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A secret CIA report indicates the Pakistani ISI is giving “at least $30,000 - and possibly as much as $60,000 - per month” to the Harkat ul-Ansar, a Pakistani radical militant group that will be renamed Harkat ul-Mujahedeen (HUM) one year later. By this time, US intelligence is aware this group kidnapped and killed Americans and other Westerners in 1995 (see July 4, 1995). The CIA reports that Pakistan says it is reducing some of its monetary support to the group, presumably in an effort to avoid being placed on the US list of state sponsors of terrorism. But apparently this is just posturing, because in 2001 the State Department will report that the ISI is continuing to fund HUM (see April 30, 2001). The CIA also notes that HUM “might undertake terrorist actions against civilian airliners.” Saeed Sheikh, an alleged 9/11 paymaster, is a leader of the group (see April 1993), and in 1999 an airplane hijacking will free him and another HUM leader from prison (see December 24-31, 1999). (Central Intelligence Agency 8/1996 ) Several months later, another secret US report will note the growing ties between HUM, Osama bin Laden, and the Taliban. But the US will not take any serious action against HUM or Pakistan. (US Embassy (Islamabad) 2/6/1997 ) HUM deputy chief Maulana Fazlur Rehman Khalil will be one of the cosigners to bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa declaring it a Muslim duty to kill Americans and Jews (see February 22, 1998). (Scott 2007, pp. 172)
Four days after the Taliban conquers Kabul (see September 27, 1996), a classified CIA report notes that as the Taliban advance, they are closing some militant training camps but not others. They have closed the camps controlled by militant leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, militant leader Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, and Jamaat-i-Islami (a religious political party in Pakistan). They have kept open camps controlled by Osama bin Laden, militant leader Yunas Khalis, the Pakistan-based militant group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (another religious political party in Pakistan). (Central Intelligence Agency 9/30/1996 )
Russian arms merchant Victor Bout, who has been selling weapons to Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance since 1992, switches sides, and begins selling weapons to the Taliban and al-Qaeda instead. (Pasternak and Braun 1/20/2002; Smith et al. 4/17/2002; Los Angeles Times 5/19/2002) The deal comes immediately after the Taliban captures Kabul in late October 1996 and gains the upper hand in Afghanistan’s civil war. In one trade in 1996, Bout’s company delivers at least 40 tons of Russian weapons to the Taliban, earning about $50 million. (Osborn 2/16/2002) Two intelligence agencies later confirm that Bout trades with the Taliban “on behalf of the Pakistan government.” In late 2000, several Ukrainians sell 150 to 200 T-55 and T-62 tanks to the Taliban in a deal conducted by the ISI, and Bout helps fly the tanks to Afghanistan. (van Niekerk and Verloy 2/5/2002) Bout formerly worked for the Russian KGB, and now operates the world’s largest private weapons transport network. Based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bout operates freely there until well after 9/11. The US becomes aware of Bout’s widespread illegal weapons trading in Africa in 1995, and of his ties to the Taliban in 1996, but they fail to take effective action against him for years. (Los Angeles Times 5/19/2002) US pressure on the UAE in November 2000 to close down Bout’s operations there is ignored. Press reports calling him “the merchant of death” also fail to pressure the UAE. (Financial Times 6/10/2000; Bowcott and Norton-Taylor 12/23/2000) After President Bush is elected, it appears the US gives up trying to get Bout, until after 9/11. (Farah 2/26/2002; Smith et al. 4/17/2002) Bout moves to Russia in 2002. He is seemingly protected from prosecution by the Russian government, which in early 2002 will claim, “There are no grounds for believing that this Russian citizen has committed illegal acts.” (Smith et al. 4/17/2002) The Guardian suggests that Bout may have worked with the CIA when he traded with the Northern Alliance, and this fact may be hampering current international efforts to catch him. (Smith et al. 4/17/2002)
Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, discovers that al-Qaeda has established a communications hub and operations center in Sana’a, Yemen, and that there are frequent calls between it and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan (see May 1996 and November 1996-Late August 1998). (Antiwar 10/22/2008; PBS 2/3/2009) According to Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer, the CIA learns of this “communications conduit” through a CIA officer detailed to the NSA and stationed overseas. According to Scheuer, the NSA “refuse[s] to exploit the conduit and threaten[s] legal action against the agency officer who advised of its existence.” Despite the threat, the officer continues to supply the information. Scheuer asks senior CIA officials to intervene with the NSA, but this only leads to “a desultory interagency discussion without resolution.” (Atlantic Monthly 12/2004) Author James Bamford will say: “Scheuer knew how important the house [the operations center in Yemen] was, he knew NSA was eavesdropping on the house. He went to NSA, went to the head of operations for NSA,… Barbara McNamara, and asked for transcripts of the conversations coming into and going out of the house. And the best the NSA would do would be to give them brief summaries every… once a week or something like that, you know, just a report, not the actual transcripts or anything. And so he got very frustrated, he went back there and they still refused.” (Antiwar 10/22/2008) Because of the lack of information, the CIA will actually build its own listening post to get some of the information the NSA is concealing from it (see After December 1996).
The CIA’s bin Laden unit repeatedly and formally requests assistance from the US military to help plan operations against bin Laden and al-Qaeda. Michael Scheuer, the head of the unit, later will recall, “We needed and asked for special operations officers.” But even after the US embassy bombings in August 1998, cooperation is not forthcoming. Finally, in June 1999, the unit is sent individuals who are not special operations officers and only have experience on Iran. Scheuer later will complain, “The bin Laden unit received no support from senior [CIA] officials vis-a-vis the US military.” Scheuer is fired from the unit in June 1999, so presumably his first-hand knowledge of relations between the CIA and Pentagon ends at this time. (Atlantic Monthly 12/2004)
Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, writes a report based on information from al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl saying that al-Qaeda intends to get nuclear weapons (see Late 1993). (Shenon 2008, pp. 190) Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer will write in 2004 that, by this time, his unit has “acquired detailed information about the careful, professional manner in which al-Qaeda [is] seeking to acquire nuclear weapons… there could be no doubt after this date that al-Qaeda [is] in deadly earnest in seeking nuclear weapons.” (Atlantic Monthly 12/2004) Scheuer will add that due to al-Qaeda’s “extraordinarily sophisticated and professional effort to acquire weapons of mass destruction… by the end of 1996, it [is] clear that this [is] an organization unlike any other one we had ever seen.” (CBS News 11/14/2004) The 50-paragraph report, which describes in detail how Osama bin Laden sought the scientists and engineers he needed to acquire enriched uranium and then weaponize it, is sent to CIA headquarters. However, Scheuer’s superiors refuse to distribute the report, saying it is alarmist. Instead, only two of the paragraphs are circulated, buried in a larger memo. (Shenon 2008, pp. 190) However, according to Scheuer: “Three officers of the [CIA]‘s bin Laden cadre [protest] this decision in writing, and [force] an internal review. It [is] only after this review that this report [is] provided in full to [US intelligence] leaders, analysts, and policymakers.” (Atlantic Monthly 12/2004) The memo’s final distribution will come about a year after it is written. (Shenon 2008, pp. 190)
FBI and CIA are concerned that an unnamed militant group, which has apparently purchased an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), will use it for attacks against US interests. At the time, the agencies believed that the only reason to use this UAV would be for either reconnaissance or attack. The primary concern is that it will be used to attack outside the United States, for example, by flying a UAV into a US Embassy or a visiting US delegation. (US Congress 9/18/2002)
Special CIA paramilitary teams enter Afghanistan again in 1997. (Ricks 11/18/2001) Gary Schroen, head of the CIA’s Pakistan office during the late 1990’s, will later comment, “We had connections to the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud’s group of Tajik fighters up in the north. The CIA was sending teams into northern Afghanistan from ‘97 up until about 2000 to meet with Massoud’s people, to try to get them involved.” (Schroen 1/20/2006) (The CIA’s anti-Soviet covert operations officially ended in January 1992. (Coll 2004, pp. 233) ) Around 1999 there will be a push to recruit more agents capable of operating or traveling in Afghanistan. Many locals will be recruited, but apparently none is close to bin Laden (see 1999). This problem is not fixed in succeeding years. (Coll 2/22/2004; 9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Zacarias Moussaoui travels to Baku, Azerbaijan. It is not known why he is there, but Baku is often a staging area for people attempting to go to nearby Chechnya, and there is an important al-Qaeda/Islamic Jihad cell there at the time (see Late August 1998). He meets a CIA informer there, but the informer does not learn Moussaoui’s real name, and does not report on Moussaoui to the CIA until April 2001 (see April 2001). (Tenet 2007, pp. 201)
The US begins to detect that North Korea is interested in obtaining uranium enrichment technology, so that it can acquire the capacity to build a uranium bomb. North Korea’s plutonium activities were frozen in 1994, following an international agreement. Robert Gallucci, a special envoy working for President Clinton, will say he is not surprised by this and expected the North Koreans to try this route after freezing their plutonium activities. He will say: “[B]y 1997 we began to focus on information about enrichment shopping by the North Koreans. [Pakistani scientist A. Q.] Khan was an exceptionally busy person. And believe me, we knew the difference between missile deals and enrichment parts as well as the generals did in Pakistan. It was parts for gas centrifuges that Pak was trading and the North Koreans were buying, simple as that. We were on to them even though it was not yet a large-scale operation. But the CIA always said, ‘let it run.’” (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 280)
A Renditions Branch is established at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. Its job is to find militant leaders and then assist their abduction. The US government has been rendering suspects for four years (see 1993), and the CIA has had a dedicated program for this since the summer of 1995 (see Summer 1995). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 276) Although some specific rendition operations are known (see Summer 1998, July 1998-February 2000, and Late August 1998), the total before 9/11 is not. Estimates vary, but generally fall into a similar range:
Citing a public statement by CIA Director George Tenet, 9/11 commission deputy executive director Chris Kojm will say “70 terrorists were rendered and brought to justice before 9/11;”
Shortly after this, Tenet himself will confirm there were “over 70” renditions; (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
Tenet will also say “many dozen” suspects were rendered before 9/11; (Central Intelligence Agency 3/24/2004)
The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will say that the Branch is involved in “several dozen” renditions before 9/11; (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 728 )
Michael Scheuer, a CIA manager responsible for operations against Osama bin Laden, will say that between 1995 and May 1999 “[t]he operations that I was in charge of concerned approximately 40 people…” (Scheuer 7/1/2006)
The CIA’s bin Laden unit Alec Station sends a memo to CIA Director George Tenet warning him that the Saudi intelligence service should be considered a “hostile service” with regard to al-Qaeda. This means that, at the very least, they could not be trusted. In subsequent years leading up to 9/11, US intelligence will gather intelligence confirming this assessment and even suggesting direct ties between some in Saudi intelligence and al-Qaeda. For instance, according to a top Jordanian official, at some point before 9/11 the Saudis ask Jordan intelligence to conduct a review of the Saudi intelligence agency and then provide it with a set of recommendations for improvement. Jordanians are shocked to find Osama bin Laden screen savers on some of the office computers. Additionally, the CIA will note that in some instances after sharing communications intercepts of al-Qaeda operatives with the Saudis, the suspects would sometimes change communication methods, suggesting the possibility that they had been tipped off by Saudi intelligence. (Risen 2006, pp. 183-184)
Andrew Warren, who will later be accused of date rape when he is chief of the CIA’s station in Algeria (see September 2007 and February 17, 2008), joins the CIA for the first time. He will leave the agency mid-way through this posting (see Before September 11, 2001), but return after the 9/11 attacks (see After September 11, 2001). (MacAskill 1/29/2009) It appears that Warren serves in Iraq and Kuwait at this time; a later Washington Post account will list his postings, and these include those two countries, as well as others Warren is known to have served in after he returns to the agency following 9/11. (Warrick and Smith 3/20/2009) In addition, two 2002 pieces in local papers will say he served at the US embassy in Kuwait between 1999 and 2001. (New York Beacon 4/10/2002; Feber 9/20/2002) Richard Blee, a CIA manager who will later serve as station chief in Afghanistan and may be linked to Warren (see Shortly After December 19, 2001 and January 2002 and After), works on Iraqi issues for the agency in the mid-1990s. (Silverstein 1/28/2007) However, it is unclear whether Blee and Warren know each other at this time. After the date rape allegations become public (see January 28, 2009) some of Warren’s former colleagues will criticise him anonymously in the media. For example, one will say that Warren “married a girl in his [training] class, a really nice girl. He was abusive and controlling… and… he divorced her.” He will add: “He was despised by his peers, in training and in the division, after graduation. His conduct in Algeria was not a surprise or aberration. These personality and performance issues were on display in his three previous tours.” (Stein 4/28/2010)
A later review by the CIA’s inspector general will find that the CIA’s counterterrorism resources are not properly administered during this period. The review will comment that “during the same period [CIA counterterrorism managers] were appealing the shortage of resources, senior officials were not effectively managing the Agency’s counterterrorism funds.”
