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Context of 'Late 1998-Early 2002: US Intelligence Maps Al-Qaeda Network Using Phone Records; Many Attacks Thwarted'

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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

Mohamed al-Owhali.Mohamed al-Owhali. [Source: CNN]Before and after the August 7, 1998 attack on the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), a bomber involved in that attack named Mohamed al-Owhali makes a series of calls to al-Qaeda associate Ahmed al-Hada, who runs an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen. Al-Owhali briefly stayed at the hub about three months before the bombings and made some calls from there. He then traveled to other locations, including Pakistan, and flew to Kenya on August 2. Beginning August 4, he makes a series of calls to al-Hada at the Yemen hub. The details of these calls have not been revealed, but they continue until about two hours before the embassy bombings take place. Al-Owhali is supposed to be martyred in the attack, but he runs away at the last minute and survives. Beginning on August 8, he repeatedly calls al-Hada, asking for help getting out of Kenya. He eventually receives $1,000 from him. Al-Hada is actually about to fly to Kenya to help al-Owhali get out when al-Owhali is arrested on August 12. Al-Hada also receives three calls from bin Laden’s satellite phone, which is being monitored by the NSA (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Following a raid by London police, the FBI allegedly trace a fax claiming responsibility for the attack through Baku, Azerbaijan, to bin Laden’s satellite phone, which leads them to the communications hub in Sana’a (however, it is likely that the NSA at least is already monitoring the hub phone number). Phone records for the hub direct them to al-Owhali in Nairobi. Al-Owhali has already been arrested based on a tip-off and, after the FBI interrogators realize he is lying to them, he confesses to calling the number. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001; United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 23, 3/27/2001; Observer, 8/5/2001] The translator during al-Owhali’s interviews is Mike Feghali, who will later be accused of serious improprieties after 9/11 by whistleblower Sibel Edmonds (see July-August 2001). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/9/1998, pp. 1 pdf file] Author Lawrence Wright will say, “This Yemeni telephone number would prove to be one of the most important pieces of information the FBI would ever discover, allowing investigators to map the links of the al-Qaeda network all across the globe.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 275-8] The NSA may well already have been aware of the number since bin Laden’s monitored phone called it many times, but the US intelligence community now begins a joint effort to exploit it (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). Other apparently inaccurate stories about how al-Owhali was captured have been reported in the press. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 48]

Entity Tags: Mohamed al-Owhali, Mike Feghali, Ahmed al-Hada, National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Samir al-Hada, who helped run an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen.Samir al-Hada, who helped run an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen. [Source: CNN]Yemeni al-Qaeda operative Samir al-Hada is questioned over the embassy bombings in East Africa. A communications hub run by him and his father, Ahmed al-Hada, facilitated the attacks (see Late August 1998) and will also apparently facilitate the attack on the USS Cole and 9/11 (see Before October 12, 2000 and Early 2000-Summer 2001). Details of the questioning, such as the agency that performs it and what results are passed to US intelligence, are not known, but the communications hub the al-Hada family runs will subsequently be monitored and US intelligence will derive much useful information from it (see Late 1998-Early 2002) [New York Daily News, 2/14/2002] Samir al-Hada will die in an explosion in February 2002 (see February 13, 2002).

Entity Tags: Samir al-Hada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After the East African embassy bombings, al-Qaeda leader Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri calls a number in Yemen to discuss attacking a US warship. Al-Nashiri will go on to have a prominent role in the attacks against the USS The Sullivans (see January 3, 2000) and USS Cole (see October 12, 2000) in Yemen. US authorities learn of this call no later than December 2000, although it is not clear how they do so. [CNN, 12/20/2000] The number called by al-Nashiri is not disclosed by the media, but some of al-Nashiri’s associates lived at an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, which began to be monitored by US authorities around this time (see Late 1998-Early 2002 and January 5-8, 2000).

