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Profile: Osama bin Laden
a.k.a. Osama Muhammad Al-Wahad bin Laden, Usama bin Laden, OBL, UBL, The Sheikh, Abu Abdullah, Sheikh, Osama bin Ladin, Mujahid Shaykh, Shaykh Usama Bin Ladin, Emir, Director
Osama bin Laden was a participant or observer in the following events:
Another deputies meeting further considers policy toward Afghanistan and Pakistan, and makes further revisions to the National Security Presidential Directive regarding al-Qaeda. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] By the end of the meeting, a formal, three-phase strategy is agreed upon. An envoy is to go to Afghanistan and give the Taliban another chance to expel Osama bin Laden. If this fails, more pressure will be put on the Taliban, including more support for the Northern Alliance and other groups. If the Taliban still refuse to change, the US will try to overthrow them through more direct action. The time-frame for this strategy is about three years. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] CIA Director George Tenet is formally tasked to draw up new authorities for the covert action program envisioned and request funding to implement it. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The directive is then to be sent to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice for approval. President Bush is apparently aware of the directive and prepared to sign it (though he hasn’t attended any of the meetings about it), but he will not sign it until October. [MSNBC, 5/16/2002; Los Angeles Times, 5/18/2002; Washington Post, 4/1/2004]
According to a 2007 book by former CIA Director George Tenet, shortly before 9/11, the CIA learns that a Pakistani charity front has been helping al-Qaeda acquire weapons of mass destruction. The charity, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), was founded in 2000 by two prominent nuclear scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed (see 2000). UTN allegedly is conducting charitable projects in Afghanistan, but a friendly intelligence service tells the CIA that UTN is really helping al-Qaeda build weapons, especially nuclear weapons. Tenet will claim that he presses “all of our contacts worldwide to find out anything we could about the people and organizations with WMD that might be wiling to share expertise with al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.” Ben Bonk, deputy chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC), meets with Musa Kusa, head of Libya’s intelligence service, and Kusa tells him that Libya had contact with UTN. “Yes, they tried to sell us a nuclear weapon. Of course, we turned them down.” According to Tenet, this confirms other information from a different intelligence agency that UTN approached Libya with an offer to provide WMD expertise. The CIA then informs the Pakistani government of this, and Pakistan brings in seven board members of UTN for questioning. But according to Tenet, “The investigation was ill-fated from the get-go” and the UTN officials “were not properly isolated and questioned.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 262-263] Also shortly before 9/11, the CIA also learns that the two nuclear scientists who founded UTN had recently met with Osama bin Laden and advised him on how to make a nuclear weapon (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001). But despite all this the US takes no other action against UTN before 9/11, not even freezing the assets of the charity until December 2001 (see Early October-December 2001).
The CIA learns that two prominent Pakistani nuclear scientists have met with al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in mid-August 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell will tell Pakistani officials when he visits Pakistan in October this year (see Early October-December 2001). In the meeting, the two scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, discussed helping al-Qaeda make a nuclear weapon (see Mid-August 2001). [Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 268-269] CIA Director George Tenet will confirm, in a 2007 book, that the CIA learned of this meeting prior to 9/11. He will write: “A Western intelligence service came to us in the fall of 2001 [with details of the meeting].… [The] CIA pressed the Pakistanis to confront Mahmood and Majeed with this new information. We put [evidence that a charity named Ummah Tameer-e-Nau run by Mahmood and Majeed tried to sell Libya a nuclear weapon] on the table. We also passed new information that had been collected by other intelligence services. To no avail. Then 9/11 struck and there was no slowing down in this pursuit.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 264] No evidence will be presented showing that President Bush or other top US officials are warned of this, or that there are any general warnings inside the US government about this. Pakistan is not successfully pressured about it before 9/11 (in fact, the Pakistani ISI already knows about it and has failed to warn the US (see Between Mid-August and September 10, 2001)), and after 9/11 the only action Pakistan will take is to twice arrest and then quickly release the two scientists. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will comment in a 2007 book, “This information, added to the missing canisters of highly enriched uranium [in Pakistan], might have been sufficient to redirect” top Bush officials to take sterner action against al-Qaeda before 9/11. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 311]
National Security Adviser Rice is scheduled to deliver a speech claiming to address “the threats and problems of today and the day after, not the world of yesterday.” The speech is never given due to the 9/11 attacks earlier in the day, but the text is later leaked to the media. The Washington Post calls the speech “telling Insight into the administration’s thinking” because it promotes missile defense and contains no mention of al-Qaeda, bin Laden, or Islamic extremist groups. The only mention of terrorism is in the context of the danger of rogue nations such as Iraq. In fact, there are almost no public mentions of bin Laden or al-Qaeda by Bush or other top Bush administration officials before 9/11, and the focus instead is on missile defense. [Washington Post, 4/1/2004; Washington Post, 4/1/2004]
From left to right: Senator Bob Graham (D), Senator Jon Kyl (R), and Representative Porter Goss (R). [Source: US Senate, National Park Service, US House of Representatives]Around 8:00 a.m., on September 11, 2001, ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed is at a breakfast meeting at the Capitol with the chairmen of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, Senator Bob Graham (D-FL) and Representative Porter Goss (R-FL), a 10-year veteran of the CIA’s clandestine operations wing. Also present at the meeting are Senator Jon Kyl (R-AZ) and the Pakistani ambassador to the US, Maleeha Lodhi, as well as other officials and aides. (Goss, Kyl, and Graham had just met with Pakistani President Pervez Mushrraf in Pakistan two weeks earlier (see August 28-30, 2001)). [Salon, 9/14/2001; Washington Post, 5/18/2002] Graham and Goss will later co-head the joint House-Senate investigation into the 9/11 attacks, which will focus on Saudi government involvement in the 9/11 attacks, but will say almost nothing about possible Pakistani government connections to al-Qaeda and the 9/11 attacks (see August 1-3, 2003 and December 11, 2002). [Washington Post, 7/11/2002] Note that Senator Graham should have been aware of a report made to his staff the previous month (see Early August 2001) that one of Mahmood’s subordinates had told a US undercover agent that the WTC would be destroyed. Some evidence suggests that Mahmood ordered that $100,000 be sent to hijacker Mohamed Atta (see October 7, 2001).
Pakistan's Demands - Graham will later say of the meeting: “We were talking about terrorism, specifically terrorism generated from Afghanistan.” The New York Times will report that bin Laden is specifically discussed. [Vero Beach Press Journal, 9/12/2001; Salon, 9/14/2001; New York Times, 6/3/2002] The US wants more support from Pakistan in its efforts to capture bin Laden. However, Mahmood says that unless the US lifts economic sanctions imposed on Pakistan and improves relations, Pakistan will not oppose the Taliban nor provide intelligence and military support to get bin Laden. He says, “If you need our help, you need to address our problems and lift US sanctions.” He also encourages the US to engage the Taliban diplomatically to get them to change, instead of isolating them. Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid will later comment, “It was absurd for Mahmood to insist now that the Americans engage with the Taliban, when [Pakistan’s] own influence over them was declining and al-Qaeda’s increasing.”
Meeting Interrupted by 9/11 Attacks - Zamir Akram, an accompanying Pakistani diplomat, leaves the room for a break. While outside, he sees a group of Congressional aides gathered around a television set. As Akram walks up to the TV, he sees the second plane crashing into the World Trade Center. He immediately runs back to the meeting to the tell the others. But even as he gets there, a congressional aide comes in to say that Capitol Hill is being evacuated. The aide says, “There is a plane headed this way.” Mahmood and the rest of the Pakistani delegation immediately leave and attempt to return to the Pakistani embassy. But they are stuck in traffic for three hours before they get there. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 26-27]
New Yorker magazine will later report that bin Laden, al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri, and some of their followers evacuated their residences in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and fled into the nearby mountains. By the time the attacks start, they are listening to an Arabic radio station reporting about the 9/11 attacks as they happen. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002]
David Boren. [Source: University of Oklahoma]CIA Director George Tenet is told of the first WTC crash while he is eating breakfast with his mentor, former Senator David Boren (D-OK), at the St. Regis Hotel in Washington, DC. They are interrupted when CIA bodyguards converge on the table to hand Tenet a cell phone. Tenet is told that the WTC has been attacked by an airplane. Boren later says, “I was struck by the fact that [the messenger] used the word ‘attacked.’” Tenet then hands the cell phone back to an aide and says to Boren, “You know, this has bin Laden’s fingerprints all over it.” “‘He was very collected,’ Boren recalls. ‘He said he would be at the CIA in 15 minutes, what people he needed in the room and what he needed to talk about.’” [USA Today, 9/24/2001; ABC News, 9/14/2002] According to other accounts, Tenet responds to the caller, “They steered the plane directly into the building?” Tenet then says to Boren, “That looks like bin Laden.” Tenet muses aloud, “I wonder if this has something to do with the guy [Zacarias Moussaoui] who trained for a pilot’s license.” (Moussaoui had been arrested several weeks earlier.) [St. Paul Pioneer Press, 5/29/2002; Stern, 8/13/2003] According to another account, Tenet pauses while on the phone to tell Boren, “The World Trade Center has been hit. We’re pretty sure it wasn’t an accident. It looks like a terrorist act,” then returns to the phone to identify who should be summoned to the CIA situation room. [Time, 9/14/2001] Tenet later tells author Ronald Kessler, “There was no doubt that al-Qaeda was going to come here eventually, and that something spectacular was planned. I knew immediately who it was [behind the attack].” [Kessler, 2003, pp. 196] In his own 2007 book, Tenet will largely confirm the above accounts. He will add, “Most people, I understand, assumed that the first crash was a tragic accident. It took the second plane hitting the second tower to show them that something far worse was going on. That wasn’t the case for me. We had been living too intimately with the possibility of a terrorist attack on the United States. I instantly thought that this had to be al-Qaeda.” He also mentions thinking aloud about Moussaoui. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 161] Tenet will subsequently hurry back to CIA headquarters in his car (see (8:55 a.m.-9:15 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
At the CIA’s Langley headquarters, Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt has arrived back at his office after attending an 8:30 a.m. meeting in the agency’s conference room (see (8:48 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The second WTC tower has already been hit by this time. Pavitt sends a message to all CIA stations, saying, “I expect each station and each officer to redouble efforts of collecting intelligence on this tragedy.” Mary, the CIA’s New York station chief, calls him. In this call, Pavitt and Mary agree that Osama bin Laden is behind the attack. According to journalist and author Ronald Kessler, they believe that “Its scope, temerity, degree of planning, and viciousness fit his way of operating.” [Kessler, 2003, pp. 202-204]
Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT), a member of both the Senate Intelligence and Judiciary Committees, says he has just been “briefed by the highest levels of the FBI and of the intelligence community.” He says, “They’ve come to the conclusion that this looks like the signature of Osama bin Laden, and that he may be the one behind this.” [Salon, 9/11/2001]
At around 9:30 p.m., Afghanistan time (1:00 p.m., New York time), Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil holds a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, and claims that the 9/11 attacks did not originate from Afghanistan. He reads a statement by Taliban leader Mullah Omar, which claims that Osama bin Laden also was not involved: “This type of terrorism is too great for one man,” the statement says. [New Yorker, 6/10/2002]
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]
Two sections from RumsfeldÃ¢Â€Â™s notes, dictated to Stephen Cambone. [Source: Defense Department]Defense Secretary Rumsfeld aide Stephen Cambone is taking notes on behalf of Rumsfeld in the National Military Command Center. These notes will be leaked to the media nearly a year later. According to the notes, although Rumsfeld has already been given information indicating the 9/11 attacks were done by al-Qaeda (see 12:05 p.m. September 11, 2001) and he has been given no evidence so far indicating any Iraqi involvement, he is more interested in blaming the attacks on Iraq. According to his aide’s notes, Rumsfeld wants the “best info fast. Judge whether good enough hit S.H. [Saddam Hussein] at same time. Not only UBL [Osama bin Laden].… Need to move swiftly.… Go massive. Sweep it all up. Things related and not.” [CBS News, 9/4/2002; Bamford, 2004, pp. 285] In a 2004 book, author James Moore will write, “Unless Rumsfeld had an inspired moment while the rest of the nation was in shock, the notes are irrefutable proof that the Bush administration had designs on Iraq and Hussein well before the president raised his hand to take the oath of office.” [Moore, 3/15/2004, pp. 18]
President Bush takes part in a video teleconference at Offutt Air Force Base. Chief of Staff Andrew Card sits on his left, and Admiral Richard Mies sits on his left.
[Source: White House]At Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska, President Bush convenes the first meeting of the National Security Council since the attacks occurred. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 26] He begins the video conference call from a bunker beneath the base. He and Chief of Staff Andrew Card visually communicate directly with Vice President Cheney, National Security Adviser Rice, Defense Secretary Rumsfeld, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, CIA Director Tenet, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and others. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; ABC News, 9/11/2002; Washington Times, 10/8/2002] According to Clarke, Bush begins the meeting by saying, “I’m coming back to the White House as soon as the plane is fueled. No discussion.” But according to Condoleezza Rice, he begins with the words, “We’re at war.” Clarke leads a quick review of what has already occurred, and issues that need to be quickly addressed. Bush asks CIA Director Tenet who he thinks is responsible for the day’s attacks. Tenet later recalls, “I told him the same thing I had told the vice president several hours earlier: al-Qaeda. The whole operation looked, smelled, and tasted like bin Laden.” Tenet tells Bush that passenger manifests show that three known al-Qaeda operatives had been on Flight 77. According to Tenet, when he tells the president in particular about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (two of the alleged Flight 77 hijackers), Bush gives Mike Morell, his CIA briefer, “one of those ‘I thought I was supposed to be the first to know’ looks.” (Other evidence indicates the third al-Qaeda operative whose name is on the passenger manifest would be Salem Alhazmi (see 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).) Tenet tells the meeting that al-Qaeda is “the only terrorist organization capable of such spectacular, well-coordinated attacks,” and that “Intelligence monitoring had overheard a number of known bin Laden operatives congratulating each other after the attacks. Information collected days earlier but only now being translated indicated that various known operatives around the world anticipated a big event. None specified the day, time, place or method of attack.” Richard Clarke later corroborates that Tenet had at this time told the president he was certain that al-Qaeda was to blame. Yet only six weeks later, in an October 24, 2001 interview, Rice will claim differently. She will say, “In the first video conference, the assumption that everybody kind of shared was that it was global terrorists.… I don’t believe anybody said this is likely al-Qaeda. I don’t think so.” Tenet also relays a warning the CIA has received from French intelligence, saying another group of terrorists is within US borders and is preparing a second wave of attacks. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld briefs on the status of US forces, and states that about 120 fighters are now above US cities. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 26-27; Clarke, 2004, pp. 21-22; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 326 and 554; Tenet, 2007, pp. 169] The meeting reportedly ends around 4:00-4:15 p.m. [Daily Telegraph, 12/16/2001; Washington Times, 10/8/2002]
Entity Tags: Norman Mineta, Osama bin Laden, Richard Armitage, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard A. Clarke, National Security Council, George W. Bush, George J. Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Andrew Card, Al-Qaeda, Condoleezza Rice
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
CNN reports US officials say there are “good indications” that Osama bin Laden is involved in the attacks, based on “new and specific” information developed since the attacks. [CNN, 9/12/2001]
President Bush (below television screen) meeting with the National Security Council in a bunker below the White House. In the far row from left to right, are Attorney General Ashcroft, President Bush, Chief of Staff Card, CIA Director Tenet, and counterterrorism “tsar” Ckarke. In the near row, Secretary of State Powell can be seen waving his hand, and National Security Advisor Rice sits to his right. [Source: Eric Draper/ White House]President Bush meets with his full National Security Council. According to journalist Bob Woodward, this meeting turns out to be “unwieldy.” So at 9:30 p.m., Bush follows it with a meeting with a smaller group of his most senior principal national security advisers in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) beneath the White House. Bush and his advisers have already decided bin Laden is behind the attacks. As the president later recalls, in these meetings, “That’s when we first got the indication… we’ve identified, we think it’s al-Qaeda.” He says the FBI now thinks that “it’s al-Qaeda, and we start to develop our plans to get them. I mean, there wasn’t any hesitation. We’re starting the process of coalition-building and how to get ‘em.” (According to other accounts, though, the CIA had informed Bush hours earlier that it was virtually certain al-Qaeda was to blame for the attacks (see (3:15 p.m.) September 11, 2001).) CIA Director George Tenet says that al-Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan are essentially one and the same. Tenet says, “Tell the Taliban we’re finished with them.” [Sammon, 2002, pp. 133; Woodward, 2002, pp. 31-33; Washington Post, 1/27/2002] The president says, “I want you all to understand that we are at war and we will stay at war until this is done. Nothing else matters. Everything is available for the pursuit of this war. Any barriers in your way, they’re gone. Any money you need, you have it. This is our only agenda.” When, later in the discussion, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld points out that international law only allows force to prevent future attacks and not for retribution, Bush yells, “No. I don’t care what the international lawyers say, we are going to kick some ass.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 23-24] Bush will subsequently announce a new US doctrine of preemptive attack the following June (see June 1, 2002). [Time, 6/23/2002] During the meeting, the president refers to the present political situation as a “great opportunity” (see (Between 9:30 p.m. and 10:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). By the time the meeting ends, it is after 10 p.m. [Sammon, 2002, pp. 133]
Before going to sleep, President Bush writes in his diary, “The Pearl Harbor of the 21st century took place today.… We think it’s Osama bin Laden.” [Washington Post, 1/27/2002]
After concluding a National Security Council meeting (see September 12, 2001), President Bush continues meeting with about six top principal cabinet members. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld poses the question, “Do we focus on bin Laden and al-Qaeda or terrorism more broadly?” Secretary of State Colin Powell suggests the US should focus on terrorism generally, but focus first on al-Qaeda. Vice President Cheney brings up the issue of state sponsorship. “To the extent we define our task broadly, including those who support terrorism, then we get at states. And it’s easier to find them than it is to find bin Laden.” President Bush concludes, “Start with bin Laden, which Americans expect. And then if we succeed, we’ve struck a huge blow and can move forward.” He called the terrorism threat “a cancer” and adds, “We don’t want to define [it] too broadly for the average man to understand.” This is according to journalist Bob Woodward, who later interviews some participants in the meeting. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 43] The main alleged state sponsor that interests many top Bush officials is Iraq. For instance, five days later Bush will state he believes Iraq was involved in the 9/11 attacks, but that an attack on Iraq will have to wait (see September 17, 2001).