Although counterterrorism funding increases from 1998, funds are moved from the base budget of the Counterterrorist Center to other CIA units. Some of the funds moved are “used to cover nonspecific corporate ‘taxes’ and for a variety of purposes that… were unrelated to terrorism”;
No funds are moved from other programs to support counterterrorism, even after CIA Director George Tenet issues a “declaration of war” against al-Qaeda in December 1998 and says he wants no resources spared in the fight against terrorism (see December 4, 1998);
Little use of reserve CIA funds is made to fight terrorism;
Counterterrorism managers do not spend all the money they have, even after their funding has been reduced by diversions to other programs. (Central Intelligence Agency 6/2005, pp. x-xi )
The CIA’s inspector general will recommend that accountability boards be convened to review the performance of the following officials for these failings:
The executive director (David Carey from July 1997, A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard from March 2001);
The deputy director for operations (Jack Downing from 1997, James Pavitt from 1999); and
The chief of the Counterterrorist Center (Jeff O’Connell from 1997, Cofer Black from summer 1999). (Central Intelligence Agency 3/16/2001; Coll 2004, pp. xiv, 456; Central Intelligence Agency 6/2005, pp. x-xi )
By the start of 1997, Alec Station, the CIA unit created the year before to focus entirely on bin Laden (see February 1996), is certain that bin Laden is not just a financier but an organizer of terrorist activity. It is aware bin Laden is conducting an extensive effort to get and use a nuclear weapon (see Late 1996). It knows that al-Qaeda has a military committee planning operations against US interests worldwide. However, although this information is disseminated in many reports, the unit’s sense of alarm about bin Laden isn’t widely shared or understood within the intelligence and policy communities. Employees in the unit feel their zeal attracts ridicule from their peers. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) Some higher-ups begin to deride the unit as hysterical doomsayers, and refer to the unit as “The Manson Family.” Michael Scheuer, head of the unit until 1999, has an abrasive style. He and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke do not get along and do not work well together. Scheuer also does not get along with John O’Neill, the FBI’s most knowledgeable agent regarding bin Laden. The FBI and Alec Station rarely share information, and at one point an FBI agent is caught stuffing some of the unit’s files under his shirt to take back to O’Neill. (Zeman et al. 11/2004)
The CIA builds a ground station to intercept calls between Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda’s operations centre in Yemen. (Atlantic Monthly 12/2004; Antiwar 10/22/2008; PBS 2/3/2009) According to author James Bamford, the station is “in the Indian Ocean area, I think it was on Madagascar.” (Antiwar 10/22/2008) The NSA is already intercepting the calls, but refuses to share the raw intelligence with the CIA (see February 1996-May 1998 and December 1996), which is why the agency has to build the station. However, the CIA is only able to get half the conversations, because its technology is not as good as the NSA’s. (Atlantic Monthly 12/2004; Antiwar 10/22/2008; PBS 2/3/2009) Bamford will add, “they were only picking up half of the conversations, apparently it was downlink, they weren’t able to get the uplink, you need a satellite.” (Antiwar 10/22/2008) Presumably, Bamford means the CIA is getting the half of the calls featuring the person talking to bin Laden, but cannot hear the Afghan end of the conversation. To get the other half of the Afghanistan-Yemen calls the CIA would need a satellite. (PBS 2/3/2009)
In 1997 and early 1998, the US develops a plan to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. A CIA-owned aircraft is stationed in a nearby country, ready to land on a remote landing strip long enough to pick him up. However, problems with having to hold bin Laden too long in Afghanistan make the operation unlikely. The plan morphs into using a team of Afghan informants to kidnap bin Laden from inside his heavily defended Tarnak Farm complex. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, calls the plan “the perfect operation.” Gary Schroen, the lead CIA officer in the field, agrees, and gives it about a 40 percent chance of succeeding. (Clarke 2004, pp. 220-221; Coll 2/22/2004; Zeman et al. 11/2004) The Pentagon also reviews the plan, finding it well crafted. In addition, there is “plausible denialability,” as the US could easily distance itself from the raid. Scheuer will comment, “It was the perfect capture operation becauase even if it went completely wrong and people got killed, there was no evidence of a US hand.” (Shenon 2008, pp. 192) However, higher-ups at the CIA are skeptical of the plan and worry that innocent civilians might die. The plan is given to CIA Director George Tenet for approval, but he rejects it without showing it to President Clinton. He considers it unlikely to succeed and decides the Afghan allies are too unreliable. (Clarke 2004, pp. 220-221; Coll 2/22/2004; Zeman et al. 11/2004) Additionally, earlier in May 1998, the Saudis promised to try to bribe the Taliban and try bin Laden themselves, and apparently Tenet preferred this plan (see May 1998). Scheuer is furious. After 9/11 he will complain, “We had more intelligence against this man and organization than we ever had on any other group we ever called a terrorist group, and definitive and widely varied [intelligence] across all the ends, and I could not understand why they didn’t take the chance.” (Zeman et al. 11/2004) There will be later speculation that the airstrip used for these purposes is occupied and will be used as a base of operations early in the post-9/11 Afghan war. (Gellman 12/19/2001)
The CIA again asks the NSA for part of the transcripts of calls between Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda’s operations center in Yemen. The NSA has been intercepting the calls for some time (see Between May and December 1996), but refuses to share the intelligence with Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, in usable form (see December 1996). During the calls, the al-Qaeda operatives talk in a simplistic code, but the NSA apparently does not decrypt the conversations, and only gives Alec Station meaningless summaries of the calls (see February 1996-May 1998). Without the transcripts, Alec Station cannot crack the code and figure out what the operatives are really talking about. As a result, the CIA built a duplicate ground station in the Indian Ocean, and is replicating half of the NSA’s intelligence take on the calls (see After December 1996). However, it cannot obtain the other end of the calls without a satellite. Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer will say, “We would collect it [one end of the calls], translate it, send it to NSA, and ask them for the other half of it, so we could better understand it, but we never got it.” Author James Bamford will comment: “And so the CIA, Mike Scheuer, went back to NSA and said look,… we’re able to get… half the conversations here, but we still need the other half, and NSA still wouldn’t give them the other half. I mean this is absurd, but this is what was going on.” (Antiwar 10/22/2008; PBS 2/3/2009)
An investigation of al-Qaeda contacts in Hamburg by the Office for the Protection of the Constitution (BfV), Germany’s domestic intelligence service, begins at least by this time (Germany refuses to disclose additional details). The investigation is called Operation Zartheit (Operation Tenderness), and it was started by a tip about Mohammed Haydar Zammar from Turkish intelligence (see 1996). (New York Times 1/18/2003)
Zammar Linked to Hamburg 9/11 Cell and Bin Laden - It is later believed that Zammar, a German of Syrian origin, is a part of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. (Rotella 1/14/2003) Zammar will later claim that he recruited 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta and others into the cell. (Washington Post 6/12/2002) German intelligence is aware that he was personally invited to Afghanistan by bin Laden. (Schrom and Laabs 2/2/2003) The investigation into Zammar allegedly stops in early 2000, after investigators conclude they don’t have enough evidence to convict him of any crime. (Stark 11/21/2005)
CIA Involved with Zammar Operation - Vanity Fair will later claim that “A lone CIA agent, the Germans disclose, attempted to work alongside them” in Operation Zartheit, but German “requests for greater information and cooperation from the CIA, they claim, came to naught.” (Zeman et al. 11/2004) This CIA agent is probably Thomas Volz, who is the CIA’s undercover agent in Hamburg at the time (see December 1999).
David Edger, a veteran CIA operative, is nominated chief of station at the US embassy in Berlin. (Pincus 5/1/1997) Previously, Edger had been associate deputy director for operations in the Directorate of Operations (DO) since July 1995. (Superville 7/31/1995) The DO is the clandestine operations arm of the CIA. (Tenet 2007, pp. 18) Many reports in the German and international press indicate that the CIA was monitoring members of the Hamburg cell in the years before 9/11 and tried to recruit informers (see November 1, 1998-February 2001 and December 1999). Although press reports do not mention him by name, these efforts would have been overseen by Edger. He will later say that the CIA tracked some of the people responsible for the 9/11 attacks in Germany (see February 12, 2002). Edger will stay in this position until the summer of 2001, when he is appointed to the University of Oklahoma (see August 2001).
Mir Aimal Kasi, an Islamic militant who killed two CIA officers and wounded another three in 1993 (see January 25, 1993), is arrested in Pakistan by a joint US-Pakistani team.
Betrayal - The capture is a result of reward money offered for information about him. After the shooting, Kasi hid in Pakistan, where he was protected by a local tribal leader. However, the leader decides he would like the reward money, and sends an emissary to the US consulate in Karachi, where he speaks to the FBI and provides evidence the leader can deliver Kasi. Pakistan’s ISI agrees to help and the three agencies send representatives to the town of Dera Ghazi Khan. (Coll 2004, pp. 374-5; Associated Press 12/27/2005) The town is in the Punjab, in central Pakistan. (Columbia Encyclopaedia 2007) The tribal leader lures Kasi there and he is captured by the joint team, then rendered to the US.
Tenet's Reaction - CIA Director George Tenet calls hundreds of the agency’s staff together to celebrate the operation, declaring, “No terrorist should sleep soundly as long as this agency exists,” and encouraging employees to “have a cocktail before noon.” (Coll 2004, pp. 374-5; Associated Press 12/27/2005)
Reason for Rendition - National Security Council official Daniel Benjamin will explain why Kasi and Bojinka plotter Ramzi Yousef (see February 7, 1995) are not extradited in the normal manner, but rendered: “Both were apprehended in Pakistan, whose leaders decided that the nation would rather not have those two—folk heroes to some—sitting in jail, awaiting extradition. Pakistan’s leaders feared that cooperating with the United States would be dangerously unpopular, so they wanted the suspects out of the country quickly.” (Benjamin 10/21/2007)
George J. Tenet becomes the new director of the CIA. He will remain in the position well after 9/11. Tenet was never a CIA field agent, but started his government career as a Congressional aide. From 1993 to 1995 he was a senior intelligence staffer on the National Security Council. He was a CIA deputy director from 1995. In December 1996, John Deutch abruptly resigned as CIA director and Tenet was made acting director until he is confirmed as the new director in July 1997. (Diamond 10/9/2002)
The CIA significantly expands its paramilitary capacity under new Director George Tenet (see July 11, 1997). The agency had a large paramilitary arm that had been used during the 1960s and 1970s, for example in Vietnam, but the capacity was wound down following scandals at the end of the 1970s implicating the CIA in assassinations and torture. However, at some point in the late 1990s the CIA again begins to enlarge its paramilitary unit, known as the Special Operations Group (SOG). (Waller 12/10/2001; Waller 2/3/2003) The SOG becomes involved in the CIA’s rendition program. (Grey 2007, pp. 142)
The CIA creates a secret task force to monitor Central Asia’s politics and gauge its wealth. Covert CIA officers, some well-trained petroleum engineers, travel through southern Russia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan to sniff out potential oil reserves. (Nelan 5/4/1998)
Some time after he is appointed CIA Director (see July 11, 1997), but before 9/11, George Tenet negotiates a series of agreements with telecommunications and financial institutions “to get access to certain telephone, Internet, and financial records related to ‘black’ intelligence operations.” The arrangements are made personally by the companies’ CEOs and Tenet, who plays “the patriot card” to get the information. The arrangement involves the CIA’s National Resources Division, which has at least a dozen offices in the US. The Division’s main aim is to recruit people in the US to spy abroad. However, in this case the Division makes arrangements so that other intelligence agencies, such as the NSA, can access the information and records the CEOs agree to provide. (Woodward 2006, pp. 323-5) There is a history of co-operation between the CIA’s National Resources Division and the NSA. For example, Monte Overacre, a CIA officer assigned to the Division’s San Diego office in the early 1990s, said that he worked with the NSA there, obtaining information about foreign telecommunications programs and passing it on to the Technology Management Office, a joint venture between the two agencies. (Dreyfuss 1/1998) One US official will say that the arrangements only give the CIA access to the companies’ passive databanks. However, reporter Bob Woodward will say that the programme raises “serious civil liberties questions and also demonstrate[d] that the laws had not kept pace with the technology.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 324-5) There will be an interagency argument about the program after 9/11 (see (2003 and After)).
Dan Coleman, an FBI agent working with Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, has been examining transcripts from wiretapped phones connected to bin Laden’s businesses in Sudan (see Early 1990s). One frequently called number belongs to Wadih El-Hage, a US citizen who is later revealed to be bin Laden’s personal secretary. El-Hage often makes obvious and clumsy attempts to speak in code. The CIA comes to believe that El-Hage might be recruited as an agent. On this day, Coleman, two CIA agents, and a Kenyan police officer enter El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya, with a search warrant. The investigators interview El-Hage (who returned that day from visiting bin Laden in Afghanistan) and confiscate his computer. (Braun et al. 10/14/2001; Wright 2006, pp. 242-244) A large amount of incriminating evidence is discovered in El-Hage’s documents and computer files (see Shortly After August 21, 1997 and Shortly After August 21, 1997). El-Hage moves to the US, where he is interviewed by a grand jury, then let go (see September 24, 1997). He will be arrested shortly after al-Qaeda bombs the US embassy in Nairobi (see September 15, 1998). He will be sentenced to life in prison for his role in that attack. State Department officials will later strongly assert that while staffers at the US embassy in Kenya were told about the raid at the time, they were not told about any potential connection to al-Qaeda. However, US intelligence officials strongly assert that the embassy staff was frequently briefed about the bin Laden connection. (Risen and Weiser 1/9/1999)
An informant tells an intelligence agency allied to the US that the Nairobi, Kenya, branch of a Saudi charity named the Al Haramain Islamic Foundation is plotting to blow up the US embassy in Nairobi. The chief of the CIA station in Kenya passes on this informant’s warning to Ambassador Prudence Bushnell and others at the embassy. On October 31, 1997, the Kenyan government acts on the informants’ tip, arresting nine Arabs connected to the charity and seizing their files.
Charity Already Linked to Al-Qaeda Cell in Kenya - A 1996 secret CIA report shows the CIA has already linked Al Haramain to militants, smuggling, drug running, and prostitution (see January 1996). In August 1997, US intelligence raids the Kenya house of Wadih el-Hage because they correctly believe he is heading an al-Qaeda cell there (see August 21, 1997). The raid uncovers a business card belonging to Mansour al-Kadi, the Deputy General of Al Haramain’s worldwide operations (see Shortly After August 21, 1997).
