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Following the resignation of Prince Turki al-Faisal as head of the Saudi General Intelligence Presidency (GIP) (see August 31, 2001), the CIA becomes nervous about its protection of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, according to investigative reporters Joe and Susan Trento. A CIA officer will tell the two reporters that the CIA protected the two hijackers in the US because they were working for the GIP, and the CIA did not realize they were loyal to Osama bin Laden, not the regime in Riyadh (see August 6, 2003). After Turki is replaced, the CIA apparently thinks: “Had Turki been forced out by more radical elements in the Saudi royal family? Had he quietly warned the CIA that he suspected the GIP’s assurances about the penetration of al-Qaeda were not as reliable as thought previously? Had al-Qaeda penetrated GIP?” This is said to be the reason the CIA allows the passage of more intelligence related to the two men to the FBI around this time (see August 30, 2001). (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 193) However, the 9/11 Commission will not say Almihdhar and Alhazmi were assets of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Presidency or that they were protected by the CIA. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will not say they were protected by the CIA. (US Congress 7/24/2003 ; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004)
A few days before 9/11, an Islamic radical named Mamdouh Habib is in Pakistan and calls his wife in Australia. Her phone is being monitored by Australian intelligence. In the conversation he says that something big is going to happen in the US in the next few days. He will be arrested after 9/11 and held by the US in the Guantanamo prison before finally being released in 2005. He will be released because his captors eventually will decide that he did not have any special foreknowledge or involvement in the 9/11 plot. He had been in Afghanistan training camps and had picked up the information there. The New York Times will paraphrase an Australian official, “Just about everyone in Kandahar [Afghanistan] and the Qaeda camps knew that something big was coming, he said. ‘There was a buzz.’” (Bonner 1/29/2005) Furthermore, according to The Australian, this call “mirrored several other conversations between accused terrorists that were tapped around the same time by the Pakistani Internal Security Department on behalf of the CIA.” This was part of what the CIA called a sharp increase in “chatter” intercepted from operatives in al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and Pakistan in the days just before the attacks, alluding to an imminent big event. (Chulov 2/2/2005)
CIA Director George Tenet will claim in his 2007 book that “a group of assets from a Middle Eastern service” is unknowingly working for the CIA by this time. Out of the more than twenty people in this group, one third are working against al-Qaeda. By September 2001, two assets have successfully penetrated al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. (Tenet 2007, pp. 145) The name of the Middle Eastern country is not known. It is also not known when this group first started working for the CIA nor when the assets first penetrated the camps. Nor has it been reported what information these assets may have shared with the CIA before 9/11. It is known that bin Laden was dropping hints about the upcoming 9/11 attacks to training camp trainees in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001). Further, US citizen John Walker Lindh was told details of the 9/11 attacks within weeks of joining a training camp that summer (see May-June 2001).
President Bush’s cabinet-rank advisers discuss terrorism for the second of only two times before 9/11. (Gellman 5/17/2002) National Security Adviser Rice chairs the meeting; neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney attends. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says that in this meeting, he and CIA Director Tenet speak passionately about the al-Qaeda threat. No one disagrees that the threat is serious. Secretary of State Powell outlines a plan to put pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting al-Qaeda. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld appears to be more interested in Iraq. The only debate is over whether to fly the armed Predator drone over Afghanistan to attack al-Qaeda (see September 4, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 237-38) Clarke’s earlier plans to “roll back” al-Qaeda first submitted on January 25, 2001 (see January 25, 2001) have been discussed and honed in many meetings and are now presented as a formal National Security Presidential Directive. The directive is “apparently” approved, though the process of turning it into official policy is still not done. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004) There is later disagreement over just how different the directive presented is from Clarke’s earlier plans. For instance, some claim the directive aims not just to “roll back” al-Qaeda, but also to “eliminate” it altogether. (Elliott 8/12/2002) However, Clarke notes that even though he wanted to use the word “eliminate,” the approved directive merely aims to “significantly erode” al-Qaeda. The word “eliminate” is only added after 9/11. (Eggen and Pincus 3/25/2004) Clarke will later say that the plan adopted “on Sept. 4 is basically… what I proposed on Jan. 25. And so the time in between was wasted.” (Clarke 4/8/2004) The Washington Post will similarly note that the directive approved on this day “did not differ substantially from Clinton’s policy.” (Milbank and Eggen 3/27/2004) Time magazine later comments, “The fight against terrorism was one of the casualties of the transition, as Washington spent eight months going over and over a document whose outline had long been clear.” (Elliott 8/12/2002) The primary change from Clarke’s original draft is that the approved plan calls for more direct financial and logistical support to the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban groups. The plan also calls for drafting plans for possible US military involvement, “but those differences were largely theoretical; administration officials told the [9/11 Commission’s] investigators that the plan’s overall timeline was at least three years, and it did not include firm deadlines, military plans, or significant funding at the time of the September 11, 2001, attacks.” (Milbank and Eggen 3/27/2004; Holland 4/2/2004)
FBI headquarters dispatches a memo to the entire US intelligence community summarizing what has been learned about Zacarias Moussaoui. The memo, written by Mike Maltbie, an agent in the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU), reports that the FBI has become suspicious of Moussaoui because he took flight simulation training for a 747 jet, a course normally taken by airline pilots. Moussaoui, who has no flying experience, paid cash for the training, the memo also notes. It also says that Moussaoui has radical Islamic fundamentalist beliefs and has been linked to Chechen militants. However, the memo does not include a threat assessment or indicate that some FBI investigators believe Moussaoui is part of a yet unknown plot to hijack an airplane and use it in a terrorist attack. As a later congressional inquiry will report, the memo fails to “recommend that the addressees take any action or look for any additional indicators of a terrorist attack, nor [does] it provide any analysis of a possible hijacking threat or provide any specific warnings.” (US Congress 9/24/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 175-6 ) Several days earlier, Maltbie blocked the release of a memo from the FBI’s Minneapolis field office that was addressed to the FAA and did contain a threat assessment (see August 29-September 4, 2001). When the FAA receives the FBI memo, it decides not to issue a security alert to the nation’s airports in response. An FAA representative later explains to the New York Post, “[Moussaoui] was in jail and there was no evidence he was connected to other people.” (Lathem 5/21/2002) The FBI memo contrasts sharply with an internal CIA warning sent out on August 24. That memo, which was based on less information, warned that Moussaoui might be “involved in a larger plot to target airlines traveling from Europe to the US” (see August 24, 2001). (US Congress 9/18/2002) It turns out that prior to this time, al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam had started cooperating with investigators. He had trained with Moussaoui in Afghanistan and will willingly share this information after 9/11. The FBI dispatch, with its notable lack of urgency and details, fails to prompt the agents in Seattle holding Ressam to question him about Moussaoui. Had the connection between these two men been learned before 9/11, presumably the search warrant for Moussaoui would have been approved and the 9/11 plot might have unraveled (see Late August-Early September 2001). (Sunday Times (London) 2/3/2002)
A New York Times article reveals that the US has been secretly conducting research on biological weapons that likely violates an international treaty banning the use of biological weaponry. The article, by Judith Miller, Stephen Engelberg, and William Broad, is titled, “US Germ Warfare Research Pushes Treaty Limits.” The US signed an international treaty in 1972 that forbids countries from developing or acquiring weapons that could spread disease, but it allows work on vaccines and other protective measures.
Creating Deadlier Anthrax - Beginning during the Clinton administration, the US began genetically engineering a more potent variant of the anthrax bacterium. Supposedly, this was done to help the US come up with defenses against such a bacterium being used against the US by terrorists or another country. The research is being done in at the West Jefferson, Ohio, laboratory of the Battelle Memorial Institute, a military contractor. It is said to be in response to advances in anthrax research conducted by the Russians in the 1990s. The program is still in an experimental phase, but the National Security Council is expected to give the final approval later in September.
Other Secret Programs - The CIA has also built and tested a germ bomb, but removed several parts to keep it from being functional. And the Defense Department has built a mock germ factory in the Nevada desert to demonstrate how easily terrorists could build such a factory. Both these projects are said to use inert substances instead of real deadly germs.
Dubious Legality - An unnamed senior Bush administration official says all these projects are “fully consistent” with the biological weapons treaty. However, some Clinton administration officials say these projects violate the treaty. They point out that such experiments would draw loud protests from the US if a country deemed hostile to the US were performing them. The US recently rejected efforts to strengthen the biological weapons treaty an allow international inspections of biodefense laboratories in order to keep details of these recent projects secret. (Miller, Engelberg, and Broad 9/4/2001)
French and US intelligence officials hold meetings in Paris on combating terrorism. The French newspaper Le Monde claims that the French try again to warn their US counterparts about Zacarias Moussaoui, “but the American delegation… paid no attention… basically concluding that they were going to take no one’s advice, and that an attack on American soil was inconceivable.” The US participants also say Moussaoui’s case is in the hands of the immigration authorities and is not a matter for the FBI. (Burrell, Gumbel, and Sengupta 12/11/2001; Ridgeway 5/28/2002) The FBI arranges to deport Moussaoui to France on September 17, so the French can search his belongings and tell the FBI the results. Due to the 9/11 attacks, the deportation never happens. (US Congress 10/17/2002)
The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) practices for dealing with the simulated hijackings of two commercial aircraft by terrorists, as part of its annual training exercise called Vigilant Guardian. Whether the simulated hijackings take place simultaneously or at different times of the day is unclear. (9/11 Commission 2004; Spencer 2008, pp. 3)
Terrorists Threaten to 'Rain Terror from the Skies' - One of the two exercise scenarios involves the hijacking of a Boeing 747 bound from Tokyo, Japan, to Anchorage, Alaska. According to a document later produced by the 9/11 Commission, the scenario involves the “[t]hreat of harm to [the plane’s] passengers and possibly [a] large population within [the] US or Canada.” It includes what is apparently a fictitious Asian terrorist group called “Mum Hykro,” which is threatening to “rain terror from the skies onto a major US city unless the US declares withdrawal from Asian conflict.” During the hijacking scenario, some of the plane’s passengers are killed. The plane’s course is changed to take it to Vancouver, Canada, and then to San Francisco, California. In response to the hijacking, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and FAA headquarters direct military assistance, in the form of “covert shadowing” of the hijacked aircraft. NORAD has to liaise with the appropriate air traffic control centers. Its Alaskan region (ANR) and its Canadian region (CANR) participate in the scenario.
Group Threatens to Blow up Plane - In the other hijacking scenario, 10 members of another fictitious terrorist group, “Lin Po,” seize control of a Boeing 747 bound from Seoul, South Korea, to Anchorage. The hijackers have weapons on board that were smuggled onto the plane in small tote bags by ground crew members prior to takeoff. Gas containers were also smuggled onto the aircraft by baggage handlers before takeoff. Arming devices are attached to these containers, which can be remotely detonated. The terrorist group issues demands and threatens to blow up the plane if these are not met. The CIA and NSA caution that the group has the means and motivation to carry out a chemical and biological attack. The group kills two of the plane’s passengers and threatens to use the gas it has on board in some manner. In response to the simulated hijacking, NORAD directs fighter jets to get in a position to shoot down the hijacked airliner, and orders ANR to intercept and shadow it. In the scenario, the 747 eventually lands in Seattle, Washington. (9/11 Commission 2004)
Most NORAD Exercises Include Hijack Scenario - Vigilant Guardian is one of four major exercises that NORAD conducts each year. Most of these exercises include a hijack scenario. (Komarow and Squitieri 4/18/2004) Ken Merchant, NORAD’s joint exercise design manager, will tell the 9/11 Commission in 2003 that he cannot “remember a time in the last 33 years when NORAD has not run a hijack exercise.” (9/11 Commission 11/14/2003 ) This year’s Vigilant Guardian will include additional aircraft hijacking scenarios on September 9 and September 10 (see September 9, 2001 and September 10, 2001), and a further simulated plane hijacking is scheduled for the morning of September 11 (see (9:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 2004; Bronner 8/1/2006)
The French newspaper Le Figaro will report in late 2001 that on this day, “According to Arab diplomatic sources as well as French intelligence, very specific information [is] transmitted to the CIA with respect to terrorist attacks against American interests around the world, including on US soil.” A French intelligence report sent to the US this day “enumerates all the intelligence, and specifies that the order to attack [is] to come from Afghanistan.” (Richard 10/31/2001) It will later be revealed that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed gives Mohamed Atta the final go-ahead in a phone call from Afghanistan the day before 9/11 (see September 10, 2001).
In the days before the attacks, some of the hijackers (including Waleed Alshehri and/or Wail Alshehri) apparently sleep with prostitutes in Boston hotel rooms, or at least try to do so. A driver working at an “escort service” used by the hijackers claims he regularly drove prostitutes to a relative of bin Laden about once a week until 9/11, when the relative disappeared. Bin Laden has several relatives in the Boston area, most or all of whom returned to Saudi Arabia right after 9/11. (Wedge 10/10/2001) On September 7, two female escorts are sent to “Arab men” in the Park Inn, Boston. One of the escorts will later say that a photo of Satam Al Suqami looks “very familiar.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 264 ) On September 10, four other hijackers in Boston (Marwan Alshehhi, Fayez Ahmed Banihammad, Mohand Alshehri, and Satam Al Suqami) call around to find prostitutes to sleep with on their last night alive, but in the end decline. Says one official, “It was going to be really expensive and they couldn’t come to a consensus on price, so that was the end of it… Either they thought it was too extravagant [over $400] or they did not have enough money left.” (Murphy and Belkin 10/10/2001)
9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah is stopped in Maryland for speeding, ticketed, and released. No red flags show up when his name is run through the computer by the state police, even though he already had been questioned in January 2001 in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) at the request of the CIA for “suspected involvement in terrorist activities” (see January 30, 2001) Baltimore’s mayor has criticized the CIA for not informing them that Jarrah was on the CIA’s watch list. (Crewdson 12/13/2001; Associated Press 12/14/2001) Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) will later make reference to Jarrah’s detention in the UAE and the fact that an arrest warrant had been put out for Mohamed Atta (see June 4, 2001), and comment, “Had local law enforcement been able to run the names of Jarrah and Atta against a watch list, it is likely that they would have been arrested and detained, and at least one team of hijackers would no longer have had a pilot.” (Graham and Nussbaum 2004, pp. 37) Three other hijackers are also stopped for speeding while they are in the US (see April 26, 2001).
Northern Alliance leader Amrullah Saleh calls the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center to inform it of the assassination of anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Massoud (see September 9, 2001). His call is taken by Richard Blee, the manager responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Although Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, an expert on Afghanistan, realizes the assassination means “something terrible [is] about to happen” (see September 9, 2001), Blee does not appear to connect the assassination to a spike in warnings about an al-Qaeda attack against US interests, even though he has been briefing senior officials about this all summer (see May 30, 2001, June 28, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Late July 2001). The Northern Alliance realizes that the Taliban will attack them immediately, because they are leaderless, and Saleh asks for support from the CIA. However, some at the CIA think that the Northern Alliance has no chance without Massoud, who held it together. Other officers “[call] frantically around Washington to find a way to aid the rump Northern Alliance before it [is] eliminated.” The CIA informs the White House of the assassination, and the news soon leaks to CNN. This prompts the Northern Alliance to call again, this time complaining about the leak. (Coll 2004, pp. 582-4)
A message is posted on Alsaha.com, a website based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, apparently warning of the 9/11 attacks. It proclaims that in the next two days, a “big surprise” is coming from the Saudi Arabian region of Asir, the remote, mountainous province that produced most of the 19 hijackers who strike on September 11. After 9/11, the FBI and CIA will closely monitor this website as “a kind of terrorist early-warning system” due to its popularity with Muslim fundamentalists. However, it is doubtful if they are monitoring the site before 9/11, or notice this message. (Isikoff, Klaidman, and Thomas 5/25/2003) Additionally, on September 10, someone in Jordan will post on a website that an attack is close to “zero hour.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 233)
According to CBS News, in the afternoon before the attack, “alarm bells were sounding over unusual trading in the US stock options market.” It has been documented that the CIA, the Mossad, and many other intelligence agencies monitor stock trading in real time using highly advanced programs such as Promis. Both the FBI and the Justice Department have confirmed the use of such programs for US intelligence gathering through at least this summer. This would confirm that the CIA should have had additional advance warning of imminent attacks against American and United Airlines planes. (CBS News 9/19/2001) There are even allegations that bin Laden was able to get a copy of Promis. (Fox News 10/16/2001)
US officials later will admit American agents had infiltrated al-Qaeda cells in the US, though how many agents and how long they had been in al-Qaeda remains a mystery. On this day, electronic intercepts connected to these undercover agents hear messages such as, “Watch the news” and “Tomorrow will be a great day for us.” When asked why these messages did not lead to boosted security or warnings the next day, officials will refer to them as “needles in a haystack.” What other leads may have come from this prior to this day will not be revealed. (Diamond 6/4/2002) At least until February 2002, the official story will be that the “CIA failed to penetrate al-Qaeda with a single agent.” (ABC News 2/18/2002)
In his 2007 book At the Center of the Storm, former CIA Director George Tenet will write that on September 10, 2001, “a source we were jointly running with a Middle Eastern country went to see his foreign handler and basically told him that something big was about to go down. The handler dismissed him.” Tenet claims the warning was “frightening but without specificity.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 160) While Tenet will not mention the name of the source, his description perfectly matches a Syrian-born militant named Luai Sakra. Sakra will be arrested in Turkey in 2005 (see July 30, 2005) and reportedly will tell interrogators after his arrest, “I was one of the people who knew the 9/11 perpetrators, and I knew the plans and times beforehand.” He claims to have provided the pilots with passports and money (see September 2000-July 24, 2001). Der Spiegel will report, “Western investigators accept Sakra’s claims, by and large, since they coincide with known facts. On September 10, 2001, he tipped off the Syrian secret service… that terrorist attacks were about to occur in the United States. The evidently well-informed al-Qaeda insider even named buildings as targets, and airplanes as weapons. The Syrians passed on this information to the CIA—but only after the attacks.” (Stark 8/24/2005) In 2007, Sakra will also claim to have trained some of the 9/11 hijackers in Turkey starting in late 1999 (see Late 1999-2000). If Tenet is referring to Sakra, then it appears Sakra did develop a relationship with the CIA that continued at least through 9/11 (see 2000).
Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, misses a chance to capture an unnamed high-ranking al-Qaeda leader in the Netherlands. The US intelligence community learned of the chance through intercepts of al-Qaeda communications, but there is a battle over access to such intelligence. The NSA, which acquires the information, insists that it will not provide the CIA will full transcripts of calls between al-Qaeda members that it intercepts, but only with summaries of them, which the CIA finds less useful. In this case, there is a delay by the NSA in preparing the summary, and by the time it is passed to Alec Station, the al-Qaeda leader is no longer within reach. (Isikoff and Hosenball 8/21/2007)
Andrew Warren, a CIA officer who will later be accused of date rape (see September 2007 and February 17, 2008), leaves the agency to work in the financial sector in New York. Warren was midway through his first assignment with the CIA, apparently in Iraq or Kuwait (see (1997)). (Miller 1/29/2009; MacAskill 1/29/2009) Warren will be working in New York on the day of 9/11. According to his website, after the first plane hits the World Trade Center he walks out of the Travelers Building, possibly indicating he works for the Travelers Companies. Warren then attempts to call his brother and sister, who work in the area and travel inside the WTC. Unable to contact them because of cell phone problems, he walks to the midtown area, where he finds a landline and gets through to them, reassuring himself of their safety. Warren will also recall “thousands of people walking up the West Side Highway,” “reports of car bombs… in the Battery Park area,” and “National Guardsmen on 5th Avenue carrying M-16 rifles with bayonets fixed and unsheathed.” (Peopleoftheveil(.com) 3/2002) Warren will later re-join the CIA (see After September 11, 2001).
Though the NSA specializes in intercepting communications, the CIA and FBI intercept as well. After 9/11, CIA and FBI officials will discover messages with phrases like, “There is a big thing coming,” “they’re going to pay the price,” and “We’re ready to go.” Supposedly, most or all of these intercepted messages will not be analyzed until after 9/11. (Hosenball 10/1/2001)
The position of Deputy Secretary for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict, the Defense Department post traditionally dealing the most with counterterrorism, still has not been filled since being vacated in January 2001 when Bush became president. Aides to Defense Secretary Rumsfeld later tell the 9/11 Commission that “the new [Defense Department] team was focused on other issues” and not counterterrorism. (Isikoff and Hosenball 3/24/2004)
Just prior to 9/11, the CIA and FBI do not have enough staff working on al-Qaeda. Only 17 to 19 people are working in the FBI’s special unit focusing on bin Laden and al-Qaeda. (US Congress 9/18/2002) The FBI has a $4.3 billion anti-terrorism budget, but of its 27,000 employees, just 153 are devoted to terrorism analysis. (Alcorn 6/8/2002) The FBI’s “analytic expertise has been ‘gutted’ by transfers to operational units” and only one strategic analyst is assigned full time to al-Qaeda. The FBI office in New York is very aware of the threat from bin Laden, but many branch offices remain largely unaware. (US Congress 9/18/2002) A senior FBI official later tells Congress that there are fewer FBI agents assigned to counterterrorism on this day than in August 1998, when the US embassy bombings in Africa made bin Laden a household name. (Risen 9/22/2002) The CIA has only about 35 to 40 people assigned to their special bin Laden unit. It has five strategic analysts working full time on al-Qaeda. (US Congress 9/18/2002) The CIA and FBI later complain that some of these figures are misleading. (Risen 9/18/2002) “Individuals in both the CIA and FBI units… reported being seriously overwhelmed by the volume of information and workload prior to September 11, 2001.” Despite numerous warnings that planes could be used as weapons, such a possibility was never studied, and a congressional report later blames lack of staff as a major reason for this. (US Congress 9/18/2002) Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) also notes, “Between the Department of Justice and the FBI, they had a whole task force working on finding a couple of houses of prostitution in New Orleans. They had one on al-Qaeda.” (CBS News 9/25/2002)
It has been widely reported that the CIA never had any assets near bin Laden before 9/11. For instance, Lawrence Wright will write in his highly regarded 2006 book, The Looming Tower, “The fact is that the CIA had no one inside al-Qaeda or the Taliban security that surrounded bin Laden.” (Wright 2006, pp. 265) But author Ronald Kessler will write in a 2004 book, “Often, the CIA used operatives from Arab intelligence services like those of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and other countries to infiltrate bin Laden’s organization.” A longtime CIA officer says, “Egyptians, Jordanians, [and] Palestinians penetrated the bin Laden organization for us. It’s B.S. that we didn’t.” Kessler further explains that such operations remain one of the CIA’s best-kept secrets and often occur even with intelligence agencies the CIA is sometimes otherwise at odds with. Kessler says, “In return for help, the CIA provided them with money, equipment, and intelligence on their adversaries. Over the years, the Jordanians, for example, relied on the CIA to alert them to plots against the king. Over time, the Jordanians became so good at the intelligence game that they were better at detecting plots than the CIA.” (Kessler 2004, pp. 143) Jack Cloonan, an FBI expert on al-Qaeda, will later say, “There were agents run into the camps. But most of them were not very well placed,” and lacked access to the inner circles. (Waterman 11/27/2006) One example of such an asset may be Khalil Deek, who worked closely with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see 1998-December 11, 1999) and was reportedly a mole for Jordanian intelligence (see Shortly After December 11, 1999). In the months before 9/11, Jordan will warn the US that al-Qaeda is planning a major attack inside the US using aircraft (see Late Summer 2001), and Egypt will warn the CIA that al-Qaeda has 20 operatives on a mission in the US, some of them training to fly (see Late July 2001).
According to a 2007 book by former CIA Director George Tenet, shortly before 9/11, the CIA learns that a Pakistani charity front has been helping al-Qaeda acquire weapons of mass destruction. The charity, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), was founded in 2000 by two prominent nuclear scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed (see 2000). UTN allegedly is conducting charitable projects in Afghanistan, but a friendly intelligence service tells the CIA that UTN is really helping al-Qaeda build weapons, especially nuclear weapons. Tenet will claim that he presses “all of our contacts worldwide to find out anything we could about the people and organizations with WMD that might be wiling to share expertise with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.” Ben Bonk, deputy chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC), meets with Musa Kusa, head of Libya’s intelligence service, and Kusa tells him that Libya had contact with UTN. “Yes, they tried to sell us a nuclear weapon. Of course, we turned them down.” According to Tenet, this confirms other information from a different intelligence agency that UTN approached Libya with an offer to provide WMD expertise. The CIA then informs the Pakistani government of this, and Pakistan brings in seven board members of UTN for questioning. But according to Tenet, “The investigation was ill-fated from the get-go” and the UTN officials “were not properly isolated and questioned.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 262-263) Also shortly before 9/11, the CIA also learns that the two nuclear scientists who founded UTN had recently met with Osama bin Laden and advised him on how to make a nuclear weapon (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001). But despite all this the US takes no other action against UTN before 9/11, not even freezing the assets of the charity until December 2001 (see Early October-December 2001).
In a 2007 book, CIA Director George Tenet will say, “As a result of the intelligence community’s efforts, in concert with our foreign partners, by September 11, Afghanistan was covered in human and technical operations.” Tenet claims:
The CIA is working with eight separate Afghan tribal networks.
The CIA has “more than 100 recruited sources inside Afghanistan.”
Satellites are repositioned over Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda training camps are systematically mapped.
Efforts are stepped up to closely monitor news about al-Qaeda in the media around the world.
“Major collection facilities” are placed on the borders of Afghanistan.
Other “conventional and innovative collection methods” are used to penetrate al-Qaeda worldwide.
According to Tenet, “Leadership of the FBI [is] given full transparency” into the CIA’s efforts. (Tenet 2007, pp. 120-121) Tenet has not explained how the CIA managed to miss learning about the 9/11 attacks if this is so, given that a major attack was being widely discussed in Afghanistan training camps in the months before 9/11 (see Summer 2001).
The CIA learns that two prominent Pakistani nuclear scientists have met with al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in mid-August 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell will tell Pakistani officials when he visits Pakistan in October this year (see Early October-December 2001). In the meeting, the two scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, discussed helping al-Qaeda make a nuclear weapon (see Mid-August 2001). (Frantz and Collins 2007, pp. 268-269) CIA Director George Tenet will confirm, in a 2007 book, that the CIA learned of this meeting prior to 9/11. He will write: “A Western intelligence service came to us in the fall of 2001 [with details of the meeting].… [The] CIA pressed the Pakistanis to confront Mahmood and Majeed with this new information. We put [evidence that a charity named Ummah Tameer-e-Nau run by Mahmood and Majeed tried to sell Libya a nuclear weapon] on the table. We also passed new information that had been collected by other intelligence services. To no avail. Then 9/11 struck and there was no slowing down in this pursuit.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 264) No evidence will be presented showing that President Bush or other top US officials are warned of this, or that there are any general warnings inside the US government about this. Pakistan is not successfully pressured about it before 9/11 (in fact, the Pakistani ISI already knows about it and has failed to warn the US (see Between Mid-August and September 10, 2001)), and after 9/11 the only action Pakistan will take is to twice arrest and then quickly release the two scientists. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will comment in a 2007 book, “This information, added to the missing canisters of highly enriched uranium [in Pakistan], might have been sufficient to redirect” top Bush officials to take sterner action against al-Qaeda before 9/11. (Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 311)
National Security Adviser Rice is scheduled to deliver a speech claiming to address “the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday.” The speech is never given due to the 9/11 attacks earlier in the day, but the text is later leaked to the media. The Washington Post calls the speech “telling Insight into the administration’s thinking” because it promotes missile defense and contains no mention of al-Qaeda, bin Laden, or Islamic extremist groups. The only mention of terrorism is in the context of the danger of rogue nations such as Iraq. In fact, there are almost no public mentions of bin Laden or al-Qaeda by Bush or other top Bush administration officials before 9/11, and the focus instead is on missile defense. (Wright 4/1/2004; unknown 4/1/2004)
CIA representatives give a briefing to a little-known government agency called the National Communications System (NCS) at a facility just outside Washington, DC, where they discuss the threat that international terrorists pose to the US’s telecommunications infrastructure. The NCS is a relatively small agency that works to ensure the uninterrupted availability of critical communications networks during times of national crisis. It will play an important role in the response and recovery efforts following the terrorist attacks in New York and at the Pentagon, when damage to the World Trade Center area severely impairs the local telecommunications infrastructure. (Verton 2003, pp. 135-137; National Communications System 2004, pp. 56 )
Briefing Attended by Public and Private Sectors Representatives - The briefing is held at what journalist and author Dan Verton will call “a secure facility outside of Washington, DC.” Presumably this is the NCS’s National Coordinating Center in Arlington, Virginia. Attendees include Brenton Greene, the director of the NCS since April 2001, and representatives from seven other federal agencies and over 40 technology and communications companies that operate many of the US’s most critical communications networks. The representatives from the private sector, according to Verton, are all “senior executives from their respective companies, and all had government security clearances that granted them access to the most sensitive intelligence data pertaining to threats to the infrastructures that formed not only the lifelines of their businesses but the lifelines of the nation as well.”
CIA Outlines Threat to Telecommunications Infrastructure - Although Greene is a 25-year veteran of the Navy’s submarine force and is “used to classified briefings and operating in the shadows,” the current briefing, according to Verton, promises “to be different from any other he had taken part in.” The CIA representatives begin it at 8:00 a.m. by outlining the growing international terrorist threat to the US telecommunications infrastructure.
Terrorists Aware of Benefits of Targeting Telecommunications - Verton will describe that the briefing participants then agree that there is “a growing body of evidence relating to the increased sophistication in information warfare (IW) capabilities of foreign nations.” Additionally, a cyber-attack against computer systems in the US “would likely involve a major disruption of key telecommunications infrastructures serving other sectors of the economy, including banking and finance, electric power, and air traffic control.” Greene will later comment: “Everything runs on telecom. If it’s a major cyber-event, it’s going to have a physical tail. If it’s a major physical event, it’s going to have a cyber-tail.” The CIA representatives say that some terrorist organizations are also becoming aware of the potential offered by targeting the telecommunications infrastructure.
Briefing Continues despite News of First Crash - Shortly after 8:46 a.m., when the first plane hits the WTC, Navy Captain J. Katharine Burton enters the briefing room and whispers to Greene the news of what has happened. With no further information available and no evidence that the crash was anything more than an accident, Greene calmly passes on the news to the other people in the room, and then orders the briefing to continue. The CIA representatives therefore go on until news arrives of the second plane hitting the WTC at 9:03 a.m., and televisions are turned on to CNN, which is showing live coverage from New York. Greene will later recall: “It was clear then that there was some threat. When the second plane hit, I said: ‘I’m leaving. I need to go look at the implications of this.’” (Verton 2003, pp. 135-139, 141)
9/11 Attacks Are 'the Most Significant Challenge' to the NCS - The NCS will play a key role in the government’s response to the 9/11 attacks, which result in severe damage and impairment to the telecommunications infrastructure serving the area around the WTC. (National Communications System 2004, pp. 56 ) Greene will later recall that the destruction caused by the attacks becomes “the most significant challenge that the National Communications System had ever seen.” (Verton 2003, pp. 151) The NCS’s National Coordinating Center is activated, and supports response and recovery efforts (see (8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). After leaving the briefing, Greene will head to his “Continuity of Government” site, from where the status of the communications network is constantly monitored, and priorities and repairs are coordinated. (9/11 Commission 3/16/2004 )
Colonel Mark Tillman, the pilot of Air Force One, the president’s plane, receives no contact from any US government agency, such as the CIA or the FBI, about the first plane crash at the World Trade Center, although numerous agencies call the plane immediately after the second crash. Air Force One is currently at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport in Florida, where it has been since the previous evening (see September 10, 2001). Tillman boarded the plane at around 8:15 a.m. this morning, and he has been preparing to take off at 10:45 a.m. and take President Bush back to Washington, DC.
Pilot Sees the Coverage of the First Crash but Thinks It Is an Accident - While he is walking around the plane and checking all the rooms, Tillman is called upstairs by the plane’s radio operator. Upstairs, the radio operator shows him the coverage of the first crash at the WTC on television and says: “I don’t know what’s going on; neither does the media. But it doesn’t look like it’s anything important; it looks like it’s an aircraft accident.” Air Force One, according to Tillman, has 42 phone lines that specifically connect to government agencies such as the FBI, the CIA, and the National Security Agency. But, Tillman will later recall: “None of those phones were going off. Everybody thought this was just an aircraft accident.” He will say that the plane’s crew receives “no information from any command and control authority” at this time. Tillman believes that, in light of what has happened, Bush will want to visit New York. Everyone on the plane is therefore told to be ready to go. He tells the radio operator simply to keep monitoring what is happening in New York and then heads downstairs to continue checking the rooms on Air Force One.
All the Phones Start Ringing after the Second Attack - After the second plane hits the WTC at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), Tillman is again called upstairs. The radio operator alerts him to the television coverage of what has happened. “We now have an understanding that it’s a deliberate attack on the [Twin] Towers,” Tillman will say. “All the information we had was from the news media at this point,” he will comment. But whereas no government agencies previously called Air Force One, suddenly, Tillman will recall: “All the phone lines are coming alive. Every agency in the world wants to know what our status is [and] if we’re ready to go.” “We were hooked into the PEOC [the Presidential Emergency Operations Center, a bunker below the White House] and the JOC [Joint Operations Center] for the Secret Service,” he will say, adding, “They’re all in the link now.” In response to the second attack, security around Air Force One will be increased (see (9:04 a.m.-9:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tillman 9/11/2011; Tillman 2/29/2012 ; Graff 9/9/2016) The plane will take off from the Sarasota airport with Bush on board at 9:54 a.m. (see 9:54 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 39)
Most days, at 8:30 a.m., CIA Director George Tenet holds a meeting in his conference room at CIA headquarters where 15 top agency officials contribute the news from their particular area. But on this day Tenet is away, having breakfast with former Senator David Boren (D-OK) (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). In his place, running the meeting is A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard, the CIA’s executive director. After the first attack occurs, the senior duty officer of the CIA’s Operations Center interrupts and announces, “Excuse me, Mr. Krongard, but I thought you would want to know that a plane just struck the World Trade Center.” The Operations Center, which is staffed, 24 hours a day by 15 officers, has three televisions that are usually tuned to CNN, MSNBC, and Fox. So presumably the duty officer has just seen the initial televised reports coming from New York. Krongard then adjourns his meeting and returns to his office. (Kessler 2003, pp. 196-197 and 202)
CIA Director George Tenet is told of the first WTC crash while he is eating breakfast with his mentor, former Senator David Boren (D-OK), at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC. They are interrupted when CIA bodyguards converge on the table to hand Tenet a cell phone. Tenet is told that the WTC has been attacked by an airplane. Boren later says, “I was struck by the fact that [the messenger] used the word ‘attacked.’” Tenet then hands the cell phone back to an aide and says to Boren, “You know, this has bin Laden’s fingerprints all over it.” “‘He was very collected,’ Boren recalls. ‘He said he would be at the CIA in 15 minutes, what people he needed in the room and what he needed to talk about.’” (Slavin and Page 9/24/2001; ABC News 9/14/2002) According to other accounts, Tenet responds to the caller, “They steered the plane directly into the building?” Tenet then says to Boren, “That looks like bin Laden.” Tenet muses aloud, “I wonder if this has something to do with the guy [Zacarias Moussaoui] who trained for a pilot’s license.” (Moussaoui had been arrested several weeks earlier.) (Getler 5/29/2002; Laabs 8/13/2003) According to another account, Tenet pauses while on the phone to tell Boren, “The World Trade Center has been hit. We’re pretty sure it wasn’t an accident. It looks like a terrorist act,” then returns to the phone to identify who should be summoned to the CIA situation room. (Gibbs 9/14/2001) Tenet later tells author Ronald Kessler, “There was no doubt that al-Qaeda was going to come here eventually, and that something spectacular was planned. I knew immediately who it was [behind the attack].” (Kessler 2003, pp. 196) In his own 2007 book, Tenet will largely confirm the above accounts. He will add, “Most people, I understand, assumed that the first crash was a tragic accident. It took the second plane hitting the second tower to show them that something far worse was going on. That wasn’t the case for me. We had been living too intimately with the possibility of a terrorist attack on the United States. I instantly thought that this had to be al-Qaeda.” He also mentions thinking aloud about Moussaoui. (Tenet 2007, pp. 161) Tenet will subsequently hurry back to CIA headquarters in his car (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
CIA Director George Tenet has just learned of the first attack on the WTC while having breakfast with former Senator David Boren (D-OK) at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC. He later says, “It was obvious to us both that I had to leave immediately.” Along with Tim Ward, the head of his security detail, he gets into his car and, with lights flashing, hurries back to the CIA headquarters in Langley. Tenet later recalls that in these first minutes after the attack, “All the random dots we had been looking at started to fit into a pattern.… [M]y head was exploding with connections. I immediately thought about the ‘Bojinka’ plot to blow up twelve US airliners over the Pacific and a subsequent plan to fly a small airplane into CIA headquarters, which was broken up in 1994.” During his journey, he calls John Moseman, his chief of staff, and instructs him to assemble the senior CIA staff and key people from the Counterterrorist Center in the conference room next to his office. However, Tenet claims, it is difficult for him to get calls through on the secure phone, meaning he is “Essentially… in a communications blackout between the St. Regis and Langley, the longest twelve minutes of my life.” He only learns that a second plane hit the World Trade Center when he arrives at CIA headquarters. Tenet enters the conference room at around 9:15 a.m. By that time, he says, “I don’t think there was a person in the room who had the least doubt that we were in the middle of a full-scale assault orchestrated by al-Qaeda.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 161-163)
Mike Morell, President Bush’s CIA briefer, calls the CIA’s operations center to see if anyone there knows more about what has happened at the World Trade Center and is told that the WTC was hit by a large commercial airliner. (Morell 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 48) Morell learned that a plane had crashed into the WTC as he was being driven to the Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida, where Bush is going to attend a reading event. White House press secretary Ari Fleischer, who was in the same vehicle as him, received a pager message stating what had happened and then exclaimed, “A plane just hit the World Trade Center” (see (Between 8:48 a.m. and 8:55 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Bamford 2004, pp. 17; Graff 9/9/2016) Fleischer asked Morell if he knew anything about the incident. “As the in-house intelligence officer, Morell was the man they looked to for the scoop when something startling happened,” journalist and author Mark Bowden will comment. (Bowden 2012, pp. 3) The CIA officer knew nothing about the incident but said he would make some calls to inquire about it.
