz. [Source: PBS]President Bush meets with his advisers at Camp David for a day of intensive discussions about how to respond to the 9/11 attacks. CIA Director George Tenet has arrived there “with a briefcase stuffed with top-secret documents and plans, in many respects the culmination of more than four years of work on bin Laden, the al-Qaeda network and worldwide terrorism.” With him is his deputy, John McLaughlin, and counterterrorism chief Cofer Black. Also in the conference room with them, among others, are Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell. For his 30-minute presentation, Tenet gives out a briefing packet titled “Going to War.” His presentation covers several key components for the fight against terrorism:
bullet Tenet advocates substantially stepping up “direct support of the Northern Alliance,” the main Afghan opposition group, as part of a strategy to create “a northern front, closing the safe haven” of Afghanistan. His idea is that “Afghan opposition forces, aided by the United States, would move first against the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, try to break the Taliban’s grip on that city and open up the border with Uzbekistan. From there the campaign could move to other cities in the north.” Tenet also explains that the CIA had begun working with a number of tribal leaders in the south of Afghanistan the previous year, and these could be enticed to joint a US-led campaign.
bullet The plan includes “a full-scale covert attack on the financial underpinnings of the terrorist network, including clandestine computer surveillance and electronic eavesdropping to locate the assets of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”
bullet The CIA and FBI would work together to track down bin Laden supporters in the US.
bullet A key proposal is a recommendation that the president give the CIA “exceptional authorities” to destroy al-Qaeda. Tenet wants a broad intelligence order allowing the agency to conduct covert operations without requiring formal approval for each specific operation, thus authorizing it to operate without restraint. Tenet and his senior deputies would be permitted to approve “snatch” operations abroad. Journalist Bob Woodward calls this “truly exceptional power.”
bullet Tenet has with him a draft of a presidential intelligence order—a “finding”—that would give the CIA power “to use the full range of covert instruments, including deadly force.”
bullet Another proposal is that, with additional hundreds of millions of dollars for new covert action, the CIA could “buy” intelligence services of key Arab nations including Egypt, Jordan, and Algeria. These could act as surrogates for the US. As Bob Woodward points out, this “would put the United States in league with questionable intelligence services, some of them with dreadful human rights records. Some had reputations for ruthlessness and using torture to obtain confessions.”
bullet Tenet calls for the initiation of intelligence contact with certain rogue states, such as Libya and Syria, so as to obtain helpful information about the terrorists. (Subsequently, by early 2002, Syria will have emerged as one of the CIA’s most effective allies in the fight against al-Qaeda (see Early 2002-January 2003).)
bullet He has with him a top-secret document called the “Worldwide Attack Matrix.” This details covert operations in 80 countries that he is recommending or are already underway. “Actions ranged from routine propaganda to lethal covert action in preparation for military attacks.” As Woodward describes, this proposal represents “a striking departure for US policy. It would give the CIA the broadest and most lethal authority in its history.”
The president reportedly is much pleased with Tenet’s proposals, “virtually shouting ‘Great job!’” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 74-78; Washington Post, 1/31/2002; Kessler, 2003, pp. 234] He will grant all Tenet’s requests by the following Monday (see September 17, 2001). Tenet had presented a cruder version of the CIA plan at the White House two days earlier (see September 13, 2001).

Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Northern Alliance, Osama bin Laden, John E. McLaughlin, George J. Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, Colin Powell, Cofer Black, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

In late November 2001, State Department officials write a paper suggesting that the US has an opportunity to work with Iran to fight al-Qaeda. The CIA seconds the idea, and is willing to exchange information and coordinate border sweeps with Iran. However, neoconservatives led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argue that the US cannot engage with Iran and other officially declared state sponsors of terrorism. In late December 2001, at a meeting of deputy cabinet officials, it is decided that the US will accept tactical information about terrorists from countries on the state sponsors list but offer nothing in return. This policy is called the “Hadley Rules” after Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who chairs the meeting. One month later, President Bush publicly lists Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil,” greatly reducing Iran’s cooperation regarding al-Qaeda. [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] However, the policy appears to be largely focused on Iran, as the US continues working with countries on the state sponsors list like Sudan and Syria against al-Qaeda (see June 13, 2002 and Early 2002-January 2003).

Entity Tags: Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Stephen J. Hadley, US Department of State, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: US confrontation with Iran, Complete 911 Timeline

By early 2002, Syria emerges as one of the CIA’s most effective intelligence sources on al-Qaeda. Syria is one of seven countries on a State Department list of sponsors of terrorism. It has been on that list since 1979, mostly because of its support for Hezbollah combating Israel. But Syria is also an opponent of the Muslim Brotherhood, and al-Qaeda has many connections to the Muslim Brotherhood, especially its Syrian branch. According to journalist Seymour Hersh in New Yorker magazine, “The Syrians had compiled hundreds of files on al-Qaeda, including dossiers on the men who participated—and others who wanted to participate—in the September 11th attacks. Syria also penetrated al-Qaeda cells throughout the Middle East and in Arab exile communities throughout Europe.” It appears Syrian intelligence may even have penetrated the Hamburg cell tied to the 9/11 plot, as hijacker Mohamed Atta and other cell members, such as Mohammed Haydar Zammar, occasionally worked at a German firm called Tatex Trading, which was infiltrated by Syrian intelligence (see September 10, 2002-June 2003). For a time, the Syrians give much of what they know to the CIA and FBI. A former State Department official says, “Up through January of 2003, the cooperation was top-notch. Then we were going to do Iraq, and some people in the [Bush] administration got heavy-handed. They wanted Syria to get involved in operational stuff having nothing to do with al-Qaeda and everything to do with Iraq. It was something Washington wanted from the Syrians, and they didn’t want to do it.” Hersh reports, “The collapse of the liaison relationship has left many CIA operatives especially frustrated. ‘The guys are unbelievably pissed that we’re blowing this away,’ a former high-level intelligence official told me. ‘There was a great channel… The Syrians were a lot more willing to help us, but they’—[Defense Secretary] Rumsfeld and his colleagues—“want to go in [Syria after the Iraq war].’” [New Yorker, 7/18/2003]

