Profile: Lawrence Wright
Lawrence Wright was a participant or observer in the following events:
Osama bin Laden leads a small force of Arab anti-Soviet fighters into Afghanistan to join local forces near the village of Jaji, a few miles from the Pakistan border. The territory where the group sets up is controlled by Afghan warlord Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, an associate of bin Laden’s. One night, the Arabs’ tents are pelted by what appears to be debris from a distant explosion, and in the morning the men find that they are surrounded by mines. As they are withdrawing, they are hit by a missile, which lands a few meters from bin Laden, and there is a huge explosion on a nearby mountain. Three men are wounded and one dies. Finally, the local Afghan forces ask them to withdraw, because, in the words of author Lawrence Wright, “they were so useless.” This appears to be the first time bin Laden fires a weapon or is fired upon during the war. [Wright, 2006, pp. 111]
Bin Laden in Afghanistan, around 1988. [Source: Getty Images]Soviet forces assault a position held by forces commanded by Osama bin Laden, but are repelled. This is the best-known battle in which bin Laden is involved in Afghanistan, and takes place at Jaji, around bin Laden’s Lion’s Den camp (see Late 1986). The attack may be the result of a small skirmish shortly before in which bin Laden’s Arabs attacked a group of Soviet troops, forcing them to withdraw.
Attack - In the initial assault, the Soviets are repulsed by mortar fire, and the defenders are also successful against the second wave, killing and wounding several enemy soldiers. The Soviets then shell bin Laden’s positions for weeks, but the mujaheddin cannot be dislodged. [Wright, 2006, pp. 115-116] Estimates of the number of troops vary. According to author Steve Coll, there are about 50 Arabs facing 200 Soviet troops, including some from an elite Spetsnaz unit. [Coll, 2004, pp. 162]
Withdrawal - However, bin Laden begins to worry that his men will all be killed if they stay longer. As a result, he forces his men to retreat, although some of them protest and have to be cajoled into doing so. Before pulling out, the camp is destroyed so that the Soviets cannot use it; the canons are pushed into a ravine, the automatic weapons buried, and the pantry grenaded.
Ordered to Return - Bin Laden’s men fall back on a camp run by a leading Afghan commander, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, one of the key mujahidden leaders in the area. However, Sayyaf has come to recognize the Lion’s Den’s strategic value, and is angry they pulled back without his approval. Sayyaf orders the Arabs back and sends about twenty of his own men to make sure they hold their position.
Attacked Again, Victorious - After he returns, bin Laden, who has been ill, is too distraught at the camp’s poor condition and lack of food to give orders, and one of his senior assistants, Abu Ubaidah al-Banshiri, takes over. Bin Laden is sent to guard one of the camp’s flanks, but his small group of men encounters a Soviet advance and comes under heavy mortar fire. Bin Laden will later comment, “It was a terrible battle, which ended up with me half sunk in the ground, firing at anything I could see.” Many accounts will say that at this point bin Laden falls asleep under enemy fire, although, according to author Lawrence Wright, he may actually faint due to low blood pressure. In any event, late in the day al-Banshiri is able to outflank the Soviets and force them to withdraw, securing a great victory for the Arabs.