CIA Officer Thought the Crash Was an Accident - Morell initially assumed the crash was an accident. “The image in my mind,” he will later recall, “was of a small plane losing its way in a storm or fog and hitting the World Trade Center. I figured the death toll would include only two or three people on the plane and perhaps a few more in offices at the point of impact.” All the same, after entering the school, he calls the operations center at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, to see if anyone there knows more about the crash. He assumes someone there likely will because, he will write, “I had come to rely on the group of hard-working officers in the center, both to set aside for me key pieces of overnight reporting and to answer my many questions.”
CIA Officer Is Told a Large Plane Hit the WTC - However, the duty officer Morell talks to is able to tell him little more than what he already knows. The one new detail the duty officer provides, Morell will recall, is that “the initial reports indicated that the plane [that hit the WTC] was a large commercial jet.” “My hope that this was not terrorism started to fade,” he will write. Morell then walks into the holding room next to the classroom where Bush is going to listen to some children reading and notices that the time is 9:00 a.m. Minutes later, he will learn about Flight 175 crashing into the WTC (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001) and realize immediately that the incident is a “deliberate act of terrorism.” (Morell 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 47-48)
A training exercise is scheduled to begin at a US intelligence agency located just over 20 miles from the Pentagon, based around the scenario of a small corporate jet plane experiencing a mechanical failure and crashing into a tower building there. The exercise, which has been planned for several months, is to take place at the headquarters of the National Reconnaissance Office (NRO) in Chantilly, Virginia, four miles away from Washington Dulles International Airport and 24 miles from the Pentagon. (Lumpkin 8/21/2002; Hess 8/22/2002) Its purpose is to test the agency’s employees’ ability to respond to a small aircraft crash. (Lumpkin 8/21/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/14/2003)
Simulated Plane Crash - The exercise is set to commence at 9:00 a.m., when its observers meet to be briefed. The observers and exercise role players are to move to their positions for the exercise 10 to 15 minutes later. The plane in the exercise scenario is a Learjet 35A with two pilots and four passengers on board, which takes off at 9:30 a.m. from Dulles Airport. (9/11 Commission 7/14/2003) This is the airport Flight 77, which crashes into the Pentagon at 9:37 a.m., took off from earlier in the morning (see (8:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 8-10) A minute after taking off, the Learjet is supposed to experience a mechanical failure. It then goes out of control, leading it to crash into one of the four towers at the NRO’s headquarters at around 9:32 a.m. (see 9:30 a.m.-10:30 a.m. September 11, 2001). No real plane is going to be used in the exercise, but some stairwells and exits at the NRO headquarters are to be closed off in order to simulate the damage from the crash, forcing employees to find other ways to evacuate the building. (Lumpkin 8/21/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/14/2003)
Scenario Created by War Gaming Division - The exercise scenario was imagined by the NRO’s internal war gaming division. (Hess 8/22/2002) The exercise is being run by John Fulton, the chief of this division, and his team at the CIA. (National Law Enforcement and Security Institute 8/4/2002; National Law Enforcement and Security Institute 8/6/2002 )
Highly Secretive Agency - The NRO is an agency of the US Department of Defense. Its mission is “to ensure that the US has the technology and spaceborne and airborne assets needed to acquire intelligence worldwide.” (US Department of Defense 9/18/1992) It operates many of the nation’s spy satellites. (Lumpkin 8/21/2002) According to the New York Times, “It designs, builds, and operates spy satellites that photograph and overhear what other countries are up to.” (New York Times 8/10/1994) The NRO employs some 3,000 people. These employees are drawn from the CIA and the military. (Lumpkin 8/21/2002) The New York Times has called the NRO “probably the most secretive of the intelligence agencies.” Until 1992, its existence was not even officially disclosed. (New York Times 8/10/1994)
Exercise Canceled - According to NRO spokesman Art Haubold, the exercise will be called off “as soon as real world events began to unfold.” However, he does not give a specific time. All but the NRO’s most essential employees will then be sent home. (Hess 8/22/2002) Haubold will later comment, “It was just an incredible coincidence” that the exercise scenario “happened to involve an aircraft crashing into our facility.” (Lumpkin 8/21/2002)
In the CIA’s Near East Division (NE) front office suite on the sixth floor of the agency’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia, everyone thinks Osama bin Laden is to blame as soon as they see the second aircraft hitting the World Trade Center. Gary Schroen, a former CIA station chief in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, is in the NE office suite, where several people have been staring at the television showing the burning North Tower. As Schroen later recalls, “We were getting calls from CTC [the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center], friends of the CTC in and around the building, that the World Trade Center, one of the towers had been struck.” According to Schroen, there are “like, 30 of us standing around,” and “as soon as the second aircraft smashed into the second tower, everyone said, ‘Bin Laden. It was bin Laden.… This is the attack that bin Laden’s been promising.’” (Schroen 2005, pp. 12-14; NPR 5/2/2005; Schroen 1/20/2006) When CIA Director George Tenet learned of the first WTC attack, he reportedly said immediately that he thought bin Laden was responsible (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 4)
At the CIA’s Langley headquarters, Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt has arrived back at his office after attending an 8:30 a.m. meeting in the agency’s conference room (see (8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The second WTC tower has already been hit by this time. Pavitt sends a message to all CIA stations, saying, “I expect each station and each officer to redouble efforts of collecting intelligence on this tragedy.” Mary, the CIA’s New York station chief, calls him. In this call, Pavitt and Mary agree that Osama bin Laden is behind the attack. According to journalist and author Ronald Kessler, they believe that “Its scope, temerity, degree of planning, and viciousness fit his way of operating.” (Kessler 2003, pp. 202-204)
According to CIA Director George Tenet, “Only minutes” after the South Tower is hit, the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) receives a report that at least one other commercial passenger jet plane is unaccounted for. (Tenet 2007, pp. 163) The CTC is based at the CIA headquarters in Langley, and is run by the agency’s operations division. It gathers intelligence and runs covert operations abroad. It employs hundreds of analysts, and includes experts assigned from Defense Department intelligence agencies, the Pentagon’s Central Command, the FBI, the National Security Agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, and other government agencies. According to the Los Angeles Times, “It serves as the nerve center for the CIA’s effort to disrupt and deter terrorist groups and their state sponsors.” (Garza 10/2/2001; Drogin 10/12/2001) Further details of the unaccounted-for plane, and where the CTC learns of it from, are unclear. The plane is presumably Flight 77, which veered off course at 8:54 (see (8:54 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and was evidently lost by 8:56 (see 8:56 a.m. September 11, 2001). (Wald and Sack 10/16/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9) The FAA will later claim it had established several phone bridges at around 8:50 a.m., which included various government agencies, on which it shared “real-time information… about the unfolding events, including information about loss of communication with aircraft, loss of transponder signals, unauthorized changes in course, and other actions being taken by all the flights of interest, including Flight 77” (see (8:50 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 5/23/2003) So the CTC may have learned of the errant plane by this means. Yet the 9/11 Commission will claim the FAA’s phone bridges were not established until about 9:20 (see (9:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 36) And NORAD is supposedly only alerted to Flight 77 at 9:24, according to some accounts (see (9:24 a.m.) September 11, 2001), or 9:34, according to others (see 9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Dale Watson, assistant director of the FBI’s counterterrorism division, activates the Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC) at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, from where the bureau will coordinate its response to the terrorist attacks. Watson learned about the first hijacked plane crashing into the World Trade Center during a briefing in the SIOC attended by the FBI’s assistant directors and Robert Mueller, the bureau’s director (see Shortly After 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). Mueller and some of the other officials at the briefing, presumably including Watson, subsequently headed to the office of FBI Deputy Director Thomas Pickard. There, Mueller, Pickard, and the other officials saw the second hijacked plane crashing into the WTC on television (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). It then became clear to them that this was a terrorist attack.
Deputy Director Says the FBI Needs to Open Its Operations Center - Mueller asks Pickard what they should do in response to the incident and Pickard says they need to open the SIOC. (New Yorker 9/24/2001; 9/11 Commission 1/21/2004 ) According to the US government’s Interagency Domestic Terrorism Concept of Operations Plan, “Upon determination of a credible threat,” FBI headquarters is required to activate the SIOC, “to coordinate and manage the national level support to a terrorism incident.” (US Government 1/2001) Following this protocol, Watson goes to his office and activates the SIOC for crisis mode. (New Yorker 9/24/2001)
Director Goes to the Operations Center to Manage the Crisis - Mueller and Pickard go to the SIOC to manage the FBI’s response to the attacks. Pickard isolates Mueller in a conference room, restricting access to him so he is better able to stay focused on the decisions ahead. Mueller only took over as FBI director a week ago (see September 4, 2001) and Pickard will later comment, “I was worried that there was going to be this string of people running into the room with news or questions and [Mueller] would be standing there asking them who they were.” (Kessler 2002, pp. 420; Graff 2011, pp. 314-316) Meanwhile, a live communications link is established that allows them to listen in as Pentagon and FAA air traffic controllers track suspicious aircraft. (Cloud, Cohen, and Boston 10/5/2001)
Many Other Officials Go to the Operations Center - Other senior officials and FBI agents also begin pouring into the center, along with representatives from numerous other government agencies, including the CIA, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the FAA, the NSA, and the Secret Service. Assistant Attorney General Michael Chertoff will head to the center, as will Attorney General John Ashcroft, who arrives there early in the afternoon (see (Between 1:00 p.m. and 2:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). The SIOC will become “the place to be to get information and so everyone wanted to be there,” Ashcroft will comment. (Kessler 2002, pp. 5, 421; 9/11 Commission 12/17/2003 )
Center Is Designed for Dealing with Crises - The SIOC, which opened in 1998 and cost $20 million to build, covers 40,000 square feet on the fifth floor of the FBI headquarters building. (CNN 11/20/1998) It is “a heavily fortified cluster of offices surrounded by video screens and banks of computer terminals,” according to the New York Times. (Shenon and Johnston 11/2/2001) It can function as a 24-hour watch post, a crisis management center, and an information processing center. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 1/18/2004) It operates around the clock, with at least eight staffers on duty at any one time. It is capable of managing up to five crises at a time and is designed to accommodate up to 450 members of staff during major emergencies. (CNN 11/20/1998; New Yorker 9/24/2001)
Center Is Built to Survive Attacks - The center is fortified so those in it can survive a bombing or other kind of attack. (Shenon and Johnston 11/2/2001) It has no windows to the street outside and is shielded to prevent electronic signals from entering or leaving it. (CNN 11/20/1998; Kessler 2002, pp. 421) Its 225 computer terminals have access to three types of local area networks: the regular FBI network that can connect to the networks of outside agencies; a classified network that operates at the top-secret level; and an even more highly classified Special Compartmented Information network. (McGee 10/14/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation 1/18/2004) The many computers and video screens in the center can display broadcasts from US television channels and also TV channels from other countries. (CNN 11/20/1998)
Center Will Become the 'Nerve Center' of the FBI's Investigation - By the end of the week, the SIOC will be “the headquarters of the government’s response” to today’s attacks, according to journalist and author Garrett Graff. As many as 500 people from 56 different agencies will be working in it. (Kessler 2002, pp. 421; Baker 7/1/2002; Graff 2011, pp. 317) It will become “the nerve center” of the FBI’s investigation of the attacks, according to the Wall Street Journal. (Cloud, Cohen, and Boston 10/5/2001)
A National Operations and Intelligence Watch Officer Network (NOIWON) conference call is established to allow government agencies in the Washington, DC, area to quickly share information regarding the ongoing events, but the call reportedly contributes little of value to the emergency response to the terrorist attacks. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; 9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 ; 9/11 Commission 7/13/2004; Brewin 6/1/2009) The NOIWON call is convened by the CIA sometime between 9:16 a.m. and 9:25 a.m., according to FAA chronologies. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 ) According to an officer at the Pentagon, the White House Situation Room is taking the lead at the time he answers the NOIWON call. (9/11 Commission 5/5/2004)
FAA Participates in Call - At the FAA headquarters in Washington, the NOIWON call is answered by Bart Merkley, one of two officers on duty in the ACI Watch—a small, 24-hour intelligence facility located on the building’s third floor. (9/11 Commission 7/13/2004) Merkley stays on the call for its entire duration. He passes onto it information he has learned from the Tactical Net—a teleconference established by the operations center at FAA headquarters at 8:50 a.m. (Federal Aviation Administration 9/17/2001 ; 9/11 Commission 5/19/2004)
NMCC Participates in Call - At the National Military Command Center (NMCC) at the Pentagon, the initial call on the NOIWON line is answered by Commander Pat Gardner, the assistant deputy director for operations. (9/11 Commission 5/5/2004) Subsequently, Brigadier General Norman Seip will take over the line and remain on it for most of the day. According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, this is because the “White House Situation Room insisted on having a flag officer on an open line” with it. (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 )
NOIWON Call of Little Use - The NOIWON call apparently contributes little of value to the emergency response to the terrorist attacks. Darrel Smith, who is working alongside Merkley in the ACI Watch at FAA headquarters, will tell the 9/11 Commission that he “does not remember any useful or significant information coming as a result of the NOIWON call.” (9/11 Commission 7/13/2004) Captain Charles Leidig, the acting deputy director for operations in the NMCC throughout the attacks, will tell the Commission that he “recalled no situational awareness that came from the NOIWON call.” (9/11 Commission 4/29/2004 ) Gardner will say he “doesn’t remember specifically what was discussed” on the call. (9/11 Commission 5/5/2004) FAA records will state, “It is believed that the [Department of Defense] received information” concerning the attacks over the NOIWON call, but the FAA “holds no records of that communication.” (Federal Aviation Administration 9/11/2001)
Call Delays Establishing of NMCC's Conference - Furthermore, the NOIWON call delays the Pentagon’s response to the attacks. The NMCC’s usual first action in response to a crisis is to establish a “significant event conference” in order to gather and disseminate information from government agencies, and discuss what actions should be taken. However, the NOIWON call reportedly intervenes with the preparations for such a conference call. According to a 9/11 Commission memorandum, “The NMCC abandoned its attempt to convene a [significant event conference] so its watch officers could participate in the NOIWON conference.” (9/11 Commission 7/21/2003 ; 9/11 Commission 6/17/2004) The significant event conference will therefore only commence at 9:29 a.m. (see 9:29 a.m.-9:34 a.m. September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 37)
No Recording of Call - The NOIWON is described as “a dedicated secure telephone system with a conferencing capability for the rapid exchange and sharing of high interest and time-sensitive information between Washington-area operations centers.” (Brewin 6/1/2009) During breaking crises it is used by the major national security watch centers around Washington, including the NMCC and the National Military Joint Intelligence Center at the Pentagon, the State Department Operations Center, the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research, the CIA’s operations center, the NSA’s operations center, and the White House Situation Room. (Radi 3/1997 ) The 9/11 Commission will later request a transcript of the NOIWON call conducted on this day, but despite “multiple searches,” no recording of it will be found. (9/11 Commission 8/22/2003; Stephen A. Cambone 10/14/2003; 9/11 Commission 4/16/2004)
According to his own account, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, started a video teleconference from the White House’s Secure Video Conferencing Center, next to the Situation Room, at around 9:10 a.m.(see (9:10 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, the 9/11 Commission says that logs indicate this conference beginning 15 minutes later than this. Included in the conference are the FBI, the CIA, the FAA, the departments of State, Justice, and Defense, and the White House shelter. The FAA and CIA join at 9:40 a.m. The 9/11 Commission says, “It is not clear to us that the video teleconference was fully under way before 9:37, when the Pentagon was struck.” Furthermore, it states: “We do not know who from Defense participated, but we know that in the first hour none of the personnel involved in managing the crisis did. And none of the information conveyed in the White House video teleconference, at least in the first hour, was being passed to the NMCC [in the Pentagon].” Clarke’s video teleconference is not connected into the area of the NMCC from where the crisis is being managed. Consequently, “the director of the operations team-who was on the phone with NORAD-did not have the benefit of information being shared on the video teleconference.” And, “when the Secretary [of Defense Rumsfeld] and Vice Chairman [of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Myers] later participated in the White House video teleconference, they were necessarily absent from the NMCC and unable to provide guidance to the operations team.” Clarke, however, gives a specific recollection of Myers speaking over video at 9:28, which is seemingly at odds with the 9/11 Commission’s account (see 9:28 a.m. September 11, 2001). One witness later recalls: “[It] was almost like there were parallel decision-making processes going on; one was a voice conference orchestrated by the NMCC… and then there was the [White House video teleconference].… [I]n my mind they were competing venues for command and control and decision-making.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004)
Staffers in the White House Situation Room remain where they are despite being advised to evacuate and a list of their names is sent out, in case an aircraft should crash into the White House. At 9:33 a.m., a supervisor at Washington’s Reagan National Airport called the Secret Service Joint Operations Center at the White House to report that an unidentified aircraft was heading toward the White House. The supervisor warned, “[I]f you’ve got people [at the White House], you’d better get them out of there” (see (9:33 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Federal Aviation Administration 9/14/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 9; Bohn 8/29/2011) Most personnel evacuated from the White House at around 9:45 a.m. (see (9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (CNN 9/11/2001; CNN 9/12/2001)