Neoconservative academic and author Laurie Mylroie, who has argued that Saddam Hussein was behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombings (see October 2000), publishes an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal blaming Hussein for the 9/11 bombings. Though Mylroie has been thoroughly discredited (one former journalist, Peter Bergen, will call her a “crackpot”—see December 2003), and though US intelligence analysts are already telling journalists and White House officials that Iraq had nothing to do with the bombings, Mylroie’s assertions receive major coverage from many US and British media outlets. In a follow-up interview on CBS News, she says, “In my view, yesterday’s events were the latest in Saddam’s war against the United States.” Author Craig Unger later notes that Mylroie’s baseless charges may be considered harmless eccentricity except for two things:
Her claims perfectly parallel the policy aims of her neoconservative colleagues and associates in the White House; and
while few Americans have ever heard of Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, and few find it credible that such devastation could be wrought by a small group of cave-dwelling fanatics, Saddam Hussein is a familiar name to most Americans, “a villain,” Unger will write, “straight out of central casting.” Mylroie’s specious claims will help fix the blame for 9/11 in Americans’ minds directly on Hussein and Iraq, Unger will claim. [Unger, 2007, pp. 215-216]
A close aide to Osama bin Laden reports that bin Laden denies any role in the previous day’s attacks on the United States, but has praised those responsible for them. [Associated Press, 9/12/2001] The aide, one of bin Laden’s senior lieutenants, speaks by satellite telephone with Palestinian journalist Jamal Ismail, who is the Islamabad bureau chief of Abu Dhabi Television. [Associated Press, 9/12/2001; Daily Telegraph, 9/13/2001] Ismail has long-standing ties with bin Laden and has conducted several interviews with him over the last few years. [Associated Press, 9/13/2001] The aide, who does not want to be publicly named, calls Ismail early in the day from a hideout somewhere in Afghanistan. He quotes bin Laden as calling the attacks on the US “punishment from almighty Allah” for America’s attempt to “control the entire world by force.” He tells Ismail, “Osama bin Laden thanked Almighty Allah and bowed before him when he heard this news [of the attacks].” But, the aide says, bin Laden has stated, “I have no information about the attackers or their aims and I don’t have any links with them.” [Associated Press, 9/12/2001; Daily Telegraph, 9/13/2001; Reuters, 9/13/2001; BBC, 9/14/2001]
On September 12, 2001, 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi’s 1988 Toyota Corolla is found at a parking lot near Washington, DC. Alhazmi and fellow hijacker Khalid Almihdhar bought the car in San Diego in March 2000 (see March 25, 2000). [Los Angeles Times, 9/27/2001] Various items are found in the car (see September 11-13, 2001), including an old telephone number of Osama Awadallah. Alhazmi knew Awadallah when he lived in San Diego in 2000. Awadallah’s San Diego house is searched soon thereafter, and photos, videos, and articles relating to Osama bin Laden are found. Investigators also discover that copies of bin Laden’s fatwas (religious edicts) and other similar materials were distributed by people living in the house. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 219-220] Awadallah worked with Alhazmi at a San Diego gas station with a number of radical Islamists (see Autumn 2000). A witness claims that one day before 9/11, he seemed to be celebrating the upcoming 9/11 attacks at the gas station, telling co-workers, “it is finally going to happen” (see Late August-September 10, 2001). Authorities will never develop enough evidence to charge Awadallah with any serious crime, and he will be deported in 2006 after a long legal battle (see May 4, 2006).
The government’s initial response to the 9/11 attacks is that it had no evidence whatsoever that bin Laden planned an attack in the US. “There was a ton of stuff, but it all pointed to an attack abroad,” says one official. Furthermore, in the 24 hours after the attack, investigators would have been searching through “mountains of information.” However, “the vast electronic ‘take’ on bin Laden, said officials who requested anonymity, contained no hints of a pending terror campaign in the United States itself, no orders to subordinates, no electronic fund transfers, no reports from underlings on their surveillance of the airports in Boston, Newark, and Washington.” [Miami Herald, 9/12/2001]
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
Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, partying in Pakistan after 9/11. [Source: Associated Press]After probably completing last-minute financial transactions with some 9/11 hijackers, Saeed Sheikh flies to Pakistan. [Knight Ridder, 10/7/2001] He meets with bin Laden in Afghanistan a few days later. [Washington Post, 2/18/2002; London Times, 2/25/2002; Guardian, 7/16/2002] The US government claims Saeed fights for the Taliban in Afghanistan in September and October 2001. [CNN, 3/14/2002] Some reports indicate that after the defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan, Saeed acts as a go-between with bin Laden and the ISI seeking to hide bin Laden. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002] He also helps produce a video of a bin Laden interview. [Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002] Sometime in October 2001 [Guardian, 7/16/2002] , Saeed moves back to his home in Lahore, Pakistan, and lives there openly. He is frequently seen at local parties hosted by government leaders. In January 2002, he hosts a party to celebrate the birth of his newborn baby. [USA Today, 2/25/2002; Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, 3/3/2002] He stays in his well-known Lahore house with his new wife and baby until January 19, 2002—four days before reporter Daniel Pearl is kidnapped. [BBC, 7/16/2002]
Congress explicitly refuses to grant the Bush administration the authority to conduct warrantless wiretaps and surveillance operations against US citizens in its resolution authorizing the use of military force (AUMF) against terrorists (see September 14-18, 2001). Tom Daschle (D-SD), the Senate Majority Leader, will write in December 2005 (after his ouster from Congress in November 2004) that the White House and the Justice Department will claim, falsely, that the AUMF grants the right for the NSA to conduct such a program (see Early 2002 and December 15, 2005). Instead, Daschle will write, the NSA merely usurps the authority, with the president’s approval, to conduct such an extralegal surveillance program (see December 21-22, 2005). [Washington Post, 12/22/2005]
Administration Efforts to Rewrite AUMF - In an op-ed for the Washington Post, Daschle will observe that the AUMF authorizes Bush “to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons” who “planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks. But, Daschle will write, “Literally minutes before the Senate cast its vote, the administration sought to add the words ‘in the United States and’ after ‘appropriate force’ in the agreed-upon text. This last-minute change would have given the president broad authority to exercise expansive powers not just overseas—where we all understood he wanted authority to act—but right here in the United States, potentially against American citizens. I could see no justification for Congress to accede to this extraordinary request for additional authority. I refused.”
No Vote for Domestic Surveillance - Daschle will also write that the White House attempted to add draft language to the AUMF resolution that would give the administration new and sweeping authority to use force to “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States,” even against nations and organizations not responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Bush officials such as Vice President Dick Cheney will claim that the AUMF “granted authority by the Congress to use all means necessary to take on the terrorists, and that’s what we’ve done.” But Daschle will write that Cheney is mistaken. “As Senate majority leader at the time, I helped negotiate that law with the White House counsel’s office over two harried days. I can state categorically that the subject of warrantless wiretaps of American citizens never came up. I did not and never would have supported giving authority to the president for such wiretaps. I am also confident that the 98 senators who voted in favor of authorization of force against al-Qaeda did not believe that they were also voting for warrantless domestic surveillance.” On September 12, six days before the September 18 AUMF vote, Bush officials demand that Congress authorize the use of military force to, in their words, “deter and pre-empt any future acts of terrorism or aggression against the United States.” But Congress refuses, feeling that the request is “too broad and ill defined.” Instead, on September 14, Congress choses to use language that authorizes Bush to use “all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations or persons [the president] determines planned, authorized, committed or aided” the 9/11 attacks. Daschle later writes, “With this language, Congress denied the president the more expansive authority he sought and insisted that his authority be used specifically against Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda.… The shock and rage we all felt in the hours after the attack were still fresh. America was reeling from the first attack on our soil since Pearl Harbor. We suspected thousands had been killed, and many who worked in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon were not yet accounted for. Even so, a strong bipartisan majority could not agree to the administration’s request for an unprecedented grant of authority.” Instead, Daschle will write, the administration simply takes the authority anyway, and will argue in hindsight that the AUMF actually gives the administration the right to wiretap US citizens. However, Daschle will write, “at the time, the administration clearly felt they [didn’t have the authority] or it wouldn’t have tried to insert the additional language.”
Breeding 'Fear and Suspicion' - He concludes, “[T]here are right and wrong ways to defeat terrorists, and that is a distinction this administration has never seemed to accept. Instead of employing tactics that preserve Americans’ freedoms and inspire the faith and confidence of the American people, the White House seems to have chosen methods that can only breed fear and suspicion. If the stories in the media over the past week are accurate [detailing the breadth and apparent illegality of the NSA program], the president has exercised authority that I do not believe is granted to him in the Constitution, and that I know is not granted to him in the law that I helped negotiate with his counsel and that Congress approved in the days after Sept. 11. For that reason, the president should explain the specific legal justification for his authorization of these actions, Congress should fully investigate these actions and the president’s justification for them, and the administration should cooperate fully with that investigation. In the meantime, if the president believes the current legal architecture of our country is insufficient for the fight against terrorism, he should propose changes to our laws in the light of day. That is how a great democracy operates. And that is how this great democracy will defeat terrorism.” [Washington Post, 12/23/2005]
The White House announces that there is “overwhelming evidence” that Bin Laden is behind the attacks. [MSNBC, 9/13/2001]
A secret French intelligence report from this date is skeptical of the Saudi Binladin Group, the bin Laden family company. Called “Elements on the Financial Resources of bin Laden,” the report discusses a powerful banker apparently connected to the company who was once close to the Saudi royal family and is the chief architect of a plan “that seems to have been used for the transfer to the terrorist of funds that came from the Gulf countries.” The report also lists assets believed to be under Osama bin Laden’s direct control. In addition to businesses in Sudan, Yemen, Malaysia, and Bosnia, he apparently still owns a hotel in Mecca, Saudi Arabia. Other French reports from before 9/11 also question his ties to the Saudi royal family. One French intelligence official will later say that he and other top French officials “had a lot of difficulty believing that [bin Laden] didn’t have any relations with the Saudi monarchy just because he was banished. It was hard to accept.” [Le Monde (Paris), 4/15/2007] Ironically, the same day this French report is completed, the US allows Saudi royals and members of the bin Laden family to fly out of the US after only cursory FBI checks (see September 13, 2001 and September 14-19, 2001).
CIA Director George Tenet and Cofer Black, the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, meet at 9:30 a.m. in the White House Situation Room with President Bush and the National Security Council. Tenet presents a plan for tracking down Osama bin Laden, toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan, and confronting terrorism worldwide. According to journalist Bob Woodward, the plan involves “bringing together expanded intelligence-gathering resources, sophisticated technology, agency paramilitary teams and opposition forces in Afghanistan in a classic covert action. They would then be combined with US military power and Special Forces into an elaborate and lethal package designed to destroy the shadowy terrorist networks.” A key concept is to utilize the Northern Alliance, which is the main opposition force in Afghanistan. Despite being “a strained coalition of sometimes common interests,” Tenet says that along with the CIA teams “and tons of money, the Alliance could be brought together into a cohesive fighting force.” Black gives a presentation describing the effectiveness of covert action. He says they will need to go after the Taliban as well as al-Qaeda, as the two are joined at the hip. He wants the mission to begin as soon as possible, and adds, “When we’re through with them, they will have flies walking across their eyeballs.” Black claims that once they are on the ground, victory could be achieved in weeks. According to Bob Woodward, “No one else in the room, including Tenet, believed that was possible.” Black also warns the president, “Americans are going to die.… How many, I don’t know. Could be a lot.” Bush responds, “That’s war. That’s what we’re here to win.” This is the second presentation laying out an increasingly detailed set of CIA proposals for expanding its fight against terrorism. (George Tenet had given the first when he met with the president the day before (see September 12, 2001).) Tenet will give a more detailed presentation of the CIA’s covert action plan two days later, at Camp David (see September 15, 2001). [Woodward, 2002, pp. 50-53; Washington Post, 1/29/2002; Kessler, 2003, pp. 233-234]
Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Cofer Black, George W. Bush, National Security Council, Osama bin Laden, Northern Alliance, Taliban
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
In an op-ed piece published in the New Republic, former CIA director James Woolsey calls on the Bush administration to re-examine evidence that could potentially tie Iraq to the 1993 bombing of the WTC. He cites a theory (see Late July or Early August 2001) that Iraqi intelligence helped bomber Ramzi Yousef steal the identity of a Kuwaiti student studying at a college in Wales. If this theory is correct, he says, “then it was Iraq that went after the World Trade Center last time. Which makes it much more plausible that Iraq has done so again.” In light of this, he argues, US authorities should consider the possibility that Saddam Hussein had a hand in the 9/11 attacks. “[I]ntelligence and law enforcement officials investigating the case would do well to at least consider another possibility: that the attacks—whether perpetrated by bin Laden and his associates or by others—were sponsored, supported, and perhaps even ordered by Saddam Hussein,” he writes. “As yet, there is no evidence of explicit state sponsorship of the September 11 attacks. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” [New Republic, 9/13/2001] Woolsey went to Britain in February 2001 and failed to find evidence to support this theory (see February 2001). But a few days later, the US Defense Department will send Woolsey to Britain again (see Late September 2001) to investigate the alleged Iraq link to the 1993 bombing.
Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell on the 700 Club. [Source: Tampa Bay Coalition]During a guest appearance on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, televangelist Jerry Falwell tells listeners who he believes is responsible for the 9/11 attacks: homosexuals, abortionists, and the American Civil Liberties Union.
Falwell: “I fear, as Donald Rumsfeld, the secretary of defense said yesterday, that this is only the beginning. And with biological warfare available to these monsters; the Husseins, the bin Ladens, the Arafats, what we saw on Tuesday, as terrible as it is, could be miniscule if, in fact, if in fact God continues to lift the curtain and allow the enemies of America to give us probably what we deserve.”
Robertson: “Jerry, that’s my feeling. I think we’ve just seen the antechamber to terror. We haven’t even begun to see what they can do to the major population.”
Falwell: “The ACLU’s got to take a lot of blame for this.”
Robertson: “Well, yes.”
Falwell: “And, I know that I’ll hear from them for this. But, throwing God out successfully with the help of the federal court system, throwing God out of the public square, out of the schools. The abortionists have got to bear some burden for this because God will not be mocked. And when we destroy 40 million little innocent babies, we make God mad. I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way, all of them who have tried to secularize America. I point the finger in their face and say ‘you helped this happen.’”
Robertson: “Well, I totally concur, and the problem is we have adopted that agenda at the highest levels of our government. And so we’re responsible as a free society for what the top people do. And, the top people, of course, is the court system.”
Falwell: “Amen. Pat, did you notice yesterday? The ACLU, and all the Christ-haters, the People For the American Way, NOW [the National Organization for Women], etc. were totally disregarded by the Democrats and the Republicans in both houses of Congress as they went out on the steps and called out on to God in prayer and sang ‘God Bless America’ and said ‘let the ACLU be hanged.’” [Washington Post, 9/14/2001; People for the American Way, 9/17/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 217-218]
In a prayer during the broadcast, Robertson intones: “We have sinned against Almighty God, at the highest level of our government, we’ve stuck our finger in your eye. The Supreme Court has insulted you over and over again, Lord. They’ve taken your Bible away from the schools. They’ve forbidden little children to pray. They’ve taken the knowledge of God as best they can, and organizations have come into court to take the knowledge of God out of the public square of America.” [CNN, 9/14/2001; People for the American Way, 9/17/2001] The next day, after a firestorm of critical response (see September 13-14, 2001), Falwell will retreat somewhat from his remarks (see September 14, 2001), and again three days later (see September 17, 2001). But three years later, he will misrepresent his remarks and once again attack homosexuals (see November 28, 2004).
Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef. [Source: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images]Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban says that Osama bin Laden has told them he played no role in the September 11 attacks on the United States. Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, tells Reuters, “We asked from him, [and] he told [us] we don’t have any hand in this action.” [Reuters, 9/13/2001] Zaeef says bin Laden has been cut off from all outside communication, including telephone and the Internet, and so it would have been impossible for him to have coordinated the attacks. [Reuters, 9/13/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/15/2001] Zaeef says the Taliban is willing to cooperate with the US in investigating the 9/11 attacks, stating, “We are ready for any help according to [Islamic] Sharia law.” But he stresses that if America has any evidence against bin Laden, it should provide it to the Taliban, which has sheltered him as a “guest.” [Reuters, 9/13/2001]
Mayo Shattuck III resigns, effective immediately, as head of the Alex Brown unit of Deutsche Bank. No reason is given. Some speculate later that this could have to do with the role of Deutsche Bank in the pre-9/11 purchases of put options on the stock of companies most affected by 9/11. Deutsche Bank is also one of the four banks most used by the bin Laden family. [New York Times, 9/15/2001; Wall Street Journal, 9/27/2001]
General Hamid Gul, the former head of the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence agency (ISI), gives several interviews in which he says Osama bin Laden is not responsible for 9/11, and that he believes the attacks were perpetrated by the Israeli overseas intelligence service, Mossad, and renegade elements within the US Air Force. [Newsweek, 9/14/2001; Tehelka (.com), 9/14/2001; United Press International, 9/26/2001]
Failure of US Air Defenses - Gul points to the failure of the US Air Force to halt the 9/11 attacks. He tells Newsweek: “F-16s don’t scramble in time, though they had 18 minutes after the first plane hit the World Trade Center.… A flight to Los Angeles turns to Washington and is in the air for 45 minutes, and the world’s most sophisticated air defense doesn’t go into action.” [Newsweek, 9/14/2001] In an interview with United Press International editor at large Arnaud de Borchgrave, he says: “The attacks against the Twin Towers started at 8:45 a.m. and four flights are diverted from their assigned air space and no air traffic controller sounds the alarm. And no Air Force jets scramble until 10 a.m. That also smacks of a small scale Air Force rebellion, a coup against the Pentagon perhaps? Radars are jammed, transponders fail. No IFF—friend or foe identification—challenge.” He adds: “In Pakistan, if there is no response to IFF, jets are instantly scrambled and the aircraft is shot down with no further questions asked. This was clearly an inside job.”
