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Profile: Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) was a participant or observer in the following events:
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White House press secretary Scott McClellan prepares for his upcoming questioning by FBI agents by talking to White House chief counsel Alberto Gonzales and the vice president’s chief legal adviser, David Addington. “This is not like being the White House spokesman,” Addington reminds McClellan, and advises him to “answer questions completely and openly, as opposed to only the limited information you might share as a spokesman.” McClellan will call Addington’s advice “no surprise,” but still “helpful.” He readily agrees to both Gonzales’s and Addington’s suggestions to have “someone from their office to sit in on any conversations I might have with the FBI,” even though he realizes “this would also be a convenient way for them to keep tabs on the investigation and any possible fallout for the president.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 221-222]
The FBI says it is doubling the number of investigators it has assigned to the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Originally the investigation had about six investigators operating under the guidance of veteran FBI prosecutor and counterespionage chief John Dion (see September 26, 2003), but the bureau now says it will assign about 12 agents and other personnel to it. Because of the volume of records that may have to be reviewed, “it just made sense to increase our numbers,” says a senior FBI official. “Six people can’t do this alone.” [New York Times Magazine, 10/10/2003]
The Washington Post publishes the second of its “1x2x6” articles (see September 28, 2003), based on the idea that one anonymous whistleblower says two White House officials have leaked the identity of CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson to six journalists. (The “1x2x6” moniker will be coined in 2006 by, among others, author and blogger Marcy Wheeler.) The article focuses on the FBI’s scrutiny of the events of June 2003, “when the CIA, the White House, and Vice President Cheney’s office first were asked about former ambassador Joseph C. Wilson IV’s CIA-sponsored trip to Niger” (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002). The FBI “investigators are examining not just who passed the information to [conservative columnist Robert] Novak (see July 14, 2003) and other reporters but also how Plame [Wilson]‘s name may have first become linked with Wilson and his mission, who did it, and how the information made its way around the government.” Administration sources tell the Post that the officials who discussed Plame Wilson with reporters (see June 23, 2003, July 7, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, July 8, 2003, 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003, 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003, and July 12, 2003) were not trying to expose her as a CIA official so much as they were trying to imply that she sent her husband on a “junket” to Niger and thusly discredit Wilson. “The officials wanted to convince the reporters that he had benefited from nepotism in being chosen for the mission,” the Post reports. The administration tried well before the Novak column to convince journalists that Wilson’s findings in Niger (see July 6, 2003) were not important (see June 2003, June 3, 2003, June 11, 2003, June 12, 2003, June 19 or 20, 2003, July 6, 2003, July 6-10, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, 8:45 a.m. July 7, 2003, 9:22 a.m. July 7, 2003, July 7-8, 2003, July 11, 2003, (July 11, 2003), July 12, 2003, July 12, 2003, July 18, 2003, October 1, 2003, and April 5, 2006). The anonymous “1x2x6” source stands by the claims he or she made for the previous Post article. [Washington Post, 10/12/2003; Marcy Wheeler, 8/29/2006] Three years later, Novak will identify White House press aide Adam Levine as the “1x2x6” source (see October 16, 2006).
White House press secretary Scott McClellan is interviewed by several FBI agents as part of the FBI’s investigation into the Plame Wilson leak. The FBI team is led by John Eckenrode, the senior agent who has spearheaded the bureau’s investigation. McClellan is accompanied by a White House lawyer (see October 10, 2003). He has already turned over a sheaf of documents from his work files, including an e-mail from a friend of his personal assistant, Carmen Ingwell. The friend claimed that she had attended a class or lecture at a California university several years before, at which, she said, Plame Wilson’s husband, former ambassador Joseph Wilson, told his listeners that his wife was a CIA agent. McClellan will write, “I had no idea whether the story was true or not.” The FBI questions revolve mostly around “how the White House, including the White House’s communication team, operated and interacted with the media.” After the interview, McClellan remarks to the White House lawyer, Ted Ullyot, “I was surprised they didn’t ask any substantive questions about what I might know, such as my conversations with [Karl] Rove and [Lewis] Libby.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 222] McClellan will subsequently be interviewed a second time by the FBI (see Late October or Early November, 2003).
A number of senior criminal prosecutors at the Justice Department, as well as top FBI officials, are privately critical of Attorney General John Ashcroft’s failure to recuse himself from the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Many say that the only way to ensure a fair and impartial investigation is to appoint a special prosecutor to handle the investigation. The New York Times calls the criticisms from the officials, who unanimously ask to remain anonymous, “the first sign of dissension in the department and the FBI as the inquiry nears a critical phase.” Ashcroft will soon have to decide whether to appoint a grand jury to look into the possibility of criminal conduct in the leak; such a grand jury could compel the testimony of White House officials. Ashcroft has long political and social ties to many White House officials, and as such, the Justice Department and FBI officials say, he cannot conduct an impartial investigation. Some of the Justice Department officials are supporters of Ashcroft, and worry that his reputation could be damaged by his failure to recuse himself. Democrats say the investigation has been tainted from the outset by Ashcroft’s relationship with White House officials. So far, a Justice Department official says, none of the prosecutors involved in the investigation have asked Ashcroft to recuse himself. [New York Times, 10/15/2003]
State Department official Marc Grossman, who authored a classified memo that included Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see May 29, 2003, June 10, 2003, and 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), gives a statement to the FBI as part of the Plame Wilson investigation. Grossman testifies that he had “two or three” telephone conversations with White House official Lewis Libby, but did not meet personally with him. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007] It is believed that, during this interview, Grossman tells the FBI that he told Libby about Plame Wilson’s FBI status, a claim that Libby will deny, but that Grossman and several other witnesses will continue to assert. [Truthout (.org), 4/14/2006]
Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald testifies before the Senate Committee on the Judiciary about post-9/11 legislative changes, and says that the removal of the “wall” was a significant step forward for US counterintelligence. The wall was a set of procedures which regulated the passage of intelligence information within the FBI and from the FBI to prosecutors (see July 19, 1995). Fitzgerald says the removal of the wall represented “the single greatest change that could be made to protect our country.” He cites four cases that he says are examples of how the wall and other such obstacles have hampered counterterrorism efforts:
The arrest of Ali Mohamed. Fitzgerald claims it would have been “far less difficult” to arrest al-Qaeda operative Ali Mohamed for his involvement in the attacks on US embassies in East Africa (see September 10, 1998) had it not been for the wall. [US Congress, 10/21/2003] However, author Peter Lance will point out, “But Fitzgerald neglected to tell the senators that… prosecutors and FBI agents had been monitoring the bombing cell members for two years or that they’d had multiple face-to-face meetings with Mohamed himself.” Mohamed, who was called a “key figure” in the Day of Terror plot in the US press in early 1995 (see February 3, 1995), had actually met Fitzgerald a year before the arrest and told him that he had trained bin Laden’s bodyguards, lived in bin Laden’s house, loved and believed in bin Laden, and that he didn’t need a fatwa to attack the US, as it was obvious the US was the enemy (see After October 1997). [Lance, 2006, pp. 274-6, 299-300]
The Day of Terror conspiracy. After the partial success of the World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993), the conspirators planned to attack other targets in New York, but were arrested by the FBI, which had penetrated their cell. All of the arrested plotters were successfully convicted. However, Fitzgerald tells the committee, “Prosecutors were in the dark about the details of the plot until very late in the day.” [US Congress, 10/21/2003; Lance, 2006, pp. 118-9]
The Millennium Alert. Fitzgerald says that in 1999, investigations into suspected millennium plots were hampered because “criminal prosecutors received information only in part and with lag time so as not to breach the wall.” All attacks planned for the millennium failed, including one plot to bomb the Los Angeles airport (see December 31, 1999-January 1, 2000).
Sharing Wadih El-Hage’s grand jury interview. In 1997, Al-Qaeda operative El-Hage provided information about bin Laden and his associates to a grand jury. Fitzgerald wanted to pass some of this information along to intelligence investigators (see September 24, 1997) but was unable to because grand jury information cannot be shared with intelligence investigators. To get around this restriction, an FBI agent had to get El-Hage to repeat the information outside the grand jury room. (Note: this example is not directly related to the “wall” under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, but rather to a similar obstacle governing the passage of information in the opposite direction—from criminal agents to intelligence agents). [US Congress, 10/21/2003]
Former ambassador Joseph Wilson sits down with Jeff Gannon of Talon News to discuss the outing of his wife, Valerie Plame Wilson, as a CIA agent (see July 14, 2003), his trip to Niger that helped debunk the claim that Iraq tried to buy uranium from that country (see February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002 and July 6, 2003), and his concerns over the Iraq war. Wilson is unaware that Gannon is in reality James Guckert, a gay prostitute who moonlights as a fake journalist for the right-wing Talon News (see January 26, 2005 and January 28, 2005). Little of what Gannon/Guckert elicits is new information.
Access to Classified Information? - However, early in the interview, Gannon/Guckert refers to a classified memo when he says, “An internal government memo prepared by US intelligence personnel details a meeting in early 2002 where your wife, a member of the agency for clandestine service working on Iraqi weapons issues, suggested that you could be sent to investigate the reports.” The FBI will investigate Gannon/Guckert’s knowledge of the memo, but he will deny ever having seen it. It is not clear from whom he learned of the memo [Talon News, 10/28/2003; Wilson, 2007, pp. 216] , though he will insist that he received the information from “confidential sources.” [Antiwar (.com), 2/18/2005]
America Did Not Debate Redrawing the Middle East as a Rationale for War - Wilson notes that he considered “the invasion, conquest, and occupation of Iraq for the purpose of disarming Saddam [Hussein] struck me as the highest risk, lowest reward option.… [W]e ought to understand that sending our men and women to kill and to die for our country is the most solemn decision a government has to make and we damn well ought to have that debate before we get them into harm’s way instead of after.” He explains why the idea that his wife selected him for the Niger mission is incorrect. When Gannon/Guckert attempts to pin him down by citing the initial meeting in which Plame Wilson suggested Wilson for the mission (see February 13, 2002), Wilson notes, “[T]hat fact that my wife knows that I know a lot about the uranium business and that I know a lot about Niger and that she happens to be involved in weapons of mass destruction, it should come as no surprise to anyone that we know of each others activities.” Wilson says that the aims of the administration’s neoconservatives—to redraw “the political map of the Middle East,” is something that has not been debated by the nation. The US did not debate the war with Iraq “on the grounds of redrawing the map of the Middle East,” he notes.
Wilson Did Not Violate CIA Secrecy in Revealing Niger Mission - Gannon/Guckert asks if Wilson violated CIA secrecy in going public with the results of his Niger mission, as some on the right have asserted. Wilson reminds Gannon that his was not a clandestine trip, “not a CIA mission,” but an aboveboard fact-finding journey. Those circumstances were well understood by the CIA before he left for Niger.
Implications of French Complicity in Niger Allegations Debunked - Gannon/Guckert tries to insinuate that the French may have had something to do with keeping the alleged uranium sales secret, and Wilson quickly shoots that line of inquiry down, saying, “The fact that you don’t like the French or that the French seem to have favored a different approach on this is far different from the French violating UN Security Council resolutions of which they are signatories, and clandestinely transferring 500 tons of uranium to a rogue country like Iraq is a real reach.” He then describes just how impossible it would have been for the French to have facilitated such a secret uranium transfer even had it wished.
Refuses to Accuse Rove Directly - Wilson refuses to flatly name White House political strategist Karl Rove as the person behind the leaks of his wife’s clandestine identity, though he notes that Rove indeed labeled his wife “fair game” to the press (see July 21, 2003) and that Rove was in a perfect position to have orchestrated the leak. When Gannon/Guckert tells Wilson that conservative columnist Robert Novak, who first published Plame Wilson’s name and occupation, denies that the White House gave him the information on her identity, Wilson retorts, “Novak has changed his story so much that it’s hard for me to understand what he is talking about” (see September 29, 2003).
When a Leak Is Not a Leak - Gannon/Guckert brings up the allegation from New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof that Plame Wilson was revealed as an undercover agent by Russian spy Aldrich Ames in 1994. Because Ames may have revealed Plame Wilson’s identity to the Russians, Gannon/Guckert asks, isn’t it possible that she was no longer an undercover agent? Wilson refuses to validate the Ames speculation, and finally says that the CIA would not be treating this so seriously if it were as frivolous an issue as Gannon/Guckert suggests. “[R]emember this is not a crime that has been committed against my wife or against me,” he says. “If there was a crime, it was committed against our country. The CIA has referred the matter to the Justice Department for further investigation, I don’t believe that’s a frivolous referral.” [Talon News, 10/28/2003]
White House press secretary Scott McClellan is interviewed a second time by FBI agents investigating the Plame Wilson leak (see Mid-October 2003). As McClellan will later recall, this second meeting is “more targeted to what I might know.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 222]
Two alleged Yemeni terror financiers, cleric Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad and his assistant Mohammed Mohsen Yahya Zayed, are extradited from Germany to the US to face trial. The FBI claims that the two men supported both Hamas and al-Qaeda, with al-Moayad having provided Osama bin Laden with up to $20 million. They were arrested in Germany in January in a sting operation run by the bureau (see January 2003). The extradition follows a ruling by Germany’s highest court that the men will face a fair trial in the US, not a military court or other special tribunal. [BBC, 11/16/2003]
Tim Russert, NBC’s bureau chief and host of Meet the Press, is interviewed by FBI agent John Eckenrode as part of the Plame Wilson leak investigation. One of the targets of the investigation, White House official Lewis Libby, has indicated that he learned about Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from Russert (see July 10 or 11, 2003). According to the report later compiled by Eckenrode, Russert recalls “one, and possibly two telephone conversations” between himself and Libby between July 6 and July 12, 2003. Eckenrode will write: “Russert does not recall stating to Libby, in this conversation, anything about the wife of former ambassador Joe Wilson. Although he could not completely rule out the possibility that he had such an exchange, Russert was at a loss to remember it, and moreover, he believes that this would be the type of conversation that he would or should remember. Russert acknowledged that he speaks to many people on a daily basis and it is difficult to reconstruct some specific conversations, particularly one which occurred several months ago.” [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 2/14/2006 ]
Lewis “Scooter” Libby, the chief of staff for Vice President Dick Cheney, is interviewed for a second time (see October 14, 2003) by the FBI concerning the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame Wilson (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003). [MSNBC, 2/21/2007] During one or both interviews, Libby insists that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from journalists (see July 10 or 11, 2003), a lie that will play a large part in his upcoming indictment (see October 28, 2005). Investigators are compiling evidence that he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Cheney and other senior government officials (see (June 12, 2003)). Some investigators will come to believe that Libby is lying, and continues to lie, to protect Cheney’s involvement in attempting to discredit Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic Joseph Wilson (see October 1, 2003). [National Journal, 2/2/2006]
The Bush administration reverses a long-standing policy requiring FBI agents to destroy their files on innocent US citizens, residents, and companies after investigations are closed. This information is now being put in government data banks to be shared with other agencies. [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]
In an interview with author James Bamford, an unnamed FBI agent says that Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, deliberately hid 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar from the FBI, allowing 9/11 to happen. He says: “They refused to tell us because they didn’t want the FBI, they didn’t want John O’Neill in particular, muddying up their operation. They didn’t want the bureau meddling in their business—that’s why they didn’t tell the FBI. Alec Station worked for the CIA’s CTC [Counterterrorist Center]. They purposely hid from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau that they were following a man in Malaysia who had a visa to come to America. The thing was, they didn’t want John O’Neill and the FBI running over their case. And that’s why September 11 happened. That is why it happened.… They have blood on their hands. They have three thousand deaths on their hands.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224]
Senior CIA official Robert Grenier, who, as the agency’s mission manager, inquired about the Joseph Wilson mission to Niger on behalf of the vice president’s office (see 4:30 p.m. June 10, 2003), and told Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby, that Valerie Plame Wilson was a CIA official (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003), is interviewed by the FBI as part of the Plame Wilson investigation. Grenier tells FBI investigators of his June 11, 2003 conversation with Libby, regarding Wilson’s Niger trip and the CIA status of Wilson’s wife, Valerie Plame Wilson (see 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003). Grenier says that he is not sure whether Plame Wilson’s name came up during the conversation, a story he will tell again to the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak in January 2004, but will change when he testifies for the prosecution in the Libby perjury trial (see January 24, 2007). [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; Mother Jones, 1/25/2007; New York Times, 3/2007]
For the first time, 9/11 Commissioner Thomas Kean says that the 9/11 attacks could and should have been prevented. Kean, a Bush appointee and former Republican governor of New Jersey, states that “This was not something that had to happen… There are people that, if I was doing the job, would certainly not be in the position they were in at that time because they failed. They simply failed.” In 2002, FBI Director Robert Mueller stated, “[T]here was nothing the agency could have done to anticipate and prevent the [9/11] attacks” (see May 8, 2002) and other Bush administration officials have also said the attacks were all but unstoppable. Kean promises major revelations from the FBI, CIA, Defense Department, NSA, and possibly former President Clinton and President Bush. [CBS News, 12/17/2003] But within days, Kean amends his comments. He says that he wants to make it “clear” that he meant that officials at the operational level two years ago deserved to be singled out for blame and that no judgments had been reached about senior officials. This coincides with continued attempts from the White House to paint the intelligence prior to the attacks as non-specific “chatter,” and the attacks themselves as “literally bolts from the blue.” [Boston Globe, 12/21/2003]
The US government issues a terror alert, based on intelligence that hints at a potential attack somewhere in Las Vegas for New Year’s Eve. The FBI quickly assembles data on most of the 1 million “potential suspects,” which includes all tourists staying in Vegas for the holidays, and examines records on every hotel guest, car and truck rentals, guest lists for casinos, storage leases, and airplane travel. Those records are combed for any possible connections to terrorist organizations. When the city’s hospitality industry begins balking at the sweeping nature of the FBI’s information requests, National Security Letters (NSLs) are used to force industry officials to produce the data. Everything swept up by the Vegas data search remains in FBI databases. The terror alert will end on January 10, 2004, with no information about any terrorist actions or possible suspects located. [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]
The Bush administration reverses a long-standing policy requiring FBI agents to destroy their files on innocent US citizens, residents, and companies after investigations are closed. Such information has since commonly been put in government data banks and shared with other agencies. [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]
Saddam Hussein in US custody. [Source: US Department of Defense]The FBI sends veteran interrogator George Piro to question captured Iraqi despot Saddam Hussein. Over a period of months, Piro uses a combination of friendliness, warmth, and verbal provocations to tease a wealth of information from Hussein. At no time does Piro or other FBI interrogators use “aggressive” or “harsh” interrogation methods against Hussein. Piro works closely with a team of FBI and CIA analysts to pore over Hussein’s responses. He will later recall his sessions with Hussein for CBS News interviewer Scott Pelley.
'Mr. Saddam' - Piro begins calling the dictator “Mr. Saddam,” as a sign of respect; by the end of their time, they are on a first-name basis with one another. Hussein never finds out that Piro is “just” an FBI agent; he believes that Piro is far more influential than he actually is, and is directly briefing President Bush on their conversations. “He didn’t know I worked for the FBI, he didn’t know I was a field agent,” Piro will recall. Had he found out, “I think initially he would have been angry. He would feel that I was way beneath him, and would not respond well to the interrogation. Or even to me.… I think he thought, and actually on a couple of occasions talked around the issue that I was directly answering to the president.” Piro will recall setting several strategies of deception into motion, including his barking orders at the guards to send them into a panic to obey his instructions. “[I]t was all part of our strategy,” Piro will explain.
