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Context of 'Summer 1999: NSA Intercepts More of Almihdhar’s Calls'

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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

Salem Alhazmi.Salem Alhazmi. [Source: FBI]As the NSA continues to monitor an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen run by hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s father-in-law (see Late August 1998), they find references to Almihdhar and the hijacker brothers, Salem and Nawaf Alhazmi. They also learn that Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi are long time friends. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004] In early 1999, the NSA intercepts communications mentioning the full name “Nawaf Alhazmi.” However, this information is not disseminated to the intelligence community, as it apparently does not meet NSA reporting thresholds. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will say, “Those thresholds vary, depending on the judgement of the NSA analyst who is reviewing the intercept and the subject, location, and content of the intercept.” Another intelligence organisation intercepts the same or similar calls and reports this to the NSA. The Inquiry comments: “NSA’s practice was to review such reports and disseminate those responsive to US intelligence requirements. For an undetermined reason, NSA did not disseminate the […] report.” [Associated Press, 9/25/2002; US Congress, 10/17/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file] The NSA continues to intercept such calls and finds more information a few months later (see Summer 1999 and Late Summer 1999). Near the end of 1999, there will be additional intercepts that give Khalid Almihdhar’s full name and the first names of the other two (see Shortly Before December 29, 1999). But while the NSA will provide some information about these new intercepts to the CIA and other agencies, they will not go back to the earlier intercepts to figure out Nawaf’s full name and close connection to Almihdhar (see December 29, 1999).

Entity Tags: 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, Nawaf Alhazmi, National Security Agency, Salem Alhazmi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Sarbarz Mohammed / Sam Malkandi.Sarbarz Mohammed / Sam Malkandi. [Source: Public domain via Seattle Post-Intelligencer]Al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash unsuccessfully applies for a US visa in Sana’a, Yemen. His application, which is made under the alias Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, is denied because he fails to submit sufficient documentation in support of it. Three actual hijackers obtain US visas in Saudi Arabia on the same day and shortly after (see April 3-7, 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 492]
Already Known to US Intelligence - Bin Attash is already known to the US intelligence community at this point (see Summer 1999), at least partly because he briefed Mohamed al-Owhali, one of the 1998 African embassy bombers who was captured after the attack, and helped him make a martyrdom video in Pakistan. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 9/9/1998 pdf file] The US will begin to associate this alias with terrorist activity no later than early 2000, when bin Attash uses it to take a flight with Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, who are under US and allied surveillance at that point (see January 8, 2000). However, the alias will not be watchlisted by the US until August 2001 (see August 23, 2001). Apparently, when the US learns the alias is associated with terrorism there is no check of visa application records, and this application and the fact it was made by an al-Qaeda leader will not be discovered until after 9/11 (see After January 8, 2000, After December 16, 2000, and After August 23, 2001).
US Contact - On the application, bin Attash gives his reason for going to the US as getting a new prosthesis for his missing leg, and he says Bothell, Washington State, is his final destination. Bin Attash’s contact in Bothell is a man named Sarbarz Mohammed. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 155-6, 492] Mohammed contacts a clinic in the area and speaks to bin Attash once on the phone, but bin Attash says the new leg would cost too much and hangs up. Mohammed, who will later change his name to Sam Malkandi, will deny knowing bin Attash was a terrorist and say that he thought he was just helping a friend of a friend. However, he will later admit lying on his green card application and be arrested in 2005. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 10/17/2005]

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Sarbarz Mohammed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The NSA intercepts more calls (see Early 1999) involving Khalid Almihdhar, who is at an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, with his family (see Late August 1998). The identity of the person he is talking to and the content of the intercepts is so sensitive that the whole passage regarding these communications is redacted in the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s report. After the redacted passage, the Inquiry comments, “At about the same time, the name [of al-Qaeda leader] Khallad [bin Attash] came to the attention of the NSA for the first time,” so the calls may involve bin Attash in some way. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 155-6 pdf file] Almihdhar is staying at the communications hub at this time and will stay there later as well (see (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000) and Late October 2000-July 4, 2001).

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, National Security Agency, Khallad bin Attash

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

The CIA sends the NSA some information about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, including information about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), which Almihdhar attended, as well as the name of a person who helped him in Kuala Lumpur, where the summit was held. The NSA is also told Almihdhar’s primary purpose for coming to Malaysia was to meet with other people. The CIA knows Almihdhar has a US visa (see January 2-5, 2000), but it is unclear whether the NSA is informed of this. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 156 pdf file] At this time, the NSA has some information about Almihdhar, whose calls it has been intercepting for at least a year (see Early 1999, Summer 1999, Late Summer 1999, and Shortly Before December 29, 1999), that has not been disseminated. In particular, the NSA seems to have overheard something in early 1999 that should have been disseminated, but was not. This new information from the CIA does not cause the NSA to re-examine its material on Almihdhar or disseminate any important information to other US agencies. However, Almihdhar is subsequently put on the NSA watchlist (see Mid-January 2000) and the NSA intercepts calls between his home in Yemen and him in the US (see Spring-Summer 2000), but fails to alert the FBI to his presence in the US (see (Spring 2000)).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorist Center, Khalid Almihdhar

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 leaving Yemen following the bombing of the USS Cole (see Around October 12, 2000), 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar travels to various countries in Asia.
bullet He is reportedly in Malaysia in October (see October 2000);
bullet From late 2000 to February 2001 he stays with his cousin in Mecca, Saudi Arabia (see Late 2000-February 2001);
bullet He then returns to Yemen, to stay with his family at an al-Qaeda communications hub monitored by US intelligence (see February 2001, Late August 1998, and (Mid-June-Mid-July 2000));
bullet Following this, he goes to Afghanistan;
bullet There are some reports he travels to the United Arab Emirates in June (see June 2001);
bullet He is also said to be in Malaysia again in June (see June 2001);
bullet Finally, he goes to stay with his cousin in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for another month. Before flying to New York (see July 4, 2001), Almihdhar tells his cousin that Osama bin Laden is planning five attacks on the US and asks the cousin to watch over his family, because he has a job to do (see Between June 1 and July 4, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 237; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 137 pdf file]
After 9/11, there will be speculation that during this period Almihdhar is coordinating the arrival of the other muscle hijackers. According to FBI Director Robert Mueller, this would his explain his stay in Saudi Arabia and his return only after all the other hijackers had arrived. [US Congress, 9/26/2002] However, there is some evidence suggesting that Almihdhar may have visited the US in this time frame, perhaps using a passport in a false name (see June 10, 2000).

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, Robert S. Mueller III

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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