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Context of 'Mid-September 1998: Taliban Supposedly Rejects Secret Deal to Hand Bin Laden to Saudis'

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French intelligence secretly monitors a meeting of Saudi billionaires at the Hotel Royale Monceau in Paris this month with the financial representative of al-Qaeda. “The Saudis, including a key Saudi prince joined by Muslim and non-Muslim gun traffickers, [meet] to determine who would pay how much to Osama. This [is] not so much an act of support but of protection—a payoff to keep the mad bomber away from Saudi Arabia.” [Palast, 2002, pp. 100] Participants also agree that bin Laden should be rewarded for promoting Wahhabism (an austere form of Islam that requires literal interpretation of the Koran) in Chechnya, Kashmir, Bosnia, and other places. [Fifth Estate, 10/29/2003 pdf file] This extends an alleged secret deal first made between the Saudi government and bin Laden in 1991. Later, 9/11 victims’ relatives will rely on the “nonpublished French intelligence report” of this meeting in their lawsuit against important Saudis. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 8/16/2002] According to French counterterrorism expert Jean-Charles Brisard and/or reporter Greg Palast, there are about 20 people at the meeting, including Saudi intelligence head Prince Turki al-Faisal, an unnamed brother of bin Laden and an unnamed representative from the Saudi Defense Ministry. [Fifth Estate, 10/29/2003 pdf file; Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 10/29/2003] Palast claims that Saudi businessman Abdullah Taha Bakhsh attends the meeting. Bakhsh also saved Bush Jr.‘s Harken Oil from bankruptcy around 1990. Palast claims the notorious Saudi billionaire Adnan Khashoggi also attends the meeting. [Democracy Now!, 3/4/2003; Santa Fe New Mexican, 3/20/2003] In a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner, Slate has claimed that Khashoggi is a “shadowy international arms merchant” who is “connected to every scandal of the past 40 years.” Amongst other things, he was a major investor in BCCI and a key player in the Iran-Contra affair. [Slate, 12/4/00, Slate, 11/14/01, Slate, 3/12/03] [Slate, 12/4/2000; Slate, 11/14/2001; Slate, 3/12/2003] Palast, noting that the French monitored the meeting, asks, “Since US intelligence was thus likely informed, the question becomes why didn’t the government immediately move against the Saudis?” [Palast, 2002, pp. 100]

Entity Tags: Adnan Khashoggi, Abdullah Bakhsh, Al-Qaeda, France, Greg Palast, Turki al-Faisal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

According to author James Risen, CIA Director George Tenet and other top CIA officials travel to Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto ruler of the country. Tenet wants Abdullah to address the problem of bin Laden. He requests that bin Laden not be given to the US to be put on trial but that he be given to the Saudis instead. Abdullah agrees as long as it can be a secret arrangement. Tenet sends a memo to National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, recommending that the CIA allow the Saudis to essentially bribe the Taliban to turn him over. Around the same time, Tenet cancels the CIA’s own operation to get bin Laden (see 1997-May 29, 1998). [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184] That same month, Wyche Fowler, the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, tells Berger to let the Saudis take the lead against bin Laden. [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 274] Prince Turki al-Faisal, the head of Saudi intelligence, does go to Afghanistan in June and/or July of 1998 to make a secret deal, though with whom he meets and what is agreed upon is highly disputed (see June 1998 and July 1998). But it becomes clear after the failed US missile attack on bin Laden in August 1998 (see August 20, 1998) that the Taliban has no intention of turning bin Laden over to anyone. Risen later comments, “By then, the CIA’s capture plan was dead, and the CIA had no other serious alternatives in the works.… It is possible that the crown prince’s offer of assistance simply provided Tenet and other top CIA officials an easy way out of a covert action plan that they had come to believe represented far too big of a gamble.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184]

Entity Tags: Turki al-Faisal, Wyche Fowler, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Sandy Berger, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, James Risen