Significance of Battle - The Lion’s Den is only a small part of a larger engagement mostly fought by the Soviets against Sayyaf’s Afghans, but it is a hugely important propaganda victory for the Arabs. Bin Laden, who is given a Soviet AK-47 by al-Banshiri after the battle, will later comment, “The morale of the mujaheddin soared, not only in our area, but in the whole of Afghanistan.” Wright will later comment that it gives the Arabs “a reputation for courage and recklessness that established their legend, at least among themselves,” and becomes “the foundation of the myth that they defeated the superpower.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 118-120] Coll will add: “Chronicled daily at the time by several Arab journalists who observed the fighting from a mile or two away, the battle of Jaji marked the birth of Osama bin Laden’s public reputation as a warrior among Arab jihadists… After Jaji he began a media campaign designed to publicize the brave fight waged by Arab volunteers who stood their ground against a superpower. In interviews and speeches around Peshawar and back home in Saudi Arabia, bin Laden sought to recruit new fighters to his cause and to chronicle his own role as a military leader.” [Coll, 2004, pp. 163]
The picture of Ayman al-Zawahiri on the fake Sudanese passport he used to enter Russia in 1996. [Source: Wall Street Journal]Ayman Zawahiri, leader of Islamic Jihad and effective number two leader of al-Qaeda, travels to Chechnya with two associates. His associates are Ahmad Salama Mabruk, head of Islamic Jihad’s cell in Azerbaijan, and Mahmud Hisham al-Hennawi, a well-traveled militant. Chechnya was fighting to break free from Russian rule and achieved a cease-fire and de facto independence earlier in the year (see August 1996). Zawahiri hopes to establish new connections there. However, on December 1, 1996, he and his associates are arrested by Russian authorities as they try to cross into Chechnya. Zawahiri is carrying four passports, none showing his real identity. The Russians confiscate Zawahiri’s laptop and send it to Moscow for analysis, but apparently they never translate the Arabic documents on it that could have revealed who he really is. Though some Russian investigators suspect Zawahiri is a “big fish,” they can’t prove it. He and his two associates are released after six months. [Wall Street Journal, 7/2/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 249-250] Later in December 2006, Canadian intelligence learns that Marbuk at least is being held. They know his real identity, but apparently do not share this information with Russia (see December 13, 1996-June 1997). Author Lawrence Wright will later comment, “This fiasco had a profound consequence. With even more defectors from [Islamic Jihad during Zawahiri’s unexplained absence] and no real source of income, Zawahiri had no choice but to join bin Laden” in Afghanistan. Prior to this arrest, Zawahiri had been travelling all over the world and earlier in 1996 he apparently lived in Switzerland and Sarajevo, Bosnia. But afterwards he remains in Afghanistan with bin Laden until the 9/11 attacks. As a result, Islamic Jihad and al-Qaeda will grow even closer until they completely merge a few months before 9/11 (see June 2001). [Wright, 2006, pp. 249-250]
Before the US fires missiles in an attempt to kill al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, it fails to launch aircraft to track the usage of satellite phones by al-Qaeda leaders (see August 19, 1998 and August 20, 1998). Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri actually talks to a journalist on the phone around the time of the missile strike (see August 20, 1998) and, had the US had aircraft monitoring Afghanistan, his error in using the phone may have resulted in his death, although this is not certain. Author Lawrence Wright will later comment: “If surveillance aircraft had been positioned in the region, al-Zawahiri’s call to the reporter would have given agents his exact location. But the strike was delivered so quickly that there was little time to prepare. Still, American intelligence knew in general where bin Laden and al-Zawahiri were hiding, so the fact that the surveillance aircraft were not available prior to the strike is inexplicable. Had they pinpointed al-Zawahiri prior to launch there is little question that he would have been killed in the strike. On the other hand, it takes several hours to prepare a missile for firing, and the flight time from the warships in the Arabian sea across Pakistan to eastern Afghanistan was more than two hours. By the time al-Zawahiri picked up the phone the missiles were probably already on their way and it was already too late.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 283]
During the investigation of the Millennium plots to attack targets in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), the local intelligence service gives the chief of the CIA station in Amman a box of evidence to examine. However, the station chief, apparently called “Hendrik V.,” ignores the box; he dumps it in a corner of his office and fails to inform his FBI colleagues of it. A few days later, FBI agent Ali Souofan is in Hendrik V.‘s office and asks what is in the box. Hendrik V. replies that it is just “junk” the Jordanians gave him. Soufan starts to go through the box and finds key evidence, such as a map of the proposed bomb sites. The evidence is then returned to the Jordanians, so they can start following the leads. Author Lawrence Wright will comment, “Soufan’s success embarrassed the CIA.” [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ; Soufan, 2011, pp. 139-140] Hendrik V. will later be promoted to run the Sunni Extremist Group at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (see (Between Summer and Winter 2001)).