Bin Laden Innocent - Gul says he believes Osama bin Laden would have been incapable of perpetrating such a sophisticated attack. When de Borchgrave asks, “What makes you think Osama wasn’t behind September 11?” Gul responds: “From a cave inside a mountain or a peasant’s hovel? Let’s be serious.… He doesn’t have the means for such a sophisticated operation.” He comments: “Within ten minutes of the second Twin Tower being hit… CNN said Osama bin Laden had done it. That was a planned piece of disinformation by the real perpetrators. It created an instant mindset and put public opinion into a trance, which prevented even intelligent people from thinking for themselves.” [United Press International, 9/26/2001] He tells the Indian news website Tehelka.com that blaming bin Laden and Afghanistan “is a convenient bogey to divert attention.” [Tehelka (.com), 9/14/2001]
Blames Israel - Israelis are Gul’s prime suspects for 9/11. He says: “Mossad and its American associates are the obvious culprits. Who benefits from the crime?” [United Press International, 9/26/2001] He tells Newsweek: “I can’t say for sure who was behind [9/11], but it’s the Israelis who are creating so much misery in the world. The Israelis don’t want to see any power in Washington unless it’s subservient to their interests, and President Bush has not been subservient.” [Newsweek, 9/14/2001] In his interview with Tehelka.com, he adds: “One knows that after the Florida fiasco of the presidential election, there is a big rift between the Jewish lobbies and George Bush and his administration. He has not taken a single Jew in his Cabinet. So [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon and company are very upset with George Bush. They [the Jewish lobbies] have been told to indulge in acts of terrorism in the past. Why can’t they do it now?” [Tehelka (.com), 9/14/2001]
Supports Taliban and Opposes US Action against Afghanistan - General Gul was the head of the ISI between 1987 and 1989 (see April 1987). [Daily Telegraph, 9/23/2001] As Newsweek describes, he is “widely considered the architect of the Afghan jihad: the man who, with financial and logistical support from the CIA, engineered the fight of the mujaheddin against the Soviet Union and its proxy government in Kabul in the 1980s. Now, he’s a big fan of the country’s ruling Taliban.” [Newsweek, 9/14/2001] He currently serves as an adviser to Pakistan’s extremist religious political parties, which oppose their government’s decision to support the US in any action against the Taliban. [United Press International, 9/26/2001] Newsweek comments: “If General Gul were anyone else, it would be easy to dismiss him as a crackpot. But here in military-ruled Pakistan, he remains an influential figure, even in semiretirement.” [Newsweek, 9/14/2001]
Khalil bin Laden at the Orlando, Florida, airport, about to be flown out of the country in the days after 9/11. [Source: Lions Gate Films]Following a secret flight inside the US that is in violation of a national private airplane flight ban, members of the bin Laden family and Saudi royalty quietly depart the US. The flights are only publicly acknowledged after all the Saudis have left. [Boston Globe, 9/21/2001; New York Times, 9/30/2001] About 140 Saudis, including around 24 members of the bin Laden family, are passengers in these flights. The identities of most of these passengers are not known. However, some of the passengers include:
The son of the Saudi Defense Minister Prince Sultan. Sultan is sued in August 2002 for alleged complicity in the 9/11 plot. [Tampa Tribune, 10/5/2001] He is alleged to have contributed at least $6 million since 1994 to four charities that finance al-Qaeda. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003]
Khalil bin Laden. He has been investigated by the Brazilian government for possible terrorist connections. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003]
Abdullah bin Laden and Omar bin Laden, cousins of bin Laden. Abdullah was the US director of the Muslim charity World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). The governments of India, Pakistan, Philippines, and Bosnia have all accused WAMY of funding terrorism. These two relatives were investigated by the FBI in 1996 (see February-September 11, 1996) in a case involving espionage, murder, and national security. Their case is reopened on September 19, right after they leave the country. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] Remarkably, four of the 9/11 hijackers briefly lived in the town of Falls Church, Virginia, three blocks from the WAMY office headed by Abdullah bin Laden. [BBC, 11/6/2001]
Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen. He is a prominent Saudi official who was in the same hotel as three of the hijackers the night before 9/11. He leaves on one of the first flights to Saudi Arabia before the FBI can properly interview him about this. [Washington Post, 10/2/2003]
Akberali Moawalla. A Pakistani and business partner of Osama’s brother Yeslam bin Laden. In 2000, a transfer of over $250 million was made from a bank account belonging jointly to Moawalla and Osama bin Laden (see 2000). [Washington Post, 7/22/2004]
There is a later dispute regarding how thoroughly the Saudis are interviewed before they leave and who approves the flights. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says he agrees to the flights after the FBI assures him none of those on board has connections to terrorism and that it is “a conscious decision with complete review at the highest levels of the State Department and the FBI and the White House.” [US Congress, 9/3/2003] Clarke says the decision to approve the flights “didn’t get any higher than me.” [Hill, 5/18/2004] According to Vanity Fair, both the FBI and the State Department “deny playing any role whatsoever in the episode.” However, Dale Watson, the head of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, says the Saudis on the planes “[are] identified, but they [are] not subject to serious interviews or interrogations” before they leave. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] An FBI spokesperson says the bin Laden relatives are only interviewed by the FBI “at the airport, as they [are] about to leave.” [National Review, 9/11/2002] There are claims that some passengers are not interviewed by the FBI at all. [Vanity Fair, 10/2003] Abdullah bin Laden, who stays in the US, says that even a month after 9/11, his only contact with the FBI is a brief phone call. [Boston Globe, 9/21/2001; New Yorker, 11/5/2001] The FBI official responsible for coordinating with Clarke is Assistant Director Michael Rolince, who is in charge of the Bureau’s International Terrorism Operations Section and assumes responsibility for the Saudi flights. Rolince decides that the Saudis can leave after their faces are matched to their passport photos and their names are run through various databases, including some watch lists, to check the FBI has no derogatory information about them.” [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 196-197, 209 ] Numerous experts are surprised that the bin Ladens are not interviewed more extensively before leaving, pointing out that interviewing the relatives of suspects is standard investigative procedure. [National Review, 9/11/2002; Vanity Fair, 10/2003] MSNBC claims that “members of the Saudi royal family met frequently with bin Laden—both before and after 9/11” [MSNBC, 9/5/2003] , and many Saudi royals and bin Laden relatives are being sued for their alleged role in 9/11. The Boston Globe opines that the flights occur “too soon after 9/11 for the FBI even to know what questions to ask, much less to decide conclusively that each Saudi [royal] and bin Laden relative [deserve] an ‘all clear,’ never to be available for questions again.” [Boston Globe, 9/30/2003] Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) says of the secret flights: “This is just another example of our country coddling the Saudis and giving them special privileges that others would never get. It’s almost as if we didn’t want to find out what links existed.” [New York Times, 9/4/2003] Judicial Watch will disclose FBI documents that say, “Osama bin Laden may have chartered one of the Saudi flights.” [Judicial Watch, 6/20/2007]
Entity Tags: Abdullah bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Omar bin Laden, Bin Laden Family, Dale Watson, Charles Schumer, Michael Rolince, Richard A. Clarke, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Counterterrorism Division (FBI), Osama bin Laden, World Assembly of Muslim Youth, Sultan bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud, US Department of State, Khalil bin Laden, Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Some attendees of the Camp David meeting on September 15, 2001. From left to right: I. Lewis Libby, John Ashcroft, Dick Cheney, George Bush, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz. [Source: PBS]President Bush meets with his advisers at Camp David for a day of intensive discussions about how to respond to the 9/11 attacks. CIA Director George Tenet has arrived there “with a briefcase stuffed with top-secret documents and plans, in many respects the culmination of more than four years of work on bin Laden, the al-Qaeda network and worldwide terrorism.” With him is his deputy, John McLaughlin, and counterterrorism chief Cofer Black. Also in the conference room with them, among others, are Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell. For his 30-minute presentation, Tenet gives out a briefing packet titled “Going to War.” His presentation covers several key components for the fight against terrorism:
Tenet advocates substantially stepping up “direct support of the Northern Alliance,” the main Afghan opposition group, as part of a strategy to create “a northern front, closing the safe haven” of Afghanistan. His idea is that “Afghan opposition forces, aided by the United States, would move first against the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, try to break the Taliban’s grip on that city and open up the border with Uzbekistan. From there the campaign could move to other cities in the north.” Tenet also explains that the CIA had begun working with a number of tribal leaders in the south of Afghanistan the previous year, and these could be enticed to joint a US-led campaign.
The plan includes “a full-scale covert attack on the financial underpinnings of the terrorist network, including clandestine computer surveillance and electronic eavesdropping to locate the assets of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”
The CIA and FBI would work together to track down bin Laden supporters in the US.
A key proposal is a recommendation that the president give the CIA “exceptional authorities” to destroy al-Qaeda. Tenet wants a broad intelligence order allowing the agency to conduct covert operations without requiring formal approval for each specific operation, thus authorizing it to operate without restraint. Tenet and his senior deputies would be permitted to approve “snatch” operations abroad. Journalist Bob Woodward calls this “truly exceptional power.”
Tenet has with him a draft of a presidential intelligence order—a “finding”—that would give the CIA power “to use the full range of covert instruments, including deadly force.”
Another proposal is that, with additional hundreds of millions of dollars for new covert action, the CIA could “buy” intelligence services of key Arab nations including Egypt, Jordan, and Algeria. These could act as surrogates for the US. As Bob Woodward points out, this “would put the United States in league with questionable intelligence services, some of them with dreadful human rights records. Some had reputations for ruthlessness and using torture to obtain confessions.”
Tenet calls for the initiation of intelligence contact with certain rogue states, such as Libya and Syria, so as to obtain helpful information about the terrorists. (Subsequently, by early 2002, Syria will have emerged as one of the CIA’s most effective allies in the fight against al-Qaeda (see Early 2002-January 2003).)
He has with him a top-secret document called the “Worldwide Attack Matrix.” This details covert operations in 80 countries that he is recommending or are already underway. “Actions ranged from routine propaganda to lethal covert action in preparation for military attacks.” As Woodward describes, this proposal represents “a striking departure for US policy. It would give the CIA the broadest and most lethal authority in its history.”
The president reportedly is much pleased with Tenet’s proposals, “virtually shouting ‘Great job!’” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 74-78; Washington Post, 1/31/2002; Kessler, 2003, pp. 234] He will grant all Tenet’s requests by the following Monday (see September 17, 2001). Tenet had presented a cruder version of the CIA plan at the White House two days earlier (see September 13, 2001).
Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Northern Alliance, Osama bin Laden, John E. McLaughlin, George J. Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, Colin Powell, Cofer Black, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
On September 15, 2001, President Bush says of bin Laden: “If he thinks he can hide and run from the United States and our allies, he will be sorely mistaken.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/16/2001] Two days later, he says, “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West, I recall, that says, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’” [ABC News, 9/17/2001] On December 28, 2001, even as the US was declaring victory in Afghanistan, Bush says, “Our objective is more than bin Laden.” [Associated Press, 8/21/2002] Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union speech describes Iraq as part of an “axis of evil” and fails to mention bin Laden at all. On March 8, 2002, Bush still vows: “We’re going to find him.” [Washington Post, 10/1/2002] Yet, only a few days later on March 13, Bush says, “He’s a person who’s now been marginalized.… I just don’t spend that much time on him.… I truly am not that concerned about him.” Instead, Bush is “deeply concerned about Iraq.” [US President, 3/18/2002] The rhetoric shift is complete when Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers states on April 6, “The goal has never been to get bin Laden.” [Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields, 4/6/2002] In October 2002, the Washington Post notes that since March 2002, Bush has avoided mentioning bin Laden’s name, even when asked about him directly. Bush sometimes uses questions about bin Laden to talk about Saddam Hussein instead. In late 2001, nearly two-thirds of Americans say the war on terrorism could not be called a success without bin Laden’s death or capture. That number falls to 44 percent in a March 2002 poll, and the question has since been dropped. [Washington Post, 10/1/2002] Charles Heyman, editor of Jane’s World Armies, later points out: “There appears to be a real disconnect” between the US military’s conquest of Afghanistan and “the earlier rhetoric of President Bush, which had focused on getting bin Laden.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002]
According to author James Risen, at some point after 9/11 but before the start of bombing in Afghanistan, “US intelligence located Osama bin Laden, but the US military was not prepared to strike him. [US] intelligence officials say that at the time, the US military was developing a plan for an air campaign over Afghanistan that was not flexible enough to take advantage of the sudden windfall of intelligence concerning bin Laden. This little-known opportunity to kill bin Laden came before the terrorist leader fled into the mountains of southeastern Afghanistan, where he became much more difficult to track.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 185]
Robert Grenier, head of the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, has a secret meeting with Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, considered to be the second-most powerful figure in the Taliban. They meet in a five-star hotel in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. Grenier suggests that if the Taliban want to avoid the wrath of the US in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, there are several things they can do:
Turn bin Laden over to the US for prosecution.
As CIA Director George Tenet will later put it, “administer justice themselves, in a way that clearly [takes] him off the table.”
Stand aside and let the US find bin Laden on their own.
Osmani and his team relays the offers back to top Taliban leader Mullah Omar, but Omar rejects them. On October 2, Grenier has a second meeting with Osmani in a Baluchistan villa. He makes the new proposal that Osmani should overthrow Omar and then use his new power to get rid of bin Laden. This too is rejected. There are no contemporary media accounts of these meetings, but Tenet will describe them in his 2007 book. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 182-183] Curiously, Osmani will be captured by US forces in 2002 and then let go (see Late July 2002). He will be killed in late 2006 (see December 19, 2006).
A secret meeting takes place between Taliban and US government representatives in the city of Quetta, Pakistan. Afghan-American businessman Kabir Mohabbat serves as a middleman. US officials deny the meeting takes place, but later in the month Mohabbat explains that the US demands the Taliban hand over bin Laden, extradite foreign members of al-Qaeda who are wanted in their home countries, and shut down bin Laden’s bases and camps. Mohabbat claims that the Taliban agrees to meet all the demands. However, some days later he is told the US position has changed and the Taliban must surrender or be killed. Later in the month, the Taliban again agrees to hand over bin Laden unconditionally, but the US replies that “the train had moved.”
[CBS News, 9/25/2001; CounterPunch, 11/1/2004]
Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi multimillionaire considered by the United States to be the prime suspect for the 9/11 attacks, issues a statement through the Arabic satellite television channel Al Jazeera, in which he denies responsibility for those attacks. [CNN, 9/17/2001; Washington Post, 9/17/2001] In the statement, which is read out by an Al Jazeera announcer, bin Laden says: “The US government has consistently blamed me for being behind every occasion its enemies attack it. I would like to assure the world that I did not plan the recent attacks, which seems to have been planned by people for personal reasons. I have been living in the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan and following its leaders’ rules. The current leader does not allow me to exercise such operations.” The statement is signed “Sheik Osama bin Laden.” [Associated Press, 9/16/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001] President Bush dismisses bin Laden’s denial. Asked whether he believes it, Bush responds: “No question he is the prime suspect. No question about that.” [White House, 9/16/2001; Baltimore Sun, 9/17/2001] Vice President Dick Cheney says he has “no doubt that [bin Laden] and his organization played a significant role” in the 9/11 attacks. [NBC, 9/16/2001; Washington Post, 9/17/2001] On this day, bin Laden also faxes a statement to the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) agency, in which he denies responsibility for the 9/11 attacks (see September 16, 2001). [Guardian, 9/17/2001] Previously, on September 12, he denied any involvement, according to a close aide of his (see September 12, 2001). [Associated Press, 9/13/2001] On September 13, Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban said bin Laden told them he had played no role in the attacks (see September 13, 2001). [Reuters, 9/13/2001] But in mid-December 2001, the Pentagon will release a video which apparently shows bin Laden indicating his complicity (see Mid-November 2001). [BBC, 12/14/2001; Fox News, 12/14/2001] However, there will be questions about the authenticity of this film (see December 13, 2001). [Guardian, 12/15/2001]
A statement is issued to the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) in which Osama bin Laden denies responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. The statement, which is written in Arabic, is provided by a political aide of bin Laden’s, and faxed from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan to the pro-Taliban AIP. In it, bin Laden is quoted as saying: “I am residing in Afghanistan. I have taken an oath of allegiance [to Afghanistan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar] which does not allow me to do such things from Afghanistan. We have been blamed in the past, but we were not involved.” [CBS News, 9/16/2001; Reuters, 9/16/2001; Guardian, 9/17/2001] On this day, bin Laden issues a statement through the Arabic satellite television channel Al Jazeera, in which he also denies responsibility for the 9/11 attacks (see September 16, 2001). [CNN, 9/17/2001]
Vice President Dick Cheney is asked on NBC’s Meet the Press if the US has evidence that Saddam Hussein is harboring terrorists. Cheney responds: “There is—in the past, there have been some activities related to terrorism by Saddam Hussein. But at this stage, you know, the focus is over here on al-Qaeda and the most recent events in New York. Saddam Hussein’s bottled up, at this point, but clearly, we continue to have a fairly tough policy where the Iraqis are concerned.” [Meet the Press, 9/16/2001] When asked if the US has any evidence linking Hussein or any Iraqis to the attacks, Cheney replies, “No.” [NBC, 9/16/2001]
Antonio Martino. [Source: US Navy]Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino says: “I think that there are terrorist states and organizations behind speculation on the international markets. Those who organized the attacks on New York are clear-minded in their folly. Because everybody knows that money is power.” He adds: “Those who acted certainly tried to cover the tracks of the operation. But if the intelligence services of all countries work together, the financiers who work for the terrorists will not escape the hunt.” [Agence France-Presse, 9/17/2001] The same day, the BBC reports, “Italian stock authorities [are] investigating abnormal movements in share prices on the Milan stock exchange prior to the terrorist attacks.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/18/2001] Further, it is reported that around 1995 several intelligence services investigated Osama bin Laden investing in European stock markets through an unnamed broker in Milan (see 1995).
Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed. [Source: Agence France-Presse]On September 17, ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed heads a six-man delegation that visits Mullah Omar in Kandahar, Afghanistan. It is reported he is trying to convince Omar to extradite bin Laden or face an immediate US attack. [Press Trust of India, 9/17/2001; Financial Times, 9/18/2001; London Times, 9/18/2001] Also in the delegation is Lt. Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan, an ex-ISI official who appears to be one of Saeed Sheikh’s contacts in the ISI. [Press Trust of India, 9/17/2001] On September 28, Mahmood returns to Afghanistan with a group of about ten religious leaders. He talks with Omar, who again says he will not hand over bin Laden. [Agence France-Presse, 9/28/2001] A senior Taliban official later claims that on these trips Mahmood in fact urges Omar not to extradite bin Laden, but instead urges him to resist the US. [Associated Press, 2/21/2002; Time, 5/6/2002] Another account claims Mahmood does “nothing as the visitors [pour] praise on Omar and [fails] to raise the issue” of bin Laden’s extradition. [Knight Ridder, 11/3/2001] Two Pakistani brigadier generals connected to the ISI also accompany Mahmood, and advise al-Qaeda to counter the coming US attack on Afghanistan by resorting to mountain guerrilla war. The advice is not followed. [Asia Times, 9/11/2002] Other ISI officers also stay in Afghanistan to advise the Taliban.
It is reported that a federal grand jury has been convened in White Plains, New York, to investigate the 9/11 attacks. The grand jury, said to have begun meeting a few days earlier, will be able to issue subpoenas. New York City Police Commissioner Bernard Kerik says it won’t be the only 9/11-related grand jury: “You’re going to see things like the grand jury in White Plains. You’re going to see grand juries around the country, perhaps, looking into matters pertaining to this investigation.” White Plains is part of the federal court system’s Southern District of New York, which has historically led all investigations related to bin Laden. [Associated Press, 9/18/2001] On October 22, 2001, the Wall Street Journal will report, “The federal grand jury investigating the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is casting a wide net, seeking information from witnesses about their contacts with the 19 hijackers as well as other suspected terrorists,” and it will detail some of the witnesses appearing before the grand jury. [Wall Street Journal, 10/22/2001] However, thorough searches of the Lexis-Nexus database show no further mention of this grand jury, or any other 9/11-related grand juries. In early October 2001, the Justice Department will take over all 9/11 related prosecutions (see October 11, 2001).
Kamar Eddine Kherbane. [Source: Marco Hebdo]A militant leader named Kamar Eddine Kherbane is arrested in Morocco, but he has been given political asylum in Britain since 1994 and he is quickly deported to Britain and freed. Agence France-Presse claims that his arrest was “apparently in connection with the [9/11] attacks on the US.” The Moroccan government also questions him about arms smuggling. [Agence France-Presse, 9/20/2001] But by sending him back to Britain, the Moroccan government ignores an extradition request by the Algerian government who claim Kherbane is a wanted criminal and an al-Qaeda operative. [BBC, 9/21/2001] Kherbane was a founding member of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an Algerian political party outlawed in the early 1990s. He is also a known al-Qaeda operative said to have met bin Laden on several occasions, most recently in 1998. He appears to have been a key leader of mujaheddin fighting in Bosnia (see 1990 and 1991). [Agence France-Presse, 9/20/2001] A Spanish police report will later claim that he was the head of the Al-Kifah Refugee Center’s Zabreb, Croatia, office (see Early 1990s). Al-Kifah was a US-based al-Qaeda charity front until the early 1990s that had ties to both the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the CIA (see 1986-1993). [CNN, 12/8/2002] Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna says Kherbane is “close to both the [Algerian] GIA and al-Qaeda’s leaderships.” [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 183] In an interview shortly after the Moroccan incident, Kherbane claims that he was released there because “Britain put a lot of pressure, which reached the point of threatening to expel the Moroccan ambassador from London.” He also admits to having met bin Laden in the 1990s. [BBC, 9/26/2001] It is not known why the British government helps him avoid being sent to Algeria. But a few days after his return to Britain, The London Times will report, “More than 20 Islamic terrorists, including those wanted for the murders of at least 100 people abroad, are living freely in Britain. Many on the global terror ‘wanted list’ have been granted political asylum despite being close to Osama bin Laden’s organization.” [London Times, 9/23/2001] A 2005 article will indicate Kherbane is still living openly in Britain. [BBC, 2/24/2005]
At some point after 9/11, the US government begins compiling a list of “high-value” al-Qaeda linked militant leaders to be killed or captured. President Bush authorizes the assassination of high-value targets on September 17, 2001 (see September 17, 2001), so the creation of the list presumably takes place shortly after that. US intelligence agencies typically propose a name for the list, and prepare a dossier that explains who the target is and why that person deserves to be on the list. Then, a committee of bureaucrats and lawyers from the Justice Department, CIA, Pentagon, and other agencies reviews the dossier. If it finds the evidence convincing, the name is included on the “high-value target” list, which means the person cannot only be captured by US forces, but is legally allowed to be killed. At any one time, there are between 10 and 30 people on the list. Top al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri are on the list from the very beginning. In 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will secretly authorize the killing of top targets anywhere in the world (see July 22, 2002), increasing the danger of being named on the list. In 2010, Anwar al-Awlaki will be added to the list. This will be the first time a US citizen is added. [Reuters, 5/12/2011] The CIA already had prepared a list of high-value targets it thought deserved to be assassinated before 9/11 (see Shortly After September 11, 2001).
Prince Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz. [Source: New York Times]According to the private intelligence service Intelligence Online, a secret meeting between fundamentalist supporters in Saudi Arabia and the ISI takes place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on this day. Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, and Prince Nawaf bin Abdul Aziz, the new head of Saudi intelligence, meet with Gen. Mohamed Youssef, head of the ISI’s Afghanistan Section, and ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed (just returning from discussions in Afghanistan). They agree “to the principle of trying to neutralize Osama bin Laden in order to spare the Taliban regime and allow it to keep its hold on Afghanistan.” There has been no confirmation that this meeting in fact took place, but if it did, its goals were unsuccessful. [Intelligence Online, 10/4/2001] There may have been a similar meeting before 9/11 in the summer of 2001.
Voice of America logo. [Source: Voice of America]The publicly funded Voice of America (VOA), which broadcasts its radio signal throughout much of Europe and the Middle East, pulls a 12-minute interview with Taliban leader Mullah Omar after Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and senior National Security Council officials object to the broadcast. [Guardian, 9/26/2001] The VOA has been attempting to exert some editorial independence ever since it was removed from State Department oversight in 1999 and placed under the oversight of a board of governors. [Guardian, 9/25/2001]
'Voice of America is Not ... the Voice of the Taliban' - The VOA’s plan was to run excerpts from the interview as part of a four-minute segment on Afghan reactions to a speech by President Bush. Instead, many in the White House and elsewhere object, arguing that running such a broadcast merely gives a voice to terrorists. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher tells reporters, “We told members of the board of broadcast governors that we didn’t think it was appropriate for the Voice of America to be broadcasting the voice of the Taliban into Afghanistan and we didn’t think it was consistent with their charter.” [Guardian, 9/25/2001; National Public Radio, 7/23/2004] “… Its charter says that they should explain US government policy and present responsible discussion about it. We don’t consider Mullah Omar to be responsible discussion.” Unless Omar is prepared to announce the turnover of Osama bin Laden, currently under the protection of the Taliban, such an interview would provide “no news or anything newsworthy,” Boucher says. “Carrying the interview would be confusing to the millions of listeners to what is essentially a US government broadcast, paid for by the US government.” [CNN, 9/25/2001] Another State Department official says, “Voice of America is not the Voice of Mullah Omar and not the Voice of the Taliban.” One VOA staffer retorts, “If this is an indication of the gag order they’re going to impose on us, we can’t do our jobs.” [Guardian, 9/25/2001; National Public Radio, 7/23/2004]
'We Tell the Whole Story' - VOA’s deputy director for external affairs, Joe O’Connell, says in response, “We were never going to give him an open mike.” A member of VOA’s Board of Governors, Norman Pattiz, chairman of radio conglomerate Westwood One, tells CNN that the decision not to air the broadcast was made by VOA staffers and not by the governors. [CNN, 9/25/2001; Salon, 4/21/2003] (The New York Times reports that Pattiz indicated staffers had discussed the interview but had not decided whether to suppress it.) Pattiz goes on to say: “I happen to believe that any legitimate news organization in the world would do that interview. And if the United States is going to be a proponent of a free press, it has to walk the walk.” [New York Times, 9/26/2001] “A lot of people in the United States are angry and think the Voice of America is not serving their country the way we should,” says VOA spokeswoman Tara King. “They are getting the wrong impression, but we feel we are providing reliable news. The people in Afghanistan are tuning into us because they trust us, and we tell the whole story.” [Reporters' Committee for a Free Press, 9/28/2001]
Mass Resignations Threatened - In a letter to the board, over 100 VOA journalists describe themselves as “deeply distressed to learn of the suppression” of Mullah Omar’s interview. “These comments were legitimate news,” the letter states. “We believe the integrity of the VOA is at stake. This censorship sets a most unfortunate precedent and damages our credibility with our worldwide audience.” [CNN, 9/25/2001; Committee to Protect Journalists, 9/27/2001] Andre DeNesnera, the VOA news director, writes in an e-mail to staff: “The State Department’s decision is a totally unacceptable assault on our editorial independence, a frontal attack on our credibility. This certainly was a dark, dark day for those of us who have—for years—fought to uphold journalist ethics, balance, accuracy and fairness.” [Committee to Protect Journalists, 9/27/2001] The VOA staff threatens a public mass resignation and eventually runs a drastically edited version of the interview—“like 22 seconds” of tape, then-director Myrna Whitworth will later recall. After VOA runs the edited interview, a government spokesperson warns that the station’s “defiance” would be looked into. Whitworth will be relieved of her duties shortly thereafter and replaced, she will recall, “by a gentleman who had strong ties to the National Security Council.” When she leaves, she leaves a memo telling reporters “not to fall under the spell of self-censorship.” She exhorts journalists to “[c]ontinue to interview, anyone, anywhere.” [Guardian, 9/25/2001; Toronto Star, 9/8/2002; National Public Radio, 7/23/2004]
Entity Tags: Myrna Whitworth, Richard Armitage, National Security Council, Osama bin Laden, Norman Pattiz, Joe O’Connell, Mullah Omar, Andre DeNesnera, Taliban, Bush administration (43), Tara King, Richard A. Boucher, Voice of America, US Department of State
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
The US freezes the bank accounts of 27 individuals and organizations, alleging that they had channeled money to al-Qaeda.
The list includes the names of nine Middle Eastern groups that are members of bin Laden’s International Islamic Front for Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders alliance announced in 1998 (see February 22, 1998). Such groups include the Islamic Army of Aden (based in Yemen), the GIA (Algeria), and Abu Sayyaf (the Philippines).
Individuals named include obvious al-Qaeda figures such as Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s second-in-command, and Muhammad Atef. [New York Times, 9/25/2001]
Makhtab Al-Khidamat/Al-Kifah, a charity based in Pakistan. A Brooklyn, New York, branch was called the Al-Kifah Refugee Center and had ties to both the 1993 WTC bombing and the CIA (see 1986-1993). It appears it was shut down in Pakistan in late 1995 (see Shortly After November 19, 1995). The Wall Street Journal notes that it “may be defunct or at least operating in a much-diminished capacity only in Afghanistan.” [Wall Street Journal, 9/25/2001]
The Al-Rashid Trust. This is primarily a humanitarian organization that aims to eject western charities from Afghanistan by taking over their activities. The trust is also so closely linked to the Kashmiri-focused jihidist organization Jaish-e-Mohammed that the Asia Times will comment, “It is often difficult to distinguish between the two outfits, as they share offices and cadres.” The Jaish-e-Mohammed was founded by Maulana Masood Azhar, an associate of 9/11 financier Saeed Sheikh, with the support of the ISI (see December 24-31, 1999). In addition, the trust also provides support to the Taliban, and, occasionally, al-Qaeda. The trust works closely with the Arab-run Wafa Humanitarian Organization. It will continue its social and humanitarian projects, as well as its support for militant Islamic activities, under various names and partnerships despite this ban.
The Wafa Humanitarian Organization, an Arab-run charity. It is closely tied to the Al-Rashid Trust. [Asia Times, 10/26/2001; Washington Post, 12/14/2003]
A company belonging to one of the hijackers’ associates, the Mamoun Darkazanli Import-Export Company. It is not clear where the Mamoun Darkazanli Import-Export Company is or was based, as it was never incorporated in Hamburg, where Darkazanli lived and associated with some of the 9/11 hijackers. Darkazanli’s personal assets are frozen in October (see September 24-October 2, 2001). [Chicago Tribune, 11/17/2002] However, according to some reports, some of the money transferred to the hijackers in the US in 2001 came through the Al-Rashid Trust (see Early August 2001) and possibly another account, and some of the money the hijackers received in 2000 may have come through Mamoun Darkazanli’s accounts (see June 2000-August 2001).
The move is largely symbolic, since none of the entities have any identifiable assets in the US. [New York Times, 9/25/2001] Reporter Greg Palast will later note that US investigators likely knew much about the finances of those organizations before 9/11, but took no action. [Santa Fe New Mexican, 3/20/2003]
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Maktab al-Khidamat, Mamoun Darkazanli, Mohammed Atef, Jaish-e-Mohammed, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Greg Palast, Abu Sayyaf, Groupe Islamique ArmÃ©, Al Rashid Trust, US Department of the Treasury, Al-Qaeda, Wafa Humanitarian Organization
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Mustafa Ahmed Alhawsawi. [Source: FBI]In 2000, the 9/11 hijackers receive money from a man using “Mustafa Ahmed al-Hisawi” and other aliases. On September 8-11, 2001, the hijackers send money to a man in the United Arab Emirates who uses the aliases “Mustafa Ahmed,”
“Mustafa Ahmad,” and “Ahamad Mustafa.” Soon the media begins reporting on who this 9/11 “paymaster” is, but his reported names and identities will continually change. The media has sometimes made the obvious connection that the paymaster is Saeed Sheikh—a British financial expert who studied at the London School of Economics, undisputedly sent hijacker Mohamed Atta money the month before the attacks, made frequent trips to Dubai (where the money is sent), and is known to have trained the hijackers. However, the FBI consistently deflects attention to other possible explanations, with a highly confusing series of names vaguely similar to Mustafa Ahmed or Saeed Sheikh:
September 24, 2001: Newsweek reports that the paymaster for the 9/11 attacks is someone named “Mustafa Ahmed.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] This refers to Mustafa Mahmoud Said Ahmed, an Egyptian al-Qaeda banker who was captured in Tanzania in 1998 then later released. [Sydney Morning Herald, 9/28/2001; Newsday, 10/3/2001]
October 1, 2001: The Guardian reports that the real name of “Mustafa Mohamed Ahmad” is “Sheikh Saeed.” [Guardian, 10/1/2001] A few days later, CNN confirms from a “senior-level US government source” that this “Sheik Syed” is the British man Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh rescued from an Indian prison in 1999. [CNN, 10/6/2001; CNN, 10/8/2001] However, starting on October 8, the story that ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed ordered Saeed to give Mohamed Atta $100,000 begins to break. References to the 9/11 paymaster being the British Saeed Sheikh (and the connections to the ISI Director) suddenly disappear from the Western media (with one exception [CNN, 10/28/2001] ).
October 2001: Other articles continue to use “Mustafa Mohammed Ahmad” or “Shaykh Saiid” with no details of his identity, except for suggestions that he is Egyptian. There are numerous spelling variations and conflicting accounts over which name is the alias. There is an Egyptian al-Qaeda financier leader named Mustafa Abu al-Yazid who uses some variant of Saeed Sheikh as an alias. [Evening Standard, 10/1/2001; BBC, 10/1/2001; Newsday, 10/3/2001; Associated Press, 10/6/2001; Washington Post, 10/7/2001; Sunday Times (London), 10/7/2001; Knight Ridder, 10/9/2001; New York Times, 10/15/2001; Los Angeles Times, 10/20/2001]
October 16, 2001: CNN reports that the 9/11 paymaster “Sheik Sayid” is mentioned in a May 2001 trial of al-Qaeda members. However, this turns out to be a Kenyan named Sheik Sayyid el Masry. [Day 7. United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., 2/20/2001; United States of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 8, 2/21/2001; CNN, 10/16/2001]
November 11, 2001: The identity of 9/11 paymaster “Mustafa Ahmed” is suddenly no longer Egyptian, but is now a Saudi named Sa’d Al-Sharif, who is said to be bin Laden’s brother-in-law. [United Nations, 3/8/2001; Newsweek, 11/11/2001; Associated Press, 12/18/2001]
December 11, 2001: The federal indictment of Zacarias Moussaoui calls the 9/11 paymaster “Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi a/k/a ‘Mustafa Ahmed,’” and gives him Sa’d’s nationality and birth date. [MSNBC, 12/11/2001] Many articles begin adding “al-Hawsawi” to the Mustafa Ahmed name. [Washington Post, 12/13/2001; Washington Post, 1/7/2002; Los Angeles Times, 1/20/2002]
January 23, 2002: As new information is reported in India, the media returns to the British Saeed Sheikh as the 9/11 paymaster. [Los Angeles Times, 1/23/2002; Daily Telegraph, 1/24/2002; Independent, 1/24/2002; Daily Telegraph, 1/27/2002] While his role in the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl is revealed on February 6, many articles connect him to 9/11, but many more do not. Coverage of Saeed’s 9/11 connections generally dies out by the time of his trial in July 2002.