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Relations between Taliban head Mullah Omar and bin Laden grow tense, and Omar discusses a secret deal with the Saudis, who have urged the Taliban to expel bin Laden from Afghanistan. Head of Saudi intelligence Prince Turki al-Faisal travels to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and brokers the deal. According to Turki, he seeks to have the Taliban turn bin Laden over to Saudi custody. Omar agrees in principle, but requests that the parties establish a joint commission to work out how bin Laden would be dealt with in accordance with Islamic law. [Coll, 2004, pp. 400-02] Note that some reports of a meeting around this time—and the deal discussed—vary dramtically from Turki’s version (see May 1996 and July 1998). If this version is correct, before a deal can be reached, the US strikes Afghanistan in August in retaliation for the US African embassy bombings (see August 20, 1998), driving Omar and bin Laden back together. Turki later states that “the Taliban attitude changed 180 degrees,” and that Omar is “absolutely rude” to him when he visits again in September (see Mid-September 1998). [Guardian, 11/5/2001; London Times, 8/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Saudi Arabia, Osama bin Laden, Mullah Omar, Turki al-Faisal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Taliban officials allegedly meet with Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi intelligence, to continue talks concerning the Taliban’s ouster of bin Laden from Afghanistan. Reports on the location of this meeting, and the deal under discussion differ. According to some reports, including documents exposed in a later lawsuit, this meeting takes place in Kandahar. Those present include Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi Arabian intelligence, Taliban leaders, senior officers from the ISI, and bin Laden. According to these reports, Saudi Arabia agrees to give the Taliban and Pakistan “several hundred millions” of dollars, and in return, bin Laden promises no attacks against Saudi Arabia. The Saudis also agree to ensure that requests for the extradition of al-Qaeda members will be blocked and promise to block demands by other countries to close down bin Laden’s Afghan training camps. Saudi Arabia had previously given money to the Taliban and bribe money to bin Laden, but this ups the ante. [Sunday Times (London), 8/25/2002] A few weeks after the meeting, Prince Turki sends 400 new pickup trucks to the Taliban. At least $200 million follow. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 9/23/2001; New York Post, 8/25/2002] Controversial author Gerald Posner gives a similar account said to come from high US government officials, and adds that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida also attends the meeting. [Posner, 2003, pp. 189-90] Note that reports of this meeting seemingly contradict reports of a meeting the month before between Turki and the Taliban, in which the Taliban agreed to get rid of bin Laden (see June 1998).

Entity Tags: Taliban, Turki al-Faisal, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Abu Zubaida, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Sayyid Iskandar Suliman. This picture is from a poor photocopy of his passport found in Sudanese intelligence files.Sayyid Iskandar Suliman. This picture is from a poor photocopy of his passport found in Sudanese intelligence files. [Source: Public domain via Richard Miniter]On August 4, 1998, Sudanese immigration suspects two men, Sayyid Nazir Abbass and Sayyid Iskandar Suliman, arriving in Sudan, apparently due to something in their Pakistani passports. They attempt to rent an apartment overlooking the US embassy. Three days later, US embassies are bombed in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Within hours, Sudanese officials arrest Abbass and Suliman. The two of them had just come from Kenya, and one of them quickly admits to staying in the same hotel in Kenya as some of the embassy bombers. Sudanese intelligence believes they are al-Qaeda operatives involved in the bombings. [Observer, 9/30/2001; Vanity Fair, 1/2002; Randal, 2005, pp. 132-135] The US embassy in Sudan has been shut down for several years. But around August 14, a Sudanese intelligence official contacts an intermediary and former White House employee named Janet McElligott and gives her a vague message that Sudan is holding important suspects and the FBI should send a team immediately to see if they want to take custody of them. [Randal, 2005, pp. 132-135] The FBI wants the two men, but on August 17, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright forbids their extradition. The US has decided to bomb a factory in Sudan in retaliation for the embassy bombings instead of cooperating with Sudan. But FBI agent John O’Neill is not yet aware of Albright’s decision, and word of the Sudanese offer reaches him on August 19. He wants immediate approval to arrest the two suspects and flies to Washington that evening to discuss the issue with counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. But Clarke tells O’Neill to speak to Attorney General Janet Reno. Later that night, O’Neill talks to Reno and she tells him that the decision to retaliate against Sudan instead has already been made. Mere hours later, the US attack a factory in Sudan with cruise missiles (see August 20, 1998). Within days, it becomes apparent that the factory had no link to al-Qaeda (see September 23, 1998), and no link between the bombings and the Sudanese government will emerge (although Sudan harbored bin Laden until 1996). [Randal, 2005, pp. 132-138] The Sudanese will continue to hold the two men in hopes to make a deal with the US. But the US is not interested, so after two weeks they are send to Pakistan and set free there (see August 20-September 2, 1998).