Around eight calls made by hijacker Khalid Almihdhar from San Diego to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, run by his father-in-law Ahmed al-Hada are intercepted by the NSA. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 16-17, 157 ; Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] At least one of the calls is made from a phone registered to hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi in their San Diego apartment. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 251 ] Other calls are made from a mobile phone registered to Alhazmi. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 296] Calls may also be made from the communications hub to the US. [MSNBC, 7/21/2004]
Dates of Calls - One of the calls takes place days after they move into their San Diego apartment in February (see January 15-February 2000). [MSNBC, 7/21/2004] Another is on March 20, 2000 and lasts 16 minutes. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 57 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 251 ]
Intercepted by NSA - Although NSA analysts pick up Almihdhar’s first name, “Khalid,” they do not connect it to his second name, even though the NSA has been intercepting communications to and from the hub involving him throughout 1999 (see Early 1999 and December 29, 1999) and he is on the NSA watch list at this point (see Mid-January 2000). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. xii, 16, 157 ; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004] Some, or perhaps all, of these calls are between Almihdhar and his wife, who lives at the communications hub and reportedly gives birth to a daughter in early 2000 while Almihdhar is in the US. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; Wright, 2006, pp. 343; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] However, the NSA analysts suspect that Khalid is part of an “operational cadre.” [US News and World Report, 3/15/2004]
Dissemination and Content - According to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry, the NSA disseminates some of this information to the FBI, CIA, and other agencies, but not all of it, as it apparently does not meet reporting thresholds. It is unclear why it does not meet such thresholds, although some sources will suggest Almihdhar was just talking to his wife. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ; US News and World Report, 3/15/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 222; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94] Another source suggests operational information was passed on during the calls (see Early 2000-Summer 2001). However, two FBI agents who worked on al-Qaeda cases relating to Yemen, Dan Coleman and Ali Soufan, will later claim that they and other senior counterterrorism officials only learn about these calls after 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 12/21/2005; Suskind, 2006, pp. 94; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
Significance - Author Lawrence Wright will comment: “You know, this is the key. The NSA is all over this phone. And everybody, you know, that has any connection with it is drawing links from that phone. Now imagine eight lines from Yemen to San Diego. How obvious would it be that al-Qaeda is in America[?]” [Federal News Service, 10/5/2006]
Other Calls - The NSA also intercepts various other communications between the hijackers and the communications hub (see Early 2000-Summer 2001).
Based on information obtained during the investigation of the USS Cole bombing (see Late October-Late November 2000), the FBI asks the CIA for information about al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash and a possible al-Qaeda meeting in Southeast Asia in early 2000, but the CIA withholds the information. The request is sent by FBI Director Louis Freeh on behalf of agent Ali Soufan, who is working on the Cole investigation. Soufan began to suspect such a meeting may have taken place when he learned that two of the operatives involved in the bombing had taken money out of Yemen to give to bin Attash in Thailand before the attack (see January 13, 2000), making him think the money may have been intended for a bigger plot. The CIA is highly aware of the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000), which was considered so important that CIA Director George Tenet and other CIA leaders were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000). The CIA has photos of bin Attash and al-Quso attending the meeting (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After), which took place only a few days before al-Quso’s meeting with bin Attash