Entity Tags: Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Al-Qaeda’s communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen.Al-Qaeda’s communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen. [Source: PBS NOVA]The investigation of the East Africa embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) led to the discovery of the phone number of an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see August 4-25, 1998). The hub is run by an al-Qaeda veteran named Ahmed al-Hada, who is helped by his son Samir and is related to many other al-Qaeda operatives in Yemen and elsewhere. He is also the father in law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, whose wife, Hoda al-Hada, lives at the hub with their children. [Newsweek, 6/2/2002; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002; MSNBC, 7/21/2004; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 277, 309, 343, 378] Several of Ahmed al-Hada’s relatives die fighting for al-Qaeda before 9/11, a fact known to US intelligence. [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Guardian, 2/15/2006] The NSA may already be aware of the phone number, as they have been intercepting Osama bin Laden’s communications for some time (see November 1996-Late August 1998) and, according to Newsweek, “some” of bin Laden’s 221 calls to Yemen are to this phone number. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002; Media Channel, 9/5/2006] The US intelligence community now begins a joint effort to monitor the number. The NSA and CIA jointly plant bugs inside the house, tap the phones, and monitor visitors with spy satellites. [Mirror, 6/9/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] US intelligence also learns that the communications hub is an al-Qaeda “logistics center,” used by agents around the world to communicate with each other and plan attacks. [Newsweek, 6/2/2002] The joint effort enables the FBI to map al-Qaeda’s global organization (see Late 1998-Early 2002) and at least three of the hijackers use the number, enabling the NSA to intercept their communications and find out about an important al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia (see December 29, 1999 and January 5-8, 2000 and Early 2000-Summer 2001). It appears al-Qaeda continues to use this phone line until Samir al-Hada dies resisting arrest in early 2002 (see February 13, 2002).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Samir al-Hada, Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, Hoda al-Hada, Ahmed al-Hada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI asks the NSA to pass on all calls between an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen and the US. The hub, which is run by an operative named Ahmed al-Hada and was involved in the attacks on US embassies in East Africa (see Late August 1998), is a key al-Qaeda logistics center and intelligence gleaned from listening in on calls to and from it will help prevent some attacks (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). Dan Coleman, one of the FBI agents who places the request, will say, “anyone who called the Yemen number is white-hot, a top suspect.” However, the NSA will not inform the FBI of all calls between the hub and the US. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 94] In particular, two 9/11 hijackers will call the hub while they are in the US (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). However, the information will be withheld from the FBI and various explanations will be offered for this failure (see (Spring 2000), Summer 2002-Summer 2004, and March 15, 2004 and After).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, Dan Coleman

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, I-49, National Security Agency, Samir al-Hada, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, Dan Coleman, Ahmed al-Hada, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A large group of Islamic Jihad operatives are sentenced in Cairo in what becomes known as the “Trial of the Albanian Returnees.” Various disclosures are made at the trial about the way Islamic Jihad operated and how it provided support to al-Qaeda by forging travel documents, transferring money, and arranging communications. One of the revelations is that al-Qaeda has a key communication hub in Yemen. Despite this revelation (see Late 1998-Early 2002), al-Qaeda will continue to use it through 2001 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). The defendants were arrested not only in Egypt, but also in Albania, Bulgaria, Azerbaijan, and the United Arab Emirates. In 1995, the CIA arranged a deal with Egypt to capture Islamic Jihad operatives around the world and send them to Egypt to be tortured and prosecuted (see Summer 1995). Eighty-seven of the defendants are convicted and ten are sentenced to death, including al-Zawahiri, who is tried in absentia. [New York Times, 11/21/2001] One of the convicted is Khaled Abu el-Dahab, who was operating a sleeper cell in California with double agent Ali Mohamed throughout the 1990’s (see 1987-1998). El-Dahab is sentenced to fifteen years in prison (see September 10, 1998). There are credible reports that many of the defendants confessed after being tortured in Egypt and Albania. [New York Times, 11/21/2001; Wright, 2006, pp. 269] The trial nearly eradicates the remnants of Islamic Jihad in Egypt and, according to some of the defendants, leaves only about forty members outside of Egypt. Al-Zawahiri and the other remaining members end up allying even closer to al-Qaeda. The two organizations will formally merge in early 2001 (see June 2001). [Wright, 2006, pp. 336]