Situation Room Personnel Decline the Advice to Leave - Meanwhile, Rob Hargis, the senior duty officer in the Situation Room, receives a call from a National Security Council official, who urges him and his colleagues to get out of the White House. Hargis turns to the others in the Situation Room and says: “We have been ordered to evacuate. If you want to go, go now.” However, everyone stays silent and no one gets up to leave. Hargis therefore tells the caller, “We’re staying.” He thinks the White House would be disconnected from the crisis if the Situation Room stopped operating at such a critical time. (Bohn 8/29/2011) According to Franklin Miller, a senior aide to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, at some point Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley gives the instruction to keep the Situation Room running and there is in fact never any question about its personnel leaving. (Sanger 3/30/2004)
Counterterrorism Chief Allegedly Asks the Staffers to Evacuate - White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke will later claim that, apparently around this time, he is concerned for the safety of those with him in the Situation Room, and so he huddles them together and asks them to leave. He tells them: “We will be the next target. It’s no shame to relocate. Some of you have kids too. Think about them.” But the staffers all decline his request. (Clarke 2004, pp. 12) However, Miller will dispute whether Clarke makes this offer, calling his claim “a complete fiction” (see March 30, 2004). (Sanger 3/30/2004)
List of the Staffers' Names Is Sent to the CIA - All the same, Miller is concerned for the safety of those in the Situation Room. “The White House could be hit; we could be going down,” he thinks. He therefore quietly compiles a list of the names of everyone in the room, he will recall, “so that when and if we died, someone would know who was in there.” The list is passed to Scott Heyer, a communications officer in the Situation Room, and Heyer e-mails it to the CIA operations center. (Miller, Gerth, and van Natta 12/30/2001; Bohn 8/29/2011) For the rest of the day, about a dozen staffers will remain in the Situation Room, working frantically to keep information flowing to President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney, and key White House personnel. (Gardham 9/10/2010; Bohn 8/29/2011)
By 9:50 a.m., CIA Director George Tenet is in his office on the seventh floor of the agency’s Langley headquarters. He later describes: “[E]veryone was wondering, what next? Reports came in of several airplanes that were not responding to communications from the ground and perhaps heading toward Washington. Several [Counterterrorist Center] officers reminded us that al-Qaeda members had once discussed flying an airplane into CIA headquarters, the top floor of which we were presently occupying.” Tenet himself later recalls that, in the minutes after he’d learned of the first attack, he’d “thought about the ‘Bojinka’ plot to blow up twelve US airliners over the Pacific and a subsequent plan to fly a small airplane into CIA headquarters” (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 7-8; Tenet 2007, pp. 162 and 164) According to CIA contractor Billy Waugh, people at the headquarters are aware that Flight 93 is currently unaccounted for, and it is “a widespread assumption within the building that this flight [is] headed straight for us in the CIA headquarters” (see (Before 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Waugh and Keown 2004, pp. 293-294) Tenet asks Mike Hohlfelder, the chief of his security detail, for his recommendation, and is advised, “Let’s evacuate.” Though he later claims he was “reluctant” about this, Tenet tells his senior leadership: “We have to save our people. We have to evacuate the building.” Therefore, at about 10 a.m., the word goes out for a large number of the CIA’s thousands of employees to go home. Initially, the senior leadership team moves from Tenet’s seventh-floor conference room to another room on the first floor, but it then exits the headquarters building and heads across the campus to the CIA’s printing plant, where a crude operational capability has been set up. However, due to the objections of CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black, those in the Counterterrorist Center and the Global Response Center are allowed to stay in place in the headquarters (see (10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Tenet and his staff will leave the printing plant and return to the headquarters at around 1 p.m., by which time they will consider the danger to be over. (Woodward 2002, pp. 8-9; Tenet 2007, pp. 164-165 and 168) The CIA headquarters evacuation is aided by the fact that a fire had occurred there just over a month earlier. Consequently, new evacuation procedures had been laid out, which Tenet follows on this day (see August 7-September 10, 2001). (Kessler 2003, pp. 222-223)
Employees at CIA headquarters are aware that Flight 93 is unaccounted for, and assume their building is its intended target. This is according to CIA contractor Billy Waugh, who is currently doing some work for the agency and is at its Langley headquarters at the time of the attacks. In a 2004 book, Waugh will describe: “We had witnessed the hits on the World Trade Center and knew the hijacked United Airlines Flight 93 remained unaccounted for. It was a widespread assumption within the building that this flight was headed straight for us in the CIA headquarters.” (Waugh and Keown 2004, pp. 293-294) At around 10:00 a.m., much of CIA headquarters is evacuated, following reports of unresponsive aircraft possibly heading toward Washington (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Tenet 2007, pp. 164) Waugh recalls, “There was no panic, just an understanding that those in my division needed to walk to the west parking lot, away from the buildings, and await the inevitable impact.” He adds that, “Upon hearing that Flight 93 had gone down in a Pennsylvania field, a couple of us returned to the HQ building to pick up any necessary gear.” (Waugh and Keown 2004, pp. 294) The 9/11 Commission will state that Flight 93’s intended target is either the Capitol building or the White House, not CIA headquarters. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 14) However, in 2006 MSNBC will note, “to this day, the ultimate target of the terrorists on this aircraft has never been confirmed.” (Shuster 9/12/2006)
At around 10 a.m., following reports that several aircraft were not responding to communications and could be heading toward Washington, CIA Director George Tenet orders the evacuation of the CIA headquarters building in Langley, Virginia (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). However, Cofer Black, the director of the Counterterrorist Center (CTC), is unhappy about this and tells Tenet, “Sir, we’re going to have to exempt CTC from this because we need to have our people working the computers.” The CTC, according to the Los Angeles Times, is “the nerve center for the CIA’s effort to disrupt and deter terrorist groups and their state sponsors.” About 200 employees are currently working in it. Eight of them are in the Global Response Center on the sixth floor of the building, monitoring the latest intelligence on terrorism throughout the world. The rest are in a windowless facility low down in the building. When Tenet points out that the Global Response Center staff will be at risk, Black responds, “They have the key function to play in a crisis like this. This is exactly why we have the Global Response Center.” When Tenet points out, “They could die,” Black replies, “Well, sir, then they’re just going to have to die.” After pausing, Tenet agrees, “You’re absolutely right.” Tenet later says, “Now that we were under attack, the Counterterrorist Center, with its vast data banks and sophisticated communications systems, was more vital than ever. Even as we were discussing going or staying, CTC was sending out a global alert to our stations around the world, ordering them to go to their liaison services and agents to collect every shred of information they could lay their hands on.” (Drogin 10/12/2001; Woodward 2002, pp. 8-9; Tenet 2007, pp. 164-165)
At some unspecified time after when Flight 93 crashed, CIA Director George Tenet receives the passenger lists for the hijacked planes. He is currently in the CIA’s printing plant, after having evacuated the agency’s headquarters building (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). An analyst from the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) has raced across to the plant with the list, and says, “Some of these guys on one of the planes are the ones we’ve been looking for in the last few weeks.” He specifically points at the names Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (two of the alleged Flight 77 hijackers). According to Tenet, this is “the first time we had absolute proof of what I had been virtually certain of from the moment I heard about the attacks: we were in the middle of an al-Qaeda plot.” Tenet will later say that after the CTC had first “requested passenger lists from the planes that had been turned into weapons that morning… the initial response from some parts of the bureaucracy (which parts since mercifully forgotten) was that the manifests could not be shared with CIA. There were privacy issues involved.” They were only obtained after some “gentle reasoning, and a few four-letter words.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 167) The agency that provided these lists to the CTC may have been the Customs Office of Intelligence. According to Robert Bonner, the commissioner-designate of US Customs, “through an evaluation of data related to the passengers manifest for the four terrorist hijacked aircraft, Customs Office of Intelligence was able to identify the likely terrorist hijackers. Within 45 minutes of the attacks, Customs forwarded the passenger lists with the names of the victims and 19 probable hijackers to the FBI and the intelligence community” (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (9/11 Commission 1/26/2004) Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will claim he was told as early as 9:59 a.m. that the FBI had received the passenger manifests from the airlines (see (9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). (Clarke 2004, pp. 13-14)
Mike Morell, President Bush’s CIA briefer, speaks to Cofer Black, the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, who can provide him with little more information about the attacks on the US than is generally known. Morell, who is with the president on Air Force One, has just spoken to Bush, who asked him to call CIA Director George Tenet and tell him to inform the president immediately when the CIA has any definitive information about the perpetrators of today’s attacks (see (10:32 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Morell now sits down in the staff section of the plane, picks up the phone by his seat, and calls Tenet’s office at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. However, the headquarters is currently being evacuated (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001), and so Tenet and his staff are in the process of relocating to a secure site. The secretary who answers Morell’s call says Tenet is unavailable and Morell instead has to talk to Black, the nearest senior official, after the secretary passes the phone to him. During their conversation, Black tells Morell what the CIA currently knows about the attacks on the US, which, Morell will later comment, “was little beyond what the rest of the world knew.” Morell then passes on the president’s request to be informed right away as soon as the CIA has information about who is responsible for the attacks and asks Black to share the request with Tenet. As he hangs up the phone, however, Morell is doubtful that his message will be passed on. “I was not confident [Tenet] would get the word, given the evacuation and given everything that would be asked of Black over the next few hours,” he will recall. (Morell 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 52-53) Tenet will inform Bush, for the first time, that the CIA has linked al-Qaeda to the attacks during a video teleconference at around 3:15 p.m. this afternoon (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 26-27; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326)
Defense Secretary Rumsfeld aide Stephen Cambone is taking notes on behalf of Rumsfeld in the National Military Command Center. These notes will be leaked to the media nearly a year later. According to the notes, although Rumsfeld has already been given information indicating the 9/11 attacks were done by al-Qaeda (see 12:05 p.m. September 11, 2001) and he has been given no evidence so far indicating any Iraqi involvement, he is more interested in blaming the attacks on Iraq. According to his aide’s notes, Rumsfeld wants the “best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time. Not only UBL [Osama bin Laden].… Need to move swiftly.… Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” (CBS News 9/4/2002; Bamford 2004, pp. 285) In a 2004 book, author James Moore will write, “Unless Rumsfeld had an inspired moment while the rest of the nation was in shock, the notes are irrefutable proof that the Bush administration had designs on Iraq and Hussein well before the president raised his hand to take the oath of office.” (Moore 3/15/2004, pp. 18)
Mike Morell, President Bush’s CIA briefer, passes on to Bush all the information the CIA currently has relating to today’s terrorist attacks, which includes a warning the agency received about the possibility that a group of al-Qaeda terrorists is in the United States, preparing for a second wave of attacks. (Tenet 2007, pp. 169; Bush 2010, pp. 136; Graff 9/9/2016) While he was at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, Bush conducted a meeting of the National Security Council in a secure video teleconference (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001). During the meeting, CIA Director George Tenet said the CIA had information linking al-Qaeda to today’s attacks. (Woodward 2002, pp. 26-27; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 326; Priess 2016, pp. 243) Before the meeting ended, Morell slipped out to phone Ted Gistaro, Tenet’s executive assistant, at the CIA’s operations center and asked to have the information Tenet provided to Bush sent to Air Force One. (Tenet 2007, pp. 169; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 57)
Fax Includes All of the CIA's Information on the Attacks - A few minutes after Air Force One took off from Offutt, heading for Washington, DC (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001), Morell received a six-page fax that included all the intelligence the CIA had relating to the attacks. It included the talking points Tenet used to brief Bush during the teleconference, along with a lot of information Tenet was unable to cover in the meeting. Morell read through the material several times and highlighted several passages.
Briefer Goes Over the CIA's Information with Bush - Now, about 30 minutes later, Andrew Card, Bush’s chief of staff, comes to the staff cabin and tells Morell that Bush will see him to go through the information. Morell therefore accompanies Card to the conference room on the plane and the two men meet with Bush there. Morell goes over the material he has been sent with the president, allowing Bush to read as much of it as he wants. (Morell 9/2006 ; Morell and Harlow 2015, pp. 57; Graff 9/9/2016)
Briefer Reports the Possibility of a Second Wave of Attacks - The material includes information provided by French intelligence, explaining that it has detected signs that al-Qaeda has “sleeper cells” in the US that are planning a second wave of attacks. Bush is concerned when he learns this. He will later describe receiving the information as “one of the darkest moments of the day.” “I believed America could overcome the September 11 attacks without further panic,” he will write. “But,” he will add, “a follow-on strike would be very difficult to bear.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 169; Bush 2010, pp. 136; Graff 9/9/2016) After Morell has finished briefing the president, Bush thanks him and he returns to his seat in the staff cabin. This meeting apparently takes place at around 5:20 p.m., since Morell will comment that Building 7 of the World Trade Center collapses while he is briefing the president and this incident occurs at 5:20 p.m. (see (5:20 p.m.) September 11, 2001). (Morell 9/2006 ; National Institute of Standards and Technology 11/2008, pp. 15)
CIA officer Clark Shannon gives conflicting accounts of his conduct in the failed search for Khalid Almihdhar to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry’s staff and CIA director George Tenet. Shannon attended a meeting at which the CIA and FBI discussed the investigation into the bombing of the USS Cole and failed to disclose information about hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to the Cole investigators (see June 11, 2001). Shannon tells the Congressional Inquiry’s staff that he was aware that Almihdhar had a US visa and Alhazmi had traveled to the US, but did not disclose this to the FBI, as he would not share such information outside the CIA unless authorized to do so. However, CIA director George Tenet tells the Congressional Inquiry that Shannon told him something different and that Almihdhar is not who they were talking about at the meeting. (New York Times 10/17/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004 )
The FBI launches an internal investigation into its failings before 9/11, but will not publicize the probe’s course or findings. The only thing known about the investigation is that two FBI agents who were detailed to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, before 9/11 are interviewed by the investigators and give a different account of their conduct to the version they provide to the Justice Department’s inspector general. The two agents, Doug Miller and Mark Rossini, were involved in the blocking of a CIA cable to the FBI about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and January 6, 2000) and falsely claimed to the inspector general that they could recall nothing about this (see (February 12, 2004)). However, they tell the internal investigation the truth, that they were ordered by Alec Station’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire, and another CIA officer to withhold the cable from the FBI. (Stein 10/1/2008)
Andrew Warren, a former CIA officer (see (1997)) who will later face date rape allegations (see September 2007 and February 17, 2008), returns to the agency. He had worked for the CIA in the late 1990s, but left before 9/11 to work in finance in New York (see Before September 11, 2001). After witnessing the 9/11 attacks, Warren returns to the agency. A fluent Arabic speaker, he is deployed to Afghanistan at some time after his return. (MacAskill 1/29/2009) The deployment to Afghanistan appears to be at some point before he serves at the CIA’s New York office, which is around September 2003 (see (September 2003)). An interview with a local paper in September 2002 will say that Warren has just returned from a two-and-a-half-month posting at the US embassy in Afghanistan. (Feber 9/20/2002)
The chief of operations at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center proposes that the CIA establish “hit teams” to assassinate high-value targets in al-Qaeda’s structure. The CIA compiled a list of such targets before 9/11, and updated it afterwards. The suggestion is made as part of a debate about what to do with the targets. The hit teams would be made up of CIA paramilitaries that would covertly infiltrate countries in the Middle East, Africa, and even Europe to assassinate people on the list, one by one. However, some CIA officers object to this, saying that it would be better to keep the targets alive and interrogate them about their network and other plots. Other officers worry that the CIA might not be good at assassinating people, and the plan is never implemented, although the agency does establish a network of black sites for interrogating detainees. The identity of the chief of operations that makes this proposal is not known definitively, but Richard Blee is said to hold the position around this time (see Between Mid-January and July 2000). (Priest 11/2/2005)
Michael Scheuer, former head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see February 1996), returns to the unit to serve as an adviser, but is not allowed to debrief detainees. Scheuer, who was fired from the unit in 1999 (see June 1999), remains with Alec Station until 2004, when he resigns from the CIA and authors Imperial Hubris, a book critical of the CIA and the US government’s fight against terrorism in general. He had finished his first book, Through Our Enemies’ Eyes, before 9/11, and it is released in 2002. He will later complain that he is given a job title but no official duties. Other CIA officers seek out his services, but these requests are blocked, apparently by James Pavitt, the Deputy Director of Operations. Scheuer comments: “The CIA knew that Through Our Enemies’ Eyes was respected by Islamists and that, as the author, I would be an effective debriefer. Mr. Pavitt, however, put burying my career above using me to elicit information to defend America.” (Scheuer 2005, pp. 264; Scheuer 2006, pp. xvii)
CIA Director George Tenet arrives at the White House to give the president his daily intelligence briefing. With him is Mike Morell, the president’s regular CIA briefer. They meet with Bush at 8 a.m. in the Oval Office, joined by Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) on this day is about ten to twelve pages long, and a further twelve pages includes full reports from case officers, the Directorate of Intelligence, and the National Security Agency. The PDB includes a review of the available intelligence tracing the previous day’s attacks back to Osama bin Laden and his top al-Qaeda associates. Among the evidence presented:
Several reports identify Capitol Hill and the White House as intended targets of the attacks.