in Thailand. Yet the CIA does not respond to Soufan’s clearly stated request. Author Lawrence Wright will later comment, “The fact that the CIA withheld information about the mastermind of the Cole bombing and the meeting in Malaysia, when directly asked by the FBI, amount[s] to obstruction of justice in the death of seventeen American sailors [who were killed in the Cole bombing].” Although he was not told one of the 9/11 hijackers had a US visa, Freeh was briefed on the Malaysia summit when it took place (see January 6, 2000), but apparently he does not tell Soufan what he knows, and Soufan remains unaware that any kind of al-Qaeda meeting in Southeast Asia even occurred. [Wright, 2006, pp. 328-9; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
Ali Soufan in Afghanistan after 9/11. [Source: FBI]Ali Soufan, a lead investigator into the bombing of the USS Cole, again requests information from the CIA about leads turned up by the investigation. He made a similar request in late 2000, but got no reply (see Late November 2000). After learning that some of the bombers made calls between one of their houses in Yemen, the Washington Hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, where some of them stayed, and a payphone in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see (January 5-8, 2000) and Early December 2000), Soufan sends an official teletype with the request for information and also a photo of al-Qaeda manager Khallad bin Attash. The CIA is well aware that there was an al-Qaeda summit at a condominium near the payphone in Kuala Lumpur (see January 5-8, 2000), and in fact considered it so important that CIA Director George Tenet and other CIA leaders were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000). [New York Times, 4/11/2004; Wright, 2006, pp. 330-331; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] The CIA even has photos from the Malaysia summit of al-Quso standing next to hijacker Khalid Almihdhar, and other photos of bin Attash standing next to Almihdhar. [Newsweek, 9/20/2001 ] However, the CIA does not share any of what they know with Soufan, and Soufan continues to remain unaware the Malaysia summit even took place. Author Lawrence Wright will later comment, “If the CIA had responded to Soufan by supplying him with the intelligence he requested, the FBI would have learned of the Malaysia summit and of the connection to Almihdhar and Alhazmi. The bureau would have learned—as the [CIA] already knew—that the al-Qaeda operatives were in America and had been there for more than a year. Because there was a preexisting indictment for bin Laden in New York, and Almihdhar and Alhazmi were his associates, the bureau already had the authority to follow the suspects, wiretap their apartment, intercept their communications, clone their computer, investigate their contacts—all the essential steps that might have prevented 9/11.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 330-331]
CIA managers Gary Schroen, of the Near East division, and Richard Blee, responsible for Alec Station, the agency’s bin Laden unit, meet Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud in Paris, France. [Coll, 2004, pp. 560] Massoud, who is in Europe to address the European Parliament (see April 6, 2001), tells Schroen and Blee “that his own intelligence had learned of al-Qaeda’s intention to perform a terrorist act against the United States that would be vastly greater than the bombings of the American embassies in East Africa.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 337] Declassified Defense Intelligence Agency documents from November 2001 will say that Massoud has gained “limited knowledge… regarding the intentions of [al-Qaeda] to perform a terrorist act against the US on a scale larger than the 1998 bombing of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.” They will further point out he may have been assassinated two days before 9/11 (see September 9, 2001) because he “began to warn the West.” [PakTribune (Islamabad), 9/13/2003; Agence France-Presse, 9/14/2003] Blee hands Massoud a briefcase full of cash. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Schroen and Blee assure Massoud that, although he has been visited less by the CIA recently, they are still interested in working with him, and they will continue to make regular payments of several hundred thousand dollars each month. Commenting on the military situation in Afghanistan, Massoud says his defenses will hold for now, but the Northern Alliance is doing badly and no longer has the strength to counterattack. [Coll, 2004, pp. 561-2]