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Sayyid Nazir Abbass, Sayyid Iskandar Suliman, Sudan, Osama bin Laden, Janet Reno, John O’Neill, Madeleine Albright, Richard A. Clarke, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

President Clinton is aware of the links between the Pakistani ISI, Taliban, and al-Qaeda. In his 2005 autobiography, he will explain why he did not warn the Pakistani government more than several minutes in advance that it was firing missiles over Pakistan in an attempt to hit Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998). He will write: “Although we were trying to work with Pakistan to defuse tensions on the Indian subcontinent, and our two nations had been allies during the Cold War, Pakistan supported the Taliban and, by extension, al-Qaeda. The Pakistani intelligence service used some of the same camps that bin Laden and al-Qaeda did to train the Taliban and insurgents who fought in Kashmir. If Pakistan had found out about our planned attacks in advance, it was likely that Pakistani intelligence would warn the Taliban or even al-Qaeda.” [Clinton, 2005, pp. 799] Despite this precaution, it appears the ISI successfully warns bin Laden in advance anyway (see August 20, 1998). Clinton takes no firm against against Pakistan for its links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, such as including Pakistan on the State Department’s list of state sponsors of terrorism.

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 1998, President Clinton faces a growing scandal about his sexual relationship with aide Monica Lewinsky, and even faces the possibility of impeachment over the matter. He is publicly interrogated about the scandal on August 17, 1998. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later claim that he worries Clinton might let the timing of the scandal get in the way of acting on new intelligence to hit Osama bin Laden with a missile strike in retaliation for the recent African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). But Clarke is reassured when Clinton tells his advisers, “Do you all recommend that we strike on the 20th? Fine. Do not give me political advice or personal advice about the timing. That’s my problem. Let me worry about that.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 185-186] Defense Secretary William Cohen also warns Clinton that he will be criticized for changing the subject from the Lewinsky scandal. [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 358]
Criticism from Politicians - Clinton gives the go-ahead for the missile strike on August 20th anyway (see August 20, 1998) and is immediately widely criticized for it. In late 1997, there was a popular movie called “Wag the Dog,” based on a fictional president who creates an artificial crisis in order to distract the public from a domestic scandal. Republicans are particularly critical and seize upon a comparison to the movie. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) initially supports the missile strike, but later criticizes it as mere “pinpricks.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 117] Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) says, “The president was considering doing something presidential to try to focus attention away from his personal problems.” [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 358-359] Sen. Daniel Coats (R-IN) says, “I just hope and pray the decision that was made was made on the basis of sound judgment, and made for the right reasons, and not made because it was necessary to save the president’s job.” [New York Times, 8/4/2004]
Media Criticism - The media is also very critical, despite a lack of any evidence that Clinton deliberately timed the missile strike as a distraction. Television networks repeatedly show clips of the “Wag the Dog” movie after the missile strike. New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh reports, “Some reporters questioned whether the president had used military force to distract the nation’s attention from the Lewinsky scandal.” [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 358-359]
9/11 Commission Commentary - The 9/11 Commission will later conclude, “The failure of the strikes, the ‘wag the dog’ slur, the intense partisanship of the period, and the [fact that one of the missile targets probably had no connection to bin Laden (see September 23, 1998)] likely had a cumulative effect on future decisions about the use of force against bin Laden.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 118]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, William S. Cohen, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Osama bin Laden, Monica Lewinsky, Daniel Coats, Arlen Specter, Newt Gingrich

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Through its own monitoring of Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone, the CIA determines that he intends to travel to a training camp in Khost, in eastern Afghanistan. The CIA has to use its own equipment to do this because of a dispute with the NSA, which refused to provide it with full details of its intercepts of bin Laden’s calls (see December 1996). Although the CIA can only get half of what the NSA gets, shortly after the attacks on US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), it determines that bin Laden will travel to Khost the next day. On that day, the US launches several missile strikes, one of which is against Khost (see August 20, 1998), but bin Laden does not travel there, evading the missiles. Some will later claim that bin Laden changes his mind on the way there for no particular reason, but there will also be allegations that the Pakistani ISI warned him of the upcoming attack (see July 1999). [Wright, 2006, pp. 283]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