CIA Fails to Take Warning Seriously - The CIA sends a special team to analyze the files and finds no evidence of a plot. This team wants to question the nine arrested Arabs, but the CIA station chief refuses to ask the Kenyan government for access to the suspects, saying he doesn’t want to bother them any more about the issue. The CIA drops the investigation and the nine Arabs are deported. Ambassador Bushnell is told that the threat has been eliminated. But some members of the CIA team are furious and feel that their investigation was short-circuited. Some intelligence officials believe at the time that members of the charity have ties to bin Laden. (Risen and Weiser 1/9/1999)
Charity Later Linked to Kenya Bombings - The Nairobi embassy will be bombed in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). In 2004, it will be reported that according to US officials, “A wholesale fish business financed with Al Haramain funds… steered profits to the al-Qaeda cell behind the [embassy bombing].” One of the bombers confessed days after the bombing that this “business was for al-Qaeda.” (Associated Press 6/7/2004) In 2004, the Treasury Department will say that two members of the Al Haramain branch in the nearby Comoros Islands helped some of the bombers escape from Kenya after the bombings. (US Treasury Department 9/9/2004)
Charity Stays Open, Linked to Later Kenya Bombing - A month later after the bombing,s the Kenyan government will ban Al Haramain from the country, but its office nonetheless remains open. Some funds connected to it are believed to have helped support the al-Qaeda cell behind the 2002 bombings in Mombasa, Kenya (see November 28, 2002). Yet Al Haramain’s Kenya office still remains open until late 2004, when Al Haramain is shut down worldwide (see March 2002-September 2004). (Associated Press 6/7/2004)
The CIA celebrates its 50th anniversary with a ceremony at its headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Director George Tenet awards special medallions to 50 past and present staff for their outstanding contributions to postwar American intelligence. One of the 50 is David Blee, a former head of the agency’s Soviet division (see 1971) and counterintelligence (see 1978), whose citation says the award is for “creating a professional counterintelligence discipline.” (Jackson 8/22/2000) In total, Blee earns two CIA Distinguished Intelligence Medals, the National Intelligence Distinguished Service Medal, and the National Security Medal for his work at the agency. (Los Angeles Times 8/18/2000)
An Egyptian named Mustafa Mahmoud Said Ahmed walks into the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, and tells CIA officers that he knows of a group planning to blow up the embassy. He reveals that he is part of the group and has already taken surveillance photos of the embassy for the attack. The details he mentions, such as the use of several vehicles and stun grenades, accurately depicts how the attack will actually occur nine months later. He works for an al-Qaeda front company in Kenya. The CIA sends the State Department two intelligence reports on Ahmed’s warning, but cautions that he may have fabricated his story. Ahmed is released and deported. He apparently is involved in the bombing of the US embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on the same day the Nairobi embassy is bombed. Ahmed will contact the British embassy the day after the bombings and offer to help. He is overheard saying that, “I told them everything I knew” and that he had been cooperating with Western officials “since last year.” He will reveal important information that leads to the arrest of some of the bombers (see August 8-15, 1998). (Bonner and Risen 10/23/1998; Risen and Weiser 1/9/1999; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 205) The State Department is in charge of embassy security, and the department steps up security at the Nairobi embassy for several weeks, but then security measures return to normal. Prudence Bushnell, the US Ambassador to Kenya, will plead for improved embassy security, but her requests will go unheeded (see December 1997-Spring 1998). (Risen and Weiser 1/9/1999)
As a part of co-operation with Egyptian authorities against Islamic militancy, the CIA funds what is supposed to be a program to train Egyptian special operations forces in counterterrorism arrests. However, according to US ambassador to Egypt Edward Walker, a problem emerges: there are “too many people that die[…] while fleeing” their arrest. Author Stephen Grey will comment, “It was more of a hit squad than an arrest squad.” The funding for the program is cut off in 1998, because, according to Walker, “It got to be a little too obvious and the Agency got very nervous about this.” (Grey 2007, pp. 126-127)
The FBI begins an investigation into the Illinois-based Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) by chance. A Chicago FBI agent is attending a conference in Washington, DC, and learns of foreign intelligence reports that BIF executive director Enaam Arnaout was involved in providing logistical support for radical militants. It is not clear why the Chicago office near BIF’s headquarters was not already informed about BIF and Arnaout, given what US intelligence already knows by this time: (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 95 )
Beginning in 1993, the FBI was continually monitoring an al-Qaeda cell in Florida that sends money to militants overseas using BIF bank accounts, and one of the cell members filed BIF’s incorporation papers (see (October 1993-November 2001)). The FBI interviewed one of the cell members, Adham Amin Hassoun, and asked him about BIF and Arnaout. BIF founder Adel Batterjee was listed on the incorporation papers (see 1993).
It was reported in the Guardian and other newspapers in 1993 that BIF was shut down in Saudi Arabia, when closing a charity was a highly unusual move for that country. The Guardian says that BIF founder Batterjee, “a known political activist,” has been detained. Media reports also link him to assisting Saudi fighters in the Bosnian war (see 1993).
In 1994, Mohammed Loay Bayazid, president of BIF at the time, was arrested in the US with Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, bin Laden’s brother-in-law, and another of bin Laden’s brothers. Khalifa was quickly linked to the Bojinka plot and many other al-Qaeda ties and plots, yet all three were let go and Bayaid continued to work at BIF until 1998. Bayazid was one of al-Qaeda’s founding members (see December 16, 1994).
In early 1996, a secret CIA report suggested that Arnaout was involved in the kidnapping and murders of a small group of Western tourists in Kashmir, including Americans (see July 4, 1995). The report also links BIF to other militant charity fronts and extremists, including the commander of a training camp in Afghanistan. (Central Intelligence Agency 1/1996)
In 1996, trusted al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl revealed that bin Laden considered BIF one of its three most important charity fronts (see 1993), and the FBI was heavily involved in debriefing al-Fadl for many months (see June 1996-April 1997). Al-Fadl also met with Arnaout and other al-Qaeda leaders in Bosnia and discussed many operations, including how to use Bosnia to establish a base to fight the US (see Autumn 1992).
In 1996, al-Fadl also revealed that BIF president Bayazid took part in an al-Qaeda attempt to buy enriched uranium (see Late 1993).
In early 1998, Bayazid moves to Turkey and works with Maram, an al-Qaeda front company involving a number of well-known al-Qaeda figures. US intelligence learns of calls between BIF headquarters in Illinois and Bayazid in Turkey (see November 1996-September 1998).
These agents will open a full field investigation into BIF in February 1999 (see February 1999-September 10, 2001). They will later learn some useful information from the CIA, but just what is unclear. The 9/11 Commission will say that the “CIA held back some information” from these agents, supposedly “because of fears of revealing sources and methods in any potential criminal litigation…” (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 96 )
In 1998, CIA analysts realize that ground crews for illegal arms dealer Victor Bout are performing maintenance chores for Ariana Airlines planes flying to and from Afghanistan. Bout’s air fleet is based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE), at the time, and in fact Bout has been working with the Taliban since about 1996 (see October 1996-Late 2001). The CIA has also been gathering intelligence that al-Qaeda operatives are frequently moving between Afghanistan and the UAE. Ariana, Afghanistan’s official airline, is the only airline making flights between the Middle East and Afghanistan. Therefore, Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, concludes that Ariana is being used as a “terrorist taxi service.” Scheuer concludes that Bout is assisting al-Qaeda. He will later comment that when al-Qaeda operatives would travel through the UAE, “it was almost always through Ariana flights. Since Bout’s operation was working with Ariana, they were part of the same set of concerns.” The CIA also notices an increasing number of Bout’s own planes flying to and from Afghanistan. Scheuer will later say, “Our human intelligence said it was mostly small arms and ammunition, going to Kandahar and occasionally to Kabul.” (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 138-140) However, while intelligence reports on Bout’s ties to the Taliban continue, interest in his activities in Afghanistan fades by the end of 1998. Scheuer will later claim that he tried to raise concern about the Bout flights with National Security Council officials, but saw little interest. “I never got a sense that he was important. He was part of the problem we had with the terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan, but there were so many parts we were dealing with.… [N]o one was going to fall on their sword to get Victor Bout.” (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 143) After 9/11, evidence will emerge that about nine of the 9/11 hijackers worked in the Kandahar airport heavily used by Bout’s airplanes (see Summer 2000).
In 1998, the CIA becomes interested in the links between arms dealer Victor Bout, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, and some US counternarcotics officials are particularly intrigued by a pattern they see between the flight patterns of Bout’s airplanes to and from Afghanistan and the hunting vacations of some Persian Gulf royals. Many of the Persian Gulf elite are known to regularly go bird hunting in Afghanistan, sometimes meeting Taliban ruler Mullah Omar and/or Osama bin Laden during their hunting trips (see 1995-2001). US analysts notice that there is a surge of Bout-controlled flights to Afghanistan in February and March of each year, the same time many royal elite fly to Afghanistan on their private jets in time for the migration of thousands of houbara bustards through Afghanistan. Then, in early autumn, there is another surge of flights by both Bout’s planes and the royal jets when the bustards migrate through the country again. Officials at the CIA’s counternarcotics center suspect some of the royals are using the hunting flights as cover to export heroin. The Bout flights increase the suspicion, since he is a known drug trafficker as well as an arms dealer. Scheuer will later comment, “They were very interested on the counternarcotics side about the patterns between Bout’s flights and the bustard-hunting season.” British intelligence is interested in the same thing, and at one point they approach United Arab Emirates (UAE) officials for permission to sneak a team of agents aboard one of Bout’s flights to search for Afghan heroin. However, they are unable to get permission, and the CIA also does not act on these suspicions. (Farah and Braun 2007, pp. 141)
The US begins to send Pakistan a series of demarches complaining about its nuclear proliferation activities. The sending of the demarches follows the receipt of intelligence about nuclear deals between Pakistan and North Korea. North Korea’s plutonium program is in abeyance at this time, but it has begun a uranium enrichment project and the US is aware of this. However, according to State Department official Robert Einhorn, Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan is never mentioned in the demarches, at the CIA’s request. The CIA wants Khan’s proliferation network to continue to run and is worried that mentioning him in them would tip him off to what the CIA knows. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 280)
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who claims to have made many secret trips into Afghanistan and to have fought with the mujaheddin, later describes to Congress a missed opportunity to capture bin Laden. He claims that “a few years” before 9/11, he is contacted by someone he knows and trusts from the 1980s Afghan war, who claims he could pinpoint bin Laden’s location. Rohrabacher passes this information to the CIA, but the informant isn’t contacted. After some weeks, Rohrabacher uses his influence to set up a meeting with agents in the CIA, NSA, and FBI. Yet even then, the informant is not contacted, until weeks later, and then only in a “disinterested” way. Rohrabacher concludes, “that our intelligence services knew about the location of bin Laden several times but were not permitted to attack him… because of decisions made by people higher up.” (US Congress 9/17/2001)
George Tenet, appointed as CIA director in 1997 (see July 11, 1997), develops close personal relationships with top Saudi officials, especially Prince Bandar, the Saudi ambassador to the US. Tenet develops a habit of meeting with Bandar at his home near Washington about once a month. But CIA officers handling Saudi issues complain that Tenet doesn’t tell them what he discusses with Bandar. Often they are only able to learn about Tenet’s deals with the Saudis later and through Saudi contacts, not from their own boss. Tenet also makes one of his closest aides the chief of the CIA station in Saudi Arabia. This aide often communicates directly with Tenet, avoiding the usual chain of command. Apparently as a favor to the Saudis, CIA analysts are discouraged from writing reports raising questions about the Saudi relationship to Islamic extremists. (Risen 2006, pp. 185)
In 2004, it will be reported, “A former very senior CIA counterintelligence official told UPI that in 1998-99, the CIA discovered an Israeli couple, who were subcontracted to a US phone company, were working for Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service. ‘They did incredible damage—they got incredibly sensitive data, including key words identifying individuals or projects,’” this source said, adding he himself gave the case to the FBI. Additional details are not known. (Sale 12/9/2004) In 2005, a US criminal indictment will reveal that the FBI began monitoring some Israeli diplomatic officials in the US by April 1999 (see April 13, 1999-2004), but is it not known if there is any connection between that and this case.
After a renditions branch is established at the CIA in 1997, responsibility at the agency for dealing with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is transferred there. This is because he is wanted in connection with the Bojinka plot (see January 8, 1998). The 9/11 Commission will say that this both improves the CIA’s coverage of KSM—because it gives them a “man-to-man” focus—and also degrades it—as less analysis is performed related to rendition targets. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 276-7) The CIA’s inspector general will say that at this time the agency’s Counterterrorist Center considers KSM a “high-priority target for apprehension and rendition,” but will fail to recognize the importance of reporting from “credible sources” before 9/11 that shows he is a top al-Qaeda leader and is sending other terrorists to the US to work for Osama bin Laden (see June 12, 2001 and August 28, 2001). The inspector general will recommend that an accountability board review the performance of at least four officers for these failures. (Central Intelligence Agency 6/2005, pp. xii-xiii )
Beginning in 1998, if not before, Uzbekistan and the CIA secretly create a joint counterterrorist strike force, funded and trained by the CIA. This force conducts joint covert operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. (Times of India 10/14/2001; Ricks and Glasser 10/14/2001; Zeman et al. 11/2004) In February 1999, radical Muslims fail in an attempt to assassinate Islam Karimov, the leader of Uzbekistan, leading to a crackdown on Uzbek militants. CIA counterterrorism head Cofer Black and bin Laden unit chief Richard Blee see this as an opportunity to increase co-operation with Uzbekistan, and fly to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent to seal an agreement with Karimov. One hope is that a strike force will be established to snatch Osama bin Laden or one of his lieutenants. Karimov also allows CIA transit and helicopter operations at Uzbek air bases, as well as the installation of CIA and NSA monitoring equipment to intercept Taliban and al-Qaeda communications. The CIA is pleased with the new allies, thinking them better than Pakistan’s ISI, but at the White House some National Security Council members are skeptical. One will comment, “Uzbek motivations were highly suspect to say the least.” There are also worries about Uzbek corruption, human rights abuses, and scandal. (Coll 2004, pp. 456-460)
The CIA apparently ignores a warning from a recently retired CIA agent that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is heading al-Qaeda’s terrorist operations. Robert Baer left the CIA in late 1997 and began private consulting in the Middle East. Baer soon meets Hamad bin Jassim bin Hamad al Thani, who was Qatar’s minister of the economy and chief of police until he was deposed and exiled the year before. Al Thani tells Baer that KSM is now bin Laden’s chief of terrorist operations, and gives Baer other details about KSM, including how some Qatari royals helped KSM escape Qatar the year before after the CIA tracked him there (see January-May 1996 and Early 1998). In early 1998, Baer passes all this information on to a friend still in the CIA, who then passes it on to the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. But the friend writes back a week later, saying the CIA showed no interest. (Baer 2003, pp. 190-198) The 9/11 Commission, by contrast, will later claim that, in 1997 and 1998, KSM has some links with al-Qaeda, but mostly helps them collect newspaper articles and update computer equipment. Supposedly, not until after the August 1998 embassy bombings does he begin working directly with al-Qaeda on plotting attacks. This account appears entirely based on KSM’s testimony taken while in US custody. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 149-150) It will later be reported that up to 90 percent of KSM’s testimony could be inaccurate, mostly due to the use of torture (see Late August 1998). Further, the CIA gained evidence shortly after the embassy bombings that KSM was one of the masterminds of those bombings, which would strongly support Baer’s information over the 9/11 Commission version (see August 6, 2007).