Controlling the Dictator - Piro will say that he gained physical control of the setting—a small, windowless room with chairs and a table—merely by placing himself between Hussein and the door. “I purposely put his back against the wall,” Piro will recall. “And then mine against the door, psychologically to tell him that his back was against the wall in the interview room. And that I stood between him and the door, psychologically. Between him whether it’s to go back to his cell, freedom, whatever he was projecting to be outside of that door. I was kind of that psychological barrier between him and the door.” Piro will add, “I basically said that I was gonna be responsible for every aspect of his life, and that if he needed anything I was gonna be the person that he needed to talk to.” Piro controls Hussein’s food and cleaning materials—Piro will describe Hussein as a “clean freak” who uses large numbers of baby wipes to disinfect his cell and his food. Piro allows Hussein pen and paper to write what Piro will describe as inordinate amounts of “terrible” poetry. “We had the guards remove their watches,” Piro will recall. “And the only person that was wearing a watch was me. And it was very evident to him, ‘cause I was wearing the largest wristwatch you could imagine. And it was just the act of him asking for the time—was critical in our plan.” Pelley says, “So you controlled time itself,” and Piro answers, “Yes.”
No Coercive Interrogation Methods - Piro will say that no coercive interrogations, such as sleep deprivation, excessive heat or cold, bombardment with loud music, or waterboarding are ever used. “It’s against FBI policy, first,” Piro will explain. “And wouldn’t have really benefited us with someone like Saddam.… I think Saddam clearly had demonstrated over his legacy that he would not respond to threats, to any type of fear-based approach.” The best methods for use with Hussein are, according to Piro, time and patience.
Using Emotions to Create Vulnerability - Piro uses their time to build a relationship with Hussein based on dependency, trust, and emotion. He alternates between treating Hussein with courtesy and kindness, and provoking him with pictures and video images designed to anger and embarrass the former dictator. He uses pictures of the toppling of Hussein’s statues and news videos documenting his overthrow. “I wanted him to get angry. I wanted him to see those videos and to get angry,” Piro will say. “You want to take him through those various emotions. Happy, angry, sad. When you have someone going through those emotions they’re not able to really control themselves. And they’re more vulnerable during the interview.”
Insult Drove Kuwait Invasion - Piro learns that one of the driving forces behind Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 (see August 2, 1990) was personal insult. “What really triggered it for him, according to Saddam, was he had sent his foreign minister to Kuwait to meet with the Emir Al Sabah, the former leader of Kuwait, to try to resolve some of the… issues” between Kuwait and Iraq, Piro will recall. “And the Emir told the foreign minister of Iraq that he would not stop doing what he was doing until he turned every Iraqi woman into a $10 prostitute. And that really sealed it for him, to invade Kuwait. He wanted to punish, he told me, Emir Al Sabah, for saying that.” The 1991 US invasion of Iraq (see January 16, 1991 and After) soured Hussein on then-President George H. W. Bush, a feeling that Hussein transferred to the son. “He didn’t like President [George W.] Bush,” Piro will say. “He would have liked meeting President Reagan. He thought he was a great leader. Honorable man. He liked President Clinton. But he did not like President Bush, the first or the current.”
Small Things, Big Impact - Piro will recall the outsized impact relatively small incidents have on Hussein. One night the FBI flies Hussein to a hospital. He is manacled and blindfolded. Piro will remember: “And once I saw how beautiful Baghdad was in the middle of the night, so I took advantage of it. I allowed him to look out and the lights were on. There was traffic. And it looked like any other major metropolitan city around the world. And for him to see that. And as I mentioned, you know, big Baghdad is moving forward without you. I mean, little things like that didn’t require a lot of suggestion on our part. It made its point.” Piro even uses Hussein’s birthday, a former national holiday, to drive home his point. “In 2004, no one celebrated his birthday on April 28th. So the only one that really knew and cared was us. I’d brought him some cookies, and we, the FBI, celebrated his birthday for him.” Piro gives Hussein packets of flower seeds and allows him to plant his own small garden, which he must tend with his hands because the FBI will not allow him to use tools. Piro will recall that their strolls in Hussein’s tiny garden are often the site of large revelations.
Avoiding Capture - Hussein tells Piro that US forces simply missed him during the first days of the invasion, the “shock and awe” assault. “He said that he was at one of the locations. He said it in a kind of a bragging fashion, that he was there, but that we missed him,” Piro later says. “He told me he changed the way he traveled. He got rid of his normal vehicles. He got rid of the protective detail he traveled with. Really just to change his signature so he would be much harder to identify.” And Hussein denies ever using body doubles or decoys, as US intelligence had long asserted.
WMD - Five months into the sessions, Hussein finally opens up to Piro regarding the subject of Iraq’s WMD programs. Using indirection, Piro begins to tease information out of Hussein. “He told me that most of the WMD had been destroyed by the UN inspectors in the ‘90s. And those that hadn’t been destroyed by the inspectors were unilaterally destroyed by Iraq,” Piro will recall. So why, Pelley will ask, did Hussein “put your nation at risk, why put your own life at risk to maintain this charade?” Piro will respond: “It was very important for him to project that because that was what kept him, in his mind, in power. That capability kept the Iranians away. It kept them from reinvading Iraq.” It is apparent, Piro says, that Hussein did not believe he could survive without the perception that he had WMD. But Piro confirms that Hussein always intended to restart his WMD program someday. “The folks that he needed to reconstitute his program are still there,” Piro will observe. “He wanted to pursue all of WMD. So he wanted to reconstitute his entire WMD program.”
Did Not Believe US Would Invade - From there, Hussein begins to explain why he let the US continue to believe he had such weapons even as troops began massing on his borders. He didn’t believe the US would actually invade, he says. As Piro will recall: “[H]e told me he initially miscalculated President Bush. And President Bush’s intentions. He thought the United States would retaliate with the same type of attack as we did in 1998 under Operation Desert Fox (see December 16-19, 1998). Which was a four-day aerial attack. So you expected that initially.” Hussein says that Iraq would have survived a relatively limited aerial bombardment. “He survived that once,” Piro will recall. “And then he was willing to accept that type of attack. That type of damage.” But he never believed the US would invade until almost the moment of the initial assault.
'The Secret War' - Hussein knew his military could not win in any confrontation with the US. Instead, as Piro will recall: “What he had asked of his military leaders and senior government officials was to give him two weeks. And at that point it would go into what he called the secret war.… Going from a conventional to an unconventional war.” Pelley will remark, “So the insurgency was part of his plan from the very beginning,” to which Piro will say, “Well, he would like to take credit for the insurgency.”
Iraq and al-Qaeda - Hussein confirms that his regime had no dealings with al-Qaeda, as many Bush officials have long believed. Hussein considered Osama bin Laden “a fanatic,” according to Piro. “You can’t really trust fanatics,” Hussein tells the interrogator. And he had no interest in any alliance with al-Qaeda. “He didn’t wanna be seen with bin Laden,” Piro will recall. “And didn’t want to associate with bin Laden.” Hussein viewed bin Laden as a threat to him and his regime.
Independent Confirmation and Praise for Piro's Efforts - Hussein’s claims are later verified by independent interrogations with other high-ranking Hussein regime officials. Piro’s boss, FBI Assistant Director Joe Persichini, will say that Piro’s interrogation is a high mark of the bureau’s recent efforts. “The FBI will be celebrating its 100th anniversary this year and I would have to say that the interview with Saddam Hussein is one of the top accomplishments of our agency in the last 100 years,” Persichini will say, and gives credit to Piro’s language skills. Only about 50 of the 10,000 FBI agents speak Arabic, he will note. Piro will credit his FBI and CIA colleagues for their work in analyzing Hussein’s statements, and their extensive knowledge of Hussein and his regime. “The more you know about your subject, the better of an interview… that you’re gonna conduct,” he will say. “You’ll be able to recognize inconsistencies, deception, things like that. Plus it really establishes your credibility within the interview.”
No Regrets - One thing Hussein never shows during his long interviews, Piro later recalls, is remorse. “No remorse,” Piro will say. “No regret.” [CBS News, 1/27/2008]
Entity Tags: George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan, George Piro, George W. Bush, Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Joe Persichini, CBS News, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, Scott Pelley, Al-Qaeda, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Iraq under US Occupation
Though the issue of abuse of National Security Letters (NSLs) has become an issue of concern for many civil libertarians and constitutional scholars (see October 25, 2005 and January 2004), Congress fails to conduct any meaningful oversight on their use and abuse. Pat Roberts (R-KS), the chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, says that the use of NSLs by the FBI is perfectly legal, “non-intrusive,” and “crucial to tracking terrorist networks and detecting clandestine intelligence activities.” The FBI provides enough information to Congress in “semi-annual reports [that] provide the committee with the information necessary to conduct effective oversight,” he says. Roberts is referring to the Justice Department’s classified statistics, which have only been provided three times in four years, and give no specific information about the NSLs. The Justice Department has repeatedly refused requests by committee members for a sampling of actual NSLs, a description of their results, or an example of their contribution to a particular case. In 2004, the Senate asks the Attorney General to “include in his next semiannual report” a description of “the scope of such letters” and the “process and standards for approving” them. The Justice Department fails to do so, or even to reply to the request. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), a House Judiciary Committee member, says that congressional Democrats have little recourse: “The minority has no power to compel, and… Republicans are not going to push for oversight of the Republicans. That’s the story of this Congress.” The Justice Department notes that its inspector general, Glenn Fine, has not reported any abuses of the NSLs, but those reports beg the question: how can citizens protest searches of their personal records if they are never notified about such searches? Fine says, “To the extent that people do not know of anything happening to them, there is an issue about whether they can complain. So, I think that’s a legitimate question.” [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]
Between 2003 and 2005, scientists working with the FBI’s anthrax investigation have been developing a system to compare the anthrax used in the 2001 attacks with other anthrax samples they have completed (see Early 2003-2005). By early 2004, the system apparently still is not complete, but scientists have discovered enough to focus their attentions on USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory (see Early 2004). They also note a discrepancy. In 2002, USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins had submitted a sample of a variety of the Ames anthrax strain known as RMR-1029 (see April 2002). The FBI had also collected some other samples of RMR-1029 from other scientists. All the samples of RMR-1029 had genetic markers that match the anthrax used in the attacks except for Ivins’s sample. As a result, in July 2004, the FBI will raid Ivins’s lab and seize more of his RMR-1029. These samples will also have the genetic markers matching the anthrax used in the attacks, raising more questions as to why the sample Ivins submitted does not (see July 16, 2004). [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/1/2008]
USAMRIID. [Source: Skip Lawrence / Frederick News-Post]Scientists working with the FBI have been trying to identify unique genetic markers in the anthrax used in the 2001 anthrax attacks so that other anthrax samples can be compared to it (see Early 2003-2005). By early 2004, their work is not done, but they have been able to identify two unique genetic markers (eventually they will identify four). The investigators begin comparing anthrax samples based on these two markers. Preliminary results strongly suggest the anthrax came from USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory. [US Department of Justice, 8/18/2008] As a result, USAMRIID laboratories are raided to get more samples (see July 16, 2004). Some early results point suspicion at USAMRIID scientist Bruce Ivins (see Early 2004).
Nabil al-Marabh. [Source: Associated Press]After Nabil al-Marabh’s eight-month prison sentence was completed in 2003, he remained in a Chicago prison awaiting deportation. However, deportation proceedings were put on hold because federal prosecutors lodged a material witness warrant against him. When the warrant is dropped, al-Marabh is cleared to be deported to Syria. [Associated Press, 1/29/2003; Associated Press, 6/3/2004] In late 2002, the US government argued that there was no evidence al-Marabh had ever been involved in any terrorist activity or connected to any terrorist organization (see September 3, 2002). However, in al-Marabh’s deportation hearing, the judge rules that he “does present a danger to national security,” is “credibly linked to elements of terrorism,” and has a “propensity to lie.” A footnote in his 2003 deportation ruling states, “The FBI has been unable to rule out the possibility that al-Marabh has engaged in terrorist activity or will do so if he is not removed from the United States.” He is deported nonetheless, and prosecutors from two US cities are not allowed to indict him. Both Democratic and Republican Senators will later express bafflement and complain about this deportation (see June 30, 2004). [Associated Press, 6/3/2004]
The FBI begins compiling a database of information about US citizens (see October 25, 2005). The database, ordered by Attorney General John Ashcroft, uses as one of its primary sources information gleaned through so-called “National Security Letters,” or NSLs, which are documents ordering US citizens to reveal private information about their clients, relatives, or employees. Ashcroft overrides a 1995 guideline that mandates the destruction of such information obtained through NSLs if it proves “not relevant to the purposes for which it was collected.” Ashcroft orders the FBI to compile the information in its database, and even tells the agency that it can freely share that information with other government agencies if it desires. Ashcroft also orders the FBI to develop “data mining” technology to probe for “hidden links” among the citizens in its growing cache of electronic data. The FBI complies, using the same technology used by the CIA, which itself is barred from keeping such files on US citizens. Ashcroft extends the mandate even further, allowing the FBI to compile consumer data from private data-collection firms such as ChoicePoint and LexisNexis, though Ashcroft’s predecessors had ruled that compiling such data would violate citizens’ constitutional rights to privacy. Soon, FBI field offices will have access to ChoicePoiint databases in their squad rooms. Adding this commercially provided data to the NSL-based data gleaned by the FBI, and the FBI will soon have a wealth of data on hundreds of thousands of US citizens never accused of a crime. Former Republican congressman Bob Barr, and many others, strenuously object to the practice, but their concerns are largely ignored. [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]
After Deputy Attorney General James Comey announces the naming of special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald to head the Plame Wilson CIA identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003), White House press secretary Scott McClellan is contacted by Ron Roos, the FBI’s deputy counterespionage director, to arrange a time where McClellan can testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury. This time, Roos says, he would like McClellan to come alone, without a White House lawyer (see October 10, 2003). McClellan’s sister-in-law, a former assistant district attorney, advises him to retain a lawyer, as many of his co-workers have done, but McClellan decides not to do so. Perhaps, he will later write, he was lulled by the almost-perfunctory interview sessions he has already participated in (see Mid-October 2003 and Late October or Early November, 2003). McClellan meets with Roos and other prosecutors for a pre-jury interview. This time, McClellan will recall, the interview is far more adversarial than the first two. Roos asks McClellan why he publicly exonerated Karl Rove (see September 29, 2003) and Lewis Libby (see October 4, 2003), and then asks why McClellan failed to mention in previous interviews that Rove had spoken with columnist Robert Novak. McClellan, later writing that he was “taken aback” by the question, reminds Roos that he had indeed informed them of Rove’s contact with Novak in an earlier interview. Afterwards, McClellan will write, he worries about the FBI’s “initial hard-edged approach.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 224-225]
CIA official Craig Schmall, who serves as Vice President Dick Cheney’s agency briefer and has served as the briefer for Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003 and July 14, 2003), is interviewed by the FBI in the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation. Schmall says nothing about either Valerie Plame Wilson or her husband, Joseph Wilson, though he discussed both of them with Libby and Cheney. It is not known if the FBI is aware of the earlier conversations between Schmall, Libby, and Cheney. [Central Intelligence Agency, 1/9/2004 ; Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007; Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007]
The FBI’s on-scene commander in Baghdad sends an e-mail to senior FBI officials at FBI headquarters in Washington, discussing the allegations of abuse at Abu Ghraib prison. The e-mail advises the senior officials not to investigate the allegations. “We need to maintain good will and relations with those operating the prison,” it reads. “Our involvement in the investigation of the alleged abuse might harm our liaison.” [American Civil Liberties Union, 2/23/2006]
On February 11, 2004, the FBI interviews at least one scientist from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in connection with the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The name of the person interviewed is not known, but he is asked whether he wrote an anonymous letter to the FBI that possibly set up scientist Ayaad Assaad as a patsy for the attacks just before they occurred (see October 3, 2001). Assaad worked at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory, until 1997, and has worked at the EPA since then. The unnamed scientist says that he had nothing to do with the letter. It appears this person is possibly subjected to a polygraph test after this, but if so the results are not known. [Hartford Courant, 2/17/2004] On March 17, 14 additional EPA employees are interviewed about the letter. The interviews are said to focus on trying to find out who wrote it. [Washington Times, 3/30/2004]
Two FBI agents, Doug Miller and Mark Rossini, falsely claim they have no memory of the blocking of a key cable about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in an interview with the Justice Department’s office of inspector general. Miller drafted the cable, which was to inform the FBI that Almihdhar had a US visa, while he and Rossini were on loan to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. However, it was blocked by the unit’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire, and another CIA officer known only as “Michael” (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). Miller and Rossini remember the events, but falsely tell the Justice Department inspector general they cannot recall them.