El Shifa Plant in Sudan.El Shifa Plant in Sudan. [Source: US government]The US fires 66 missiles at six al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and 13 missiles at a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, Sudan, in retaliation for the US embassy bombings. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001] The US insists the attacks are aimed at terrorists “not supported by any state,” despite obvious evidence to the contrary. The Sudanese Al Shifa factory is hit in the middle of the night when it is unoccupied. Intelligence will later suggest that the factory had no links to bin Laden (see September 23, 1998). Between six and 30 people are killed in the Afghanistan attacks. But no important al-Qaeda figures die. [Observer, 8/23/1998; New Yorker, 1/24/2000; Wright, 2006, pp. 285] At least one of the missiles accidentally landed inside Pakistan and Pakistan may have been able to build their own cruise missile from examining the remains. There are additional reports that bin Laden was able to sell unexploded missiles to China for more than $10 million. [Wright, 2006, pp. 285] President Clinton is soon widely accused of using the missile strike to distract the US public from a personal sex scandal (see August 17-Late August 1998).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

State Department official Michael Malinowski.State Department official Michael Malinowski. [Source: Reuters / Corbis]Two days after the US missile strikes on militant training camps in Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998), top Taliban leader Mullah Omar unexpectedly telephones the State Department in Washington. He talks to Michael Malinowski, office director for Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh in the Bureau of South Asian Affairs. Although Mullah Omar does not threaten the US, he suggests that the missile strikes could spark more terrorist attacks. He says the Taliban is open to the idea of establishing a secure communication channel with US officials, possibly through the US embassy in Pakistan (there is no embassy in Afghanistan). The State Department comments, “Omar’s contact with a US official is rather remarkable, given his reclusive nature and his past avoidance of contact with all things American.” [US Department of State, 8/23/1998 pdf file; US Department of State, 1/14/2002] The US then sends the Taliban some evidence of bin Laden’s militant activities (see August 23, 1998), but it appears the secure communications channel never materializes.

Entity Tags: Taliban, Michael Malinowski, US Department of State, Mullah Omar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Bin Laden’s satellite phone is being monitored by US intelligence at the time of the US embassy bombings in early August 1998 (see November 1996-Late August 1998 and 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).
Washington Times Article Falsely Blamed - On August 21, 1998, an article in the Washington Times says of bin Laden, “He keeps in touch with the world via computers and satellite phones…” The Washington Post will later note, “The information in the article does not appear to be based on any government leak and made no reference to government surveillance of bin Laden’s phone.” Other articles published on the same day make similar claims. However, it will become widely believed that this article causes bin Laden to stop using his satellite phone, which is being secretly monitored by the US (see November 1996-Late August 1998). [Washington Post, 12/20/2005] For instance, the 9/11 Commission will later blame this article and President Bush will repeat the story in late 2005. However, bin Laden’s use of a satellite phone was already widely publicized. For instance, in December 1996, Time magazine noted that bin Laden “uses satellite phones to contact fellow Islamic militants in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.” In 1997, bin Laden actually talked in a CNN interview about his use of satellite phones.
First Mention that US Was Monitoring His Calls in September - It is only on September 7, 1998, after bin Laden apparently stopped using his phone, that the Los Angeles Times is the first newspaper to mention that the US is monitoring his calls. The article says that US authorities “used their communications intercept capacity to pick up calls placed by bin Laden on his Inmarsat satellite phone, despite his apparent use of electronic ‘scramblers.’” [Washington Post, 12/22/2005]
Bin Laden Tipped Off by Missile Strike? - One possible explanation is that bin Laden stops using his phone after the August 1998 missile strike aimed at him (see August 20, 1998) for fear that the phone was used as a homing device for the missiles. The phone was in fact used as a homing device, and Defense Secretary William Cohen publicly acknowledged this by early 2001. The missile strike took place just one day before the Washington Times article. [United Press International, 2/21/2001] In 1998, a US man named Tarik Hamdi delivered a new battery for bin Laden’s phone. A former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center has stated that the battery was somehow bugged to improve US monitoring of bin Laden (see May 28, 1998).
Bin Laden Tipped Off before the Strike? - Another possibility is that bin Laden stopped using his phone just before the missile strike. Sunday Times reporter Simon Reeve claims the Pakistani ISI warned him about the strike hours before it happened, and told him that his phone use was being monitored by the US (see August 20, 1998). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 201-202]

