This page can be viewed at http://www.historycommons.org/entity.jsp?entity=cofer_black
“This is a very highly classified area, but I have to say that all you need to know: There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11. After 9/11 the gloves come off.” [Washington Post, 12/26/2002; US Congress, 9/26/2002]
Cofer Black joins the CIA. He will go on to be the chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center when the 9/11 attacks occur. (Levenson 11/2/2007)
A later review by the CIA’s inspector general will find that the CIA’s counterterrorism resources are not properly administered during this period. The review will comment that “during the same period [CIA counterterrorism managers] were appealing the shortage of resources, senior officials were not effectively managing the Agency’s counterterrorism funds.”
Although counterterrorism funding increases from 1998, funds are moved from the base budget of the Counterterrorist Center to other CIA units. Some of the funds moved are “used to cover nonspecific corporate ‘taxes’ and for a variety of purposes that… were unrelated to terrorism”;
No funds are moved from other programs to support counterterrorism, even after CIA Director George Tenet issues a “declaration of war” against al-Qaeda in December 1998 and says he wants no resources spared in the fight against terrorism (see December 4, 1998);
Little use of reserve CIA funds is made to fight terrorism;
Counterterrorism managers do not spend all the money they have, even after their funding has been reduced by diversions to other programs. (Central Intelligence Agency 6/2005, pp. x-xi )
The CIA’s inspector general will recommend that accountability boards be convened to review the performance of the following officials for these failings:
The executive director (David Carey from July 1997, A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard from March 2001);
The deputy director for operations (Jack Downing from 1997, James Pavitt from 1999); and
The chief of the Counterterrorist Center (Jeff O’Connell from 1997, Cofer Black from summer 1999). (Central Intelligence Agency 3/16/2001; Coll 2004, pp. xiv, 456; Central Intelligence Agency 6/2005, pp. x-xi )
Beginning in 1998, if not before, Uzbekistan and the CIA secretly create a joint counterterrorist strike force, funded and trained by the CIA. This force conducts joint covert operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. (Times of India 10/14/2001; Ricks and Glasser 10/14/2001; Zeman et al. 11/2004) In February 1999, radical Muslims fail in an attempt to assassinate Islam Karimov, the leader of Uzbekistan, leading to a crackdown on Uzbek militants. CIA counterterrorism head Cofer Black and bin Laden unit chief Richard Blee see this as an opportunity to increase co-operation with Uzbekistan, and fly to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent to seal an agreement with Karimov. One hope is that a strike force will be established to snatch Osama bin Laden or one of his lieutenants. Karimov also allows CIA transit and helicopter operations at Uzbek air bases, as well as the installation of CIA and NSA monitoring equipment to intercept Taliban and al-Qaeda communications. The CIA is pleased with the new allies, thinking them better than Pakistan’s ISI, but at the White House some National Security Council members are skeptical. One will comment, “Uzbek motivations were highly suspect to say the least.” There are also worries about Uzbek corruption, human rights abuses, and scandal. (Coll 2004, pp. 456-460)
The CIA decides to increase its links with Ahmed Shah Massoud, an Afghan commander fighting the Taliban in northern Afghanistan. The decision is pushed through by Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, and Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. According to author Steve Coll, Black and Blee see Massoud “as his admirers in Europe [do], as an epochal figure, extraordinarily skillful and determined,” and believe that Massoud is the key to capturing bin Laden. However, the CIA’s Near East Division is skeptical of the potential for this liaison, partly because they remember problems they had with Massoud during the Soviet-Afghan War. Near East officers also think Massoud can only be of limited usefulness against bin Laden because of the geographical distance between Massoud’s forces in the north of Afghanistan and bin Laden’s base in the country’s south. (Coll 2004, pp. 460-1) The CIA will soon send more personnel into Afghanistan to meet Massoud and discuss co-operation (see October 1999). However, a plan to make the increase substantial will be rejected in late 2000 and Massoud will still not be receiving much aid by 9/11 (see December 20, 2000).
On January 6, 2000, the CIA station in Malaysia begins passing details from the Malaysian government’s surveillance of the al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to the CIA Counterterrorist Center (CTC) (see January 5-8, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After). Cofer Black, head of the CTC, orders that he be continually informed about the meeting. CIA Director George Tenet is frequently informed as well. They are given continual updates until the meeting ends on January 8. (Laabs 8/13/2003) National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, FBI Director Louis Freeh, and other top officials are briefed, but apparently President Clinton is not. (Bamford 2004, pp. 225-26) However, it appears that the CIA deliberately and repeatedly fails to tell the FBI that one attendee, future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, has an active visa to visit the US (see Mid-July 2004, January 6, 2000, and January 5-6, 2000). No evidence will be presented suggesting anyone else outside the CIA is told this crucial fact either. The Malaysia summit ends on January 8. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 237) Officially, the CIA will later claim to have lost future hijackers Alhazmi and Almihdhar as they left the meeting (see January 8, 2000). However, Almihdhar will later report back to al-Qaeda that he thought he was followed to the US (see Mid-July 2000). It will not be reported whether any of the other attendees are monitored after leaving the meeting.