June 4, 2002: Without explanation, the name “Shaikh Saiid al-Sharif” begins to be used for the 9/11 paymaster, presumably a combination of Saeed Sheikh and S’ad al-Sharif. [Associated Press, 6/5/2002; Independent, 9/15/2002; Associated Press, 9/26/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 11/15/2002] Many of the old names continue to be used, however. [New York Times, 7/10/2002; Time, 8/4/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Chicago Tribune, 9/5/2002; Knight Ridder, 9/8/2002; Knight Ridder, 9/9/2002; Washington Post, 9/11/2002; Los Angeles Times, 12/24/2002]
June 18, 2002: FBI Director Mueller testifies that the money sent in 2000 is sent by someone named “Ali Abdul Aziz Ali” but the money in 2001 is sent by “Shaikh Saiid al-Sharif.” The 9/11 Commission will later identify Aziz Ali as Khalid Shaikh Mohammed’s nephew and agree with Mueller that he sent the money in 2000. [US Congress, 9/26/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 1]
September 4, 2002: Newsweek says “Mustafa Ahmad Adin al-Husawi,” presumably Saudi, is a deputy to the Egyptian “Sayyid Shaikh Al-Sharif.” However, it adds he “remains almost a total mystery,” and they are unsure of his name. [Newsweek, 9/4/2002]
December 26, 2002: US officials now say there is no such person as Shaikh Saiid al-Sharif. Instead, he is probably a composite of three different people: “[Mustafa Ahmed] Al-Hisawi, Shaikh Saiid al-Masri, al-Qaeda’s finance chief, and Saad al-Sharif, bin Laden’s brother-in-law and a midlevel al-Qaeda financier.” [Associated Press, 12/27/2002] Shaikh Saiid al-Masri is likely a reference the Kenyan Sheik Sayyid el Masry. Note that, now, al-Hisawi is the assistant to Shaikh Saiid, a flip from a few months before. Saiid and/or al-Hisawi still haven’t been added to the FBI’s official most wanted lists. [London Times, 12/1/2001; Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2002; Wall Street Journal, 6/17/2002] Despite the confusion, the FBI isn’t even seeking information about them. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2/14/2002] Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi is said to be arrested with Khalid Shaikh Mohammed in Pakistan in 2003, but no photos of him are released, and witnesses of the supposed arrest did not see al-Hawsawi or Mohammed there (see February 29 or March 1, 2003). [Reuters, 3/3/2003] A few weeks later, it will be reported that “the man US intelligence officials suspected of being al-Qaeda’s financial mastermind, Sheik Said al-Masri, remains at large.” [Business Week, 3/17/2003]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Daniel Pearl, Mohamed Atta, Al-Qaeda, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, Khalid el-Masri, Ahamad Mustafa, Mustafa, Mahmood Ahmed, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hawsawi, Sayyid Shaikh Al-Sharif, Mustafa Abu al-Yazid, Mustafa Ahmad Adin al-Husawi, Sa’d Al-Sharif, Saeed Sheikh, Mustafa Ahmed al-Hisawi, Osama bin Laden, Robert S. Mueller III
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
An operating branch of the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank photographed in Sudan in October 2004. [Source: Wayne Madsen]On September 24, 2001, the US freezes the bank accounts of a number of people and businesses allegedly linked to al-Qaeda (see September 24, 2001). However, no accounts at the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in Sudan are frozen, despite a 1996 State Department report that bin Laden co-founded the bank and capitalized it with $50 million (see August 14, 1996). As the Chicago Tribune will later note, bin Laden has been more closely linked to this bank than to any other bank in the world. [Chicago Tribune, 11/3/2001] On September 26, Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) publicly notes that Al-Shamal was able to obtain correspondent accounts with three US banks, as well as many European and Middle East banks, giving Al-Shamal direct or indirect access to US banking. [Senator Carl Levin, 9/26/2001] Al-Shamal claims that it cut ties with bin Laden long ago. However, tipped off by Levin’s comments, one day later a group of computer hackers claim to have hacked into Al-Shamal’s computers, found evidence of existing al-Qaeda-linked bank accounts, and then turned the information over to the FBI. The FBI neither confirms nor denies getting such information. [Washington Post, 10/12/2001] Several days later, it is reported that European banks are quietly cutting off all dealings with Al-Shamal despite the lack of any formal blacklisting of it. [Associated Press, 10/1/2001] The Los Angeles Times will later report that after 9/11, the Sudanese government greatly increased their cooperation with US intelligence in hopes of improving relations with the US. In November 2001, some FBI agents including Jack Cloonan go to Sudan and are allowed to interview the manager at Al-Shamal. Bank records are made available to US investigators as well. Cloonan will later say, “Until then, the Sudanese had a credibility problem with the US, but they gave us everything we asked for.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2005] But multiple sources will later report that, as of late 2002 at least, Saudi multimillionaire Adel Batterjee heads Al-Shamal and is one of its largest shareholders. [National Review, 10/28/2002; Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 112; Chicago Tribune, 2/22/2004] Batterjee had long been suspected of al-Qaeda ties and was even detained by the Saudi government over his al-Qaeda links in 1993 (see 1993). The US will officially designate him a terrorist financier in 2004 (see December 21, 2004). The Chicago Tribune notes that an official US blacklisting of the bank “could well have diplomatic repercussions that the White House… would rather avoid.” A Saudi financial services conglomerate, Dar Al-Maal Al-Islami Trust (DMI), has a major stake in Al-Shamal, and DMI is headed by Prince Mohammed al-Faisal al-Saud, a cousin of the Saudi King Fahd. (His accountant will later be arrested in Spain and accused of being an important al-Qaeda financier (see April 23, 2002).) Other Saudi royals and prominent businesspeople are also invested in DMI. [Chicago Tribune, 11/3/2001] Furthermore, one of the bank’s three founding members and major shareholders is Saleh Abdullah Kamel, a Saudi billionaire and chairman of the Dallah al-Baraka Group. [In These Times, 12/20/2002] Al-Shamal apparently continues to operate and the US apparently has not taken any action against it. It is unclear if Batterjee continues to run it.
At the behest of Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz, former CIA Director James Woolsey and a team of Justice and Defense Department officials fly to London on a US government plane to look for evidence tying Saddam Hussein to the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center. Woolsey’s trip is in part the idea of neoconservative author Laurie Mylroie (see Late July or Early August 2001). It is the second such mission undertaken by Woolsey this year, as he made a similar trip in February (see February 2001). Woolsey is looking for evidence to support the theory (see Late July or Early August 2001 and Mid-September-October 2001) that Ramzi Yousef, the mastermind behind the 1993 WTC bombing, was actually an Iraqi agent who had assumed the identity of a Pakistani student named Abdul Basit. Woolsey visits the Swansea Institute, where Basit studied, to see if Basit’s fingerprints match those of Yousef, who is now serving a life sentence in a Colorado prison. Matching fingerprints would discredit the theory. [Knight Ridder, 10/11/2001; Observer, 10/14/2001; Daily Telegraph, 10/26/2001; Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004] While in Europe, Woolsey also attempts to link the Iraqi government to 9/11 and the October 2001 anthrax attacks (see Mid-September-October 2001). But according to Knight Ridder, “Several of those with knowledge of the trips said they failed to produce any new evidence that Iraq was behind the attacks.” [Knight Ridder, 10/11/2001] Newsweek will similarly report in 2004 that “the results of the Woolsey mission were exactly what the FBI had predicted: that the fingerprints were in fact identical.” [Newsweek, 4/21/2004] The local police in Swansea are curious about Woolsey’s visit and they call the US embassy in London to clarify if Woolsey is visiting in an official capacity. This alerts the State Department and CIA of Woolsey’s trip for the first time, and apparently both agencies are upset. One intelligence consultant familiar with the trip will say, “It was a stupid, stupid, and just plain wrong thing to do.” [Knight Ridder, 10/11/2001; Village Voice, 11/21/2001] It is through this contact that Secretary of State Colin Powell and CIA Director George Tenet learn of Woolsey’s mission (see September 19-20, 2001). [Middle East Policy Council, 6/2004]
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, George J. Tenet, James Woolsey, Abdul Basit, Colin Powell, Saddam Hussein, Paul Wolfowitz, Ramzi Yousef
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Neoconservative Influence, 2001 Anthrax Attacks
According to analyst Maher Osseiran, a home video in which Osama bin Laden admits foreknowledge of 9/11 is made around this date, not on a later date suggested by US officials (see Mid-November 2001). Osseiran argues that the video was part of a sting operation run by the US (see January 19, 2001), and that the first part—making the video—was successful, but the second part—capturing or killing bin Laden—failed. [CounterPunch, 8/21/2006] This is supported by a report in the Observer, which will write that “several intelligence sources have suggested… that the tape, although absolutely genuine, is the result of a sophisticated sting operation run by the CIA through a second intelligence service, possibly Saudi or Pakistani.” [Observer, 12/16/2001] Osseiran points out that the main person bin Laden talks to in the video, veteran fighter Khaled al-Harbi, actually left Saudi Arabia on September 21, and therefore presumably met bin Laden shortly after. A video expert also finds that two cameras were used to make the tape, on which footage of the confession is recorded over footage of a downed US helicopter, and that only part of the footage was transmitted by phone line or satellite. [Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 28-29; CounterPunch, 8/21/2006] On the tape, bin Laden and al-Harbi discuss events in Saudi Arabia immediately after 9/11. There are no references to events in October or November of 2001, such as the US attack on Afghanistan, which occurred on October 7 (see October 7, 2001), or the attack by the Northern Alliance against Kabul in mid-November (see November 13, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ]
Osama bin Laden denies his involvement in the 9/11 attacks. In an interview with the Daily Ummat, a Pakistani newspaper, he says: “I have already said that I am not involved in the September 11 attacks in the United States (see September 16, 2001). As a Muslim, I try my best to avoid telling a lie. I had no knowledge of these attacks, nor do I consider the killing of innocent women, children, and other human beings as an appreciable act. Islam strictly forbids causing harm to innocent women, children, and other people. Such a practice is forbidden even in the course of battle.… The United States should try to trace the perpetrators of these attacks within itself; the people who are a part of the US system but are dissenting against it. Or those who are working for some other system; persons who want to make the present century as a century of conflict between Islam and Christianity so that their own civilization, nation, country, or ideology can survive. They may be anyone, from Russia to Israel and from India to Serbia. In the US itself, there are dozens of well-organized and well-equipped groups capable of causing large-scale destruction. Then you cannot forget the American Jews, who have been annoyed with President Bush ever since the Florida elections and who want to avenge him.… Then there are intelligence agencies in the US, which require billions of dollars worth of funds from Congress and the government every year.… They needed an enemy.… Is it not that there exists a government within the government in the United Sates? That secret government must be asked who carried out the attacks.” [Daily Ummat (Karachi), 9/28/2001] The newspaper says it conducted the interview with bin Laden by submittng questions for him to Taliban officials and then receiving written replies. [Ananova, 9/28/2001]
In January 2002, the US Treasury Department will send a letter to Swiss authorities stating that Youssef Nada and Ali bin Mussalim, two leaders of the Al Taqwa Bank in Switzerland, provided “indirect investment services for al-Qaeda, investing funds for bin Laden, and making cash deliveries on request to the al-Qaeda organization.” Furthermore, the letter will claim that such assistance continued until “late September 2001,” and that Mussalim carries a Saudi diplomatic passport. Mussalim had been known for controversial financial dealings since the early 1980s, when US prosecutors accused him of taking part in attempts to corner the world silver market. In 1994 he was an intermediary in a multi-billion dollar deal between the Saudi and French governments. He will die of cancer in June 2004, one month after reports of the US Treasury letter first publicly emerged. The Financial Times will call Al-Qaeda Will Conquer, the 2005 book which will be the first to reveal documentation of these claims about Mussalim, “uncomfortable reading for the Saudi government.” [Newsweek, 4/12/2004; Financial Times, 4/27/2005] For many years up to and past 9/11, he held Saudi ministerial status as an “advisor at the Royal Court” and was a close confidant of Saudi King Fahd. The Los Angeles Times will comment, “One is left wondering how the Sept. 11 commission could report that ‘we have found no evidence that the Saudi government as an institution or senior Saudi officials individually funded [al-Qaeda].’” [Los Angeles Times, 6/26/2005] The US will declare the Al Taqwa Bank a terrorist financier in November 2001 (see November 7, 2001).
Leaders of Pakistan’s two Islamic parties are negotiating bin Laden’s extradition to Pakistan to stand trial for the 9/11 attacks during this period, according to a later Mirror article. Under the plan, bin Laden will be held under house arrest in Peshawar and will face an international tribunal, which will decide whether to try him or hand him over to the US. According to reports in Pakistan (and the Daily Telegraph ), this plan has been approved by both bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar. [Mirror, 7/8/2002] Based on the first priority in the US’s new “war on terror” proclaimed by President Bush, the US presumably would welcome this plan. For example, Bush had just announced, “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West, I recall, that says, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’”
[ABC News, 9/17/2001] Yet, Bush’s ally in the war on terror, Pakistani President Musharraf, rejects the plan (stating that his reason for doing so was because he “could not guarantee bin Laden’s safety”). Based on a US official’s later statements, it appears that the US did not want the deal: “Casting our objectives too narrowly” risked “a premature collapse of the international effort [to overthrow the Taliban] if by some lucky chance Mr. bin Laden was captured.”
British Prime Minister Tony Blair says, “I have seen absolutely powerful incontrovertible evidence of [Osama bin Laden’s] link to the events of the 11th of September.” However, he says that because “much of this evidence comes to us from sensitive sources, from intelligence sources,” there is a question over how much of it can be made public. [BBC, 9/30/2001; Daily Telegraph, 10/1/2001] Three days later, the two British opposition leaders meet for a 45-minute confidential briefing with Blair, where he shows them this evidence. Following this briefing, Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy says he now accepts there is “compelling evidence” of Bin Laden’s guilt. [Daily Telegraph, 10/4/2001; Guardian, 10/4/2001] Blair refers to the evidence he has seen on October 4, 2001, when he presents to Parliament a paper indicating that al-Qaeda is responsible for 9/11 (see October 4, 2001), but again he says that because of sensitivity issues, “It is not possible without compromising people or security to release precise details.” [CNN, 10/4/2001]
On October 8, 2001, Gen. Tommy Franks, Central Command commander in chief, says of the war in Afghanistan, “We have not said that Osama bin Laden is a target of this effort. What we are about is the destruction of the al-Qaeda network, as well as the… Taliban that provide harbor to bin Laden and al-Qaeda.” [USA Today, 10/8/2001] Later in the month, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld makes similar comments, “My attitude is that if [bin Laden] were gone tomorrow, the same problem would exist. He’s got a whole bunch of lieutenants who have been trained and they’ve got bank accounts all over some 50 or 60 countries. Would you want to stop him? Sure. Do we want to stop the rest of his lieutenants? You bet. But I don’t get up in the morning and say that is the end; the goal and the endpoint of this thing. I think that would be a big mistake.” [USA Today, 10/24/2001] One military expert will later note, “There appears to be a real disconnect between what the US military was engaged in trying to do during the battle for Tora Bora - which was to destroy al-Qaeda and the Taliban - and the earlier rhetoric of President Bush, which had focused on getting bin Laden.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers will make a similar comment in April 2002 (see April 4, 2002). [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002]
Nine Army linguists, including six trained to speak Arabic, are dismissed from the military’s Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, because they are gay. At the same time, the military claims it is facing a critical shortage of translators and interpreters for the war on terrorism. [Associated Press, 11/14/2002] The Miami Herald comments: “The message is unmistakable: We find gay people more frightening than Osama bin Laden, whose stated goal is our destruction.”
[Miami Herald, 11/22/2002]
Ummah Tameer-e-Nau’s headquarters in Kabul. [Source: CBC]In early October 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell visits Pakistan and discusses the security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf. He offers US technical assistance to improve the security of Pakistan’s nukes, but Pakistan rejects the offer. Powell also says that the CIA learned of a secret meeting held in mid-August 2001 between two Pakistani nuclear scientists and al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri (see Mid-August 2001). As a result of US pressure, Pakistan arrests the two scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, on October 23. The Pakistani ISI secretly detains them for four weeks, but concludes that they are harmless and releases them. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 264-268; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 269-271] In mid-November, after the Taliban is routed from Kabul (see November 13, 2001), the CIA takes over the headquarters there of Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), a charity founded by the two scientists. In addition to charity material, they find numerous documents and pieces of equipment to help build WMD, including plans for conducting an anthrax attack. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 322] As a result, on December 1, CIA Director George Tenet, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, head of the CIA Counterterrorist Center’s WMD branch, and a CIA analyst named Kevin make an emergency trip to Pakistan to discuss the issue. Accompanied by Wendy Chamberlin, the US ambassador to Pakistan, Tenet meets with Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and urges him to take stronger action against the two scientists and their UTN charity. Musharraf reluctantly agrees, and the two men are rearrested. According to a 2007 book by Tenet, after being tested by a team of US polygraph experts and questioned by US officials, “Mahmood confirmed all we had heard about the August 2001 meeting with Osama bin Laden, and even provided a hand-drawn rough bomb design that he had shared with al-Qaeda leaders.” During the meeting, an unnamed senior al-Qaeda leader showed Mahmood a cannister that may have contained some kind of nuclear material. This leader shared ideas about building a simple firing system for a nuclear “dirty bomb” using commercially available supplies. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 264-268; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 269-271] However, on December 13, the two scientists are quietly released again. The US does not officially freeze UTN’s assets until December 20, and Pakistan apparently follows suit a short time later (see December 20, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 12/24/2001; Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 271]
Entity Tags: Wendy Chamberlin, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pervez Musharraf, Al-Qaeda, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, Colin Powell, George J. Tenet, Osama bin Laden, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
The New Yorker reports that “a number of intelligence officials have raised questions about bin Laden’s capabilities. ‘This guy sits in a cave in Afghanistan and he’s running this operation?’ one CIA official asked. ‘It’s so huge. He couldn’t have done it alone.’ A senior military officer told me that because of the visas and other documentation needed to infiltrate team members into the United States a major foreign intelligence service might also have been involved.” [New Yorker, 10/8/2001] No specific service is named, but the ISI would be one likely candidate. In fact, one day after this article is published, a Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) cable indicates the ISI created the Taliban and has helped al-Qaeda extensively (see October 2, 2001).