Entity Tags: William S. Cohen, Tarik Hamdi, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

According to Saudi intelligence minister Prince Turki al-Faisal, he participates in a second meeting with Taliban leader Mullah Omar at this time. Supposedly, earlier in the year Omar made a secret deal with Turki to hand bin Laden over to Saudi Arabia (see June 1998) and Turki is now ready to finalize the deal. ISI Director Gen. Naseem Rana is at the meeting as well. But in the wake of the US missile bombing of Afghanistan (August 20, 1998), Omar yells at Turki and denies ever having made a deal. Turki leaves empty handed. [Wright, 2006, pp. 244] However, other reports stand in complete contrast to this, suggesting that earlier in the year Turki colluded with the ISI to support bin Laden, not capture him (see May 1996 and July 1998).

Entity Tags: Naseem Rana, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban, Mullah Omar, Turki al-Faisal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The destroyed Al Shifa factory.The destroyed Al Shifa factory. [Source: Yannick Lemieux]Senior Clinton administration officials admit they had no evidence directly linking bin Laden to the Al Shifa factory at the time of retaliatory strikes on August 20, 1998 (see August 20, 1998). However, intelligence officials assert that they found financial transactions between bin Laden and the Military Industrial Corporation—a company run by the Sudan’s government. [New York Times, 9/23/1998; PBS Frontline, 2001] A soil sample is said to show that the pharmaceutical factory was producing chemical weapons, but many doubts about the sample later arise. [New York Times, 9/21/1998; New Yorker, 10/12/1998] Two anonymous US officials will later tell NBC that the soil sample was not taken at the factory, but across the street. It also comes to light that the person the US thought owned the factory in fact had sold it five months earlier. The Sudanese government asks for a US or UN investigation of the attack, but the US is not interested. [Randal, 2005, pp. 139-140] The US later unfreezes the bank accounts of the factory owner, Salah Idriss, and takes other conciliatory actions, but admits no wrongdoing. It is later learned that of the six camps targeted in Afghanistan, only four were hit, and of those, only one had definitive connections to bin Laden. Clinton declares that the missiles were aimed at a “gathering of key terrorist leaders,” but it is later revealed that the referenced meeting took place a month earlier, in Pakistan. [Observer, 8/23/1998; New Yorker, 1/24/2000]