CIA official Gary Berntsen and a US Army Special Forces major known as Brock (an apparent reference to Maj. Brock Gaston) lead a six-person team with the mission to enter Afghanistan and capture one of bin Laden’s top aides. The exact target is not specified; the team is expected to take advantage of whatever opportunities present themselves. The team passes through Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, then meets up with Northern Alliance forces in the part of Afghanistan still under their control. But from the very beginning they encounter resistance from a CIA superior officer who is based in a nearby country and is in charge of CIA relations with the Northern Alliance. Known publicly only by his first name Lawrence, he apparently had a minor role in the Iran-Contra affair and has a personal dispute with Gaston. The team stays at Ahmad Shad Massoud’s Northern Alliance headquarters high in the Afghan mountains for about two weeks. However, they never have a chance to cross into Taliban territory for their mission because Lawrence is sending back a stream of negative messages to CIA headquarters about the risks of their mission. A debate ensues back at headquarters. Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorist Center, and his assistant Hank Crumpton support continuing the mission. But CIA Director George Tenet and his assistant Jim Pavitt cancel the mission on March 25. Upon returning to the US, Berntsen, Gaston, Black, and Crumpton formally call for Lawrence’s dismissal, but to no effect. Berntsen will later comment that Black and Crumpton “had shown a willingness to plan and execute risky missions. But neither CIA Director George Tenet nor President Bill Clinton had the will to wage a real fight against terrorists who were killing US citizens.” (CNN 12/15/2001; Berntsen and Pezzullo 2005, pp. 43-64)
Following the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), the CIA discusses possible policy changes in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Disappointed by US inaction, Alec Station chief Richard Blee decides “we’ve got to change the rules,” because he thinks al-Qaeda is getting stronger and stronger. This entails enhanced support for the Northern Alliance led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, which is the only credible opposition fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Although some CIA officers still think Alec Station’s staff is “over the top,” both the CIA’s Near East division and Counterterrorist Center chief Cofer Black agree with Blee, and they decide what is needed is aid to enable Massoud to pressure the Taliban, creating the conditions for CIA operations against bin Laden. The list of assistance includes cash to bribe commanders, trucks, helicopters, light arms, ammunition, uniforms, food, and possibly mortars and artillery. The plan will cost between $50 and $150 million, and will include a permanent CIA base in Afghan territory controlled by the Northern Alliance. CIA officers will then be able to accompany Massoud’s men on missions. It takes some time to arrive at these conclusions, which will be formalized into a plan (see December 29, 2000). However, the plan will not be accepted by the outgoing Clinton administration or the incoming Bush administration (see December 20, 2000). (Coll 2004, pp. 539-541; Coll 2/23/2004)
National Security Adviser Sandy Berger asks CIA Director how he would go after al-Qaeda if he were unconstrained by resources and policies. He assigns Cofer Black and the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center to develops a plan for the incoming Bush administration. It is dubbed the “Blue Sky Memo.” The CIA presents it to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke on December 29, 2000. It recommends increased support to anti-Taliban groups and especially a major effort to back Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance, to tie down al-Qaeda personnel before they leave Afghanistan. No action is taken on it in the last few weeks of the Clinton administration; and the new Bush administration does not appear interested in it either. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004; Tenet 2007, pp. 130-131) The National Security Council counterterrorism staff also prepares a strategy paper, incorporating ideas from the Blue Sky Memo. (9/11 Commission 3/24/2004)
After an informer later referred to as “Omar” tells the CIA that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash was at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 4, 2001), the CIA fails to communicate this information to the FBI, even though it is important for the FBI’s investigation of the USS Cole bombing and connects future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to the Cole bombers. Omar is a joint FBI/CIA source, but the FBI assistant legal attaché responsible for him, Michael Dorris, will later say he does not know of this identification, and documentation he drafts at this time indicates he is unaware of it. It is unclear why Dorris is unaware of the identification, although he does not speak Omar’s language and may have been out of the room making photocopies when Omar identified bin Attash in a photo of the Malaysia summit for his CIA counterpart. That officer, known only as “Chris,” will later say he has no independent recollection of any particular meeting with Omar.
Comparison with Previous Meeting - However, when Omar previously identified a photo of bin Attash provided by Yemeni authorities on December 16, 2000 (see November 22-December 16, 2000), Chris had him repeat the identification specifically for the benefit of Dorris, and the cable he drafted about the meeting said this clearly. In addition, Dorris will later say that he recalls the specific circumstances of the previous debriefing and would be able to recount them, including the identification of bin Attash in the photograph provided by the Yemenis.
Three Cables Drafted - Chris drafts three cables about the January 4 meeting; one internal cable provides little detail about it, but says bin Attash was identified in one of the photos, a cable to the general US intelligence community fails to mention the identification of bin Attash, as does a third cable, which is sent to the CIA.
CIA Later Makes False Claims - However, according to statements made by CIA officials after 9/11, at this time the CIA thinks that the FBI knows that bin Attash has been identified in the photos. For example, Director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center Cofer Black will tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, “[O]ur records establish that the special agents from the FBI’s New York Field Office who were investigating the USS Cole attack reviewed the information about the Kuala Lumpur photo in late January 2001.” However, there is no documentary record of information about the second identification placing bin Attash in Kuala Lumpur with the two hijackers being passed to the FBI at this time. In addition, in July 2001 CIA manager Tom Wilshire will suggest passing this information to the FBI (see July 13, 2001), possibly meaning he thinks it is not passed at this time. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 264-278 ) The CIA will not notify the FBI that Omar identified bin Attash in the photo until August 30, 2001, less than two weeks before 9/11 (see August 30, 2001).
Cofer Black, the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, tells a class at a military college that “something big” is going to happen, likely in the US, and he will be blamed for it. This is according to Bard O’Neill, a Middle East expert and professor of national security strategy at the National War College at Fort Lesley J. McNair, in southwest Washington, DC. O’Neill will tell the 9/11 Commission that, sometime this month, Black talks to a class in the sensitive compartmented information facility at the National War College. Black says that “something big [is] coming and that it very likely could be in the US.” He says he will get blamed for the incident, and that he has “his resignation already signed in his drawer and ready to pull out when it happened.” (9/11 Commission 9/3/2003 ) Black will later tell the Congressional inquiry into the 9/11 attacks that during the spring and summer of this year, he “became convinced that al-Qaeda was going to strike hard,” and that, while “the Arabian peninsula and Israel were the most likely targets,” by late summer, he “was growing more concerned about a potential attack on the United States.” (US Congress 9/26/2002)
During a regularly scheduled weekly meeting between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet, CIA official Richard Blee describes a “truly frightening” list of warning signs of an upcoming terrorist attack. He says that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is working on attack plans. CIA leaders John McLaughlin and Cofer Black are also present at this meeting, as is counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and Mary McCarthy, a CIA officer serving as National Security Council senior director. (Tenet 2007, pp. 145) Just the day before, Clarke suggested that Tenet and Rice discuss what could be done to stop Zubaida from launching “a series of major terrorist attacks,” so presumably this discussion is in response to that (see May 29, 2001). Tenet will later recall: “Some intelligence suggested that [Zubaida’s] plans were ready to be executed; others suggested they would not be ready for six months. The primary target appeared to be in Israel, but other US assets around the world were at risk.” Rice asks about taking the offensive against al-Qaeda and asks how bad the threat is. Black estimates it to be a seven on a one-to-10 scale, with the millennium threat at the start of 2000 ranking an eight in comparison. Clarke tells her that adequate warning notices have been issued to the appropriate US entities. (Tenet 2007, pp. 145-146)
The CIA provides senior US policy makers with a classified warning of a potential attack against US interests that is thought to be tied to Fourth of July celebrations in the US. (McKeone 9/23/2001) The head of counterterrorism at the FBI, Dale Watson, will later recall that he and Cofer Black, the head of counterterrorism at the CIA, expected an attack to occur around the Fourth of July. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 265)
CIA official Richard Blee gives a briefing on the state of the terrorism threat to CIA Director George Tenet and Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black. According to an account by Tenet in his 2007 book, Blee identifies more than 10 specific pieces of intelligence about impending attacks. Tenet claims that experienced analysts call this intelligence “both unprecedented and virtually 100 percent reliable.” Blee specifically mentions:
A key Afghanistan training camp commander was seen weeping with joy because he believed he could see his trainees in heaven, implying a successful suicide attack to come.