Pressure Not to Disclose Information - Sources close to the inspector general’s probe will say, “There was pressure on people not to disclose what really happened.” Rossini, in particular, is said to feel threatened that the CIA would have him prosecuted for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act if he said what really happened inside Alec Station. They are questioned at the same time, and together with a CIA officer who will be described as “sympathetic,” although it is unclear why. CIA officials are also in the room during the questioning, although it is unclear why this is allowed. When they are shown contemporary documents, according to the Congressional Quarterly, “the FBI agents suddenly couldn’t remember details about who said what, or who reported what, to whom, about the presence of two al-Qaeda agents in the US prior to the 9/11 attacks.” The inspector general investigators are suspicious. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008]
'They Asserted that They Recalled Nothing' - Nevertheless, neither Rossini nor Miller are severely criticized by the inspector general’s final report. It simply notes: “When we interviewed all of the individuals involved about the [cable] they asserted that they recalled nothing about it. [Miller] told the [inspector general] that he did not recall being aware of the information about Almihdhar, did not recall drafting the [cable], did not recall whether he drafted the [cable] on his own initiative or at the direction of his supervisor, and did not recall any discussions about the reasons for delaying completion and dissemination of the [cable]. [Rossini] said he did not recall reviewing any of the cable traffic or any information regarding Alhazmi and Almihdhar. Eric [a senior FBI agent on loan to Alec Station] told the [inspector general] that he did not recall the [cable].” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 241, 355-357 ]
Later Admit What Really Happened - At some point, Miller and Rossini tell an internal FBI investigation what really happened, including Wilshire’s order to withhold the information from the FBI. However, very little is known about this probe (see After September 11, 2001). [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] Rossini will be interviewed for a 2006 book by Lawrence Wright and will recall some of the circumstances of the blocking of the cable, including that a CIA officer told Miller, “This is not a matter for the FBI.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 311, 423] Both Miller and Rossini will later talk to author James Bamford about the incident for a 2008 book. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] The exact date of this interview of Miller and Rossini is unknown. However, an endnote to the 9/11 Commission Report will say that Miller is interviewed by the inspector general on February 12, 2004, so it may occur on this day. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502]
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald grants former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer immunity from prosecution in return for his testimony in the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Fleischer is granted immunity from any criminal charge related to his involvement in the Plame Wilson identity leak (see July 7, 2003, 8:00 a.m. July 11, 2003, and 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003) except “against charges of perjury, giving false statement, or otherwise failing to comply with the Order of the Court.” Fleischer will testify to the FBI several days later. [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 2/13/2004] In 2007, during the Lewis Libby trial, Fitzgerald will tell presiding Judge Reggie Walton (see January 25-27, 2007) that he opposed granting immunity to Fleischer because Fleischer’s lawyers refused to give a detailed “proffer” of what Fleischer would reveal. “They refused to give us a proffer,” Fitzgerald will say. “It wasn’t as if someone said ‘here’s what we’ll give you.’ It wasn’t something that we had laid out before us.… We were told he had relevant information. Frankly, I didn’t want to give him immunity, I was buying a pig in a poke. I did not know what we were going to get other than I knew it was going to be relevant to the case.” [Marcy Wheeler, 1/25/2007]
State Department official Marc Grossman (see May 29, 2003, June 10, 2003, and 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003) gives a statement to the FBI as part of the Plame Wilson leak investigation. Grossman has already spoken once to the FBI (see October 17, 2003). As in his previous statement, he testifies that he had “two or three” telephone conversations with White House official Lewis Libby, but did not meet personally with him. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007]
Columnist Robert Novak, who outed Valerie Plame Wilson’s covert CIA status in a column in July 2003 (see July 14, 2003), testifies before the grand jury investigating the Plame Wilson leak. Novak has already spoken to FBI investigators (see December 30, 2003) and to special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald (see January 14, 2004 and February 5, 2004), and disclosed the names of his three sources in the leak (see July 8, 2003 and Before July 14, 2003). Of his four appearances, Novak will later write: “I declined to answer when the questioning touched on matters beyond the CIA leak case. Neither the FBI nor the special prosecutor pressed me.” [Human Events, 7/12/2006]
The FBI orders an internal review of its files to determine whether documents related to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing case were improperly withheld from investigators or defense lawyers. Bombing conspirator Terry Nichols, already convicted on federal charges related to the case and serving a life sentence (see June 4, 1998), faces 161 counts of first-degree murder in an upcoming trial in McAlester, Oklahoma (see May 13, 2003). Recent press reports have raised new questions as to whether Nichols’s co-conspirator, bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001), had more accomplices than just Nichols. An Associated Press report says that documents not introduced at McVeigh’s trial (see June 2, 1997) indicated that FBI agents had destroyed evidence and failed to share other information that indicated McVeigh was part of a larger group of white supremacists who may have helped him carry out the bombing (see (April 1) - April 18, 1995). McVeigh had murky ties with a group called the Aryan Republican Army (ARA—see 1992 - 1995 and November 1994) and perhaps took part in bank robberies the group carried out. Moreover, ARA members possessed explosive blasting caps similar to those McVeigh used in the bomb; additionally, a driver’s license in the name of an alias used by Roger Moore, a man robbed by Nichols as part of an attempt to finance the bombing (see November 5, 1994), was later found in the possession of ARA member Richard Guthrie. Law enforcement officials continue to insist that no evidence exists of any larger conspiracy involving anyone other than Nichols and McVeigh, and the FBI’s internal review is motivated by nothing more than “an abundance of caution.” A government official says: “If there’s information out there, that needs to be looked at. This will be a document review to ascertain whether there are documents that were relative to the investigation and that should have been reviewed during the investigation or the prosecution.” If additional records are identified, the Justice Department will determine whether records were improperly withheld from defense lawyers in the case, the official says. The FBI had to conduct a similar document review just days before McVeigh’s 2001 execution after the Justice Department disclosed that the bureau had not turned over thousands of pages of interview reports and other material to McVeigh’s lawyers (see May 10-11, 2001). [New York Times, 2/27/2004; New York Times, 3/16/2004] Also, former television reporter Jayna Davis says she has unearthed ties between McVeigh, Nichols, and Iraqi soldiers operating undercover in the US; Davis has said the FBI refused to act on her information, and has accused the agency of a cover-up (see March 20, 2001). Retired FBI agent David Cid, who worked on the original case, calls Davis’s allegations absurd. “What possible motive would we have to conceal a Middle Eastern link?” he asks. “That was our immediate first assumption anyway” (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After). The presiding judge in the case, District Court Judge Steven Taylor, will conduct a hearing after the FBI’s announcement, but Nichols’s trial will not be delayed. [New York Times, 2/29/2004]
White House chief of staff Lewis Libby speaks with NBC bureau chief and Meet the Press host Tim Russert. Russert has willingly testified to the FBI concerning his knowledge of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see November 24, 2003), but will resist testifying to the grand jury investigating the leak (see May 13-20, 2004 and June 2004). According to his own subsequent testimony before the grand jury (see March 24, 2004), Libby asks if Russert is willing to discuss the matter with his lawyer, but he will testify that he does not discuss anything else of substance with Russert. It is unclear whether their conversation has anything to do with Russert’s unwillingness to testify before the grand jury. [United States District Court for the District of Columbia, 3/24/2004 ; Marcy Wheeler, 2/12/2007]
FBI Director Robert Mueller launches a charm offensive to win over the 9/11 Commission and ensure that its recommendations are favorable to the bureau.
Commission Initially Favored Break-Up - The attempt is greatly needed, as the Commission initially has an unfavorable view of the FBI due to its very public failings before 9/11: the Phoenix memo (see July 10, 2001), the fact that two of the hijackers lived with an FBI counterterrorism informer (see May 10-Mid-December 2000), and the failure to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 16, 2001). Commissioner John Lehman will say that at the start of the investigation he thought “it was a no-brainer that we should go to an MI5,” the British domestic intelligence service, which would entail taking counterterrorism away from the bureau.
Lobbying Campaign - Author Philip Shenon will say that the campaign against the commissioners “could not have been more aggressive,” because Mueller was “in their faces, literally.” Mueller says he will open his schedule to them at a moment’s notice and returns their calls within minutes. He pays so much attention to the commissioners that some of them begin to regard it as harassment and chairman Tom Kean tells his secretaries to turn away Mueller’s repeated invitations for a meal. Mueller even opens the FBI’s investigatory files to the Commission, giving its investigators unrestricted access to a special FBI building housing the files. He also gets Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, head of MI5, to meet the commissioners and intercede for the bureau.
Contrast with CIA - The campaign succeeds and the Commission is convinced to leave the FBI intact. This is partially due to the perceived difference between Mueller and CIA Director George Tenet, who the Commission suspects of telling it a string of lies (see July 2, 2004). Commissioner Slade Gorton will say, “Mueller was a guy who came in new and was trying to do something different, as opposed to Tenet.” Commission Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton will also say that the Commission recommended changing the CIA by establishing the position of director of national intelligence. It is therefore better to leave the FBI alone because “the system can only stand so much change.”
Change Partially Motivated by Fear - This change of mind is also partially motivated by the commissioners’ fear of the bureau. Shenon will comment: “Mueller… was also aware of how much fear the FBI continued to inspire among Washington’s powerful and how, even after 9/11, that fear dampened public criticism. Members of congress… shrank at the thought of attacking the FBI.… For many on Capitol Hill, there was always the assumption that there was an embarrassing FBI file somewhere with your name on it, ready to be leaked at just the right moment. More than one member of the 9/11 Commission admitted privately that they had joked—and worried—among themselves about the danger of being a little too publicly critical of the bureau.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 364-368]
Thomas Tamm. [Source: Newsweek]Thomas Tamm, a veteran Justice Department prosecutor with a high-level security clearance, is finishing up a yearlong post with the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review (OIPR), a Justice Department unit handling wiretaps of suspected terrorists and spies. As his stint is coming to a close, Tamm learns of the existence of a highly classified National Security Agency (NSA) program that is electronically eavesdropping on American citizens—domestic wiretapping. He later learns that “the program,” as it is referred to by those few who know of it at all, is called “Stellar Wind.”
Concealment from FISA Judges - Tamm learns that the NSA program is being hidden from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court, a panel of federal judges who by law must approve and supervise such surveillance for intelligence purposes. OIPR lawyers ask the FISA Court for permission to implement national-security wiretaps. But, Tamm learns, some wiretaps—signed only by Attorney General John Ashcroft—are going to the chief FISA Court judge and not the other ten judges on the FISA panel. The “AG-only” requests are extraordinarily secretive, and involve information gleaned from what is only referred to as “the program”—Stellar Wind. Only a very few White House and US intelligence officials know the name and the nature of “the program.” Stellar Wind involves domestic wiretaps on telephones and computer e-mail accounts derived from, but not necessarily linked to, information secured from captured al-Qaeda computers and cell phones overseas. With the voluntary cooperation of American telecommunications companies (see 1997-August 2007 and After, February 2001, February 2001, and February 2001 and Beyond), the NSA program also collects vast amounts of personal data about US citizens’ phone and e-mail communications. The program also collects an enormous amount of financial information from the Treasury Department (see February 28, 2006), all collected as part of the NSA’s “data mining” efforts (see Late 1999 and After September 11, 2001).
Program Is 'Probably Illegal,' Says DOJ Official - Tamm, suspicious about the unusual requests, asks his supervisors about the program, and is told to drop the subject. “[N]o one wanted to talk about it,” he will recall. Tamm asks one of his supervisors, Lisa Farabee, “Do you know what the program is?” Farabee replies: “Don’t even go there.… I assume what they are doing is illegal.” Tamm is horrified. His first thought, he will later recall, is, “I’m a law enforcement officer and I’m participating in something that is illegal?” Tamm soon finds out from deputy OIPR counsel Mark Bradley that the chief FISA judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, is raising unwanted questions about the warrant requests (see 2004 and 2005), and “the AG-only cases are being shut down.” Bradley adds, “This may be [a time] the attorney general gets indicted.”
Request for Guidance Turned Down - For weeks, Tamm agonizes over what to do. He seeks guidance from a former colleague, Sandra Wilkinson, who now works on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The two have coffee in the Senate cafeteria, and Tamm asks Wilkinson to ask if anyone on the committee knows anything about “the program.” Weeks go by without a response, and Tamm sends Wilkinson an e-mail from his OIPR computer—an e-mail that will later alert the FBI to Tamm’s interest in Stellar Wind. During a second conversation, Wilkinson refuses to give Tamm any information. “Well, you know, then,” he replies, “I think my only option is to go to the press.”
Contacting the New York Times - Tamm finally decides to contact the New York Times’s Eric Lichtblau, who has written several stories on the Justice Department that impressed Tamm. By this point he has transferred out of OIPR and back into a Justice Department office that would allow him to return to the courtroom. Tamm calls Lichtblau from a pay phone near the US District Courthouse in Washington. “My whole body was shaking,” he will recall. He identifies himself only as “Mark” (his middle name), and arranges to meet Lichtblau at a bookstore near the Justice Department. (In his 2008 book Bush’s Law: The Remaking of American Justice, Lichtblau describes Tamm as “a walk-in” source who was “agitated about something going on in the intelligence community.” Lichtblau will describe Tamm as wary and “maddeningly vague,” but as they continue to meet—usually in bookstores and coffee shops in the Capitol District—Tamm’s “credibility and his bona fides became clear and his angst appears sincere. Eighteen months later, after finally overriding a request and warning from President Bush not to print the story (see December 6, 2005), the Times reports on the existence of the NSA program (see December 15, 2005). [Ars Technica, 12/16/2008; Newsweek, 12/22/2008]
Entity Tags: Mark Bradley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Eric Lichtblau, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Bush administration (43), ’Stellar Wind’, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Lisa Farabee, Senate Judiciary Committee, Thomas Tamm, Sandra Wilkinson, Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, New York Times, US Department of the Treasury, National Security Agency, US Department of Justice, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
John Cole. [Source: Canal+]John Cole, an FBI agent who has supported whistleblower Sibel Edmonds inside the FBI, is forced out of his position. Cole will later say that this is because of the support he offered her. After Cole read Edmonds’ file, he decided her allegations were accurate: “I thought that I could be of some assistance to her, because I knew she was doing the right thing. I knew because she was right.” According to Cole, her allegations were confirmed by others at the FBI, “They were telling me that Sibel Edmonds was a 100 percent accurate, that management knew that she was correct.” However, Cole is subjected to a long bout of harassment. After years of good reports, his appraisal only says his work in one area is “minimally acceptable,” and he is investigated by the Office of Professional Responsibility for allegedly lying on a background check and disclosing classified information without authorization. Finally, he is demoted to menial tasks such as photocopying, causing him to resign. [Vanity Fair, 9/2005; Congressional Quarterly, 1/26/2007]
The trial of Oklahoma City bombing conspirator Terry Nichols (see May 13, 2003) begins in McAlester, Oklahoma, with the trial judge, Steven Taylor, ruling that the trial will not be delayed because of allegations that the prosecution withheld documents from the defense (see February 27, 2004). Nichols faces 161 counts of first-degree murder, and could receive the death penalty if convicted. Taylor warns prosecutors that any withholding of evidence by prosecutors or the Justice Department would void the case entirely, saying: “There will not be a mistrial. There will be a dismissal, period.” Taylor says, “It would be irresponsible for this court to shut down this trial today based on speculation and guesswork what the FBI can come up with.” The defense intends to argue that Nichols was just one small cog in a much larger conspiracy involving convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001) and an undetermined number of unnamed accomplices, perhaps American white supremacists or Middle Eastern radicals; defense lawyer Barbara Bergman tries and fails for a delay, telling Taylor: “Everywhere we turn we are being stymied by the federal government, your honor. It’s outrageous. Why is the federal government so afraid?” Taylor says he will allow the defense considerable leeway in questioning government witnesses: “Some call a trial a search for truth. If the FBI thinks it important to search for truth while we’re conducting this trial, then they should cooperate with the search for truth in this courtroom.” The jury has not yet been seated, and lawyers will not give their opening arguments for at least a week. Brian T. Hermanson is Nichols’s lead lawyer; Lou Keel leads the prosecution. [New York Times, 3/2/2004; New York Times, 3/9/2004]
Some of the materials confiscated from Myron Tereshchuk’s home by the FBI. [Source: FBI]The FBI arrests Maryland resident Myron Tereshchuk for attempting to produce ricin, a deadly biological toxin, and other possible weapons of mass destruction. A search of Tereshchuk’s house secures castor beans, laboratory glassware, numerous chemical reagents, unidentified liquids, crystalline solids, electrical components, incendiary explosives, and inert hand grenades; Tereshchuk is found to be carrying a copy of the US patent for ricin production. Laboratory analysis identifies some of the unidentified liquids in the house to contain ricin. Investigators find a postcard in the house with the message, “Here is your poison—enjoy.” Tereschuk, who is believed to have concocted the material in order to either attack a firm called MicroPatent or extort millions from that firm, will be convicted and sentenced to prison. [Washington Post, 9/30/2004; New York Times, 8/7/2005; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2009]
It was disclosed in 2003 that the NSA had intercepted several calls between hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi and an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen (see Early 2000-Summer 2001 and Summer 2002-Summer 2004). But in 2004, after revelations that the NSA has been wiretapping inside the US, some media begin to re-examine the circumstances of the hijackers’ calls from the US, as the Bush administration uses the example of these calls as a justification for the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program. [New York Times, 12/16/2005; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; US President, 12/26/2005 ] The calls are thought to be a key aspect of the alleged intelligence failures before 9/11. In late 1998, the FBI had started plotting intercepts of al-Qaeda calls to and from the communications hub on a map (see Late 1998-Early 2002). According to author Lawrence Wright, “[h]ad a line been drawn from the [communications hub] in Yemen to Alhazmi and Almihdhar’s San Diego apartment, al-Qaeda’s presence in America would have been glaringly obvious.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 343-344] In 2006, former NSA Director Michael Hayden will tell the Senate that if the NSA’s domestic wiretapping program had been active before 9/11, the NSA would have raised the alarm over the presence of hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in San Diego. [CNN, 5/19/2006] However, reports in the press suggest otherwise. For example, in one newspaper a senior intelligence official will say that it was not technically possible for the NSA, which had a budget of around $3.6 billion in 2000, to trace the calls. “Neither the contents of the calls nor the physics of the intercepts allowed us to determine that one end of the calls was in the United States,” says the official. [Bamford, 2002, pp. 482; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] But another report flatly contradicts this. “NSA had the technical ability to pick up the actual phone number in the US that the switchboard was calling but didn’t deploy that equipment, fearing they would be accused of domestic spying.” [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] It is unclear why concerns about domestic spying allegations would prevent the NSA from passing the information on to the FBI. Almihdhar and Alhazmi were not US citizens, but foreign nationals who had entered the US illegally claiming to be tourists. In addition, there was a wealth of evidence connecting them to al-Qaeda (see Early 1999, January 5-8, 2000, and Early 2000-Summer 2001). In any event, the NSA did reportedly disseminate dispatches about some of these US calls (see Spring-Summer 2000). Some FBI officials will later profess not to know what went wrong and why they were not notified of the hijackers’ presence in the US by other agencies. A senior counterterrorism official will say: “I don’t know if they got half the conversation or none of it or hung up or whatever. All I can tell you is we didn’t get anything from it—we being the people at the FBI who could have done something about it. So were they sitting on it? I don’t know.” [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005] The US intelligence community, through the CIA, also had access to the phone company’s records for the Yemeni communications hub, which would have shown what numbers were being called in the US (see Late 1998-Early 2002).
Entity Tags: Michael Hayden, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency, Ahmed al-Hada, Bush administration (43), US intelligence, Salem Alhazmi, Nawaf Alhazmi
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, Civil Liberties
It is reported that the FBI has closed down their investigation into Saudis Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan. The Associated Press reports, “The FBI concluded at most the two Saudi men occasionally provided information to their kingdom or helped Saudi visitors settle into the United States, but did so in compliance with Muslim custom of being kind to strangers rather than out of some relationship with Saudi intelligence.” [Associated Press, 3/24/2004] Sen. Bob Graham (D-FL) had cochaired the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that found considerable evidence tying these two men to two 9/11 hijackers and also to the Saudi government. When he sees this news report, he contacts the FBI and is told the report is not correct and that the investigation into the two men is still ongoing. A month later, FBI Director Robert Mueller tells Graham that the report was correct, and the case has been closed. Graham asks Mueller to speak to the two FBI agents who reached this conclusion and find out why they reached it. He asks that he should be allowed the same access to them that the Associated Press had been given. Both Mueller and Attorney General John Ashcroft refuse to give clearance for the agents to speak to Graham. Graham then writes a letter with Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA), again asking for clarification and the right to meet with the agents. Their request is denied. Graham concludes that this is something it “seems that neither the FBI nor the Bush administration wants the American people to find out about.” [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 224-227]
The FBI issues a bulletin to state and local law enforcement agencies which states that terrorists may use cultural, artistic or athletic visas to slip into the United States undetected. This is followed by another bulletin one day later from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security warning of pending terrorist attacks on buses and trains in major cities during the summer. The uncorroborated intelligence cited by the warning indicates the possible use of a bomb made out of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and diesel fuel, similar to the one used in the Oklahoma City federal building attack. This intelligence, as well as the March 11, 2004, train bombings in Madrid (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), reportedly increases the level of concern that terrorists are planning an attack in the US. It is reported that the intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda has the full intent and capability to execute coordinated and deadly attacks on public transportation systems. [PBS, 4/2/2004] No such attacks occur. The warning apparently is given because a number of suspects are arrested in Britain who had been working on a fertilizer bomb, but they have been under surveillance and their fertilizer had been replaced with a harmless substance. In the thousands of hours of monitored conversations, none of them mentioned anything about bombing the US (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). One day prior to the first alert, Charles Duelfer, the chief weapons inspector in Iraq, informed Congress that no WMD have been found to date. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007]
Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer involved in the failed watchlisting of hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and May 15, 2001) and the failure to obtain a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 24, 2001), is interviewed by the 9/11 Commission. He tells them that nobody in the US intelligence community looked at the bigger picture and no analytic work foresaw the lightning that could connect the thundercloud [i.e. increased reporting that an al-Qaeda attack was imminent] to the ground [i.e. the cases that turned out to be connected to 9/11 such as the search for Almihdhar and Alhazmi, Zacarias Moussaoui, and the Phoenix memo]. The 9/11 Commission will agree with this and write in its final report: “Yet no one working on these late leads in the summer of 2001 connected the case in his or her in-box to the threat reports agitating senior officials and being briefed to the President. Thus, these individual cases did not become national priorities.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 277] However, Wilshire was receiving such threat reporting. For example, he received a report that al-Qaeda was planning an Hiroshima-like attack (see Summer 2001). [Wright, 2006, pp. 340] Wilshire also repeatedly suggested that Khalid Almihdhar may well be involved in the next big attack by al-Qaeda (see July 5, 2001, July 13, 2001, and July 23, 2001). For example, on July 23, 2001 he wrote: “When the next big op is carried out by [bin Laden] hardcore cadre, [al-Qaeda commander] Khallad [bin Attash] will be at or near the top of the command food chain—and probably nowhere near either the attack site or Afghanistan. That makes people who are available and who have direct access to him of very high interest. Khalid Almihdhar should be very high interest anyway, given his connection to the [redacted].” [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 ]
Condoleezza Rice sworn in before the 9/11 Commission. [Source: Larry Downing/ Reuters]National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice testifies before the 9/11 Commission under oath and with the threat of perjury. The Bush administration originally opposed her appearance, but relented after great public demand (see March 30, 2004). [Independent, 4/3/2004] The testimony is a huge media event and major television networks interrupt their programming to carry it live. First, the Commission’s Democratic Vice Chairman Lee Hamilton reads a statement trying to establish a tone of non-confrontation and saying that the Commission’s purpose is “not to put any witness on the spot,” but “to understand and to inform.”