Tony Blair presenting evidence on October 4, 2001. [Source: Associated Press]British Prime Minister Tony Blair publicly presents a paper containing evidence that al-Qaeda is responsible for the 9/11 attacks. [Los Angeles Times, 10/4/2001; Los Angeles Times, 10/5/2001] Secretary of State Powell and other US officials had promised on September 23 that the US would present a paper containing such evidence. [Los Angeles Times, 9/24/2001] However, the US paper is never released (see September 23-24, 2001). Apparently, the British paper is meant to serve as a substitute. [New Yorker, 5/27/2002] It begins, “This document does not purport to provide a prosecutable case against Osama bin Laden in a court of law.” Nevertheless, it continues, “on the basis of all the information available [Her Majesty’s Government] is confident of its conclusions as expressed in this document.” [BBC, 10/4/2001] In his speech, Blair claims, “One of bin Laden’s closest lieutenants has said clearly that he helped with the planning of the September 11 attacks and admitted the involvement of the al-Qaeda organization” and that “there is other intelligence, we cannot disclose, of an even more direct nature indicating guilt” of al-Qaeda in the attacks. [CNN, 10/4/2001; Time, 10/5/2001] There has been no confirmation or details since of these claims. Even though most of the evidence in the British paper comes from the US, pre-attack warnings, such as the August 6, 2001 memo (see August 6, 2001) to Bush titled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US,” are not included. In fact, Blair’s paper states, “incorrectly, that no such information had been available before the attacks: ‘After 11 September we learned that, not long before, bin Laden had indicated he was about to launch a major attack on America.’” [New Yorker, 5/27/2002]
Bin Laden appears on Al Jareeza, in a taped statement broadcast shortly after US-led strikes on Afghanistan begin. [Source: Al Jazeera]In a recorded statement broadcast on television worldwide, Osama bin Laden issues a strongly worded message to the United States, but makes no claim of responsibility for 9/11. The recording is broadcast on the Al Jazeera television network within an hour of the first US strikes on Afghanistan, and is then shown by CNN. There is no date on the tape and no immediate way of determining where it was made. [New York Times, 10/8/2001] Bin Laden is shown sitting in a stone cave. His top deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri, appears at his side. [Associated Press, 10/8/2001] Referring to the 9/11 attacks, bin Laden says, “What the United States tastes today is a very small thing compared to what we have tasted for tens of years.” He praises those responsible, saying, “I ask God Almighty to elevate their status and grant them paradise.” [BBC, 10/7/2001] It is the first time he has spoken publicly about 9/11. But he makes no claim in his statement of having been responsible for the attacks. [Associated Press, 10/8/2001] He has previously explicitly denied responsibility for 9/11 (see September 16, 2001 and September 28, 2001). Bin Laden concludes his message warning, “[N]either the United States nor he who lives in the United States will enjoy security before we can see it as a reality in Palestine and before all the infidel armies leave the land of Mohammed.” [BBC, 10/7/2001] The following day, White House press secretary Ari Fleischer will tell reporters that, after watching this message, President Bush concluded that bin Laden “virtually took responsibility” for 9/11. [CNN, 10/8/2001]
Mohammed Heikal. [Source: Publicity photo]Mohammed Heikal, longtime Egyptian journalist, former government spokesman, and the “Arab world’s foremost political commentator,” expresses disbelief that bin Laden and al-Qaeda could have conducted the 9/11 attack without the US knowing. “Bin Laden has been under surveillance for years: every telephone call was monitored and al-Qaeda has been penetrated by American intelligence, Pakistani intelligence, Saudi intelligence, Egyptian intelligence. They could not have kept secret an operation that required such a degree of organization and sophistication.” [Guardian, 10/10/2001]
Ghaith Pharaon shaking hands with Alexander Haig. [Source: Bob Morris / Sygma]Shortly after 9/11, the Guardian will report that Ghaith Pharon is “directly linked to bin Laden through banks, holding companies, and charities.” This information is said to come from a French intelligence report (see October 10, 2001). [Guardian, 10/10/2001] Pharon was a pivotal figure in the criminal BCCI bank. A Saudi, he built up a Saudi construction firm called REDEC that had over $1 billion in revenues by the mid-1970s. He lives an extremely opulent lifestyle and moves easily in high-powered circles in Western countries. But in the 1980s his businesses began failing and he became a BCCI front man. BCCI used his charm and his connections in Saudi Arabia and the US to buy banks in the US, such as the First American Bank. He threw lavish parties and became friends with many influential Americans, such as former President Jimmy Carter. Meanwhile, he stole at least $500 million of the money invested in BCCI. When the BCCI scandal broke in 1991, many of the key figures cut deals with prosecutors, but Pharon did not. An international warrant was issued for his arrest, and in 1997 it was determined that he owes $2 billion for his role in the BCCI scandal. [Beaty and Gwynne, 1993, pp. 168-182; Financial Times, 9/6/1997] But Pharaon continues to run his business empire and live a lavish lifestyle. In 1997, it was reported that Saudi Arabia and Pakistan are both refusing to acknowledge the warrant for his arrest. He spends time in both countries, but mostly lives on his large yacht. [Financial Times, 9/6/1997]
The Bush administration asks the major US television networks to refrain
from showing unedited video messages taped by Osama bin Laden. They agree. A Newsweek article is critical of the decision, pointing out that “all but one [of these networks] are controlled by major conglomerates that have important pending business with the government.” The article openly questions if the media is “doing too much of the government’s bidding” in reporting on 9/11. Says one expert, “I’m not saying that everything is a horrible paranoid fantasy, but my sense is there’s an implicit quid pro quo here. The industry seems to be saying to the administration, ‘We’re patriotic, We’re supporting the war, we lost all of this advertising, now free us from [business] constraints.’” [Newsweek, 10/13/2001]
White House press secretary Ari Fleischer tells reporters that they should only print expurgated transcripts of the statements made by Osama bin Laden and other terror leaders, for fear that they might incite anti-American violence or worse, contain coded messages to other terrorists. “At best,” the messages are nothing more than “propaganda inciting people to kill Americans,” Fleischer says of bin Laden’s statements. “At worst, he could be issuing orders to his followers to initiate such attacks.” [BBC, 10/11/2001] The statements, and their presumed coded messages, might wind up “in the hands of people who can read it and see something in it,” Fleischer says. [Rich, 2006, pp. 31] Fleischer’s demand dovetails with a request from National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice that the five major television networks not broadcast complete versions of videotaped statements from bin Laden and others (see October 11, 2001). Most American newspapers follow the lead of the New York Times in refusing to comply with Fleischer’s demand. The Times will write in response: “The White House effort is ill advised. … Even if full statements [from bin Laden] were withheld from networks and newspapers, any bin Laden associate… could easily pick them up from foreign broadcast outlets or webcasts. More important, the American people should have unfettered access to information about the terrorist leader and his views.” [Current Events, 11/9/2001]
A 70-page French intelligence report claims: “The financial network of [Osama] bin Laden, as well as his network of investments, is similar to the network put in place in the 1980s by BCCI for its fraudulent operations, often with the same people (former directors and cadres of the bank and its affiliates, arms merchants, oil merchants, Saudi investors). The dominant trait of bin Laden’s operations is that of a terrorist network backed up by a vast financial structure.” The BCCI was the largest Islamic bank in the world before it collapsed in July 1991 (see July 5, 1991). A senior US investigator will later say US agencies are looking into the ties outlined by the French because “they just make so much sense, and so few people from BCCI ever went to jail. BCCI was the mother and father of terrorist financing operations.” The report identifies dozens of companies and individuals who were involved with BCCI and were found to be dealing with bin Laden after the bank collapsed. Many went on to work in banks and charities identified by the US and others as supporting al-Qaeda. About six ex-BCCI figures are repeatedly named, including Saudi multi-millionaire Ghaith Pharaon (see October 10, 2001). The role of Saudi billionaire Khalid bin Mahfouz in supporting bin Laden is emphasized in the report. In 1995, bin Mahfouz paid a $225 million fine in a settlement with US prosecutors for his role in the BCCI scandal. [Washington Post, 2/17/2002] Bin Laden lost money when BCCI was shut down, but may have benefited in the long term as other militants began relying on his financial network instead of BCCI’s (see July 1991 and After July 1991). Representatives of bin Mahfouz will later argue that this report is false and was in fact prepared by Jean-Charles Brisard and not the French intelligence service. Bin Mahfouz has begun libel proceedings against Mr. Brisard, claiming that he has made unfounded and defamatory allegations, and denies that he has ever supported terrorism. [Kendall Freeman, 5/13/2004 ]
The FBI releases a list of its 22 most wanted terrorists. The US government offers up to $5 million for information leading to the capture of anyone of the list. The men are:
Al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden, who was indicted by a grand jury in 1998 (see June 8, 1998), Ayman al-Zawahiri, linked to a 1995 bombing in Pakistan (see November 19, 1995), and Mohammed Atef, who provided training to Somali fighters before the Black Hawk Down incident (see Late 1992-October 1993);
Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), for his role in the 1995 Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995). KSM is actually the mastermind of 9/11, although the US intelligence community has allegedly not yet pieced this information together (see (November 7, 2001));
Several other operatives suspected of involvement in the 1998 US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998): Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (see August 2, 2008), Mustafa Fadhil, Usama al-Kini (a.k.a. Fahid Muhammad Ally Msalam (see August 6-7, 1998)), Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani (see July 25-29, 2004), Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan (see July 11, 2002), Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah (see September 10, 2002), Anas al-Liby (see January 20, 2002- March 20, 2002), Saif al-Adel (see Spring 2002), Ahmed Mohammed Hamed Ali, and Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah (see April 12, 2006);
Abdul Rahman Yasin, a US-Iraqi involved in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing (see March 4-5,1993);
Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Mughassil, Ali Saed Bin Ali El-Houri, Ibrahim Salih Mohammed Al-Yacoub, and Abdelkarim Hussein Mohamed Al-Nasser, for their alleged part in the 1996 Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia (see June 25, 1996);
Imad Mugniyah, Hassan Izz-Al-Din, and Ali Atwa for the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 in June 1985. [CNN, 10/10/2001]
Entity Tags: Mohammed Atef, Mushin Musa Matwalli Atwah, Mustafa Fadhil, Osama bin Laden, Saif al-Adel, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Usama al-Kini, Sheikh Ahmed Salim Swedan, Imad Mugniyah, Mohammed Hamed Ali, Hassan Izz-Al-Din, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, Abdul Rahman Yasin, Abdelkarim Hussein Mohamed Al-Nasser, Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Mughassil, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, Ibrahim Salih Mohammed Al-Yacoub, Ali Saed Bin Ali El-Houri, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ali Atwa, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Anas al-Liby
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
It is reported that Attorney General John Ashcroft and his Justice Department is assuming control of all terrorism-related prosecutions from the US Attorney’s office in New York, which has had a highly successful record of accomplishment in prosecuting cases connected to bin Laden. 15 of the 22 suspects listed on a most wanted terrorism list a month after 9/11 had already been indicted by the New York office in recent years. A former federal prosecutor says of the New York office, “For eight years, they have developed an expertise in these prosecutions and the complex facts that surround these groups. If ever there was a case where you’d want to play to your strength, this is it.” [New York Times, 10/11/2001] A grand jury in the New York district began investigating the 9/11 attacks one week after 9/11. But media accounts of this grand jury’s activity stop by late October 2001 and there appears to be no other grand jury taking its place (see September 18, 2001).
An al-Qaeda representative offers to arrange a television interview of Osama bin Laden. There are two versions of how this offer is made. According to CNN, an al-Qaeda contact of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera, with which it has a footage-sharing agreement, invites CNN and Al Jazeera to submit questions to bin Laden. CNN, worried about accusations of improper conduct, contacts the other major US television news stations and tells them it will share any footage that emerges. It also says it will only air the interview as long as it is newsworthy and not “propaganda.” CNN then draws up six questions about al-Qaeda’s role in 9/11 and the recent anthrax attacks in the US. It gives the questions to Al Jazeera, which adds another 25 and sends them to its Kabul bureau, which, in turn, passes them on to its al-Qaeda contact. The ethics of this are hotly debated in the US media, with Fox News publicly refusing to participate. Nevertheless, an Al Jazeera manager will later say: “I assure you they [Fox] contacted me to send more questions of their own. I got calls and emails from them.” Fox will later admit to the contacts, but say it would only have agreed to take part in the event of a regular interview. However, Al Jazeera media relations manager Jihad Ballout will contradict CNN’s account of the offer, saying the two organizations are approached independently, and al-Qaeda eventually chooses Al Jazeera. [Miles, 2005, pp. 175-176, 179-180] The interview will take place on October 20 (see October 20, 2001).
The Boston Herald reports: “Three banks allegedly used by Osama bin Laden to distribute money to his global terrorism network have well-established ties to a prince in Saudi Arabia’s royal family, several billionaire Saudi bankers, and the governments of Kuwait and Dubai. One of the banks, Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in the Sudan, was controlled directly by bin Laden, according to a 1996 US State Department report.” A regional expert states, “I think we underestimate bin Laden. He comes from the highest levels of Saudi society and he has supporters at all levels of Saudi Arabia.” [Boston Herald, 10/14/2001] The US has yet to take any official steps against the Al-Shamal bank, and some suggest this is because of its ties to influential Saudi figures (see September 24, 2001 and After).
At a press conference in Italy, President Bush says “there may be some possible link” between the recent anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) and al-Qaeda. He adds: “We have no hard data yet, but it’s clear that [Osama] bin Laden is a man who’s an evil man. He and his spokesmen are openly bragging about how they hope to inflict more pain on our country. So we’re watching every piece of evidence.” [CNN, 10/15/2001] A senior FBI official will claim in 2008 that this comment came shortly after the FBI told the White House that the anthrax strain was most likely too technically advanced to have been made by al-Qaeda (see Shortly After October 5, 2001).
Days after National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice persuaded the five major American news broadcasters to self-censor their coverage of statements issued by Osama bin Laden and other terror suspects (see October 11, 2001), Rice is publicly asked if the government believes, as she then asserted, that bin Laden and others might be using those statements as ways to convey coded messages to “sleeper” agents inside the US. Rice acknowledges that the government is busily analyzing those statements for any such coded messages. Of her request that the networks censor their coverage of bin Laden, Rice says: “The point to the networks—and let me just say that I think the networks have been very responsible in the way that they have dealt with this—my message to them was that it’s not to me to judge news value of something like this, but it is to say that there’s a national security concern about an unedited, 15 or 20-minute spew of anti-American hatred that ends in a call to go out and kill Americans. And I think that that was fully understood.” She cannot verify that any coded messages have yet been discovered, saying, “We are still concerned about whether there might be some signaling in here, but I don’t have anything more for you on that yet.” [White House, 10/15/2001]
Brent Scowcroft, the head of the Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board and a close adviser and friend of former President George H. W. Bush, is becoming increasingly marginalized in the current administration. Realizing he has little real influence in the White House, he goes public with his measured objections to a US invasion of Iraq by publishing an editorial in the Washington Post entitled “Build a Coalition.” Scowcroft reflects on the decision not to invade Baghdad in the 1991 Gulf War (see September 1998), and writes that if the US had then overthrown Saddam Hussein, “Our Arab allies… would have deserted us, creating an atmosphere of hostility to the United States [that] might have well spawned scores of Osama bin Ladens. [We] already hear voices declaring that the United States is too focused on a multilateral approach. The United States knows what needs to be done, these voices say, and we should just go ahead and do it. Coalition partners just tie our hands, and they all will exact a price for their support. Those are the same siren songs of delusion and defeat that we heard in 1990. We can no more succeed in our present campaign by acting unilaterally than we could have in 1990.” If the “war on terror” is to succeed, he writes, it will have to be “even more dependent on coalition-building than was the Gulf War.” Scowcroft finally understands, author Craig Unger will observe, that the neoconservatives are using 9/11 as an excuse to invade Iraq. “He knew they were going to try to manipulate the president into thinking there was unfinished business” in Iraq, an administration official will recall in 2007. “For [Scowcroft] to say something publicly was a watershed. This was where the roads diverged.” [Washington Post, 10/16/2001; Unger, 2007, pp. 228]
Osama bin Laden admits “inciting” the 9/11 attacks in a controversial interview by the Qatar-based Al Jazeera TV station. The interview is conducted by Tayseer Allouni, Al Jazeera’s Kabul correspondent. Allouni had discussed a possible interview of bin Laden with al-Qaeda about a week previously (see Mid-October 2001), but nothing further had been said and Allouni assumed the interview would not be conducted.
Taken Blindfolded to Bin Laden - However, he is contacted by al-Qaeda representatives, who tell him they will take him to a story. He is blindfolded and driven around in circles outside Kabul for some time, until the car stops, the blindfold is taken off, and he finds himself in an unknown place, face-to-face with bin Laden. The al-Qaeda leader is wearing camouflage fatigues and has a sub-machine gun close by; there are other armed men present. Allouni is told he cannot use his own questions, but will ask a set of questions prepared by al-Qaeda.
Bin Laden 'Ambiguously' Discusses Responsibility for 9/11 - The interview lasts for over an hour and covers several topics. On the key question of responsibility for 9/11, author Hugh Miles will point out that bin Laden speaks “ambiguously, seeming first to deny, then confirm, his involvement in the attacks.” When asked about US allegations of his responsibility, bin Laden answers: “America has made many accusations against us and many other Muslims around the world. Its charge that we are carrying out acts of terrorism is unwarranted.” However, a few seconds later he adds, “If inciting people to do that is terrorism, and if killing those who kill our sons is terrorism, then let history be witness that we were terrorists.” He then says: “We kill the kings of the infidels, kings of the crusaders, and civilian infidels in exchange for those of our children they kill. This is permissible in Islamic law and logically.” Allouni interrupts him and asks, “They kill our innocents, so we kill their innocents?” The reply is, “So we kill their innocents.” Bin Laden also gives a vague non-answer to a question about his responsibility for the recent anthrax attacks in the US: “These diseases are a punishment from God and a response to oppressed mothers’ prayers in Lebanon, Iraq, Palestine, and everywhere.”
Interview Not Broadcast - Al Jazeera decides not to broadcast the interview. Its media relations manager, Jihad Ballout, will later say the decision is taken because the questions Allouni was forced to ask came from bin Laden, and because “bin Laden was using Al Jazeera to give out a very edited and sanitized statement to his people. It was a message, a pure message.” Neither does Al Jazeera inform CNN of the interview. However, western intelligence services will obtain it (see Before November 11, 2001) and it will eventually be broadcast on CNN in early 2002 (see January 31, 2002). [CNN, 2/5/2002; Miles, 2005, pp. 177-179, 182]
The Chinese internet news site Zhongxin Wang publishes a detailed account of the purported assassination of Osama bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, according to James S. Robbins, a professor of international relations at the National Defense University’s School for National Defense Studies. According to the account, both men were killed by associates at an underground base near Kandahar on October 16. The associates shot them twice in the back, and one of bin Laden’s sons and two of Omar’s were also killed. The report will be picked up by a Japanese daily and the National Review Online, which will cite some circumstantial evidence it says supports the claim. [National Review Online, 10/25/2001] However, both bin Laden and Mullah Omar will later be reported to have lived past this date (see, for example, November 7, 2001 and October 6, 2002).