Bin Laden holds a meeting with other top al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan this month to prepare for a new wave of attacks. CIA analysts are able to learn some about this meeting, apparently largely due to NSA communications intercepts. On US official will say later in 1998, “There were reams of intel documenting bin Laden before” the African embassy bombings later in the year (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Another official will say, “We’ve had the book on this guy for a long time.” But it is not known which attacks may have been discussed at this meeting or how much US intelligence knew about what was said there. (Risen 9/6/1998)
CIA officer Valerie Plame Wilson uses the front company Brewster Jennings & Associates as cover for work against the nuclear proliferation network run by Pakistani scientist A. Q. Khan. Details of what exactly she does and whether other CIA officers use it as cover are not known. However, she is said to pose as an “oil consultant” and the company is also said to be involved in alternative energy in some way. (Gourlay, Calvert, and Lauria 1/27/2008) According to former CIA officer Vincent Cannistraro, her specialty in the agency’s nonproliferation center is biological, chemical and nuclear weapons, and “recruiting agents, sending them to areas where they could access information about proliferation matters, weapons of mass destruction.” (Meek and Bazinet 1/27/2008) Plame Wilson makes a donation of $1,000 to Al Gore’s election campaign in 1999 giving the company’s name as her employer, and also lists it as her employer on her 1999 tax forms. (Gourlay, Calvert, and Lauria 1/27/2008)
Western intelligence agencies learn that Kang Thae Yun, a North Korean diplomat who facilitates nuclear co-operation between his government and Pakistan, is involved in negotiations between the Pakistan-based Tabani Corporation and a Russian company that makes mass spectrometers, lasers, and carbon fiber. They also learn he is discussing a purchase of maraging steel, which can be used in a nuclear program, but this steel is for his own government. The knowledge spurs MI6 and the CIA to increase their efforts to find out whether the North Koreans have established a cascade to weaponize uranium using technology obtained from Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 279-180)
“Just months before” the US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), Kenyan intelligence warns the CIA about an imminent plot to attack the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. Paul Muite, a prominent lawyer and legislator in Kenya, later says he was told the CIA showed the Kenyan warning to the Mossad, who was dismissive about its reliability. The CIA then chose to ignore it. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 206)
The CIA’s bin Laden unit, first created in early 1996 (see February 1996), is ordered disbanded. It is unclear who gave the order. The unit appears to have been the most vocal section of the US government pushing for action against bin Laden. Apparently CIA Director George Tenet is unaware of the plans to disband the unit. He intervenes in mid-May and preserves the unit. Michael Scheuer, the head of the unit, later will comment that by doing so, Tenet “dodged the bullet of having to explain to the American people why the [CIA] thought bin Laden was so little of a threat that it had destroyed the bin Laden unit weeks before two US embassies were demolished.” Scheuer also will comment, “the on-again, off-again signals about the unit’s future status made for confusion, distraction, and much job-hunting in the last few weeks” before the embassy attacks. (Atlantic Monthly 12/2004)
The first Interpol (international police) arrest warrant for bin Laden is issued—by Libya. (Bright 11/10/2002) According to the authors of the controversial book The Forbidden Truth, British and US intelligence agencies play down the arrest warrant, and have the public version of the warrant stripped of important information, such as the summary of charges and the fact that Libya requested the warrant. The arrest warrant is issued for the 1994 murder of two German intelligence agents in Libya by the al-Qaeda affiliate in Libya, al-Muqatila (see March 10, 1994). Allegedly, the warrant is downplayed and virtually ignored because of the hostility of Britain towards the Libyan government. British intelligence collaborated with al-Muqatila in an attempt to assassinate Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi in 1996 (see 1996). (Brisard and Dasquie 2002, pp. 97-98)
When Saudi authorities foil a plot by al-Qaeda manager Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri to smuggle missiles into the kingdom (see 1997), CIA director George Tenet becomes so concerned they are withholding information about the plot from the US that he flies to Saudi Arabia to meet Interior Minister Prince Nayef. Tenet is concerned because he believes that the four antitank missiles smuggled in from Yemen by al-Nashiri, head of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula, may be intended for an assassination attempt on Vice President Albert Gore, who is to visit Saudi Arabia shortly. Tenet and another CIA manager are unhappy about the information being withheld and Tenet flies to Riyadh “to underscore the importance of sharing such information.” Tenet obtains “a comprehensive report on the entire Sagger missile episode” from Interior Minister Prince Nayef by making a not-so-veiled threat about negative publicity for Saudi Arabia in the US press. (Tenet 2007, pp. 105-6) It will later be reported that the militants’ plan is apparently to use the armor-piercing missiles to attack the armored limousines of members of the Saudi royal family. (Tyler 12/23/2002) There are no reports of the planned attack being carried out, so it appears to fail due to the confiscation of the missiles. However, al-Nashiri will later be identified as a facilitator of the East African embassy bombings (see August 22-25 1998) and will attend a summit of al-Qaeda operatives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, which is monitored by local authorities and the CIA (see January 5-8, 2000).
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)
Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, later will claim that in a one-year period starting in May 1998, the CIA gives the US government “about ten chances to capture bin Laden or kill him with military means. In all instances, the decision was made that the ‘intelligence was not good enough.’ This assertion cannot be debated publicly without compromising sources and methods. What can be said, however, is that in all these cases there was more concern expressed by senior bureaucrats and policymakers about how international opinion would react to a US action than there was concern about what might happen to Americans if they failed to act. Indeed, on one occasion these senior leaders decided it was more important to avoid hitting a structure near bin Laden’s location with shrapnel, than it was to protect Americans.” He will later list six of the attempts in a book:
May 1998: a plan to capture bin Laden at his compound south of Kandahar, canceled at the last minute (see 1997-May 29, 1998).
September 1998: a capture opportunity north of Kandahar, presumably by Afghan tribals working for the CIA (see September-October 1998).
December 1998: canceled US missile strike on the governor’s palace in Kandahar (see December 18-20, 1998).
February 1999: Military attack opportunity on governor’s residence in Herat (see February 1999).
February 1999: Multiple military attack opportunities at a hunting camp near Kandahar attended by United Arab Emirates royals (see February 11, 1999).
May 1999: Military attack opportunities on five consecutive nights in Kandahar (see May 1999).
Also in late August 1998, there is one failed attempt to kill bin Laden.(see August 20, 1998) (Atlantic Monthly 12/2004; Scheuer 2008, pp. 284)
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later will strongly disagree with Scheuer’s assessment, claiming that the intelligence needed for such an attack on bin Laden was never very good. But he will also point out that the National Security Council and White House never killed any of the operations Scheuer wanted. It was always CIA Director George Tenet and other top CIA leaders who rejected the proposals. Scheuer will agree that it was always Tenet who turned down the operations. (Zeman et al. 11/2004)
Pakistan conducts the sixth and last of a series of nuclear bomb tests that started two days earlier (see May 28, 1998). Samples taken by US aircraft over the site indicate that the test may have involved plutonium, whereas uranium bombs were used for the other five. After the US learns that the tests are witnessed by Kang Thae Yun, a North Korean involved in that country’s proliferation network (see Early June 1998), and other North Korean officials, it will speculate that the final test was performed by Pakistan for North Korea, which is better known for its plutonium bomb program. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will comment, “In terms of nuclear readiness, this placed North Korea far ahead of where the CIA had thought it was, since [North Korea] had yet to conduct any hot tests of its own.” (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 278)
In June 2001, a CIA cable describing background information on bin Laden’s associates will mention that 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) is regularly traveling to the US. The CIA’s Renditions Branch had been looking for KSM since at least 1997. In July 2001, the source of this information will positively identify KSM’s photo from a line up and clarify that the last known time KSM went to the US was in the summer of 1998 (see June 12, 2001). Presumably, KSM may have been more reluctant to travel to the US after the crackdown on al-Qaeda in the wake of the August 1998 embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 277, 533) In May 1995, the FBI learned that KSM had been in the US, had a current and valid US visa, and was planning to come back to the US, possibly to take flying lessons (see April-May 1995). Additionally, KSM will receive a new US visa on July 23, 2001, though it isn’t known if he ever uses it (see July 23, 2001).
A joint surveillance operation conducted by the CIA and Albanian intelligence identifies an Islamic Jihad cell that is allegedly planning to bomb the US Embassy in Tirana, Albania’s capital. The cell was created in the early 1990s by Mohammed al-Zawahiri, brother of Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The operation intercepts lengthy discussions between the cell and Ayman. (Mayer 2/8/2005; Wright 2006, pp. 269) At the behest of the US government, Egypt, which is co-operating with the US over renditions (see Summer 1995), issues an arrest warrant for Shawki Salama Attiya, one of the militants in the cell. Albanian forces then arrest Attiya and four of the other suspected militants. A sixth suspect is killed, but two more escape. The men are taken to an abandoned airbase, where they are interrogated by the CIA, and then flown by a CIA-chartered plane to Cairo, Egypt, for further interrogation. The men are tortured after arriving in Egypt:
Ahmed Saleh is suspended from the ceiling and given electric shocks; he is later hanged for a conviction resulting from a trial held in his absence;
Mohamed Hassan Tita is hung from his wrists and given electric shocks to his feet and back;
Attiya is given electric shocks to his genitals, suspended by his limbs and made to stand for hours in filthy water up to his knees;
Ahmed al-Naggar is kept in a room for 35 days with water up to his knees, and has electric shocks to his nipples and penis; he is later hanged for an offence for which he was convicted in absentia;
Essam Abdel-Tawwab will also describe more torture for which prosecutors later find “recovered wounds.”
On August 5, 1998, a letter by Ayman al-Zawahiri will be published that threatens retaliation for the Albanian abductions (see August 5, 1998). Two US embassies in Africa will be bombed two days later (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). (Chandrasekaran and Finn 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Mayer 2/8/2005; Grey 2007, pp. 128) The US State Department will later speculate that the timing of the embassy bombings was in fact in retaliation for these arrests. (Taylor 12/15/2001)
The “Team B” intelligence analysis exercise of 1975, which so disastrously overestimated the Soviet threat (see November 1976), returns in the form of the “Rumsfeld Commission,” which issues its report this month. Conservative commentators and former participants have called for a second “Team B”-style competitive intelligence analysis ever since the fall of the Berlin Wall (see 1990, 1994, and 1996). The “Commission to Assess the Ballistic Missile Threat to the United States” (see July 15, 1998), led by former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, is packed with conservative and neoconservative hardliners much as the original Team B cadre was; it includes some former Team B members such as former Pentagon official Paul Wolfowitz. Like the original Team B, the Rumsfeld Commission challenges CIA estimates of foreign military threats; like the original Team B, the Rumsfeld Commission wildly overestimates the impending threat from countries such as Iran and North Korea, both of which it judges will be capable of striking the US with nuclear weapons in five years or perhaps less. The original Team B findings impelled thirty years of full-bore military spending by the US to counter a Soviet threat that was fading, not growing; the Rumsfeld Commission’s equally alarmist findings impels a new push for spending on the so-called “Star Wars” ballistic missile defense system (see March 23, 1983). Conservative activist Phyllis Schlafly will observe that the Rumsfeld Commission’s report “provided Congress with enough talking points to win the argument [on missile defense] both in the strategic arena and in the 20-second soundbite television debates.” Former State Department intelligence analyst Greg Thielmann will later observe, “time has proven Rumsfeld’s predictions dead wrong.” Author and professor Gordon R. Mitchell will write that the second “Team B” exercise shows “that by 1998, Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz had honed the art of intelligence manipulation through use of competitive intelligence analysis. Retrospective assessments revealing serious flaws in the Team B work products came long after political officials had already converted the alarmist reports into political support for favored military policies.” (Mitchell 5/2006 )
UN weapons inspector Scott Ritter attempts to leak a confidential United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) report on Iraq’s production of VX nerve agent to the American press (see June 10, 1998). The attempt spirals into an effort by Ahmed Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress (INC—see 1992-1996) to recruit Ritter’s help in crafting a plan for Chalabi’s INC, with American assistance, to overthrow Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and place Chalabi in control. Ritter becomes aware of a report from a US military laboratory that proves in 1991 Iraq had manufactured VX nerve agent and deployed it in missile warheads. The Iraqis have admitted to attempting to produce the deadly toxin, but have long insisted that they were never successful in producing weaponized VX. Although there is no reason to believe that Iraq retains active VX from its former chemical weapons program, UNSCOM officials are furious about having been lied to for years by the Iraqis. UNSCOM chief Richard Butler, involved in delicate negotiations with the Iraqi government on developing a “road map” for addressing numerous outstanding issues between Iraq and the UN, decides to keep the report under wraps. UNSCOM officials are even more outraged at Butler’s decision; many believe that Butler is acquiescing to Clinton administration officials who want to avoid a confrontation with Iraq and the UN. When Ritter offers to leak the document in Washington in such a way that would not be traced to the UNSCOM officials who have seen the report, they quickly slip him a copy of the report, and Ritter prepares to fly to Washington.
First Meeting with Chalabi - Ritter is already scheduled to meet with CIA officials about other intelligence support programs. He calls Randy Scheunemann, the national security adviser for Senator Trent Lott (R-MS), the Senate Majority Leader, and sets up a meeting to, as Ritter will later write, “discuss some new developments” regarding the Iraqis. Scheunemann agrees, and asks if Ritter would be willing to meet with Chalabi at Chalabi’s Georgetown townhouse. Ritter is nonplussed at the request, but decides that since he had already discussed Iraqi weapons of mass destruction with Chalabi in a meeting authorized by Butler (see January 27, 1998), this Georgetown meeting could be construed as a legitimate followup. Ritter agrees. Upon arriving at Washington’s National Airport, he is met by Chalabi’s driver, who takes him to Georgetown. Chalabi presents Ritter with what Ritter will later recall as “an ambitious program, including briefings to senators and their staffs.” The meeting lasts well into the night, and Ritter agrees to stay overnight in a guest room.