Rice Reads Lengthy Statement - Knowing that she has a deal to appear only once and for a limited time, Rice begins by reading a statement much longer than those read by other witnesses testifying before the Commission, a move specifically approved by Hamilton and the Commission’s chairman Tom Kean. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 293, 295] In the statement she repeats her claim that “almost all of the reports [before 9/11] focused on al-Qaeda activities outside the United States.… The information that was specific enough to be actionable referred to terrorists operation overseas.” Moreover, she stresses that the “kind of analysis about the use of airplanes as weapons actually was never briefed to us.” But she concedes: “In fact there were some reports done in ‘98 and ‘99. I think I was—I was certainly not aware of them.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2004]
Heated Questioning from Democrats - The exchanges with the Republican commissioners are polite, but Rice’s interactions with the Democrats on the Commission become heated. According to author Philip Shenon, her strategy is to “try to run out the clock—talk and talk and talk, giving them no chance to ask follow-up questions before the 10 minutes that each of the commissioners had been allotted had run out.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 295] During questioning several subjects are discussed:
Why didn’t counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke brief President Bush on al-Qaeda before September 11? Clarke says he had wished to do so, but Rice states, “Clarke never asked me to brief the president on counterterrorism.”
What was the content of the briefing President Bush received on August 6, 2001 (see August 6, 2001)? While Rice repeatedly underlines that it was “a historical memo… not threat reporting,” commissioners Richard Ben-Veniste and Tim Roemer ask her why it cannot therefore be declassified. [Washington Post, 4/8/2004] Asked what the PDB item’s still-secret title is, Rice gives it as “Bin Laden Determined to Attack inside the United States,” leading to an audible gasp from the audience. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 298] Two days later, the White House will finally publish it, and it will be shown to contain more than just historical information.
Did Rice tell Bush of the existence of al-Qaeda cells in the US before August 6, 2001? Rice says that she does not remember whether she “discussed it with the president.”
Were warnings properly passed on? Rice points out: “The FBI issued at least three nationwide warnings to federal, state, and law enforcement agencies, and specifically stated that although the vast majority of the information indicated overseas targets, attacks against the homeland could not be ruled out. The FBI tasked all 56 of its US field offices to increase surveillance of known suspected terrorists and to reach out to known informants who might have information on terrorist activities.” But commissioner Jamie Gorelick remarks: “We have no record of that. The Washington field office international terrorism people say they never heard about the threat, they never heard about the warnings.” [Washington Post, 4/8/2004]
Under questioning from Democratic commissioner Bob Kerrey, she admits that she worked with Philip Zelikow, the Commission’s executive director, during the Bush administration transition, and that they discussed terrorism issues.
She claims that a plan Clarke presented to her to roll back al-Qaeda in January 2001 (see January 25, 2001) was not actually a plan, but merely “a set of ideas and a paper” that had not been implemented. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 299-300]
Central Issues Unresolved - Rice does not apologize to the families of the victims of the 9/11 attacks, as Clarke did weeks earlier. The Associated Press comments, “The blizzard of words in Condoleezza Rice’s testimony Thursday did not resolve central points about what the government knew, should have known, did, and should have done before the September 11 terrorist attacks.” [Associated Press, 4/8/2004]
Testimony an 'Ambitious Feat of Jujitsu' - The Washington Post calls her testimony “an ambitious feat of jujitsu: On one hand, she made a case that ‘for more than 20 years, the terrorist threat gathered, and America’s response across several administrations of both parties was insufficient.’ At the same time, she argued that there was nothing in particular the Bush administration itself could have done differently that would have prevented the attacks of September 11, 2001—that there was no absence of vigor in the White House’s response to al-Qaeda during its first 233 days in office. The first thesis is undeniably true; the second both contradictory and implausible.” [Washington Post, 4/9/2004]
'Cherry-Picking' Rice's Testimony - In 2009, Lawrence Wilkerson, who is chief of staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2004, will recall: “John [Bellinger, the legal adviser to the National Security Council] and I had to work on the 9/11 Commission testimony of Condi. Condi was not gonna do it, not gonna do it, not gonna do it, and then all of a sudden she realized she better do it. That was an appalling enterprise. We would cherry-pick things to make it look like the president had been actually concerned about al-Qaeda. We cherry-picked things to make it look as if the vice president and others, Secretary Rumsfeld and all, had been. They didn’t give a sh_t about al-Qaeda. They had priorities. The priorities were lower taxes, ballistic missiles, and the defense thereof.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Entity Tags: Jamie Gorelick, Lee Hamilton, Lawrence Wilkerson, George W. Bush, John Bellinger, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Bob Kerrey, Bush administration (43), Tim Roemer, Condoleezza Rice, Thomas Kean, Richard Ben-Veniste, 9/11 Commission, Richard A. Clarke
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections
In early April 2004, an al-Qaeda operative named Mohammed Junaid Babar is arrested in the US and tells the FBI all he knows about his militant associates and activities in return for a lighter sentence (see March 2004). Babar knows the head suicide bomber in the 7/7 London bombings, Mohammad Sidique Khan. In fact, he and Khan attended an al-Qaeda training camp together in the summer of 2003 (see July-September 2003). However, Babar only knows Khan by his alias “Ibrahim,” as operatives usually use an alias for security purposes. There are conflicting accounts as to what the British intelligence agency MI5 tells the FBI about Khan and what the FBI tells MI5 about him, and why knowledge of him does not stop the 7/7 bombings.
"Trouble" and "Should Be Checked Out" - According to the Independent, Babar tells the FBI some time before the 7/7 bombings that “Ibrahim” is “trouble” and “should be checked out.” He knows that “Ibrahim” has learned how to use weapons and explosives in a training camp and had plans to return to Pakistan to attend another training camp. [Independent, 4/30/2007]
Khan in Database - According to Newsweek, at some point before the 7/7 bombings, British officials send US intelligence agencies a database on about 2,000 people identified as contacts to a group of men arrested in March 2004 as part of a fertilizer bomb plot in Britain. The main plotters were arrested just days before Babar was, and he knows all of them. US officials later tell Newsweek that this database contains “sketchy” information about Khan and another 7/7 bombing suspect. [Newsweek, 6/21/2006]
Not Recognized in Photos - The London Times reports that a batch of surveillance photos are sent to the US to be viewed by Babar. But MI5 judges the quality of the two pictures they have of Khan (a black and white closed-circuit television image and a covertly taken color photo) too poor to be included. However, Scotland Yard does send pictures of Khan, and Babar fails to recognize him. [London Times, 5/1/2007]
Recognized in Photos - However, an Associated Press story claims that Babar does recognize Khan “from a blurred surveillance photograph” and also warns that Khan has sought meetings with al-Qaeda leaders. [Associated Press, 4/30/2007]
Photos Kept from Inquiry - It emerges that an official investigation into the 7/7 bombings by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) was only shown one surveillance photo of Khan. However, MI5 in fact had at least six photos of him. [Daily Mail, 5/2/2007]
Photo Identification Still Unresolved - In 2008, Babar will mention in court that he did tell the FBI about “Ibrahim” roughly a year before the July 2005 7/7 bombings. He told the FBI in detail how “Ibrahim” attended a training camp in Pakistan, and even appeared in a video promoting jihad in Britain with his face covered. However, Babar does not mention identifying him (or failing to identify him) in a photograph before the 7/7 bombings. [London Times, 4/19/2008] Khan and Babar were also monitored meeting with each other in England in 2003 (see 2003).
FBI Director Robert Mueller testifies publicly to the 9/11 Commission, but the commissioners fail to ask him tough questions about the FBI’s apparent failings before the attacks. Author Philip Shenon will comment: “[Mueller] might have expected that it might be the showdown in which he would be asked to explain, in excruciating detail, how the FBI had blundered so often before 9/11—the familiar roster of Zacarias Moussaoui, the Phoenix memo, the disasters in San Diego. Instead, he was welcomed as a hero.” The commissioners shower Mueller with praise.
Commission Chairman Tom Kean: “I came to this job with less knowledge of the intelligence community than anybody else at this table. What I’ve learned has not reassured me. It’s frightened me a bit, frankly. But the reassuring figure in it all is you, because everybody I talk to in this town, a town which seems to have a sport in basically not liking each other very much—everybody likes you, everybody respects you, everybody has great hopes that you’re actually going to fix this problem.”
Commissioner John Lehman: “I’d like to echo the encomiums of my colleagues about how good the process has been working with you from the first time you got together with us a year-and-a-quarter ago. It’s been a very—very much of a two-way dialogue. You’ve clearly listen[ed] to us, and you’ve taught us a good deal.”
Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste: “Let me first echo the comments of my colleagues on this Commission, say how much we appreciate not only the time that you’ve given us, but the interactive nature of our relationship with you. You have been responsive to our questions, you’ve come back, sometimes you’ve come back and showed up when you weren’t invited.”
Commissioner Slade Gorton: “Mr. Mueller, not only have you done a very aggressive and, I think, so far a very effective reorganization of the FBI, you’ve done an excellent job in preempting this Commission and its recommendations.” [9/11 Commission, 4/13/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 368-369]
Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi is confronted by the FBI and agrees to a series of voluntary interviews. He admits to training at a militant training camp in Afghanistan in the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). He admits to having known al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Abu Zubaida, and Abu Musab al-Zarqawi while living there. He worked in Afghanistan as a sniper in combat and as an instructor at the training camps until 1995. After getting a gunshot wound, he moved to Boston and drove a taxi. Al-Qaeda operatives Nabil al-Marabh, Bassam Kanj, and Raed Hijazi also moved to Boston and worked at the same taxi company (see June 1995-Early 1999). In 1999, he went to Chechnya and fought as a sniper, returning to the US one month before 9/11 (see Mid-August 2001). On June 25, 2004, Elzahabi is charged with lying to the FBI about the extent of his relationship with Hijazi while living in Boston. In addition, it is claimed that in 1995 he sent a large number of field radios to Afghanistan. Some of this equipment was recovered by US soldiers after 9/11. He is charged with lying about shipping these radios. [Boston Globe, 6/26/2004; Fox News, 6/26/2004] In December 2005, he will be indicted for possessing fraudulent immigration documents and faking a marriage to remain in the US. However, he still has not been tried on the earlier charges. [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 12/8/2005]
CIA official Craig Schmall, who serves as Vice President Dick Cheney’s agency briefer and has served as the briefer for Cheney’s chief of staff, Lewis Libby (see 7:00 a.m. June 14, 2003 and July 14, 2003), is interviewed again by the FBI in the Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see January 8, 2004). As in his first interview, Schmall says nothing about either Valerie Plame Wilson or her husband, Joseph Wilson, though he discussed both of them with Libby and Cheney; it is unclear if the FBI is aware of Schmall’s discussions with the two White House officials. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/24/2007]
John E. Lewis of the FBI’s counterterrorism division tells the Senate Judiciary Committee of an “upswing in violent rhetoric and tactics” among ecoterrorists (see 1970s), and says that in recent years two specific organizations, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF—see 1976) and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF—see 1997), “have become the most active criminal extremist elements in the United States.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2005]
An internal FBI e-mail shows that abusive interrogation methods at Guantanamo are endorsed by senior Defense Department (DoD) officials. The e-mail states that “hooding prisoners, threats of violence, and techniques meant to humiliate detainees” have been “approved at high levels w/in DoD.” Another FBI e-mail states that some aggressive interrogation methods considered abusive by some FBI agents were “approved by the deputy secretary of defense,” Paul Wolfowitz. [American Civil Liberties Union, 2/23/2006]
Attorney Brandon Mayfield [Source: MSNBC]Attorney Brandon Mayfield of Portland, Oregon, is taken into custody by the FBI in connection with the March 11 bomb attacks in Madrid (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). His detention is based on information from Spanish authorities that he had some involvement in the train bombings that killed 191 people and wounded more than 1,800. FBI sources say Mayfield’s fingerprints were found on a plastic bag with bomb-related material that is being considered as evidence in the train bombing. Sources say he had been under constant surveillance. Mayfield is an Islamic convert. [CNN, 5/7/2004] He is jailed for 14 days as a material witness to a terrorism investigation. The status of “material witness” means that he can be held without charge. The FBI affidavit that led to his arrest claims the fingerprint to be a “100 percent positive” match to the print on the bag. Officials say it is an “absolutely incontrovertible match.” However, Spanish authorities express their doubts about US claims and announce in late May that they have matched the fingerprint to an Algerian, Ouhnane Daoud. Flaws in the US investigation rapidly become apparent. The FBI did not examine the original fingerprint evidence until after the Spanish announcement. Four FBI examiners “concurred that the latent fingerprint had multiple separations; that it was divided by many lines of demarcation possibly caused by creases in the underlying material, multiple touches by one or more fingers, or both,” according to court records. The examiners conclude that the digital copy the FBI was working from was “of no value for identification purposes.” The FBI comes under heavy media criticism for its material witness detainment policy and its use of scant and/or secret evidence. The competence of the investigators is called into question due to the lack of attention paid to the concerns of the Spanish investigators. [Portland Tribune, 5/28/2004] Mayfield is never charged, and the Justice Department later issues a formal apology for the intense and invasive investigation, as well as a $2 million settlement. In an unprecedented element of the settlement, the FBI agrees to destroy communication intercepts from the investigation. Mayfield contends that he was a victim of profiling and strongly criticizes the investigation. He says “I, myself, have dark memories of stifling paranoia, of being monitored, followed, watched, tracked. I’ve been surveilled, followed, targeted primarily because I’ve been an outspoken critic of this administration and doing my job to defend others who can’t defend themselves, to give them their day in court, and mostly for being a Muslim.” [CNN, 11/30/2006] The official apology mentions that, “The FBI has implemented a number of measures in an effort to ensure that what happened to Mr. Mayfield and the Mayfield family does not happen again.” [Washington Post, 11/29/2006]
Vice President Dick Cheney is interviewed in his office by federal prosecutors as part of the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak investigation (see December 30, 2003). Cheney is asked if he knows who, if anyone, in the White House might have leaked Plame Wilson’s identity to the press. He is asked about conversations with his senior aides, including his chief of staff, Lewis “Scooter” Libby. He is also asked whether he knows of any concerted effort by White House officials to leak Plame Wilson’s identity. Cheney is not questioned under oath, and has not been asked to testify before the grand jury. He is represented by two lawyers, Terrence O’Donnell and Emmet Flood. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 ; New York Times, 6/5/2004]
Cheney Evades, Refuses to Answer Questions - In October 2009, an FBI interview summary regarding Cheney’s testimony will be released (see October 1, 2009). According to the document, Cheney equivocates or refuses to answer 72 times during his interview, either saying he cannot be certain about the information requested, or that he does not know.
Denies Informing Libby about Plame Wilson's CIA Status - One of the most fundamental questions Cheney is asked is about how Libby learned about Plame Wilson’s identity. Libby’s own notes indicate that he learned it from Cheney, and that he had shared his notes with Cheney in late 2003 (see Late September or Early October, 2003), in defiance of instructions from the FBI and the White House counsel’s office not to share information with colleagues (see September 29-30, 2003). But in his testimony, Cheney “cannot recall Scooter Libby telling him how he first heard of Valerie Wilson. It is possible Libby may have learned about Valerie Wilson’s employment from the vice president… but the vice president has no specific recollection of such a conversation.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 ; Associated Press, 11/2/2009] Cheney testifies that contrary to the evidence, he learned of Plame Wilson’s CIA status from Libby, who informed him that a number of reporters had contacted Libby in July 2003 to say that Plame Wilson had been responsible for arranging her husband’s trip to Niger to investigate the Niger uranium claims. Cheney says that the next time he heard about Plame Wilson and her connection to her husband was when he read Robert Novak’s article outing her as a CIA officer (see July 14, 2003). Cheney is lying; he informed Libby of Plame Wilson’s identity (see (June 12, 2003)).
Denies Knowledge of Wilson Trip to Niger - He also denies knowing that Plame Wilson’s husband, war critic and former ambassador Joseph Wilson, was sent to Niger to investigate claims that Iraq was attempting to buy uranium from that country (see (February 13, 2002) and February 21, 2002-March 4, 2002), and says the CIA never briefed him about Wilson’s trip (see March 5, 2002). Future testimony will challenge Cheney’s claims, as witnesses will testify that Cheney, Libby, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, the Defense Department, the State Department, the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Council, and President Bush were all given copies of a CIA cable sent to Cheney’s office that debunked the Niger claims (see December 2001, Shortly after February 12, 2002, March 5, 2002, February 12, 2002, March 8, 2002, October 15, 2002, Mid-October 2002, October 18, 2002, January 2003, and March 8, 2003). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 ; Truthout (.org), 2/15/2006]
Refuses to Answer about WMD NIE - Prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald, leading the interview, presses Cheney to discuss evidence that shows he pressured Bush to quickly declassify portions of the October 2002 National Intelligence Estimate on Iraqi WMD (see October 1, 2002) for the purpose of making the case for invading Iraq. Libby provided selected NIE information to New York Times reporter Judith Miller while simultaneously leaking Plame Wilson’s identity to her (see June 23, 2003, 8:30 a.m. July 8, 2003, and Late Afternoon, July 12, 2003) and other reporters. Cheney refuses to confirm that he discussed anything regarding the NIE with Bush, saying that he could not comment on any private or privileged conversations he may have had with the president. Libby has already testified to the declassification of the NIE, telling prosecutors that he talked to Miller following the “president’s approval relayed to me through the vice president.”
