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Profile: Joint Terrorism Task Force
Joint Terrorism Task Force was a participant or observer in the following events:
The FBI opens a case on Osama bin Laden. Dan Coleman and John Ligouri, members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), are sent to the CIA Counterterrorist Center (CTC) to see what the CIA knows about bin Laden. “They were amazed by the amount of material - some forty thick files’ worth - that they found.… Most of the information consisted of raw, unfocused data: itineraries, phone records, associates lists, investment holdings, bank transfers.” The vast majority of the data comes from NSA electronic eavesdropping and most of it has not been properly analyzed (see Early 1990s). They find that the CTC has been conducting a vigorous investigation on Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149] Coleman will go on to become the FBI’s biggest expert on bin Laden and will help start the bureau’s bin Laden unit. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 90] It is not known when the CIA or NSA began monitoring bin Laden or El-Hage.
A passenger ferry capsizes on Lake Victoria in East Africa and one of the more than 800 who drown is Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, al-Qaeda’s military commander (his job will be taken over by Mohammed Atef). Al-Qaeda operatives Wadih El-Hage and Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul) show up at the disaster scene to find out if al-Banshiri is still alive. There are many journalists covering the disaster and a Western investigator recognizes Fazul and El-Hage when they happen to appear in some of the widely broadcast footage. [Washington Post, 11/23/1998] El-Hage sends a computer file about the drowning to double agent Ali Mohamed in California. Mohamed’s computer hard drive will be copied by US intelligence in 1997 (see October 1997-September 10, 1998). The CIA already has much of El-Hage’s biography on file by this time. It appears this event, along with the defection of Jamal al-Fadl (see June 1996-April 1997), only strengthen knowledge of the Kenya cell gained earlier in the year (see April 1996). By August 1996, if not earlier, the phones of El-Hage and Fazul in Nairobi are bugged and closely monitored by the CIA and NSA. Apparently, not much is learned from these phone calls because the callers speak in code, but the CIA does learn about other al-Qaeda operatives from the numbers and locations that are being called. This information is shared with the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), and the JTTF becomes “convinced that flipping El-Hage [is] the best way to get to bin Laden.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 200]
Ali Soufan. [Source: CBS News]Ali Soufan joins the FBI. Soufan is a US citizen and recently graduated from a US university, but he is a Muslim who was born and raised in Lebanon and speaks fluent Arabic, making him particularly suited to understanding Islamist militant threats. Soufan is assigned to the FBI’s New York office, which happens to be the office taking the lead in cases involving Osama bin Laden. Initially, Soufan is assigned to Mafia cases. But he has had a long-standing interest in bin Laden, and after reading in an Arabic newspaper about bin Laden’s fatwa (religious edict) against the US in February 1998 (see February 22, 1998), he will write an FBI memo explaining the fatwa’s significance. This will get him increasingly involved in counterterrorism cases, and shortly after the East African embassy bombings in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), he will be assigned to the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF). He will begin working with FBI bin Laden expert John O’Neill and the counterterrorism I-49 squad, which is increasingly focusing on bin Laden. [Soufan, 2011, pp. 1-16]
It is later revealed that, in the years up to 9/11, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has little knowledge of the threat posed by al-Qaeda. [MSNBC, 10/25/2007] In private testimony before the 9/11 Commission in 2004, after being asked about the “flow of information about al-Qaeda threats from 1998-2001,” Giuliani will reply, “At the time, I wasn’t told it was al-Qaeda, but now that I look back at it, I think it was al-Qaeda.” Giuliani will also concede that it was only “after 9/11” that “we brought in people to brief us on al-Qaeda.” Before 9/11, he says, “we had nothing like this… which was a mistake, because if experts share a lot of info,” there would be a “better chance of someone making heads and tails” of the situation. [Village Voice, 10/23/2007] In a later television interview, he will admit that he “didn’t see the enormity of” the threat al-Qaeda posed to the United States prior to 9/11, and add: “I never envisioned the kind of attack that they did.… [W]hat I envisioned were the kind of suicide bombings that had gone on in, in Israel. I had been briefed on that.