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Khaled Abu el-Dahab, Islamic Jihad, Egypt, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The NSA intercepts more calls involving an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Early 1999 and Summer 1999). The names of Khaled, who turns out to be 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, and others are mentioned in the calls. However, the NSA reportedly does not think the intelligence gleaned from the calls is important and does not disseminate it. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 156 pdf file] However, the FBI regarded the hub as a key element in al-Qaeda’s communications network and after 9/11 a senior US counterterrorism official will say, “The NSA was well aware of how hot the number was… and how it was a logistical hub for al-Qaeda.” Several plots are stopped based on information obtained from listening to calls to and from the hub (see Late 1998-Early 2002). [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar returns from Afghanistan to Yemen, where he and his family live at an al-Qaeda communications hub that is being monitored by the US (see Late 1998-Early 2002). The NSA listens in on calls to his number and finds that he and several al-Qaeda leaders are to meet in Malaysia for a terrorism summit (see December 29, 1999). The reason for his departure to Yemen is unclear, as he has already been selected for the 9/11 operation and his fellow operatives are undergoing training in Afghanistan at this point (see Late 1999 and Early December 1999). Detainees give varying accounts of the reasons for his departure, as well as the exact timing. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 157, 493] According to author James Bamford, Almihdhar returns to Yemen to be with his wife when he learns she is pregnant with their first child. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 11] Whatever the reason for Almihdhar’s travel to Yemen, while he is there al-Qaeda mounts an abortive attack against the USS The Sullivans (see January 3, 2000).

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

Entity Tags: Salem Alhazmi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI New York Field Office, Khalid Almihdhar, FBI Headquarters, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed al-Hada, National Security Agency, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

Entity Tags: United Arab Emirates, Nawaf Alhazmi, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

While the 9/11 hijackers are in the US, the NSA intercepts several calls between them and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by Ahmed al-Hada, who is hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father-in-law (see August 4-25, 1998).
Summary of Calls -
bullet The first calls are made by Almihdhar and are intercepted during the spring and summer of 2000 (see Spring-Summer 2000).
bullet More calls are made by hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi after the bombing of the USS Cole in October 2000 (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001).
bullet The final call from the US is intercepted just a few weeks before 9/11 (see (August 2001)).
The NSA intercepted the hijackers’ calls outside the US before this (see Early 1999 and December 29, 1999) and continues to do so in 2000 (see Summer 2000) after Almihdhar returns to Yemen (see June 10, 2000 and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)).
Calls' Content - Some of the calls may only contain non-operational information, as they are reportedly between Almihdhar and his wife. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 343] However, the calls are also used to relay messages to the 9/11 hijackers. [Embassy of Yemen (Washington), 2/13/2002; MSNBC, 2/14/2002; MSNBC, 5/2005]
Agencies' Roles - The CIA is the lead agency monitoring the communications hub. It has planted bugs inside it and is wiretapping all calls (see Late August 1998). Intercepts of calls to and from the hub are a major plank of the US intelligence community’s effort to fight al-Qaeda. Also involved is the FBI, which is using phone records to plot these calls on a map (see Late 1998-Early 2002). Some of the calls intercepted by US intelligence come from Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone in Afghanistan (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late August 1998). After 9/11, counterterrorism officials will say that the number was one of the hottest targets being monitored by the NSA and was an “intelligence bonanza.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Wright, 2006, pp. 343]
Importance of Failure - Also after 9/11, counterterrorism officials will agree that the failure to follow leads to the US from this number was a huge missed opportunity to stop the 9/11 plot. For instance, FBI agent Kenneth Maxwell will say: “Two al-Qaeda guys living in California—are you kidding me? We would have been on them like white on snow: physical surveillance, electronic surveillance, a special unit devoted entirely to them.” [MSNBC, 7/21/2004; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file]
Discussed after 9/11 - The failure to roll up the plot based on these communications intercepts will be discussed following 9/11 (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004 and March 15, 2004 and After).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, National Security Agency, Hoda al-Hada, Ahmed al-Hada, Kenneth Maxwell