Insists Plame Wilson's Identity Never Used to Discredit Husband - Cheney insists that no one in the White House ever talked about leaking Plame Wilson’s CIA status to the press in an attempt to discredit her husband. There was never any discussion, Cheney says, of “pushing back” on Wilson’s credibility by raising the issue of nepotism, the fact that his wife worked for the CIA, the same agency that dispatched him to Niger to run down the report of an agreement to supply uranium to Iraq. In his own testimony, Libby was far less emphatic, saying “[i]t’s possible” he may have discussed the idea with Cheney. Both men lie in their testimony (see March 9, 2003 and After, May 2003, June 3, 2003, June 9, 2003, June 11 or 12, 2003, (June 11, 2003), 12:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 2:00 p.m. June 11, 2003, 5:27 p.m. June 11, 2003, (June 12, 2003), June 19 or 20, 2003, July 7, 2003 or Shortly After, July 7-8, 2003, 12:00 p.m. July 7, 2003, July 8, 2003, and 7:35 a.m. July 8, 2003). [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 ; Associated Press, 11/2/2009] Cheney tells prosecutors that he and his office were merely interested in rebutting Wilson’s criticisms of the war effort, and wanted to dispel the notion among some reporters that he had selected Wilson for the Niger trip. In 2006, an attorney close to the case will say: “In his testimony the vice president said that his staff referred media calls about Wilson to the White House press office. He said that was the appropriate venue for responding to statements by Mr. Wilson that he believed were wrong.” [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 5/8/2004 ; Truthout (.org), 2/15/2006] In June 2009, the Department of Justice will reveal that Cheney and Bush had discussed the leak in a “confidential conversation” and “an apparent communication between the vice president and the president.” [Truthout (.org), 7/7/2009]
Entity Tags: Terrence O’Donnell, US Department of State, Valerie Plame Wilson, Stephen J. Hadley, US Department of Defense, Robert Novak, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Emmet Flood, Defense Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, George W. Bush, Joint Chiefs of Staff, National Security Council, Judith Miller, Joseph C. Wilson, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The FBI re-interviews Ayaad Assaad, who was the target of a letter sent just before the 2001 anthrax attacks that seemed to point to him as being responsible for those attacks (see October 2, 2001). Assaad was interviewed about this shortly after the letter was sent (see October 3, 2001), and this is the second time the FBI has questioned him. The FBI tells him that he is not a suspect but they are interested in where he was when the anthrax letters were mailed. He gives documentation showing that he was in the Washington, DC, area at the time. He is also asked about his knowledge of producing anthrax. Assaad, who has been working at the Environmental Protection Agency since 1997 (see May 9, 1997), is an expert on the toxin ricin, and says he has never handled anthrax. He also says he has never been vaccinated against anthrax. He believes the FBI indeed is not interested in him as a suspect but as someone the anthrax attacker or attackers may have tried to frame. [Associated Press, 5/16/2004] Officially, the government has consistently claimed that the letter had nothing to do with the anthrax attacks and was just a strange coincidence. But CNN reports, “government sources said the interest in Assaad centers on the [anonymous] letter and the theory that whoever mailed it could have also been involved in sending the anthrax letters. ‘It is one of several out there,’ one source said when asked how accepted that theory is. ‘No one has been ruled out.’” [CNN, 5/17/2004] Assaad claims that prior to this interview, he had contacted the FBI four times over the past two and a half years, offering to tell what he knows about his former colleagues who might have sent the letter. But he says he was rebuffed all four times. [Hartford Courant, 5/16/2004]
The New York Times learns that FBI Director Robert Mueller has ordered FBI interrogators to stay out of CIA-led interrogations of suspected al-Qaeda members. Mueller, and many FBI officials, believe the CIA’s interrogation tactics are too brutal and violate domestic and international laws. Mueller and other FBI officials have objected to the use of techniques such as waterboarding, as well as forced starvation, forced drugging, and beatings. FBI officials told Mueller that the techniques would be prohibited in criminal cases. Some CIA officers are worried that public outrage over the recent revelations of prisoner abuse at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison might lead to a closer examination of the agency’s treatment of al-Qaeda prisoners. “Some people involved in this have been concerned for quite a while that eventually there would be a new president, or the mood in the country would change, and they would be held accountable,” one says. “Now that’s happening faster than anybody expected.” [BBC, 5/13/2004] In 2008, a Justice Department investigation (see May 20, 2008) will reveal that sometime in mid-2002, the FBI’s then-assistant director for counterterrorism, Pasquale D’Amuro, ordered FBI agents at Guantanamo to stop participating in interrogations and leave the facility. D’Amuro brought the issue to Mueller’s attention; according to the Justice Department report, D’Amuro “stated that his exact words to Mueller were ‘we don’t do that’ and that someday the FBI would be called to testify and he wanted to be able to say that the FBI did not participate in this type of activity.” D’Amuro was concerned that the use of such aggressive interrogation techniques “failed to take into account an ‘end game.’” The report will continue: “D’Amuro stated that even a military tribunal would require some standard for admissibility of evidence. Obtaining information by way of ‘aggressive’ techniques would not only jeopardize the government’s ability to use the information against the detainees, but also might have a negative impact on the agents’ ability to testify in future proceedings.” Mueller agreed with D’Amuro and issued what became a “bright line rule” barring FBI agents from participating in CIA and military interrogations involving such methods. [Newsweek, 5/20/2008]
Special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald negotiates with NBC bureau chief Tim Russert about his conversations with White House official Lewis Libby (see July 10 or 11, 2003), particularly, according to documents later filed with the court in the Libby perjury trial, regarding “one or more conversations between [Russert] and [Libby] on or about July 10, 2003 (and any follow-up conversations) which involved Libby complaining to [Russert] in his capacity as NBC bureau chief about the on-the-air comments of another NBC correspondent.” Russert, through his lawyers, declines to testify before Fitzgerald’s grand jury, though he does “agree to preserve any relevant notes, tapes, or other documents” (see June 2004). As a result, Fitzgerald will issue a subpoena (see May 21, 2004). Russert has cooperated with the FBI in the investigation (see November 24, 2003), and recently spoke to Libby about the investigation (see Late February or Early March, 2004). [US Department of Justice, 2/23/2006 ]
Mohdar Abdullah is quietly deported to Yemen after spending nearly three years in US prisons. Abdullah was arrested shortly after 9/11 and held as a material witness. He was eventually charged with an immigration violation. He pled guilty to lying on an asylum application and then served a six-month sentence. However, he chose to remain imprisoned so he could fight deportation. He is a Yemeni citizen, and the US wanted to deport him to Yemen, but the Yemeni government would not take him. According to his lawyer, Yemen twice refused to admit him and only finally agreed after intense pressure from the US State Department. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/26/2004]
Suspicious Links to 9/11 Hijackers - Officials said in court documents that Abdullah regularly dined and prayed with 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Hani Hanjour. Additionally, he helped Alhazmi and Almihdhar adjust to life in the US in a variety of ways, including help with: interpreting, computer use, finding a job, finding a place to live, obtaining Social Security cards, and obtaining driver licenses. He also worked with Alhazmi at a gas station where many other radical Islamists worked, including some who had been investigated by the FBI (see Autumn 2000). [San Diego Union-Tribune, 5/26/2004; San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/2/2004]
9/11 Commission Not Allowed to Interview Him before Deportation - The 9/11 Commission’s work is almost done by the time that Abdullah is deported; its final report will be released two months later. However, the Commission is not allowed to interview Abdullah even though he is being held in a US prison (and not in Guantanamo or some secret overseas prison). 9/11 Commission co-chair Tom Kean will later say, “He should not have been let out of the country when the 9/11 Commission wanted to interview him.” Kean will not comment on why the Commission does not or is not able to interview him before his deportation. [MSNBC, 9/8/2006]
Justice Department Will Not Delay Deportation to Help Investigation - In late 2003, new evidence emerged that Abdullah may have had foreknowledge of the 9/11 attacks. But US prosecutors decided not to charge him based on that new evidence, and the Justice Department does not even try to delay his deportation to allow investigators time to pursue the new leads (see September 2003-May 21, 2004).
FBI Will Reopen Investigation into Abdullah - The new evidence suggested that Abdullah may have learned about the 9/11 attack plans as early as the spring of 2000 (see Early 2000). He also seemed to show foreknowledge of the attacks shortly before they occurred (see Late August-September 10, 2001). By October 2004, it will be discovered that he cased the Los Angeles airport with Alhazmi and an unknown man (see June 10, 2000), and this revelation will cause the FBI to reopen its investigation into him—after he is deported (see September 2003-May 21, 2004). In September 2006, it will be reported that the investigation is still continuing. [MSNBC, 9/8/2006]
David Ottaway. [Source: AAAS.org]According to the Oregon branch of the Islamic charitable organization the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation, Washington Post reporter David Ottaway receives a classified document that is evidence of illegal surveillance by the National Security Agency. The document shows that the NSA illegally intercepted telephone conversations and e-mails between Al Haramain officials in Oregon and Washington, DC. The document, dated May 24, 2004 and marked “Top Secret,” is accidentally provided to Al Haramain by Treasury Department officials that same month; Al Haramain quickly turns the document over to Ottoway, who is researching Islamic groups and individuals labeled as terrorists by the US government and are attempting to prove their innocence. Instead of reporting on the document, Ottaway will return it to the FBI when that organization demands it back in November 2004. In February 2006, Al Haramain will sue the Bush administration for illegally spying on it (see February 28, 2006) as part of its warrantless wiretapping program (see After September 11, 2001 and December 15, 2005). The Treasury Department has been investigating the charitable organization for possible ties to terrorism, and designated the group as a terrorist organization. The FBI will approach the organization and then Ottaway himself, demanding that all copies of the document be returned and threatening them with prosecution if the contents are revealed. Ottaway will consult with Post editors and lawyers, who will conclude, according to Ottaway, “that it was not relevant to what I was working on at the time.” Post executive editor Leonard Downie, Jr., will defend the decision, saying, “At the time we had this document, it was before we had any knowledge of the eavesdropping program. Without that knowledge, the document provided no useful information. At the time, all we knew was that this document was not relevant to David’s reporting.” [Washington Post, 3/3/2006]
Ahmed Khalil Ibrahim Samir al-Ani, an Iraqi intelligence agent, was captured by US forces in Iraq at some point after the invasion of Iraq in 2003. His arrest was not announced and he was put in a secret CIA prison. It is unknown when he was arrested exactly, but in June 2004, the FBI is allowed to interrogate him. Al-Ani gained notoriety after 9/11 when Bush administration officials claimed he had a meeting with 9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta in Prague, in the Czech Republic (see April 8, 2001). He tells the FBI that he never saw or heard of Atta until Atta’s face appeared in the news shortly after 9/11. [US Senate and Intelligence Committee, 9/8/2006, pp. 100 ] The allegations that the meeting took place have been slowly dying despite the efforts of some Bush administration officials to promote them (see September 18, 2001-April 2007). Also in June 2004, the 9/11 Commission publicly asserts that the alleged meeting never took place (see June 16, 2004). Nonetheless, al-Ani is kept in a secret CIA prison until 2006 and then quietly released (see 2006). His denials are kept secret until September 2006 (see September 8-10, 2006).
[Source: WAMY]US agents raid the US branch of World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), a large Saudi charity. The branch was founded in 1992 by Abdullah Awad bin Laden, a nephew of Osama, and he was still listed as president of the branch in a 2002 business listing. [Weekly Standard, 4/8/2002; Washington Post, 6/2/2004] In 1996, an FBI investigation into WAMY, Abdullah Awad, and his brother Omar, was closed down, apparently for political reasons (see February-September 11, 1996). At least two of the 9/11 hijackers lived about three blocks from WAMY’s office for much of 2001 (see March 2001 and After). A new investigation of WAMY was launched one week after 9/11 (see September 14-19, 2001). All of WAMY’s files and computer files are seized; one person is arrested on immigration charges. The raid appears to have taken place because WAMY came up in a terrorism investigation of the SAAR network (see March 20, 2002), located outside Washington and relatively close to the WAMY office. A federal affidavit alleges that WAMY has ties to Hamas. [Washington Post, 6/2/2004]
Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer is interviewed by the FBI regarding the Plame Wilson identity leak. Fleischer has already spoken to FBI agents under a grant of immunity from special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald (see February 13, 2004). According to Fleischer’s 2007 testimony in the Lewis Libby perjury trial (see January 16-23, 2007), he denies leaking Valerie Plame Wilson’s CIA employment status to Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus. Fleischer, despite his immunity, is lying (see 1:26 p.m. July 12, 2003), though whether he lies to the FBI today or during his testimony before the court in 2007 is unclear. [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2007]
By 2004, the FBI’s 9/11 investigation is contained in this ten person office. [Source: Washington Post]The Washington Post reports that the FBI’s 9/11 investigation still continues, though at a reduced level. Originally, the investigation, named PENTTBOM, was staffed by about 70 full time FBI agents and analysts. The team now has only about ten members. Some observers complain the FBI has not done enough. Mary Galligan, who headed the investigation until early 2004, emphasizes how much is still unknown about the plot. She says, “There is still information coming in, and we still have so many unanswered questions.” [Washington Post, 6/14/2004]
Attempting to stem the flow of bad publicity and world-wide criticism surrounding the revelations of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad and similar reports from Guantanamo Bay, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Pentagon general counsel William J. Haynes, accompanied by Pentagon lawyer Daniel Dell’Orto, give a lengthy press conference to discuss the US’s position on interrogation and torture. Gonzales and Haynes provide reporters with a thick folder of documents, being made public for the first time. Those documents include the so-called “Haynes Memo” (see November 27, 2002), and the list of 18 interrogation techniques approved for use against detainees (see December 2, 2002 and April 16, 2003). Gonzales and Haynes make carefully prepared points: the war against terrorism, and al-Qaeda in particular, is a different kind of war, they say. Terrorism targets civilians and is not limited to battlefield engagements, nor do terrorists observe the restrictions of the Geneva Conventions or any other international rules. The administration has always acted judiciously in its attempt to counter terrorism, even as it moved from a strictly law-enforcement paradigm to one that marshaled “all elements of national power.” Their arguments are as follows:
Always Within the Law - First, the Bush administration has always acted within reason, care, and deliberation, and has always followed the law. In February 2002, President Bush had determined that none of the detainees at Guantanamo should be covered under the Geneva Conventions (see February 7, 2002). That presidential order is included in the document packet. According to Gonzales and Haynes, that order merely reflected a clear-eyed reading of the actual provision of the conventions, and does not circumvent the law. Another document is the so-called “torture memo” written by the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (see August 1, 2002). Although such legal opinions carry great weight, and though the administration used the “torture memo” for months to guide actions by military and CIA interrogators, Gonzales says that the memo has nothing to do with the actions at Guantanamo. The memo was intended to do little more than explore “the limits of the legal landscape.” Gonzales says that the memo included “irrelevant and unnecessary” material, and was never given to Bush or distributed to soldiers in the field. The memo did not, Gonzales asserts, “reflect the policies that the administration ultimately adopted.” Unfortunately for their story, the facts are quite different. According to several people involved in the Geneva decision, it was never about following the letter of the law, but was designed to give legal cover to a prior decision to use harsh, coercive interrogation. Author and law professor Phillippe Sands will write, “it deliberately created a legal black hole into which the detainees were meant to fall.” Sands interviewed former Defense Department official Douglas Feith about the Geneva issue, and Feith proudly acknowledged that the entire point of the legal machinations was to strip away detainees’ rights under Geneva (see Early 2006).
Harsh Techniques Suggested from Below - Gonzales and Haynes move to the question of where, exactly, the new interrogation techniques came from. Their answer: the former military commander at Guantanamo, Michael E. Dunlavey. Haynes later describes Dunlavey to the Senate Judiciary Committee as “an aggressive major general.” None of the ideas originated in Washington, and anything signed off or approved by White House or Pentagon officials were merely responses to requests from the field. Those requests were prompted by a recalcitrant detainee at Guantanamo, Mohamed al-Khatani (see August 8, 2002-January 15, 2003), who had proven resistant to normal interrogation techniques. As the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks approached, and fears of a second attack mounted, Dell’Orto says that Guantanamo field commanders decided “that it may be time to inquire as to whether there may be more flexibility in the type of techniques we use on him.” Thusly, a request was processed from Guantanamo through military channels, through Haynes, and ultimately to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who approved 15 of the 18 requested techniques to be used against al-Khatani and, later, against other terror suspects (see September 25, 2002 and December 2, 2002). According to Gonzales, Haynes, and Dell’Orto, Haynes and Rumsfeld were just processing a request from military officers. Again, the evidence contradicts their story. The torture memo came as a result of intense pressure from the offices of Rumsfeld and Vice President Cheney. It was never some theoretical document or some exercise in hypothesizing, but, Sands will write, “played a crucial role in giving those at the top the confidence to put pressure on those at the bottom. And the practices employed at Guantanamo led to abuses at Abu Ghraib.” Gonzales and Haynes were, with Cheney chief of staff David Addington and Justice Department lawyers John Yoo and Jay Bybee (the authors of the torture memo), “a torture team of lawyers, freeing the administration from the constraints of all international rules prohibiting abuse,” in Sands’s words. Dunlavey was Rumsfeld’s personal choice to head the interrogations at Guantanamo; he liked the fact that Dunlavey was a “tyrant,” in the words of a former Judge Advocate General official, and had no problem with the decision to ignore the Geneva Conventions. Rumsfeld had Dunlavey ignore the chain of command and report directly to him, though Dunlavey reported most often to Feith. Additionally, the Yoo/Bybee torture memo was in response to the CIA’s desire to aggressively interrogate another terror suspect not held at Guantanamo, Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Sands will write, “Gonzales would later contend that this policy memo did ‘not reflect the policies the administration ultimately adopted,’ but in fact it gave carte blanche to all the interrogation techniques later recommended by Haynes and approved by Rumsfeld.” He also cites another Justice Department memo, requested by the CIA and never made public, that spells out the specific techniques in detail. No one at Guantanamo ever saw either of the memos. Sands concludes, “The lawyers in Washington were playing a double game. They wanted maximum pressure applied during interrogations, but didn’t want to be seen as the ones applying it—they wanted distance and deniability. They also wanted legal cover for themselves. A key question is whether Haynes and Rumsfeld had knowledge of the content of these memos before they approved the new interrogation techniques for al-Khatani. If they did, then the administration’s official narrative—that the pressure for new techniques, and the legal support for them, originated on the ground at Guantanamo, from the ‘aggressive major general’ and his staff lawyer—becomes difficult to sustain. More crucially, that knowledge is a link in the causal chain that connects the keyboards of Feith and Yoo to the interrogations of Guantanamo.”
Legal Justifications Also From Below - The legal justification for the new interrogation techniques also originated at Guantanamo, the three assert, and not by anyone in the White House and certainly not by anyone in the Justice Department. The document stack includes a legal analysis by the staff judge advocate at Guantanamo, Lieutenant Colonel Diane Beaver (see October 11, 2002), which gives legal justifications for all the interrogation techniques. The responsibility lies ultimately with Beaver, the three imply, and not with anyone higher up the chain. Again, the story is severely flawed. Beaver will give extensive interviews to Sands, and paint a very different picture (see Fall 2006). One Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) psychologist, Mike Gelles (see December 17-18, 2002), will dispute Gonzales’s contention that the techniques trickled up the chain from lower-level officials at Guantanamo such as Beaver. “That’s not accurate,” he will say. “This was not done by a bunch of people down in Gitmo—no way.” That view is supported by a visit to Guantanamo by several top-ranking administration lawyers, in which Guantanamo personnel are given the “green light” to conduct harsh interrogations of detainees (see September 25, 2002).
