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Context of 'Mid-August 1998-October 2000: Al-Qaeda Operatives Use Monitored Yemen Communications Hub to Coordinate Cole Bombing'

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Al-Qaeda operatives use a communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, to “put everything together” before the bombing of the USS Cole. The communications hub is run by Ahmed al-Hada, who US officials will later describe as “a prominent al-Qaeda member who is believed to have been involved in the Cole bombing.” The hub is monitored by US intelligence from 1998, at least, (see Late August 1998) and information gleaned from it is used to thwart a number of plots (see Late 1998-Early 2002). The US monitors the house through bugs planted inside and through spy satellites to monitor people leaving and entering it. The hub was also used before the 1998 embassy bombings and will be used to communicate with the 9/11 hijackers before 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). [MSNBC, 2/14/2002; Mirror, 6/9/2002; MSNBC, 5/2005] When the FBI arrives in Yemen to investigate the bombing, it finds that “telephone records show[…] that suspects in the Cole bombing had been in touch with suspects from the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 238] Calls between the hub and an al-Qaeda cell in Ireland that seems to have a connection to the Cole bombing are also intercepted during part of this period (see Late December 1999-October 12, 2000). It is unclear why the information does not allow the NSA to thwart the plot. Despite the scope of the monitoring, NSA Director Michael Hayden will later say there were no intercepts the NSA could have exploited to stop the bombing: “When the Cole disaster took place I had brought to my desk in, in this office, every stitch of NSA reporting on the—that could in any way be related to this. And I went thought it report by report and I sent a letter out to our entire work force, which was essentially, you performed well. Keep up the good work.” [CBS News, 6/19/2002]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Ahmed al-Hada, Michael Hayden

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

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

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

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, 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

9/11 hijacker associate Ramzi bin al-Shibh spends four weeks in Yemen. The exact timing of his visit is unknown, except that he arrives in August 2000 and leaves in September. [Australian, 12/24/2002; US Department of Defense, 12/8/2006]
Planning Cole Bombing? - While in Yemen, it seems probable bin al-Shibh is involved in preparations for the USS Cole bombing. There are reports that he takes part in the bombing, and he flies back to Yemen to be there in time for the bombing in early October (see October 10-21, 2000).
Does He Visit Monitored Yemen Hub? - While there, it is also possible that he visits the highly monitored al-Qaeda Yemen communications hub, which is in Sana’a. It will not be confirmed or denied that he visits the hub at this time. However, bin al-Shibh is Yemeni, and he is a cousin of future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s wife, and she lives at the house where the hub is located. [Washington Post, 6/12/2002; Washington Post, 9/11/2002] (Note that he also has other family in Sana’a, as this is where he grew up, so it seems probable he would spend at least some of his visit in Sana’a.) [McDermott, 2005, pp. 41] Furthermore, at some point before the Cole bombing, bin al-Shibh meets with al-Qaeda operatives Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri and Ahmed al-Hada in Yemen. It is not known where the meeting takes place, but al-Hada runs the Yemen hub (and he is also related to bin al-Shibh) (see Before October 12, 2000). Also, al-Qaeda operatives use the hub to “put everything together” for the Cole bombing, and bin al-Shibh is probably involved in preparations for the bombing at this time. The bombers also call the hub as part of their preparations (see Mid-August 1998-October 2000).
Could Bin Al-Shibh Be Tracked? - If bin al-Shibh does visit (or even just call) the Yemen hub at this time, and/or during his later visit right at the time of the Cole bombing, he would be monitored by US intelligence. The US not only listens in on the hub’s phone, but it monitors the house through bugs planted inside and through spy satellites to monitor people leaving and entering it (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). Although it is uncertain, US intelligence may already be aware of bin al-Shibh through his attendance at an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in early 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000).

Entity Tags: Ramzi bin al-Shibh, Ahmed al-Hada, Khalid Almihdhar, Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri

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 NSA monitors calls between an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen and one or more operatives involved in a plot to attack the US embassy in Paris. The communications hub in Yemen is run by Ahmed al-Hada, father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, who is also involved in the US embassy bombings (see August 4-25, 1998), the USS Cole bombing (see Mid-August 1998-October 2000), and 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). The Paris plot is apparently foiled based on this information, although the details are sketchy. [US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] The name of the operative or operatives who talk to the communications hub in Yemen is unknown. One candidate is Djamel Beghal, who will be arrested on July 28 (see July 24 or 28, 2001) based on a tip-off issued by the CIA to partner agencies on July 3 (see July 3, 2001). Another is Nizar Trabelsi, who will be arrested on September 13, although Trabelsi may be arrested based on information gleaned from Beghal. Both Beghal (see Spring 1998) and Trabelsi (see September 13, 2001) are connected to a plot to destroy an airliner with a shoe bomb, but this is not stopped (see December 22, 2001).

Entity Tags: Djamel Beghal, Al-Qaeda, Nizar Trabelsi, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ahmed al-Hada, an operative who ran an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen that was monitored by US intelligence, is said to be arrested by authorities in Yemen, though it is not known exactly when this happened. The hub was involved in the East African embassy bombings (see August 4-25, 1998), the attack on the USS Cole (see Mid-August 1998-October 2000) and 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). His son, who helped run the hub, died while being pursued by security forces in February 2002 (see February 13, 2002). Details such as whether he is questioned by the US, whether he is charged, and the place he is being held are unknown. [Agence France Presse, 5/11/2002] According to author Lawrence Wright, he will still be in custody in 2006. [Wright, 2006, pp. 378] However, an undated MSNBC article apparently written around 2005 will list him as still being at large. [MSNBC, 5/2005]

Entity Tags: Ahmed al-Hada

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Former NSA director and soon-to-be CIA director Michael Hayden says that a program in which the NSA listens in on calls between the US and other countries without obtaining warrants would have prevented 9/11, had it been in place then. Hayden tells a Senate hearing discussing his confirmation as CIA director, “Had this been in place prior to the attacks, the two hijackers who were in San Diego, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, almost certainly would have been identified as who they were, what they were, and most importantly, where they were.” Hayden also says, “I can demonstrate in closed session how the physics and the math would work.” [US Congress, 5/18/2006 pdf file] However, the NSA actually intercepted the calls between Alhazmi and Almihdhar in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001), which it knew had been in contact with Osama bin Laden (see November 1996-Late August 1998) and was also involved in the East African embassy bombings (see August 4-25, 1998) and the attack on the USS Cole (see Mid-August 1998-October 2000). Before 9/11, the NSA was entitled to pass on information about the calls to the FBI, but did not do so, even though the FBI had specifically asked for information about calls between the communications hub in Yemen and the US (see Late 1998 and (Spring 2000)). Various explanations for this failure are offered after 9/11 (see Summer 2002-Summer 2004 and March 15, 2004 and After).

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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