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Around eight calls made by hijacker Khalid Almihdhar from San Diego to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by his father-in-law Ahmed al-Hada are intercepted by the NSA. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 16-17, 157 pdf file; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] At least one of the calls is made from a phone registered to hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi in their San Diego apartment. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 251 pdf file] Other calls are made from a mobile phone registered to Alhazmi. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 296] Calls may also be made from the communications hub to the US. [MSNBC, 7/21/2004]
Dates of Calls - One of the calls takes place days after they move into their San Diego apartment in February (see January 15-February 2000). [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] Another is on March 20, 2000 and lasts 16 minutes. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 57 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 251 pdf file]
Intercepted by NSA - Although NSA analysts pick up Almihdhar’s first name, “Khalid,” they do not connect it to his second name, even though the NSA has been intercepting communications to and from the hub involving him throughout 1999 (see Early 1999 and December 29, 1999) and he is on the NSA watch list at this point (see Mid-January 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 16, 157 pdf file; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] Some, or perhaps all, of these calls are between Almihdhar and his wife, who lives at the communications hub and reportedly gives birth to a daughter in early 2000 while Almihdhar is in the US. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file] However, the NSA analysts suspect that Khalid is part of an “operational cadre.” [US News and World Report, 3/15/2004]
Dissemination and Content - According to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, the NSA disseminates some of this information to the FBI, CIA, and other agencies, but not all of it, as it apparently does not meet reporting thresholds. It is unclear why it does not meet such thresholds, although some sources will suggest Almihdhar was just talking to his wife. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94] Another source suggests operational information was passed on during the calls (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). However, two FBI agents who worked on al-Qaeda cases relating to Yemen, Dan Coleman and Ali Soufan, will later claim that they and other senior counterterrorism officials only learn about these calls after 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 pdf file]
Significance - Author Lawrence Wright will comment: “You know, this is the key. The NSA is all over this phone. And everybody, you know, that has any connection with it is drawing links from that phone. Now imagine eight lines from Yemen to San Diego. How obvious would it be that al-Qaeda is in America[?]” [Federal News Service, 10/5/2006]
Other Calls - The NSA also intercepts various other communications between the hijackers and the communications hub (see Early 2000-Summer 2001).

Entity Tags: Ahmed al-Hada, Al-Qaeda, Salem Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, National Security Agency, Osama bin Laden, Lawrence Wright, 9/11 Congressional Inquiry

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

When 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar leaves the US in June (see June 10, 2000), he flies to Frankfurt, Germany, and then to Oman in the Middle East. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file] From there he returns to his family’s home in Sana’a, Yemen. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237] His wife and children live at an al-Qaeda communications hub that is run by his father in law, Ahmed al-Hada. The hub is being monitored by the NSA and CIA. Phone calls to and from the hub, including ones made by Almihdhar and other hijackers, are intercepted, rooms in the building are bugged, and spy satellites record visitors (see Late August 1998, Late 1998-Early 2002, and Early 2000-Summer 2001). Based on information gained from monitoring this house, the CIA and local intelligence services mounted a major operation against Almihdhar, other hijackers, and several more al-Qaeda operatives in December 1999 and January 2000, when they were followed around the Middle East and South Asia and monitored during an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see December 29, 1999, January 2-5, 2000, and January 5-8, 2000). So presumably US intelligence should have been aware of this visit to the hub and who Almihdhar was, but what exactly was known and who may have known it has not been made public. He will return to the hub in February 2001 and stay an unknown length of time (see February 2001).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed al-Hada, National Security Agency, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

After 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar returns to the Middle East (see June 10, 2000 and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)), the NSA continues to intercept his telephone calls to and from an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, where his wife and children live. US intelligence understands that this is one of the most important al-Qaeda hot spots, and has been closely monitoring it since at least late 1998 (see August 4-25, 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). It also intercepts calls between hijacker Salem Alhazmi and the hub, as well as conversations between his brother, hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, in the US and the hub (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Wright, 2006, pp. 343] The NSA had previously intercepted calls made by the hijackers to and from the communications hub, both when they were in the US and outside it (see Early 2000-Summer 2001).