One report says a bin Laden associate incorrectly “gave thanks for the explosion in the Congress building.”
A key figure in the al-Qaeda charity front the Wafa Humanitarian Organization had initially claimed that “The White House has been destroyed,” but then had to correct himself.
A report shows that al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan had said at 9:53 a.m. the previous day that the attackers were following through with “the doctor’s program” (see 9:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). This is thought to be a reference to the second-ranking member of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician often referred to as “the Doctor.”
The CIA and the FBI have evidence connecting at least three of the alleged hijackers to Osama bin Laden and his training camps in Afghanistan. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Salem Alhazmi were quickly linked to al-Qaeda on the day of 9/11, as two of them were on a US watch list even before 9/11 (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001). The attacks were also consistent with intelligence reports throughout the summer that indicated bin Laden was planning “spectacular attacks” against US targets.
A report out of Kandahar, Afghanistan shows the attacks were “the results of two years’ planning.”
Another report says the attacks were “the beginning of the wrath.”
A key piece of evidence involves Abu Zubaida, who has been identified as the chief field commander for the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. A supposedly reliable report received after the 9/11 attacks stated that Zubaida had referred to September 11 as “zero hour.” It is not known is an intercepted message from before 9/11 saying “tomorrow is zero hour,” or some other message (see September 10, 2001).
According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, “For Tenet, the evidence on bin Laden was conclusive—game, set, match.” Though Tenet, along with Rice and other officials, has already spent several months working on a plan to vastly expand covert action in Afghanistan and worldwide, he tells Bush that an even more extensive plan will soon be presented for approval, and this will be very expensive. The president tells him, “Whatever it takes.” (Woodward 2002, pp. 39-41; Woodward and Balz 1/28/2002; Kessler 2003, pp. 231-233; Tenet 2007, pp. 165) Bush will approve Tenet’s plan by the following Monday (see September 17, 2001).
On the day of 9/11, FBI agent Ali Soufan happened to be in Yemen, working on the recently revived USS Cole bombing investigation there. For nearly a year, the CIA had hidden all information about the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia from Soufan (see Late October-Late November 2000 and Early December 2000). On September 12, 2001, he receives from the CIA a packet of information containing a complete report about the Malaysia summit and three surveillance photos from it. According to author Lawrence Wright, “When Soufan realized that the [CIA] and some people in the [FBI] had known for more than a year and a half that two of the hijackers [Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi] were in the [US], he ran into the bathroom and retched.” (Wright 2006, pp. 362-367) A full list of the FBI officials who knew of the Malaysia summit is not known. However, in the summer of 2001 head of counterterrorism Dale Watson and acting Director Thomas Pickard were aware of it, but did not tell other officials on the CIA’s instructions (see July 12, 2001). (Pickard 6/24/2004) Using the new information, Soufan interrogates Fahad al-Quso, an al-Qaeda operative who was involved with the Malaysia summit although he may not have actually attended it (see January 5-6, 2000). Al-Quso is living freely in Yemen but is pressured into talking to Soufan by the Yemeni government. After a few days, al-Quso admits to recognizing 9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi, whom he met in Kandahar, Afghanistan, near the end of 1999. Abu Jandal, Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard, happens to be in custody in Yemen as well. After some more days, Jandal tells Soufan everything he knows about al-Qaeda. He recognizes photos of Alshehhi, Mohamed Atta, Khalid Almihdhar, and four other 9/11 hijackers, from when they were in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan. (Wright 2006, pp. 362-367)
After the September 11 attacks, there is a dramatic increase in the frequency of US-requested “renditions.” (Chandrasekaran and Finn 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Priest and Gellman 12/26/2002; Rotella 2/1/2003; Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004, pp. A01) Officially, the original purpose of renditions was to bring suspected foreign criminals, such as drug kingpins, to justice (see 1993). But after September 11, it is used predominantly to arrest and detain foreign nationals designated as suspected terrorists and bring them to foreign countries that are willing to hold them indefinitely for further questioning and without public proceedings. (Chandrasekaran and Finn 3/11/2002, pp. A01; van Natta 3/9/2003; Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004, pp. A01; Priest 1/2/2005, pp. A01) According to one CIA officer interviewed by the Washington Post, after September 11, “The whole idea [becomes] a corruption of renditions—It’s not rendering to justice, it’s kidnapping.” (Priest 1/2/2005, pp. A01) “There was a debate after 9/11 about how to make people disappear,” a former intelligence official will tell the New York Times in May 2004. (Risen, Johnston, and Lewis 5/13/2004) By the end of 2002, the number of terrorism suspects sent to foreign countries is in the thousands. Many of the renditions involve captives from the US operation in Afghanistan. (Chandrasekaran and Finn 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Priest and Gellman 12/26/2002; Rotella 2/1/2003; Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004, pp. A01) The countries receiving the rendered suspects are often known human rights violators like Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco, all of which have histories of using torture and other methods of interrogation that are not legal in the US. The rendition program often ignores local and international extradition laws. (Chandrasekaran and Finn 3/11/2002, pp. A01) In fact, US officials have admitted that the justification for rendition is sometimes fabricated—the US requests that a suspect be rendered, and then the allied foreign government charges the person “with a crime of some sort.” (Priest and Gellman 12/26/2002; Rotella 2/1/2003) After a suspect is relocated to another country, US intelligence agents may “remain closely involved” in the interrogations, sometimes even “doing [them] together” with the foreign government’s intelligence service. (Chandrasekaran and Finn 3/11/2002, pp. A01; van Natta 3/9/2003; Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004, pp. A01) The level of cooperation with Saudi interrogators is allegedly high. “In some cases,” according to one official, “we’re able to observe through one-way mirrors the live investigations. In others, we usually get summaries. We will feed questions to their investigators.” He adds, however, “They’re still very much in control.” (Priest and Gellman 12/26/2002) Joint intelligence task forces, which consist of members from the CIA, FBI, and some other US law enforcement agencies, allegedly control to a large extent the approximately 800 terrorism suspects detained in Saudi Arabia. (Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004, pp. A01)
Countries involved in the practice of rendition -
Egypt - Amnesty International’s 2003 annual report says that in Egypt, “Torture and ill-treatment of detainees continued to be systematic” during 2002. (Chandrasekaran and Finn 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Priest and Gellman 12/26/2002; Amnesty International 2003)
Jordan - The State Department’s 2001 annual human rights report states, “The most frequently alleged methods of torture include sleep deprivation, beatings on the soles of the feet, prolonged suspension with ropes in contorted positions, and extended solitary confinement.” US officials are quoted in the Washington Post in 2002 calling Jordan’s interrogators “highly professional.” (Chandrasekaran and Finn 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Priest and Gellman 12/26/2002)
Morocco - Morocco “has a documented history of torture, as well as longstanding ties to the CIA.” (Chandrasekaran and Finn 3/11/2002, pp. A01; Priest and Gellman 12/26/2002)
Syria - Amnesty International’s 2003 annual report notes: “Hundreds of political prisoners remained in prolonged detention without trial or following sentences imposed after unfair trials. Some were ill but were still held in harsh conditions. Ten prisoners of conscience were sentenced to up to 10 years’ imprisonment after unfair trials before the Supreme State Security Court (SSSC) or the Criminal Court. There were fewer reports of torture and ill-treatment, but cases from previous years were not investigated. At least two people died in custody.” (Priest and Gellman 12/26/2002; Amnesty International 2003)
CIA Director George Tenet and Cofer Black, the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, meet at 9:30 a.m. in the White House Situation Room with President Bush and the National Security Council. Tenet presents a plan for tracking down Osama bin Laden, toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan, and confronting terrorism worldwide. According to journalist Bob Woodward, the plan involves “bringing together expanded intelligence-gathering resources, sophisticated technology, agency paramilitary teams and opposition forces in Afghanistan in a classic covert action. They would then be combined with US military power and Special Forces into an elaborate and lethal package designed to destroy the shadowy terrorist networks.” A key concept is to utilize the Northern Alliance, which is the main opposition force in Afghanistan. Despite being “a strained coalition of sometimes common interests,” Tenet says that along with the CIA teams “and tons of money, the Alliance could be brought together into a cohesive fighting force.” Black gives a presentation describing the effectiveness of covert action. He says they will need to go after the Taliban as well as al-Qaeda, as the two are joined at the hip. He wants the mission to begin as soon as possible, and adds, “When we’re through with them, they will have flies walking across their eyeballs.” Black claims that once they are on the ground, victory could be achieved in weeks. According to Bob Woodward, “No one else in the room, including Tenet, believed that was possible.” Black also warns the president, “Americans are going to die.… How many, I don’t know. Could be a lot.” Bush responds, “That’s war. That’s what we’re here to win.” This is the second presentation laying out an increasingly detailed set of CIA proposals for expanding its fight against terrorism. (George Tenet had given the first when he met with the president the day before (see September 12, 2001).) Tenet will give a more detailed presentation of the CIA’s covert action plan two days later, at Camp David (see September 15, 2001). (Woodward 2002, pp. 50-53; Balz, Woodward, and Himmelman 1/29/2002; Kessler 2003, pp. 233-234)
The head of the company for which Flight 93 passenger Todd Beamer worked appears to be aware of Beamer’s call from the plane before its existence has been made public, and before even Beamer’s wife has been informed of it. Larry Ellison is the CEO of software company Oracle Corporation. In a memo sent out to the company’s employees, he writes, “We know Todd Beamer is dead. We believe he died when he and other passengers aboard Flight 93 tried to recover the hijacked airplane from the terrorists.… Considering the devastation wrought by the other aircraft, it is unquestionable that Todd’s brave actions, and [those] of his fellow passengers, saved countless lives on the ground.” Beamer’s wife Lisa later writes, “Clearly Larry was convinced that Todd had been involved. How did Larry know that? The FBI hadn’t made any announcement to that effect. Todd’s name had not shown up in any reports indicating that he might have been involved in some way.” The explanation she proposes is that “Larry, like many of us, couldn’t imagine Todd Beamer sitting idly by while terrorists threatened to hurt others.” (Cowley 9/13/2001; Associated Press 9/14/2001; Beamer and Abraham 2002, pp. 184-185) Todd Beamer had spoken for 13 minutes to GTE supervisor Lisa Jefferson before Flight 93 crashed (see 9:45 a.m.-9:58 a.m. September 11, 2001). Yet the FBI has instructed Jefferson not to inform Beamer’s wife of the call, and only lifts this restriction on September 14. Lisa Beamer first learns of her husband’s call from Flight 93 on September 14, in a phone call from United Airlines (see September 14, 2001). (McKinnon 9/22/2001; Breslau, Clift, and Thomas 12/3/2001; Jefferson 2006) Ellison and Oracle long have had close ties to US intelligence agencies, and in fact the company’s name originated from a CIA project code-named “Oracle.” (Wallack 5/20/2002)
CBS News announces that “contrary to early reports, US Air Force jets did get into the air on Tuesday while the attacks were under way.” According to this new account, the first fighters got airborne toward New York City at 8:52 a.m. (CBS News 9/14/2001) The day before this announcement, acting Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Richard Myers in Congressional testimony stated that the first fighters got airborne only after the Pentagon was hit at 9:37 a.m. (see September 13, 2001). (US Congress 9/13/2001) NORAD spokesman Marine Corps Major Mike Snyder also claimed no fighters launched anywhere until after the Pentagon was hit. (Johnson 9/15/2001) Four days later, the official NORAD timeline is changed to include this new account. (North American Aerospace Defense Command 9/18/2001) New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani later testifies before the 9/11 Commission that he found out from the White House at about 9:58 a.m. that the first fighters were not launched toward New York City until twelve minutes earlier—9:46 a.m. (9/11 Commission 5/19/2004) This would correspond to Myers’ and Snyder’s accounts that no fighters are scrambled until after the Pentagon is hit. But the 9/11 Commission later agrees with this CBS report and by their account the first fighters launch around 8:52. (9/11 Commission 6/17/2004)
President Bush meets with his advisers at Camp David for a day of intensive discussions about how to respond to the 9/11 attacks. CIA Director George Tenet has arrived there “with a briefcase stuffed with top-secret documents and plans, in many respects the culmination of more than four years of work on bin Laden, the al-Qaeda network and worldwide terrorism.” With him is his deputy, John McLaughlin, and counterterrorism chief Cofer Black. Also in the conference room with them, among others, are Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell. For his 30-minute presentation, Tenet gives out a briefing packet titled “Going to War.” His presentation covers several key components for the fight against terrorism:
Tenet advocates substantially stepping up “direct support of the Northern Alliance,” the main Afghan opposition group, as part of a strategy to create “a northern front, closing the safe haven” of Afghanistan. His idea is that “Afghan opposition forces, aided by the United States, would move first against the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, try to break the Taliban’s grip on that city and open up the border with Uzbekistan. From there the campaign could move to other cities in the north.” Tenet also explains that the CIA had begun working with a number of tribal leaders in the south of Afghanistan the previous year, and these could be enticed to joint a US-led campaign.
The plan includes “a full-scale covert attack on the financial underpinnings of the terrorist network, including clandestine computer surveillance and electronic eavesdropping to locate the assets of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”
The CIA and FBI would work together to track down bin Laden supporters in the US.
A key proposal is a recommendation that the president give the CIA “exceptional authorities” to destroy al-Qaeda. Tenet wants a broad intelligence order allowing the agency to conduct covert operations without requiring formal approval for each specific operation, thus authorizing it to operate without restraint. Tenet and his senior deputies would be permitted to approve “snatch” operations abroad. Journalist Bob Woodward calls this “truly exceptional power.”
Tenet has with him a draft of a presidential intelligence order—a “finding”—that would give the CIA power “to use the full range of covert instruments, including deadly force.”
Another proposal is that, with additional hundreds of millions of dollars for new covert action, the CIA could “buy” intelligence services of key Arab nations including Egypt, Jordan, and Algeria. These could act as surrogates for the US. As Bob Woodward points out, this “would put the United States in league with questionable intelligence services, some of them with dreadful human rights records. Some had reputations for ruthlessness and using torture to obtain confessions.”
Tenet calls for the initiation of intelligence contact with certain rogue states, such as Libya and Syria, so as to obtain helpful information about the terrorists. (Subsequently, by early 2002, Syria will have emerged as one of the CIA’s most effective allies in the fight against al-Qaeda (see Early 2002-January 2003).)
He has with him a top-secret document called the “Worldwide Attack Matrix.” This details covert operations in 80 countries that he is recommending or are already underway. “Actions ranged from routine propaganda to lethal covert action in preparation for military attacks.” As Woodward describes, this proposal represents “a striking departure for US policy. It would give the CIA the broadest and most lethal authority in its history.”
The president reportedly is much pleased with Tenet’s proposals, “virtually shouting ‘Great job!’” (Woodward 2002, pp. 74-78; Woodward and Balz 1/31/2002; Kessler 2003, pp. 234) He will grant all Tenet’s requests by the following Monday (see September 17, 2001). Tenet had presented a cruder version of the CIA plan at the White House two days earlier (see September 13, 2001).
Shortly after the 9/11 attacks, Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz create a secretive, ad hoc intelligence bureau within the Pentagon that they mockingly dub “The Cabal.” This small but influential group of neoconservatives is tasked with driving US foreign policy and intelligence reporting towards the goal of promoting the invasion of Iraq. To this end, the group—which later is folded into the slightly more official Office of Special Plans (OSP) (see 2002-2003)—gathers and interprets raw intelligence data for itself, refusing the participation of the experts in the CIA and DIA, and reporting, massaging, manipulating, and sometimes falsifying that information to suit their ends. (Hersh 5/12/2003) In October 2005, Larry Wilkerson, Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff, will say of the Cabal and the OSP (see October 2005), “What I saw was a cabal between the vice president of the United States, Richard Cheney, and the secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld, on critical issues that made decisions that the bureaucracy did not know were being made. Now it is paying the consequences of making those decisions in secret, but far more telling to me is America is paying the consequences.” (Alden 10/20/2005)
Robert Grenier, head of the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, has a secret meeting with Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, considered to be the second-most powerful figure in the Taliban. They meet in a five-star hotel in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. Grenier suggests that if the Taliban want to avoid the wrath of the US in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, there are several things they can do:
Turn bin Laden over to the US for prosecution.
As CIA Director George Tenet will later put it, “administer justice themselves, in a way that clearly [takes] him off the table.”
Stand aside and let the US find bin Laden on their own.
Osmani and his team relays the offers back to top Taliban leader Mullah Omar, but Omar rejects them. On October 2, Grenier has a second meeting with Osmani in a Baluchistan villa. He makes the new proposal that Osmani should overthrow Omar and then use his new power to get rid of bin Laden. This too is rejected. There are no contemporary media accounts of these meetings, but Tenet will describe them in his 2007 book. (Tenet 2007, pp. 182-183) Curiously, Osmani will be captured by US forces in 2002 and then let go (see Late July 2002). He will be killed in late 2006 (see December 19, 2006).