For the last three to five months, al-Qaeda’s number two leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is believed to have been involved in an unprecedented effort to prepare terrorist operations.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of the USS Cole bombing masterminds, has disappeared. (Tenet 2007, pp. 149) Leaders of the Cole bombing are believed to be planning new attacks against the US. (Tenet 2007, pp. 147)
Other important operatives around the world are disappearing or preparing for martyrdom. (Tenet 2007, pp. 149)
Blee concludes by saying: “Based on a review of all source reporting over the last five months, we believe that [Osama bin Laden] will launch a significant terrorist attack against US and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities or interests. Attack preparations have been made. Attack will occur with little or no warning.” (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 322; Tenet 2007, pp. 149) This warning, including the concluding quote, is shared with “senior Bush administration officials” in early July. (US Congress 9/18/2002)
On this date, CIA Director George Tenet and CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black give the White House an urgent al-Qaeda briefing that, if heeded, Black later believes could have stopped bin Laden. Tenet and Black strongly suggest that both an overall strategy and immediate covert or military action against bin Laden are needed (see July 10, 2001). According to a 2006 book by journalist Bob Woodward that is likely paraphrasing Black, one of Woodward’s sources for his book, “Black calculated that if [the White House] had given him $500 million of covert action funds right then and reasonable authorizations from the president to go kill bin Laden, he would have been able to make great strides if not do away with him.… Over the last two years—and as recently as March 2001—the CIA had deployed paramilitary teams five times into Afghanistan to work with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, a loose federation of militias and tribes in the north. The CIA had about 100 sources and subsources operating throughout Afghanistan. Just give him the money and the authority and he might be able to bring bin Laden’s head back in a box.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 77-78; Hutchinson 9/29/2006)
CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black and Richard Blee, a manager responsible for the CIA’s bin Laden unit, meet with CIA Director George Tenet and review the latest intelligence about al-Qaeda. Black lays out a case based on communications intercepts and other intelligence suggesting a growing chance that al-Qaeda will attack the US soon. There is no smoking gun per se, but there is a huge volume of data indicating an attack is coming (see July 9-10, 2001). The case is so compelling—Tenet will later say it “literally made my hair stand on end”—that Tenet decides to brief the White House on it this same day (see July 10, 2001). (Woodward 10/1/2006; Tenet 2007, pp. 151)
CIA Director George Tenet finds the briefing that counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave him earlier in the day (see July 10, 2001) so alarming that he calls National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from his car as he heads to the White House and says he needs to see her right away, even though he has regular weekly meetings with her. (Woodward 10/1/2006) Tenet and Black let a third CIA official, Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, brief Rice on the latest intelligence. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke are also present. (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006)
'Significant Attack' - Blee starts by saying, “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!” He argues that it is impossible to pick the specific day, saying Osama bin Laden “will attack when he believes the attack will be successful.” He mentions a range of threat information including:
A warning related to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see (July 9, 2001)) and seven pieces of intelligence the CIA recently received indicating there would soon be a terrorist attack (see July 9-10, 2001);
A mid-June statement by bin Laden to trainees that there would be an attack in the near future (see Mid-June 2001);
Information that talks about moving toward decisive acts;
Late-June information saying a “big event” was forthcoming;
Two separate bits of information collected “a few days before the meeting” in which people predicted a “stunning turn of events” in the weeks ahead. This may be a reference to intercepts of calls in Yemen, possibly involving the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
Multiple, Simultaneous Attacks in US Possible - Blee says that the attacks will be “spectacular,” they will be designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities and interests, there may be multiple, simultaneous attacks, and they may be in the US itself. He outlines the CIA’s efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda by spreading incorrect word that the attack plans have been compromised, in the hope that this will cause a delay in the attack. But he says this is not enough and that the CIA should go on the attack. Blee also discounts the possibility of disinformation, as bin Laden’s threats are known to the public in the Middle East and there will be a loss of face, funds, and popularity if they are not carried out. Blee urges that the US take a “proactive approach” by using the Northern Alliance. (Tenet 2007, pp. 151-4) Author Bob Woodward will later write: “Black emphasize[s] that this amount[s] to a strategic warning, meaning the problem [is] so serious that it require[s] an overall plan and strategy. Second, this [is] a major foreign policy problem that need[s] to be addressed immediately. They need […] to take action that moment—covert, military, whatever—to thwart bin Laden. The United States ha[s] human and technical sources, and all the intelligence [is] consistent.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 80; Woodward 10/1/2006) Richard Clarke expresses his agreement with the CIA about the threat’s seriousness, and Black says, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”
Rice's Response - There are conflicting accounts about the CIA’s reading of Rice’s response. According to Woodward: “Tenet and Black [feel] they [are] not getting through to Rice. She [is] polite, but they [feel] the brush-off.” They leave the meeting frustrated, seeing little prospect for immediate action. Tenet and Black will both later recall the meeting as the starkest warning they gave the White House on al-Qaeda before 9/11 and one that could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks if Rice had acted on it (see July 10, 2001) and conveyed their urgency to President Bush. (Tenet is briefing Bush on a daily basis at this time, but he will later say that Rice has a much better rapport with the president.) Black will say, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 80; Woodward 10/1/2006) Rice says that Bush will align his policy with the new realities and grant new authorities. Writing in 2007, Tenet will say that this response is “just the outcome I had expected and hoped for,” and recall that as they leave the meeting, Blee and Black congratulate each other on having got the administration’s attention. Nevertheless, Rice does not take the requested action until after 9/11. (Tenet 2007, pp. 153-4)
Rice Concerned about Genoa - Clarke will recall in 2006 that Rice focuses on the possible threat to Bush at an upcoming summit meeting in Genoa, Italy (see June 13, 2001 and July 20-22, 2001). Rice and Bush have already been briefed about the Genoa warning by this time (see July 5, 2001). Rice also promises to quickly schedule a high-level White House meeting on al-Qaeda. However, that meeting does not take place until September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001). (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006) Rice also directs that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same briefing, and they receive it a short time later (see July 11-17, 2001).
Meeting Not Mentioned in 9/11 Commission Report - The meeting will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (see August 4, 2002), and there will be controversy when it is fully revealed in 2006 (see September 29, 2006, September 30-October 3, 2006, and October 1-2, 2006).
Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, says in a speech to the Department of Defense’s annual Convention of Counterterrorism, “We are going to be struck soon, many Americans are going to die, and it could be in the US.” Black later complains that top leaders are unwilling to act at this time unless they are given “such things as the attack is coming within the next few days and here is what they are going to hit.” (US Congress 9/26/2002)
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)
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)
Despite the restrictions on air travel following the previous day’s attacks, one private plane is allowed to fly from Britain to the United States. On it are Sir Richard Dearlove, the head of the British secret intelligence service (MI6), and Eliza Manningham-Buller, the deputy chief of Britain’s domestic intelligence service, MI5. In his 2007 book At the Center of the Storm, CIA Director George Tenet will admit, “I still don’t know how they got flight clearance into the country.” Manningham-Buller and Dearlove dine for an hour-and-a-half with a group of American intelligence officials at the CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia. (Tenet 2007, pp. 173-174; BBC 12/4/2007) In addition to Tenet, the US officials at the dinner include James Pavitt and his deputy from the CIA’s Directorate for Operations; A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard, the CIA’s executive director; Cofer Black, the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center; Tyler Drumheller, the chief of the CIA’s European Division; the chief of the CIA’s Near East Division; and Thomas Pickard, the acting director of the FBI. Also part of the British delegation is David Manning, Prime Minister Tony Blair’s foreign policy adviser, who was already in the US before 9/11. (Powers 7/2/2007) The British offer condolences and their full support. The Americans say they are already certain that al-Qaeda was behind the 9/11 attacks, having recognized names on passenger lists of the hijacked flights. They also say they believe the attacks are not yet over. (Tenet 2007, pp. 174; BBC 12/4/2007) According to Drumheller, Manning says, “I hope we can all agree that we should concentrate on Afghanistan and not be tempted to launch any attacks on Iraq.” Tenet replies: “Absolutely, we all agree on that. Some might want to link the issues, but none of us wants to go that route.” (Hosenball 10/30/2006; Powers 7/2/2007; Norton-Taylor 8/4/2007)
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)
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).