Entity Tags: Military Industrial Corporation, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Salah Idriss, Osama bin Laden, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke advocates an aggressive approach to dealing with terrorists and countries that harbor them, and says terrorists are likely to go after America’s “Achilles’ heel,” which is “in Washington… in New York,” and “throughout the country.” He makes these comments during a two-day conference on countering chemical and biological warfare, held in Washington, DC. [New York Times, 10/8/1998; USIS Washington File, 10/8/1998]
Enemies Could Target Washington or New York - In his speech at the conference, Clarke says, “The United States can defeat in a conventional war any other military in the world.” Therefore: “Our enemies instead will use unconventional techniques, either exclusively or as a supplement to their attack. They will use terrorism. They will use cyber attack and information warfare. And they will use chem-bio attack.” He adds that America’s enemies “will go after our Achilles’ heel,” which is “in Washington. It is in New York. It is throughout the country. For no longer can we count as a nation on the two great oceans defending us from foreign attack here at home.”
US Willing to Take 'The First Step' - Clarke says that the US government has developed a strategy for dealing with chemical and biological weapons attacks, which includes an aggressive approach toward terrorist groups and rogue states. He says these groups and states “should know that those who engage in terrorist acts, including terrorist acts involving chemical and biological weapons, can be assured that they will pay a high price.” The government’s promise to them is “attack us and you will unleash a relentless and methodical machine against you.” Furthermore, Clarke says, the US is willing to act preemptively: “The United States reserves for itself the right of self-defense, and if that means our taking the first step, we will do so. We will not tolerate terrorist organizations acquiring or maintaining stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.” [USIS Washington File, 10/8/1998]
US Will Target Countries that Harbor Terrorists - In an interview after his speech, Clarke emphasizes that countries that harbor these terrorist groups also risk being targeted by the US. He points to the recent missile attacks against Sudan in retaliation for the US embassy bombings in Africa (see August 20, 1998), and says the US will “definitely do something” about such countries. “The something depends on what the circumstances are.” [New York Times, 10/8/1998] Clarke will repeat his claim that the nation’s “Achilles’ heel” terrorists will come after is “here in the United States” in an April 2000 interview with the Washington Post (see April 2, 2000). [Washington Post, 4/2/2000]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Shortly after an August 1998 US missile strike on Afghanistan (see August 20, 1998), bin Laden stops using his satellite phone, correctly deciding that it was being monitored by US intelligence (see Late August 1998). According to counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna, al-Qaeda quickly “developed a system to deceive those monitoring his calls. [But] Western security and intelligence agencies were soon able to monitor the new system, which was based on transferring international calls within safe houses in Pakistan to make them seem like domestic calls.” Other al-Qaeda leaders such as Abu Zubaida will be frequently monitored as they make calls using this new system (see October 1998 and After). Gunaratna later claims to have learned this from a confidential source in a “communications monitoring agency” in Western Europe. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 15-16, 3291] It is not known how long it took until al-Qaeda realized this new system was compromised, but there are accounts of bin Laden and Zubaida’s calls being monitored days before 9/11 (see Early September 2001, September 9, 2001, and Early September 2001).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Yellowcake.Yellowcake. [Source: CBC]Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan takes a trip to West Africa. Ostensibly, he is going to oversee the construction of the Hendrina Khan Hotel in Timbuktu, Mali, which he bought the year before and is named after his wife, but it is believed that is just a cover for nuclear-related business. He spends several days in Khartoum, Sudan, where he is spotted touring the al-Shifa factory, bombed by the US the year before in response to al-Qaeda bombings in Africa (see August 20, 1998). In 2006, intelligence sources in India and Israel will claim that Khan actually partly owns the factory. Khan then travels to N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, Timbuktu in Mali, and Niamey, the capital of Niger. Niger has considerable uranium deposits and had been a major supplier of yellowcake uranium to Pakistan in the 1970s. Khan returns to Sudan, where he meets with the Sudanese president, and then returns to Pakistan. He is accompanied by his top nuclear aides and a number of Pakistani generals, and all expenses on the trip are paid for by the Pakistani government.
CIA Investigates Khan Trip - CIA undercover agent Valerie Plame Wilson learns about the trip, and the CIA is so concerned that it launches an investigation, especially to find out if Khan could be buying yellowcake from Niger. Plame Wilson’s husband Joseph Wilson, a former National Security Council official and US ambassador to the nearby country of Gabon who has close ties to important politicians in Niger, and who who has just set up a private consulting firm with a focus on advising clients who want to do business in Africa, is approached by officials from the CIA’s National Resources Division (NR) to visit Niger. The agency asks Wilson, who already has a business trip planned to West Africa, to find out what he can about Khan’s trip.
Illicit Uranium Sales Highly Unlikely - Wilson concludes that illicit uranium sales are very unlikely since the French government tightly controls Niger’s uranium mines and uranium sales. However, Khan’s trip does raise concern that he could be working with Osama bin Laden, because of his interest in the al-Shifa factory in Sudan, and because of intelligence that the hotel he owns in Timbuktu was paid for by bin Laden as part of a cooperative deal between them. The CIA writes and distributes a report on the trip. (In 2004, the Senate Intelligence Committee will erroneously conclude that the CIA did not distribute the Wilson-Niger report—see July 9, 2004.) Wilson will keep this trip secret, even refusing to mention it in his 2004 memoir The Politics of Truth, presumably because he signed a confidentiality agreement with the CIA. In 2002, he will return to Niger to investigate if Saddam Hussein could be buying uranium in Niger (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). That will lead to the eventual outing of his wife Plame Wilson’s status as a CIA agent. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 283-285, 516; Wilson, 2007, pp. 358-360]