No Connection between Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib - Finally, the decisions regarding interrogations at Guantanamo have never had any impact on the interrogations at Abu Ghraib. Gonzales wants to “set the record straight” on that question. The administration has never authorized nor countenanced torture of any kind. The abuses at Abu Ghraib were unauthorized and had nothing to do with administration policies. Much evidence exists to counter this assertion (see December 17-18, 2002). In August 2003, the head of the Guantanamo facility, Major General Geoffrey Miller, visited Abu Ghraib in Baghdad, accompanied by, among others, Diane Beaver (see August 31, 2003-September 9, 2003). They were shocked at the near-lawlessness of the facility, and Miller recommended to Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, the supreme US commander in Iraq, that many of the same techniques used at Guantanamo be used in Abu Ghraib. Sanchez soon authorized the use of those techniques (see September 14-17, 2003). The serious abuses reported at Abu Ghraib began a month later. Gelles worried, with justification, that the techniques approved for use against al-Khatani would spread to other US detention facilities. Gelles’s “migration theory” was controversial and dangerous, because if found to be accurate, it would tend to implicate those who authorized the Guantanamo interrogation techniques in the abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere. “Torture memo” author John Yoo called the theory “an exercise in hyperbole and partisan smear.” But Gelles’s theory is supported, not only by the Abu Ghraib abuses, but by an August 2006 Pentagon report that will find that techniques from Guantanamo did indeed migrate into Abu Ghraib, and a report from an investigation by former defense secretary James Schlesinger (see August 24, 2004) that will find “augmented techniques for Guantanamo migrated to Afghanistan and Iraq where they were neither limited nor safeguarded.” [White House, 7/22/2004; Vanity Fair, 5/2008]
Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Phillippe Sands, Ricardo S. Sanchez, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Taliban, US Department of Defense, William J. Haynes, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Michael Gelles, Bush administration (43), Daniel J. Dell’Orto, Mohamed al-Khatani, Diane E. Beaver, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto R. Gonzales, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Geneva Conventions, Michael E. Dunlavey, John C. Yoo, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jay S. Bybee, George W. Bush, Geoffrey D. Miller, James R. Schlesinger, Douglas Feith
Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties
It is reported that the FBI’s Boston office is investigating if there may have been an al-Qaeda sleeper cell in Boston and whether it may have had connections to the 9/11 attacks. The Boston FBI had previously denied the existence of any Boston cell, even though they knew before 9/11 that four Boston taxi drivers—Nabil al-Marabh, Raed Hijazi, Mohamad Kamal Elzahabi, and Bassam Kanj—all knew each other well and were all connected to al-Qaeda (see January 2001; Mid-August 2001). But the FBI shows new interest in the possibility after indicting Elzahabi in Minnesota a few days earlier (see April 16, 2004-June 25, 2004). The Boston Globe comments, “The possibility that unknown people in Boston were providing support to terrorists, including the 10 who hijacked the two planes out of Logan Airport, has been the subject of much conjecture among law enforcement officials.” [Boston Globe, 6/27/2004] Unofficially, it seems that even before 9/11, some in the FBI thought that al-Qaeda had cells in Boston. On September 12, 2001, an anonymous long-time Boston FBI agent told the Boston Globe that there were “a lot of terrorist cells in [the Boston] area.… It’s a facilitator for terrorist activity. There have been cells here of bin Laden’s associates. They’re entrenched here.” [Boston Globe, 9/12/2001] Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says, “We uncovered plots in December of 1999 that also involved Boston cab drivers around the millennium rollover. I think there is a high probability the Boston FBI missed a major cell there.” [WCVB 5 (Boston), 6/28/2004]
After a 16-month review by the US State Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bush administration says it has found no basis to charge any of the 3,800 Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) fighters held in custody by the US at Camp Ashraf with violations of American law. The decision is made in spite of the group’s long history of collusion with Saddam Hussein. MEK fought alongside Iraqi forces against Iran during the 1980s (see December 2003) and helped Saddam’s internal security forces brutally put down the 1991 Shia uprisings (see 1991). The organization was also responsible for a number of American deaths during the 1970s (see 1970s) and has been listed on the State Department’s list of “foreign terrorist organizations” since 1997 (see 1997). “A member of a terrorist organization is not necessarily a terrorist,” a senior American official explains. “To take action against somebody, you have to demonstrate that they have done something.” [New York Times, 7/27/2004; Christian Science Monitor, 7/29/2004]
In November 2002, as the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry was finishing its investigation, it had formally asked for a report by the Justice Department (which oversees the FBI) to determine “whether and to what extent personnel at all levels should be held accountable” for the failure to stop the 9/11 attacks. An identical request was made to the CIA (see June-November 2004). [New York Times, 9/14/2004] The Justice Department report, titled “A Review of the FBI’s Handling of Intelligence Information Related to the September 11 Attacks,” is completed this month. [Washington Post, 4/30/2005] It centers on three FBI failures before 9/11: the failure to follow up on the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui in August 2001 (see August 16, 2001), the failure to follow up on FBI agent Ken Williams’ memo (see July 10, 2001) warning about Islamic militants training in US flight schools, and the FBI’s failure to follow up on many leads to hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. The report provides some new details about miscommunications, inaction, and other problems. [New York Times, 9/14/2004] The report remains classified. Senior Senate Judiciary Committee members Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) call for its release. The senators state, “While the needs of national security must be weighed seriously, we fear the designation of information as classified, in some cases, serves to protect the executive branch against embarrassing revelations and full accountability. We hope that is not the case here.” [Washington Times, 7/12/2004; New York Times, 9/14/2004] One problem complicating the issuing of even a declassified version is the possibility that the material would taint the criminal proceedings against Zacarias Moussaoui. In early 2005, the Justice Department inspector general’s office will ask the judge presiding over Moussaoui’s case for permission to release a declassified version of the report. But the judge will turn down the request in April 2005, even after Moussaoui pleads guilty (see April 30, 2005). The report will finally be released in June 2005 without the section on Moussaoui (see June 9, 2005). [New York Times, 2/13/2005]
Sibel Edmonds. [Source: Linda Spillers/ Getty]US District Judge Reggie B. Walton, appointed by George W. Bush, dismisses Sibel Edmonds’ lawsuit (see June 2002) against the Justice Department, accepting the government’s argument that allowing the case to proceed would jeopardize national security [Associated Press, 7/6/2004; CNN, 7/7/2004] and infringe upon its October 2002 declaration (see October 18, 2002) that classified everything related to Edmonds’ case. Walton refuses to explain his ruling, insisting that to do so would expose sensitive secrets. “The Court finds that the plaintiff is unable to establish her First Amendment, Fifth Amendment, and Privacy Act claims without the disclosure of privileged information, nor would the defendants be able to defend against these claims without the same disclosures… the plaintiff’s case must be dismissed, albeit with great consternation, in the interests of national security,” Walton says in his ruling. [CNN, 7/7/2004] Walton never heard evidence from Edmonds’ lawyers. [Associated Press, 7/6/2004; Associated Press, 7/7/2004]
The FBI closes some high-security laboratory suites at USAMRIID, the US Army’s top bioweapons laboratory at Fort Detrick, Maryland. The FBI apparently is searching for evidence related to the anthrax attacks investigation, although what the target of their search is remains unclear. For several days, investigators shut off access to bacteriology labs in two USAMRIID buildings where anthrax research is done or has been done. Numerous employees at USAMRIID were questioned by the FBI in the first months after the anthrax attacks, but then investigative activity targeting USAMRIID died down. In recent months, the FBI has seized medical records and computer hard drives there. Several days after the search, authorities say it failed to lead to any important breakthrough. The Baltimore Sun notes that USAMRIID’s labs were used extensively after the attacks to study the letters, so if trace amounts of anthrax are found it would very hard to prove if they came from the attacks or the subsequent investigation of the attacks. [Baltimore Sun, 7/21/2004] It will later emerge that the raid takes place at least in part to seize anthrax samples from scientist Bruce Ivins. In April 2002, Ivins had given investigators a sample of anthrax known as RMR-1029 (see April 2002). In early 2004, investigators determined that the sample did not match the anthrax used in the attacks, but other samples of RMR-1029 did (see Early 2004). So Ivins’s flasks of RMR-1029 are seized in the raid. These do show a match with the anthrax used in the attacks, raising questions why the sample Ivins had submitted in 2002 did not. [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/1/2008] However, it appears the FBI will not begin to seriously focus on Ivins as a suspect until after the head of the FBI’s investigation is replaced in late 2006 (see Autumn 2006).
The 9/11 Commission’s final report.
[Source: 9/11 Commission]The 9/11 Commission completes its work and releases its final report. They blame incompetence for the reason why the US government did not prevent the attack. The Washington Post summarizes the report, “The US government was utterly unprepared on Sept. 11, 2001, to protect the American people from al-Qaeda terrorists.” [Washington Post, 7/23/2004] The report itself states, “We believe the 9/11 attacks revealed four kinds of failures: in imagination, policy, capabilities, and management.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004] The Washington Post reports, “Though openly dreaded for months by many Republicans and quietly feared by the White House, the report was much gentler on the Bush administration than they feared. Rather than focus criticism on the Bush administration, the commission spread the blame broadly and evenly across two administrations, the FBI, and Congress.” [Washington Post, 7/23/2004] More to the point, as former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke notes in a New York Times editorial, “Honorable Commission, Toothless Report,” because the commission wanted a unanimous report from a bipartisan group, “it softened the edges and left it to the public to draw many conclusions.” [New York Times, 7/25/2004] The Washington Post comments, “In many respects, the panel’s work has been closer to the fact-finding, conspiracy-debunking Warren Commission of the mid-1960s, which investigated the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, than to the reform-oriented Church Commission, which exposed assassination plots and CIA abuses during the mid-1970s.” [Washington Post, 7/18/2004]
Entity Tags: John F. Kennedy, Richard A. Clarke, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Church Commission, 9/11 Commission, US Congress, Warren Commission
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, 2004 Elections
The 9/11 Commission dismisses allegations of insider trading in the days preceding 9/11, in a footnote contained in its final report. According to the report, the put options for the parent companies of United Airlines were placed by a “US-based institutional investor with no conceivable ties to al-Qaeda as part of a trading strategy that also included buying 115,000 shares of American on September 10.” With respect to the highly suspicious trading in the parent company of American Airlines, the Commission states that many of the trades were “traced to a specific US-based options trading newsletter, faxed to its subscribers on Sunday, September 9, which recommended these trades.” According to the Commission: “The SEC and the FBI, aided by other agencies and the securities industry, devoted enormous resources to investigating this issue, including securing the cooperation of many foreign governments. These investigators have found that the apparently suspicious consistently proved innocuous.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 499]
A letter by FBI Director Robert Mueller regarding FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds is leaked to the media. Edmonds has made some very serious allegations about the FBI, including claims of important missed 9/11 warnings and the existence of a foreign spy ring inside US government agencies. Mueller’s letter reveals that a highly classified Justice Department report on Edmonds has concluded that her allegations “were at least a contributing factor in why the FBI terminated her services.” This report also criticizes the FBI’s failure to adequately pursue her allegations of espionage. An anonymous official states that the report concludes that some of her allegations were shown to be true, others cannot be corroborated because of a lack of evidence, and none of her accusations were disproved. [New York Times, 7/29/2004]
The American Civil Liberties Union warns that InfraGard, the private organization that cooperates with the FBI in law enforcement and other areas (see 1996-2008), is a potential threat to constitutional freedoms. “There is evidence that InfraGard may be closer to a corporate TIPS program [TIPS is a program proposed by the Bush administration to encourage Americans to spy on one another], turning private-sector corporations—some of which may be in a position to observe the activities of millions of individual customers—into surrogate eyes and ears for the FBI,” the ACLU says in its report, “The Surveillance-Industrial Complex: How the American Government Is Conscripting Businesses and Individuals in the Construction of a Surveillance Society.” [Progressive, 2/7/2008]
FBI agent Mike German quits the FBI and becomes a whistleblower against the bureau. He claims that FBI superiors committed illegal acts to hinder his investigation into terrorism in Florida (see September 2002). He complains, “What’s so frustrating to me is that what I hear the FBI saying every day on TV when I get home, about how it’s remaking itself to fight terrorism, is not the reality of what I saw every day in the field.” He also says, “Opportunities to initiate proactive investigations that might prevent terrorist acts before they occur, which is purported to be the FBI’s number one priority, continue to be lost, yet no one is held accountable.” He cites “a continuing failure in the FBI’s counterterrorism program” which is “not the result of a lack of intelligence, but a lack of action.” [New York Times, 8/2/2004]
Kenneth Berry. [Source: Public domain]On August 5, 2004, FBI agents target Dr. Kenneth Berry for a role in the 2001 anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Agents raid his home and former apartment in Wellsville, New York, as well as his parents’ apartment in New Jersey. Agents cordon off streets and search the residences wearing biochemical protective suits. This becomes a highly publicized media spectacle. But Berry is not charged or arrested. The raids are the culmination of an 18-month investigation. For instance, in July, dozens of his associates were interviewed. Berry apparently panics and gets in a fight with his wife and stepchildren. A restraining order prevents him from returning home and he is eventually divorced. He also loses his job. By October 2004, government officials say their investigation has uncovered nothing that would implicate him in the anthrax attacks, but he is not officially cleared of suspicion.
Unusual Background as WMD Expert - Berry is a licensed physician working in a hospital. But in 1997, he formed an organization named Preempt, which promoted training for first responders to protect against a WMD attack. By 1999, Berry had risen in prominence and was meeting with prominent experts and politicians about WMD threats, including some US senators and former CIA Director James Woolsey. He was also working on inventions for systems to detect the release of germ weapons, but none of his inventions are successfully developed. In late 2000, he attended a two-day course on using anthrax and other germs as weapons, taught by bioweapons expert William Patrick. His organization Preempt slowly fizzled in importance, but he continued to consider himself a freelance WMD expert. [New York Times, 10/3/2004]
Investigators Lose Interest, but Name is Never Cleared - The Associated Press will comment in 2008, “investigators seemed to lose interest in Berry quickly,” but he lost his job and his wife in the process. He has never spoken about the experience, but a friend will say, “Since things quieted down, he’s put his life back together again and he’s in a stable environment right now.… As far as I know, he just wants his name cleared as publicly as it was smeared.” [Associated Press, 8/7/2008]
The press reports that according to a Justice Department investigation, Senator Richard Shelby (R-AL), then the ranking Republican on the Senate Intelligence Committee, leaked highly classified information to Fox News reporter Carl Cameron regarding al-Qaeda communications in the hours before 9/11 (see June 19, 2002). After Vice President Dick Cheney threatened the then-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Bob Graham (D-FL—see June 20, 2002), Graham and then-House Intelligence Committee chairman Porter Goss (R-FL) pushed for a Justice Department investigation into the leak. Though the FBI and the US Attorney’s Office conducted a probe, and even empaneled a grand jury, the Justice Department decided not to prosecute anyone, and instead turned Shelby’s name over to the Senate Ethics Committee, which will decline to pursue charges against him. Shelby states that he did not leak any classified information to anyone, and says he has never been informed of any specific allegations. The FBI demanded that 17 senators turn over phone records, appointment calendars, and schedules. One Senate Intelligence Committee staffer told the FBI that Shelby had leaked the information to show the shortcomings of the intelligence community in general and CIA Director George Tenet in particular. Though two senior Justice Department officials, then-Deputy Attorney General Larry Thompson and then-criminal division chief Michael Chertoff, refused to approve subpoenas for journalists, Cameron confirmed to FBI investigators that he was a recipient of Shelby’s leak. He also told investigators that he saw Shelby talking with CNN’s Dana Bash; after Shelby’s discussion with Bash, Cameron divulged the information Shelby had leaked to her, and CNN broadcast the story a half-hour after the conversations. Cameron told FBI agents he was irritated that Shelby had shared the same information with a competitor, and added that he delayed broadcasting the story because he wanted to ensure that he was not compromising intelligence sources and methods. Cameron was never subpoenaed and did not testify under oath. Bash refused to cooperate with the investigation. [Washington Post, 8/5/2004; National Journal, 2/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Larry D. Thompson, Dana Bash, Carl Cameron, CNN, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George J. Tenet, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of Justice, Michael Chertoff, Porter J. Goss, Fox News, Richard Shelby, Senate Ethics Committee, Senate Intelligence Committee
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties
NBC reporter Tim Russert, host of its flagship Sunday morning political talk show Meet the Press, testifies to FBI investigators probing the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). He is deposed under oath and is audiotaped, but is not compelled to testify directly to the grand jury investigating the leak. According to an NBC statement, Russert is interviewed under oath, and testifies that he was the recipient of a leak; NBC will later claim that the interview was allowed as part of an agreement to avoid a protracted court fight. Russert is not asked to disclose a confidential source. “The questioning focused on what Russert said when Lewis (Scooter) Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, phoned him last summer” (see July 10 or 11, 2003), the statement reads. “Russert told the special prosecutor that at the time of the conversation he didn’t know Plame’s name or that she was a CIA operative and did not provide that information to Libby.” [Office of Special Counsel, 7/27/2004 ; New York Times, 8/10/2004; Associated Press, 8/11/2004] Neither did Libby disclose Plame Wilson’s identity to him, Russert testifies. Russert and NBC News initially resisted the subpoena on First Amendment grounds, but relented after prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald agreed not to compel Russert to appear before the grand jury, or to disclose confidential sources or information. [Washington Post, 8/10/2004] Russert has already talked informally with John Eckenrode, the FBI investigator overseeing the day-to-day investigation duties (see November 24, 2003). He told Eckenrode that Libby’s claim of learning Plame Wilson’s identity from him was false, and that he and Libby never discussed Plame Wilson at all. [National Journal, 2/15/2007] Libby’s claim that he learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from Russert will lead to perjury charges (see October 28, 2005).