Entity Tags: Salem Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI and other US intelligence agencies have been monitoring an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, since the attacks on US embassies in East Africa, and have used it to map al-Qaeda’s global network (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002). In the run-up to the bombing of the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, the FBI notices that there is increased telephone activity to and from the Sana’a hub. One of the messages says that bin Laden is planning a “Hiroshima-type event” (see (August 2000)). [PBS, 10/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

October 12, 2000: USS Cole Bombed by Al-Qaeda

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

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Khallad bin Attash, Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Islamic Army of Aden, USS Cole, Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim al-Thawar, Khalid Almihdhar, Fahad al-Quso, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, Hassan al-Khamri, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In the months after the USS Cole is bombed in autumn 2000 (see October 12, 2000), the NSA intercepts about half a dozen communications between hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father in law, Ahmed al-Hada. [MSNBC, 7/21/2004; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; US President, 12/26/2005 pdf file] The hub and people associated with it are thought to have played a support role in the Cole bombing (see also October 14-Late November, 2000 and October 4, 2001). [CNN, 2/14/2002; MSNBC, 7/21/2004] It was also involved in the bombing of US embassies in Tanzania and Kenya (see August 4-25, 1998). The NSA has been monitoring the number for at least two years (see Late August 1998) and the FBI has used it to map al-Qaeda’s global organisation (see Late 1998-Early 2002). The NSA had previously intercepted calls between hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in the US and the hub (see Spring-Summer 2000 and Early 2000-Summer 2001) and also intercepts a call between Alhazmi and the hub a few weeks before 9/11 (see (August 2001)).

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, National Security Agency, Ahmed al-Hada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI’s investigation of the USS Cole bombing in Aden, Yemen, connects the bombers to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, the country’s capital, which has been monitored by the US for at least two years (see Late August 1998 and Mid-August 1998-October 2000). It was also used in the East African embassy bombings (see August 4-25, 1998) and will be used by the 9/11 hijackers (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). It is not known when this connection is made. No apparent action is taken against Ahmed al-Hada, the operative who runs the communications hub, before 9/11. However, this may be due to the importance of intelligence generated from his phone (see Late 1998-Early 2002). In early 2001, al-Hada will be publicly identified as an al-Qaeda operative at the embassy bombings trial, when his phone number is disclosed openly in court and reported in the media (see February 2001 and After). Yet he still is not publicly indicted for either the embassy bombings or the Cole bombing, even though a number of other fugitives are publicly indicted. In 2002, US officials will describe al-Hada as a “prominent al-Qaeda member who is believed to have been involved in the Cole bombing,” and say his phone was used by the bombers to relay messages and “put everything together” before the attack. [MSNBC, 2/14/2002; MSNBC, 5/2005]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ahmed al-Hada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Nawaf Alhazmi, Susan Trento, Khalid Almihdhar, Alec Station, National Security Agency, Joseph Trento

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar probably visits the closely monitored al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen again. While it will not be reported that he is at the hub at this time, it is known that he flies from Sana’a, Yemen, to Saudi Arabia on May 26, 2001 (see May 26, 2001), and the Yemen hub is in Sana’a. [Bamford, 2008, pp. 64] Furthermore, Almihdhar’s wife, his recently born baby, and other family members live in the hub (which is run by his father-in-law Ahmed al-Hada). It would seem highly likely he would not pass through Sana’a without visiting his family. Almihdhar stayed at the hub for around a month in June 2000 (see (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000)) and then visited it again in February 2001 (see February 2001). Details of Almihdhar’s travels are unclear, but he may have traveled to Afghanistan via Iran later in February (see February 2001). He is in the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia in June 2001. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237] Each time Almihdhar visits the hub presents a great opportunity for the CIA and NSA, because they have been closely monitoring the hub for years. Phone calls to and from the hub, including ones made by Almihdhar and other 9/11 hijackers, are intercepted, rooms in the building are bugged, and spy satellites record visitors (see Late August 1998, Late 1998-Early 2002, and Early 2000-Summer 2001). Based on information gained from monitoring this house, the CIA and local intelligence services mounted a major operation against Almihdhar, other 9/11 hijackers, and several more al-Qaeda operatives in December 1999 and January 2000, when they were followed around the Middle East and South Asia and monitored during an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see December 29, 1999, January 2-5, 2000, and January 5-8, 2000). So presumably US intelligence should be aware of this visit to the hub and who Almihdhar is, but what exactly is known and who may know it will not be made public.

