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Context of 'June 30-July 1, 2001: New York Times Reporter Told Al-Qaeda Is ‘Planning Something So Big the US Will Have to Respond,’ but Fails to Publish Warning'

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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

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

The three authors of the book Germs, Judith Miller (left), Stephen Engelberg (top), and William Broad (bottom). This was the book Miller was working on before 9/11; it was published several weeks after 9/11.The three authors of the book Germs, Judith Miller (left), Stephen Engelberg (top), and William Broad (bottom). This was the book Miller was working on before 9/11; it was published several weeks after 9/11. [Source: Publicity photo]New York Times reporter Judith Miller learns her government counterterrorism sources are worried that al-Qaeda is going to attack a US target on the Fourth of July holiday. There has been an increase in chatter about an impending attack. In 2005, Miller will recall, “Everyone in Washington was very spun-up in the counterterrorism world at that time. I think everybody knew that an attack was coming—everyone who followed this.… I got the sense that part of the reason that I was being told of what was going on was that the people in counterterrorism were trying to get the word to the president or the senior officials through the press, because they were not able to get listened to themselves.”
Conversation Overheard - She has a conversation with a still-anonymous top-level White House source who reveals there is some concern about a top-secret NSA intercept between two al-Qaeda operatives. She explains, “They had been talking to one another, supposedly expressing disappointment that the United States had not chosen to retaliate more seriously against what had happened to the [USS] Cole. And one al-Qaeda operative was overheard saying to the other, ‘Don’t worry; we’re planning something so big now that the US will have to respond.’ And I was obviously floored by that information. I thought it was a very good story: (1) the source was impeccable; (2) the information was specific, tying al-Qaeda operatives to, at least, knowledge of the attack on the Cole; and (3) they were warning that something big was coming, to which the United States would have to respond. This struck me as a major page one-potential story.”
Not Printed - Miller tells her editor Stephen Engelberg about the story the next day. But Engelberg says, “You have a great first and second paragraph. What’s your third?” Miller finds only one other source to confirm these details.
Yemen Connection - She later learns from her first source that the conversation occurred in Yemen. Though the telephone number is never disclosed, some circumstances suggest one of the parties taking part in the call may have been at the al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, that is monitored by US intelligence. One of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, lives there with his wife and children (see Late August 1998), and communicates there will be forthcoming attacks to at least one family member (see Late October 2000-July 4, 2001). The hijackers in the US apparently call the Yemen hub around this time (see (August 2001)). On July 3, the CIA will request the arrest of Djamel Beghal (see July 3, 2001), an al-Qaeda operative whose calls to the hub are apparently being monitored at this time (see Before July 3, 2001).
Regrets - Miller later regrets not following through more because she “had a book coming out” as well as other stories and that there wasn’t a “sense of immediacy” about the information. In 2005, Engelberg will confirm Miller’s story and agree that he wanted more specifics before running the story. Engelberg also later wonders “maybe I made the wrong call,” asking, “More than once I’ve wondered what would have happened if we’d run the piece?” The New York Times has yet to mention the warning in all of their post-9/11 reporting and the 9/11 Commission has never mentioned anything about the warning either. In 2005, Miller will spend 85 days in jail for refusing to reveal a source and then leave the New York Times after widespread criticism about her reporting. [Columbia Journalism Review, 9/2005; AlterNet, 5/18/2006; Editor & Publisher, 5/18/2006]

Entity Tags: Stephen Engelberg, Al-Qaeda, Judith Miller

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CIA Director Tenet makes an urgent special request to 20 friendly foreign intelligence services, asking for the arrests of anyone on a list of known al-Qaeda operatives. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002] Also in late June, the CIA orders all its station chiefs overseas to share information on al-Qaeda with their host governments and to push for immediate disruptions of al-Qaeda cells. Vice President Cheney asks Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah for help on July 5, and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke makes appeals to other foreign officials. As a result, several terrorist operatives are detained by foreign governments. According to a later analysis by the 9/11 Commission, this possibly disrupts operations in the Persian Gulf and Italy (see June 13, 2001) and perhaps averts attacks against two or three US embassies. For instance, al-Qaeda operative Djamel Beghal is detained by the French government in July and gives up information about a plot to attack the US embassy in France (see July 24 or 28, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 534] Perhaps as part of Tenet’s request for help, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, is detained in Jordan in July 2001 and then let go (see July 2001).

