Profile: Clark Shannon
Clark Shannon was a participant or observer in the following events:
The CIA’s Counterterrorist Center completes a report on the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). The report, drafted by CIA officer Clark Shannon, finds that Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda are circumstantially tied to the attack. However, the report fails to mention details known to the CIA involving figures later connected to the 9/11 plot. The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later observe, “The report did not mention [hijacker Khalid Almihdhar’s] visa, [hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi’s] travel to the United States or the Khallad [bin Attash] identification from the Kuala Lumpur photographs” (see January 2-5, 2000, March 5, 2000, and January 4, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 283 ]
CIA officer Tom Wilshire, currently assigned to the FBI, discusses al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit with another CIA officer called Clark Shannon, who is assigned to the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and wrote a report on the USS Cole bombing (see January 2001). Shannon gives Wilshire a timeline of events related to the Cole attack and they discuss Fahad al-Quso, a member of the bombing team in custody at this point (see Early December 2000), and Khallad bin Attash. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 282 ] Around this time, Wilshire also accesses a March 2000 cable about travel to the US by 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and a companion following the summit (see May 15, 2001). According to Margaret Gillespie, an FBI agent on loan to the CIA, Wilshire “had always been interested in the Malaysia summit and he was especially concerned about any potential ties between the USS Cole investigation and the Malaysia summit.” [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ]
Tom Wilshire. [Source: Ray Lustig / Washington Post]Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer detailed to the FBI, discusses three photographs of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000) with CIA analyst Clark Shannon. Based on an identification by a source inside al-Qaeda, one of the photos is thought to show al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, who was involved in the bombing of the USS Cole (see January 4, 2001). However, Wilshire tells Shannon that he does not see bin Attash in any of the photos and that he is “missing something” or “someone saw something that wasn’t there.” Wilshire is correct—the photo actually shows 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi not bin Attash, but it is unclear why Wilshire would think this; he has apparently not read the cable stating the source identified the man in the photo as bin Attash, but he is aware that bin Attash has been identified in the photo. The three photos will later be passed to the FBI and shown to investigators working on the bombing of the USS Cole (see Mid-May 2001, Late May, 2001, and June 11, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 284-5 ]
Although three surveillance photographs of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit are passed to the FBI at this time (see Late May, 2001 and June 11, 2001), another key photograph the CIA has of the meeting is withheld by CIA officers Clark Shannon and Tom Wilshire. The key photograph shows al-Qaeda logistics manager Khallad bin Attash, who commanded the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). Author Lawrence Wright will later comment: “Thanks to [FBI agent Ali] Soufan’s interrogation of [USS Cole bomber Fahad al-Quso], the Cole investigators had an active file on Khallad and were preparing to indict him. Knowledge of that fourth photo would likely have prompted [FBI manager John] O’Neill to demand that the CIA turn over all information relating to Khallad and his associates. By withholding the picture of Khallad attending the meeting with the future hijackers [Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi], the CIA may in effect have allowed the September 11th plot to proceed.” [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] The CIA also has video and even more photos of the meeting (see January 5, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After), but these are not shared either, and it is unclear how aware Wilshire and Shannon are of this additional material.