CIA manager Tom Wilshire recommends that an officer be assigned to review information about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit, to see if there are any connections between it and the attack against the USS Cole. The task is assigned to Margaret Gillespie, an agent on loan from the FBI. Author Lawrence Wright will comment: “[B]ut [Wilshire] did not reveal that some of the participants might be in the United States. More important, he conveyed none of the urgency reflected in [an e-mail he sent his superiors around this time]; he told [Gillespie] that she should examine the material in her free time. She didn’t get around to it until the end of July.” Perhaps partially due to the request’s lack of urgency, it seemingly takes Gillespie three months to work out what Wilshire already knows: that some of the 9/11 hijackers have entered the US. One reason is that a database search conducted by Gillespie is incomplete (see (Late May-Early June)). However, Gillespie will alert one of Wilshire’s associates at the FBI to the men’s presence in the US in late August (see August 21-22, 2001). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 297-8 ; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
Although three surveillance photographs of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit are passed to the FBI at this time (see Late May, 2001 and June 11, 2001), another key photograph the CIA has of the meeting is withheld by CIA officers Clark Shannon and Tom Wilshire. The key photograph shows al-Qaeda logistics manager Khallad bin Attash, who commanded the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). Author Lawrence Wright will later comment: “Thanks to [FBI agent Ali] Soufan’s interrogation of [USS Cole bomber Fahad al-Quso], the Cole investigators had an active file on Khallad and were preparing to indict him. Knowledge of that fourth photo would likely have prompted [FBI manager John] O’Neill to demand that the CIA turn over all information relating to Khallad and his associates. By withholding the picture of Khallad attending the meeting with the future hijackers [Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi], the CIA may in effect have allowed the September 11th plot to proceed.” [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] The CIA also has video and even more photos of the meeting (see January 5, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After), but these are not shared either, and it is unclear how aware Wilshire and Shannon are of this additional material.
Margaret Gillespie. [Source: Doug Dreyer / Associated Press]The FBI and the CIA hold a meeting to discuss the investigation into the USS Cole bombing and a possible connection between it and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000). However, the CIA and FBI headquarters refuse to share all they know, and agents investigating the Cole bombing become angry over this.
Attendees - The meeting, which lasts between two and four hours, is attended by CIA officer Clark Shannon, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA named Margaret Gillespie, FBI agent Steve Bongardt, FBI agent Russell Fincher, and Assistant US Attorney David Kelley.
Purpose - Although there is no agenda for the meeting and Corsi will later say it is a brainstorming session, author Lawrence Wright will say that one of the reasons for the meeting is that CIA officer Tom Wilshire, an associate of Shannon’s, “want[ed] to know… what the FBI knew” about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit. [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 ; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] FBI agent Ali Soufan will also say that he later learned that Wilshire “was fishing to see if the FBI knew anything about the men in the photos.” [Soufan, 2011, pp. 243]
Photos Shown - Initially, Bongardt and Fincher brief Shannon on progress in the Cole investigation. Corsi then shows the two Cole investigators three photographs taken at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000), showing future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and another man, and Shannon asks if the agents recognize Fahad al-Quso, who is thought to have attended the Malaysia summit and has been interviewed by the FBI. However, one of the photos shows Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and a tree, and the CIA has already recognized Almihdhar and Alhazmi, so it is unclear how the Cole investigators are supposed to recognize al-Quso in the photo. Corsi received the photographs from Wilshire, but Wilshire did not provide her with all the relevant information about them (see Late May, 2001).