Leaking the Report - The next day, Ritter meets with the CIA and then with Scheunemann. Ritter gives Scheunemann the UNSCOM report and explains its significance. “If it could find its way into the press in a way that removed any UNSCOM fingerprints, this would be ideal,” he tells Scheunemann. “That way the data remains uncompromised, and yet politically Butler and the White House can’t ignore it.” Scheunemann says with a smile, “I think we can manage that.”
'The Chalabi Factor' - Scheunemann then takes Ritter to meet Lott, who seems more interested in Ritter’s interactions with Chalabi than in the report. “I hope you take some time to talk with him, and some other interesting people I think you will be meeting with” Lott tells Ritter. “Exchange ideas. See if you can help him in any way. We’re all on the same side here, and we have to start finding ways to break down some barriers others have constructed between us.” Ritter returns to Chalabi’s home, where he meets with Francis Brooke, Chalabi’s principal American adviser, and Max Singer, a conservative foreign policy expert who specializes in what Ritter will term “political warfare.” Scheunemann has asked Singer to write a paper called “The Chalabi Factor” that touts Chalabi as the man to lead a revolution that would result in the ouster of Hussein. Chalabi asked Singer to share the paper with Ritter. Singer has sketched out a scenario that envisions Chalabi and INC fighters capturing the southern oil fields around Basra, giving the INC a political and military foothold inside Iraq, and then rallying disenchanted Shi’ites and Kurds into supporting his insurgency. Ritter later recalls: “I was somewhat taken aback by the content of the Singer paper. I was on dangerous political ground here, a UN weapons inspector charged with the disarmament of Iraq, suddenly dabbling in the world of regime change. Far from advising me on issues of intelligence regarding Iraqi WMD, Ahmed Chalabi had turned the tables and had me advising him on how to overthrow Saddam Hussein.” The three are soon joined by Chalabi and Stephen Rademaker, the lawyer for the House Foreign Affairs Committee and, as Ritter later describes him, an unabashed member of the far right and a Chalabi supporter. The conversation does not center on arms control, as Ritter had originally planned to discuss, but regime change. The others are uninterested in Ritter’s suggestion that pressure be brought to bear on the Hussein regime over the VX discovery. “[W]e all know Saddam is cheating, and that his days are numbered,” Rademaker says. “What we don’t have is a plan on what we are going to do once Saddam is out of office. Mr. Chalabi represents our best hopes in that regard, which is why we’re delighted that you and he are meeting like this.”
Handling the Ba'athists - Ritter tells the others that the Shi’ites and Kurds cannot be treated as “homogeneous movement[s],” but as loose, fractious amalgamations of disparate elements. He then asks: “The key to me is what is missing here: any discussion of the Ba’ath Party or the Sunni tribes. The Ba’ath Party is the only vehicle that exists in Iraq today that unites Sunnis, Shi’a and Kurds alike. It makes modern Iraq function. How do you plan on dealing with the Ba’ath Party in a post-Saddam environment? And what is your plan for winning over the Sunni tribes? How will you bring the tribes that represent the foundation of Saddam’s political support into the fold with your Kurdish and Shi’a supporters?” As Ritter later writes: “Steve Rademaker and Francis Brooke stared blankly. Chalabi was grinning ear to ear. ‘We have a plan. First, we will do away completely with the Baath Party. Those minor members who were forced to join out of survival, of course, they will be allowed to retain their jobs. But anyone who profited from Baathist rule will be punished. As for the Sunni tribes, we are already in contact with their representatives. We feel that the best way to negotiate with them, however, is to make them realize that there is no future with Saddam. Once they realize that, they will come over to our side.’ Chalabi’s ‘plan’ struck me as simplistic at best, and entirely unrealistic.”
The Downing Plan - In answer to Ritter’s questions about defeating the Iraqi military—the large Iraqi Army, the well-trained Republican Guard and other security forces—Chalabi shows Ritter a document, “The Military Plan.” Chalabi says: “This was written for me by Gen. Wayne Downing. I believe you know him from Operation Desert Storm.” Downing had been a Special Forces commander during the 1991 Gulf War; Ritter had worked with Downing’s unit in preventing Iraqi missile launches at Israel (see January 17, 1991). Downing has crafted a plan (see Late 1998) that calls for the US to train and arm several thousand INC fighters who would operate out of bases in western Iraq, out of Hussein’s control. They would fight from light vehicles armed with anti-tank missile launchers, and would rely on support from local tribes in the area, particularly the al-Duleimi in and around Ramadi and Anbar. Ritter is dubious, knowing that the al-Duleimi have provided many of Hussein’s best soldiers. Chalabi is unworried about their support, and tells Ritter, “My people have already had discussions with the tribal leaders of the al-Duleimi, who are ready to join us once we get situated on the ground.” Ritter then objects to Downing’s inclusion of US military advisers and US warplanes, both directly supporting and perhaps even fighting alongside the INC troops. “We don’t operate like that,” Ritter objects. “If we have forces on the ground, then we’ll need to have a base, with a base support element, and base security, and a quick-reaction force in case some of our boys get in trouble. The US presence would have to be much greater than what you’re saying here.” Chalabi merely smiles. “That may be so,” he says, “but we don’t have to highlight it at this time.” Ritter later observes: “The ‘Downing Plan’ was a nice bit of trickery, plotting what was ostensibly an Iraqi opposition military force with minor US military involvement, but masking what was in reality a much larger US military effort with a minor role played by Chalabi’s INC ‘army.’” Ritter is now thoroughly alarmed.
'My Friend Ahmed' - The small group is joined by Danielle Pletka, Rademaker’s wife and a staunchly conservative staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and former CIA director James Woolsey. Over dinner, the group moves from discussing the military plans for overthrowing Hussein to a broader discussion of Chalabi’s political future. Woolsey, a vocal supporter of Chalabi, has no patience with the CIA’s objections to earlier actions by Chalabi and the INC (see January 1996). “This [criticism] is all bunk,” Woolsey says. “Chalabi is an Iraqi patriot and visionary who intimidates many lesser thinkers in Langley. My friend Ahmed is a risk taker who understands the reality of Iraq, unlike the desk-bound analysts and risk-averse operators at the CIA. Chalabi scares these people, so they have created false accusations in order to denigrate him and ultimately destroy him.” Pletka agrees: “We cannot allow this to happen. Ahmed Chalabi has many friends in Congress, and it is our goal to make sure Ahmed Chalabi gets the support he needs to not only survive as a viable opposition figure to Saddam Hussein but more importantly to prevail in Iraq.” Ritter is increasingly uncomfortable with what he will later call “a political strategy session.” It is clear, Ritter will write, “that Chalabi was being groomed for another run at power” (see March 1995).
Recruitment - According to Ritter, Chalabi suggests that Ritter would be very helpful to his organization, and Chalabi could be helpful to Ritter in return. “I have many friends here in Washington,” Chalabi says over breakfast. “With what you know about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, you can be of invaluable assistance to our cause. The VX story is but the tip of the iceberg.” Ritter will describe himself as “taken aback,” since he never told Chalabi about the VX lab report. Ritter replies: “Well, I am just a simple weapons inspector. In any event, it wouldn’t go over well back at the UN to have an UNSCOM inspector plotting regime change down in Washington, DC.” Then, locking eyes with Chalabi, Ritter says: “This is why you must be very discreet about the VX lab report. It simply won’t do for you to have your fingerprints on this information.” Chalabi smilingly replies: “I understand completely. As for your status as a weapons inspector, you must understand that those days are nearly gone. The inspection process has run its course. You need to think about what you are going to be doing in the future. I would like you to work for me.” Ritter objects, noting that an American citizen can’t be involved in plots to overthrow heads of foreign nations. Chalabi corrects Ritter: “You wouldn’t be working for me, but for the US Senate. My friends would create an advisory position for you, and you would in turn advise me. It wouldn’t pay much upfront. But don’t worry. One day I will be the president of Iraq, and will be in control of Iraq’s oil. When that day comes, I will not forget those who helped me in my time of need. Let’s just say that my friends will be given certain oil concessions that will make them very wealthy.”
Meeting with the Senator - Chalabi’s butler drives Ritter to meet with Pletka at the Capitol Building; the two go to the office of Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS), who is fully aware of the VX lab report. Brownback is angry that the Clinton administration is reluctant to fully assist the UNSCOM inspectors. “This will not stand,” he tells Ritter. “Believe me when I say you and your colleagues have friends here in the US Senate who will make sure America honors its commitments and obligations, especially when it comes to disarming a cruel tyrant such as Saddam Hussein.” Afterwards, Ritter and Pletka are joined by Rademaker in the Senate cafeteria, who says he has the ear of several influential Congressmen. “We’ve got their attention,” Rademaker says, “and I think you’ll find that serious pressure will be brought on the Clinton administration to better support your work.” Pletka and Ritter then meet Lott and Scheunemann again; Scheunemann once again asks Ritter for his future collaboration. Lott reassures Ritter that there would be no legal or ethical conflicts: “Well, maybe we can find a way to bring you down here working for us. That might be the most useful thing to do.” Leaving the Senate building, Ritter muses that “Chalabi’s schemes seemed to have some substance behind them.”
Long-Term Ramifications - Butler will drastically revise his report to the UN Security Council, and the news of a “major breakthrough” in disarmament work with the Iraqis is shelved. The Clinton administration will issue statesments publicly supporting the UNSCOM inspectors, undercutting behind-the-scenes attempts by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to have the US pull back from blanket support of the inspections. Conservative Republicans will rally around the cause of Iraqi duplicity; Scheunemann will use the VX report to drum up support for the Iraqi Liberation Act, which will pass several months after Ritter’s dinner with Chalabi (see October 31, 1998). And Chalabi and the INC will become the leading candidates for replacing Hussein. Reflecting on Chalabi’s prominence in the Post report, Ritter will write, “After watching the Republicans build up Chalabi, I should have known that they could not have passed up this opportunity to interject his name into the limelight.”
Iraqis Truthful about VX - Later evidence and inspection findings show that the Iraqi scientists had been truthful: they had never succeeded in stabilizing VX, and had never filled any warheads with the nerve toxin. The lab results are later shown to be severely flawed. Ritter will write, “In the end, I was wrong to have pushed so hard to have the lab results made public.” (Mayer 6/7/2004; Ritter 3/17/2008)
In February 2000, CIA Director George Tenet testifies to Congress, “Since July 1998, working with foreign governments worldwide, we have helped to render more than two dozen terrorists to justice. More than half were associates of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization.” Renditions are a policy of grabbing a suspect off the street of one country and taken the person to another where he was wanted for a crime or questioning without going through the normal legal and diplomatic procedures. (Associated Press 12/27/2005) The CIA had a policy of rendering Islamic Jihad suspects to Egypt since 1995 (see Summer 1995). In July 1998, the CIA discovered a laptop containing organizational charts and locations of al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad operatives, so presumably these renditions are a direct result of that intelligence find (see Late August 1998).
A foreign intelligence agency warns the FBI’s New York office that Arab militants plan to fly a bomb-laden aircraft from Libya into the World Trade Center. The FBI and the FAA do not take the threat seriously because of the state of aviation in Libya. Later, other intelligence information will connect this group to al-Qaeda. The CIA will include the same information in an intelligence report. (Risen 9/18/2002; US Congress 9/18/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 97-98 ) An FBI spokesperson later says the report “was not ignored, it was thoroughly investigated by numerous agencies” and found to be unrelated to al-Qaeda. (Priest and Eggen 9/19/2002) However, the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will come to the conclusion that the group in fact did have ties to al-Qaeda. (Risen 9/18/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003 )
In his 1999 book The New Jackals, journalist Simon Reeve will claim, “The CIA… had informants working within the East Africa cell, but they apparently failed to warn of bin Laden’s plans” to bomb the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Reeve says this information comes from a current unnamed CIA official. (Reeve 1999, pp. 199, 220) Reeve is referring to the cell led by Wadih El-Hage and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul). US intelligence had been aware of the cell and monitoring it since at least April 1996 (see April 1996). One of the informants mentioned above might be Mustafa Mahmoud Said Ahmed (see November 1997), but it is unknown who the other or others could be. Reeve will also claim that US moles within al-Qaeda provide information leading to multiple arrests after the bombings (see Late 1998).
At approximately 5:30 in the morning, Kenya time, Mohammed Saddiq Odeh is arrested at the airport in Karachi, Pakistan. Odeh is one of the bombers in the embassy bombings which take place four hours later in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). (United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38 5/2/2001)
Odeh Stopped Because of Alert Inspector or CIA? - He had flown out of Nairobi, Kenya, the night before, with his plane stopping in Dubai on the way to Pakistan (see August 6-7, 1998). According to some accounts, an inspector notices that Odeh’s passport picture has a beard, while Odeh does not have a beard and looks different. Furthermore, Odeh is unable to look the inspector in the eyes. But according to UPI, he is stopped because he had been identified by the CIA. In any case, over the next hours, he is handed over to intelligence officers and makes a full confession. He admits that he is a member of al-Qaeda, led by bin Laden, and that he is the head of the al-Qaeda cell in Kenya. He even gives the address of the villa where the bomb was built and the names of the other bombers. (Bergen 2001, pp. 116; United Press International 1/2/2001; Milton 4/3/2001; Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 213)
False or Mistaken Account by CIA Officer - CIA officer Gary Berntsen heads the CIA’s emergency deployment team to Tanzania in the immediate wake of the bombings. He will improbably claim in a 2005 book that the US at first primarily suspects Hezbollah. According to him, it is only on August 15 when a CIA officer in Karachi happens to notice an article saying that an Arab traveling on a false passport was arrested in Karachi near the time of the bombings. This is discovered to be Odeh, who is transferred to US custody. Only then does al-Qaeda’s involvement become clear. Perhaps to support this timeline, Berntsen also falsely claims that another bomber, Mohamed al-Owhali, is arrested on August 15 when in fact he is arrested three days earlier. (United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38 5/2/2001; Berntsen and Pezzullo 2005)
Odeh's Confession and Other Al-Qaeda Evidence Kept Secret for Days - Publicly, the US does not link any evidence from the bombing to al-Qaeda until August 17, when Odeh’s confession is finally mentioned in front page news stories. Even then, the story is based on accounts from Pakistani officials and US officials say they cannot confirm it. (Constable and Khan 8/17/1998) In fact, there is a wealth of information immediately tying al-Qaeda to the bombings that is kept secret, including wiretaps of many of the bombers (see April 1996 and May 1998), informants in the cell (see Before August 7, 1998), and even a statement of responsibility that was intercepted hours before the bombings had occurred (see August 5-7, 1998).