Entity Tags: Valerie Plame Wilson, Abdul Qadeer Khan, Osama bin Laden, Joseph C. Wilson

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing

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

Entity Tags: William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), the Clinton administration discusses what standard of evidence it needs to launch a counter-strike against al-Qaeda, which it suspects of the bombing. Following the bombing of the US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the administration fired a number of cruise missiles at suspected al-Qaeda targets (see August 20, 1998). However, the administration decides it must have evidence that bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s leadership has authority, direction, and control of the attack before initiating a response. CIA Director George Tenet will comment: “This is a high threshold to cross.” Tenet will also say that this threshold was not set by the CIA, but by “policy makers.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 128] Although the bombing is tied to three known leading al-Qaeda operatives, Khallad bin Attash (see November 11, 2000), Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000), and Ahmed al-Hada (see November 2000 or After), early on in the investigation, no counterstrike is initiated (see Shortly After October 12, 2000 and Late October 2000). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will express his frustration with the inaction: “[I]n Washington neither CIA nor FBI would state the obvious: al-Qaeda did it. We knew there was a large al-Qaeda cell in Yemen There was also a large cell of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, but that group had now announced its complete merger into al-Qaeda, so what difference did it make which group did the attack? [Counterterrorism staff] had worked around the clock piecing together the evidence and had made a very credible case against al-Qaeda. CIA would agree only months later.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 223] The authors of the 2002 book The Cell will later write: “The links to bin Laden were everywhere. Each of the suspects being held in Yemen had admitted training in the Afghan camps run by bin Laden… neither the FBI nor the CIA was ever able to tell the president that they had direct proof that the Cole was a bin Laden-ordered job, though now, in retrospect, it seems terribly obvious. In any case, even if there had been compelling proof that bin Laden was behind the Cole bombing, there was little chance that the Clinton administration would have launched an attack on any Islamic country while he was trying to get the Israelis and Palestinians to the peace table.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 238]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Richard A. Clarke, Clinton administration

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

At around 8:00 p.m., Afghanistan time (11:30 a.m., New York time), Taliban leader Mullah Omar allegedly says, “Things have gone much further than expected.” This is according to what the New Yorker will describe as “Afghan intelligence sources” who monitor the call. (It is unclear what “Afghan intelligence sources” means, since the Taliban control nearly all of Afghanistan at this time, but it could be a reference to Northern Alliance forces; the CIA gave them equipment to monitor the Taliban (see Winter 1999-March 2000).) Omar’s comment takes place over an hour after one of the World Trade Center towers collapsed, which means thousands have been killed in the attacks, not hundreds (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). An Afghan intelligence official will later say: “They were expecting a reaction. But they thought it would be a Clinton-type reaction. They didn’t anticipate the kind of revenge that occurred.” [New Yorker, 6/10/2002] The “Clinton-type reaction” presumably is a reference to the August 1998 missile strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan during the Clinton administration (see August 20, 1998).