Questions Asked - Bongardt and Fincher ask who is in the pictures, why were taken, and whether there are other photos of the meeting. Shannon refuses to say, but Corsi eventually admits one of the men is named Khalid Almihdhar. As a name alone is not sufficient reason to start an investigation, Bongardt asks for a date of birth or other details that will allow him to know which Khalid Almihdhar in the world is being discussed, but Shannon refuses to provide them. Shannon admits that Almihdhar was traveling on a Saudi passport and then leaves the meeting. Lawrence Wright will say that providing a date of birth is “standard procedure—the first thing most investigators would do.” Realizing that the photos pertain to the Cole investigation, Bongardt and Fincher become angry at the lack of information being provided and the meeting descends into a “shouting match.” [ABC News, 8/16/2002; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-294 ; New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ]
What Shannon Knew - Shannon will later admit that at this time he knew Almihdhar had a US visa, that Alhazmi had traveled to the US in 2000, that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash had been recognized in one of the photos, and that Alhazmi was known to be an experienced operative. However, he does not tell any of this to any FBI agents, as he apparently thinks he does not have the authority. He does not let them keep copies of the photos either and will give conflicting accounts of the meeting after 9/11 (see Between September 12, 2001 and October 17, 2002). [US Congress, 7/24/2003 ; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 289-292 ]
Corsi Withholds Information - Corsi has NSA information saying Almihdhar and Alhazmi attended the Malaysia meeting, but apparently believes that the Cole agents cannot be told more because of restrictions on sharing intelligence with criminal agents (see July 19, 1995). However, one of the Cole agents present is an intelligence agent, so the information can be communicated to him immediately without Corsi obtaining permission from the NSA and/or Justice Department. In addition, the NSA sent the information to the FBI’s New York field office, where the Cole investigators are based, in 1999 (see December 1999-January 2000). Furthermore, when she asks the NSA’s permission to share the information 10 weeks later, the NSA approves the request on the same day (see August 27-28, 2001). She does not share the information at this time, but promises Bongardt and Fincher to try to do so later. The Cole agents will not receive more information for months. [US Congress, 9/20/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 269, 537]
Almihdhar Gets New Visa - Two days after this meeting, Almihdhar has no trouble getting a new, multiple reentry US visa (see May 2001 and June 13, 2001). [US News and World Report, 12/12/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002]
Entity Tags: Dina Corsi, Khalid Almihdhar, David Kelley, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Clark Shannon, Margaret Gillespie, Ali Soufan, Steve Bongardt, Central Intelligence Agency, Russell Fincher, Khallad bin Attash, Nawaf Alhazmi, Lawrence Wright
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Ali Soufan, an FBI agent working on the investigation into the USS Cole bombing, submits a third request to the CIA for information about travel by al-Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia (see Late November 2000 and April 2001). Whereas in previous requests to the CIA he had only asked for information about a possible meeting somewhere in Southeast Asia, he has now developed a much clearer understanding of the relationship between al-Qaeda manager Khallad bin Attash and the Cole conspirators, and correctly suspects some operatives met in Malaysia in January 2000. He asks the CIA about this and about a trip by bin Attash to Bangkok to meet another two members of the Cole bombing team (see January 13, 2000). The CIA actually monitored the meeting Soufan suspects took place in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and considered it so important that the CIA director and other top officials were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000), but the CIA does not respond to his inquiry. FBI managers are also aware of some of this information, including the existence of an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia at the time Soufan suspects one took place, but they apparently do not tell Soufan either (see January 6, 2000). [New Yorker, 7/10/2006 ] Author Lawrence Wright will later say: “The FBI’s investigating the death of 17 American sailors and they’re asking the CIA for information that would solve the crime. And the CIA is refusing, essentially obstructing justice.” [Federal News Service, 10/5/2006]
The US intelligence community begins monitoring Lawrence Wright, a journalist and author who writes on counterterrorism. In addition to his articles for the New Yorker, in 2006 Wright publishes The Looming Tower, an account of the run-up to 9/11 which discloses the names of mid-level officials who performed badly. [Wright, 2006; New Yorker, 1/21/2008] Apparently, the surveillance begins when Wright calls a relative of al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. The relative, an architect in Cairo, had asked Wright if he knew whether all of al-Zawahiri’s children were dead after Wright published a profile of al-Zawahiri in the New Yorker. A source with the FBI (wrongly) told Wright that they were and that the information was not secret, so Wright passes the news on to the architect over the telephone. An intelligence community source will tell Wright that he later reads a transcript of this call. Wright will later say that he is surprised by this, because he thinks his part of the call should be anonimized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act as he is a US citizen. Before the publication of his book in 2006, Wright is visited at his home by FBI officials on the local Joint Terrorism Task Force. The officials ask him about calls he makes to a solicitor in Britain who is representing Islamist radicals Wright interviews for his book. During the visit, the FBI agents express the belief that it is Wright’s daughter who made the calls. It is unclear to Wright why they think this, as none of the home phones is in her name. Wright is troubled by this and around late 2007 will ask Director of National Intelligence Mike McConnell about it. McConnell will say that the call to the architect “shoud be” monitored and that Wright’s identity would have been deleted originally, as it could only be made available to the intelligence community after a legitimate request for it. “So here’s what I think—I’m guessing,” McConnell will say. “You called a bad guy, the system listened, tried to sort it out, and they did an intel report because it had foreign intelligence value. That’s our mission.” McConnell adds that the FBI would have to have had probable cause and a warrant to tap his phone and that he does not know how Wright’s daughter’s name could have come up. [New Yorker, 1/21/2008]
After 9/11 there was much discussion about how hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar were able to participate in an operation like 9/11, even though they were well known to US intelligence (see, for example, January 5-8, 2000, Early 2000-Summer 2001, and 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).