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).
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)
The Washington Post reports, “The Bush administration has concluded that Osama bin Laden was present during the battle for Tora Bora late last year and that failure to commit US ground troops to hunt him was its gravest error in the war against al-Qaeda,” allowing bin Laden to escape. The newspaper claims that while the administration has failed to acknowledge the mistake publicly, “inside the government there is little controversy on the subject.” (Gellman and Ricks 4/17/2002) The next day, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld denies this, and states he did not know at the time of the assault, “nor do I know today of any evidence that he was in Tora Bora at the time or that he left Tora Bora at the time or even where he is today.” (Moniz 4/18/2002) Apparently, Rumsfeld soon forces the removal of Cofer Black from his position of head of the CIA’s counterterrorism division, because Rumsfeld thinks Black leaked information for this damning Washington Post article (see May 17, 2002).
It is announced that Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s counterterrorism division for the last three years, has been assigned to another position. However, in 2004, six anonymous US intelligence officials will claim that, in fact, Black is removed by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld because Black publicly revealed details of the US military’s failure to capture or kill bin Laden in Tora Bora, Afghanistan, in late 2001. Sources will call Black “very aggressive, very knowledgeable,” in fighting al-Qaeda. According to these sources, after the Tora Bora battle ended, an intelligence analysis determined that bin Laden had been trapped in Tora Bora, and deemed his escape a “significant defeat” for the US. Rumsfeld, however, disagreed with the criticism, and said there was not enough “solid evidence” to come to that conclusion. Black then spoke on deep background to the Washington Post, and on April 17, 2002, the Post called the failure to capture bin Laden “the gravest error in the war against al-Qaeda.”(see April 17, 2002) Rumsfeld learned about Black’s role and used his influence to get him removed. (Sale 7/29/2004)
Cofer Black, then director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, speaks about US interrogation policy during a 9/11 Congressional Inquiry hearing. “This is a very highly classified area, but I have to say that all you need to know: there was a before-9/11 and an after-9/11. After 9/11 the gloves came off.” (Barry, Hirsh, and Isikoff 5/24/2004) He apparently made similar comments on September 19, 2001, to the first CIA operatives heading to Afghanistan after 9/11 (see September 19, 2001).
In sworn testimony to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, CIA Director George Tenet repeatedly claims that a March 2000 cable sent to CIA headquarters reporting that hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi had entered the US was not read by anybody. He says, “I know that nobody read that cable,” “Nobody read that cable in the March timeframe,” and “[N]obody read that information only cable.” (New York Times 10/17/2002) Former Counterterrorist Center Director Cofer Black will also claim that the cable was not read. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 51 ) However, a later investigation by the CIA Office of Inspector General will find that numerous CIA officers had actually read the cable shortly after it was sent (see March 6, 2000 and After). Nevertheless, the 9/11 Commission will later assert that, “No-one outside the Counterterrorist Center was told any of this” (about Alhazmi’s arrival in the US) and neglect to mention that Tenet had previously misstated the CIA’s knowledge of the hijackers. Neither will the 9/11 Commission investigate the cause of the CIA’s apparent inaction. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 181)
The one-time CIA Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Cofer Black, says that “a large number of terrorist suspects were not able to launch an attack last year because they are in prison.” He claims that “more than 3,000” detainees in US custody are al-Qaeda terrorists who were arrested in over 100 countries. (First 6/2004 )
The US Department of State releases its annual “Patterns of Global Terrorism” report. Included in its list of terrorist organizations is the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), an Iranian opposition group in Iraq that has offices in Washington, DC. The report notes that the MEK helped Saddam Hussein during Iraq’s war with Iran and assisted the dictator in suppressing the Shia uprisings in southern Iraq and the Kurdish uprisings in the north after the first Gulf War. (US Department of State 4/30/2003) During a press briefing that coincides with the release of the report, US Ambassador Cofer Black, Coordinator for Counterterrorism in the US State Department, is asked to explain why the US has permitted MEK to have an office in Washington. “The Secretary has recommended that the president determine that the laws that apply to countries that support terrorism no longer apply to Iraq,” Black explains. “The president’s determination to provide greater flexibility in permitting certain types of trade with and assistance to Iraq; thus, we can treat Iraq like any other country not on the terrorist list.” He insists that the “United States Government does not negotiate with terrorists,” but contends that MEK “is a pretty special group” and that the US considers the agreement as a “prelude to the group’s surrender.” (US Department of State 4/30/2003)
Former CIA Director George Tenet privately testifies before the 9/11 Commission. He provides a detailed account of an urgent al-Qaeda warning he gave to the White House on July 10, 2001 (see July 10, 2001). According to three former senior intelligence officials, Tenet displays the slides from the PowerPoint presentation he gave the White House and even offers to testify about it in public. According to the three former officials, the hearing is attended by commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste, the commission’s executive director Philip Zelikow, and some staff members. When Tenet testifies before the 9/11 Commission in public later in the year, he will not mention this meeting. The 9/11 Commission will neglect to include Tenet’s warning to the White House in its July 2004 final report. (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006) Portions of a transcript of Tenet’s private testimony will be leaked to reporters in 2006. According to the transcript, Tenet’s testimony included a detailed summary of the briefing he had with CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black on July 10 (see July 10, 2001). The transcript also reveals that he told the commission that Black’s briefing had prompted him to request an urgent meeting with Rice about it. This closely matches the account in Woodward’s 2006 book that first widely publicized the July meeting (see September 29, 2006). (Eggen and Wright 10/3/2006) Shortly after Woodward’s book is published, the 9/11 Commission staff will deny knowing that the July meeting took place. Zelikow and Ben-Veniste, who attended Tenet’s testimony, will say they are unable to find any reference to it in their files. But after the transcript is leaked, Ben-Veniste will suddenly remember details of the testimony (see September 30-October 3, 2006) and will say that Tenet did not indicate that he left his meeting with Rice with the impression he had been ignored, as Tenet has alleged. (Shenon 10/2/2006) Woodward’s book will describe why Black, who also privately testified before the 9/11 Commission, felt the commission did not mention the July meeting in their final report: “Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork about the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about. It was what happened in investigations. There were questions they wanted to ask, and questions they didn’t want to ask.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 78)
Former director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center Cofer Black tells the 9/11 Commission: “[U]nfortunately, when Americans get killed, it would translate into additional resources. It’s a constant track: either you run out, or people die, when people die you get more money.” He says this at the end of his prepared statement in a section dealing with what he says is a lack of funds at the CIA for counterterrorism. (9/11 Commission 4/13/2004)
