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Profile: Michael J. Morell
Michael J. Morell was a participant or observer in the following events:
Just after 8 a.m., President Bush sits down at his hotel on Longboat Key, Florida, for his daily intelligence briefing with Mike Morell, his CIA briefer. They discuss developments in the Middle East, and particularly the Palestinian situation. According to the London Telegraph, “The president’s briefing appears to have included some reference to the heightened terrorist risk reported throughout the summer,” but it contains nothing serious enough to cause Bush to call National Security Adviser Rice, who is currently on her way from her home to her office at the White House. However, journalist and author Ronald Kessler will contradict this, claiming, “Bush placed a call to Condoleezza Rice and asked her to follow up on a few points.” The briefing ends by around 8:15 a.m. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Kessler, 2004, pp. 136; Tenet, 2007, pp. 165]
Bush’s travels in the Sarasota, Florida, region, with key locations marked. [Source: Yvonne Vermillion/ MagicGraphix.com]When Flight 11 hits the WTC at 8:46 a.m., President Bush’s motorcade is crossing the John Ringling Causeway on the way to Booker Elementary School from the Colony Beach and Tennis Resort on Longboat Key. [Washington Times, 10/8/2002] White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer is riding in a motorcade van, along with adviser Karl Rove and Mike Morell, the CIA’s White House briefer. Shortly after the attack, Fleischer is talking on his cell phone, when he blurts out: “Oh, my God, I don’t believe it. A plane just hit the World Trade Center.” (The person with whom he is speaking remains unknown.) Fleischer is told he will be needed on arrival at the school to discuss reports of the crash. [Christian Science Monitor, 9/17/2001; Albuquerque Tribune, 9/10/2002; Tenet, 2007, pp. 165-166] This call takes place “just minutes” after the first news reports of the attack according to one account, or “just before 9:00 a.m.” according to another. [New York Times, 12/1/2002; Kessler, 2004, pp. 138] Fleischer asks Morell if he knows anything about a small plane hitting the World Trade Center. Morell doesn’t, and immediately calls the CIA Operations Center. He is informed that the plane that hit the WTC wasn’t small. [Kessler, 2003, pp. 193; Tenet, 2007, pp. 165-166] Congressman Dan Miller also says he is told about the crash just before meeting Bush at Booker Elementary School at 8:55 a.m. [Sarasota Magazine, 9/19/2001] Some reporters waiting for Bush to arrive also learn of the crash just minutes after it happens. [CBS News, 9/11/2002] It would make sense that the president would be told about the crash immediately, at the same time that others hear about it. His limousine has “Five small black antennae sprouted from the lid of the trunk in order to give Bush the best mobile communications money could buy.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 38] Sarasota Magazine in fact claims that Bush is on Highway 301, just north of Main Street, on his way to the school, when he receives a phone call informing him a plane has crashed in New York City. [Sarasota Magazine, 9/19/2001] Yet the official story remains that he is not told about the crash until he arrives at the school (see (Between 8:55 a.m. and 9:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Author James Bamford comments, “Despite having a secure STU-III phone next to him in the presidential limousine and an entire national security staff at the White House, it appears that the president of the United States knew less than tens of millions of other people in every part of the country who were watching the attack as it unfolded.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 17]
After taking off from Barksdale Air Force Base (see 1:37 p.m. September 11, 2001), President Bush calls Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, to his cabin near the front of the plane. He asks Morell who he thinks is responsible for the attack. Morell replies, “I would bet everything on bin Laden.” He lists some of bin Laden’s previous attacks: the 1998 attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and the 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. Bush asks about the Palestinian extremist group, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Morell says it is unlikely this group could be responsible for the day’s attack, as PFLP simply doesn’t have the capability for something like this. Bush asks how long it will take to know if bin Laden is to blame. Based on previous attacks, Morell says, it will probably be a matter of days. Bush says that if anything definitive is learned about the attack, he wants to be the first to know. [Kessler, 2003, pp. 195; Tenet, 2007, pp. 165-166]
Mike Morell. [Source: Public domain]CIA Director George Tenet arrives at the White House to give the president his daily intelligence briefing. With him is Mike Morell, the president’s regular CIA briefer. They meet with Bush at 8 a.m. in the Oval Office, joined by Vice President Dick Cheney and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. The Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) on this day is about ten to twelve pages long, and a further twelve pages includes full reports from case officers, the Directorate of Intelligence, and the National Security Agency. The PDB includes a review of the available intelligence tracing the previous day’s attacks back to Osama bin Laden and his top al-Qaeda associates. Among the evidence presented:
Several reports identify Capitol Hill and the White House as intended targets of the attacks.
One report says a bin Laden associate incorrectly “gave thanks for the explosion in the Congress building.”
A key figure in the al-Qaeda charity front the Wafa Humanitarian Organization had initially claimed that “The White House has been destroyed,” but then had to correct himself.
A report shows that al-Qaeda members in Afghanistan had said at 9:53 a.m. the previous day that the attackers were following through with “the doctor’s program” (see 9:53 a.m. September 11, 2001). This is thought to be a reference to the second-ranking member of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, an Egyptian physician often referred to as “the Doctor.”
The CIA and the FBI have evidence connecting at least three of the alleged hijackers to Osama bin Laden and his training camps in Afghanistan. Hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, and Salem Alhazmi were quickly linked to al-Qaeda on the day of 9/11, as two of them were on a US watch list even before 9/11 (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001). The attacks were also consistent with intelligence reports throughout the summer that indicated bin Laden was planning “spectacular attacks” against US targets.
A report out of Kandahar, Afghanistan shows the attacks were “the results of two years’ planning.”
Another report says the attacks were “the beginning of the wrath.”
A key piece of evidence involves Abu Zubaida, who has been identified as the chief field commander for the October 2000 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen. A supposedly reliable report received after the 9/11 attacks stated that Zubaida had referred to September 11 as “zero hour.” It is not known is an intercepted message from before 9/11 saying “tomorrow is zero hour,” or some other message (see September 10, 2001).
According to Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward, “For Tenet, the evidence on bin Laden was conclusive—game, set, match.” Though Tenet, along with Rice and other officials, has already spent several months working on a plan to vastly expand covert action in Afghanistan and worldwide, he tells Bush that an even more extensive plan will soon be presented for approval, and this will be very expensive. The president tells him, “Whatever it takes.” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 39-41; Washington Post, 1/28/2002; Kessler, 2003, pp. 231-233; Tenet, 2007, pp. 165] Bush will approve Tenet’s plan by the following Monday (see September 17, 2001).
Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Salem Alhazmi, Michael J. Morell, Osama bin Laden, Khalid Almihdhar, George J. Tenet, Wafa Humanitarian Organization, Abu Zubaida, George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
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