Following al-Qaeda’s bombing of two US embassies in East Africa, the CIA notices that the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), an al-Qaeda affiliate, has praised the attack on its website. Also noting Yemeni links to the bombing itself, the CIA turns its attention to the IAA and its leader Zein al-Abidine Almihdhar. The CIA is assisted in this by the local Yemeni authorities. Officials in the Yemeni capital of Sana’a begin to compile a dossier on Almihdhar and his links to the West, including his fundraisers and supporters in Britain. They identify Finsbury Park mosque, run by British intelligence informer Abu Hamza al-Masri, as “crucial” to the IAA’s operations. Almihdhar has a co-operation agreement with Abu Hamza (see (June 1998)) that provides him with money and recruits, and an IAA emissary will allegedly visit London in September (see September 1998). (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 163-164)
In November 1997, an Egyptian named Mustafa Mahmoud Said Ahmed walked into the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya, and told CIA officers of a group planning to blow up the embassy (see November 1997). His warning would turn out to be a startlingly accurate description of the 1998 US embassy bombing in Nairobi (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Ahmed apparently is involved in the bombing of the US embassy in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that takes place the same day the Nairobi embassy is bombed. One day after the attacks, Ahmed contacts the British embassy and offers to help. He is overheard saying, “I told them everything I knew.” He also tells the British that it was “not the first time” he had cooperated with Western officials, and that he had been doing so “since last year.” (Bonner and Risen 10/23/1998; Risen and Weiser 1/9/1999) CIA officer Gary Berntsen will later reveal that he meets Ahmed as Ahmed is being kicked out of an allied government’s embassy. Berntsen then interviews Ahmed, and while the account of the interview is almost completely censored, Ahmed apparently gives information that leads to the arrest of one of the embassy bombers in Pakistan on August 15. This is the crucial break that allows the US to conclusively determine al-Qaeda’s role in the bombings and arrest some of the other bombers. (Berntsen and Pezzullo 2005, pp. 22-25) The US does not ask for Ahmed’s extradition, and he is charged for the Tanzania bombing in that country. The New York Times will report, “Several non-American diplomats in the region [speculate] that the United States is allowing the Tanzanians to try Mr. Ahmed because they fear his trial in America might bring to light his dealings with American authorities and other Western intelligence services.” (Bonner and Risen 10/23/1998; Risen and Weiser 1/9/1999) In March 2000, Tanzania will announce that all charges against Ahmed have been dropped and he is being deported. No reason will be given. (New York Times 3/20/2000)
After the bombings of two US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the British intelligence service MI6 obtains some important information about the attacks, but does not share it with the FBI. MI6 obtains the information from a member of the bombing cell, L’Houssaine Kherchtou, who already has a relationship with MI6 when the attack happens (see Mid-Summer 1998). Kherchtou tries to flee Kenya after the bombing, but, tipped off by the British, local authorities detain him and hand him over to MI6. He is debriefed in Nairobi, but, although the British say they share the information with the CIA, they do not provide it to the FBI, which is investigating the bombing. FBI agent Jack Cloonan will later comment: “[W]e’ve got hundreds of agents on the ground in Kenya and Tanzania trying to figure out what happened. Let me just say it would have been real helpful if the British had told us they had one of the cell members in custody.” Kherchtou helped plan the bombings (see Late 1993-Late 1994) and is handed over to the FBI in the summer of 2000, later becoming a star prosecution witness at the trial (see Summer 2000 and September 2000). (Vest 6/19/2005)
A German newspaper will later note, “For much of the 1990s, the Spanish ran an impressive operation against a Madrid al-Qaeda cell, led by Barakat Yarkas, also known as Abu Dahdah. Wiretaps on Yarkas’s phone had revealed that he was in regular contact with [Mohammed Haydar] Zammar and [Mamoun] Darkazanli.” Spanish intelligence began monitoring Yarkas’ cell in 1997, if not earlier (see 1995 and After). It shares this information with the CIA, but not with German intelligence. The CIA also fails to share the information with Germany. A top German intelligence official will later complain, “We simply don’t understand why they didn’t give it to us.” (Laabs 8/13/2003) Spanish intelligence monitors dozens of telephone calls between Darkazanli in Hamburg and suspected al-Qaeda operatives in Spain starting at least by August 1998. On at least four occasions, Darkazanli is monitored as he travels to Spain and visits Yarkas and Mohammed Galeb Kalaje Zouaydi (who will be arrested in Spain in 2002 on charges of being a key al-Qaeda financier (see April 23, 2002)). (Crewdson 10/19/2003) For instance, at the end of January 2000, Darkazanli is monitored by Spanish intelligence as he meets with Yarkas and some other some suspected al-Qaeda figures. Because the CIA and Spanish intelligence fail to share any of this surveillance information with German intelligence, the Germans are unable to see clear links between Hamburg al-Qaeda operatives and the rest of the al-Qaeda network in Europe. (Crewdson 11/17/2002) The Spanish will continue to monitor Yarkas and those he communicates with until 9/11, and in fact, in late August 2001 one of his associates will apparently make an oblique reference to the 9/11 attacks (see August 27, 2001).
President Clinton signs a Memorandum of Notification, which authorizes the CIA to plan the capture of bin Laden using force. The CIA draws up detailed profiles of bin Laden’s daily routines, where he sleeps, and his travel arrangements. The assassination never happens, supposedly because of inadequate intelligence. However, as one officer later says, “you can keep setting the bar higher and higher, so that nothing ever gets done.” An officer who helped draw up the plans says, “We were ready to move” but “we were not allowed to do it because of this stubborn policy of risk avoidance… It is a disgrace.” (Bowden 9/16/2001) Additional memoranda quickly follow that authorize the assassination of up to ten other al-Qaeda leaders, and authorize the shooting down of private aircraft containing bin Laden. (Gellman 12/19/2001) However, “These directives [lead] to nothing.” (Mayer 7/28/2003)
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)
The New York Times reports that the training camps recently attacked by the US in Afghanistan were built by the US and its allies, years before. The US and Saudi Arabia gave the Afghans between $6 billion and $40 billion to fight the Soviets in the 1980s (see December 8, 1979). Many of the people targeted by the missile attacks were trained and equipped by the CIA years before. (Weiner 8/24/1998)
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. (Isikoff and Klaidman 6/2/2002; Schrom 10/1/2002; Myers 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. (Meyer 12/21/2005; al-Haj 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. (Hosenball and Klaidman 2/18/2002; Fielding and Gadhery 3/24/2002; O'Connor 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. (Wigmore 6/9/2002; Wright 2006, pp. 343; Wright 7/10/2006 ) 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. (Isikoff and Klaidman 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).
CIA operatives kidnap Ahmad Salama Mabruk and two other members of Islamic Jihad outside a restaurant in Baku, Azerbaijan (see Late August 1998). This is part of a covert CIA program to arrest Islamic Jihad operatives around the world and send them to Egypt (see Summer 1995). (Higgins and Cullison 7/2/2002) Mabruk is the closest ally of Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s number two leader. Mabruk’s laptop computer turns out to contain al-Qaeda organizational charts and vital information about Islamic Jihad members in Europe. FBI agent Dan Coleman later calls this “the Rosetta Stone of al-Qaeda.” However, the CIA will not turn this information over to the FBI. John O’Neill, head of the FBI’s New York office, tries to get around this by sending an agent to Azerbaijan to get copies of the computer files from the Azerbaijani government. When that fails, he persuades President Clinton to personally appeal to the president of Azerbaijan for the files. The FBI eventually gets the files, but the incident deepens the tensions between the CIA and FBI. (Wright 2006, pp. 268-269) The US monitored 67 phone calls between bin Laden and Azerbaijan from 1996 to 1998 (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Presumably, many of these would have been to Mabruk. Mabruk is sent to Egypt and given a long prison sentence. (Higgins and Cullison 7/2/2002)
In mid-August 1998, the Mossad intercepts a phone call indicating that an Egyptian militant named Ihab Saqr is planning to meet an Iranian intelligence agent in a hotel in Baku, Azerbaijan, in one week’s time. Saqr is believed to be Ayman al-Zawahiri’s chief of staff. The Mossad is very interested in the Iranian connection but they have no presence in Azerbaijan, so they contact the CIA. The CIA leads a capture operation, with one Mossad agent, Michael Ross, also in attendance. The CIA captures Saqr and two men he is meeting with, but neither of them turn out to be Iranian. The other men are Essam Marzouk and Ahmad Salama Mabruk. Marzouk is an al-Qaeda explosives expert who has just trained the men who bombed two US embassies in Africa earlier in the month. He had been living in Canada and Canadian intelligence has long been suspicious about his militant ties. Mabruk is a known member of Islamic Jihad’s ruling council. The US quickly renditions Saqr, Marzouk, and Mabruk to Egypt. Marzouk is sentenced to 15 years in prison, Mabruk is sentenced to life in prison, and Saqr’s fate in Egypt is unknown. (Bell 10/15/2005; Ross and Kay 2007, pp. 214-224) The US discovers a treasure trove of information about al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad in Mabruk’s laptop (see Late August 1998). But it is unclear why the US was seemingly in the dark and only arresting these figures by chance, because US intelligence had long been monitoring calls between Osama bin Laden and Mabruk in Baku (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Furthermore, Canadian intelligence had also monitored many calls between Mabruk and an Islamic Jihad operative in Canada. (Note that some accounts place the timing of this capture in July 1998, but Canadian intelligence is monitoring Mabruk’s communications up through and after the embassy bombings in August (see August 5-7, 1998 and August 8, 1998 and Shortly After).)
According the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, shortly after the bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), a foreign government sends the CIA a list of individuals who flew into Nairobi before the attack. The CIA recognizes that one of the names is an alias for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). The report that identified this alias also describes KSM as being close to bin Laden. (US Congress 7/24/2003) Yet the 9/11 Commission will fail to mention KSM’s role in the embassy bombings and instead will suggest that KSM is not yet a member of al-Qaeda at this time and only joined al-Qaeda after being impressed by the results of the embassy bombings. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 149-150)
Following the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), CIA managers ask Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, what it most needs to improve the agency’s capabilities against al-Qaeda. Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer will later say that he raises “our dire need for verbatim reports derived from electronic collection.” This is a reference to his desire to get verbatim transcripts of calls to and from al-Qaeda’s operations hub in Yemen, in particular ones between it and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. The NSA has the transcripts, but is refusing to provide them to the CIA, and the two agencies have been at loggerheads over the issue for nearly two years. Alec Station needs the transcripts, not the summaries the NSA provides, because the operatives talk in code on the phone and this code cannot be cracked based on the summaries, only using the transcripts (see February 1996-May 1998, December 1996, After December 1996, and After December 1996). Other senior CIA officers have similar trouble getting transcripts from the NSA. Higher officials order the NSA to comply, and they do, but only for less than 12 requests. Then the system returns to the way it was, with NSA only sharing summaries. (Atlantic Monthly 12/2004) The reason for the change back is unclear, although bin Laden stops using his satellite phone around this time (see Late August 1998).