On July 8, 2004, the New Republic predicts a “July surprise” from the Bush-Cheney reelection campaign involving the arrest of a high-value target in Pakistan by the end of the month. The magazine reports that in the spring of 2004, the administration increased pressure on Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden, his deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, or Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar, all believed to be hiding in Pakistan. Bush officials such as CIA Director George Tenet, Secretary of State Colin Powell and his assistant, Christina Rocca, State Department counterterrorism chief Cofer Black, and others all visited Pakistan in recent months to urge Pakistan to increase its efforts in the war on terrorism. The New Republic comments, “This public pressure would be appropriate, even laudable, had it not been accompanied by an unseemly private insistence that the Pakistanis deliver these high-value targets (HVTs) before Americans go to the polls in November.” Bush spokespeople deny that the administration exerted any such pressure. But according to one source in the Pakistani ISI, “The Pakistani government is really desperate and wants to flush out bin Laden and his associates after the latest pressures from the US administration to deliver before the [upcoming] US elections.” Another source in the Pakistani Interior Ministry says, “The Musharraf government has a history of rescuing the Bush administration. They now want Musharraf to bail them out when they are facing hard times in the coming elections.” And another ISI source says that the Pakistanis “have been told at every level that apprehension or killing of HVTs before [the] election is [an] absolute must.” The Pakistanis have even been given a target date, according to the second ISI source: “The last ten days of July deadline has been given repeatedly by visitors to Islamabad and during [ISI director Lieutenant General Ehsan ul-Haq’s] meetings in Washington.” The source says that a White House aide told ul-Haq last spring that “it would be best if the arrest or killing of [any] HVT were announced on twenty-six, twenty-seven, or twenty-eight July”—the first three days of the Democratic National Convention in Boston. One Pakistani general said recently, “If we don’t find these guys by the election, they are going to stick this whole nuclear mess [relating to A. Q. Khan] up our _sshole.” The Bush administration apparently is using a carrot-and-stick approach to make sure such an arrest takes place on schedule. The New Republic observes: “Pushing Musharraf to go after al-Qaeda in the tribal areas may be a good idea despite the risks. But, if that is the case, it was a good idea in 2002 and 2003. Why the switch now? Top Pakistanis think they know: This year, the president’s reelection is at stake.” (Judis, Ackerman, and Ansari 7/29/2004) Pakistan will announce the capture of al-Qaeda leader Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani on July 29, just hours before Democratic presidential John Kerry’s acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention. The authors of the New Republic article will claim vindication for their prediction (see July 25-29, 2004).
Details of an internal CIA report (see June-November 2004) investigating the CIA’s failure to stop the 9/11 attacks are leaked to the New York Times. The report by John Helgerson, the CIA’s inspector general, was completed in June 2004 but remains classified (see June-November 2004). It sharply criticizes former CIA Director George Tenet, as well as former Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt. It says these two and others failed to meet an acceptable standard of performance, and recommends that an internal review board review their conduct for possible disciplinary action. Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center at the time of 9/11, is also criticized. However, the New York Times notes that, “It is not clear whether either the agency or the White House has the appetite to reprimand Mr. Tenet, Mr. Pavitt or others.… particularly since President Bush awarded a Medal of Freedom to Mr. Tenet last month.” It is unclear if any reprimands will occur, or even if the final version of the report will point blame at specific individuals. (Jehl 1/7/2005) In late October 2004, the new CIA Director, Porter Goss, had asked Helgerson to modify the report to avoid drawing conclusions about whether individual CIA officers should be held accountable. (Jehl 11/2/2004) Helgerson “appears to have accepted [Goss’s] recommendation” and will defer any final judgments to a CIA Accountability Review Board. The final version of the report is said to be completed within weeks. (Jehl 1/7/2005) However, months pass, and in October 2005, Goss will announce that he is not going to release the report, and also will not convene an accountability board to hold anyone responsible (see October 10, 2005), although an executive summary will be released in 2007 (see August 21, 2007).
Cofer Black, former chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, joins Blackwater. He becomes the company’s vice chairman. (Levenson 11/2/2007)
A revised version of the CIA inspector general’s report into some of the agency’s failings before 9/11 is finished and sent to CIA management. A version of the report had been completed a year earlier, but it had to be revised due to criticism (see June-November 2004). It recommends accountability boards be convened to assess the performance of several officers. Although not all the officers are named, it is sometimes possible to deduce who they are based on the circumstances. The convening of accountability boards is recommended for:
CIA Director George Tenet, for failing to personally resolve differences between the CIA and NSA that impeded counterterrorism efforts;
CIA Executive Director David Carey (July 1997-March 2001), CIA Executive Director A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard (March 2001-9/11), CIA Deputy Director for Operations Jack Downing (1997-1999), and CIA Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt (1999-9/11) for failing to properly manage CIA counterterrorism funds (see 1997-2001);
CIA Counterterrorist Center Chief Jeff O’Connell (1997-1999) for failing to properly manage CIA counterterrorism funds (see 1997-2001), for staffing Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, with officers lacking experience, expertise and training, for failing to ensure units under him coordinated coverage of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), for poor leadership of the CIA’s watchlisting program, for poor management of a program where officers were loaned between the CIA and other agencies, and for failing to send officers to the NSA to review its material;
CIA Counterterrorist Center Chief Cofer Black (Summer 1999-9/11) for failing to properly manage CIA counterterrorism funds (see 1997-2001), for staffing Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, with officers lacking experience, expertise and training, for failing to ensure units under him coordinated coverage of KSM, for poor leadership of the CIA’s watchlisting program, possibly for failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, possibly for failing to do anything about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in 2001, for poor management of a program where officers were loaned between the CIA and other agencies, and for failing to send officers to the NSA to review its material;
Chief of Alec Station Richard Blee. Some sections of the report appear to refer to Blee, but are redacted. It seems to criticize him for failing to properly oversee operations related to KSM, failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, and failing to do anything about Alhazmi and Almihdhar in 2001;
Deputy Chief of Alec Station Tom Wilshire. Some sections of the report appear to refer to Tom Wilshire, but are redacted. It seems to criticize him for failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, and for failing to do anything about Alhazmi and Almihdhar in 2001;
Unnamed officer, possibly head of the CIA’s renditions branch, for failing to properly oversee operations related to KSM;
Unnamed officer, for failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, and for failing to do anything about Alhazmi and Almihdhar in 2001;
Unnamed officer(s), for failure to produce any coverage of KSM from 1997 to 2001. The type of coverage that should have been provided is redacted in the publicly released executive summary of the report.