FBI Theory - Based on conversations with FBI agents, author Lawrence Wright speculates on why the CIA withheld information it should have given the FBI: “Some… members of the [FBI’s] I-49 squad would later come to believe that the [CIA] was shielding Almihdhar and Alhazmi because it hoped to recruit them.… [They] must have seemed like attractive opportunities; however, once they entered the United States they were the province of the FBI. The CIA has no legal authority to operate inside the country, although in fact, the bureau often caught the agency running backdoor operations in the United States.… It is also possible, as some FBI investigators suspect, the CIA was running a joint venture with Saudi intelligence in order to get around that restriction. Of course, it is also illegal for foreign intelligence services to operate in the United States, but they do so routinely.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 312-313]
Explanation of Acquired Visas - This theory offers a possible explanation, for example, of how Almihdhar and Alhazmi managed to move in and out of Saudi Arabia and obtain US visas there even though they were supposedly on the Saudi watch list (see 1997 and April 3-7, 1999), and why a Saudi agent in the US associated with them (see January 15-February 2000). Wright points out that “these are only theories” but still notes that “[h]alf the guys in the Bureau think CIA was trying to turn them to get inside al-Qaeda.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 313; Media Channel, 9/5/2006]
Participant Does Not Know - Doug Miller, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA who was part of a plot to withhold the information from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), will indicate he does not know why he was ordered to withhold the information, but that his superiors may have had a good reason for keeping it from the FBI. Another intelligence source will claim that the CIA withheld the information to keep the FBI away from a sensitive operation to penetrate al-Qaeda. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008]
CIA Wanted to Keep FBI Off Case - Another unnamed FBI agent loaned to Alec Station before 9/11 will say: “They didn’t want the bureau meddling in their business—that’s why they didn’t tell the FBI. Alec Station… 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… the FBI running over their case.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 20]
Similar Explanation - Wright is not the first to have made the suggestion that Alhazmi and Almihdhar were protected for recruitment purposes. Investigative journalist Joe Trento reported in 2003 that a former US intelligence official had told him that Alhazmi and Almihdhar were already Saudi Arabian intelligence agents when they entered the US (see August 6, 2003).
The US government selectively releases videos of Osama bin Laden found in the raid that killed him (see May 2, 2011). ABC News reports, “The US government is running a full-court press to prevent Osama bin Laden from becoming a hallowed martyr by using what are essentially out-takes of videos made by bin Laden to paint him instead as a vain, pathetic old man, experts said today.” Excerpts from five videos are made public. The one that attracts the most attention shows bin Laden in his Abbottabad, Pakistan, hidehout, wrapped in a blanket and watching videos of himself on television. He is seen using a remote control to frequently change channels. Author Lawrence Wright comments, “[This is] just a guy who wants to be seen, who wants to be known. [It’s] very pathetic in a way.” [ABC News, 5/9/2011]
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