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Ahmed al-Hada, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A safe house in Sana’a, Yemen, where Samir al-Hada was hiding.A safe house in Sana’a, Yemen, where Samir al-Hada was hiding. [Source: CNN]Samir al-Hada, an al-Qaeda operative who helped run a vital al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Late 1998-Early 2002), dies while being pursued by Yemeni police. The Yemeni police were tipped off by Samir’s landlord that he was planning to flee the country when he failed to produce identity documents to renew his lease. The police stake out his hideout for a week but he escapes and, during the chase, a grenade explodes in his hand and kills him. He was the brother-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. [BBC, 2/13/2002; Guardian, 2/14/2002; CNN, 2/14/2002; Al Ahram, 2/21/2002] After the attack, the police search the house where al-Hada had been staying and seize weapons, documents, books, a mobile phone, and a piece of paper containing phone numbers. [CBS News, 2/13/2002; BBC, 2/15/2002] The al-Hada hub was used in planning the embassy bombings in 1998 (see August 4-25, 1998 and October 4, 2001), the attack on the USS Cole in 2000 (see October 14-Late November, 2000), and 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). It had been monitored by the NSA since the late 1990s (see Late August 1998 and Early 1999). Ahmed al-Hada is in Yemeni custody by 2006; it has not been stated when or how he was captured. [Wright, 2006, pp. 378] It appears that the communications hub is no longer functional after al-Hada’s death, as there are no more references to it operating, several of the al-Hada clan are rounded up, the hub is again discussed by the media (see February 2001 and After), and the clan’s patriarch, Ahmed al-Hada, is again named in the media. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2/14/2002; CNN, 2/14/2002; Al Ahram, 2/21/2002]

Entity Tags: Ahmed al-Hada, National Security Agency, Yemen, Al-Qaeda, Samir al-Hada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

It was disclosed in 2003 that the NSA had intercepted several calls between hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001 and Summer 2002-Summer 2004). But in 2004, after revelations that the NSA has been wiretapping inside the US, some media begin to re-examine the circumstances of the hijackers’ calls from the US, as the Bush administration uses the example of these calls as a justification for the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program. [New York Times, 12/16/2005; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; US President, 12/26/2005 pdf file] The calls are thought to be a key aspect of the alleged intelligence failures before 9/11. In late 1998, the FBI had started plotting intercepts of al-Qaeda calls to and from the communications hub on a map (see Late 1998-Early 2002). According to author Lawrence Wright, “[h]ad a line been drawn from the [communications hub] in Yemen to Alhazmi and Almihdhar’s San Diego apartment, al-Qaeda’s presence in America would have been glaringly obvious.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 343-344] In 2006, former NSA Director Michael Hayden will tell the Senate that if the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program had been active before 9/11, the NSA would have raised the alarm over the presence of hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in San Diego. [CNN, 5/19/2006] However, reports in the press suggest otherwise. For example, in one newspaper a senior intelligence official will say that it was not technically possible for the NSA, which had a budget of around $3.6 billion in 2000, to trace the calls. “Neither the contents of the calls nor the physics of the intercepts allowed us to determine that one end of the calls was in the United States,” says the official. [Bamford, 2002, pp. 482; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] But another report flatly contradicts this. “NSA had the technical ability to pick up the actual phone number in the US that the switchboard was calling but didn’t deploy that equipment, fearing they would be accused of domestic spying.” [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] It is unclear why concerns about domestic spying allegations would prevent the NSA from passing the information on to the FBI. Almihdhar and Alhazmi were not US citizens, but foreign nationals who had entered the US illegally claiming to be tourists. In addition, there was a wealth of evidence connecting them to al-Qaeda (see Early 1999, January 5-8, 2000, and Early 2000-Summer 2001). In any event, the NSA did reportedly disseminate dispatches about some of these US calls (see Spring-Summer 2000). Some FBI officials will later profess not to know what went wrong and why they were not notified of the hijackers’ presence in the US by other agencies. A senior counterterrorism official will say: “I don’t know if they got half the conversation or none of it or hung up or whatever. All I can tell you is we didn’t get anything from it—we being the people at the FBI who could have done something about it. So were they sitting on it? I don’t know.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005] The US intelligence community, through the CIA, also had access to the phone company’s records for the Yemeni communications hub, which would have shown what numbers were being called in the US (see Late 1998-Early 2002).

Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, Ahmed al-Hada, Bush administration (43), US intelligence, Salem Alhazmi, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties

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