The report may recommend accountability boards for other officers, but this is not known due to redactions and the publication of only the executive summary. CIA Director Porter Goss will decide not to convene any accountability boards (see October 10, 2005), and the report will remain secret until the executive summary is released in 2007 (see August 21, 2007). (Central Intelligence Agency 6/2005 )
Blackwater Vice Chairman Cofer Black suggests that Blackwater troops be deployed to trouble spots around the world where there are humanitarian crises, such as the massacres in the Darfur region of Sudan. “Blackwater spends a lot of time thinking, ‘How can we contribute to the common good?’” Black tells the Special Operations Forces Exhibition in Jordan. He argues that big military operations tend to get mired in NATO’s bureaucracy and that Blackwater could easily send “a brigade-sized peacekeeping unit,” typically about 5,000 troops, “for a fraction of the cost of NATO operations.” (Levenson 11/2/2007)
According to Harper’s magazine columnist Ken Silverstein, the private miltiary corporation Blackwater makes an “aggressive” attempt to recruit Jose Rodriguez, director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service. Other CIA officers currently at Blackwater at this time include Enrique “Ric” Prado, with whom Rodriguez served in Latin America and who is currently Blackwater’s vice president of special programs, and Cofer Black, the company’s vice chairman, who, like Rodriguez, had been chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. (Silverstein 9/12/2006)
In late September 2006, a new book by Bob Woodward reveals that CIA Director Tenet and CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave National Security Adviser Rice their most urgent warning about a likely upcoming al-Qaeda attack (see July 10, 2001 and September 29, 2006). Tenet detailed this meeting to the 9/11 Commission in early 2004 (see January 28, 2004), but it was not mentioned in the 9/11 Commission’s final report later that year. According to the Washington Post, “Though the investigators had access to all the paperwork on the meeting, Black felt there were things the commissions wanted to know about and things they didn’t want to know about.” (Woodward 10/1/2006) The 9/11 Commissioners initially vigorously deny that they were not told about the meeting. For instance, 9/11 Commissioner Jamie Gorelick says she checked with commission staff who told her they were never told about a meeting on that date. She says, “We didn’t know about the meeting itself. I can assure you it would have been in our report if we had known to ask about it.” (Baker 9/30/2006) Commissioner Tim Roemer says, “None of this was shared with us in hours of private interviews, including interviews under oath, nor do we have any paper on this. I’m deeply disturbed by this. I’m furious.” Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste says the meeting “was never mentioned to us.” Philip Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission, says the commissioners and their staff had heard nothing in their private interviews with Tenet and Black to suggest that they made such a dire presentation to Rice. “If we had heard something that drew our attention to this meeting, it would have been a huge thing.” (Shenon 10/2/2006) However, on October 3, 2006, a transcript of Tenet’s private testimony to the 9/11 Commission is leaked to reporters and clearly shows that Tenet did warn Rice of an imminent al-Qaeda threat on July 10, 2001. Ben-Veniste, who attended the meeting along with Zelikow and other staff members, now confirms the meeting did take place and claims to recall details of it, even though he, Zelikow, and other 9/11 Commissioners had denied the existence of the meeting as recently as the day before. In the transcript, Tenet says “the system was blinking red” at the time. This statement becomes a chapter title in the 9/11 Commission’s final report but the report, which normally has detailed footnotes, does not make it clear when Tenet said it. (Eggen and Wright 10/3/2006) Zelikow had close ties to Rice before joining the 9/11 Commission, having co-written a book with her (see March 21, 2004), and became one of her key aides after the commission disbanded (see February 28, 2005). Zelikow does not respond to requests for comments after Tenet’s transcript surfaces. (Landay, Strobel, and Walcott 10/2/2006; Eggen and Wright 10/3/2006)
Cofer Black, former chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, is named a senior adviser for counterterrorism and national security issues in the presidential campaign of Republican Mitt Romney. Black will also be named chairman of the campaign’s counterterrorism policy advisory group in September. According to the Boston Globe, “some observers” will say that Black has significant influence on Romney’s campaign, as Romney says he wants to double the size of Guantanamo Bay, endorses tough interrogation techniques, praises the Patriot Act, and supports some aggressive surveillance policies. According to the Globe, “many people in the national security field expect that Black would play a leading role in a Romney presidency, making Black a potentially pivotal figure for a former governor with little foreign policy and counterterrorism experience.” (Levenson 11/2/2007)
Both the New York Times and Washington Post report that in 2004, the CIA hired outside contractors from Blackwater USA, a private security firm, to take part in a secret program to find and kill top al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere (see 2004). Both stories highlight the fact that a program to assassinate or capture al-Qaeda leaders that began around September 2001 (see Shortly After September 17, 2001) was terminated and then revived and outsourced to Blackwater in 2004 (see 2004 and (2005-2006)). CIA Director Leon Panetta alerted Congress to the secret program in June 2009 (see June 24, 2009), but the public is just now learning of its existence. Government officials say that bringing contractors into a program that has the authority to kill raises serious concerns about accountability in covert operations. Blackwater’s role in the program ended years before Panetta took over the agency, but senior CIA officials have long questioned the propriety and the wisdom of using outside contractors—in essence, mercenaries—in a targeted killing program. (Mazzetti 8/20/2009; Mazzetti 8/20/2009; Warrick and Smith 8/20/2009) A retired intelligence officer described as “intimately familiar with the assassination program” says, “Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong.” (Scahill 8/20/2009) The assassination program is just one of a number of contracted services Blackwater provided for the CIA, and may still provide, including guarding CIA prisons and loading missiles on Predator drones. The agency “has always used contractors,” says a former CIA official familiar with the Predator operations. “You have to be an explosives expert,” and the CIA has never sought to use its own personnel for the highly specialized task. “We didn’t care who put on the munitions as long as it wasn’t CIA case officers.” (Miller 8/21/2009)
No Laws Broken? - Former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith says that Blackwater may not have broken any laws even by attempting to assassinate foreign nationals on the CIA’s orders. “The use of force has been traditionally thought of as inherently governmental,” he says. “The use of a contractor actually employing lethal force is clearly troublesome, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily illegal.” (Miller 8/21/2009)