In an email sent to a fellow CIA officer Clark Shannon and copied to FBI agent Margaret Gillespie, who is working on the USS Cole bombing and the Malaysia summit, Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer assigned to the FBI, misrepresents the travel of 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and an associate to the US. According to the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General, the e-mail says that Alhazmi and an associate traveled from Bangkok to Los Angeles to Hong Kong, indicating they did not remain in the US and left for Hong Kong. However, Alhazmi and hijacker Khalid Almihdhar traveled from Bangkok to Hong Kong and then to Los Angeles. Gillespie and Shannon will subsequently attend a meeting at which this information should be shared, but is not (see June 11, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 282-3, 288, 300 ]
Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer on loan to the FBI, obtains three photographs from the surveillance of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), and passes them to Dina Corsi, an agent with the FBI’s bin Laden unit. Corsi learned of the photographs’ existence following a discussion with CIA officer Clark Shannon. Although Wilshire does not have a “substantive conversation” with Corsi about the photos, he does identify hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in one of them, and says Almihdhar traveled from Sana’a, Yemen, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and then Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in early January 2000. However, Wilshire omits to mention that Almihdhar has a US visa, his associate hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi has traveled to the US, or another associate, Khallad bin Attash, has been identified in the photos. He also does not say why the photos were taken. Author Lawrence Wright will later say the photos are passed because Wilshire wants to know what the FBI knows. The CIA says it thinks the photos may show Fahad al-Quso, an al-Qaeda operative involved in the USS Cole bombing. Corsi understands that the photos are “not formally passed” to the FBI, but are only for limited use at a forthcoming meeting. Therefore, only limited information about them is provided at the meeting, causing a disagreement (see June 11, 2001). However, Wilshire will later say that Corsi could give the photos to the FBI, but the FBI could not then give them to a foreign government (note: the photos had been provided to a foreign government five months previously, so this restriction is meaningless). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 286-7, 293-4 ; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] Other pictures of the summit are available to the CIA, and there is even video footage (see February 2000 and Mid-May 2001), but these are not shared with the FBI or widely discussed.
There is some evidence CIA and FBI representatives meet on this day to compare notes about the investigation into the USS Cole bombing and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, but an investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) will not be able to confirm the meeting takes place, as all the participants say they are unable to recall whether they attended the meeting or not. If the meeting actually occurs, it is probably attended by CIA officer Clark Shannon, FBI agent Dina Corsi, an FBI agent known as “Kathy”, and FBI agent Margaret Gillespie. The topics of discussion may include the state of the Cole investigation and the identification of Khallad bin Attash in photographs of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. Despite the poor memories of the potential attendees, the OIG will later find an email from Shannon to Gillespie saying that they met on this date, and Kathy will say that Shannon’s name sounds familiar. However, the OIG will conclude, “We were unable to determine with certainty whether a meeting… took place on May 29.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 285, 296 ]
Margaret Gillespie. [Source: Doug Dreyer / Associated Press]The FBI and the CIA hold a meeting to discuss the investigation into the USS Cole bombing and a possible connection between it and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). However, the CIA and FBI headquarters refuse to share all they know, and agents investigating the Cole bombing become angry over this.
Attendees - The meeting, which lasts between two and four hours, is attended by CIA officer Clark Shannon, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA named Margaret Gillespie, FBI agent Steve Bongardt, FBI agent Russell Fincher, and Assistant US Attorney David Kelley.
Purpose - Although there is no agenda for the meeting and Corsi will later say it is a brainstorming session, author Lawrence Wright will say that one of the reasons for the meeting is that CIA officer Tom Wilshire, an associate of Shannon’s, “want[ed] to know… what the FBI knew” about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 ; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] FBI agent Ali Soufan will also say that he later learned that Wilshire “was fishing to see if the FBI knew anything about the men in the photos.” [Soufan, 2011, pp. 243]
Photos Shown - Initially, Bongardt and Fincher brief Shannon on progress in the Cole investigation. Corsi then shows the two Cole investigators three photographs taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), showing future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and another man, and Shannon asks if the agents recognize Fahad al-Quso, who is thought to have attended the Malaysia summit and has been interviewed by the FBI. However, one of the photos shows Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a tree, and the CIA has already recognized Almihdhar and Alhazmi, so it is unclear how the Cole investigators are supposed to recognize al-Quso in the photo. Corsi received the photographs from Wilshire, but Wilshire did not provide her with all the relevant information about them (see Late May, 2001).