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, George J. Tenet, Al-Qaeda, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House. This picture is actually taken on October 8, 2001, and President Bush is elsewhere in the room.Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House. This picture is actually taken on October 8, 2001, and President Bush is elsewhere in the room. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]CIA Director George Tenet finds the briefing that counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave him earlier in the day (see July 10, 2001) so alarming that he calls National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from his car as he heads to the White House and says he needs to see her right away, even though he has regular weekly meetings with her. [Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Tenet and Black let a third CIA official, Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, brief Rice on the latest intelligence. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke are also present. [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006]
'Significant Attack' - Blee starts by saying, “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!” He argues that it is impossible to pick the specific day, saying Osama bin Laden “will attack when he believes the attack will be successful.” He mentions a range of threat information including:
bullet A warning related to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see (July 9, 2001)) and seven pieces of intelligence the CIA recently received indicating there would soon be a terrorist attack (see July 9-10, 2001);
bullet A mid-June statement by bin Laden to trainees that there would be an attack in the near future (see Mid-June 2001);
bullet Information that talks about moving toward decisive acts;
bullet Late-June information saying a “big event” was forthcoming;
bullet Two separate bits of information collected “a few days before the meeting” in which people predicted a “stunning turn of events” in the weeks ahead. This may be a reference to intercepts of calls in Yemen, possibly involving the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
Multiple, Simultaneous Attacks in US Possible - Blee says that the attacks will be “spectacular,” they will be designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities and interests, there may be multiple, simultaneous attacks, and they may be in the US itself. He outlines the CIA’s efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda by spreading incorrect word that the attack plans have been compromised, in the hope that this will cause a delay in the attack. But he says this is not enough and that the CIA should go on the attack. Blee also discounts the possibility of disinformation, as bin Laden’s threats are known to the public in the Middle East and there will be a loss of face, funds, and popularity if they are not carried out. Blee urges that the US take a “proactive approach” by using the Northern Alliance. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151-4] Author Bob Woodward will later write: “Black emphasize[s] that this amount[s] to a strategic warning, meaning the problem [is] so serious that it require[s] an overall plan and strategy. Second, this [is] a major foreign policy problem that need[s] to be addressed immediately. They need […] to take action that moment—covert, military, whatever—to thwart bin Laden. The United States ha[s] human and technical sources, and all the intelligence [is] consistent.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Richard Clarke expresses his agreement with the CIA about the threat’s seriousness, and Black says, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”
Rice's Response - There are conflicting accounts about the CIA’s reading of Rice’s response. According to Woodward: “Tenet and Black [feel] they [are] not getting through to Rice. She [is] polite, but they [feel] the brush-off.” They leave the meeting frustrated, seeing little prospect for immediate action. Tenet and Black will both later recall the meeting as the starkest warning they gave the White House on al-Qaeda before 9/11 and one that could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks if Rice had acted on it (see July 10, 2001) and conveyed their urgency to President Bush. (Tenet is briefing Bush on a daily basis at this time, but he will later say that Rice has a much better rapport with the president.) Black will say, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Rice says that Bush will align his policy with the new realities and grant new authorities. Writing in 2007, Tenet will say that this response is “just the outcome I had expected and hoped for,” and recall that as they leave the meeting, Blee and Black congratulate each other on having got the administration’s attention. Nevertheless, Rice does not take the requested action until after 9/11. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 153-4]
Rice Concerned about Genoa - Clarke will recall in 2006 that Rice focuses on the possible threat to Bush at an upcoming summit meeting in Genoa, Italy (see June 13, 2001 and July 20-22, 2001). Rice and Bush have already been briefed about the Genoa warning by this time (see July 5, 2001). Rice also promises to quickly schedule a high-level White House meeting on al-Qaeda. However, that meeting does not take place until September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001). [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006] Rice also directs that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same briefing, and they receive it a short time later (see July 11-17, 2001).
Meeting Not Mentioned in 9/11 Commission Report - The meeting will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (see August 4, 2002), and there will be controversy when it is fully revealed in 2006 (see September 29, 2006, September 30-October 3, 2006, and October 1-2, 2006).