Mixed Reactions from Congress - Some Congressional Democrats say that the secret assassination program is just one of many secret programs conducted by the Bush administration, and have called for more intensive investigations into Bush-era counterterrorism activities. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says: “I have believed for a long time that the intelligence community is over-reliant on contractors to carry out its work. This is especially a problem when contractors are used to carry out activities that are inherently governmental.” Conversely, some Congressional Republicans are critical of Panetta’s decision to terminate the program, with Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, accusing Panetta of indulging in too much “drama and intrigue than was warranted.” Officials say that the program was conceived as an alternative to the CIA’s primary assassination method of missile strikes using drone aircraft, which have killed many innocent civilians and cannot be used in heavily populated urban areas. (Mazzetti 8/20/2009; Miller 8/21/2009) Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says that she cannot confirm or deny that Congress was informed of Blackwater’s involvement in the program before the New York Times broke the story. However, she notes: “What we know now, if this is true, is that Blackwater was part of the highest level, the innermost circle strategizing and exercising strategy within the Bush administration. [Blackwater CEO] Erik Prince operated at the highest and most secret level of the government. Clearly Prince was more trusted than the US Congress because Vice President Cheney made the decision not to brief Congress. This shows that there was absolutely no space whatsoever between the Bush administration and Blackwater.” Schakowsky says the House Intelligence Committee is investigating the CIA assassination program and will probe alleged links to Blackwater. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern says: “The presidential memos (often referred to as ‘findings’) authorizing covert action like the lethal activities of the CIA and Blackwater have not yet surfaced. They will, in due course, if knowledgeable sources continue to put the Constitution and courage above secrecy oaths.” (Scahill 8/20/2009)
Blackwater Employs Many Former CIA Officials - Author and reporter Jeremy Scahill notes that many former Bush-era CIA officials now work at Blackwater, including former CIA executive director Alvin “Buzzy” Krongard; former CIA counterterrorism chief J. Cofer Black, who now operates Prince’s private intelligence company, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS); the CEO of TIS, Robert Richer, the former associate deputy director of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations and second-ranking official in charge of clandestine operations; and Enrique “Ric” Prado, a former senior executive officer in the Directorate of Operations. (Scahill 8/20/2009)
Loss of Control, Deniability - Former CIA field agent Jack Rice, who worked on covert paramilitary operations for the agency, says, “What the agency was doing with Blackwater scares the hell out of me.” He explains: “When the agency actually cedes all oversight and power to a private organization, an organization like Blackwater, most importantly they lose control and don’t understand what’s going on. That makes it even worse is that you then can turn around and have deniability. They can say, ‘It wasn’t us, we weren’t the ones making the decisions.’ That’s the best of both worlds. It’s analogous to what we hear about torture that was being done in the name of Americans, when we simply handed somebody over to the Syrians or the Egyptians or others and then we turn around and say, ‘We’re not torturing people.’” (Scahill 8/20/2009)
Negative Publicity Led to Name Change, Prohibition from Operating in Iraq - Blackwater has since changed its name to Xe Services, in part because of a raft of negative publicity it has garnered surrounding allegations of its employees murdering Iraqi civilians; Iraq has denied the firm a license to operate within its borders. (Mazzetti 8/20/2009) However, Blackwater continues to operate in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where it has contracts with the State Department and Defense Department. The CIA refuses to acknowledge whether it still contracts with Blackwater. (Scahill 8/20/2009)
In an interview, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says that the CIA purposefully withheld information from him about two future 9/11 hijackers for over a year before September 11. The interview was taped in October 2009, but is released now by documentary makers Ray Nowosielski and John Duffy ahead of a forthcoming podcast entitled “Who Is Rich Blee?” about the intelligence failures before 9/11. Clarke indicates he found out the CIA failed to pass information on to him not long after 9/11, but assumed the information had been honestly missed by a single junior officer. However, when he later learned at at least 50 officers accessed the information, he began to question this theory. (Note: the news that the information was accessed by at least 50 officers broke in August 2007—see Mid-January-March 2000 and August 21, 2007). According to Clarke, information of the sort the CIA had on two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, was automatically forwarded to him, but he never heard their names before 9/11. Clarke, who admits he cannot prove his allegation that the information was withheld deliberately, says the best explanation he can come up with is that the CIA was attempting to turn the two hijackers into double agents, which is why nobody was told outside the agency. Clarke points out that alleged Saudi intelligence operatives working in the US (see January 15-February 2000 and Spring 2000) who knew the hijackers could have helped with this. Clarke mentions four officials who would have been involved in a decision to withhold information: CIA Director George Tenet, who followed information about al-Qaeda in “microscopic detail,” Counterterrorist Center chief Cofer Black, Alec Station chief Richard Blee, and his deputy Tom Wilshire. Clarke also expresses wonder that the information was not mentioned at a key meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in July 2001 (see July 10, 2001) when Tenet, Black, and Blee were trying to get her to take strong action against al-Qaeda, because what they had on Almihdhar and Alhazmi was the “most persuasive piece of evidence” they had. He also does not understand why the CIA told the FBI in late August 2001 that the two hijackers had entered the country (see August 21-22, 2001). Clarke adds that the CIA presumably did not mention the fact that the two men were in the US at a meeting of high-level officials on September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001) because it would have angered Clarke and this would have led to an investigation in CIA “malfeasance and misfeasance” in concealing the information. However, he thinks the US authorities would have caught the hijackers with a “massive sweep” even if he had been told as late as September 4. Clarke also comments that he never asked Tenet and the other CIA officials about what had happened, as the facts became known to him over time. He also says that Tenet, Black, and Blee have got away with what they did, as they were not held to account by the Joint Congressional Inquiry or the 9/11 Commission. (John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski 8/11/2011; Leopold 8/11/2011) Tenet, Black, and Blee received an advance copy of the interview and issued a statement in response (see August 3, 2011).