President Bush signs a directive giving the CIA the authority to kill or capture suspected al-Qaeda members and to set up a global network of secret detention facilities—“black sites”—for imprisoning and interrogating them. (Weissman 8/27/2004)
Secret Prison System - The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) will later call the sites a “hidden global internment network” designed for secret detentions, interrogations, and ultimately, torture. At least 100 prisoners will be remanded to this secret system of “extraordinary rendition.” The network will have its own fleet of aircraft (see October 4, 2001) and relatively standardized transfer procedures. (Danner 3/15/2009) The directive, known as a memorandum of notification, will become the foundation for the CIA’s secret prison system. The directive does not spell out specific guidelines for interrogations. (Johnston 9/10/2006)
Secret Assassination List - Bush also approves a secret “high-value target list” containing about two dozen names, giving the CIA executive and legal authority to either kill or capture those on the list (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). The president is not required to approve each name added to the list and the CIA does not need presidential approval for specific attacks. Further, a presidential finding gives the CIA broad authority to capture or kill terrorists not on the list; the list is merely the CIA’s primary focus. The CIA will use these authorities to hunt for al-Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan and elsewhere. (Risen and Johnston 12/15/2002)
On September 15, 2001, at Camp David, CIA Director George Tenet had given a presentation to President Bush and his war cabinet, laying out an extensive plan for combating global terrorism and giving the CIA sweeping new powers (see September 15, 2001). (Woodward and Balz 1/31/2002) Bush had thanked Tenet and said he would think about his proposals, as well as those put forward by his other advisers, and would get back with his decisions by the following Monday. By this day, September 17, he has decided to agree to all of Tenet’s requests, which include an extra $1 billion of funding. Reportedly, Bush wants “the CIA to be first on the ground, preparing the way for the military with both intelligence officers and paramilitary officers.” (Kessler 2003, pp. 234-235; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 333) Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin will later recall that “we all assembled in the Cabinet Room, and the president lays down about 12 decisions, just like that, machine-gun fashion.… [T]he thing that stands out in my memory, because it hit me vividly, was he said, ‘I want CIA in there first.’” (Kirk 6/20/2006) In one of these decisions, Bush gives the CIA broad powers to capture, kill, and/or interrogate high-ranking al-Qaeda figures (see September 17, 2001).
The CIA is informed that the possessions of Zacarias Moussaoui, which were searched after 9/11, contain a letter from a company called In Focus Tech (see August 16, 2001). The CIA finds that the company’s manager is Yazid Sufaat, who hosted an al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that was attended by hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. Various al-Qaeda leaders were also present at the meeting, which was monitored by the CIA (see January 5-8, 2000). CIA director George Tenet will later comment: “and with that the circle closed and things started to come together in a hurry… [T]his was the same Yazid Sufaat whose condo in Kuala Lumpur had been the venue for what turned out to be the first operational meeting in the planning for 9/11—the meeting… that was attended by Almihdhar and Alhazmi.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 204)
The CIA begins a program to kill or capture al-Qaeda leaders using small teams of its paramilitary forces. (Mazzetti and Shane 7/14/2009; Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009) The aim is to take out of circulation members of al-Qaeda and its affiliates who are judged to be plotting attacks against US forces or interests. The program’s establishment follows its proposal by an official at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (see Shortly After September 11, 2001) and official approval from the White House (see September 17, 2001). The program, initially run by the Counterterrorist Center, never becomes operational at the agency and no targets are ever proposed for the White House’s approval; although the CIA will both capture and kill several al-Qaeda leaders over the next few years (see, for example, February 29 or March 1, 2003 and December 1, 2005), these successes result from ad hoc operations or other programs. However, the Pentagon will later begin a parallel program that does kill and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see July 22, 2002). Although the CIA’s program is never used, it is, according to CIA spokesman George Little, “much more than a PowerPoint presentation.” (Mazzetti and Shane 7/14/2009; Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009) Another official adds: “It’s wrong to think this counterterrorism program was confined to briefing slides or doodles on a cafeteria napkin. It went well beyond that.” (Mazzetti 8/20/2009) Top CIA officials are briefed periodically about the program’s progress. (Mazzetti and Shane 7/14/2009) The program is intended for use in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other countries. (Mazzetti and Shane 7/14/2009; Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009) Reasons for its non-use include logistical, legal, and diplomatic hurdles. (Mazzetti 8/20/2009) There are three versions of the program: an initial one done in house, another one operated by the private military contractor Blackwater (see 2004), and another, possibly after Blackwater leaves the program (see (2005-2006)). The total spending on the program is under $20 million over eight years. (Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009) There is a US government ban on assassinating people. However, the Bush administration takes the position that killing members of al-Qaeda, a terrorist group that attacked the US and has pledged to attack it again, is no different from killing enemy soldiers in battle, so the CIA is not constrained by the ban. (Mazzetti and Shane 7/14/2009; Mazzetti 8/20/2009)
In the days just after the 9/11 attacks, top US officials give approval to use the Predator drone in Afghanistan. The first Predator drones and missiles reached the Afghanistan theater on September 16. Two days later, the Predator is first used, flying over Kabul and Kandahar, but without carrying weapons. On October 7, the unnamed nearby country hosting the drones grants approval for armed Predators to be used. The first armed mission is flown later the same day. The CIA is in charge of most Predator flights in the region. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004 ) The speed in which the Predator is deployed in Afghanistan is noticeable, considering that just one week before 9/11, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice concluded that the armed Predator was not ready to be used there (see September 4, 2001).
At some point after 9/11, the US government begins compiling a list of “high-value” al-Qaeda linked militant leaders to be killed or captured. President Bush authorizes the assassination of high-value targets on September 17, 2001 (see September 17, 2001), so the creation of the list presumably takes place shortly after that. US intelligence agencies typically propose a name for the list, and prepare a dossier that explains who the target is and why that person deserves to be on the list. Then, a committee of bureaucrats and lawyers from the Justice Department, CIA, Pentagon, and other agencies reviews the dossier. If it finds the evidence convincing, the name is included on the “high-value target” list, which means the person cannot only be captured by US forces, but is legally allowed to be killed. At any one time, there are between 10 and 30 people on the list. Top al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are on the list from the very beginning. In 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will secretly authorize the killing of top targets anywhere in the world (see July 22, 2002), increasing the danger of being named on the list. In 2010, Anwar al-Awlaki will be added to the list. This will be the first time a US citizen is added. (Bohan et al. 5/12/2011) The CIA already had prepared a list of high-value targets it thought deserved to be assassinated before 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).
On September 19, 2001, Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, speaks to Gary Berntsen, a CIA officer who is about to lead the first unit of CIA operatives into Afghanistan. Black tells Berntsen that President Bush has signed a new intelligence order. As Black will put it in 2002, the gloves are off (see September 26, 2002). Black orders Berntsen: “You have one mission. Go find the al-Qaeda and kill them. We’re going to eliminate them. Get bin Laden, find him. I want his head in a box.… I want to take it down and show the president.” Berntsen replies, “Well, that couldn’t be any clearer.” (Woodward 11/18/2002) Indeed, two days before Bush, signed new orders giving the CIA broad new powers (see September 17, 2001 and September 17, 2001). Bernsten and his team arrive in Afghanistan on September 26 (see September 26, 2001).
Representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) later claims that about two weeks after 9/11, he is given a chart by friends of his from the Army’s Information Dominance Center, in cooperation with special ops. The chart indicates various al-Qaeda cells that were identified by a military intelligence unit called Able Danger. Early in 2000, this unit identified, amongst others, an al-Qaeda cell based in Brooklyn, New York, which included Mohamed Atta and three other future 9/11 hijackers (see January-February 2000). Atta’s name is said to be on the chart given to Weldon. Shortly after being given the chart, Weldon meets with Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, and shows the chart to him. Weldon claims, “Hadley looked at the chart and said, Congressman, where did you get that chart from? I said, I got it from the military.… Steve Hadley said, Congressman, I am going to take this chart, and I am going to show it to the man. The man that he meant… was the President of the United States. I said, Mr. Hadley, you mean you have not seen something like this before from the CIA, this chart of al-Qaeda worldwide and in the US? And he said, No, Congressman. So I gave him the chart.” (US Congress. House 6/27/2005; Bender 8/12/2005; Fox News 8/22/2005) However, a spokesman for Hadley later disputes this account, and says, “Mr. Hadley does not recall any chart bearing the name or photo of Mohamed Atta. [National Security Council] staff reviewed the files of Mr. Hadley as well as of all [National Security Council] personnel… That search has turned up no chart.” (Eggen 9/24/2005) Representative Dan Burton (R-IN) later recalls attending the meeting and remembers the chart, but can’t recall if Atta was on it or not. (Jehl 10/1/2005) Curt Weldon also later claims that the copy of the chart he gives to Hadley is his only one. (Burger and Bennett 8/29/2005) However, apparently contradicting this, Weldon will give a speech in 2002 showing the chart (see May 23, 2002).
Veteran CIA officer Gary Schroen and his team of CIA operatives known as “Jawbreaker” is helicoptered into the Panjshir Valley of northeastern Afghanistan. This area, about 70 miles north of Kabul, is controlled by the Northern Alliance. The team of about 10 operatives carries communications equipment so they can directly communicate with CIA headquarters back in the US. Schroen also carries a suitcase containing $3 million in non-sequential $100 bills. That same evening, Schroen meets with Muhammed Arif Sawari, known as Engineer Aref, head of the Northern Alliance’s intelligence service. He gives Aref $500,000 and promises much more money and support soon. The Jawbreaker team will remain the only US forces on the ground in Afghanistan until about the middle of October. (Woodward 11/18/2002) Before the Jawbreaker team deploys, J. Cofer Black, the CIA’s Washington coordinator for Jawbreaker, gave the men instructions that author Jeremy Scahill will later call “direct and macabre.” Black told the men: “I don’t want bin Laden and his thugs captured, I want them dead.… They must be killed. I want to see photos of their heads on pikes. I want bin Laden’s head shipped back in a box filled with dry ice. I want to be able to show bin Laden’s head to the president. I promised him I would do that” (see September 19, 2001). Schroen will later say it was the first time in his career he had been ordered to assassinate an enemy rather than attempt a capture. (Scahill 8/20/2009)
According to analyst Maher Osseiran, a home video in which Osama bin Laden admits foreknowledge of 9/11 is made around this date, not on a later date suggested by US officials (see Mid-November 2001). Osseiran argues that the video was part of a sting operation run by the US (see January 19, 2001), and that the first part—making the video—was successful, but the second part—capturing or killing bin Laden—failed. (Osseiran 8/21/2006) This is supported by a report in the Observer, which will write that “several intelligence sources have suggested… that the tape, although absolutely genuine, is the result of a sophisticated sting operation run by the CIA through a second intelligence service, possibly Saudi or Pakistani.” (Vulliamy and Burke 12/16/2001) Osseiran points out that the main person bin Laden talks to in the video, veteran fighter Khaled al-Harbi, actually left Saudi Arabia on September 21, and therefore presumably met bin Laden shortly after. A video expert also finds that two cameras were used to make the tape, on which footage of the confession is recorded over footage of a downed US helicopter, and that only part of the footage was transmitted by phone line or satellite. (Kohlmann 2004, pp. 28-29; Osseiran 8/21/2006) On the tape, bin Laden and al-Harbi discuss events in Saudi Arabia immediately after 9/11. There are no references to events in October or November of 2001, such as the US attack on Afghanistan, which occurred on October 7 (see October 7, 2001), or the attack by the Northern Alliance against Kabul in mid-November (see November 13, 2001). (US Department of Defense 12/13/2001 )
The Sydney Morning Herald discusses the connections between the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI, and the ISI’s long-standing control over the Taliban. Drugs are a big part of their operation: “opium cultivation and heroin production in Pakistan’s northern tribal belt and adjoining Afghanistan were a vital offshoot of the ISI-CIA cooperation. It succeeded in turning some of the Soviet troops into addicts. Heroin sales in Europe and the US, carried out through an elaborate web of deception, transport networks, couriers, and payoffs, offset the cost of the decade-long war in Afghanistan.” (Bedi 9/27/2001)
According to CIA Director George Tenet, on this day the CIA inserts its first covert teams into Afghanistan. Eventually this will grow to about 110 CIA operatives by the time the Taliban is routed from Afghanistan in late 2001. (Tenet 2007, pp. 187, 225)
The pilot episode of a major new CBS drama series called The Agency was originally scheduled to be broadcast on this day, and would have featured a storyline about Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist group plotting to blow up a department store in London, England, but the episode is postponed due to its resemblance to the events of September 11. (Salamon 9/29/2001; Hunter 10/31/2001; Jenkins 2012, pp. 62-63) The Agency, according to The Guardian, is “a new CBS drama, full of best-and-brightest types rolling up their sleeves and attacking problems of national security.” (Patterson 10/5/2001) The series will “tell stories of everyday life inside ‘The Agency,’” according to the New York Times. (Sciolino 5/6/2001) The Guardian has reported that the show’s villains will include “Arab terrorists, Colombian drug dealers, Iraqis, and German urban guerrillas.” (Campbell 9/6/2001) Wolfgang Petersen, who directed blockbuster movies such as In the Line of Fire and Air Force One, is the show’s principal executive producer. (Bark 9/27/2001; Goldstein 9/29/2001)
Storyline Includes Planned Al-Qaeda Attack - The storyline of the pilot episode of The Agency features “terrorists from Osama bin Laden’s cells, waging a holy war against the West,” according to the New York Times. Early in the episode, it is revealed that the CIA has identified al-Qaeda as a security threat and that the terrorist group is planning a major attack in Europe. Fortunately, a CIA officer was able to infiltrate al-Qaeda and discovered the date of the planned attack. However, the agency has just three days to thwart the plot. Agents then discover that the terrorists intend to bomb the Harrods department store in London. They pass on this information to British intelligence officers, thereby helping to prevent the attack at the last minute. (Salamon 9/29/2001; Jenkins 2012, pp. 62-63) Bin Laden’s name is mentioned twice in the episode. (Bark 9/27/2001)
CIA Liaison Assisted with Script - Michael Frost Beckner, the creator of The Agency, will later say that he wrote the show’s pilot episode “over a year before 9/11,” presumably meaning around mid-2000. (Hollywood, Health and Society 4/2/2002 ) He worked with Chase Brandon to develop the script, and submitted early drafts to Brandon for approval. (Jenkins 2012, pp. 56) Brandon is the CIA’s entertainment liaison officer, and before taking that post spent 25 years in the agency’s elite clandestine service. (Campbell 9/6/2001; Alford and Graham 11/14/2008)
Storyline 'Originated from the CIA' - The similarity between the storylines of The Agency and real-world events, according to CNN, is because the show’s producers and writers have been “researching each storyline in detail. They read intelligence manuals, pull from actual CIA cases, and confer at length with the show’s consultant, retired [CIA] operative Bazzel Baz.” (Hunter 10/31/2001) Bill Harlow, the CIA’s chief spokesman, will suggest that the reason for the similarity is that the show “simply got lucky that the headlines intersected with its storylines so neatly.” But Beckner will reveal that the storyline for the pilot episode was suggested to him by Brandon. “In other words,” author Tricia Jenkins will note, the story about al-Qaeda plotting to bomb Harrods “originated from the CIA.” (Jenkins 2012, pp. 66-67) Beckner will also say the pilot episode resembled what happened in the US on September 11 because the CIA “would let in anyone, including a little writer like me, to hear that al-Qaeda and bin Laden are going to attack us.” (Hollywood, Health and Society 4/2/2002 )
Show's Premier at CIA Headquarters Canceled - The Agency received extensive assistance from the CIA during its production. As well as the CIA reviewing scripts, it is the first television series that was permitted to film inside CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and it used agency employees as extras. The pilot episode was even going to be premiered at CIA headquarters, on September 18, but the event was canceled because the agency was busy responding to the 9/11 attacks. (Taubman 8/26/2001; Boliek 9/17/2001; Jenkins 2012, pp. 56)
CIA Liaison Thinks Series 'Couldn't Be More Timely' - CBS cancels the broadcast of the pilot episode on September 27, when it was originally scheduled to be aired, in response to the 9/11 attacks. Gail Katz, one of the show’s executive producers, will comment, “Our show seems to be too close to what’s in the headlines” and it is therefore “not appropriate for viewing.” (Hunter 10/31/2001) Instead, another episode of The Agency is aired, in which agents work to prevent the assassination of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. (Adalian and Schneider 9/23/2001; Salamon 9/29/2001) Brandon, however, is upbeat about the series coming out at a time when terrorism has become such a major issue. “If anything, a show like The Agency couldn’t be more timely,” he will say. This, according to Brandon, is because, “Right now, the American public needs a sense of reassurance.” Brandon will add: “Our whole national consciousness is going to change. And I think a responsible film or TV episode about the agency, even one that weaves elements of terrorism into the storyline, can show the magnitude of what’s at stake.” (Goldstein 9/29/2001) Indeed, the show’s tag line is “Now, more than ever, America needs the unsung heroes of The Agency.” (Lowry 10/2/2001)
Modified Version of Episode Later Broadcast - The pilot episode of The Agency is one of a number of movies and television dramas featuring storylines about terrorism that are canceled or rewritten in response to 9/11 (see (January 1998-2001); February 1999-September 11, 2001; June-September 11, 2001; Before Before September 11, 2001; September 13, 2001; November 17, 2001). (Ednalino 9/17/2001; Hoberman 12/4/2001) A subsequent episode, based around a planned terrorist attack in the US using anthrax, will also be rescheduled, because its original broadcast date coincides with the actual anthrax attacks in the US (see October 18, 2001). (Adalian 10/16/2001; Silverman 11/6/2001) A modified version of the pilot episode, with all references to bin Laden removed, will be broadcast on November 1. (South Florida Sun Sentinel 10/25/2001; Jenkins 2012, pp. 145)
ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed meets with top Taliban leader Mullah Omar on September 17-18, 2001, and again on September 28. He is supposed to encourage the Taliban to extradite Osama bin Laden or face immediate US attack, but in fact he encourages the Taliban to fight and resist the upcoming US invasion (see Mid-September-October 7, 2001). He is also in regular communication with Omar and other Taliban leaders, and gives them advice on how to resist the US invasion (see Mid-September-October 7, 2001). The CIA quickly learns of Mahmood’s double dealing, and informs Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. Musharraf replaces Mahmood on October 7 (see October 7, 2001). But despite the ISI’s obvious double dealing, the CIA continues to heavily rely on the ISI for its intelligence about the Taliban (see November 3, 2001). (Rashid 2008, pp. 77)
By late September 2001, the CIA covert plan to conquer Afghanistan is in place but it needs the US military to work. CIA official Gary Schroen will later recall, “We were there for just about a month by ourselves in the valley. We were the only Americans in the country for almost a month.” According to a PBS Frontline documentary, at some point around the middle of October, “there was a fiery NSC [National Security Council] meeting. The CIA had been complaining [Defense Secretary Donald] Rumsfeld was dragging his feet in Afghanistan. It was said Rumsfeld didn’t like taking orders from the CIA.” Lt. Gen. Michael DeLong will later say, “Rumsfeld went to the president and said, ‘The CIA has to work for me, or this isn’t going to work.’” President Bush finally agrees and places Rumsfeld in charge of the Afghanistan war. A short time later, on October 20, the first US Special Forces are put into action in Afghanistan, calling in precision air strikes. The Taliban fold in the face of the attack and the capital of Kabul will fall in mid-November. But according to Schroen, “I was absolutely convinced that that would happen and that the Taliban would break quickly. That could have happened in October, early October,” had the US military arrived to assist the CIA sooner. (Kirk 6/20/2006)
The ISI secretly assists the Taliban in its defense against a US-led attack. The ISI advises Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that the Taliban will hold out against the US invasion until the spring of 2002 at least, and then will be able to hold out through a guerrilla war. Encouraged, Musharraf allows the ISI to continue to supply the Taliban on a daily basis. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later explain, “The ISI justified its actions as stemming from fear of an Indian controlled Northern Alliance government after the overthrow of the Taliban. It also did not want to totally abandon the Taliban, its only proxy in Afghanistan. At the same time, the [Pakistani] army wanted to keep the Americans engaged, fearing that once Kabul had fallen, they would once again desert the region. With one hand Musharraf played at helping the war against terrorism, while with the other he continued to deal with the Taliban.”