Questions Asked - Bongardt and Fincher ask who is in the pictures, why were taken, and whether there are other photos of the meeting. Shannon refuses to say, but Corsi eventually admits one of the men is named Khalid Almihdhar. As a name alone is not sufficient reason to start an investigation, Bongardt asks for a date of birth or other details that will allow him to know which Khalid Almihdhar in the world is being discussed, but Shannon refuses to provide them. Shannon admits that Almihdhar was traveling on a Saudi passport and then leaves the meeting. Lawrence Wright will say that providing a date of birth is “standard procedure—the first thing most investigators would do.” Realizing that the photos pertain to the Cole investigation, Bongardt and Fincher become angry at the lack of information being provided and the meeting descends into a “shouting match.” [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 ; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
What Shannon Knew - Shannon will later admit that at this time he knew Almihdhar had a US visa, that Alhazmi had traveled to the US in 2000, that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had been recognized in one of the photos, and that Alhazmi was known to be an experienced operative. However, he does not tell any of this to any FBI agents, as he apparently thinks he does not have the authority. He does not let them keep copies of the photos either and will give conflicting accounts of the meeting after 9/11 (see Between September 12, 2001 and October 17, 2002). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-292 ]
Corsi Withholds Information - Corsi has NSA information saying Almihdhar and Alhazmi attended the Malaysia meeting, but apparently believes that the Cole agents cannot be told more because of restrictions on sharing intelligence with criminal agents (see July 19, 1995). However, one of the Cole agents present is an intelligence agent, so the information can be communicated to him immediately without Corsi obtaining permission from the NSA and/or Justice Department. In addition, the NSA sent the information to the FBI’s New York field office, where the Cole investigators are based, in 1999 (see December 1999-January 2000). Furthermore, when she asks the NSA’s permission to share the information 10 weeks later, the NSA approves the request on the same day (see August 27-28, 2001). She does not share the information at this time, but promises Bongardt and Fincher to try to do so later. The Cole agents will not receive more information for months. [US Congress, 9/20/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 269, 537]
Almihdhar Gets New Visa - Two days after this meeting, Almihdhar has no trouble getting a new, multiple reentry US visa (see May 2001 and June 13, 2001). [US News and World Report, 12/12/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002]
Entity Tags: Dina Corsi, Khalid Almihdhar, David Kelley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Clark Shannon, Margaret Gillespie, Ali Soufan, Steve Bongardt, Central Intelligence Agency, Russell Fincher, Khallad bin Attash, Nawaf Alhazmi, Lawrence Wright
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi learns that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash attended a summit in Malaysia that was also attended by 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 5-8, 2000); an e-mail sent by Corsi on this date contains the first reference in FBI documents to bin Attash’s presence at the Malaysia summit. Although it is her job to support the investigation into the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), which bin Attash commanded, and she is aware that bin Attash is important to the Cole investigation, even saying that she is focused on his identity and whereabouts, she fails to communicate this information to the agents investigating the bombing, who do not receive it before 9/11 (see August 30, 2001). After 9/11, she will say she cannot recall how she learned this information and an investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will fail to find any documents that cast light on the matter. Although she does not do anything with this information before another FBI agent tells her Khalid Almihdhar is in the US (see August 21-22, 2001), she will later say that the information bin Attash was at the Malaysia summit was important, as it connected Almihdhar and Alhazmi to the Cole bombing. She will also say that CIA officers Tom Wilshire and Clark Shannon, who she discussed al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit with and who knew that bin Attash was in Malaysia with Alhazmi and Almihdhar (see Late May, 2001, Mid-May 2001 and June 11, 2001), did not give her this information. Although Corsi and others know that bin Attash is an important al-Qaeda leader, he is not watchlisted at this point, although one of his aliases is watchlisted in August (see August 23, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 280, 284, 286, 293, 296, 302 ]
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 ]
Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will claim in a 2008 book that in early 2004, the 9/11 Commissioners indicate that they intend to name a junior CIA officer as the only official to be identified for a pre-9/11 failure. However, Scheuer writes: “A group of senior CIA officers… let it be known that if that officer was named, information about the pre-9/11 negligence of several very senior US officials would find its way into the media. The commissioners dropped the issue.” [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 273] The name of the junior officer is not known, but some possibilities include:
Tom Wilshire (referred to as “John” in the final 9/11 Commission report), who withheld information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, May 15, 2001, Mid-May 2001, Mid-May 2001, Late May, 2001, August 22, 2001, and August 24, 2001);
Clark Shannon (“Dave”), one of his associates who also failed to inform the FBI about Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see June 11, 2001);
Richard Blee (“Richard”), Wilshire’s boss, who apparently failed to pass on information about Almihdhar to his superiors (see August 22-September 10, 2001).
The names of the CIA officers who threaten the Commission are not known, nor are the details of the alleged negligence by the senior officials.
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.