By this time, US intelligence has documented many links between the Pakistani ISI, Taliban, and al-Qaeda. It is discovered that the ISI maintains about eight stations inside Afghanistan which are staffed by active or retired ISI officers. The CIA has learned that ISI officers at about the colonel level regularly meet with bin Laden or his associates to coordinate access to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. The CIA suspects that the ISI is giving money and/or equipment to bin Laden, but they find no evidence of direct ISI involvement in al-Qaeda’s overseas attacks. The ISI generally uses the training camps to train operatives to fight a guerrilla war in the disputed Indian province of Kashmir. But while these ISI officers are following Pakistani policy in a broad sense, the CIA believes the ISI has little direct control over them. One senior Clinton administration official will later state that it was “assumed that those ISI individuals were perhaps profiteering, engaged in the drug running, the arms running.” One US official aware of CIA reporting at this time later comments that Clinton’s senior policy team saw “an incredibly unholy alliance that was not only supporting all the terrorism that would be directed against us” but also threatening “to provoke a nuclear war in Kashmir.” (Coll 2004, pp. 439-440)
An emissary of the Islamic Army of Aden (IAA), a Yemeni-based al-Qaeda affiliate, visits Finsbury Park mosque in London, according to an unnamed intelligence service. The mosque is run by Abu Hamza al-Masri, a leading radical and informer for the British security services (see Early 1997). According to authors Sean O’Niell and Daniel McGrory, the emissary is “greeted like a hero” by Abu Hamza, addresses worshippers at the mosque, distributes leaflets, and collects money, presumably for jihad in Yemen. Abu Hamza and the IAA are co-operating closely at this time (see (June 1998)). The intelligence service, possibly the CIA or a local Yemeni service working with it, learns of this visit around the time it is made, and the visit is one reason it finds the London connection is “crucial” to the IAA (see After August 7, 1998). (O'Neill and McGrory 2006, pp. 164)
Afghan tribal allies of the US apparently make some failed attempts to capture Osama bin Laden around this time. The 9/11 Commission will later report that during these two months: “[T]he tribals claimed to have tried at least four times to ambush bin Laden. Senior CIA officials doubted whether any of these ambush attempts actually occurred. But the tribals did seem to have success in reporting where bin Laden was.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 127) Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, will later list a September 1998 attempt by the tribals to capture bin Laden north of Kandahar as one of the ten missed opportunities to capture him in 1998 and 1999. (Scheuer 2008, pp. 284)
The US tries to get direct access to al-Qaeda financial chief Tayyib al-Madani, who is being held by the Saudi government, but the Saudis will not allow it. Tayyib turned himself in to the Saudi government in May 1997 (see May 1997). In August 1998, shortly after the US embassy bombings in East Africa, Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, said that the US learned “a lot of intelligence” from the Saudi information about Tayyib regarding how Osama bin Laden “keeps his money, how he transfers it from one bank to another, what are the front companies [he uses].” (Katz 8/21/1998) However, FBI agent Ali Soufan will later say the Saudis never give any information from Tayyib to the FBI, although Soufan acknowledges there are claims that they later do give some information to the CIA. (Soufan 2011, pp. 50) The US presses the Saudi government for direct access to Tayyib to learn more, but the Saudis do not allow it. In September 1998, Vice President Al Gore raises the issue with Crown Prince Abdullah. In November 1998, a National Security Council working group on terrorist finances asks the CIA to push again to get access to Tayyib, and to see “if it is possible to elaborate further on the ties between Osama bin Laden and prominent individuals in Saudi Arabia, including especially the bin Laden family.” But the US does not gain direct access to Tayyib. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 14, 121; 9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 39 ; Risen 2006, pp. 181)
Julie Sirrs, a military analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), travels to Afghanistan. Fluent in local languages and knowledgeable about the culture, she made a previous undercover trip there in October 1997. She is surprised that the CIA was not interested in sending in agents after the failed missile attack on Osama bin Laden in August 1998, so she returns at this time. Traveling undercover, she meets with Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. She sees a terrorist training center in Taliban-controlled territory. Sirrs will later claim: “The Taliban’s brutal regime was being kept in power significantly by bin Laden’s money, plus the narcotics trade, while [Massoud’s] resistance was surviving on a shoestring. With even a little aid to the Afghan resistance, we could have pushed the Taliban out of power. But there was great reluctance by the State Department and the CIA to undertake that.” She partly blames the interest of the US government and the oil company Unocal to see the Taliban achieve political stability to enable a trans-Afghanistan pipeline (see May 1996 and September 27, 1996). She claims, “Massoud told me he had proof that Unocal had provided money that helped the Taliban take Kabul.” She also states, “The State Department didn’t want to have anything to do with Afghan resistance, or even, politically, to reveal that there was any viable option to the Taliban.” After two weeks, Sirrs returns with a treasure trove of maps, photographs, and interviews. (ABC News 2/18/2002; ABC News 2/18/2002; Sheehy 3/11/2004) By interviewing captured al-Qaeda operatives, she learns that the official Afghanistan airline, Ariana Airlines, is being used to ferry weapons and drugs, and learns that bin Laden goes hunting with “rich Saudis and top Taliban officials” (see Mid-1996-October 2001 and 1995-2001). (Braun and Pasternak 11/18/2001) When Sirrs returns from Afghanistan, her material is confiscated and she is accused of being a spy. Says one senior colleague, “She had gotten the proper clearances to go, and she came back with valuable information,” but high level officials “were so intent on getting rid of her, the last thing they wanted to pay attention to was any information she had.” Sirrs is cleared of wrongdoing, but her security clearance is pulled. She eventually quits the DIA in frustration in 1999. (ABC News 2/18/2002; Sheehy 3/11/2004) Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) will claim that the main DIA official behind the punishment of Sirrs is Lieutenant General Patrick Hughes, who later becomes “one of the top officials running the Department of Homeland Security.” (Dana Rohrabacher 6/21/2004)
Future 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta, al-Qaeda operatives Said Bahaji and Ramzi Bin al-Shibh, and others in the al-Qaeda Hamburg cell move into a four bedroom apartment at 54 Marienstrasse, in Hamburg, Germany, and some of them stay there until February 2001. Investigators will later believe this move marks the formation of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell. (McDermott 1/27/2002; Bernstein et al. 9/10/2002) Up to six men at a time live at the apartment, including, at times, 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi and cell member Zakariya Essabar. Alshehhi moves out after the first month; it is unclear why. (Erlanger 9/15/2001) During the 28 months Atta’s name is on the apartment lease, 29 Middle Eastern or North African men register the apartment as their home address.
Surveillance of Bahaji - From the very beginning, the apartment is under surveillance by German intelligence, because of investigations into businessman Mamoun Darkazanli that connect to Bahaji. (Eggen 10/23/2001) The Germans also suspect connections between Bahaji and al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar. (McDermott 9/1/2002) Bahaji is directly monitored for at least part of 1998, but German officials will not disclose when the probe began or ends. This investigation is dropped for lack of evidence (see (Late 1998)). (Associated Press 6/22/2002; McDermott 9/1/2002) Bahaji moves out in July 1999 and gets married a few months later (see October 9, 1999). (Stark 8/29/2011)
Surveillance of El Motassadeq - German intelligence monitors the apartment off and on for months, and wiretaps Mounir El Motassadeq, an associate of the apartment-mates who will later be convicted for assisting the 9/11 plot, but apparently it does not find any indication of suspicious activity (see August 29, 1998). (Crewdson and Simpson 9/5/2002)
Surveillance of Zammar - Zammar, a talkative man who has trouble keeping secrets, does not live at the apartment, but he is a frequent visitor to the many late night meetings there. (Miller, Stone, and Mitchell 2002, pp. 259-60; McDermott 9/1/2002; Crewdson and Simpson 9/5/2002) He even lives in the apartment for a time in February 1999 (see February 1999). Zammar is the focus of an investigation that began in 1997 and continues until early 2000 (see March 1997-Early 2000). Interest in monitoring him increases in late 1998 (see October 2, 1998).
Surveillance of Atta - The CIA also allegedly starts monitoring Atta in early 2000 while he is living at the apartment, and does not tell Germany of the surveillance (see January-May 2000). Atta leaves Germany to live in the US in June 2000 (see June 3, 2000).
No Direct German Surveillance of the Apartment? - Yet, even though people like Zammar who frequently phone and visit the apartment are monitored, German officials will later claim that the apartment itself is never bugged. An unnamed senior German security official will later say that some surveillance of associated people gives “the impression that the people living there were fanatical believers. At the BfV [Germany’s domestic intelligence agency], we had to decide whether to ask permission to place a wiretap on the line at 54 Marienstrasse itself. We discussed this every day.” But he will claim that they ultimately decide they will not be able to get legal permission for a wiretap because there is no evidence that the apartment’s occupants are breaking any laws. (Zeman et al. 11/2004) This claim that the apartment was not directly monitored seems contradicted by reports that Bahaji was the target of a surveillance investigation when he was living in the Marienstrasse apartment in late 1998 (see (Late 1998)).
What Would More Surveillance Have Uncovered? - It will later be clear that investigators could have found evidence if they looked more thoroughly. For instance, one visitor will recall Atta and others discussing attacking the US. (Rubin and Dorgan 9/9/2002) 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed is in Hamburg several times in 1999 and comes to the apartment. However, although there is a $2 million reward for Mohammed since 1998, the US apparently fails to tell Germany what it knows about him (see 1999). (Hosenball 9/4/2002; Butler 11/4/2002) 9/11 Hijacker Waleed Alshehri also apparently stays at the apartment “at times.” (Stafford 9/14/2001; Washington Post 9/16/2001) Remarkably, shortly after 9/11, the German government will claim it knew little about the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell before 9/11, and nothing directed it towards the Marienstrasse apartment. (Helm 11/24/2001)
Shortly after the US embassy bombings in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the US launches a new interagency effort to track bin Laden’s finances. There had been a previous interagency effort in 1995 but it had fizzled (see October 21, 1995). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke sets up a task force. He orders it to find out how much money bin Laden has, where it comes from, how it is distributed, and to stop it. Clarke appoints William Wechsler, a National Security Council staff member, to head the task force. The task force begins an investigation of bin Laden’s finances (see Late 1998). Clarke later writes that he and Wechsler “quickly [come] to the conclusion that the [US government] departments [are] generally doing a lousy job of tracking and disrupting international criminals’ financial networks and had done little or nothing against terrorist financing.” (Weiner and Johnston 9/20/2001; Clarke 2004, pp. 190-191) Clarke will later claim there was only limited effort from within the US government to fight bin Laden’s financial network. He will assert that within weeks of setting up the interagency effort, it was determined that only one person in the US government, a lowly Treasury Department official, appeared to have any expertise about the hawala system, an informal and paperless money transfer system used by al-Qaeda that is popular with Muslim populations worldwide (see 1993-September 11, 2001). Clarke will later write that the “CIA knew little about the [hawala] system, but set about learning. FBI knew even less, and set about doing nothing.” The FBI claims there are no hawalas in the US, but Wechsler finds several in New York City using a simple Internet search. Clarke will say, “Despite our repeated requests over the following years, nobody from the FBI ever could answer even our most basic questions about the number, location, and activities of major hawalas in the US—much less taken action.” The efforts of other departments are not much better. The one Treasury official with some expertise about hawalas is eventually let go before 9/11. (Clarke 2004, pp. 192-193) Efforts to pressure governments overseas also meet with little success (see August 20, 1998-1999).
In late 1998, a new US interagency task force is created to track bin Laden’s finances (see Late 1998). The task force asks for help from the CIA’s Illicit Transactions Group (ITG), a little known entity keeping track of criminals, militants, and money launderers. The task force and ITG scour US intelligence data on al-Qaeda’s finances and soon discover that the assumption that al-Qaeda gets most of its funds from bin Laden’s huge personal fortune and numerous businesses is wrong. While he does have a fortune, according to William Wechsler, the task force director, al-Qaeda is “a constant fundraising machine.” The evidence is indisputable that most of the money is coming from Saudi Arabia. (Kaplan, Ekman, and Latif 12/15/2003) However, what little pressure the US will put on Saudi Arabia before 9/11 to stop the funding of al-Qaeda will have no effect (see August 20, 1998-1999 and June 1999).
Intelligence agents learn Mahfouz Walad Al-Walid (a.k.a. Abu Hafs the Mauritanian), an important al-Qaeda leader, is staying in a particular hotel room in Khartoum, Sudan. White House officials ask that he be killed or captured and interrogated. International capture operations of wanted militants, a practice known as “rendition,” have become routine by the mid-1990s (see 1993). In fact, over a dozen al-Qaeda operatives are rendered between July 1998 and February 2000 (see July 1998-February 2000). But in this case, both the Defense Department and the CIA are against it, although Al-Walid does not even have bodyguards. The CIA puts the operation in the “too hard to do box,” according to one former official. The CIA says it is incapable of conducting such an operation in Sudan, but in the same year, it conducts another spy mission in the same city. (Miller, Gerth, and van Natta 12/30/2001; Clarke 2004, pp. 143-46) A plan is eventually made to seize Al-Walid, but by then he has left the country. (Miller, Gerth, and van Natta 12/30/2001)
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). (Arrabyee 2/21/2002; Myers 7/21/2004; Wright 2006, pp. 343; Wright 7/10/2006 ) 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; Meyer 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). (Kaplan and Whitelaw 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. (Wigmore 6/9/2002; Wright 7/10/2006 ) 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)
According to a US intelligence assessment, “[bin Laden] is actively planning against US targets and already may have positioned operatives for at least one operation.… Multiple reports indicate [he] is keenly interested in striking the US on its own soil… Al-Qaeda is recruiting operatives for attacks in the US but has not yet identified potential targets.” Later in the month, a classified document prepared by the CIA and signed by President Clinton states: “The intelligence community has strong indications that bin Laden intends to conduct or sponsor attacks inside the US.” (US Congress 9/18/2002; Priest and Eggen 9/19/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003 ; US Congress 7/24/2003) This warning will be mentioned in the August 2001 memo given to President Bush entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001).
Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif comes to Washington to meet with President Clinton and other top Clinton administration officials. The number one issue for Clinton is Pakistan’s nuclear program, since Pakistan had recently illegally developed and exploded a nuclear weapon (see May 28, 1998). The second most important issue is Pakistan’s economy; the US wants Pakistan to support free trade agreements. The third most important issue is terrorism and Pakistan’s support for bin Laden. Author Steve Coll will later note, “When Clinton himself met with Pakistani leaders, his agenda list always had several items, and bin Laden never was at the top. Afghanistan’s war fell even further down.” Sharif proposes to Clinton that the CIA train a secret Pakistani commando team to capture bin Laden. The US and Pakistan go ahead with this plan, even though most US officials involved in the decision believe it has almost no chance for success. They figure there is also little risk or cost involved, and it can help build ties between American and Pakistani intelligence. The plan will later come to nothing (see October 1999). (Coll 2004, pp. 441-444)
CIA Director George Tenet issues a “declaration of war” on al-Qaeda, in a memorandum circulated in the intelligence community. This is ten months after bin Laden’s fatwa on the US (see February 22, 1998), which is called a “de facto declaration of war” by a senior US official in 1999. Tenet says, “We must now enter a new phase in our effort against bin Laden.… each day we all acknowledge that retaliation is inevitable and that its scope may be far larger than we have previously experienced.… We are at war.… I want no resources or people spared in this efforts [sic], either inside CIA or the [larger intelligence] community.” Yet a Congressional joint committee later finds that few FBI agents ever hear of the declaration. Tenet’s fervor does not “reach the level in the field that is critical so [FBI agents] know what their priorities are.” In addition, even as the counterterrorism budget continues to grow generally, there is no massive shift in budget or personnel until after 9/11. For example, the number of CIA personnel assigned to the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) stays roughly constant until 9/11, then nearly doubles from approximately 400 to approximately 800 in the wake of 9/11. The number of CTC analysts focusing on al-Qaeda rises from three in 1999 to five by 9/11. (Risen 9/18/2002; US Congress 9/18/2002) Perhaps not coincidentally, on the same day Tenet issues his declaration, President Clinton is given a briefing entitled “Bin Laden Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks” and US intelligence scrambles to respond to this threat (see December 4, 1998).