A London Times article by Daniel McGrory claims that not only did Mohamed Atta meet with an Iraqi agent in Prague, but that “a special FBI team” is studying “a report from Prague that anthrax spores were given to Atta” during the meeting. Furthermore, “Saddam’s agents were spotted at various times this year with Atta in Germany, Spain, Italy and the Czech Republic,” and that Atta met with the agent in Prague at least four times. Additionally, an Iraqi intelligence agent in Rome was seen with Atta in Prague and Hamburg and then disappeared shortly before the 9/11 attacks. The article also alleges numerous meetings between Iraqi agents and Osama bin Laden, as well as a meeting between al-Qaeda second-in command Ayman Zawahiri and Iraqi Vice-President Taha Yasin Ramadan. Furthermore, al-Qaeda operatives were supposedly given advanced weapons training in Iraq supervised by Saddam Hussein’s son Uday Hussein. The article mentions no sources at all for these stunning allegations, except to refer to some other recent articles in a couple of cases. However, the article does mention former CIA Director James Woolsey, and it seems probable that Woolsey is a force behind the article, since he is in London at the time attempting to find evidence supporting the Prague meeting and Iraqi involvement in the anthrax attacks (see Mid-September-October 2001). [London Times, 10/27/2001] This article represents the height of the propaganda effort attempting to link al-Qaeda and the Iraqi government together. Many of the allegations in the article are never mentioned in any other newspaper article, and all of them will eventually be debunked.
The US government no longer thinks al-Qaeda is behind the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). The Washington Post reports in a front-page story: “Top FBI and CIA officials believe that the anthrax attacks… are likely the work of one or more extremists in the United States who are probably not connected to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda terrorist organization, government officials said yesterday.” An unnamed senior official adds, “Everything seems to lean toward a domestic source… Nothing seems to fit with an overseas terrorist type operation.” The Post suggests neo-Nazi and/or right-wing hate groups could be behind it. [Washington Post, 10/27/2001] Not long after, the FBI releases a profile of the perpetrator of the anthrax attacks. He is suspected of being a lone, male domestic terrorist, with a scientific background and laboratory experience who could handle hazardous materials. [St. Petersburg Times, 11/10/2001]
Gary Bernsten. [Source: CNN]Veteran CIA agent Gary Berntsen leads a CIA undercover team, codenamed Jawbreaker, to capture or kill bin Laden in Afghanistan (see September 26, 2001). In a 2005 book, also called Jawbreaker, Berntsen will describe how his team monitored multiple intelligence reports tracking bin Laden on a path through Jalalabad to Tora Bora (see November 13, 2001). He will claim that at the start of December 2001, one of his Arabic-speaking CIA agents finds a radio on a dead al-Qaeda fighter during a battle in the Tora Bora region. This agent hears bin Laden repeatedly attempt to rally his troops. On the same radio, that agent and another CIA agent who speaks Arabic hear bin Laden apologizing to his troops for getting them trapped and killed by US aerial bombing. Based on this information, Berntsen makes a formal request for 800 US troops to be deployed along the Pakistani border to prevent bin Laden’s escape. The request is not granted. Berntsen’s lawyer later claims, “Gary coordinated most of the boots on the ground. We knew where bin Laden was within a very circumscribed area. It was full of caves and tunnels but we could have bombed them or searched them one by one. The Pentagon failed to deploy sufficient troops to seal them off.” Although the area is heavily bombed, bin Laden is able to escape (see Mid-December 2001). [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 43-64; London Times, 8/14/2005; MSNBC, 12/29/2005; Financial Times, 1/3/2006] A Knight Ridder investigative report will later conclude, “While more than 1,200 US Marines [sit] at an abandoned air base in the desert 80 miles away, Franks and other commanders [rely] on three Afghan warlords and a small number of American, British, and Australian special forces to stop al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters from escaping across the mountains into Pakistan.” Military and intelligence officials warn Franks that the two main Afghan commanders cannot be trusted. This turns out to be correct, as the warlords accept bribes from al-Qaeda leaders to let them escape. [Knight Ridder, 10/30/2004] In 2005, Berntsen will call himself a supporter of Bush and will say he approves of how CIA Director Porter Goss is running the CIA, but he will nonetheless sue the CIA for what he claims is excessive censorship of his book. [London Times, 8/14/2005; MSNBC, 12/29/2005]
In late October, US intelligence reports begin noting that al-Qaeda fighters and leaders are moving into and around the Afghan city of Jalalabad. By early November, Osama bin Laden is said to be there. [Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later recall: “We knew from day one the likely places that bin Laden would flee to. There had been lots of work done before 9/11 on where did he hang out, statistical analysis even. We knew Tora Bora was the place where he would be likely to go. People in CIA knew that; people in the counterterrorism community knew about it. We knew that what you should have done was to insert special forces—Rangers, that sort of thing—up into that area as soon as possible.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] Knight Ridder Newspapers will later report: “American intelligence analysts concluded that bin Laden and his retreating fighters were preparing to flee across the border. However, the US Central Command, which was running the war, made no move to block their escape. ‘It was obvious from at least early November that this area was to be the base for an exodus into Pakistan,’ said one intelligence official, who spoke only on condition of anonymity. ‘All of this was known, and frankly we were amazed that nothing was done to prepare for it.’” [Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] The vast majority of al-Qaeda’s leaders and fighters will eventually escape into Pakistan. In 2006, Newsweek reporter and columnist Michael Hirsh will write that Bush’s decision to ignore accurate intelligence about bin Laden’s presence in Tora Bora in favor of realigning the US’s war effort to focus on the “gathering threat” of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein was a strategic blunder that ranks alongside Adolf Hitler’s decision to invade the USSR in 1941. [Rich, 2006, pp. 208]
FBI agent Jack Cloonan arrives in Sudan with several other FBI agents and is given permission by the Sudanese government to interview some al-Qaeda operatives living there. The interviews were conducted at safe houses arranged by Sudanese intelligence. Cloonan interviews Mubarak al Duri, an Iraqi. He lived in Tuscon, Arizona, in the late 1980s and early 1990s and was al-Qaeda’s chief agent attempting to purchase weapons of mass destruction (see 1986). Cloonan will later claim that al Duri and a second Iraqi al-Qaeda operative laughed when asked about possible bin Laden ties to Saddam Hussein’s government. “They said bin Laden hated Saddam.” Bin Laden considered Hussein “a Scotch-drinking, woman-chasing apostate.” Cloonan also interviews Mohammed Loay Bayazid, an American citizen and founding member of al-Qaeda (see August 11-20, 1988), who ran an al-Qaeda charity front in the US (see December 16, 1994). [Los Angeles Times, 4/29/2005] The CIA will interview them in 2002, but they apparently remain free in Sudan (see Mid-2002).
The US, lacking local agents and intelligence in Afghanistan, is said to be heavily reliant on the ISI for information about the Taliban. The US is said to be confident in the ISI, even though the ISI was the main supporter of the Taliban up until 9/11. Knight Ridder Newspapers comments, “Anti-Taliban Afghans, foreign diplomats, and Pakistani government security officials say that pro-Taliban officers remain deeply embedded within ISI and might still be helping America’s enemies inside Afghanistan.” A leader of the resistance to the Taliban says, “There are lots of (ISI) officers who are fully committed to the way of the Taliban and Osama bin Laden.” Former ISI Director Hamid Gul says, “It is a foolish commander who depends on someone else’s intelligence, especially when that someone doesn’t like him and was once friendly with the enemy.”
[Knight Ridder, 11/3/2001] Later in the month another article notes that the CIA continues to rely on the ISI for covert actions against the Taliban. One CIA agent says, “The same Pakistani case officers who built up the Taliban are doing the translating for the CIA. Our biggest mistake is allowing the ISI to be our eyes and ears.”
[Toronto Star, 11/5/2001]
The Binladin Group logo. [Source: Bin Ladin Group]The New Yorker points to evidence that the bin Laden family has generally not ostracized itself from bin Laden as is popularly believed, but retains close ties in some cases. The large bin Laden family owns and runs a $5 billion a year global corporation that includes the largest construction firm in the Islamic world. One counterterrorism expert says, “There’s obviously a lot of spin by the Saudi Binladin Group [the family corporation] to distinguish itself from Osama. I’ve been following the bin Ladens for years, and it’s easy to say, ‘We disown him.’ Many in the family have. But blood is usually thicker than water.” The article notes that neither the bin Laden family nor the Saudi royal family have publicly denounced bin Laden since 9/11. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001]
Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, posing as Jamal al-Ghurairy for Frontline. [Source: PBS]An Iraqi defector identifying himself as Jamal al-Ghurairy, a former lieutenant general in Saddam Hussein’s intelligence corps, the Mukhabarat, tells two US reporters that he has witnessed foreign Islamic militants training to hijack airplanes at an alleged Iraqi terrorist training camp at Salman Pak, near Baghdad. Al-Ghurairy also claims to know of a secret compound at Salman Pak where Iraqi scientists, led by a German, are producing biological weapons. Al-Ghurairy is lying both about his experiences and even his identity, though the reporters, New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges and PBS’s Christopher Buchanan, do not know this. The meeting between al-Ghurairy and the reporters, which takes place on November 6, 2001, in a luxury suite in a Beirut hotel, was arranged by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC). Buchanan later recalls knowing little about al-Ghurairy, except that “[h]is life might be in danger. I didn’t know much else.” Hedges recalls the former general’s “fierce” appearance and “military bearing.… He looked the part.” Al-Ghurairy is accompanied by several other people, including the INC’s political liaison, Nabeel Musawi. “They were slick and well organized,” Buchanan recalls. Hedges confirms al-Ghurairy’s credibility with the US embassy in Turkey, where he is told that CIA and FBI agents had recently debriefed him. The interview is excerpted for an upcoming PBS Frontline episode, along with another interview with an INC-provided defector, former Iraqi sergeant Sabah Khodada, who echoes al-Ghurairy’s tale. While the excerpt of al-Ghurairy’s interview is relatively short, the interview itself takes over an hour. Al-Ghurairy does not allow his face to be shown on camera.
Times Reports Defectors' Tale - Two days later, on November 8, Hedges publishes a story about al-Ghurairy in the New York Times Times. The Frontline episode airs that same evening. [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges does not identify al-Ghurairy by name, but reports that he, Khodada, and a third unnamed Iraqi sergeant claim to have “worked for several years at a secret Iraqi government camp that had trained Islamic terrorists in rotations of five or six months since 1995. They said the training at the camp, south of Baghdad, was aimed at carrying out attacks against neighboring countries and possibly Europe and the United States.” Whether the militants being trained are linked to al-Qaeda or Osama bin Laden, the defectors cannot be sure, nor do they know of any specific attacks carried out by the militants. Hedges writes that the interviews were “set up by an Iraqi group that seeks the overthrow of… Hussein.” He quotes al-Ghurairy as saying, “There is a lot we do not know. We were forbidden to speak about our activities among each other, even off duty. But over the years, you see and hear things. These Islamic radicals were a scruffy lot. They needed a lot of training, especially physical training. But from speaking with them, it was clear they came from a variety of countries, including Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Algeria, Egypt, and Morocco. We were training these people to attack installations important to the United States. The Gulf War never ended for Saddam Hussein. He is at war with the United States. We were repeatedly told this.” He uses Khodada’s statements as support for al-Ghurairy’s, identifies Khodada by name, and says that Khodada “immigrated to Texas” in May 2001 “after working as an instructor for eight years at Salman Pak…” He quotes the sergeant as saying, “We could see them train around the fuselage. We could see them practice taking over the plane.” Al-Ghurairy adds that the militants were trained to take over a plane without using weapons. Hedges reports that Richard Sperzel, the former chief of the UN biological weapons inspection teams in Iraq, says that the Iraqis always claimed Salman Pak was an anti-terror training camp for Iraqi special forces. However, Sperzel says, “[M]any of us had our own private suspicions. We had nothing specific as evidence.” The US officials who debriefed al-Ghurairy, Hedges reports, do not believe that the Salman Pak training has any links to the 9/11 hijackings. Hedges asks about one of the militants, a clean-shaven Egyptian. “No, he was not Mohamed Atta.” Atta led the 9/11 hijackers. Hedges notes that stories such as this one will likely prompt “an intense debate in Washington over whether to extend the war against Osama bin Laden and the Taliban government of Afghanistan to include Iraq.” [New York Times, 11/8/2001; Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
Heavy Press Coverage - The US media immediately reacts, with op-eds running in major newspapers throughout the country and cable-news pundits bringing the story to their audiences. National security adviser Condoleezza Rice says of the story, “I think it surprises no one that Saddam Hussein is engaged in all kinds of activities that are destabilizing.” The White House will use al-Ghurairy’s claims in its background paper, “Decade of Deception and Defiance,” prepared for President’s Bush September 12, 2002 speech to the UN General Assembly (see September 12, 2002). Though the tale lacks specifics, it helps bolster the White House’s attempts to link Saddam Hussein to the 9/11 hijackers, and helps promote Iraq as a legitimate target in the administration’s war on terror. (Five years later, the reporters involved in the story admit they were duped—see April 2006.)
Complete Fiction - The story, as it turns out, is, in the later words of Mother Jones reporter Jack Fairweather, “an elaborate scam.” Not only did US agents in Turkey dismiss the purported lieutenant general’s claims out of hand—a fact they did not pass on to Hedges—but the man who speaks with Hedges and Buchanan is not even Jamal al-Ghurairy. The man they interviewed is actually a former Iraqi sergeant living in Turkey under the pseudonym Abu Zainab. (His real name is later ascertained to be Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, and is a former Iraqi general and senior officer in the Mukhabarat.) The real al-Ghurairy has never left Iraq. In 2006, he will be interviewed by Fairweather, and will confirm that he was not the man interviewed in 2001 (see October 2005). [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004; Mother Jones, 4/2006] Hedges and Buchanan were not the first reporters to be approached for the story. The INC’s Francis Brooke tried to interest Newsweek’s Michael Isikoff in interviewing Khodada to discuss Salman Pak. Isikoff will recall in 2004 that “he didn’t know what to make of the whole thing or have any way to evaluate the story so I didn’t write about it.” [Columbia Journalism Review, 7/1/2004]
"The Perfect Hoax" - The interview was set up by Chalabi, the leader of the INC, and former CBS producer Lowell Bergman. Bergman had interviewed Khodada previously, but was unable to journey to Beirut, so he and Chalabi briefed Hedges in London before sending him to meet with the defector. Chalabi and Bergman have a long relationship; Chalabi has been a source for Bergman since 1991. The CIA withdrew funding from the group in 1996 (see January 1996) due to its poor intelligence and attempts at deception. For years, the INC combed the large Iraqi exile communities in Damascus and Amman for those who would trade information—real or fabricated—in return for the INC’s assistance in obtaining asylum to the West. Helping run that network was Mohammed al-Zubaidi, who after 9/11 began actively coaching defectors, according to an ex-INC official involved in the INC’s media operations (see December 17, 2001 and July 9, 2004). The ex-INC official, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, did everything from help defectors brush up and polish their stories, to concocting scripts that defectors with little or no knowledge could recite: “They learned the words, and then we handed them over to the American agencies and journalists.” After 9/11, the INC wanted to come up with a big story that would fix the public perception of Saddam Hussein’s involvement in the 9/11 attacks. Al-Zubaidi was given the task. He came up with al-Ghurairy. He chose Zainab for his knowledge of the Iraqi military, brought him to Beirut, paid him, and began prepping him. In the process, al-Zainab made himself known to American and Turkish intelligence officials as al-Ghurairy. “It was the perfect hoax,” al-Haideri will recall in 2006. “The man was a born liar and knew enough about the military to get by, whilst Saddam’s regime could hardly produce the real Ghurairy without revealing at least some of the truth of the story.” Al-Haideri will say that the reality of the Salman Pak story was much as the Iraqis claimed—Iraqi special forces were trained in hostage and hijack scenarios. Al-Zubaidi, who in 2004 will admit to his propaganda activities, calls Al-Zainab “an opportunist, cheap and manipulative. He has poetic interests and has a vivid imagination in making up stories.” [Mother Jones, 4/2006]
Stories Strain Credulity - Knight Ridder reporter Jonathan Landay later says of al-Qurairy, “As you track their stories, they become ever more fantastic, and they’re the same people who are telling these stories, until you get to the most fantastic tales of all, which appeared in Vanity Fair magazine.” Perhaps al-Qurairy’s most fabulous story is that of a training exercise to blow up a full-size mockup of a US destroyer in a lake in central Iraq. Landay adds, “Or, jumping into pits of fouled water and having to kill a dog with your bare teeth. I mean, and this was coming from people, who are appearing in all of these stories, and sometimes their rank would change.… And, you’re saying, ‘Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here, because in this story he was a major, but in this story the guy’s a colonel. And, in this story this was his function, but now he says in this story he was doing something else.’” Landay’s bureau chief, John Walcott, says of al-Qurairy, “What he did was reasonably clever but fairly obvious, which is he gave the same stuff to some reporters that, for one reason or another, he felt would simply report it. And then he gave the same stuff to people in the Vice President’s office [Dick Cheney] and in the Secretary of Defense’s office [Donald Rumsfeld]. And so, if the reporter called the Department of Defense or the Vice President’s office to check, they would’ve said, ‘Oh, I think that’s… you can go with that. We have that, too.’ So, you create the appearance, or Chalabi created the appearance, that there were two sources, and that the information had been independently confirmed, when, in fact, there was only one source. And it hadn’t been confirmed by anybody.” Landay adds, “[L]et’s not forget how close these people were to this administration, which raises the question, was there coordination? I can’t tell you that there was, but it sure looked like it.” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
No Evidence Found - On April 6, 2003, US forces will overrun the Salman Pak facility. They will find nothing to indicate that the base was ever used to train terrorists (see April 6, 2003).
Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Richard Sperzel, Newsweek, Saddam Hussein, Taliban, New York Times, Sabah Khodada, Washington Post, United Nations, Vanity Fair, Nabeel Musawi, Public Broadcasting System, Mother Jones, Ahmed Chalabi, Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri, Abu Zeinab al-Qurairy, Chris Hedges, Al-Qaeda, CBS News, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Mukhabarat, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, Francis Brooke, Lowell Bergman, Michael Isikoff, Mohammed al-Zubaidi, Jonathan Landay, John Walcott, Jamal al-Ghurairy, Jack Fairweather, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Christopher Buchanan, Iraqi National Congress
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda
A video still of bin Laden filmed during his interview with Hamid Mir in November 2001. [Source: National Geographic]Pakistani reporter Hamid Mir is taken blindfolded to a location somewhere in the mountains of Afghanistan to interview bin Laden. The sound of antiaircraft fire can be heard in the distance. Bin Laden looks paler and his beard is greyer. While he doesn’t claim responsibility for the 9/11 attacks, he says that Muslims were behind it and that Muslims have the moral right to commit such attacks because they are done in self-defense. He says, “I wish to declare that if America used chemical or nuclear weapons against us, then we may retort with chemical and nuclear weapons. We have the weapons as deterrent.” He also says, “This place may be bombed. And we will be killed. We love death. The US loves life. That is the big difference between us.” [Reuters, 11/10/2001; Newsweek, 11/26/2001]
Gary Berntsen, leader of the CIA effort in Afghanistan, names the four most wanted terrorist suspects in Afghanistan at a meeting of his team. They are al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden, his second in command Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda military commander Mohammed Atef, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). Berntsen places one of his subordinates in charge of these four men, giving orders to “find and kill” them. Berntsen also wants the Taliban’s top three intelligence officials killed. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 114] While the connections between the other three and al-Qaeda are well known by this time, the US government apparently first develops information indicating KSM is the mastermind behind 9/11 during FBI questioning of military training camp facilitator Abu Zubaida around April 2002. [New York Times, 4/22/2009] However, KSM is an known terrorist and one of the top 22 fugitives named by the FBI the previous month (see October 10, 2001).
PBS’s Frontline broadcasts an October 2001 interview with Bush foreign policy adviser Brent Scowcroft as part of its Gunning for Saddam episode. Scowcroft recently cemented his status as an outsider in the administration with an op-ed calling for the US to focus on building a coalition of allies before considering invading Iraq (see October 16, 2001). Scowcroft says that a unilateral move to invade Iraq and “deal with Saddam Hussein” will destroy the coalition of nations that still exists ten years after the 1991 Gulf War “virtually instantly.” Suspicion that the US is manipulating information to prove its rationale for war with Iraq is paramount throughout the Middle East and even among the US’s closest allies in Europe. Part of the responsibility for that perception, Scowcroft notes, comes from Iraq: “Saddam has managed to get the view out that the Iraqi people are suffering because of the [UN-mandated economic] sanctions. In fact, they’re suffering because Saddam Hussein doesn’t use the income from the oil he sells to provide for his people. But that’s the fact. So if we turn on Iraq now, it will look like we’re just using September 11 as an excuse to go after our favorite enemy.… So we need to sort of reestablish the kind of confidence that the United States enjoyed a decade ago around the time of the Gulf War. And to do that, we need to prosecute the Afghan/Osama bin Laden part of this whole thing in a way which will demonstrate that we know what we’re doing, that we do it carefully, not wildly and so on.”
Focusing on Terrorist Threat, Not Iraq, a Necessity - Scowcroft calls Hussein and Iraq “a separate problem” from al-Qaeda and global Islamist terrorism. “It is not at all clear that he is a part of a global terrorist network, which is what we’re focusing on.… Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden have one thing in common, and that is they both hate the United States. Otherwise, they have very little in common. As a matter of fact, my guess is, if it weren’t for the United States, Osama bin Laden would turn on Saddam Hussein.” Scowcroft says that even if the US manages to render al-Qaeda impotent, Iraq might not be the next problem on the list. “It’s a problem which right now should be differentiated from the Osama bin Laden problem.… Hezbollah, for example, is a global terrorist network, which has attacked the United States and US interests before. How about that?… We need to be skillful about this. We need to use scalpels, not sledgehammers.” He continues: “Nobody has said what ‘going after Saddam’ really means. What does it mean? Five hundred thousand troops again, based in a Saudi Arabia that would not accept them now? What does ‘going after Saddam’ mean?”
INC Not a Viable Replacement for Hussein - Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress (INC) may or may not be a “viable alternative to Saddam,” Scowcroft says, but it is “certainly not a viable means to” overthrow Hussein. “It is weak, disparate, riven with disputes—probably unattractive to almost anyone inside or out.” [PBS Frontline, 11/8/2001; PBS Frontline, 11/8/2001]
Western intelligence services obtain a copy of a secret Al Jazeera interview of Osama bin Laden. Al Jazeera had decided not to broadcast the interview, conducted on October 20 (see October 20, 2001), because its correspondent had not been allowed to ask his own questions, but had been told what to say by bin Laden. [Miles, 2005, pp. 179, 181] The fact that the video is obtained by Western intelligence is first revealed by the Daily Telegraph, which says the transcript proves bin Laden’s responsibility for 9/11 and that it will soon be used as the “centrepiece of Britain and America’s new evidence against bin Laden.” [Daily Telegraph, 11/11/2001] Author Hugh Miles will note that bin Laden is actually ambiguous about his responsibility for 9/11 on the tape, and will speculate about how it was obtained. According to Miles, al-Qaeda kept a copy of the tape, but it is unlikely that al-Qaeda would give it to Western intelligence or CNN, which will air it later (see January 31, 2002). Therefore, the tape was probably obtained for the West by US authorities, who “made it their business to know all of Al Jazeera’s internal affairs.” [Miles, 2005, pp. 179-182] On November 14, British Prime Minister Tony Blair will refer to the video in a speech before the House of Commons and say, “The intelligence material now leaves no doubt whatever of the guilt of bin Laden and his associates.” [CNN, 11/14/2001; UK Prime Minister, 11/14/2001] Yet the British government will say it does not have a copy of the video, only information about it from intelligence sources. [Washington Post, 11/14/2001]
Bin Laden gave a speech in front of about 1,000 supporters on November 10, 2001 in the town of Jalalabad, Afghanistan. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] On the night of November 13, a convoy of 1,000 or more al-Qaeda and Taliban fighters escapes from Jalalabad and reaches the fortress of Tora Bora after hours of driving and then walking. Bin Laden is believed to be with them, riding in one of “several hundred cars” in the convoy. The US bombs the nearby Jalalabad airport, but apparently does not attack the convoy. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] The Northern Alliance captures Jalalabad the next day. [Sydney Morning Herald, 11/14/2001]
Ismail Khan. [Source: US Navy]Independent warlord Ismail Khan’s troops and other Northern Alliance fighters are reportedly ready to take back Pashtun areas from Taliban control at this time. Khan, former and future governor of Herat province and one of Afghanistan’s most successful militia leaders, later maintains that “we could have captured all the Taliban and the al-Qaeda groups. We could have arrested Osama bin Laden with all of his supporters.” [USA Today, 1/2/2002] However, according to Khan, his forces hold back at the request of the US, who allegedly do not want the non-Pashtun Northern Alliance to conquer Pashtun areas. British newspapers at the time report bin Laden is surrounded in a 30-mile area, but the conquest of Kandahar takes weeks without the Northern Alliance (see November 25, 2001). However, more reliable reports place bin Laden near Tora Bora by mid-November (see November 13, 2001). [CNN, 11/18/2001]
Khaled al-Harbi (right) talking to Osama bin Laden or one of his doubles. [Source: US Department of Defense]A conversation between Osama bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda spokesman Suliman abu Ghaith, and Khaled al-Harbi, a veteran of al-Qaeda’s jihad in Bosnia, is videotaped. A portion of the taped conversation is later said to be found by the US and will be used as evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in 9/11. [Unknown, 2001; Guardian, 12/13/2001; Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 28-9] According to a translation released by the Pentagon, the man said to be bin Laden says: “[W]e calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy, who would be killed based on the position of the tower. We calculated that the floors that would be hit would be three or four floors. I was the most optimistic of them all… (inaudible)… due to my experience in this field, I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building and collapse the area where the plane hit and all the floors above it only. This is what we had hoped for.” He continues: “We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day. We had finished our work that day and had the radio on. It was 5:30 p.m. our time.… Immediately, we heard the news that a plane had hit the World Trade Center. We turned the radio station to the news from Washington.… At the end of the newscast, they reported that a plane just hit the World Trade Center.… After a little while, they announced that another plane had hit the World Trade Center. The brothers who heard the news were overjoyed by it.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ] The release of the tape, which is said to be found by US intelligence officers in Jalalabad, will be a major news story, and the tape will be taken by the media as proof of bin Laden’s responsibility for 9/11. President Bush will comment, “For those who see this tape, they’ll realize that not only is he guilty of incredible murder, he has no conscience and no soul, that he represents the worst of civilization.” British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw will add, “By boasting about his involvement in the evil attacks, bin Laden confirms his guilt.” [BBC, 12/14/2001; Fox News, 12/14/2001; CNN, 12/16/2001] However, the tape will later be disputed from three points of view:
The accuracy of the translation will be questioned (see December 20, 2001). For example, the man thought to be bin Laden does not say “we calculated in advance the number of casualties,” but “we calculated the number of casualties”;
An analyst will conclude that the tape was actually made earlier as a part of a US-run sting operation (see (September 26, 2001));
Some commentators will question whether the person in the video is actually bin Laden (see December 13, 2001).
In mid-2002, Al Jazeera reporter Yosri Fouda will allegedly interview al-Qaeda figures Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see April, June, or August 2002). In a 2003 book he will co-write, Fouda will claim that he asked an unnamed al-Qaeda operative who was setting up the interview if the bin Laden video was fake. This person will supposedly reply: “No. The tape, the brothers said—I am not sure whether they left it behind or not—but the Sheikh [bin Laden], yes, was talking to someone from Mecca.” [Fouda and Fielding, 2003, pp. 135]
Hazrat Ali. [Source: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images]Hazrat Ali and Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, warlords in the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan, both later claim that they are first approached in the middle of November by US officers and asked to take part in an attack on Tora Bora. They agree. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] By late November, the US-allied warlords assemble a motley force of about 2,500 Afghans supported by a fleet of old Russian tanks at the foot of the Tora Bora mountains. They are poorly equipped and trained and have low morale. The better-equipped Taliban and al-Qaeda are 5,000 feet up in snow-covered valleys, forests, and caves. [New York Times Magazine, 9/11/2005] On December 3, a reporter for the Christian Science Monitor overhears Ali in a Jalalabad, Afghanistan, hotel making a deal to give three al-Qaeda operatives safe passage out of the country. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] The US chooses to rely mainly on Hazrat Ali’s forces for the ground offensive against Tora Bora. Ali supposedly pays one of his aides $5,000 to block the main escape routes to Pakistan. But in fact this aide helps Taliban and al-Qaeda escape along these routes. Afghan villagers in the area later even claim that they took part in firefights with fighters working for Ali’s aide who were providing cover to help al-Qaeda and Taliban escape. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] Author James Risen later claims, “CIA officials are now convinced that Hazrat Ali’s forces allowed Osama bin Laden and his key lieutenants to flee Tora Bora into Pakistan. Said a CIA source, ‘We realized those guys just opened the door. It wasn’t a big secret.’” While the US will never publicly blame Ali for assisting in the escape, the CIA will internally debate having Ali arrested by the new Afghan government. But this idea will be abandoned and Ali will become the new strongman in the Jalalabad region. [Risen, 2006, pp. 168-169] CIA official Michael Scheuer later will comment, “Everyone who was cognizant of how Afghan operations worked would have told Mr. Tenet that [his plan to rely on Afghan warlords] was nuts. And as it turned out, he was.… The people we bought, the people Mr. Tenet said we would own, let Osama bin Laden escape from Tora Bora in eastern Afghanistan into Pakistan.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006]
A US airstrike in the Tora Bora region. [Source: Gary Bernsten]Heavy US bombing of Tora Bora, the Taliban and al-Qaeda mountainous stronghold near the Pakistani border, begins. A large convoy containing bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders arrived in Tora Bora about three day earlier. The son of a tribal elder later recalls, “At first, we thought that the US military was trying to frighten the Arabs out, since they were only bombing from one side.” Rather than send in US ground forces in large numbers, the US chooses to supply two local warlords and have their fighters do most of the fighting while heavy bombing continues. Within days, a small number of US special forces are brought in to assist the local warlords. One of the warlords chosen, Haji Zaman Ghamsharik, was actually living in exile in France and has to be flown to Afghanistan. He is “known to many as a ruthless player in the regional smuggling business.” Between 1,500 to 2,000 of bin Laden’s fighters are in Tora Bora when the battle begins. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] There are two main mountain passes out of Tora Bora and into Pakistan. From the beginning on this day, eyewitnesses report that the US bombs only one pass. [Newsweek, 8/11/2002] The fighting and bombing will continue through early December (see December 5-17, 2001) while bin Laden and most of his forces escape via the other pass (see November 28-30, 2001).
It is believed bin Laden makes a speech before a crowd of about 1,000 followers in the village of Milawa, Afghanistan. This village is on the route from Tora Bora to the Pakistani border, about eight to ten hours by walking. In his last known public appearance, bin Laden encourages his followers to leave Afghanistan, so they could regroup and fight again. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Knight Ridder, 10/20/2002] It is believed he crosses the border into Pakistan a few days later (see November 28-30, 2001; November 28, 2001).
A US Special Forces soldier stationed in Fayetteville, North Carolina, later (anonymously) claims that the US has bin Laden pinned in a certain Tora Bora cave on this day, but fails to act. Special Forces soldiers allegedly sit by waiting for orders and watch two helicopters fly into the area where bin Laden is believed to be, load up passengers, and fly toward Pakistan. No other soldiers have come forward to corroborate the story, but bin Laden is widely believed to have been in the Tora Bora area at the time. [Fayetteville Observer, 8/2/2002] Newsweek separately reports that many locals “claim that mysterious black helicopters swept in, flying low over the mountains at night, and scooped up al-Qaeda’s top leaders.”
[Newsweek, 8/11/2002] Perhaps coincidentally, on the same day this story is reported, months after the fact, the media also will report a recent spate of strange deaths at the same military base in Fayetteville. Five soldiers and their wives died since June 2002 in apparent murder-suicides. At least three were Special Forces soldiers recently returned from Afghanistan. [Independent, 8/2/2002] Other reports indicate that bin Laden crosses the border into Pakistan by foot instead (see November 28-30, 2001).
Osama bin Laden’s father, Mohammed bin Laden, with Faisal al-Saud, the Saudi king in the middle of the 20th century. [Source: CNN]The Financial Times estimates that the bin Laden family’s business, the Saudi Binladin Group, is worth about $36 billion. Osama bin Laden inherited about $300 million at the age of ten on the death of his father, but he may be worth much more today. While he spends large amounts each month supporting terror, he reportedly gets large amounts from rich Saudis every month to make up for the losses. [Financial Times, 11/28/2001] The 9/11 Commission later disputes these figures and claims that bin Laden only gets about $1 million a year for about two decades until around 1994 (see August 21, 2004). [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004]
Bin Laden made his last known public appearance on November 25, 2001, giving a speech in the village of Milawa, Afghanistan, near the Pakistan border (see November 25, 2001). According to later interviews with many locals in the area, it is believed he and four loyalists cross the Pakistan border between November 28 and 30. [Daily Telegraph, 2/23/2002; Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002] According to another account, bin Laden crosses the border at this time by helicopter instead (see November 28, 2001). His voice continues to be heard until December 10 on short wave radio transmissions in the Tora Bora enclave he had proportedly left. According to later interviews with loyalists, he calls from Pakistan to Tora Bora to urge his followers to keep fighting. But according to some eyewitness accounts, bin Laden is still in Tora Bora to make the radio transmissions, then leaves with about 30 followers by horseback. [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002; Newsweek, 8/11/2002]
Abdullah Tabarak. [Source: Public domain]As US forces close in on Tora Bora, bin Laden’s escape is helped by a simple ruse. A loyal bodyguard named Abdallah Tabarak takes bin Laden’s satellite phone and goes in one direction while bin Laden goes in the other. It is correctly assumed that the US can remotely track the location of the phone. Tabarak is eventually captured with the phone while bin Laden apparently escapes. Tabarak is later put in the US-run Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba. Interrogation of him and others in Tora Bora confirm the account. [Washington Post, 1/21/2003] This story indicates bin Laden was still at least occasionally using satellite phones long after media reports that the use of such phones could reveal his location (see February 9-21, 2001). The US will consider Tabarak such a high-value prisoner that at one point he will be the only Guantanamo prisoner that the Red Cross will be denied access to. However, in mid-2004 he will be released and returned to his home country of Morocco, then released by the Moroccan government by the end of the year. Neither the US nor the Moroccan government will offer any explanation for his release. The Washington Post will call the release of the well-known and long-time al-Qaeda operative an unexplained “mystery.” [Washington Post, 1/30/2006]
A. Q. Khan (left) and Pervez Musharraf (right). [Source: CBC] (click image to enlarge)After CIA Director George Tenet visits Pakistan and pressures the Pakistani government to take stronger action against the charity front Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN) (see Early October-December 2001), the CIA learns more about the organization. The CIA was previously aware that the two prominent nuclear scientists who co-founded UTN, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, had met with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and advised them on how to make a nuclear weapon (see Mid-August 2001). However, the CIA discovers that other nuclear scientists are also connected to UTN, including Mirza Yusef Beg, a former member of the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC), and Humayun Niaz, also formerly with the PAEC. At least two senior Pakistani military officers are also connected to UTN. All these men are brought in and questioned by US officials. But the CIA is unable to question two others connected to UTN, Muhammad Ali Mukhtar, a nuclear physicist who worked for the PAEC as a weapons expert, and Suleiman Asad, who worked at A. Q. Khan’s Kahuta Research Laboratories (KRL) in its weapons design division. The CIA reasons that these two scientists would be the type of nuclear bomb makers bin Laden was most interested in. However, the Pakistani government claims that the two are in Burma working on a top secret project and cannot be brought back to Pakistan for questioning. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 320-321] Shortly after 9/11, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf called one of the leaders of Burma and asked if the two scientists could be given asylum there. [New York Times, 12/9/2001] The CIA is also interested in talking to Hamid Gul, a former ISI director and UTN’s honorary patron, but Pakistan will not allow him to be questioned either, even though he had met with Mahmood in Afghanistan around the time Mahmood met with bin Laden and al-Zawahiri. As a result, the CIA is unable to learn just how much UTN could have assisted al-Qaeda with weapons of mass destruction. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 320-321]
Entity Tags: Suleiman Asad, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, Pervez Musharraf, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission, Mullah Omar, Humayun Niaz, Hamid Gul, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, Central Intelligence Agency, Muhammad Ali Mukhtar, Osama bin Laden, Kahuta Research Laboratories, Mirza Yusef Beg
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
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