ISI Supplies and Advisers - Fuel tankers and supply trucks cross the border so frequently that one border crossing in the Pakistani province of Balochistan is closed to all regular traffic so ISI supplies can continue to the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar with little notice. (Rashid 2008, pp. 77-78) Between three and five ISI officers give military advice to the Taliban in late September. (Rashid 10/10/2001) At least five key ISI operatives help the Taliban prepare defenses in Kandahar, yet none are punished for their activities. (McGirk 5/6/2002) Secret advisers begin to withdraw in early October, but some stay on into November. (Zielenziger and Tamayo 11/3/2001) Large convoys of rifles, ammunition, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers for Taliban fighters cross the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan on October 8 and 12, just after US bombing of Afghanistan begins and after a supposed crackdown on ISI fundamentalists. The Pakistani ISI secretly gives safe passage to these convoys, despite having promised the US in September that such assistance would immediately stop. (Frantz 12/8/2001)
US Aware of ISI Double Dealing - Rashid will later comment, “Thus, even as some ISI officers were helping US officers locate Taliban targets for US bombers, other ISI officers were pumping in fresh armaments for the Taliban.” On the Afghan side of the border with Pakistan, Northern Alliance operatives keep track of the ISI trucks crossing the border, and keep the CIA informed about the ISI aid. Gary Berntsen, one of the first CIA operatives to arrive in Afghanistan, will later say, “I assumed from the beginning of the conflict that ISI advisers were supporting the Taliban with expertise and material and, no doubt, sending a steady stream of intelligence back to [Pakistan].” (Rashid 2008, pp. 77-78)
Taliban Collapses as ISI Aid Slows - Secret ISI convoys of weapons and other supplies continue into November. (Bryant 11/1/2001; McGirk 5/6/2002) An anonymous Western diplomat will later state, “We did not fully understand the significance of Pakistan’s role in propping up the Taliban until their guys withdrew and things went to hell fast for the Talibs.” (Frantz 12/8/2001)
The National Security Agency, as part of its huge, covert, and possibly illegal wiretapping program directed at US citizens (see Spring 2001 and After September 11, 2001), begins collecting telephone records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by telecommunications firms such as AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth (see February 5, 2006). The media will not report on this database until May 2006 (see May 11, 2006). The program collects information on US citizens not suspected of any crime or any terrorist connections. Although informed sources say the NSA is not listening to or recording actual conversations, the agency is using the data to analyze calling patterns in an effort to detect terrorist activity. “It’s the largest database ever assembled in the world,” says one anonymous source. The NSA intends “to create a database of every call ever made.” As a result, the NSA has detailed records of the phone activities of tens of millions of US citizens, from local calls to family and friends to international calls. The three telecommunications companies are working with the NSA in part under the Communications Assistance Act for Law Enforcement (CALEA) (see January 1, 1995 and June 13, 2006) and in part under contract to the agency.
Surveillance Much More Extensive Than Acknowledged - The wiretapping program, which features electronic surveillance of US citizens without court warrants or judicial oversight, is far more extensive than anything the White House or the NSA has ever publicly acknowledged. President Bush will repeatedly insist that the NSA focuses exclusively on monitoring international calls where one of the call participants is a known terrorist suspect or has a connection to terrorist groups (see December 17, 2005 and May 11, 2006), and he and other officials always insist that domestic calls are not monitored. This will be proven false. The NSA has become expert at “data mining,” sifting through reams of information in search of patterns. The warrantless wiretapping database is one source of information for the NSA’s data mining. As long as the NSA does not collect “personal identifiers”—names, Social Security numbers, street addresses, and the like—such data mining is legal. But the actual efficacy of the wiretapping program in learning about terrorists and possibly preventing terrorist attacks is unclear at best. And many wonder if the NSA is not repeating its activities from the 1950s and 1960s, when it conducted “Operation Shamrock” (see 1945-1975), a 20-year program of warrantless wiretaps of international phone calls at the behest of the CIA and other intelligence agencies. Operation Shamrock, among other things, led to the 1978 passage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (see 1978). (Cauley 5/11/2006) In May 2006, former NSA director Bobby Ray Inman will say, “[T]his activity is not authorized” (see May 12, 2006). (Democracy Now! 5/12/2006)
Secret Data Mining Center - In May 2006, retired AT&T technician Mark Klein, a 22-year veteran of the firm, will file a court affidavit saying that he saw the firm construct a secret data-mining center in its San Francisco switching center that would let the NSA monitor domestic and international communications (see January 2003). And former AT&T workers say that, as early as 2002, AT&T has maintained a secret area in its Bridgeton, Missouri, facility that is likely being used for NSA surveillance (see Late 2002-Early 2003).
Domestic Surveillance Possibly Began Before 9/11 - Though Bush officials admit to beginning surveillance of US citizens only after the 9/11 attacks, some evidence indicates that the domestic surveillance program began some time before 9/11 (see Late 1999, February 27, 2000, December 2000, February 2001, February 2001, Spring 2001, and July 2001).
Ahmed Refai Taha, head of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, an Egyptian militant group, is arrested at the airport in Damascus, Syria, and then quietly extradited to Egypt. He is reportedly executed in Egypt soon thereafter. Taha was one of the signers of bin Laden’s 1998 fatwa calling for the killing of Americans and Jews around the world (see February 22, 1998). He also appeared with bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in a video in 2000 (see September 21, 2000). (MSNBC 6/22/2005) CIA Director George Tenet will later claim that Taha was living in Syria and was arrested on a tip provided by the CIA. (Tenet 2007, pp. 148)
According to several press reports, the CIA has set up a secret detention and interrogation center (see October 2001-2004) at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan where US intelligence officers are using aggressive techniques on detainees. The captives—imprisoned in metal shipping containers—are reportedly subjected to a variety of “stress and duress” interrogation tactics. (Priest and Gellman 12/26/2002; van Natta 3/9/2003) The detention facility at Bagram is a rusting hulk originally built by the Soviet Army as an aircraft machine shop around 1979, and later described by the New York Times as “a long, squat, concrete block with rusted metal sheets where the windows had once been.” It is retrofitted with five large wire pens and a half-dozen plywood isolation cells, and is dubbed the Bagram Collection Point, or BCP, a processing center for prisoners captured in Afghanistan and elsewhere. The facility typically holds between 40 to 80 prisoners before they are interrogated and screened for possible transfer to Guantanamo. (Golden 5/20/2005) Detainees are often forced to stand or kneel for hours, wear black hoods or spray-painted goggles for long periods of time, and stand or sit in awkward and painful positions. They are also reportedly thrown into walls, kicked, punched, deprived of sleep, and subjected to flashing lights and loud noises. (Priest and Gellman 12/26/2002; van Natta 3/9/2003; Amnesty International 8/19/2003) Some detainees tell of being “chained to the ceiling, their feet shackled, [and being] unable to move for hours at a time, day and night” (see December 5-9, 2002). (Gall 3/4/2003; Gall and Rohde 9/17/2004) Psychological interrogation methods such as “feigned friendship, respect, [and] cultural sensitivity” are reported to be in use as well. For instance, female officers are said to sometimes conduct the interrogations, a technique described as being “a psychologically jarring experience for men reared in a conservative Muslim culture where women are never in control.” (Priest and Gellman 12/26/2002) Human rights monitors are not permitted to visit the facility. (Priest and Gellman 12/26/2002; Agence France-Presse 12/29/2002) The US claims that the interrogation techniques used at Bagram do not violate international laws. “Our interrogation techniques are adapted,” Gen. Daniel McNeil claims in early March 2003. “They are in accordance with what is generally accepted as interrogation techniques, and if incidental to the due course of this investigation, we find things that need to be changed, we will certainly change them.” (Borger 3/7/2003)
The United States government creates a multi-layered international system of detention centers and prison camps where suspected terrorists, enemy combatants, and prisoners of war are detained and interrogated. (Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004, pp. A01) The Washington Post reports in May 2004: “The largely hidden array includes three systems that only rarely overlap: the Pentagon-run network of prisons, jails, and holding facilities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and elsewhere; small and secret CIA-run facilities where top al-Qaeda and other figures are kept; and interrogation rooms of foreign intelligence services—some with documented records of torture—to which the US government delivers or ‘renders’ mid- or low-level terrorism suspects for questioning…. The detainees have no conventional legal rights: no access to a lawyer; no chance for an impartial hearing; and… no apparent guarantee of humane treatment accorded prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions or civilians in US jails.” (Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004, pp. A01) One administration official tells the New York Times that some high-level detainees may be held indefinitely. (Risen, Johnston, and Lewis 5/13/2004) Secrecy permeates the system. For example, renditions are done covertly and the locations of the secret CIA-run interrogation centers are considered “so sensitive that even the four leaders of the House and Senate intelligence committees, who are briefed on all covert operations, do not know them.” (Priest and Stephens 5/11/2004, pp. A01) In May 2004, it is estimated that there are 10,000 prisoners being held in US facilities around the world. They come from a number of countries including Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Malaysia, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Sweden, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, Britain, the Palestinian territories, and Yemen. (Buncombe and Sengupta 5/15/2004)
In mid-November 2001, the Washington Post will report that senior Air Force officials are upset they have missed opportunities to hit top al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders since the start of the bombing of Afghanistan. According to these officials, the Air Force believes it has the leaders in its crosshairs as many as ten times, but they are unable to receive a timely clearance to fire. Cumbersome approval procedures, a concern not to kill civilians, and a power play between the Defense Department and the CIA contribute to the delays. One anonymous Air Force official later says, “We knew we had some of the big boys. The process is so slow that by the time we got the clearances, and everybody had put in their 2 cents, we called it off.” The main problem is that commanders in the region have to ask for permission from General Tommy Franks, based in Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, or even Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and other higher-ups. Air Force generals complain to Franks about the delay problem, but never receive a response. For example, at one point in October, a Taliban military convoy is moving north to reinforce front line positions. Targeters consider it an easy mark of clear military value. But permission from Central Command is denied on the suspicion that the target is so obvious that “it might be a trick.” In another example, a target is positively identified by real-time imagery from a Predator drone, but Central Command overrides the decision to strike, saying they want a second source of data. An anonymous official calls this request for independent verification of Predator imagery “kind of ridiculous.” (Ricks 11/18/2001) The London Times paraphrase officials who claim that, “Attempts to limit collateral damage [serve] merely to prolong the war, and force the Pentagon to insert commandos on the ground to hunt down the same targets.” (Fletcher 11/19/2001) By the end of the war, only one top al-Qaeda leader, Mohammed Atef, is killed in a bombing raid (see November 15, 2001), and no top Taliban leaders are killed.
The New Yorker reports that “a number of intelligence officials have raised questions about bin Laden’s capabilities. ‘This guy sits in a cave in Afghanistan and he’s running this operation?’ one CIA official asked. ‘It’s so huge. He couldn’t have done it alone.’ A senior military officer told me that because of the visas and other documentation needed to infiltrate team members into the United States a major foreign intelligence service might also have been involved.” (Hersh 10/8/2001) No specific service is named, but the ISI would be one likely candidate. In fact, one day after this article is published, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) cable indicates the ISI created the Taliban and has helped al-Qaeda extensively (see October 2, 2001).
President Bush issues a directive authorizing the National Security Agency (NSA) to operate a warrantless domestic surveillance program. Author/journalist Jane Mayer will report in 2011, “[O]n October 4, 2001, Bush authorized the policy, and it became operational by October 6th,” and, “[t]he new policy, which lawyers in the Justice Department justified by citing President Bush’s executive authority as commander in chief, contravened a century of constitutional case law.” Mayer will interview NSA whistleblower Thomas Drake for her article and quote him as saying that, following the October 4 directive, “strange things were happening. Equipment was being moved. People were coming to me and saying, ‘We’re now targeting our own country!’” Bush’s directive is based on a legal opinion drafted by Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel Deputy Attorney General John Yoo (see September 25, 2001). (Mayer 5/23/2011)
Conflicting Information regarding Date of First Authorization - The existence of the NSA’s domestic surveillance program will first be made public in December 2005, following reporting by the New York Times that will cite “[n]early a dozen current and former officials” (see December 15, 2005). The Times article will state that in 2002, “[m]onths after the Sept. 11 attacks,” Bush signed an executive order authorizing the NSA to monitor domestic phone calls, including those of US citizens and permanent residents, if one end of the call was outside the country. The Times article also mentions an NSA “‘special collection program’ [that] began soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, as it looked for new tools to attack terrorism.” The difference between the October 4, 2001 directive and the 2002 executive order referred to by the Times is unclear. (Risen and Lichtblau 12/16/2005)
Other Sources for October Directive - Other sources, including Bush, NSA Director General Michael Hayden, and the inspectors general of five separate agencies, will later refer to a presidential order having been given in “October,” or “weeks” after the 9/11 attacks, and say that, subsequent to this order, international calls of US persons are targeted for content-monitoring. Following the publication of the Times article, Bush will say in a December 17, 2005 radio address: “In the weeks following the terrorist attacks on our nation, I authorized the National Security Agency, consistent with US law and the Constitution, to intercept the international communications of people with known links to al-Qaeda and related terrorist organizations. Before we intercept these communications, the government must have information that establishes a clear link to these terrorist networks” (see December 17, 2005). This presidential authorization was based on a legal opinion drafted by Department of Justice Office of Legal Counsel attorney John Yoo (see October 18, 2001). (Bush 12/17/2005) Hayden, in public remarks on January 23, 2006, will refer to a presidential authorization for monitoring domestic calls having been given prior to “early October 2001,” which is when he “gathered key members of the NSA workforce… [and] introduced [the NSA’s] new operational authority to them.” Hayden will also say, “The lawfulness of the actual authorization was reviewed by lawyers at the Department of Justice and the White House and was approved by the attorney general,” and that “the three most senior and experienced lawyers in NSA… supported the lawfulness of this program.” (Michael Hayden 1/23/2006) In a July 10, 2009 jointly-issued report, the inspectors general of the Department of Defense, Department of Justice, CIA, NSA, and Office of the Director of National Intelligence will refer to the “President’s Surveillance Program” (PSP) and “the program’s inception in October 2001.” The report will say: “One of the activities authorized as part of the PSP was the interception of the content of communications into and out of the United States where there was a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication was a member of al-Qaeda or related terrorist organizations.… The attorney general subsequently publicly acknowledged the fact that other intelligence activities were also authorized under the same presidential authorization, but the details of those activities remain classified.” (Inspectors General 7/10/2009) Citing “a senior administration official,” the Washington Post will report on January 4, 2006: “The secret NSA program… was authorized in October 2001.… The president and senior aides have publicly discussed various aspects of the program, but neither the White House, the NSA, nor the office of the director of national intelligence would say what day the president authorized it.” (Linzer 1/4/2006)
On this day, Zeljko E., a Kosovar Serb, enters a Hamburg, Germany, police station and says he wants to turn himself in. He tells the police that he has robbed a business and stolen piles of paper written in Arabic, with the hopes of selling them. A friend of his told him that they relate to the 9/11 attacks. The 44 pounds of papers are translated and they prove to be a “treasure trove.” The documents come from Mamoun Darkazanli’s files, which were not in Darkazanli’s apartment when police raided it two days after 9/11. “It makes for a great story. A petty thief pilfers files containing critical information about the largest terrorist attack in history and dutifully turns them over to the police. [But German] agents do not buy this story for a minute; they suspect that some other Secret Service was trying to find a way of getting evidence into [their] hands. The question is, whose Secret Service?” Some German investigators later suggest that the CIA was responsible; there are also reports that the FBI illegally monitored Darkazanli after 9/11. (Der Spiegel (Hamburg) 10/27/2001; Der Spiegel 2002, pp. 166-67; Crewdson 11/17/2002)
On the first night of the Afghan war, an unmanned Predator drone identifies a convoy of vehicles fleeing Kabul. Mullah Omar, head of the Taliban, is determined to be inside this convoy. The CIA is in control of the Predator attack drone and wants to use it to kill Omar, but they have to ask for permission from military commanders who are based in Florida. General Tommy Franks decides not to fire any missiles or launch an air strike against the building in which Omar takes shelter. Eventually fighters attack and destroy the building, but by then Omar and his associates have moved on. One anonymous senior official later says of this failure to kill Omar, “It’s not a f_ckup, it’s an outrage.” According to one senior military officer, “political correctness” and/or slow bureaucratic procedures are to blame. (Hersh 10/16/2001) It is later revealed that this is part of a pattern of delays that will hinder many attacks on al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders (see Early October-Mid-November, 2001).