Entity Tags: Mullah Omar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

Talat Othman.Talat Othman. [Source: Hanania]In the wake of the Operation Greenquest raid on the SAAR network (see March 20, 2002), disgruntled Muslim-American leaders meet with Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill to complain about the raid. At the time, the Treasury Department had control over the Customs Department, which ran Greenquest. The meeting is arranged by prominent Republican activist Grover Norquist. About a dozen leaders are asked to attend the meeting. O’Neill pledges to look into concerns the leaders have about the raid. [Wall Street Journal, 4/18/2002; Harper's, 3/2004] Those who meet with O’Neill include:
bullet Khaled Saffuri. He is head of the Islamic Institute, a group he co-founded with Norquist to organize conservative Muslims (see 1998-September 2001). The institute accepted $20,000 in donations from the Safa Trust, which was targeted in the raid. The Safa Trust in turn has been funded by Youssef Nada, who had his assets frozen shortly after 9/11 on suspicion on funding al-Qaeda (see November 7, 2001). The institute also received donations from Abdurahman Alamoudi, another target of the raid who will later receive a long prison term (see October 15, 2004). [Wall Street Journal, 4/18/2002; Harper's, 3/2004]
bullet Talat Othman. The Wall Street Journal calls him “a longtime associate and supporter of President Bush’s family who gave a benediction at the Republican National Convention in Philadelphia in August 2000.” He serves on the board of Amana Mutual Funds Trust, an investment firm founded by Yaqub Mirza, the director of most of the organizations targeted in the raid. Amana was not a target of the raid, but two other organization that were raided held large blocks of shares in Amana’s mutual funds. Othman claims to know Mirza only slightly. Othman is also on the board of Saffuri’s Islamic Institute. Further, Othman served on the board of Harken Energy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, at the same time that President Bush did. At the time, Othman represented Saudi businessman Abdullah Bakhsh on Harken Energy’s board, and the investments through Bakhsh were considered essential in saving Harken from bankruptcy. Bakhsh has indirect connections to the notorious criminal bank BCCI (see July 5, 1991), and in 1996 reputedly attended a secret meeting with al-Qaeda representatives, where the attendees agreed to pay al-Qaeda many millions of dollars of protection money (see May 1996). [Wall Street Journal, 12/6/1991; Wall Street Journal, 4/18/2002] Bakhsh will head a subsidiary of Halliburton, the oil services company formerly run by Vice President Cheney. Othman reportedly remains a friend of Bush. [Harper's, 3/2004] Harper’s magazine will note that “large sums of money from the suspect groups have moved through Amana, [yet] Greenquest agents chose not to raid the firm,” and will hint that political influence from Othman and others may have saved Amana from being raided. [Harper's, 3/2004]

Entity Tags: Talat Othman, Grover Norquist, Khaled Saffuri, SAAR Foundation, Operation Greenquest, Islamic Institute, Paul O’Neill

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Saudi Arabia announces that Turki al-Faisal will be its next ambassador to Britain. Turki is a controversial figure because of his long-standing relationship to bin Laden. He has also been named in a lawsuit (see August 15, 2002) by 9/11 victims’ relatives against Saudi Arabians for their support of al-Qaeda before 9/11. It is later noted that his ambassador position could give him diplomatic immunity from the lawsuit. [New York Times, 12/30/2002] Turki’s predecessor as ambassador was recalled after it was revealed he had written poems praising suicide bombers. [Observer, 3/2/2003] Articles reporting on his new posting suggest that Turki last met bin Laden in the early 1990s, before bin Laden became wanted by the US for his anti-American militancy. [London Times, 10/18/2002; Guardian, 10/19/2002] However, these reports fail to mention other reported contacts with bin Laden, including a possible secret meeting in 1998 (see July 1998).

Entity Tags: Turki al-Faisal, Osama bin Laden, Saudi Arabia

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Prince Bandar, Saudi ambassador to the US since 1983, steps down and is replaced by Prince Turki al-Faisal. It is said that Prince Bandar had been suffering health problems and is not close to the new Saudi King Abdullah (see August 1, 2005). Prince Turki was Saudi intelligence minister from the late 1970s until about one week before 9/11 (see August 31, 2001). Then he served three years as Saudi ambassador to Britain. Prince Turki has had a controversial past. He was considered a mentor to bin Laden, and encouraged him to represent Saudi Arabia in the Afghanistan war against the Soviet Union. There are allegations that Prince Turki took part in a series of secret meetings between bin Laden and the Saudis over a period of many years (see Summer 1991; May 1996; Spring 1998; June 1998; July 1998; July 4-14, 2001). There are also allegations that he went falcon hunting in Afghanistan with bin Laden during much of the 1990s (see 1995-2001). In the wake of his appointment as ambassador, US officials try to downplay his past. One unnamed US official says, “Yes, he knew members of al-Qaeda. Yes, he talked to the Taliban. At times he delivered messages to us and from us regarding Osama bin Laden and others. Yes, he had links that in this day and age would be considered problematic, but at the time we used those links.” The official adds that Prince Turki seems to have “gotten out of that business” since 2001 and “he understands that times have changed.” He was sued in 2002 by a group of 9/11 victims’ relatives for allegedly supporting al-Qaeda, but his name was dropped from the suit because of diplomatic immunity (see August 15, 2002). [New York Times, 7/21/2005]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Bandar bin Sultan, Al-Qaeda, Turki al-Faisal

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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