Following a declaration of war on al-Qaeda issued by CIA Director George Tenet (see December 4, 1998), little happens at the CIA. The CIA’s inspector general will later find that “neither [Tenet] nor [his deputy John McLaughlin] followed up these warnings and admonitions by creating a documented, comprehensive plan to guide the counterterrorism effort at the Intelligence Community level.” However, McLaughlin does chair a single meeting in response to the declaration of war. Although the meetings continue, McLaughlin stops attending, leaving them to the CIA’s No. 3. The meetings are attended by “few if any officers” from other agencies and soon stop discussing strategic aspects of the fight against al-Qaeda. There is no other effort, at the CIA or elsewhere in the intelligence community, to create a strategic plan to combat al-Qaeda at this time or at any other time before 9/11. (Central Intelligence Agency 6/2005, pp. viii )
President Bill Clinton signs a memorandum of notification authorizing the CIA to kill Osama bin Laden. The memo is sent to Clinton by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, apparently at the request of CIA Director George Tenet, who has discussed the memo with Berger and seems to have given it his blessing. The highly classified memo concerns operations by a group of CIA tribal assets in Afghanistan who are monitoring bin Laden. Their task had previously been to capture bin Laden and they had been banned from assassinating him, but these rules are now changed and a kill operation is authorized. The memo makes it very clear that “the president [is] telling the tribal leaders they could kill bin Laden.” 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow will later recall the memo tells the tribal leaders: “you may conduct an operation to kill him,” adding, “There were no euphemisms in the language.” Although the CIA is still legally prevented from assassinating people, Clinton administration lawyers now say that bin Laden is an imminent danger to the US, so he can be killed as a part of pre-emptive self-defense. Despite his role in drafting the memo, Tenet and his deputies will later claim to the 9/11 Commission that Clinton never issued such clear authorization (see Before January 14, 2004). However, the order to assassinate bin Laden is garbled within the CIA and the CIA’s bin Laden unit appears not to receive it (see December 26, 1998 and After). (Coll 2/22/2004; Shenon 2008, pp. 357-8)
The CIA seems not to understand permission given by President Bill Clinton to assassinate Osama bin Laden (see December 24, 1998). The instruction was contained in a memorandum of notification signed by Clinton authorizing the agency to use a group of tribal fighters to kill bin Laden. Previously, the tribal leaders had only been authorized to capture bin Laden, and this new memo marks an important shift in policy. According to author Philip Shenon, the memo is “written in stark language” and it makes it very clear “that the president was telling the tribal leaders they could kill bin Laden.” However, the actual memo is closely held within the CIA, and the 9/11 Commission will comment, “This intent [to have bin Laden killed] was never well communicated or understood within the agency.” Apparently, it is never even communicated to Michael Scheuer, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Scheuer will later express his frustration at not being allowed to try to kill bin Laden, “We always talked about how much easier it would have been to kill him.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 133; Shenon 2008, pp. 358)
The FBI creates its own unit to focus specifically on bin Laden, three years after the CIA created such a special unit. By 9/11, 17 to 19 people are working in this unit out of over 11,000 FBI staff. (US Congress 9/18/2002)
A joint project team run by the CIA and NSA slips into Afghanistan and places listening devices within range of al-Qaeda’s tactical radios. (Gellman 12/19/2001)
CIA already has a network of local agents in Afghanistan by this time (see 1997). However, in this year there is a serious effort to increase the network throughout Afghanistan and other countries for the purpose of capturing bin Laden and his deputies. (Lake 10/17/2002) Many are put on the CIA’s payroll, including some Taliban military leaders. Many veterans of the Soviet war in the 1980s who worked with the CIA then are recruited again. All of these recuitments are kept secret from Pakistani intelligence because of their support of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. (Coll 2004, pp. 491-492) CIA Director George Tenet will later state that by 9/11, “a map would show that these collection programs and human networks were in place in such numbers to nearly cover Afghanistan. This array means that, when the military campaign to topple the Taliban and destroy al-Qaeda [begins in October 2001], we [are] able to support it with an enormous body of information and a large stable of assets.” (US Congress 10/17/2002) However, apparently none of these sources are close enough to bin Laden to know about his movements in advance. (Coll 2004, pp. 491-492)
Saeed Sheikh, imprisoned in India from 1994 to December 1999 for kidnapping Britons and Americans, meets with a British official and a lawyer nine times while in prison. Supposedly, the visits are to check on his living conditions, since he is a British citizen. (Watson and Barua 2/8/2002) However, the London Times will later claim that British intelligence secretly offers amnesty and the ability to “live in London a free man” if he will reveal his links to al-Qaeda. The Times claims that he refuses the offer. (Williams 7/16/2002; Hussain and McGrory 7/16/2002) Yet after he is rescued in a hostage swap deal in December, the press reports that he, in fact, is freely able to return to Britain. (Press Trust of India 1/3/2000) He visits his parents there in 2000 and again in early 2001 and is alleged to wire money to the 9/11 hijackers during this period (see Early August 2001). (BBC 7/16/2002; O'Neill 7/16/2002; Anson 8/2002) He is not charged with kidnapping until well after 9/11. Saeed’s kidnap victims call the government’s decision not to try him a “disgrace” and “scandalous.” (Press Trust of India 1/3/2000) The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review later suggests that not only is Saeed closely tied to both the ISI and al-Qaeda, but may also have been working for the CIA: “There are many in [Pakistani President] Musharraf’s government who believe that Saeed Sheikh’s power comes not from the ISI, but from his connections with our own CIA. The theory is that… Saeed Sheikh was bought and paid for.” (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review 3/3/2002)
Diane and John Albritton later say they call the CIA and police several times this year to report suspicious activity at a neighbor’s home, but authorities fail to respond. (Sisk and Smith 9/15/2001; Hansen 9/23/2001) A man named Waleed Alshehri, allegedly one of the 9/11 hijackers, is renting the house on Orrin Street in Vienna, Virginia, at the time (three blocks from a CIA facility). (Kelley 9/15/2001) He makes his neighbors nervous. “There were always people coming and going,” said Diane Albritton. “Arabic people. Some of them never uttered a word; I don’t know if they spoke English. But they looked very focused. We thought they might be dealing drugs, or illegal immigrants.” (Firestone and Canedy 9/15/2001) A man named Ahmed Alghamdi, allegedly another one of the hijackers, lived at the same address until July 2000. (Sperry 9/14/2001; Fox News 6/6/2002) Shortly after 9/11, it was reported that Waleed Alshehri lived with Ahmed Alghamdi in Florida for seven months in 1997. (Telegraph 9/20/2001) Albritton says they observed a van parked outside the home at all hours of the day and night. A Middle Eastern man appeared to be monitoring a scanner or radio inside the van. Another neighbor says, “We thought it was a drug house. All the cars parked on the street were new BMWs, new Mercedes. People were always walking around out front with cell phones.” There were frequent wild parties, numerous complaints to authorities, and even a police report about a woman shooting a gun into the air during a party. (Sperry 9/14/2001) Other neighbors also called the police about the house. (Barakat 9/14/2001) “Critics say [the case] could have made a difference [in stopping 9/11] had it been handled differently.” Standard procedures require the CIA to notify the FBI of such domestic information. However, FBI officials have not been able to find any record that the CIA shared the information. (Fox News 6/6/2002) FBI Director Mueller has said “the hijackers did all they could to stay below our radar.” (US Congress 5/8/2002) Although Fox News, based on information from the CIA and FBI, will still be reporting that these two men are the hijackers of the same name in the summer of 2002, the 9/11 Commission will say that these two hijackers first entered the US in the spring of 2001 (see April 23-June 29, 2001). (Fox News 6/6/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 527-8)
Journalist Seymour Hersh will write in the New Yorker in 2002, “In the late nineteen-nineties, the CIA obtained reliable information indicating that an al-Qaeda network based in northern Germany had penetrated airport security in Amsterdam and was planning to attack American passenger planes by planting bombs in the cargo, a former security official told me.” The CIA, working with German police, stage a series of successful preemptive raids and foil the plot. The former official says, “The Germans rousted a lot of people.” The CIA and FAA work closely together and “the incident was kept secret.” (Hersh 5/27/2002) Nothing has been revealed about this incident except for the short mention in the New Yorker, but it would seem probable that there would have been some connection to the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell involved in 9/11, since it seems to be the primary al-Qaeda cell in northern Germany. The cell had connections to other al-Qaeda cells in Germany and Europe, and some of the Hamburg hijackers even held a mysterious meeting in Amsterdam in 1999 (see Mid-June 1999). But what opportunities the CIA and German government may have had to learn about the Hamburg cell while foiling this plot is not known.
Reporter Bob Drogin, in his 2007 book Curveball: Spies, Lies and the Con Man Who Caused a War, notes that when the Iraqi defector known as “Curveball” appears in Germany (see November 1999), the US intelligence community knows very little about the state of affairs with Iraq’s secret weapons programs. Saddam Hussein had been fascinated with chemical and biological weapons for a long time, and had a history of using chemical weapons both against the Iranians and allegedly against his own citizens. UN inspectors found thousands of chemical munitions after the 1991 Gulf War; in 1996, UN engineers destroyed what many thought could have been a bioweapons factory. The inspectors were thrown out in 1998, and after that, reliable information about Iraq’s weapons programs was scanty at best. One top CIA official will tell Drogin that the US was “almost in Chapter 11 in terms of our human intelligence collection.” But most US officials believe that Hussein has something going on, they just don’t know exactly what. According to the 2007 reflections of Defense Intelligence Agency chief Vice Admiral Thomas Wilson, the “mind-set [is] we’re going to see the WMD. I don’t know anybody who [doesn’t] believe it [is] there.” (Roane 10/21/2007)
The CIA appoints Rob Richer as chief of its station in Amman, Jordan. Richer develops what Harper’s journalist Ken Silverstein will call an “extraordinarily close relationship” with Jordan’s King Abdullah. According to Silverstein, the king always remains on good terms with the CIA, which is his principal point of contact with the US in preference to the US ambassador. (Silverstein 9/12/2006)
German intelligence passes information about Mohammed Haydar Zammar to the CIA. Zammar is a member of al-Qaeda’s cell in Hamburg, Germany, which includes a few of the future 9/11 hijackers. According to a 2005 Der Spiegel article, the CIA has its own undercover agent in Hamburg, because it is “concerned that Hamburg could be developing into a launching pad for volunteers being sent to Afghanistan to support bin Laden in his cause.” Because of this German intelligence, Zammar makes it “onto the Americans’ internal most-wanted list.” (Stark 11/21/2005) It is not known exactly when in 1999 Germany gives this information to the CIA, but it gives information on one of the 9/11 hijackers in Hamburg to the CIA in March 1999 (see March 1999). Ironically, around the summer of 1999, the CIA learns that Zammar is in direct contact with a senior al-Qaeda operational coordinator, but it fails to tell German intelligence about this (see Summer 1999).
The CIA begins an operation to track or question suspected al-Qaeda operatives as they transit the airport in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE). When it is revealed in 2002 that 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah was questioned in January 2000 as a part of this operation (see January 30-31, 2000), sources from the UAE and Europe describe the operation to CNN, and one of them draws a map of the airport, showing how the operation usually worked and how the people wanted for questioning were intercepted. UAE officials are often told in advance of who is coming in and who should be questioned. Jarrah may be stopped because he is on a US watch list (see January 30, 2000). (MacVicar and Faraj 8/1/2002) In 2011, Dubai airport will be considered one of the top five busiest in the world in terms of international passengers. (Airports Council International 4/30/2011) In the summer of 1999, the CIA also asks immigration officials throughout the Middle East to stop and question anyone who may be returning from militant training camps in Afghanistan (see Summer 1999).
9/11 Hijackers Pass through the Airport - Almost all the 9/11 hijackers pass through Dubai at some point in the months before 9/11, some repeatedly (see December 8, 2000, April 11-June 28, 2001, and June 2001). One of them, Khalid Almihdhar, has his passport photocopied in Dubai by local authorities and the CIA (see January 2-5, 2000). Also, three of the hijackers, Satam al Suqami, Ahmed Alghamdi, and Hamza Alghamdi, are the subject a US customs investigation at the time they pass through Dubai (see September 2000 and Spring 2001), but it is unknown if there is any attempt to track them through Dubai.
Richard Barlow, a former intelligence analyst who was repeatedly fired for correctly claiming that Pakistan had a nuclear weapons program (see 1981-1982, August 1987-1988 and August 4, 1989), is awarded a total of $1 million by President Bill Clinton in compensation for the treatment he received. However, Barlow does not receive the money, as the settlement has to be ratified by Congress. When it runs into procedural problems, it is moved to the Court of Federal Claims to be reviewed. After Clinton is replaced by George W. Bush, CIA Director George Tenet and NSA Director Michael Hayden assert the government’s “state secrets privilege” (see March 9, 1953) over Barlow’s entire legal claim, causing it to collapse due to lack of evidence. (Levy and Scott-Clark 10/13/2007)
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 ; 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.” (Lumpkin 9/25/2002; US Congress 10/17/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ) 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).
German intelligence is tapping the telephone of al-Qaeda operative Mohammed Haydar Zammar, and on this date, Zammar gets a call from a “Marwan.” This is later found to be future 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi. Marwan talks about mundane things, like his studies in Bonn, Germany, and promises to come to Hamburg in a few months. German investigators trace the telephone number and determine the call came from a mobile phone registered in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). (US Congress 7/24/2003 ; Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg) 8/13/2003; Risen and Lichtblau 2/24/2004) Although the call is short and seemingly innocuous, according to Vanity Fair, some “parts of the conversation seemed redolent of some kind of conspiratorial code.” For instance, at one point, Alshehhi says, “I’ve heard your mother died.” Zammar replies: “Yes, she passed on. She left me alone.” Alshehhi then asks: “But your father didn’t travel with you? I’ve seen him here.” Zammar answers, “No, my father is here.” Regarding whether or not it actually is code, a senior German official will later say: “Our desk officer had a certain feeling about that call.… You can say it was his nose—not that there was any single statement, but he had a feeling that there could be more behind it.” The desk officer writes a report about the call. Then, about a month later, the BfV (German domestic intelligence) will contact the CIA and ask for more information about men from the UAE named Marwan, and for help in tracing the phone number (see March 1999). (Zeman et al. 11/2004)
US Intelligence obtains information that Iraq has formed a suicide pilot unit that it plans to use against British and US forces in the Persian Gulf. The CIA comments that this report is highly unlikely and is probably disinformation. (US Congress 7/24/2003 )
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