Italy’s military intelligence service (SISMI) provides Jeff Castelli, the CIA station chief in Rome, with papers documenting an alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger. Castelli, who is not permitted to duplicate the papers, writes a summary of them and sends the report to Langley. (Hersh 10/27/2003; Landay 11/4/2005; Bonini and D'Avanzo 11/11/2005)
The allegations - The report includes four allegations:
The report states that Iraq first communicated its interest in purchasing uranium from Niger at least as early as 1999. (US Congress 7/7/2004) As blogger ERiposte will conclude through his analysis at TheLeftCoaster.Org (ERiposte 10/31/2005) , none of the documents that are later provided to the US as the basis for this allegation include actual proof of uranium negotiations in 1999. Two of the source documents for this allegation do mention a 1999 visit by Wissam Al-Zahawi to Niger; however, no evidence has ever surfaced suggesting that there were any discussions about uranium during that visit (see February 1999). The first document (possibly authentic) is a letter, dated February 1, 1999, from the Niger embassy in Rome to Adamou Chekou, the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Niger, announcing Zahawie’s trip. It does not mention uranium. (Note that the SISMI report does not mention Al-Zahawi’s trip, it only states that uranium negotiations between the two countries began by at least 1999.) The second document is a letter dated July 30, 1999 from the Niger Ministry of Foreign Affairs to his ambassador in Rome requesting that he contact Zahawie, concerning an agreement signed June 28, 2000 to sell uranium to Iraq. The letter is an obvious forgery because it refers to an event that it describes as taking place 11 months later. (Unknown n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome) 7/16/2003)
The SISMI report states that in “late 2000,” the State Court of Niger approved an agreement with Iraq whereby Niger would sell Iraq a large quantity of uranium. This allegation appears to be based on a forged document titled “Annex 1,” which was possibly an annex to the alleged uranium agreement. It is evident that this document was forged because it says that the state court “met in the chamber of the council in the palace… on Wednesday, July 7, 2000.” But July 7, 2000 was, in fact, a Friday, not a Wednesday. One of SISMI’s reports to the US, possibly this one, actually reproduces this error. (Unknown n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome) 7/16/2003; ERiposte 10/31/2005)
According to the report, Nigerien President Mamadou Tandja approved the agreement and communicated this decision to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. The source for this is apparently a forged letter from the president of Niger to Saddam Hussein, in which the president refers to his authority under the country’s obsolete 1966 constitution. At the time the letter was presumed to have been written, the constitution in effect would have been that of December 26, 1992, which was subsequently revised by national referendum on May 12, 1996 and again by referendum on July 18, 1999. (Unknown n.d.; Charbonneau 3/26/2003; La Repubblica (Rome) 7/16/2003; US Department of State 9/2005)
The report also alleges that in October 2000, Nigerien Minister of Foreign Affairs Nassirou Sabo informed one of his ambassadors in Europe that Niger had agreed to provide several tons of uranium to Iraq. (Unknown n.d.; La Repubblica (Rome) 7/16/2003) This is seemingly based on a forged letter that accompanied the alleged uranium sales agreement. The letter, dated October 10, 2000, is stamped as being received in Rome on September 28, 2000—nearly two weeks before the letter was presumably written. Furthermore, there is a problem with the signature. Unlike what is reported in the SISMI papers provided to the CIA, the actual letter is signed by Allele Elhadj Habibou, who left office in 1989. This indicates that someone must have corrected this information, replacing the name of Allele Elhadj Habibou with that of Nassirou Sabo (the minister in October 2000), before the letter was included in this report. (ERiposte 10/31/2005)
Distribution within US Intelligence Community - After receiving the report from its Rome station, the CIA distributes it to other US intelligence agencies. According to a later Senate investigation, the “CIA, Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and Department of Energy (DOE) analysts considered the reporting to be ‘possible’ while the Department of State’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research (INR) regarded the report as ‘highly suspect,’ primarily because INR analysts did not believe that Niger would be likely to engage in such a transaction and did not believe Niger would be able to transfer uranium to Iraq because a French consortium maintained control of the Nigerien uranium industry.” (US Congress 7/7/2004) Sources later interviewed by New Yorker’s Seymour Hersh portray US intelligence analysts’ assessment of the report in slightly harsher terms, saying that they “dismissed [it] as amateurish and unsubstantiated.” (Hersh 10/27/2003) “I can fully believe that SISMI would put out a piece of intelligence like that,” a CIA consultant later tells Hersh, “but why anybody would put credibility in it is beyond me.” (Hersh 5/17/2004, pp. 227) Langley asks for further clarification from Rome and receives a response three days later (see October 18, 2001). (Bonini and D'Avanzo 11/11/2005)
Repeated Dissemination - The documents and reports based on the documents are sent to the CIA at least three separate times. They are also sent to the White House, the US embassy in Rome, British and French intelligence, and Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba of the news magazine Panorama. Each recipient in turn shares the documents, or their contents, with others, creating what author Craig Unger later calls “an echo chamber that gives the illusion that several independent sources had corroborated an Iraq-Niger uranium deal.” (Unger 2007, pp. 237)
Nicolo Pollari, the newly appointed head of Italy’s intelligence agency SISMI, visits his counterparts at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has pressured Pollari to give the US any information he has that would be useful for the US case for war with Iraq. As such, Pollari gives the CIA a dossier concerning the supposed uranium deal between Iraq and Niger, not the first time the CIA has received these documents (see October 15, 2001 and October 18, 2001). The actual forged documents are not in Pollari’s dossier. Although CIA analysts will call the report “very limited and lacking necessary detail,” the fact that Pollari himself delivers the dossier adds credibility to the information; as a result, the State Department will direct the US embassy in Niger to look into the allegations. (Unger 2007, pp. 229)
The CIA issues a senior executive intelligence brief (SEIB) summarizing a recent report from SISMI (see October 15, 2001), Italy’s military intelligence service, which suggested that Iraq had struck a deal with Niger to purchase uranium. The CIA report, titled “Iraq: Nuclear-Related Procurement Efforts,” notes, “There is no corroboration from other sources that such an agreement was reached or that uranium was transferred.” (US Congress 7/7/2004) As blogger ERiposte of TheLeftCoaster.Org will point out (ERiposte 11/4/2005) , there is a discrepancy between this report and the Italian intelligence report it is summarizing. In this report, the CIA states that the uranium purchase deal was approved by the State Court of Niger in “early 2001,” whereas the SISMI report had reported that the approval took place in “late 2000.” The document, upon which this reporting is presumably based, states that the deal was approved by the court on Wednesday July 7, 2000 (which was actually a Friday). (Unknown n.d.)
Nicolo Pollari, chief of Italy’s military intelligence service (SISMI—see (After October 18, 2001) and September 9, 2002), responds to the CIA’s request for clarification on the alleged uranium deal between Iraq and Niger (see October 15, 2001). Pollari’s page and a half letter explains that “the information comes form a creditable source, La Signora [Laura Montini],” who has in the past “given SISMI the cryptographic codes and memorandum ledgers from the Niger Embassy.” (Bonini and D'Avanzo 11/11/2005) Some time around this same date, according to La Repubblica, Pollari discusses the issue with Italy’s Minister of Defense, Antonio Martino (no relation to Rocco Martino, the document peddler—see March 2000, Late June 2002, Afternoon October 7, 2002, and Summer 2004). Martino tells Pollari to expect a visit from “an old friend of Italy,” Martino’s longtime friend and colleague Michael Ledeen (see (After October 18, 2001) and April 3, 2005). Ledeen will later deny that any such meeting with Pollari ever happened. Pollari will deny any involvement with the Iraq-Niger affair. (Unger 2007, pp. 235-236)
Jamil Qasim Saeed Mohammed, a microbiology student from Yemen who is suspected of membership in al-Qaeda and involvement in the bombing of the USS Cole, is apprehended in Pakistan by the Pakistani ISI at the request of the US. (Ahmad 10/28/2001; St. Petersburg Times 10/28/2001; Chandrasekaran and Finn 3/11/2002) In the early hours of October 23, 2001, he is taken to a secluded part of Karachi International Airport. Shackled and blindfolded, the Pakistanis deliver him to US agents, according to the Washington Post, “without extradition or deportation papers.” (Chandrasekaran and Finn 3/11/2002) From there, at about 2:40 a.m., Mohammed is put on a US-registered jet and flown to Jordan. His fate is unknown from then on. (Amnesty International 8/19/2003) The plane is a Gulfstream V with tail number N379P, owned by a company named Premier Executive Transport Services Inc. (PETS), in Dedham, Massachusetts. The company is apparently a CIA front. (Priest 12/27/2004) Reporter Fredrik Laurin later discovers that the chartered Gulfstream is leased almost exclusively to the US administration. (Hersh 9/13/2004) Since its discovery, this Gulfstream will be spotted at Washington’s Dulles International Airport, Guantanamo Bay, Amman (the military airport), Baghdad, Baku, Cairo, Dubai, Islamabad, Karachi, Kuwait City, Rabat, Riyadh, and Tashkent, Frankfurt, Glasgow, Stockholm, Larnaca on Cyprus, and other airports in England and Ireland. (Whitlock 7/25/2004; Priest 12/27/2004) The jet will further be found to have a permit to land at US military bases around the world. (Hersh 9/13/2004) As of early 2008, he still has not been seen or heard of anywhere. Amnesty International has asked the Jordanian government for information on his whereabouts but has not received an answer. (Whitlock 12/1/2007)
Abdul Haq, a leader of the Afghan resistance to the Taliban, is killed. According to some reports, he “seemed the ideal candidate to lead an opposition alliance into Afghanistan to oust the ruling Taliban.” (Burke 10/28/2001) Four days earlier, he had secretly entered Afghanistan with a small force to try to raise rebellion, but was spotted by Taliban forces and surrounded. He calls former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane (who had supported him in the past) who then calls the CIA and asks for immediate assistance to rescue Haq. A battle lasting up to twelve hours ensues. (The CIA had previously rejected Haq’s requests for weapons to fight the Taliban, and so his force is grossly underarmed.) (Gordon and Weiner 10/29/2001) The CIA refuses to send in a helicopter to rescue him, alleging that the terrain is too rough, even though Haq’s group is next to a hilltop once used as a helicopter landing point. (Burke 10/28/2001; Marshall 10/28/2001) An unmanned surveillance aircraft eventually attacks some of the Taliban forces fighting Haq, but not until five hours after Haq has been captured. The Taliban executes him. (McFarlane 11/2/2001) Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, and others suggest that Haq’s position was betrayed to the Taliban by the ISI. Haq was already an enemy of the ISI, which may have killed his family. (Fard 10/26/2001; Slavin and Weisman 10/31/2001; Zielenziger and Tamayo 11/3/2001; Diebel 11/5/2001)
The US government no longer thinks al-Qaeda is behind the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The Washington Post reports in a front-page story: “Top FBI and CIA officials believe that the anthrax attacks… are likely the work of one or more extremists in the United States who are probably not connected to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist organization, government officials said yesterday.” An unnamed senior official adds, “Everything seems to lean toward a domestic source… Nothing seems to fit with an overseas terrorist type operation.” The Post suggests neo-Nazi and/or right-wing hate groups could be behind it. (Woodward and Eggen 10/27/2001) Not long after, the FBI releases a profile of the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks. He is suspected of being a lone, male domestic terrorist, with a scientific background and laboratory experience who could handle hazardous materials. (St. Petersburg Times 11/10/2001)
Veteran CIA agent Gary Berntsen leads a CIA undercover team, codenamed Jawbreaker, to capture or kill bin Laden in Afghanistan (see September 26, 2001). In a 2005 book, also called Jawbreaker, Berntsen will describe how his team monitored multiple intelligence reports tracking bin Laden on a path through Jalalabad to Tora Bora (see November 13, 2001). He will claim that at the start of December 2001, one of his Arabic-speaking CIA agents finds a radio on a dead al-Qaeda fighter during a battle in the Tora Bora region. This agent hears bin Laden repeatedly attempt to rally his troops. On the same radio, that agent and another CIA agent who speaks Arabic hear bin Laden apologizing to his troops for getting them trapped and killed by US aerial bombing. Based on this information, Berntsen makes a formal request for 800 US troops to be deployed along the Pakistani border to prevent bin Laden’s escape. The request is not granted. Berntsen’s lawyer later claims, “Gary coordinated most of the boots on the ground. We knew where bin Laden was within a very circumscribed area. It was full of caves and tunnels but we could have bombed them or searched them one by one. The Pentagon failed to deploy sufficient troops to seal them off.” Although the area is heavily bombed, bin Laden is able to escape (see Mid-December 2001). (Berntsen and Pezzullo 2005, pp. 43-64; Baxter 8/14/2005; MSNBC 12/29/2005; Spiegel 1/3/2006) A Knight Ridder investigative report will later conclude, “While more than 1,200 US Marines [sit] at an abandoned air base in the desert 80 miles away, Franks and other commanders [rely] on three Afghan warlords and a small number of American, British, and Australian special forces to stop al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters from escaping across the mountains into Pakistan.” Military and intelligence officials warn Franks that the two main Afghan commanders cannot be trusted. This turns out to be correct, as the warlords accept bribes from al-Qaeda leaders to let them escape. (Knight Ridder 10/30/2004) In 2005, Berntsen will call himself a supporter of Bush and will say he approves of how CIA Director Porter Goss is running the CIA, but he will nonetheless sue the CIA for what he claims is excessive censorship of his book. (Baxter 8/14/2005; MSNBC 12/29/2005)
In late October, US intelligence reports begin noting that al-Qaeda fighters and leaders are moving into and around the Afghan city of Jalalabad. By early November, Osama bin Laden is said to be there. (Brown 10/20/2002) Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later recall: “We knew from day one the likely places that bin Laden would flee to. There had been lots of work done before 9/11 on where did he hang out, statistical analysis even. We knew Tora Bora was the place where he would be likely to go. People in CIA knew that; people in the counterterrorism community knew about it. We knew that what you should have done was to insert special forces—Rangers, that sort of thing—up into that area as soon as possible.” (Clarke 6/20/2006) Knight Ridder Newspapers will later report: “American intelligence analysts concluded that bin Laden and his retreating fighters were preparing to flee across the border. However, the US Central Command, which was running the war, made no move to block their escape. ‘It was obvious from at least early November that this area was to be the base for an exodus into Pakistan,’ said one intelligence official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. ‘All of this was known, and frankly we were amazed that nothing was done to prepare for it.’” (Brown 10/20/2002) The vast majority of al-Qaeda’s leaders and fighters will eventually escape into Pakistan. In 2006, Newsweek reporter and columnist Michael Hirsh will write that Bush’s decision to ignore accurate intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Tora Bora in favor of realigning the US’s war effort to focus on the “gathering threat” of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was a strategic blunder that ranks alongside Adolf Hitler’s decision to invade the USSR in 1941. (Rich 2006, pp. 208)
In the late autumn of 2001, when US-allied forces are overrunning Taliban positions in Afghanistan, the Darunta camp run by al-Qaeda is seized and searched. Al-Qaeda leader Midhat Mursi (a.k.a. Abu Khabab al-Masri) ran al-Qaeda’s WMD program and conducted crude chemical weapons experiments there. The CIA recovers one document there by Mursi that refers to connections between al-Qaeda and Pakistani nuclear scientists. It reads, in part, “As you instructed us you will find attached a summary of the discharges from a traditional nuclear reactor, amongst which are radioactive elements that could be used for military ends. One can use them to contaminate an area or halt the advance of the enemy. It is possible to get more information from our Pakistani friends who have great experience in this sphere.” (Bergen 2006, pp. 345; Levy and Scott-Clark 2007, pp. 294) This could be a reference to links between al-Qaeda and the Pakistani nuclear scientists working with the Ummah Tameer-e-Nau charity front (see 2000 and Mid-August 2001).
Shortly after the US invasion of Afghanistan (see October 19, 2001), the CIA takes control of an abandoned brick factory, and turns it into a training facility and secret prison. The facility, code-named the “Salt Pit,” is a 10-acre facility just north of Kabul. It is used to train Afghan counterterrorism forces and to house prisoners. The agency intends the Salt Pit to be a “host-nation facility,” manned and operated entirely by Afghans, in part so that CIA officials cannot be held accountable for the actions taken by the Afghan guards and interrogators. Similar methodologies are used in secret CIA prisons in other countries. However, the CIA pays the entire cost of maintaining the facility. It vets the guards who work there, and decides which prisoners will be kept in the facility, including some senior al-Qaeda operatives who will eventually be transferred to other facilities such as Guantanamo. Sometime before March 2005, the CIA will transfer its operations to another facility, and the Salt Pit will be demolished. (Ross and Esposito 11/18/2005)
The US, lacking local agents and intelligence in Afghanistan, is said to be heavily reliant on the ISI for information about the Taliban. The US is said to be confident in the ISI, even though the ISI was the main supporter of the Taliban up until 9/11. Knight Ridder Newspapers comments, “Anti-Taliban Afghans, foreign diplomats, and Pakistani government security officials say that pro-Taliban officers remain deeply embedded within ISI and might still be helping America’s enemies inside Afghanistan.” A leader of the resistance to the Taliban says, “There are lots of (ISI) officers who are fully committed to the way of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.” Former ISI Director Hamid Gul says, “It is a foolish commander who depends on someone else’s intelligence, especially when that someone doesn’t like him and was once friendly with the enemy.” (Zielenziger and Tamayo 11/3/2001) Later in the month another article notes that the CIA continues to rely on the ISI for covert actions against the Taliban. One CIA agent says, “The same Pakistani case officers who built up the Taliban are doing the translating for the CIA. Our biggest mistake is allowing the ISI to be our eyes and ears.” (Diebel 11/5/2001)
An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. (Hedges 11/8/2001; Fairweather 4/2006) Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” (Hedges 11/8/2001; McCollam 7/1/2004)
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). (McCollam 7/1/2004; Fairweather 4/2006) Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” (McCollam 7/1/2004)
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” (Fairweather 4/2006)
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” (Moyers 4/25/2007)
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).
Gary Berntsen, leader of the CIA effort in Afghanistan, names the four most wanted terrorist suspects in Afghanistan at a meeting of his team. They are al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, his second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). Berntsen places one of his subordinates in charge of these four men, giving orders to “find and kill” them. Berntsen also wants the Taliban’s top three intelligence officials killed. (Berntsen and Pezzullo 2005, pp. 114) While the connections between the other three and al-Qaeda are well known by this time, the US government apparently first develops information indicating KSM is the mastermind behind 9/11 during FBI questioning of military training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida around April 2002. (Soufan 4/22/2009) However, KSM is an known terrorist and one of the top 22 fugitives named by the FBI the previous month (see October 10, 2001).
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