… But I had no idea of the kind of level of attack that was in store for us.” [MSNBC, 12/9/2007] He blames his lack of knowledge on terrorism partly on the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), a partnership between the FBI and the New York City Police Department. Giuliani will state: “We already had JTTF, and got flow information no one else got. But did we get the flow of information we wanted? No. We would be told about a threat, but not about the underlying nature of the threat. I wanted all the same information the FBI had, and we didn’t get that until after 9/11.” [Village Voice, 10/23/2007] He will also complain, “I was dependent on the briefings that I was getting from… the [Clinton] administration, and… I don’t think they saw the threat as big as it was.” [MSNBC, 12/9/2007] In 2004, the 9/11 Commission asks Thomas Von Essen, who is Giuliani’s fire commissioner, what information he had about terrorism prior to 9/11. He will reply, “I was told nothing at all.” Yet in a speech in 2007, Giuliani will claim that, with the 1993 World Trade Center bombing: “Bin Laden declared war on us.… I thought it was pretty clear at the time, but a lot of people didn’t see it, couldn’t see it.” He also claims to have been “studying terrorism” for more than 30 years. [Associated Press, 6/26/2007; Village Voice, 10/23/2007]
National Security Adviser Sandy Berger chairs a Cabinet-level meeting to review the wave of attempted terror attacks around the millennium. There are counterterrorism reports that disruption efforts “have not put too much of a dent” into bin Laden’s overseas network, and that it is feared “sleeper cells” of al-Qaeda operatives have taken root in the US. It is recommended that the FBI and the Immigration and Naturalization Service should begin “high tempo, ongoing operations to arrest, detain, and deport potential sleeper cells in the United States.” Some ideas, like expanding the number of Joint Terrorism Task Forces across the US, are adopted. Others, like a centralized translation unit for domestic intercepts, are not. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] In July 2004, it is revealed that the Justice Department is investigating Berger for taking classified documents relating to this review effort out of a secure reading room in 2003. Most of the documents are returned, but a few apparently are lost. [Associated Press, 7/20/2004; Washington Post, 7/22/2004]
[Source: Infocom]The US Joint Terrorism Task Force conducts a three-day raid of the offices of InfoCom Corporation, a Texas-based company that hosts about 500 mostly Arab websites, including Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s most popular news channel. [Guardian, 9/10/2001; Web Host Industry Review, 9/10/2001] Three days after the initial raid, the task force is “still busy inside the building, reportedly copying every hard disc they could find. It is not clear how long these websites remain shut down.”
[Guardian, 9/10/2001] InfoCom began to be seriously investigated by the FBI in late 1998 when the name of an employee was discovered in the address book of bin Laden’s former personal secretary. There also was evidence of a financial link between InfoCom and a top Hamas leader (see October 1994-2001).
InfoCom is closely connected to the Holy Land Foundation. Not only are the two organizations across the road from each other in Richardson, Texas, a number of employees work at both organizations. For instance, Ghassan Elashi is both the vice president of InfoCom and chairman of Holy Land. [Guardian, 9/10/2001; New York Times, 12/20/2002] A local bank closes Holy Land’s checking accounts totaling about $13 million around the same time as the raid on InfoCom, but Holy Land’s assets are not officially frozen by the government. [Dallas Business Journal, 9/7/2001] The US will shut down Holy Land and freeze their assets two months later (see December 4, 2001) for suspected ties to Hamas. Holy Land is represented by Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, a Washington, D.C., law firm with unusually close ties to the Bush White House. [Washington Post, 12/17/2001] In 2002, the five brothers running InfoCom will be charged of selling computer equipment overseas in violation of anti-terrorism laws and of supporting Hamas by giving money to Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk through 2001. In 2004, the five brothers will be convicted of the first charge, and in 2005, three brothers will be convicted of the second charge.(see December 18, 2002-April 2005). On a possibly connected note, in the Garland suburb adjoining Richardson, a fifth-grade boy apparently has foreknowledge of 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). [Houston Chronicle, 9/19/2001]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, InfoCom Corporation, US Secret Service, Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, Osama bin Laden, Ghassan Elashi, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Al Jazeera, Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, Hamas, Mousa Abu Marzouk
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
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