Entity Tags: Hezbollah, Al-Qaeda, Muslim Brotherhood, Central Intelligence Agency, Syria, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sudan arrests an unnamed al-Qaeda leader who has confessed to firing a missile at a US plane taking off from Prince Sultan Air Base, Saudi Arabia, in May 2002. Saudi Arabia had failed to arrest him. This is just the latest in a series of events where “some countries long deemed key US allies—such as Saudi Arabia—are considered less than helpful in the war against terror, while other states remaining on the US State Department’s blacklist of terrorist sponsors, such as Syria and Sudan, are apparently proving more cooperative than their pariah status would suggest.” The US hasn’t been given access to al-Qaeda members arrested by Saudi Arabia, and “concerns over the Saudi authorities’ ‘unhelpful’ stance are increasing.” [Jane's Intelligence Review, 7/5/2002]

Entity Tags: United States, Al-Qaeda, Saudi Arabia

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Hamburg al-Qaeda cell member Mohammed Haydar Zammar is being held in a prison in Syria, Time magazine reports. According to an unnamed US intelligence source, Zammar is providing useful information about al-Qaeda while being tortured and interrogated by Syrian intelligence. “He’s like Abu Zubaida,” the source says. “He’s kind of cooperating. Or he’s cooperating without realizing that he’s doing it.” Time reports that US officials say “no Americans are in the room with the Syrians who interrogate Zammar. US officials in Damascus submit written questions to the Syrians, who relay Zammar’s answers back. State Department officials like the arrangement because it insulates the US government from any torture the Syrians may be applying to Zammar. And some State Department officials suspect that Zammar is being tortured.” German officials are angry at the arrangement, because they say they are not getting any of the new intelligence from Zammar. They also complain that they didn’t even know until recently that the US had arranged for Zammar to be renditioned from Morocco to Syria in late 2001 (see December 2001). [Time, 7/1/2002] German officials will make a secret agreement with the Syrian government that gives them access to Zammar in late 2002. But Germans will only be able to meet with him one time (see November 20-22, 2002). US cooperation with Syria on counterterrorism will collapse in early 2003, so presumably US intelligence loses access to reports on Zammar’s interrogations at that time (see Early 2002-January 2003).

Entity Tags: US intelligence, Syria, Mohammed Haydar Zammar

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

Tatex logo.
Tatex logo. [Source: Tatex]On September 10, 2002, German police raid the Tatex Trading company, a small textile business located just outside of Hamburg. According to Newsweek, German authorities has been “keeping a close watch on the company… for years.” Germans begin preparing a case against the company and the US prepares to freeze the company’s assets. But by June 2003, the investigation is closed and no action is taken by the US or Germany. Newsweek will claim that “Some US and German officials suggest that both countries decided not to proceed with legal action against Tatex to avoid antagonizing the government of Syria.” [Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 9/7/2003; Newsweek, 1/18/2004] The New Yorker will claim “Tatex was infiltrated by Syrian intelligence in the eighties; one of its shareholders was Mohammed Majed Said, who ran the Syrian intelligence directorate from 1987 to 1994.” [New Yorker, 7/18/2003] Some believe the Syrians infiltrated the company to spy on extremist Syrian exiles in Hamburg, while others believe Syrians were using the company as a front to illegally acquire high-tech equipment from the West. It is claimed that the investigation into Tatex is dropped because Syria has been cooperative with Germany and the US in other areas. [Newsweek, 1/18/2004] Abdul-Matin Tatari, the Syrian in charge of Tatex, admits that his company had employed Mohammed Haydar Zammar and Mamoun Darkazanli, both of whom have been tied to the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. Further, the Chicago Tribune claims, “Investigators also say Mohamed Atta himself worked for a time at Tatex, something Tatari vehemently denies. But Tatari admits that one of his sons signed Atta’s petition to establish an Islamic ‘study group’ at Hamburg’s Technical University that served as a rendezvous for the hijackers and their supporters.” Tatari’s son took trips with Mounir El Motassadeq, who also has been tied to the Hamburg cell. Tatari, Zammar, Darkazanli, and Atta all are believed to be members of the Syrian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, a secret society banned in Egypt. [Chicago Tribune, 11/1/2002]

Entity Tags: Tatex Trading company, Mohammed Majed Said, Mounir El Motassadeq, Mamoun Darkazanli, Germany, Abdul-Matin Tatari, Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Haydar Zammar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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