Washington Post reporter Walter Pincus is subpoenaed by the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). Pincus has written that a Post reporter received information about Plame Wilson from a Bush administration official. The Post says it intends to fight the subpoena (see August 20, 2004). [New York Times, 8/10/2004; Washington Post, 8/10/2004] Pincus later reflects that he had dodged attempts by the FBI to interview him about Plame Wilson, and believed that the Bush official who had informed him of her identity had not broken any laws. “I thought it was damage control,” he will later say. “My source had been trying to get me to stop writing about Joe Wilson [Plame Wilson’s husband]. I believed that the Democrats were too wound up thinking that a crime had been committed.” [Vanity Fair, 4/2006]
Representative Heather Wilson (R-NM) writes a letter to US Attorney David Iglesias complaining about what she considers to be evidence of possible voter fraud in her district. She reports that an unusually large number of mailings from her office to newly registered voters are being returned as undeliverable. She asks Iglesias to “investigate whether these voter registrations were lawful and whether any organizations or groups are intentionally causing false voter registration forms to be filed with the county clerk.” Iglesias will not respond to Wilson’s letter until October 29, 2004, just days before the November elections, and will inform Wilson that he is referring her complaint to the FBI “for their review and possible action. The FBI will determine whether a federal investigation may be warranted.” Wilson will forward Iglesias’s response to her chief of staff with the handwritten comment: “What a waste of time. Nobody home at US Attorney’s Office.” Wilson will later state that she faults Iglesias for not pursuing her complaint in a timely manner. It is unclear whether she is aware of Iglesias’s Election Fraud Task Force, formed in September 2004 (see September 7 - October 6, 2004). The FBI will find that the undeliverable mailings referred to in Wilson’s complaints were returned because of incomplete addresses on voter registration cards (i.e. apartment numbers left out), errors by Wilson’s office in addressing the envelopes, or because the people mailings were sent to, usually college students, had since moved. The FBI will recommend, and the task force will concur, that no further investigation of Wilson’s complaints is warranted. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] Wilson’s letter is spurred by New Mexico Republicans’ efforts to block ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) from registering new voters in largely Hispanic and poor areas. The effort is being led by Matt Henderson, an Albuquerque resident and ACORN head organizer; under Henderson’s leadership, ACORN is registering thousands of new voters, whom Republicans in New Mexico and Washington, DC, correctly fear will vote largely Democratic. ACORN and other groups are battling Republican efforts to institute strict voter ID laws, which critics say will hinder poor, minority, and elderly voters from participating in elections. In 2000, the state had gone for Democrat Al Gore by a vanishingly small margin of 366 votes; both parties believe that the 2004 presidential election will be equally close. By August 2004, ACORN and other groups have signed up some 65,000 new voters in Bernalillo County, which encompasses Albuquerque. Sheriff Darren White is the person who allegedly found voter registration errors in some 3,000 forms filed with the Bernalillo County clerk, including forms lacking Social Security numbers, complete addresses, and the like. White, the chairman of the New Mexico Bush-Cheney re-election campaign, who proudly admits to being made chair in order to deliver Bernalillo County for Bush-Cheney, calls those errors evidence of massive and systematic voter fraud. He has already written to Iglesias, on August 5, asking that Iglesias investigate the “suspect” registration forms. Wilson’s letter to Iglesias comes less than two weeks after White’s letter. [Atlas, 2010, pp. 213]
Mohammad Salah, Mousa Abu Marzouk, and Abdelhaleem Ashqar are indicted on racketeering conspiracy charges. Salah and Ashqar are arrested. Marzouk, considered a high-ranking Hamas leader, is out of reach in Syria. Marzouk had been charged in 2002 on related matters (see December 18, 2002-April 2005). Ashqar was already under house arrest on related charges of contempt and obstruction of justice. The three are accused of using US bank accounts to launder millions of dollars to support Hamas. The indictment alleges the laundered money was used to pay for murders, kidnappings, assaults, and passport fraud. Many of the charges date to the early 1990s (see 1989-January 1993) and had been the subject of legal cases in 1998 and 2000 (see June 9, 1998; May 12, 2000-December 9, 2004). [New York Times, 8/21/2004; Associated Press, 8/24/2004] Salah and Ashqar had been living openly in the US for several years. The US had declared Salah a “designated global terrorist” in 1995 and he returned to Chicago in 1997 (see February 1995). The media reported on this in 2003 but they still were not arrested (see June 2-5, 2003). In 1993, Ashqar took part in a secret Hamas meeting in Philadelphia that was wiretapped by the FBI (see October 1993). [ABC News, 6/12/2003; New York Times, 8/21/2004]
Bashir Noorzai. [Source: DEA]Haji Bashir Noorzai, reputedly Afghanistan’s biggest drug kingpin with ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda, was arrested by US forces then inexplicably released in late 2001 (see Late 2001). He lives in Pakistan with the protection of the ISI, but in June 2004, the Bush administration adds his name to a US government list of wanted drug figures. Concerned that he may eventually be arrested again, he agrees to hold secret talks with a FBI team to discuss a deal. According to author James Risen, “The message the Americans delivered to Noorzai was a simple one: you can keep on running, or you can come work with us. Cooperate, and tell us what you know about the Afghan drug business, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and their financiers.” Arrangements are made for Noorzai to meet the FBI team in a hotel in the United Arab Emirates to finalize a deal. But the FBI team never arrives. According to Risen, “American sources add that the local CIA station in the UAE was so preoccupied with the war in Iraq that it was unable to devote any attention to the Noorzai case.” Noorzai eventually tires of waiting and returns to Pakistan. One US official familiar with the case says, “We let one of the big drug kingpins go, someone who was a key financier for al-Qaeda, someone who could help us identify al-Qaeda’s key financiers in the Gulf. It was a real missed opportunity. If the American people knew what was going on, they would go nuts.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 152-162; Congressional Research Service, 1/25/2006]
Sometime during this month, former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer testifies a third time to FBI agents as part of the Justice Department’s invesigation into the Plame Wilson identity leak (see February 13, 2004 and June 10, 2004). (In his 2007 testimony in the Lewis Libby perjury trial, Fleischer will claim to have been interviewed three times: January 2004, February 2004, and September 2004. At that time, it will be unclear whether Fleischer is misremembering the dates of his interviews or if there is another reason why his dates do not jibe with the facts.) [Marcy Wheeler, 1/29/2009]
Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) alleges that the White House has covered up possible Saudi Arabian government connections to 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. In an interview to promote his new book entitled Intelligence Matters, he contends that evidence relating to these two hijackers, who lived in San Diego, “present[s] a compelling case that there was Saudi assistance” to the 9/11 plot. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004; Copley News, 9/7/2004] In the words of author Philip Shenon, Graham is “convinced that a number of sympathetic Saudi officials, possibly within the sprawling Islamic Affairs Ministry, had known that al-Qaeda terrorists were entering the United States beginning in 2000 in preparation for some sort of attack,” and that “Saudi officials had directed spies operating in the United States to assist them.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 51] Graham also concludes that President Bush directed the FBI “to restrain and obfuscate” investigations into these ties, possibly to protect US-Saudi relations. The San Diego Union-Tribune notes, “Graham co-chaired the exhaustive Congressional inquiry into the Sept. 11 attacks and is privy to still-classified information about the probe.” Graham claims that Omar al-Bayoumi and Osama Basnan are Saudi intelligence agents. He also claims that the FBI deliberately blocked his inquiry’s attempts to interview Abdussattar Shaikh, the FBI informant who was a landlord to the above-mentioned hijackers (see November 18, 2002). The questions the inquiry wanted to ask Shaikh went unanswered because of FBI maneuvering. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004; Copley News, 9/7/2004]
Columnist Robert Novak, who publicly outed CIA official Valerie Plame Wilson over a year ago (see July 14, 2003), testifies for a third time to FBI agents conducting an investigation into the Plame Wilson identity leak. Novak has already testified to the FBI concerning his sources for the information on Plame Wilson’s CIA status (see October 7, 2003 and February 5, 2004). According to an affidavit subsequently filed by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald, Novak is testifying to clarify and add information to his earlier testimony regarding his conversations about Plame Wilson with Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage (see October 1, 2003). [US District Court for the District of Columbia, 9/27/2004 ]
US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico arranges for lawyer Patrick Rogers, a prominent Republican in the state, to meet with an FBI supervisory special agent assigned to work with Iglesias’s voter fraud task force (see September 7 - October 6, 2004).
Citation of 'Fraudulent' Registration - Rogers complains that large number of voter registration forms in the state are fraudulent and must be investigated. He cites the case of 13-year-old Kevin Stout, who received a voter registration card in the mail and apparently completed it. Police soon discovered that the card was the result of a forged voter registration form apparently filled out by Christine Gonzales, a former canvasser for the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN) who was being paid on a per-registration basis; that organization had identified Gonzales three months earlier, fired her, and reported her to the authorities. (Stout’s father is Republican activist Glen Stout, who contacted New Mexico Republicans before contacting law enforcement.) A federal judge refused Republican efforts to change the state registration laws in response to the ACORN issue, and as a result hundreds of presumably Democratic voters registered by ACORN retained their registrations. New Mexico Republicans are furious. Citing the Stout case, state Representative Joe Thompson (R-NM), who was one of the Republicans contacted by Glen Stout, displays Kevin Stout’s registration form to reporters and proclaims, “We have proof” of massive and systematic voter fraud in New Mexico. He announces a lawsuit he and Glen Stout will file against New Mexico’s Democratic Secretary of State, Rebecca Vigil-Giron. Rogers brings the Stout issue to Iglesias’s attention. Rogers’s colleague, lawyer and Republican activist Mickey Barnett, will later say that he and other Republicans hired a private investigator to identify and locate Gonzales, but the private investigator failed to find her.
Republicans Demand More Information on Voters before Elections - Four days later, Rogers tells Iglesias and Rumaldo Armijo, Iglesias’s executive assistant, in an email that because New Mexico Democrats are casting doubt on the validity of his voter-fraud claims, he wants to “dig up all past info” and asks if there is “any easy way to access the public info related to voter fraud from the [US Attorney’s Office] (public) files? Asap? Before Nov 2?” Rogers is referring to the date of the upcoming state and federal elections. (Barnett also sends emails demanding that Iglesias investigate the canvasser, whose identity he does not know.) Iglesias promises to look into Rogers’s request and “let you know what is publicly available.” Iglesias soon finds a case prosecuted in the early 1990s and provides Rogers with the public information about that case.
No Prosecutable Cases; Republicans Outraged - The FBI will later identify and interview Gonzales. Both Iglesias’s office and the Justice Department will find that there is insufficient evidence of criminal behavior in the matter to warrant her prosecution. Iglesias will later say that this case is the strongest one to come out of the entire task force’s proceedings, and even it does not meet the standard for criminal prosecution. New Mexico Republicans are frustrated, having intended to use the Gonzales case to further the Thompson/Stout lawsuit. Barnett complains that Iglesias “appoint[ed] a task force to investigate voter fraud instead of bringing charges against suspects.” Matt Henderson, ACORN’s lead organizer for New Mexico, tells reporters that the lawsuit is “no different from what was going on in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. This is about a set of people trying to stop another set of people from voting.” [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Atlas, 2010, pp. 214-216]
Allegations Collapse under Scrutiny - Even before Iglesias begins his investigation, the allegations of voter fraud had begun to unravel. Several voters admitted accidentally filling out two registration forms. A large majority of the 3,000 “suspect” forms, upon examination, actually showed legitimate attempts by citizens to register to vote. On September 7, a district judge dismissed the suit against Vigil-Giron. ACORN member Yolanda Pena told the press of attempts to make false claims of voter fraud, and showed the press a copy of Kevin Stout’s registration card—it appeared to have been filled out by a child, not an ACORN worker, and seemed to have been done as a prank and not as an attempt to fraudulently register a young boy. “Instead of taking responsibility for this boy’s prank,” Pena told reporters, “the Republicans used it to try to ram a lawsuit through the courts that would have made it harder for minority voters to vote.… We are delighted that [the Republicans] lost in court. Their dirty tricks are racist and un-American.” Another ACORN representative tells reporters that he cannot understand why Gonzales’s name is on Kevin Stout’s registration form, as he had already fired Gonzales for altering other canvassers’ cards to falsely claim credit for having voters fill them out. Gonzales could not have helped Stout fill out his card or filled it out on his behalf.
Lawsuit in Response - New Mexico Republicans were enraged at the suit’s dismissal and the ACORN press conferences, and attempted to file a criminal suit against Henderson, alleging that he had broken the law by keeping photocopies of submitted registration forms. (In 2000, Henderson and ACORN chapters in New Mexico had indeed kept such photocopies. At the time, that was a legal practice. Since then, the law has been changed and ACORN, like other voter-registration groups, has ceased keeping those forms. Rogers will also insist that Iglesias file felony charges against Gonzales.) New Mexico Republicans will demand that Iglesias aggressively investigate Henderson and ACORN, charging Henderson with “perjury” and “suspect” practices (see September 23 - October 2004). Iglesias will later say of Gonzales, “It appeared that she was just doing it for the money.” [Atlas, 2010, pp. 215-216]
'Gin Up Voter Fraud Publicity' - In 2008, Iglesias will tell reporters that even though he found no evidence of voter fraud, he was ordered by the White House to, the reporters will write, “illegally prosecute baseless cases against innocent citizens, just to gin up voter fraud publicity.” Iglesias will say, “We took over 100 complaints” from New Mexico Republicans. “We investigated for almost two years, I didn’t find one prosecutable voter fraud case in the entire state of New Mexico.” Iglesias will blame his refusal to prosecute those cases for his 2006 firing (see December 7, 2006). “They were looking for politicized—for improperly politicized US Attorneys to file bogus voter fraud cases,” he will say. [Huffington Post, 10/28/2008]
Entity Tags: Joe Thompson, David C. Iglesias, Christine Gonzales, Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, Glen Stout, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Yolanda Pena, Rumaldo Armijo, Patrick Rogers, US Department of Justice, Matt Henderson, Kevin Stout, Mickey Barnett, Rebecca Vigil-Giron
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Omer Marmari. [Source: Public domain via Israeli TV]Four of the five Israelis arrested on 9/11 (see 3:56 p.m. September 11, 2001), Paul and Sivan Kurzberg, Omer Marmari, and Yaron Shmuel, file a multimillion dollar lawsuit against the US Justice Department. They claim they were arrested illegally, then held without charge and interrogated and tortured for months. Their lawyer claims the case will serve as a venue to debunk theories that Israel was behind the 9/11 attacks. [Ha'aretz, 9/16/2004; Jerusalem Post, 9/16/2004] Forward, a publication geared towards the Jewish population in the US, reported in 2002 that the FBI concluded at least two of the five were Mossad agents and that all were on a Mossad surveillance mission. [Forward, 3/15/2002] As of early 2011, there have been no further media reports about this lawsuit.
CBS’s Ed Bradley. [Source: Associated Press]CBS News president Andrew Heyward refuses to air a scheduled segment of 60 Minutes II that probes the allegations of the Bush administration deliberately using forged documents to bolster its claim that Iraq attempted to purchase uranium from Niger (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003)). In a statement, the network says it would be “inappropriate to air the report so close to the presidential election.” The network also decides not to run the piece because it has admitted to using questionable documents in a recent segment showing that President Bush received preferential treatment in joining the Texas Air National Guard during the height of the Vietnam War, and shirked his Guard duties thereafter without consequence. CBS had a team of correspondents and consulting reporters working for six months on the segment, and landed the first-ever on-camera interview with Italian journalist Elisabetta Burba, the first reporter to see the forged documents that formed the basis of the uranium allegations. (The CBS reporters also interviewed Burba’s source, information peddler Rocco Martino, but chose not to air any of that footage, and do not disclose Martino’s identity in the piece. Neither does the segment explore why the FBI has so far been reluctant to interview Martino in its investigation of the fraudulent uranium allegations.) The segment is later described by Newsweek journalists Michael Isikoff and Mark Hosenball as a hard-hitting investigative piece that “ask[s] tough questions about how the White House came to embrace the fraudulent documents and why administration officials chose to include a 16-word reference to the questionable uranium purchase in President Bush’s 2003 State of the Union speech” (see Mid-January 2003 and 9:01 pm January 28, 2003), and by Salon reporter Mary Jacoby as “making a powerful case that in trying to build support for the Iraq war, the Bush administration either knowingly deceived the American people about Saddam Hussein’s nuclear capabilities or was grossly credulous.… The report contains little new information, but it is powerfully, coherently, and credibly reported.” One of the central aspects of the segment is anchor Ed Bradley’s interview with Dr. Jafar Dhia Jafar, the former chief of Iraq’s nuclear program. Jafar confirms to Bradley that Iraq had dismantled its nuclear program after the Gulf War in the face of United Nations inspections. “So what was going on?” Bradley asks. “Nothing was going on,” Jafar replies. He says the Bush administration was either “being fed with the wrong information” or “they were doing this deliberately.” Another powerful moment is a clip from a German interview with the former foreign minister of Niger, Allele Habibou, whose signature appears on one of the forged documents. The document was dated 2000, but Habibou had been out of the government for 11 years by that point. “I only found out about this when my grandchildren found this on the Internet. I was shocked,” he says. The story is twice as long as the usual 15-minute segments broadcast on the show. Bradley, who narrates the report, is reportedly furious at the decision not to broadcast the segment. Jacoby concludes, ”60 Minutes defied the White House to produce this report. But it could not survive the network’s cowardice—cowardice born of self-inflicted wounds.” [Newsweek, 9/23/2004; Salon, 9/29/2004] The story will finally run on 60 Minutes almost two years later (see April 23, 2006).
Entity Tags: Jafar Dhia Jafar, Ed Bradley, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Andrew Heyward, Alle Elhadj Habibou, Elisabetta Burba, George W. Bush, Michael Isikoff, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Rocco Martino, Saddam Hussein, Mark Hosenball, Mary Jacoby
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
The FBI prepares a detailed 300-page report in response to follow-up questions from the Senate Judiciary Committee about Director Mueller’s earlier testimony on May 20, 2004 (see May 20, 2004) regarding incidents of abuse known by the FBI. However the Justice Department refuses to release the report saying that it must first review it. [Newsweek, 1/6/2005]
Anthrax attacks suspect Steven Hatfill has sued the FBI and Justice Department for violating his privacy and other charges (see August 26, 2003), but the government has been trying to stall the court case, saying it would interfere with the FBI’s anthrax investigation. Responding to the latest request for a delay, US District Court Judge Reggie Walton says the government has stalled enough already. Walton says that Hatfill has “the right to vindicate himself, so he doesn’t have this taint hanging over his head.” He tells a federal prosecutor: “If you don’t have enough information to indict this man, you can’t keep dragging him through the mud. That’s not the type of country I want to be part of. It’s wrong!” Walton is a Republican appointed to the bench by the President Bush. [MSNBC, 10/7/2004] The FBI declared Hatfill a “person of interest” in August 2002 (see August 1, 2002) and will not officially clear him of any link to the attacks until August 2008 (see June 27, 2008 and August 8, 2008).
Deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove, President Bush’s top political adviser, testifies for a third time before the grand jury investigating the Valerie Plame Wilson identity leak (see December 30, 2003). (The date of Rove’s second testimony to the grand jury is not publicly known, though Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff later says Rove testified twice in February 2004.) Rove tells the jury that he spoke with Time magazine reporter Matthew Cooper (see 11:00 a.m. July 11, 2003), a conversation he has failed to disclose in previous testimony both before the jury and when interviewed by FBI agents (see October 8, 2003 and February 2004). Rove now says he recalls speaking with Cooper, but cannot remember details of their conversation. His lawyer, Robert Luskin, says Rove “answered fully and truthfully every one of their questions,” and did not try to avoid answering questions on legal grounds. White House press secretary Scott McClellan says that Rove’s testimony shows he is “doing his part to cooperate” in the probe. Terry McAuliffe, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, charges that Rove and other Bush aides are refusing to tell the public everything they know about the outing of Plame Wilson as a CIA official. “Karl Rove needs to come clean and tell us what he told the grand jury today,” McAuliffe says. Luskin claims that Rove has been informed he is not a target of the inquiry. [Time, 10/15/2004; New York Times, 10/16/2004; National Journal, 4/28/2006; Newsweek, 5/8/2006]
Names Libby - Rove informs the jury that he may have learned of Plame Wilson’s identity from former White House official Lewis Libby, the chief of staff to Vice President Dick Cheney. Almost a year later, the Washington Post will learn of Rove’s naming of Libby from “a source familiar with Rove’s account.” Days before Plame Wilson’s identity was publicly revealed (see July 14, 2003), Libby and Rove discussed conversations they had had with Cooper and other, unnamed reporters. Both Plame Wilson’s CIA identity and her husband, war critic Joseph Wilson, were discussed, Rove tells the jury. He says that his conversations with Libby were confined to information the two men heard from reporters. He also says he heard about Plame Wilson’s CIA identity from “someone outside the White House,” but cannot recall that person’s identity. [Washington Post, 10/20/2005]
Claim of Memory Failure - Rove has claimed not to remember the conversation between himself and Cooper, but has recently found an e-mail he sent to Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley confirming the conversation (see After 11:07 a.m. July 11, 2003). Rove and Luskin claim that Rove only recently found the e-mail and immediately turned it over to Fitzgerald’s investigators. They claim that Rove never intended to withhold evidence from the investigation. [New York Times, 11/4/2005]
Kerry Campaign Calls for Full Disclosure from White House - Joe Lockhart, the campaign spokesman for the presidential campaign of John Kerry (D-MA), says: “With two weeks to go before the election, the American people are still in the dark about how it is that their White House leaked the name of an undercover CIA operative to the press, jeopardizing the life of this agent and possibly violating federal law. Instead of hiding behind the lawyers he so often likes to criticize, George Bush should direct Karl Rove and anyone else involved to go to the White House briefing room and come clean about their role in this insidious act.” [Salon, 10/15/2004]
Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Terry McAuliffe, Stephen J. Hadley, Matthew Cooper, Robert Luskin, Karl C. Rove, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Joe Lockhart, George W. Bush
Timeline Tags: Niger Uranium and Plame Outing
FBI officials and homeland security officials at both the state and federal level say they are not aware of any specific election day threats against Ohio’s Warren County where local election officials had locked down the county administration building on election day citing security concerns. County officials had claimed that the move had been prompted by information they had received from the FBI and Homeland Security. But FBI officials, charged with overseeing anti-terrorism activities in southern Ohio, tell the Cincinnati Enquirer that they received no information about a terror threat in the county. “The FBI did not notify anyone in Warren County of any specific terrorist threat to Warren County before Election Day,” FBI spokesman Michael Brooks explains. And a spokeswoman for Ohio’s top homeland security official, Public Safety Director Ken Morckel, likewise contends that they knew of no heightened terror warning for the Greater Cincinnati area on election night. [Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/10/2004]
Mohamed Alanssi, an FBI counterterrorism informant (see November 2001), sets himself on fire in front of the White House in protest over how the bureau has handled him. Alanssi had previously informed the Washington Post and Robert Fuller, his FBI handler in New York, of his intention. Fuller is an FBI agent who failed to locate the 9/11 hijackers in the US before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001, September 4-5, 2001 and September 4-5, 2001). Alanssi approaches the White House and asks the Secret Service to deliver a note to President Bush. When he is turned away, he steps back and then sets his jacket on fire, suffering serious burns before the Secret Service agents can extinguish the flames. Alanssi is primarily unhappy that the FBI has confiscated his passport, because he is ill and wants to visit his family in Yemen, where his wife is sick with stomach cancer. The FBI is apparently holding the passport in an attempt to make him testify at the trial of Mohammed Ali Hassan al-Moayad, an associate of Osama bin Laden that Alanssi informed on (see January 2003). Alanssi has also complained to the Post that the FBI has not kept all of its promises, allowing his identity to become known, endangering himself and his family, not giving him US citizenship, and paying him $100,000 after promising him he would “be a millionaire.” Alanssi told the Post: “It is my big mistake that I have cooperated with FBI. The FBI has already destroyed my life and my family’s life and made us in a very danger position.… I am not crazy to destroy my life and my family’s life to get $100,000.” [Washington Post, 11/16/2004]
Newsweek reports that US intelligence sources believe “al-Qaeda operatives [are] plotting a ‘big bomb’ attack against a major landmark in Britain—but [have] no active plans for strikes in the United States…” The article continues: “Some US law enforcement officers based in London… have become extremely concerned about evidence regarding possible active al-Qaeda plots to attack targets in Britain. According to a US government official, fears of terror attacks have prompted FBI agents based in the US Embassy in London to avoid traveling on London’s popular underground railway (or tube) system, which is used daily by millions of commuters. While embassy-based officers of the US Secret Service, Immigration and Customs bureaus, and the CIA still are believed to use the underground to go about their business, FBI agents have been known to turn up late to crosstown meetings because they insist on using taxis in London’s traffic-choked business center.” [Newsweek, 11/17/2004; Salon, 11/18/2004]
Congress expands the Patriot Act (see October 26, 2001) by approving an intelligence spending bill with a provision that gives the FBI the power to subpoena business documents and transactions from a broad range of businesses and entities—including libraries, travel agencies, and even eBay—without court warrants. This reduces oversight of the FBI and shifts power away from the judiciary. The Patriot Act already allows the FBI to acquire bank records and communications records by issuing a National Security Letter (NSL) affirming that the information it seeks is relevant to an open investigation; the targeted institution is legally “gagged,” unable to inform anyone, especially the subject of the investigation, of the subpoena. The new law expands the use of NSLs by redefining “financial institution” to include insurance companies, real estate agents, the US Postal Service, travel agencies, casinos, pawn shops, car dealers and any other business whose “cash transactions have a high degree of usefulness in criminal, tax or regulatory matters.” The provision is one of the most controversial parts of the so-called “Patriot II” act (see February 7, 2003) that was withdrawn after the public learned of its elements. Like most intelligence spending bills, this one was drafted in secret and passed with little debate or public comment. Law professor Chris Schroeder, a former Justice Department assistant attorney general, says the insertion of the provision shows that “people who want to expand the powers of the FBI didn’t want to stop after Patriot II was leaked. They are going to insert these provisions on a stealth basis. It’s insidious.” James Dempsey of the Center for Democracy and Technology agrees: “On its face, it’s a cryptic and seemingly innocuous amendment. It wasn’t until after it passed both houses that we saw it. The FBI and CIA like to try to graft things like this into intelligence bills.” CIA Director Porter Goss, when he was chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, defended the provision, saying it is necessary to keep pace with terrorists and the changing economy. “This provision brings the definition of ‘financial institution’ up to date with the reality of the financial industry,” Goss told House members. “This provision will allow those tracking terrorists and spies to ‘follow the money’ more effectively and thereby protect the people of the United States more effectively.” Timothy Edgar of the American Civil Liberties Union says the bill goes too far in expanding executive branch powers. “The more that checks and balances against government abuse are eroded, the greater that abuse,” Edgar says. “We’re going to regret these initiatives down the road.” [Wired News, 11/24/2003]
Entity Tags: Tim Edgar, US Department of Justice, USA Patriot Act, Porter J. Goss, House Intelligence Committee, Central Intelligence Agency, Center for Democracy and Technology, American Civil Liberties Union, James Dempsey, Chris Schroeder, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Domestic Security Enhancement Act of 2003
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) is told by Tom McCabe of the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) that the recounts in the disputed gubernatorial race for Washington State between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see November 2-30, 2004) revealed forged signatures on provisional ballots. McKay informs Craig Donsanto, the head of the election crimes branch of the criminal division’s public integrity section in the Justice Department, and asks Donsanto if his office can open a federal investigation if the allegations only involve a state election. Donsanto advises McKay to take no action until election authorities certify the winner and any court cases stemming from the election have run their course. McKay disagrees with Donsanto’s advice, and directs the FBI to open a preliminary inquiry into the allegations. FBI agents interview McCabe, but neither McKay nor the FBI take further action because the election is not yet certified. McKay advises McCabe to provide any evidence he might have of voter fraud to the local prosecutor, because the complaint involves a state race. When the race is certified in Gregoire’s favor on December 30, cases are immediately filed in state court challenging the results. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] Around this same time, McKay receives a telephone call from Chris Vance, the chair of the Washington Republican Party, asking about the investigation. McKay cites the prohibition against revealing information concerning an ongoing investigation and refuses to answer Vance’s questions (see Late 2004 or Early 2005). McCabe soon decides that McKay is not pursuing the fraud allegations quickly enough and begins pressuring the White House to fire him (see Late 2004 and July 5, 2005). McKay allows Justice Department agents to examine what he will call the “so-called evidence,” and will recall one agent “laugh[ing] out loud” because the evidence was “that flimsy.” He will recall that he could find no framework to follow in pursuing voter fraud cases. “I was looking for a benchmark,” he will say. “The impression I got [from the Justice Department] was that I should make it up as I went along. The preference, at least as it was expressed from the attorney general’s office, was simply to file as many such cases as possible. I wasn’t willing to do that, certainly not in the gubernatorial race.… [W]as there a conspiracy to steal the election? Absolutely not.” [Iglesias and Seay, 5/2008, pp. 134-135]
Andrew Warren, a CIA agent who will later be accused of date rape (see September 2007 and February 17, 2008), gets into a row in a hotel garage in Washington, DC. According to journalist Jeff Stein, “multiple sources” will say that Warren “flashed official credentials and claimed to be an FBI agent during the dispute.” At this time Warren is a senior official at the CIA’s station in Cairo, and he is back in Washington escorting Egyptian intelligence officials on a visit to the CIA. According to two sources, the row becomes so heated that the hotel manager later sends a security video of the incident to the FBI. However, FBI officials will say they cannot recall the incident. One CIA official will say that the agency occasionally uses the bureau for cover, although other intelligence professionals will say they have never heard of such practice. One former senior CIA official is incensed that Warren is allowed to return to duty in Cairo despite “such a shocking lack of judgment,” and will attribute Warren’s lenient treatment to his being an African American. [Congressional Quarterly, 3/16/2009]
Washington State businessman Tom McCabe, the executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) and a prominent Republican activist, is angered by what he considers “voter fraud” in the disputed gubernatorial election between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). He is further frustrated by what he considers the reluctance by Republican John McKay (see October 24, 2001 and Late 2004 or Early 2005), the US Attorney for Western Washington, to pursue the allegations. McCabe repeatedly contacts the White House to demand McKay’s firing. McKay will later say, “There was no evidence, and I am not going to drag innocent people in front of a grand jury.” McCabe told McKay he had evidence of forged signatures on absentee ballots cast for Gregoire (see December 2004), and attempted to persuade the FBI to launch an investigation. Neither McKay nor the FBI will be convinced by McCabe’s evidence (see January 4, 2005). Of McKay’s refusal to pursue the allegations, McCabe later recalls, “It started me wondering whether the US Attorney was doing his job.” McKay later says that the FBI concluded that the ballots cited by McCabe were not forgeries. [Seattle Times, 3/13/2007; Talking Points Memo, 2011]
US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) has been pursuing allegations of voter fraud in the highly disputed governor’s race between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see December 2004 and December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). McKay has worked with the FBI on the investigation. He has met with FBI and Justice Department officials, who together have reviewed the evidence and concluded that there are no grounds to open a federal grand jury investigation. Craig Donsanto, the head of the election crimes branch of the criminal division’s public integrity section in the Justice Department, has also advised McKay to refrain from any proactive investigation, but merely to collect facts and information, and monitor the state court litigation surrounding the election, because the department wants to make sure not to give the impression that it is trying to influence the litigation. McKay drafts a public statement for use by the FBI and his office to respond to questions surrounding the controversy. The statement says that while the FBI would receive and evaluate all complaints of voter fraud, because the race is a state election matter, citizens should also provide that information to state officials. McKay and the FBI will continue to examine evidence presented to them as “voter fraud,” and will determine that none of it proves any criminality whatsoever. Moreover, the Justice Department will confirm that in as the governor’s race is a state matter, the US Attorney, a federal law enforcement office, has no jurisdiction over allegations about the race. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) issues a noncommital statement on allegations of voter fraud in the highly disputed governor’s race between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). McKay, along with the FBI and the Justice Department, have examined the evidence presented in the allegations (see December 2004), and found no reason to bring any indictments (see January 4, 2005). Shortly after McKay issues the statement, Ed Cassidy, the chief of staff for US Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA), telephones McKay to discuss the race. According to McKay’s recollection, Cassidy begins asking him about the election and the potential investigation, and McKay responds with what he will call information consistent with his public statement. When Cassidy says, “You know, John, it’s really important—” McKay interrupts him and says, “Ed, I’m sure you’re not about to start talking to me about the future direction of this case.” McKay will recall taking a very stern tone with Cassidy. Cassidy terminates the call. (Cassidy will recall McKay saying, “I hope you’re not asking me to tell you something that I can’t tell you.”) McKay informs his First Assistant US Attorney and the criminal chief, Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, about the call. Both say he conducted himself appropriately. All of them decide there is no need to report the call to the Justice Department, because Cassidy did not cross the line and demand that McKay open an investigation. McKay will later say he is “concerned and dismayed by the call” from Cassidy. Cassidy will say he did not place the call at the behest of Hastings, but because of the outrage among state Republicans at Gregoire’s victory. Cassidy will say that he wanted to make sure Hastings did not make any inappropriate public statements if there was indeed a federal investigation opening. He will say that his telephone call to McKay is merely to head off the possibility of Hastings making what he calls “intemperate remarks” about the election. He will also say that his call to McKay “was a routine effort to determine whether allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 gubernatorial election were, or were not, being investigated by federal authorities,” and will say that he did not violate ethical boundaries in the conversation. Hastings will call Cassidy’s discussion with McKay “entirely appropriate,” and will add, “It was a simple inquiry and nothing more—and it was the only call to any federal official from my office on this subject either during or after the recount ordeal.” Hastings will say that he did not ask Cassidy to place the call, but will recall probably receiving some constituent complaints about the election and the alleged voter fraud that some callers said “gave” the election to Gregoire. He will say that he never had any misgivings about McKay. [TPM Muckraker, 3/6/2007; Seattle Times, 3/7/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011] (A later Talking Points Memo report on the Cassidy-McKay discussion will inaccurately place it as taking place in November, before the recounts are completed.) [Talking Points Memo, 2011]
A secret FBI report issued this month and later leaked to the press states, “Al-Qaeda leadership’s intention to attack the United States is not in question. However, their capability to do so is unclear, particularly in regard to ‘spectacular’ operations. We believe al-Qaeda’s capability to launch attacks within the United States is dependent on its ability to infiltrate and maintain operatives in the United States. To date, we have not identified any true ‘sleeper’ agents in the US.… Limited reporting since March indicates al-Qaeda has sought to recruit and train individuals to conduct attacks in the United States, but is inconclusive as to whether they have succeeded in placing operatives in this country. US Government efforts to date also have not revealed evidence of concealed cells or networks acting in the homeland as sleepers” ABC News notes that this seemingly contradicts the sleeper cell depiction seven men arrested in Lackawanna, New York, in 2002. It also differs from warnings by FBI Director Robert Mueller and other US officials, who have warned that sleeper cells are probably in place. [ABC News, 3/9/2005] In 2002, it was also reported that no sleeper cells can be found in the US (see March 10, 2002).
The FBI office in New Haven, Connecticut receives an e-mail that looks like a terrorist threat. The agents there follow the normal routine: they ask the service provider, a group of Connecticut public libraries, for the real name, street address, and Internet logs of the sender. The agents have no search warrant, grand jury subpoena, or court order. What they do have is a National Security Letter (NSL) that describes the records needed. According to the expanded USA Patriot Act, the NSL is all the FBI needs, and the NSL statute bars the librarians from disclosing the request to anyone. The librarians will refuse to hand over the information, and will file a federal lawsuit challenging the NSL as an unconstitutional infringement on free speech (see July 13, 2005). The e-mailed threat will turn out to be a hoax. Kevin O’Connor, the US attorney in Connecticut, later says the FBI suspected that the threat was a hoax from the outset, but believed they had an “obligation” to pursue it. “We weren’t tying up librarians or reading through books,” he will say. “All we wanted was identifying information. God forbid it isn’t a hoax.” The librarians who challenge the NSL, however, feel differently. George Christian, the point man in the librarians’ legal challenge, will say, “The idea that the government can secretly investigate what the public is informing itself about is chilling.” A judge will strike down the NSL gag order, allowing Christian and his three colleagues (by now dubbed the “Connecticut Four” by the media) to disclose the fact that they had received an NSL, with a judge calling the NSL gag order “antithetical to democratic concepts”. In April 2006, the government will drop its NSL request (see August 2005-May 2006). Christian will be unmollified. “The fact that I can speak now is a little like being permitted to call the Fire Department only after a building has burned to the ground,” he will say. [USA Today, 7/6/2006]
The Seattle Times reports that Washington State Democrats believe the White House is behind the efforts to force a recount in the November 2004 governor’s race. Christine Gregoire (D-WI) defeated Dino Rossi (R-WI) after a recount gave Gregoire a narrow victory (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). Since then Rossi and Washington State Republicans have demanded new recounts or even a new election (see December 29-30, 2004). In January 2005, they filed a lawsuit to overturn the election results, alleging voter fraud tainted the vote (see January 7, 2005, January 24-28, 2005, and February 4, 2005). The FBI and US Attorney John McKay have investigated the allegations of voter fraud and found them groundless (see December 2004 and January 4, 2005), though state Republicans have been displeased with those findings (see Late 2004 or Early 2005, Late 2004, and January 4, 2005). As the lawsuit wends its way through the courts, Democrats tell reporters that the evidence being brought to bear by state Republicans in the lawsuit is worthless. One party attorney says their list of alleged illegal voters would end up as toilet paper “in an outhouse on Blewett Pass” on the mountain highway route that leads to the Chelan County courthouse, where the case will be heard. However, solicitations sent by Washington State Democratic Party chairman Paul Berendt say the White House, led by deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, is pushing the GOP lawsuit. Berendt’s letter warns of “guerrilla tactics” by “right-wing attorneys” and “extremist operatives” who are “meticulously crafting a case to unseat Christine Gregoire.” Berendt stands behind the letter, saying: “[W]e believe this, too. We believe that Rove is in regular contact with people here.” Rossi spokesperson Mary Lane confirms that the Rossi campaign is regularly updating the White House on the case, saying: “They’re interested in what’s going on.… We talk to them about it.” However, “[t]here’s certainly no Karl Rove pulling strings.” White House spokesperson Ken Lisaius says no one in the Bush administration is involved in the lawsuit, telling a reporter: “As reluctant as I am to comment on an inflammatory fund-raising piece, those are just not the facts. The White House is not directing any sort of strategy for the Rossi campaign and to suggest otherwise is to suggest someone is not very well informed.” Berendt points to the Rossi campaign’s use of Washington, DC, attorney Mark Braden as chief counsel; Braden spent 10 years as chief counsel to the Republican National Committee. Berendt says his party uses local attorneys. He also cites Rove’s 1994 involvement in the case of an Alabama state Supreme Court election, in which Rove fought for a recount claiming that the election had been “stolen.” The Times writes: “There are parallels to the current dispute here over the governor’s election. In both cases, Republicans held a news conference with the parents of a military voter to question whether overseas ballots were handled properly. Republicans in both states filed a lawsuit that named a long list of public officials as respondents. Both held rallies; business groups financed media campaigns.” Rove’s candidate eventually won (see Early 1994 - October 1995). Berendt says that Rove was also behind failed attempts to force recalls of Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed and Democratic King County Councilman Dow Constantine. Berendt writes, “We know what they’re doing, and we’re going to tell the world that it’s the Bush team, with the Bush tactics, and Karl Rove pulling the strings that’s trying to defeat us.” [Seattle Times, 3/5/2005]
Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Dino Rossi, Christine O. Gregoire, Bush administration (43), Dow Constantine, John L. McKay, Mark Braden, Mary Lane, Seattle Times, Paul Berendt, Sam Reed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ken Lisaius
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections
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