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Stephen J. Hadley, White House, Osama bin Laden, Richard A. Clarke, George J. Tenet, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Cofer Black, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The NSA has been intercepting calls between at least two 9/11 hijackers, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, in the US and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by al-Qaeda operative Ahmed al-Hada over an approximately 18-month period before 9/11 (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). According to MSNBC, the final intercepted call comes “only weeks” before 9/11. [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] Around the same time there is great alarm in the US intelligence community over a communications intercept in Yemen indicating there was going to be a major al-Qaeda attack against US interests (see June 30-July 1, 2001). Further, the investigation of the USS Cole bombing has reignited interest in Almihdhar and Alhazmi on the part of the US intelligence community since at least June 2001 (see June 11, 2001 and July 13, 2001). The two of them are placed on an international no-fly list in late August (see August 23, 2001).

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

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings.President Bush at his Crawford, Texas, ranch on August 6, 2001. Advisors wait with classified briefings. [Source: White House]President Bush receives a classified presidential daily briefing (PDB) at his Crawford, Texas ranch indicating that Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. The PDB provided to him is entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” The entire briefing focuses on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the US. [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Newsweek, 5/27/2002] The analysts who drafted the briefing will say that they drafted it on the CIA’s initiative (see July 13, 2004), whereas in 2004 Bush will state that he requested a briefing on the topic due to threats relating to a conference in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001, where Western intelligence agencies believed Osama bin Laden was involved in a plot to crash an airplane into a building to kill Bush and other leaders (see April 13, 2004). The analysts will later explain that they saw it as an opportunity to convey that the threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the US was both current and serious. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260] The existence of this briefing is kept secret, until it is leaked in May 2002, causing a storm of controversy (see May 15, 2002). While National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim the memo is only one and a half pages long, other accounts state it is 11 1/2 pages instead of the usual two or three. [New York Times, 5/15/2002; Newsweek, 5/27/2002; Die Zeit (Hamburg), 10/1/2002] A page and a half of the contents will be released on April 10, 2004; this reportedly is the full content of the briefing. [Washington Post, 4/10/2004] The briefing, as released, states as follows (note that the spelling of certain words are corrected and links have been added):
bullet Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US (see December 1, 1998). Bin Laden implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America” (see May 26, 1998).
bullet After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a -REDACTED-service (see December 21, 1998).
bullet An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told -REDACTED- service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.
bullet The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden’s first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself (see December 14, 1999), but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaida encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaida was planning his own US attack (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001).
bullet Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
bullet Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993 (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.
bullet Al-Qaeda members—including some who are US citizens—have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks (see January 25, 2001). Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US citizens (see September 15, 1998), and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s (see November 1989 and September 10, 1998).
bullet A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks (see October-November 1998).
bullet “We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [REDACTED] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and other US-held extremists” (see 1998, December 4, 1998, and May 23, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223] According to the Washington Post, this information came from a British service. [Washington Post, 5/18/2002]
bullet Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York (see May 30, 2001).
bullet The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related (see August 6, 2001). CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives (see May 16-17, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 223]
In retrospect, the briefing is remarkable for the many warnings that apparently are not included (see for instance, from the summer of 2001 prior to August alone: May 2001, June 2001, June 12, 2001, June 19, 2001, Late Summer 2001, July 2001, July 16, 2001, Late July 2001, Late July 2001, Summer 2001, June 30-July 1, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Early August 2001). According to one account, after the PDB has been given to him, Bush tells the CIA briefer, “You’ve covered your ass now” (see August 6, 2001). Incredibly, the New York Times later reports that after being given the briefing, Bush “[breaks] off from work early and [spends] most of the day fishing.” [New York Times, 5/25/2002] In 2002 and again in 2004, National Security Adviser Rice will incorrectly claim under oath that the briefing only contained historical information from 1998 and before (see May 16, 2002 and April 8, 2004).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Islamic Jihad, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Los Angeles International Airport, Condoleezza Rice, Abu Zubaida, Al-Qaeda, World Trade Center, Central Intelligence Agency, 9/11 Commission, Ahmed Ressam, Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


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