Journalist Ari Berman, of the liberal magazine The Nation, writes that presumptive Republican presidential Mitt Romney (R-MA) seems to be relying on a large number of neoconservatives to help him formulate his foreign policy stance for the election. Berman believes it is safe to assume that Romney will appoint many of his neoconservative advisors to powerful positions in his administration should he win the November election. Berman writes: “Given Romney’s well-established penchant for flip-flopping and opportunism, it’s difficult to know what he really believes on any issue, including foreign affairs (the campaign did not respond to a request for comment). But a comprehensive review of his statements during the primary and his choice of advisers suggests a return to the hawkish, unilateral interventionism of the George W. Bush administration should he win the White House in November.” Conservative Christian leader Richard Land has said that Romney could shore up his sagging credibility with conservatives by “pre-naming” some key Cabinet selections: former Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA) as Attorney General, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) as US ambassador to the United Nations, and former State Department official John Bolton as Secretary of State. Berman calls the prospect of those appointments “terrifying” and “more plausible than one might think.” Neoconservative blogger Jennifer Rubin recently wrote for the Washington Post that “[m]any conservatives hope” Bolton will accept “a senior national security post in a Romney administration.” For his point, Bolton has endorsed Romney, and has campaigned on his behalf. Romney is not well versed in foreign policy affairs, Berman writes, noting that in 2008 the presidential campaign of John McCain (R-AZ) found that at the time “Romney’s foreign affairs resume is extremely thin, leading to credibility problems.” Romney suffered the criticism of being “too liberal” in 2008, and in 2011-12 attempted to refute that criticism by publicly aligning himself with Bolton and other neoconservatives. Brian Katulis of the liberal Center for American Progress has said, “When you read the op-eds and listen to the speeches, it sounds like Romney’s listening to the John Bolton types more than anyone else.” (Rucker 3/13/2012; Berman 5/21/2012)
The Project for the New American Century - Bolton and seven other Romney advisors are signers of a letter drafted by the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), an influential neoconservative advocacy group (see June 3, 1997 and September 2000) that urged both the Clinton and Bush administrations to attack Iraq (see January 26, 1998, February 19, 1998 and May 29, 1998). (The PNAC is defunct, but was replaced by a similar advocacy group, the Foreign Policy Initiative, or FPI—see Before March 25, 2009). PNAC co-founder Eliot Cohen, who served as counsel for Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice from 2007-2009, wrote the foreward to Romney’s foreign policy white paper, entitled “An American Century.” Cohen has called the war on terror “World War IV” (see November 20, 2001), and helped push the Bush administration into going to war with Iraq after the 9/11 bombings. In 2009, Cohen reiterated his 2001 call for the US to overthrow the government of Iran (see November 20, 2001). Another PNAC co-founder, FPI’s Robert Kagan, a longtime advocate for widespread war in the Middle East (see October 29, 2001), helped Romney formulate his foreign policy. Romney’s foreign policy stance is based largely on negative attacks on the Obama administration, which it accuses of kowtowing to foreign governments, and a massive military buildup. (Rubin 10/9/2011; Berman 5/21/2012)
Bush Administration Officials' Involvement - Many former Bush administration officials are involved with Romney’s foreign policy. Robert G. Joseph, a former National Security Council official who is primarily responsible for having then-President Bush claim that Iraq had tried to buy enriched uranium from Niger (see January 26 or 27, 2003), former Bush administration spokesman and FPI founder Dan Senor (see October 2, 2005), and former Defense Department official Eric Edelman (see July 16-20, 2007) are prominent members of Romney’s advisory team. Preble says of Romney’s foreign policy advisors: “I can’t name a single Romney foreign policy adviser who believes the Iraq War was a mistake. Two-thirds of the American people do believe the Iraq War was a mistake. So he has willingly chosen to align himself with that one-third of the population right out of the gate.” Edelman, like others on the Romney team, believes that the US should attack Iran, a position Romney himself apparently holds. Senor serves as a conduit between the Romney campaign and Israel’s far right, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Recently, Senor posted the following on Twitter: “Mitt-Bibi will be the new Reagan-Thatcher.” Lawrence Wilkerson, the chief of staff for then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, has said the Republican Party “has not a clue” how to extricate the US from its “state of interminable war,” and apparently little appetite for such extrication. “In fact, they want to deepen it, widen it and go further, on Chinese and Japanese dollars.” The influence of far-right neoconservatives “astonishe[s]” Wilkerson. Christopher Preble, a foreign policy expert for the Cato Institute, says that neoconservatives have remained influential even after the Iraq debacle because they have rewritten history. “They’ve crafted this narrative around the surge (see January 10, 2007), claiming Iraq was, in fact, a success. They’ve ridden that ever since.”
Huge Spending Increases for Defense, Possible Recession - If Romney follows his current statements, a Romney administration under the tutelage of his neoconservative advisors would usher in a new era of massive defense spending increases. He advocates spending a minimum of 4 percent of the nation’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) to increase spending on defense, which would increase the Pentagon’s budget by over $200 billion in 2016. That is 38% more than the Obama administration plans to spend on defense. Romney would pay for that increase with severe cuts in domestic spending. Fiscal Times columnist Merrill Goozner has written: “Romney’s proposal to embark on a second straight decade of escalating military spending would be the first time in American history that war preparation and defense spending had increased as a share of overall economic activity for such an extended period. When coupled with the 20 percent cut in taxes he promises, it would require shrinking domestic spending to levels not seen since the Great Depression—before programs like Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid began.” Goozner wrote that Romney’s spending plan “would likely throw the US economy back into recession.” The proposed huge spending increases are in part the product of the Defending Defense coalition, a joint project of the FPI, the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), and the Heritage Foundation. (Goozner 3/7/2012; Berman 5/21/2012)
Cofer Black and Enhanced National Security - Romney’s counterterrorism advisor is J. Cofer Black, a former CIA operative and Bush-era security official. Black presented a plan to invade Afghanistan two days after the 9/11 attacks, and claimed that al-Qaeda could be defeated and the world made secure from terrorism in a matter of weeks (see September 13, 2001). Black was fired from the CIA in 2002 for publicly criticizing the Bush administration’s failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden (see May 17, 2002). In 2005, Black became a senior official for the private mercenary firm Blackwater (see February 2005). He has been a Romney advisor since 2007 (see April 2007). Black advised Romney not to consider waterboarding as torture, and has touted his CIA experience with that agency’s illegal “extraordinary rendition” program, which sent prisoners to foreign countries for abuse and torture. Romney relies on Black for security assessments of security assessments of Afghanistan, Pakistan, Egypt and Iran, including Iran’s nuclear program. Preble says, “Romney’s likely to be in the mold of George W. Bush when it comes to foreign policy if he were elected.” Berman writes that “[o]n some key issues, like Iran, Romney and his team are to the right of Bush.” Berman goes on to write that if Romney adheres to his statements on the campaign trail, “a Romney presidency would move toward war against Iran; closely align Washington with the Israeli right; leave troops in Afghanistan at least until 2014 and refuse to negotiate with the Taliban; reset the Obama administration’s ‘reset’ with Russia; and pursue a Reagan-like military buildup at home.”
Moderates Sidelined - The moderates on Romney’s team have been shunted aside in favor of the hardliners. Mitchell Reiss, Romney’s principal foreign policy advisor in 2008 and a former State Department official under Powell, no longer enjoys favored access to the candidate. In December 2011 Romney publicly contradicted Reiss’s advocacy of US negotiations with the Taliban, instead advocating the total military defeat of the Taliban and criticizing the Obama administration’s plan to “draw down” US troops from Afghanistan. Vice President Joseph Biden has said that Romney and his neoconservative advisors “see the world through a cold war prism that is totally out of touch with the realities of the twenty-first century.” Romney began tacking to the right during the early days of the Republican primaries, aligning himself with candidates such as Gingrich, Herman Cain (R-GA), and Michele Bachmann (R-MN), and away from moderate candidate Jon Huntsman (R-UT) and isolationist candidate Ron Paul (R-TX). Heather Hurlburt of the centrist National Security Network says: “The foreign policy experts who represent old-school, small-c conservatism and internationalism have been pushed out of the party. Who in the Republican Party still listens to Brent Scowcroft?” (see October 2004). Wilkerson says moderate conservatives such as Powell and Scowcroft are “very worried about their ability to restore moderation and sobriety to the party’s foreign and domestic policies.” Berman writes, “In 2012 Obama is running as Bush 41 and Romney as Bush 43.” (Berman 5/21/2012)
Except where otherwise noted, the textual content of each timeline is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike