Profile: Richard A. Clarke
Positions that Richard A. Clarke has held:
- White House counterterrorism advisor
“I realized with almost a sharp physical pain that (Defense Secretary Donald) Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz were going to try to take advantage of this national tragedy to promote their agenda about Iraq.”
[Washington Post, 3/22/2004]
“The White House carefully manipulated public opinion, never quite lied, but gave the very strong impression that Iraq did it. They did know better. We told them. The CIA told them. The FBI told them. They did know better. And the tragedy here is that Americans went to their death in Iraq thinking that they were avenging Sept. 11, when Iraq had nothing to do with Sept. 11. I think for a commander in chief and a vice president to allow that to happen is unconscionable.”
[New York Times, 3/23/2004]
March 22, 2004
“Well, the president wanted us to look to see if Iraq was involved. Now, the White House is trying to say he very calmly asked me to do due diligence and see who might have done it, to look at all the possibilities. That wasn’t it. And the White House is also saying maybe the meeting didn’t take place. And there are witnesses who have said the meeting took place. The president, in a very intimidating way, left us, me and my staff, with the -the clear indication that he wanted us to come back with the word that there was an Iraqi hand behind 9/11. Because they had been planning to do something about Iraq from before the time they came into office.”
[Good Morning America, 3/22/2004]
March 23, 2004
“April was an initial discussion of terrorism policy writ large and at that meeting I said we had to talk about al-Qaeda. And because it was terrorism policy writ large [Paul] Wolfowitz said we have to talk about Iraqi terrorism and I said that’s interesting because there hasn’t been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States. There hasn’t been any for 8 years. And he said something derisive about how I shouldn’t believe the CIA and FBI, that they’ve been wrong. And I said if you know more than I know tell me what it is, because I’ve been doing this for 8 years and I don’t know about any Iraqi-sponsored terrorism against the US since 1993. When I said let’s start talking about bin Laden, he said bin Laden couldn’t possibly have attacked the World Trade Center in ‘93. One little terrorist group like that couldn’t possibly have staged that operation. It must have been Iraq.”
Richard A. Clarke was a participant or observer in the following events:
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Bin Laden, dressed in combat fatigues, in Afghanistan during the 1980’s. (Note the image has been digitally altered to brighten the shadow on his face.) [Source: CNN]Osama bin Laden begins providing financial, organizational, and engineering aid for the mujaheddin in Afghanistan, with the advice and support of the Saudi royal family. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001] Some, including Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” during the Clinton and George W. Bush administrations, believe he was handpicked for the job by Prince Turki al-Faisal, head of Saudi intelligence (see Early 1980 and After). [New Yorker, 11/5/2001; Sunday Times (London), 8/25/2002] The Pakistani ISI want a Saudi prince as a public demonstration of the commitment of the Saudi royal family and as a way to ensure royal funds for the anti-Soviet forces. The agency fails to get royalty, but bin Laden, with his family’s influential ties, is good enough for the ISI. [Miami Herald, 9/24/2001] (Clarke will argue later that the Saudis and other Muslim governments used the Afghan war in an attempt to get rid of their own misfits and troublemakers.) This multinational force later coalesces into al-Qaeda. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 52]
Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, along with then-President Gerald Ford, April 28, 1975. [Source: David Hume Kennerly / Gerald R. Ford Library] (click image to enlarge)Throughout the 1980s, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld are key players in one of the most highly classified programs of the Reagan administration. Presently, Cheney is working as a Republican congressman, while Rumsfeld is head of the pharmaceutical company G. D. Searle. At least once per year, they both leave their day jobs for periods of three or four days. They head to Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, DC, and along with 40 to 60 federal officials and one member of the Reagan Cabinet are taken to a remote location within the US, such as an underground bunker. While they are gone, none of their work colleagues, or even their wives, knows where they are. They are participating in detailed planning exercises for keeping government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union.
Unconstitutional 'Continuity of Government' - This highly secret “Continuity of Government” (COG) program is known as Project 908. The idea is that if the US were under a nuclear attack, three teams would be sent from Washington to separate locations around the US to prepare to take leadership of the country. If somehow one team was located and hit with a nuclear weapon, the second or third team could take its place. Each of the three teams includes representatives from the State Department, Defense Department, CIA, and various domestic-policy agencies. The program is run by a new government agency called the National Program Office. Based in the Washington area, it has a budget of hundreds of million dollars a year, which grows to $1 billion per year by the end of Reagan’s first term in office. Within the National Security Council, the “action officer” involved in the COG program is Oliver North, who is a key figure in the mid-1980s Iran-Contra scandal. Reagan’s Vice President, George H. W. Bush, also supervises some of the program’s efforts. As well as Cheney and Rumsfeld, other known figures involved in the COG exercises include Kenneth Duberstein, who serves for a time as President Reagan’s chief of staff, and future CIA Director James Woolsey. Another regular participant is Richard Clarke, who on 9/11 will be the White House chief of counterterrorism (see (1984-2004)). The program, though, is extraconstitutional, as it establishes a process for designating a new US president that is nowhere authorized in the US Constitution or federal law. After George H. W. Bush is elected president in 1988 and the effective end of the Soviet Union in 1989, the exercises continue. They will go on after Bill Clinton is elected president, but will then be based around the threat posed by terrorists, rather than the Soviet Union (see 1992-2000). According to journalist James Mann, the participation of Rumsfeld and Cheney in these exercises demonstrates a broader truth about them: “Over three decades, from the Ford administration onward, even when they were out of the executive branch of government, they were never too far away; they stayed in touch with its defense, military, and intelligence officials and were regularly called upon by those officials. Cheney and Rumsfeld were, in a sense, a part of the permanent, though hidden, national security apparatus of the United States.” [Mann, 2004, pp. 138-145; Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004; Washington Post, 4/7/2004; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 85]
No Role for Congress - According to one participant, “One of the awkward questions we faced was whether to reconstitute Congress after a nuclear attack. It was decided that no, it would be easier to operate without them.” Thus the decision is made to abandon the Constitutional framework of the nation’s government if this plan is ever activated. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 198]
Reactivated after 9/11 - The plan they rehearse for in the COG exercises will be activated, supposedly for the first time, in the hours during and after the 9/11 attacks (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/1/2002] Mann subsequently comments, “The program is of particular interest today because it helps to explain the thinking and behavior of the second Bush Administration in the hours, days, and months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.” [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004]
Richard Clarke, who will be the counterterrorism “tsar” on 9/11, regularly participates in a series of highly secret “Continuity of Government” (COG) exercises. [Washington Post, 4/7/2004] Throughout the 1980s, the COG exercises rehearse how to keep the federal government running during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union (see 1981-1992). After the fall of the Soviet Union, the exercises continue, but based instead around a possible terrorist attack on the United States (see 1992-2000). [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004] In 2004, Clarke will reveal that he has participated regularly in these exercises over the previous 20 years. He recalls that he had “gone off into caves in mountains in remote locations and spent days on end in miserable conditions, pretending that the rest of the world had blown up, and going through the questions, going through the drill.” He adds: “Everyone there play acts that it’s really happened. You can’t go outside because of the radioactivity. You can’t use the phones because they’re not connected to anything.” He also describes the COG plan requiring coded communications, saying: “There’s an elaborate system for the people in this network, first of all, to verify each other’s identity. That person on the other end has a certain password and information that they have to pass for us to believe that they’re who they say they are.” [Washington Post, 4/7/2004; ABC News, 4/25/2004] Clarke was a senior analyst at the State Department since 1979, and rises to prominence during the Reagan administration when he becomes deputy assistant secretary of state for intelligence. [Washington Post, 3/13/2003; BBC, 3/22/2004] After being a member of the National Security Council since 1992, in 1998 he is appointed as counterterrorism “tsar” (see May 22, 1998). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 ; New York Review of Books, 5/13/2004; Independent, 6/14/2004] According to journalist James Mann, the COG program is of particular interest because it helps explain the thinking and behavior of the Bush administration “in the hours, days, and months after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.” [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004] On the morning of 9/11, Clarke is in fact responsible for activating the COG plan, the first time it is ever implemented (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 8; ABC News, 4/25/2004] Also participating in the COG exercises, at least throughout at 1980s, are Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, who on 9/11 are the vice president and secretary of defense, respectively. [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004]
Rep. Charlie Wilson. [Source: Sam Houston State University]Primarily due to the pressure from Rep. Charlie Wilson (D-TX), the CIA’s budget for the Afghan covert operations is tripled in a matter of a few weeks. The CIA initially resisted accepting the funds, but according to William Casey’s executive assistant Robert Gates, “Wilson just steamrolled [CIA Near East Division Chief Charles]—and the CIA for that matter.” [Crile, 2003, pp. 102] Richard Clarke, a State Department analyst who later will become counterterrorism “tsar” for Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush, will claim, “Unclassified studies show that [covert aid] grew from $35 million in 1982 to $600 million in 1987. With few exceptions, the funds bought materiel that was given to Afghan fighters by [the ISI]. CIA personnel were not authorized to enter Afghanistan, except rarely.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 50]
Soliman Biheiri. [Source: US Immigrations and Customs]BMI Inc., a real estate investment firm based in Secaucus, New Jersey, is formed in 1986. Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will state in 2003, “While BMI [has] held itself out publicly as a financial services provider for Muslims in the United States, its investor list suggests the possibility this facade was just a cover to conceal terrorist support. BMI’s investor list reads like a who’s who of designated terrorists and Islamic extremists.” Investors in BMI include: [US Congress, 10/22/2003]
Soliman Biheiri. He is the head of BMI for the duration of the company’s existence. US prosecutors will later call him the US banker for the Muslim Brotherhood, a banned Egyptian militant group. Biheiri’s computer will eventually be searched and found to have contact information for Ghaleb Himmat and Youssef Nada, leaders of the Al Taqwa Bank, which is founded two years after BMI (see 1988). After 9/11, the US and UN will designate both Himmat and Nada and the Al Taqwa Bank as terrorist financiers, and the bank will be shut down (see November 7, 2001). US prosecutors say there are other ties between BMI and Al Taqwa, including financial transactions. Biheiri also has close ties with Yousuf Abdullah Al-Qaradawi. Qaradawi is said to be a high-ranking member of the Muslim Brotherhood, a shareholder in Al Taqwa, and has made statements supporting suicide bombings against Israel. In 2003, US investigators will accuse Biheiri of ties to terrorist financing. He will be convicted of immigration violations and lying to a federal agent (see June 15, 2003). [Wall Street Journal, 9/15/2003; Forward, 10/17/2003] Biheiri will be convicted of immigration fraud in 2003 and then convicted of lying to federal investigators in 2004 (see June 15, 2003).
Abdullah Awad bin Laden, a nephew of Osama bin Laden. He invests about a half-million dollars in BMI real estate ventures, earning a profit of $70,000. For most of the 1990s he runs the US branch of a Saudi charity called World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY). He is investigated by the FBI in 1996 (see February-September 11, 1996), and WAMY will be raided by US agents in 2004 (see June 1, 2004). The raid is apparently part of a larger investigation into terrorism financing. In 2001, at least two of the 9/11 hijackers will live three blocks away from the WAMY office (see March 2001 and After). [Wall Street Journal, 9/15/2003; Washington Post, 4/19/2004]
Nur and Iman bin Laden, two female relatives of Osama bin Laden. Abdullah Awad bin Laden will invest some of their money in a BMI real estate project. While their bin Laden family ties are intriguing, neither have been accused of any knowing connections to terrorist financing. [Washington Post, 4/19/2004]
Mousa Abu Marzouk. He has identified himself as a top leader of Hamas. The US declares him a terrorist in 1995 (see July 5, 1995-May 1997). BMI makes at least two transactions with Marzouk after he is declared a terrorist. [Wall Street Journal, 9/15/2003]
Yassin al-Qadi, a Saudi multimillionaire. His lawyers will later claim he has no terrorism ties and had only a passing involvement with BMI and liquidated his investment in it in 1996. However, another company operating from the same office as BMI is called Kadi International Inc. and lists its president as al-Qadi. Al-Qadi is also a major investor in the suspect computer company Ptech (see 1994; 1999-After October 12, 2001). Al-Qadi and BMI head Biheiri have financial dealings with Yaqub Mirza, a Pakistani who manages a group of Islamic charities in Virginia known as the SAAR network (see July 29, 1983). These charities will be raided in March 2002 on suspicions of terrorism ties (see March 20, 2002). Shortly after 9/11, the US will officially declare al-Qadi a terrorist financier (see October 12, 2001). [Wall Street Journal, 9/15/2003]
Saleh Kamel. BMI allegedly receives a $500,000 investment from the Dallah Al-Baraka banking conglomerate, which is headed by Kamel. For many years before 9/11, Omar al-Bayoumi, an associate of 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, will receive a salary from Dallah, despite apparently doing no work. Some will accuse al-Bayoumi of involvement in funding the 9/11 plot, but that remains to been proven (see August 1994-July 2001). Kamel reportedly founded a Sudanese Islamic bank which housed accounts for senior al-Qaeda operatives. He is a multi-billionaire heavily involved in promoting Islam, and his name appears on the Golden Chain, a list of early al-Qaeda supporters (see 1988-1989). He denies supporting terrorism. [US Congress, 10/22/2003; Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004]
The Kuwait Finance House. According to Clarke, this organization is alleged to be a BMI investor and the “financial arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in Kuwait. Several al-Qaeda operatives have allegedly been associated with the Kuwaiti Muslim Brotherhood, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Suliman abu Ghaith, Wadih El-Hage, and Ramzi Yousef.” In 2003, an apparent successor entity to the Kuwait Finance House will be designated as a terrorist entity by the US. A lawyer for the Kuwait Finance House will later say the bank has never let its accounts be used for terrorism. [Wall Street Journal, 9/15/2003; US Congress, 10/22/2003; Wall Street Journal, 4/20/2005]
Tarek Swaidan. He is a Kuwaiti, an associate of al-Qadi, and a leading member of the Kuwaiti branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is unknown if he has made any denials about his alleged associations. [Wall Street Journal, 9/15/2003]
Abdurahman Alamoudi. For many years he runs the American Muslim Council, a lobby group founded by a top Muslim Brotherhood figure. US prosecutors say he also is in the Brotherhood, and has alleged ties to Hamas. In 2004, the US will sentence him to 23 years in prison for illegal dealings with Libya (see October 15, 2004). [Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004; Washington Post, 10/16/2004]
The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO) and the Muslim World League, closely connected Saudi charities suspected of financing terrorism. They give BMI $3.7 million out of a $10 million endowment from unknown Saudi donors. The Financial Times will later note, “While it is not clear whether that money came from the Saudi government, [a 2003] affidavit quotes a CIA report that says the Muslim World League ‘is largely financed by the government of Saudi Arabia.’” Both organizations consistently deny any support of terrorism financing, but in early 2006 it will be reported that US officials continue to suspect them of such support (see January 15, 2006). [Financial Times, 8/21/2003] In 1992, a branch of the IIRO gives $2.1 million to BMI Inc. to invest in real estate. The money disappears from BMI’s books. In October 1999, BMI goes defunct after it is unable to repay this money to the IIRO branch. The IIRO branch gives BMI the rest of the $3.7 million between 1992 and 1998. BMI will use the money to buy real estate (see 1992). Eventually, some of this money will be given to Hamas operatives in the West Bank and spent on violent actions against Israel. This will eventually lead to legal action in the US and a seizure of some of the money. [Wall Street Journal, 11/26/2002; Washington Post, 8/20/2003; Washington Times, 3/26/2004; Washington Post, 4/19/2004] By 1992, BMI has projected revenues in excess of $25 million, based largely on their real estate investments in the US. [US Congress, 10/22/2003] In early 1999, months before BMI goes defunct, the FBI hears evidence potentially tying BMI to the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), but an investigation into this will not be pursued (see Early 1999). It should be noted that BMI had many investors, and presumably most BMI investors would have had no suspicions that their money might be used to fund terrorism or other types of violence.
Entity Tags: Iman bin Laden, International Islamic Relief Organization, Muslim World League, Kuwait Finance House, Nur bin Laden, Mousa Abu Marzouk, Abdurahman Alamoudi, Richard A. Clarke, Soliman Biheiri, Abdullah Awad bin Laden, Yousuf Abdullah Al-Qaradawi, Tarek Swaidan, Yassin al-Qadi, Saleh Abdullah Kamel
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Arnold Raphel. [Source: Robert Nickelsberg / Time Life Pictures / Getty Images]Pakistan’s president Muhammad Zia ul-Haq is killed in an airplane crash. The plane went into a steep dive, then recovered regaining altitude. Then it dove a second time and crashed. [Yousaf and Adkin, 1992, pp. 91-92] ISI Director Akhtar Abdur Rahman, US ambassador to Pakistan Arnold Raphel, and other Pakistani and US officials are also killed. A joint US-Pakistani investigation fails to definitively explain what caused the crash. [Coll, 2004, pp. 178-179] According to Mohammad Yousaf, the ISI’s Afghan Bureau chief, the crash was due to sabotage. Yousaf does not know who was responsible, but later says that the US State Department was instrumental in the cover-up. Yousaf points out several reasons why the State Department might want to cover up the crime even if the US were not involved in the assassination itself. [Yousaf and Adkin, 1992, pp. 91-92] Richard Clarke, a State Department analyst who later will become counterterrorism “tsar” for Presidents Clinton and Bush Jr., believes that Zia’s death and the destruction of a major weapons stockpile used by the CIA and ISI around the same time (see April 10, 1988) were both ordered by the Soviets as revenge for being defeated in Afgnanistan. Clarke says, “I could never find the evidence to prove that the Soviet KGB had ordered these two acts as payback for their bitter defeat, but in my bones I knew they had.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 50]
A convoy of Soviet tanks leaving Afghanistan. [Source: National Geographic]Soviet forces withdraw from Afghanistan, in accordance with an agreement signed the previous year (see April 1988). However, Afghan communists retain control of Kabul, the capital, until April 1992. [Washington Post, 7/19/1992] It is estimated that more than a million Afghans (eight per cent of the country’s population) were killed in the Soviet-Afghan War, and hundreds of thousands had been maimed by an unprecedented number of land mines. Almost half of the survivors of the war are refugees. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002] Richard Clarke, a counterterrorism official during the Reagan and George H. W. Bush administrations and the counterterrorism “tsar” by 9/11, will later say that the huge amount of US aid provided to Afghanistan drops off drastically as soon as the Soviets withdraw, abandoning the country to civil war and chaos. The new powers in Afghanistan are tribal chiefs, the Pakistani ISI, and the Arab war veterans coalescing into al-Qaeda. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 52-53]
Morton Abramowitz. [Source: Bradley Olsen]Morton Abramowitz, president of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, establishes a number of blue-ribbon commissions, headed by a select group of foreign policy elite, to create a new post-Cold War foreign policy framework for the US. Some of the group’s members are Madeleine Albright, Henry Cisneros, John Deutch, Richard Holbrooke, Alice Rivlin, David Gergen, Admiral William Crowe, Leon Fuerth, as well as Richard Perle and James Schlesinger, the two token conservatives who quickly resign. The commission will issue a number of policy papers recommending the increased use of military force to intervene in the domestic conflicts of other countries. Some of the commission’s members are appointed to brief Democratic presidential candidates on the commission’s reports ahead of their release. [American Spectator, 6/1999] Abramowitz is also influential in the career of counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who refers to Abramowitz as his “boss and mentor” at the State Department. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 48]
Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, Richard Holbrooke, William Crowe Jr., Richard Perle, Morton I. Abramowitz, Madeleine Albright, Leon Fuerth, David Gergen, Henry Cisneros, John Deutch, Alice Rivlin, Arthur M. Schlesinger
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Neoconservative Influence
During the 1980s, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld were regular participants in top-secret exercises, designed to test a program called Continuity of Government (COG) that would keep the federal government functioning during and after a nuclear war with the Soviet Union (see 1981-1992). Despite the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, the COG exercises continue into the 1990s, being budgeted still at over $200 million per year.
Exercises Prepare for Terrorist Attacks - Now, terrorists replace the Soviet Union as the imagined threat in the exercises. The terrorism envisaged is almost always state-sponsored, with the imagined terrorists acting on behalf of a government. According to journalist James Mann, the COG exercises are abandoned fairly early in the Clinton era, as the scenario is considered farfetched and outdated. However another journalist, Andrew Cockburn, suggests they continue for longer.
Exercise Participants Are Republican Hawks - Cockburn adds that, while the “shadow government” created in the exercises had previously been drawn from across the political spectrum, now the players are almost exclusively Republican hawks. A former Pentagon official with direct knowledge of the program will later say: “It was one way for these people to stay in touch. They’d meet, do the exercise, but also sit around and castigate the Clinton administration in the most extreme way. You could say this was a secret government-in-waiting. The Clinton administration was extraordinarily inattentive, [they had] no idea what was going on.” [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004; Cockburn, 2007, pp. 88]
Richard Clarke Participates - A regular participant in these COG exercises is Richard Clarke, who on 9/11 will be the White House chief of counterterrorism (see (1984-2004)). [Washington Post, 4/7/2004; ABC News, 4/25/2004] Although he will later come to prominence for his criticisms of the administration of President George W. Bush, some who have known him will say they consider Clarke to be hawkish and conservative (see May 22, 1998). [Boston Globe, 3/29/2004; US News and World Report, 4/5/2004] The Continuity of Government plan will be activated, supposedly for the first time, in the hours during and after the 9/11 attacks (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/1/2002]
The United States begins a practice known as “rendition,” the official purpose of which is to bring suspected foreign criminals to justice. Suspects detained abroad are “rendered” to courts in the United States or other countries. In some cases they are transferred to countries with poor human rights records and tortured. Some are convicted, even put to death, without a fair trial. [Washington Post, 1/2/2005, pp. A01] The frequency of renditions will increase dramatically after the September 11 attacks (see After September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 3/11/2002, pp. A01; New York Times, 3/9/2003; Washington Post, 5/11/2004, pp. A01]
Gore: "Go Grab His Ass" - The policy is proposed by Richard Clarke, head of the Counterterrorism Security Group, who is aware of a suspect he wants to have rendered. However, White House Counsel Lloyd Cutler opposes the policy, saying it violates international law, and demands a meeting with President Clinton to explain the issue to him. Clinton appears favorable to Cutler’s arguments, until Vice President Al Gore returns from a foreign trip. Gore listens to a recap of the arguments and comments: “That’s a no-brainer. Of course it’s a violation of international law, that’s why it’s a covert action. The guy is a terrorist. Go grab his ass.” However, the first operation fails.
Comment by Clarke - Clarke will later write: “We learned that often things change by the time you can get a snatch team in place. Sometimes intelligence is wrong. Some governments cooperate with the terrorists. It was worth trying, however, because often enough we succeeded.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 144]
In a 2004 book, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will mention that by 1994, bin Laden’s name “popped up in intelligence in connection with terrorist activity” in Bosnia. “European and US intelligence services began to trace the funding and support of [mujaheddin fighters in Bosnia] to bin Laden in Sudan” and to support networks in Western Europe. However, he also says that “What we saw unfold in Bosnia was a guidebook to the bin Laden network, though we didn’t recognize it as such at the time.” He states that “The hard-pressed Bosnians clearly wished they could do without these uncontrollable savages, but Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic decided to take aid where he could.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 96, 137] Author John Schindler, who was involved in the Bosnian war as an NSA intelligence officer, will later note Clarke’s comments and say, “even professional counterterrorists, not usually a wishful thinking bunch, have shown an unwillingness to admit that [Bosnia] invited the mujaheddin, for political as much as military purposes, and that they were quite welcome guests of [Izetbegovic’s ruling party].” [Schindler, 2007, pp. 191]
It is frequently reported that the Pakistani ISI created the Taliban. For instance, in 1996 CNN will report, “The Taliban are widely alleged to be the creation of Pakistan’s military intelligence [the ISI], which, according to experts, explains the Taliban’s swift military successes.” [CNN, 10/5/1996] And counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later claim that not only did the ISI create the Taliban, but they also facilitated connections between the Taliban and al-Qaeda to help the Taliban achieve victory. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 53] The Wall Street Journal will state in November 2001, “Despite their clean chins and pressed uniforms, the ISI men are as deeply fundamentalist as any bearded fanatic; the ISI created the Taliban as their own instrument and still support it.” [Asia Times, 11/15/2001] Technically, the Taliban appear to have actually started out on the own, but they were soon co-opted by the ISI and effectively became their proxy force (see Spring-Autumn 1994). Benazir Bhutto, prime minister of Pakistan at the time, will later recall how ISI support grew in late 1994 and into early 1995. “I became slowly, slowly sucked into it.… Once I gave the go-ahead that they should get money, I don’t know how much money they were ultimately given.… I know it was a lot. It was just carte blanche.” Bhutto was actually at odds with her own ISI agency and will later claim she eventually discovered the ISI was giving them much more assistance than she authorized, including Pakistani military officers to lead them in fighting. [Coll, 2004, pp. 293-294]
Numerous training exercises are held around the US, based on the scenario of terrorist attacks that involve aircraft hijackings. Richard Clarke, the counterterrorism “tsar” from 1998 until October 2001, will later testify that, before 9/11: “In many, many cities and probably most metropolitan areas, the FBI had worked with the state and local authorities to plan responses to certain kinds of terrorist attacks. We then held a series of exercises around the country. For example, on weapons of mass destruction attacks, we had had a whole series of exercises about hijackings of aircraft.” [US Congress, 6/11/2002 ] Further details of these exercises, such as the specific period over which they occur, are unstated. According to a 1999 report by the General Accounting Office, between June 1995 and June 1998 the FBI leads 24 training exercises in which “some state and local organizations” also participate. These exercises include various scenarios including, among others, “aircraft hijackings” and “terrorist attacks.” [United States General Accounting Office, 6/25/1999, pp. 1 and 41 ]
As President Clinton issues an executive order making it a felony to raise or transfer funds to designated terrorist groups or their front organizations (see January 1995), counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and Treasury official Richard Newcomb look for opportunities to use the new power. They review files to see if there are any clear cut cases to use it on. They decide that the Holy Land Foundation is in violation of the new order. Customs officials prepare to raid Holy Land’s headquarters in Arlington, Texas, and seize all their assets. However, FBI Director Louis Freeh and Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin object. Both claim the executive order might not hold up to legal challenges. Freeh additionally says he is concerned with alienating Arabs in the US, and Rubin is afraid the raid might discourage investment in the US. The raid is cancelled. [New York Times, 1/26/1995; Clarke, 2004, pp. 98] The FBI is also aware of a public event held in January where the leader of Hamas’ political wing is the keynote speaker. He urges the crowd, “I am going to speak the truth to you. It’s simple. Finish off the Israelis. Kill them all! Exterminate them! No peace ever!” Holy Land raises over $200,000 for Hamas from the event. The same speaker helps Holy Land raise money with many other events in the US. [Los Angeles Times, 12/6/2001; Associated Press, 3/15/2002] After Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk is arrested trying to enter the US in July 1995 (see July 5, 1995-May 1997), agents who search his belongings find financial records showing that he invested $250,000 in Holy Land in 1992. Holy Land continues to pay him monthly profits on his investment even after Hamas was declared a terrorist organization and news of his arrest made the front pages of US newspapers (in fact, Holy Land will continue to pay him through 2001). Although Holy Land is in clear violation of the law, the raid still does not occur. [Dallas Morning News, 12/19/2002] In 1996, Congress will pass a law that confirms it is illegal to financially support officially designated terrorism groups such as Hamas. (see April 25, 1996). Clarke has never explained why Holy Land is not raided after the passage of this law, or in subsequent years when yet more evidence of terrorist ties are uncovered (see 1997; September 16, 1998-September 5, 2001). Holy Land will finally be raided after 9/11 (see December 4, 2001), largely on the basis of evidence collected in 1993 (see October 1993). In 2004, the US government will claim that Holy Land raised over $12 million for Hamas between January 1995, when funding Hamas became illegal in the US, and December 2001, when Holy Land was shut down. [Immigration and Customs Enforcement, 7/27/2004]
In the hours after the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), some believe that the bombing was the work of Islamist terrorists. Televised news reports air theories of Islamist involvement, and say that eyewitnesses have reported seeing “Middle Eastern-looking men” fleeing the scene of the crime. [Los Angeles Times, 4/20/1995; Fox News, 4/13/2005] One eyewitness describes a man running from the scene clad in a black jogging outfit; many both in US intelligence and in the media assume that the man is likely Middle Eastern. One source tells reporters that the FBI has received claims of responsibility from at least eight groups, seven of which seem to be of Middle Eastern origin. Some officials privately fear that the bombing is the work of either Hamas or Islamic Jihad, two violently militant Islamist organizations. [Los Angeles Times, 4/20/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 185] Later in the day, Abdul Hakim Murad, an al-Qaeda operative in US custody, attempts to take credit for the bombing, but his associate Ramzi Yousef, also in US custody, does not (see April 19, 1995). In another instance, Jordanian-American Abraham Ahmad, attempting to fly to Jordan to visit relatives, is detained and questioned during a layover in Chicago. Ahmad, whom some sources describe as Palestinian-American, lives in Oklahoma City. A naturalized citizen who has lived in Oklahoma City since 1982, he has a background in computer science and is making a scheduled departure this morning to Jordan. His five suitcases contain, among other items, several car radios, large amounts of electrical wires, solder, a VCR, and a tool kit. He has packed a blue jogging suit and a pair of black sweatpants. Federal magistrates rush to serve him with a material warrant, moving so quickly that they misspell his name. He is stopped and questioned in Chicago before being allowed to continue his flight. He is stopped again in London, and this time is detained, strip-searched, and paraded in handcuffs through the crowded airport. He is photographed, fingerprinted, and returned to Washington before being transported to Oklahoma City. His name is leaked to the news media as a possible bombing suspect, creating a firestorm of interest; reporters crowd around his family’s home in Oklahoma City, and angry citizens vandalize his front yard. Authorities learn that Ahmad is going to Jordan for a family emergency. He will be released on April 21, will attend a memorial service for the bombing victims, and will file a $1.9 million lawsuit against the federal government. In later days, government officials such as counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say that the possibility of Islamist involvement on some level is difficult to disprove (see Late 1992-Early 1993 and Late 1994 and November 5, 1994 - Early January 1995). [Serrano, 1998, pp. 185-186; Clarke, 2004, pp. 127; Fox News, 4/13/2005] Justice Department spokesman John Russell says of Ahmad: “He cooperated. There is no reason for him to be held.” (The Washington Post, in reporting this, does not name Ahmad, and identifies him as “Palestinian-American.”) [Washington Post, 4/22/1995] Shortly after the bombing, senior FBI profiler Clint Van Zandt, who had worked with the FBI at the Branch Davidian siege outside Waco, concludes that the bomber is probably a white male with militia ties and not an Islamist terrorist (see April 19, 1995).
Abdul Hakim Murad is in a US prison awaiting trial for his alleged role in the Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995). Told about the Oklahoma City bombing that took place earlier in the day (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), he immediately takes credit for the bombing on behalf of his associate Ramzi Yousef. However, Yousef, also in US custody at the time, makes no such claim (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After). An FBI report detailing Murad’s claim will be submitted to FBI headquarters the next day. [Lance, 2006, pp. 163-164] A Philippine undercover operative will later claim that Terry Nichols, who will be convicted for a major role in the Oklahoma City bombing, met with Murad, Yousef, and others in the Philippines in 1994, and discussed blowing up a building in Oklahoma and several other locations (see Late 1992-Early 1993 and Late 1994). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later comment: “Could [Yousef] have been introduced to [Nichols]? We do not know, despite some FBI investigation. We do know that Nichols’s bombs did not work before his Philippine stay and were deadly when he returned.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 127] Mike Johnston, a lawyer representing the Oklahoma City bombing victims’ families, will later comment: “Why should Murad be believed? For one thing, Murad made his ‘confession’ voluntarily and spontaneously. Most important, Murad tied Ramzi Yousef to the Oklahoma City bombing long before Terry Nichols was publicly identified as a suspect.” [Insight, 6/22/2002] Also on this day, Mohammed Jamal Khalifa, an associate of Yousef and Murad who is being held in the US, is moved from a low security prison to a maximum security prison. [Lance, 2006, pp. 164] But despite these potential links to Muslim militants, only five days after the Oklahoma City bombing the New York Times will report, “Federal officials said today that there was no evidence linking people of the Muslim faith or of Arab descent to the bombing here.” [New York Times, 4/24/1995] Murad’s claim apparently will not be reported in any newspaper until two years later [Rocky Mountain News, 6/17/1995] , when lawyers for Nichols’s bombing partner, Timothy McVeigh, tell reporters that their defense strategy will be to claim that the bombing was the work of “foreign terrorists” led by “a Middle Eastern bombing engineer.” The lawyers will claim that the bombing was “contracted out” through an Iraqi intelligence base in the Philippines, and it is “possible that those who carried out the bombing were unaware of the true sponsor.” The lawyers also say it is possible, though less likely, that the bombing was carried out by right-wing white supremacists, perhaps from the Elohim City compound (see 1973 and After, 1983, 1992 - 1995, October 12, 1993 - January 1994, August 1994 - March 1995, September 12, 1994 and After, November 1994, February 1995, and April 5, 1995). [New York Times, 3/26/1997] The claims of foreign involvement will be discredited (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After).
Imad Mugniyah, holding gun, in a 1985 TWA hijacking. [Source: ABC News]The CIA gains intelligence that could lead to the capture of Imad Mugniyah, one of the world’s most wanted people, but the Saudi government refuses to help. Mugniyah is a leader of the Hezbollah militant group and is wanted for a role in bombings that killed US soldiers in Lebanon (see April 18-October 23, 1983). He also allegedly met Osama bin Laden in 1994 (see Shortly After February 1994). In 2008, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will claim that in 1996, the CIA learns that Mugniyah has boarded a commercial airplane in Khartoum, Sudan, that is due to stop in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. US officials appeal to Saudi officials to arrest him when he arrives, but the Saudis refuse. Clarke will claim: “We raised the level of appeals all the way through Bill Clinton who was on the phone at three in the morning appealing to [Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah] to grab him. Instead, the Saudis refused to let the plane land and it continued on to Damascus.” Mugniyah will remain free until 2008, when he will be assassinated. [ABC News, 2/13/2008]
During Michael Scheuer’s time as head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit Alec Station from 1996 to 1999 (see February 1996 and June 1999), the unit has conflicts with other parts of the US intelligence community. Scheuer has an angry and dogmatic style that sometimes alienates people.
Conflict with Counterterrorism 'Tsar' Clarke - Scheuer and Richard Clarke, the US counterterrorism “tsar,” do not get along, even though both are among the first people in government to take the Osama bin Laden threat seriously. Clarke can also be abrasive. One former CIA insider will later say, “I can say that, among individuals that I tend to trust, Clarke was regarded as more serious about terrorism in the 1990s than just about anybody else in the US government, but he was a truly painful individual to work with.” Clarke will later similarly criticize Scheuer, saying: “Throwing tantrums and everything doesn’t help.… [You shouldn’t be] so dysfunctional within your agency that you’re making it harder to get something done.” And Scheuer will later criticize Clarke, saying: “[He] was an interferer of the first level, in terms of talking about things that he knew nothing about and killing them.… He was always playing the FBI off against us or us against the NSA.”
Conflict with the FBI - The bin Laden unit does not get along with some FBI agents assigned to it as well. From the very start, some FBI officials, including bin Laden expert John O’Neill, resist cooperating with the unit. CIA official John MacGaffin will later claim, “O’Neill just fought it and fought it [cooperating with Alec Station].” O’Neill and Scheuer “were at each other’s throats.” On one occasion an FBI agent at the bin Laden unit is caught hiding CIA files inside his shirt to take them back to O’Neill. Scheuer will also claim that the FBI rarely follows up leads the bin Laden unit sends it. Furthermore, the FBI never shares information. “I bet we sent 700 or 800 requests for information to the FBI, and we never got an answer to any of them,” Scheuer says.
Conflicts with CIA Higher-Ups - The bin Laden unit also has conflicts with others within the CIA, including powerful superiors. An incident in 1996 leads to a breakdown of trust between Scheuer and his superiors (see 1996). John MacGaffin, who is a top CIA official for clandestine operations at the time, will later say of Scheuer, “He’s a good guy, [but] he’s an angry guy.”
Situation Improves after Scheuer - In June 1999, Richard Blee replaces Scheuer as head of the bin Laden unit, and he will stay involved in the bin Laden issue until after 9/11 (see December 9, 2001). Vanity Fair will later comment that Blee “was just as heated up over bin Laden as Scheuer had been, but obviously less likely to cause the kind of friction that would discomfit the [CIA director].” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
US demands for Sudan to hand over its extensive files about bin Laden (see March 8, 1996-April 1996) escalate into demands to hand over bin Laden himself. Bin Laden has been living in Sudan since 1991, at a time when the Sudanese government’s ideology was similar to his. But after the US put Sudan on its list of terrorism sponsors and began economic sanctions in 1993, Sudan began to change. In 1994, it handed the notorious terrorist “Carlos the Jackal” to France. In March 1996, Sudan’s defense minister goes to Washington and engages in secret negotiations over bin Laden. Sudan offers to extradite bin Laden to anywhere he might stand trial. Some accounts claim that Sudan offers to hand bin Laden directly to the US, but the US decides not to take him because they do not have enough evidence at the time to charge him with a crime. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001; Village Voice, 10/31/2001; Vanity Fair, 1/2002] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later will call this story a “fable” invented by the Sudanese and Americans friendly to Sudan. He will point out that bin Laden “was an ideological blood brother, family friend, and benefactor” to Sudanese leader Hassan al-Turabi, so any offers to hand him over may have been disingenuous. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 142-43] CIA Director George Tenet later will deny that Sudan made any offers to hand over bin Laden directly to the US. [US Congress, 10/17/2002] The US reportedly asks Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan to accept bin Laden into custody, but is refused by all three governments. [Coll, 2004, pp. 323] The 9/11 Commission later will claim it finds no evidence that Sudan offers bin Laden directly to the US, but it does find evidence that Saudi Arabia was discussed as an option. [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] US officials insist that bin Laden leave Sudan for anywhere but Somalia. One US intelligence source in the region later will state: “We kidnap minor drug czars and bring them back in burlap bags. Somebody didn’t want this to happen.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2001; Village Voice, 10/31/2001] On May 18, 1996, bin Laden flies to Afghanistan, and the US does not try to stop him (see May 18, 1996).
US officials identify crop dusters and suicide flights as potential weapons that could threaten the Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia. They take steps to prevent any air attacks. They ban planes from getting too close to Olympic events. During the games, they deploy Black Hawk helicopters and US Customs Service jets to intercept suspicious aircraft over the Olympic venues. Agents monitor crop-duster flights within hundreds of miles of downtown Atlanta. They place armed fighter jets on standby at local air bases. Flights to Atlanta get special passenger screening. Law enforcement agents also fan out to regional airports throughout northern Georgia “to make sure nobody hijacked a small aircraft and tried to attack one of the venues,” says Woody Johnson, the FBI agent in charge. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will use this same security blanket approach to other major events, referring to the approach as “Atlanta Rules.”(see January 20, 1997)
[Chicago Tribune, 11/18/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 108-09; Wall Street Journal, 4/1/2004]
IARA logo. [Source: IARA]In November 1996, the FBI monitors the progress of bin Laden buying a new satellite phone and tracks the purchase to Ziyad Khaleel, a US citizen and radical militant living in Missouri (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Newsweek will later say that this puts the Sudan-based charity Islamic American Relief Agency (IARA) “on the FBI’s radar screen” because Khaleel is one of IARA’s eight regional US directors. [Newsweek, 10/20/2004] Khaleel is monitored as he continues to buy new minutes and parts for bin Laden’s phone at least through 1998 (see July 29-August 7, 1998). He is also the webmaster of the official Hamas website. His name and a Detroit address where he lived both appear prominently in ledgers taken by US investigators from the Al-Kifah Refugee Center in 1994, a charity front with ties to both bin Laden and the CIA (see 1986-1993). That Detroit address is also tied to Ahmed Abu Marzouk, the nephew of Mousa Abu Marzouk, a high-ranking Hamas leader who is imprisoned in the US between 1995 and 1997 (see July 5, 1995-May 1997). Furthermore, Khaleel is working for the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP), a Hamas-linked organization cofounded by Mousa Abu Marzook. [National Review, 10/2/2003] A secret CIA report in early 1996 concluded that the IARA was funding radical militants in Bosnia (see January 1996). US intelligence will later reveal that in the late 1990s, IARA is regularly funding al-Qaeda. For instance, it has evidence of IARA giving hundreds of thousands of dollars to bin Laden in 1999. But Newsweek will later note that “at the very moment that the [IARA] was allegedly heavily involved in funneling money to bin Laden, the US branch was receiving ample support from the US Treasury through contracts awarded by the State Department’s Agency for International Development (USAID).” Between 1997 and 1999, USAID gives over $4 million to IARA, mostly meant for charity projects in Africa. Finally, at the end of December 1999, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gets USAID to cut off all funding for IARA. But the charity is merely told in a latter that US government funding for it would not be “in the national interest of the United States” and it is allowed to continue operating. At the same time, US agents arrest Khaleel while he is traveling to Jordan (see December 29, 1999. The US government will wait until 2004 before shutting down IARA in the US and raiding the Missouri branch where Khaleel worked. Newsweek will later comment, “One question that is likely to arise [in the future] is why it took the US government so long to move more aggressively against the group.” [Newsweek, 10/20/2004]
By the start of 1997, Alec Station, the CIA unit created the year before to focus entirely on bin Laden (see February 1996), is certain that bin Laden is not just a financier but an organizer of terrorist activity. It is aware bin Laden is conducting an extensive effort to get and use a nuclear weapon (see Late 1996). It knows that al-Qaeda has a military committee planning operations against US interests worldwide. However, although this information is disseminated in many reports, the unit’s sense of alarm about bin Laden isn’t widely shared or understood within the intelligence and policy communities. Employees in the unit feel their zeal attracts ridicule from their peers. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] Some higher-ups begin to deride the unit as hysterical doomsayers, and refer to the unit as “The Manson Family.” Michael Scheuer, head of the unit until 1999, has an abrasive style. He and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke do not get along and do not work well together. Scheuer also does not get along with John O’Neill, the FBI’s most knowledgeable agent regarding bin Laden. The FBI and Alec Station rarely share information, and at one point an FBI agent is caught stuffing some of the unit’s files under his shirt to take back to O’Neill. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
Bill Clinton is re-inaugurated as president. An extensive set of security measures to prevent airplanes as weapons crashing into the inauguration is used. These measures, first used at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics and thus referred to as the “Atlanta Rules,” include the closing of nearby airspace, the use of intercept helicopters, the basing of armed fighters nearby, and more. This plan will later be used for the 1999 North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s 50th anniversary celebration in Washington, the 2000 Republican convention in Philadelphia, the 2000 Democratic convention in New York, and the George W. Bush inauguration in 2001. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 110-11; Wall Street Journal, 4/1/2004]
Plans for Permanent Air Defense Unit Rejected - At some point near the end of the Clinton administration, the Secret Service and Customs Service will agree to create a permanent air defense unit to protect Washington. However, these agencies are part of the Treasury Department, and the leadership there will refuse to fund the idea. White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later recount: “Treasury nixed the air defense unit, and my attempts within the White House to overrule them came to naught. The idea of aircraft attacking in Washington seemed remote to many people and the risks of shooting down aircraft in a city were thought to be far too high.” The permanent unit will not be created until after 9/11. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 131; Wall Street Journal, 4/1/2004]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke chairs a tabletop exercise at the White House, involving a scenario where anti-American militants fill a Learjet with explosives, and then fly it on a suicide mission toward a target in Washington, DC. Officials from the Pentagon, Secret Service, and FAA attend, and are asked how they would stop such a threat. Pentagon officials say they could launch fighters from Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, but would need authorization from the president to shoot the plane down, and currently there is no system to do this. The 9/11 Commission later states: “There was no clear resolution of the problem at the exercise.”
[Slate, 7/22/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 345, 457-458]
Richard Clarke, the chair of the White House’s Counterterrorism Security Group, updates the US Continuity of Government (COG) program. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger has become aware that terrorism and domestic preparedness are now major issues. He suggests the idea of a “national coordinator” for counterterrorism, and that this post should be codified by a new Presidential Decision Directive (PDD). Clarke therefore drafts three new directives. The third, tentatively titled “PDD-Z,” updates the COG program. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 166-167] This program, which dates back to the cold war, was originally designed to ensure the US government would continue to function in the event of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union. [Atlantic Monthly, 3/2004] Clarke will later say it “had been allowed to fall apart when the threat of a Soviet nuclear attack had gone away.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 167] He will explain: “We thought that individual buildings in Washington, and indeed perhaps all of Washington, could still come under attack, only it might not be from the former Soviet Union.… It might be with a terrorist walking a weapon into our city.” [CBS, 9/11/2001] Therefore, “If terrorists could attack Washington, particularly with weapons of mass destruction, we needed to have a robust system of command and control, with plans to devolve authority and capabilities to officials outside Washington.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 167] President Clinton will sign “PDD-Z” on October 21, 1998, as PDD-67, “Enduring Constitutional Government and Continuity of Government Operations” (see October 21, 1998). The two other directives drafted by Clarke will become PDD-62 (see May 22, 1998) and PDD-63. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 170; Washington Post, 6/4/2006] By February 1999, according to the New York Times, Clarke will have written at least four classified presidential directives on terrorism, which “expand the government’s counterterrorism cadres into the $11 billion-a-year enterprise he now coordinates.” [New York Times, 2/1/1999] Clarke is a regular participant in secret COG exercises (see (1984-2004)), and will activate the COG plan for the first time on the day of 9/11 (see (Between 9:45 a.m. and 9:56 a.m.) September 11, 2001).
Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, later will claim that in a one-year period starting in May 1998, the CIA gives the US government “about ten chances to capture bin Laden or kill him with military means. In all instances, the decision was made that the ‘intelligence was not good enough.’ This assertion cannot be debated publicly without compromising sources and methods. What can be said, however, is that in all these cases there was more concern expressed by senior bureaucrats and policymakers about how international opinion would react to a US action than there was concern about what might happen to Americans if they failed to act. Indeed, on one occasion these senior leaders decided it was more important to avoid hitting a structure near bin Laden’s location with shrapnel, than it was to protect Americans.” He will later list six of the attempts in a book:
May 1998: a plan to capture bin Laden at his compound south of Kandahar, canceled at the last minute (see 1997-May 29, 1998).
September 1998: a capture opportunity north of Kandahar, presumably by Afghan tribals working for the CIA (see September-October 1998).
December 1998: canceled US missile strike on the governor’s palace in Kandahar (see December 18-20, 1998).
February 1999: Military attack opportunity on governor’s residence in Herat (see February 1999).
February 1999: Multiple military attack opportunities at a hunting camp near Kandahar attended by United Arab Emirates royals (see February 11, 1999).
May 1999: Military attack opportunities on five consecutive nights in Kandahar (see May 1999).
Also in late August 1998, there is one failed attempt to kill bin Laden.(see August 20, 1998) [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004; Scheuer, 2008, pp. 284]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later will strongly disagree with Scheuer’s assessment, claiming that the intelligence needed for such an attack on bin Laden was never very good. But he will also point out that the National Security Council and White House never killed any of the operations Scheuer wanted. It was always CIA Director George Tenet and other top CIA leaders who rejected the proposals. Scheuer will agree that it was always Tenet who turned down the operations. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
President Clinton creates the new post of National Coordinator for Security, Infrastructure, Protection, and Counterterrorism. He names Richard Clarke for the job, and due to the length of the title, Clarke soon becomes known as the counterterrorism “tsar.” [New York Times, 5/23/1998; Washington Post, 4/2/2000] This position is outlined in a new presidential directive on counterterrorism, Presidential Decision Directive 62 (PDD-62), which also outlines goals of fighting terrorism and attempts to strengthen interagency coordination of counterterrorism efforts. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] Clarke, who had been working on terrorism issues since the start of the Clinton administration, has more symbolic than actual power in the new position. For instance, he only has a staff of 12, compared to a staff of hundreds for the drug “tsar,” and by law he is not allowed to order law enforcement agents, soldiers, or spies to do anything. He does not have any control over budgets. But he is allowed to sit on Cabinet level meetings that involve terrorism. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 170; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 101] Clarke has a long record of prior government service, beginning in 1973 as a nuclear weapons analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. [CBS News, 3/30/2004] He came to prominence in the Reagan administration as the deputy assistant secretary of state for intelligence from 1985 to 1989. Having left the State Department in 1992, he has spent the past six years on the National Security Council staff. [Washington Post, 3/13/2003; BBC, 3/22/2004; Associated Press, 3/27/2004] After 9/11 Clarke will become well known for his criticisms of the George W. Bush administration (see March 21, 2004 and March 24, 2004), but some who know him consider him to be politically conservative. [Boston Globe, 3/29/2004] According to the Washington Post, many within the Clinton administration view Clarke as a hawk. [Washington Post, 3/23/2004] Robert Gelbard, who worked with him at the State Department in the early 1990s, says he is “no liberal. He is very hawkish.” [US News and World Report, 4/5/2004] Vince Cannistraro, a former CIA official who worked with Clarke in the 1980s, says, “You can’t accuse him of being passive or too liberal on foreign policy.” [Washington Post, 3/23/2004] At the time of the 2000 election he will be a registered Republican, and he votes that year for John McCain in the Republican presidential primary. [New York Times, 3/23/2004; Salon, 3/24/2004; Time, 4/5/2004] Larry DiCara, the former president of the Boston City Council who knew Clarke when he was younger, later recalls: “He was fiercely conservative at a time when just about everyone in Boston was a Democrat.… I’m amazed he worked for [President] Clinton.” Clarke, however, will later praise Clinton, and in an interview in 2002 will describe himself as “not a partisan figure.” [Boston Globe, 3/29/2004]
Sayyid Iskandar Suliman. This picture is from a poor photocopy of his passport found in Sudanese intelligence files. [Source: Public domain via Richard Miniter]On August 4, 1998, Sudanese immigration suspects two men, Sayyid Nazir Abbass and Sayyid Iskandar Suliman, arriving in Sudan, apparently due to something in their Pakistani passports. They attempt to rent an apartment overlooking the US embassy. Three days later, US embassies are bombed in Kenya and Tanzania (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). Within hours, Sudanese officials arrest Abbass and Suliman. The two of them had just come from Kenya, and one of them quickly admits to staying in the same hotel in Kenya as some of the embassy bombers. Sudanese intelligence believes they are al-Qaeda operatives involved in the bombings. [Observer, 9/30/2001; Vanity Fair, 1/2002; Randal, 2005, pp. 132-135] The US embassy in Sudan has been shut down for several years. But around August 14, a Sudanese intelligence official contacts an intermediary and former White House employee named Janet McElligott and gives her a vague message that Sudan is holding important suspects and the FBI should send a team immediately to see if they want to take custody of them. [Randal, 2005, pp. 132-135] The FBI wants the two men, but on August 17, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright forbids their extradition. The US has decided to bomb a factory in Sudan in retaliation for the embassy bombings instead of cooperating with Sudan. But FBI agent John O’Neill is not yet aware of Albright’s decision, and word of the Sudanese offer reaches him on August 19. He wants immediate approval to arrest the two suspects and flies to Washington that evening to discuss the issue with counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. But Clarke tells O’Neill to speak to Attorney General Janet Reno. Later that night, O’Neill talks to Reno and she tells him that the decision to retaliate against Sudan instead has already been made. Mere hours later, the US attack a factory in Sudan with cruise missiles (see August 20, 1998). Within days, it becomes apparent that the factory had no link to al-Qaeda (see September 23, 1998), and no link between the bombings and the Sudanese government will emerge (although Sudan harbored bin Laden until 1996). [Randal, 2005, pp. 132-138] The Sudanese will continue to hold the two men in hopes to make a deal with the US. But the US is not interested, so after two weeks they are send to Pakistan and set free there (see August 20-September 2, 1998).
Mohamed al-Owhali is arrested and immediately begins confessing his role in the recent al-Qaeda bombing of the US embassy in Nairobi, Kenya. He reveals to the FBI what an FBI agent will later call “blue-chip” information. [CNN, 1/19/2001] He reveals to prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald and others that when he was told by a handler in Afghanistan that he would take part in an operation in Kenya, he insisted “I want to attack inside the US” instead. But his handler tells him that the Kenya attack is important because it will keep the US distracted while the real attack is being prepared. Al-Owhali futher explains to his interrogators, “We have a plan to attack the US, but we’re not ready yet. We need to hit you outside the country in a couple of places so you won’t see what is going on inside. The big attack is coming. There’s nothing you can do to stop it.” [USA Today, 8/29/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 278-279] Presumably, al-Owhali is also the suspect at this time who “inform[s] the FBI that an extensive network of al-Qaeda ‘sleeper agents’ currently exists in the US.” It is known that counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke passes on this information to Condoleezza Rice when she begins her position as National Security Adviser in January 2001 (see January 25, 2001), but other details about this warning are not known. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260] Al-Owhali also reveals the telephone number of a key al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998) and warns that an al-Qaeda attack is Yemen is being planned (see Mid-August 1998). [CNN, 1/19/2001]
In 1998, President Clinton faces a growing scandal about his sexual relationship with aide Monica Lewinsky, and even faces the possibility of impeachment over the matter. He is publicly interrogated about the scandal on August 17, 1998. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later claim that he worries Clinton might let the timing of the scandal get in the way of acting on new intelligence to hit Osama bin Laden with a missile strike in retaliation for the recent African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). But Clarke is reassured when Clinton tells his advisers, “Do you all recommend that we strike on the 20th? Fine. Do not give me political advice or personal advice about the timing. That’s my problem. Let me worry about that.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 185-186] Defense Secretary William Cohen also warns Clinton that he will be criticized for changing the subject from the Lewinsky scandal. [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 358]
Criticism from Politicians - Clinton gives the go-ahead for the missile strike on August 20th anyway (see August 20, 1998) and is immediately widely criticized for it. In late 1997, there was a popular movie called “Wag the Dog,” based on a fictional president who creates an artificial crisis in order to distract the public from a domestic scandal. Republicans are particularly critical and seize upon a comparison to the movie. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) initially supports the missile strike, but later criticizes it as mere “pinpricks.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 117] Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) says, “The president was considering doing something presidential to try to focus attention away from his personal problems.” [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 358-359] Sen. Daniel Coats (R-IN) says, “I just hope and pray the decision that was made was made on the basis of sound judgment, and made for the right reasons, and not made because it was necessary to save the president’s job.” [New York Times, 8/4/2004]
Media Criticism - The media is also very critical, despite a lack of any evidence that Clinton deliberately timed the missile strike as a distraction. Television networks repeatedly show clips of the “Wag the Dog” movie after the missile strike. New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh reports, “Some reporters questioned whether the president had used military force to distract the nation’s attention from the Lewinsky scandal.” [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 358-359]
9/11 Commission Commentary - The 9/11 Commission will later conclude, “The failure of the strikes, the ‘wag the dog’ slur, the intense partisanship of the period, and the [fact that one of the missile targets probably had no connection to bin Laden (see September 23, 1998)] likely had a cumulative effect on future decisions about the use of force against bin Laden.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 118]
A US surface ship firing a missile. The date and time is unknown. [Source: PBS]Hours before the US missile strike meant to assassinate bin Laden, he is warned that his satellite phone is being used to track his location and he turns it off. A former CIA official later alleges the warning came from supporters working for Pakistani intelligence, the ISI. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 201-202] It has been claimed that a tracking beacon was placed in bin Laden’s phone when a replacement battery was brought to him in May 1998 (see May 28, 1998). The US military only gave Pakistan about ten minutes’ advance notice that cruise missiles were entering their air space on their way to Afghanistan. This was done to make sure the missiles wouldn’t be misidentified and shot down. [New Yorker, 1/24/2000] But Pakistan was apparently aware several hours earlier, as soon as the missiles were launched. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later claims he was promised by the Navy that it would fire their missiles from below the ocean surface. However, in fact, many destroyers fired their missiles from the surface. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 188-89] He adds, “not only did they use surface ships—they brought additional ones in, because every captain wants to be able to say he fired the cruise missile.” [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] As a result, the ISI had many hours to alert bin Laden. Furthermore, Clarke later says, “I have reason to believe that a retired head of the ISI was able to pass information along to al-Qaeda that an attack was coming.” This is a likely reference to Hamid Gul, director of the ISI in the early 1990’s. [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] In 1999 the US will intercept communications suggesting that Gul played a role in forewarning the Taliban about the missile strike which may even had predated the firing of the cruise missiles (see July 1999). Clarke says he believes that “if the [ISI] wanted to capture bin Laden or tell us where he was, they could have done so with little effort. They did not cooperate with us because ISI saw al-Qaeda as helpful in pressuring India, particularly in Kashmir.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 188-89] Furthermore, bin Laden cancels a meeting with other al-Qaeda leaders after finding out that 180 US diplomats were being immediately withdrawn from Pakistan on a chartered plane. Thanks to these warnings, he is hundreds of miles away from his training camps when the missiles hit some hours later (see August 20, 1998). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 202]
Following the cruise missile attack on al-Qaeda targets on August 20 (see August 20, 1998), immediate plans are made for follow up attacks to make sure bin Laden is killed. However, on this day, Defense Secretary William Cohen is advised that available targets are not promising. Some question the use of expensive missiles to hit very primitive training camps, and there is the concern that if bin Laden is not killed, his stature will only grow further. As discussions continue, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke prepares a plan he calls “Delenda,” which means “to destroy” in Latin. His idea is to have regular, small strikes in Afghanistan whenever the intelligence warrants it. The plan is rejected. Counterterrorism officials in the Defense Secretary’s office independently create a similar plan, but it too is rejected. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The Delenda Plan also calls for diplomacy against the Taliban, covert action focused in Afghanistan, and financial measures to freeze bin Laden-related funds. These aspects are not formally adopted, but they guide future efforts. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke advocates an aggressive approach to dealing with terrorists and countries that harbor them, and says terrorists are likely to go after America’s “Achilles’ heel,” which is “in Washington… in New York,” and “throughout the country.” He makes these comments during a two-day conference on countering chemical and biological warfare, held in Washington, DC. [New York Times, 10/8/1998; USIS Washington File, 10/8/1998]
Enemies Could Target Washington or New York - In his speech at the conference, Clarke says, “The United States can defeat in a conventional war any other military in the world.” Therefore: “Our enemies instead will use unconventional techniques, either exclusively or as a supplement to their attack. They will use terrorism. They will use cyber attack and information warfare. And they will use chem-bio attack.” He adds that America’s enemies “will go after our Achilles’ heel,” which is “in Washington. It is in New York. It is throughout the country. For no longer can we count as a nation on the two great oceans defending us from foreign attack here at home.”
US Willing to Take 'The First Step' - Clarke says that the US government has developed a strategy for dealing with chemical and biological weapons attacks, which includes an aggressive approach toward terrorist groups and rogue states. He says these groups and states “should know that those who engage in terrorist acts, including terrorist acts involving chemical and biological weapons, can be assured that they will pay a high price.” The government’s promise to them is “attack us and you will unleash a relentless and methodical machine against you.” Furthermore, Clarke says, the US is willing to act preemptively: “The United States reserves for itself the right of self-defense, and if that means our taking the first step, we will do so. We will not tolerate terrorist organizations acquiring or maintaining stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction.” [USIS Washington File, 10/8/1998]
US Will Target Countries that Harbor Terrorists - In an interview after his speech, Clarke emphasizes that countries that harbor these terrorist groups also risk being targeted by the US. He points to the recent missile attacks against Sudan in retaliation for the US embassy bombings in Africa (see August 20, 1998), and says the US will “definitely do something” about such countries. “The something depends on what the circumstances are.” [New York Times, 10/8/1998] Clarke will repeat his claim that the nation’s “Achilles’ heel” terrorists will come after is “here in the United States” in an April 2000 interview with the Washington Post (see April 2, 2000). [Washington Post, 4/2/2000]
William Wechsler. [Source: CAP]Shortly after the US embassy bombings in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the US launches a new interagency effort to track bin Laden’s finances. There had been a previous interagency effort in 1995 but it had fizzled (see October 21, 1995). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke sets up a task force. He orders it to find out how much money bin Laden has, where it comes from, how it is distributed, and to stop it. Clarke appoints William Wechsler, a National Security Council staff member, to head the task force. The task force begins an investigation of bin Laden’s finances (see Late 1998). Clarke later writes that he and Wechsler “quickly [come] to the conclusion that the [US government] departments [are] generally doing a lousy job of tracking and disrupting international criminals’ financial networks and had done little or nothing against terrorist financing.” [New York Times, 9/20/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 190-191] Clarke will later claim there was only limited effort from within the US government to fight bin Laden’s financial network. He will assert that within weeks of setting up the interagency effort, it was determined that only one person in the US government, a lowly Treasury Department official, appeared to have any expertise about the hawala system, an informal and paperless money transfer system used by al-Qaeda that is popular with Muslim populations worldwide (see 1993-September 11, 2001). Clarke will later write that the “CIA knew little about the [hawala] system, but set about learning. FBI knew even less, and set about doing nothing.” The FBI claims there are no hawalas in the US, but Wechsler finds several in New York City using a simple Internet search. Clarke will say, “Despite our repeated requests over the following years, nobody from the FBI ever could answer even our most basic questions about the number, location, and activities of major hawalas in the US—much less taken action.” The efforts of other departments are not much better. The one Treasury official with some expertise about hawalas is eventually let go before 9/11. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 192-193] Efforts to pressure governments overseas also meet with little success (see August 20, 1998-1999).
Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli. [Source: Public domain]On December 4, 1998, an item in President Clinton’s Presidential Daily Briefing (PDB) is titled, “Bin Laden Preparing to Hijack US Aircraft and Other Attacks.” The PDB says “Bin Laden and is allies are preparing for attacks in the US, including an aircraft hijacking to obtain the release of Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman, Ramzi Yousef, and Muhammad Sadiq ‘Awda. One source quoted a senior member of Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya (IG) saying that, as of late October, the IG had completed planning for an operation in the US on behalf of bin Laden, but that the operation was on hold. A senior bin Laden operative from Saudi Arabia was to visit IG counterparts in the US soon thereafter to discuss options-perhaps including an aircraft hijacking.” The same source says bin Laden may implement plans to hijack US aircraft before the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on December 20 and that two members of the operational team had evaded security checks in a recent trial run at a New York airport. A possible different source says that in late September, Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli, brother of the assassin of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and described in the PDB as an IG leader, was planning to hijack a US airliner during the “next couple of weeks” to free Abdul-Rahman and other prisoners. The PDB also says that “some members of the bin Laden network have received hijack training, according to various sources, but no group directly tied to bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization has ever carried out an aircraft hijacking. Bin Laden could be weighing other types of operations against US aircraft.” The PDB mentions other bin Laden related threats, including recent reports that the IG has obtained surface-to-air missiles and intends to move them from Yemen to Saudi Arabia to shoot down aircraft. [Washington Post, 7/18/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 128-130] The private intelligence group Stratfor will later say that, in addition to his ties with IG, Islambouli worked with bin Laden in the Maktab al-Khidamat charity front in Pakistan and is believed to have lived in Afghanistan in the 1990s as “part of the group of key Egyptian advisers surrounding bin Laden.” Islambouli will formally join with al-Qaeda in 2006. [Stratfor, 8/10/2006] In early 1998, the CIA ignored information from a recently retired CIA agent that claimed 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was in a terrorist cell with Islambouli, both were experts on plane hijackings, and were planning to hijack planes (see Early 1998). Perhaps not coincidentally, on this same day, CIA Director George Tenet issues a “declaration of war” against al-Qaeda in a memo to the US intelligence community (see December 4, 1998). Also on this day, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke holds a meeting of his interagency Counterterrorism and Security Group (CSG) to discuss the threat. The group agrees that New York City airports should go on a maximum security alert that weekend and security should be boosted at other East Coast airports. The FBI, FAA, and New York City Police Department get versions of the PDB report. Later in December and again in January 1999 the source says the hijacking has been postponed because two operatives have been arrested in Washington or New York. But the FBI is unable to find any information to support the threat nor is it able to verify any arrests similar to what the source described, and the source remains mysterious. The high alert in New York airports is canceled by the end of January. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 128-130] This PDB will be mentioned in President Bush’s famous August 6, 2001 PDB, but mentions that US officials “have not been able to corroborate” the plot (see August 6, 2001).
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Federal Aviation Administration, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Richard A. Clarke, Counterterrorism and Security Group, Ramzi Yousef, Omar Abdul-Rahman, Mohammed Shawqui Islambouli, Muhammad Sadiq ‘Awda, Osama bin Laden, New York City Police Department, Maktab al-Khidamat
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Henry Shelton. [Source: US Military]National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright repeatedly seek consideration of a “boots on the ground” option to kill bin Laden, using the elite Delta Force. Clinton also supports the idea, telling Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton, “You know, it would scare the sh_t out of al-Qaeda if suddenly a bunch of black ninjas rappelled out of helicopters into the middle of their camp.” However, Shelton says he wants “nothing to do” with such an idea. He calls it naive, and ridicules it as “going Hollywood.” He says he would need a large force, not just a small team. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke similiarly recalls Clinton saying to Shelton “in my earshot, ‘I think we ought to have US commandos go into Afghanistan, US military units, black ninjas jumping out of helicopters, and go after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.’ And Shelton said: ‘Whoa! I don’t think we can do that. I’ll talk to Central Command.’ And of course Central Command came back and said, ‘Oh no, that’s too difficult.’” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] US Central Command chief General Anthony Zinni is considered the chief opponent to the “boots on the ground” idea. [Washington Post, 10/2/2002] Clinton orders “formal planning for a mission to capture the al-Qaeda leadership.” Reports are contradictory, but some claim Clinton was told such plans were drawn up when in fact they were not. [Time, 8/4/2002; Washington Post, 10/2/2002] In any event, no such plans are implemented.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. [Source: UAE Government]Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Defense Minister and Crown Prince for the emirate of Dubai, allegedly goes bird hunting with Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Bin Laden is already widely considered to have approved the bombing of two US embassies in Africa the year before (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 120-121] In early February 1999, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke meets with Al Maktoum in the UAE and gets him to agree to work with the US to get bin Laden. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 486] Al Maktoum is known to love bird hunting, as do many other UAE royals (see 1995-2001). The US calls off an attack on bin Laden in 1999 because he is bird hunting with UAE royals at the time (see February 11, 1999). Al Maktoum hunts in Afghanistan several times in 1998 and 1999, but is only known to hunt with bin Laden once. He is so impressed by the Taliban that in 1999 he suspends all landing fees for Ariana Airlines, the Afghanistan national airline which has been effectively taken over by the Taliban and al-Qaeda by this time (see Mid-1996-October 2001). His father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, ruler of the UAE, also hunts in Afghanistan around this time, but there are no reports of him hunting with bin Laden. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 120-121] In 2006, Al Maktoum will become the Prime Minister and Vice President of the UAE, and the ruler of the emirate of Dubai. In 2007, his wealth will be estimated at $16 billion. [Forbes, 8/30/2007] As ruler of Dubai, he and his family have 100% ownership and control of DP World, a UAE company that will be the subject of controversy when it attempts to purchase some US port facilities in 2006. [Newsweek International, 3/16/2006]
In early February 1999, US intelligence gains good information that Osama bin Laden is bird hunting with members of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) royal family in an uninhabited region of Afghanistan (see February 11, 1999). A later book by Daniel Benjamin and Stephen Simon, both officials in the Clinton administration, will note, “At the moment the Tomahawks [US missiles] were being readied, the United States was in the final stages of negotiations to sell eighty Block 60 F-16s, America’s most sophisticated export fighter jets,” to the UAE government. “America’s relationship with the [UAE] was the best it had in the [Persian] Gulf, and the [Clinton] administration had devotedly cultivated Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s president and the leader of the country’s royal clans.” [Benjamin and Simon, 2002, pp. 281] The F-16 fighter deal is worth about $8 billion. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is particularly close to the UAE royal family, having negotiated arms deals and US military basing agreements with them for several years. He has a hand in negotiating the F-16 deal in 1998. In fact, just days before the US learned of bin Laden’s presence in the hunting camp, Clarke was in the UAE working on the fighter deal. [Coll, 2004, pp. 486; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 128] Journalist Steve Coll will later say: “If the United States bombed the camp and killed a few princes, it could potentially put [business deals like that] in jeopardy—even if bin Laden were killed at the same time. Hardly anyone in the Persian Gulf saw bin Laden as a threat serious enough to warrant the deaths of their own royalty.” Clarke is one who votes not to strike the camp, and others within the US government will speculate that his UAE ties had a role in his decision. [Coll, 2004, pp. 447-450] Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, will later comment: “Why did President Clinton fail to attack? Because making money was more important than protecting Americans.” [Scheuer, 2008] The missile strike does not take place and the fighter deal is successfully completed. Some US officials, including Scheuer, will be very irate and vocally complain later this month (see Shortly After February 11, 1999).
The failure to strike at bin Laden in February 1999, despite having unusually good intelligence about his location (see February 11, 1999), causes strong resentment in the US intelligence community. It is believed that the US held its fire because of the presence of royalty from the United Arab Emirates(UAE), but some felt those royals were legitimate targets as well since they were associating with bin Laden there. Further, intelligence at the time suggests the planes carrying these royals to Afghanistan were also bringing weapons to the Taliban in defiance of United Nations bans. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, is particularly upset. He reportedly sends a series of e-mails to others in the CIA that are, in the opinion of one person who read them, “angry, unusual, and widely circulated.” His anger at this decision not to strike at bin Laden will apparently contribute to him losing his position leading the bin Laden unit a few months later (see June 1999). Some resentment is directed at counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who voted against the missile strike. Clarke was known to be close to the UAE’s royal family. He’d negotiated many arms deals and other arrangements with them, including an $8 billion deal in May 1998 to buy F-16 fighters from the US (see Early February 1999). [Coll, 2004, pp. 447-450] In March 1999, Clarke calls Emirati royals and asks them to stop visiting bin Laden. However, he apparently did not have permission from the CIA to make this call. Within one week, the camp where the Emiratis and bin Laden met is abandoned. CIA officers are irate, feeling that this ruined a chance to strike at bin Laden if he made a return visit to the location. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 138]
Witney Schneidman. [Source: Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars]In 1999, State Department official Witney Schneidman is collecting information on the many civil wars and conflicts raging in Africa. He notices that the name of Victor Bout, a Russian arms dealer, keeps popping up in many conflicts. Sometimes Bout is even supplying both sides of a civil war. In early summer 1999, an NSA official gives Schneidman a “drop dead” briefing about Bout, based mostly on communications intercepts the NSA has on him. Photos show dozens of airplanes parked in an airport in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, all of them owned by Bout. Schneidman begins mobilizing other officials. By early 2000, he and National Security Council adviser Lee Wolosky create a team to apprehend Bout. While Bout remains little known to the general public, for many US officials he becomes the most wanted criminal in the world, aside from Osama bin Laden and his top aides. National Security Council official Gayle Smith will later comment, “You want to talk about transnational threats? We had [al-Qaeda’s bombing in] East Africa, global warming, and Victor Bout.” No other arms dealer has an operation anywhere near the size of Bout’s, and his links to the Taliban and al-Qaeda are a special concern (see 1998). But Bout is not doing any business in the US and is breaking no US laws, so the team cannot gather enough evidence to issue an arrest warrant for him. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke considers targeting Bout for rendition, which is a very rare practice before 9/11. But when the Bush administration takes power in early 2001, Bout is deemed a less important priority, and ultimately no effective action is taken against him prior to 9/11 (see Early 2001-September 11, 2001). [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 1-7]
[Source: Public domain]The US gains information that former ISI head Hamid Gul contacts Taliban leaders at this time and advises them that the US is not planning to attack Afghanistan to get bin Laden. He assures them that he will provide them three or four hours warning of any future US missile launch, as he did “last time.” Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later suggests Gul gave al-Qaeda warning about the missile strike in August 1998 (see August 20, 1998). [New Yorker, 7/28/2003]
Ahmed Ressam. [Source: Public domain]The CIA learns from the Jordanian government about an al-Qaeda millennium bombing plot in that country (see November 30, 1999). Further, the CIA concludes more attacks are likely soon, including some inside the US (see December 8, 1999). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is told of this, and he implements a plan to neutralize the threat. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 205, 211] The plan, approved by President Clinton, focuses on harassing and disrupting al-Qaeda members throughout the world. The FBI is put on heightened alert, counterterrorism teams are dispatched overseas, a formal ultimatum is given to the Taliban to keep al-Qaeda under control, and friendly intelligence agencies are asked to help. There are Cabinet-level meetings nearly every day dealing with terrorism [Washington Post, 4/2/2000; Associated Press, 6/28/2002] All US embassies, military bases, police departments, and other agencies are given a warning to be on the lookout for signs of an al-Qaeda millennium attack. One alert border agent responds by arresting terrorist Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), which leads to the unraveling of several bombing plots (see December 15-31, 1999). No terror attacks occur. However, Clarke claims the FBI generally remains unhelpful. For example, around this time the FBI says there are no websites in the US soliciting volunteers for training in Afghanistan or money for terrorist front groups. Clarke has a private citizen check to see if this is true, and within days, he is given a long list of such websites. The FBI and Justice Department apparently fail to do anything with the information. [Newsweek, 3/31/2004]
An anti-terrorist training session for the millennium celebration is held at the World Trade Center in New York. There are fears around this time that Osama bin Laden may want to launch attacks on the millennium, including within the US (see December 8, 1999). Representatives of 40 law enforcement and military agencies attend the meeting, which is chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. During two hours of brainstorming, no one envisages terrorists flying passenger planes into skyscrapers. New York City Deputy Mayor Rudy Washington is at the session, and will utilize what he learns on 9/11, so as to develop an emergency strategy in response to the attacks (see After 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). [New York Daily News, 5/20/2004]
As an al-Qaeda millennium plot is broken up in Jordan (see November 30, 1999), attention is focused on the fact that two of the plotters were long time US residents. National Security Adviser Sandy Berger sends a memo to President Clinton about the two men, Raed Hijazi and Khalil Deek. Hijazi had lived in California and then moved to Boston to drive a taxi there for several years. The 9/11 Commission will say Berger tells Clinton was a naturalized US citizen who had “been in touch with extremists in the United States as well as abroad.” Later in the month, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will warn Berger in an e-mail, “Foreign terrorist sleeper cells are present in the US and attacks in the US are likely.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 179, 501] Deek is arrested on December 11 (see December 11, 1999), but he will eventually be released without being charged (see May 2001). A few days later, Clarke authorizes a study that looks into Deek’s connections, but no action will be taken when it is discovered Deek’s next-door neighbor is still living in Anaheim, California, and running an al-Qaeda sleeper cell there (see December 14-25, 1999). Similarly, while Hijazi will be arrested overseas some months later (see September 2000), US intelligence seems oblivious to the other al-Qaeda operatives who have been his roommates and fellow taxi drivers in Boston (see June 1995-Early 1999 and October 2000). One of them, Nabil al-Marabh, will apparently go on to have a major role in the 9/11 plot (see for example January 2001-Summer 2001 and Early September 2001). Investigators will also fail to act on knowledge of financial transactions between Hijazi and three of the 9/11 hijackers (see Spring 2001).
Rita Katz. [Source: Publicity photo /]Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, hearing about Ahmed Ressam’s arrest earlier in the day (see December 14, 1999), hires a team of private terrorism analysts to complete a report on militant Islamic cells in North America. The Investigative Project on Terrorism, led by Steven Emerson, finishes the report just prior to the end of the year, hoping to help stop any millennium plots. [New Yorker, 5/29/2006] Investigator Rita Katz discovers that a man named Khalil Deek who has just been arrested in Jordan for a role in a millennium plot is a US citizen (see December 11, 1999). Using only public records, she begins looking into Deek’s activities in the US. She believes that she discovers a sleeper cell consisting of: [Katz, 2003, pp. 161-162]
Khalil Deek. He is an al-Qaeda operative who has lived in Anaheim, California, for most of the 1990s. A former senior CIA official will later claim that Deek’s extremist connections were already “well established in the classified intelligence” by this time, and in fact, it will later be reported that Deek’s connections with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida had been investigated since the late 1980s (see Late 1980s). Katz learns from intelligence reports that Deek has connections to a militant cell based in Montreal, Canada that includes Ressam. She suspects that Deek is coordinating al-Qaeda groups in North America. [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005; New Yorker, 1/22/2007] Deek regularly wires tens of thousands of dollars to overseas destinations. Business records show Deek was still in Anaheim as late as August 1998. The research team discovers Deek may have been visiting the US as late as September 1999. [US Congress, 1/25/2000; Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006]
Hisham Diab. Katz learns that Diab is Deek’s next door neighbor in Anaheim and she suspects the two of them have been operating a sleeper cell there (in fact, Diab’s wife had already repeatedly tried to warn the FBI about her husband, to no avail (see March 1993-1996). [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005]
She discovers that Deek and Diab have formed a charity front called Charity Without Borders (this group received a $75,000 state grant in 1997 to distribute fliers encouraging the recycling of used motor oil). [LA Weekly, 9/15/2005; Orange County Weekly, 6/15/2006]
Tawfiq Deek, Khalil Deek’s brother. Katz discovers that Tawfiq has presented himself as the Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) spokesman in California. Katz calls the IAP the “Hamas front in America.” [Katz, 2003, pp. 167] Khalid Ashour, a Palestinian. He had lived in the same apartment building as the Deek brothers and Diab, and also worked with the IAP. But what most interests Katz is that he had been heavily involved in the Islamic Center of Tuscon in the early 1990s. The Islamic Center is important for the IAP but is also believed to be the focal point for al-Qaeda’s first base in the US (see 1994). Katz discovers that he had been arrested in 1991 trying to enter the US with a fake ID and border guards found handbooks of explosives and bombs in his car. In 1999, he had moved nearly half a million dollars out of the US despite holding a job that only paid $600 a week. [Katz, 2003, pp. 167-168]
Although Katz does not discover it at the time, another associate of the Deeks and Diab in Anaheim named Adam Gadahn will later emerge as a prominent al-Qaeda spokesman in Afghanistan (see Spring 2004).
Katz, Emerson, and other members of the Investigative Project on Terrorism will brief members of the National Security Council about what they learned on December 25, 1999, but no action will be taken against the suspects they have uncovered (see December 25, 1999).
From left to right: Mokhtar Haouari, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, Abdel Ghani Meskini. The picture of Meskini is from an ATM camera. [Source: Public domain, public domain, and Seattle Times]In the wake of the arrest of Ahmed Ressam (see December 14, 1999), FBI investigators work frantically to uncover more millennium plots before the end of the year. US authorities also make a number of arrests.
A telephone number found in Ressam’s pocket leads to Abdel Ghani Meskini, an Algerian living in New York City who had gone to Seattle to meet Ressam. Meskini is monitored and arrested in New York on December 30.
One of Ressam’s credit cards leads to the arrest of Mokhtar Haouari, an Algerian living in Montreal, Canada. Meskini later cooperates with US investigators and is never charged, while Haouari will be sentenced to 24 years in prison. [Time, 2/7/2000; CNN, 1/16/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 298]
Another Algerian associate of Ressam’s, Abdelmajid Dahoumane, escapes to Afghanistan, but will eventually be caught by the Algerian government and convicted in Algeria. [PBS Frontline, 10/25/2001]
Investigators believe that Mohamedou Ould Slahi, an al-Qaeda operative whose cousin is a top al-Qaeda leader, went to Canada to give the go-ahead for Ressam’s attack. Slahi is arrested several times overseas, but never charged (see January-April 2000). [CNN, 3/6/2002]
Khalid Deek, a US citizen, is arrested around this time for masterminding another al-Qaeda millennnium plot (see December 11, 1999). But counterterrorism expert Rita Katz will later say Deek was a suspected mastermind of Ressam’s Los Angeles airport plot, too. [Orange County Register, 9/12/2005] Deek’s name and phone number is found in Ressam’s telephone book. Ressam knew Deek from bin Laden training camps in Afghanistan. Both of them, like most of Ressam’s group, have links to the GIA, an Algerian militant group associated with al-Qaeda. [Newsweek (International), 3/13/2000]
Others escape the US after hearing media reports of Ressam’s arrest. However, enough people are caught to stop additional millennium attacks. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says, “I think a lot of the FBI leadership for the first time realized that… there probably were al-Qaeda people in the United States. They realized that only after they looked at the results of the investigation of the millennium bombing plot.” [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] Yet Clinton’s National Security Adviser Sandy Berger later claims that the FBI will still repeatedly assure the Clinton White House until Clinton leaves office that al-Qaeda lacks the ability to launch a domestic strike (see 2000).
US intelligence learns about a likely al-Qaeda cell in California but fails to act on it. In early December 1999, US intelligence learned that a participant in an attempted al-Qaeda linked millennium plot in Jordan was a US citizen by the name of Khalil Deek. President Clinton was immediately notified because of the implication that al-Qaeda had a presence inside the US (see December 9, 1999). The FBI began interviewing Deek’s neighbors in Anaheim, California, but apparently learned little. However Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke tasked the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a private research team, to look into Deek’s US ties. On this day, the team goes to the White House and gives a report on their findings to Clarke and an assistant of his known only as Peter, and others on the National Security Council (NSC). Rita Katz has been leading the research effort and gives a presentation outlining the sleeper cell they believe they have discovered in Anaheim consisting of Deek, his brother Tawfiq Deek, Khalid Ashour, Hisham Diab, and a charity front known as Charity Without Borders (see December 14-25, 1999). According to a later account by Katz, Clarke, Peter, and the others are impressed at how much the team was able to learn looking only through public records. They express surprise that the FBI was not able to learn as much. The NSC gives the information to the FBI but apparently they do nothing with it. Katz will report in 2003 that Ashour is still living in California even though his request for asylum could have been easily denied. [Katz, 2003, pp. 156-174]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke leads a meeting of the interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) devoted largely to the possibility of an airline hijacking by al-Qaeda. The meeting is said to come during a period of low threat, after the millennium alerts had ended (see December 15-31, 1999). Clarke later will recall that the possibility of a suicide hijacking would have been only one of many speculative possibilities considered. The apparent suicide hijacking of EgyptAir Flight 990 off the coast of Massachusetts in late 1999 appears to have been a concern of the CSG around this time (see October 31, 1999). Also, one month earlier, a militant group connected to al-Qaeda successfully hijacked an airplane in India, won their demands, and escaped (see December 24-31, 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 345, 561]
The Washington Post writes, “With little fanfare, [President Clinton] has begun to articulate a new national security doctrine in which terrorists and other ‘enemies of the nation-state’ are coming to occupy the position once filled by a monolithic communist superpower.” In his January 2000 State of the Union address, President Clinton predicts that terrorists and organized criminals will pose “the major security threat” to the US in coming decades. However, some claim that a “preoccupation with bin Laden has caused errors in judgment.” National Security Adviser Sandy Berger counters that the threat of large-scale terrorist attacks on US soil is “a reality, not a perception.… We would be irresponsible if we did not take this seriously.” Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke predicts that the US’s new enemies “will come after our weakness, our Achilles heel, which is largely here in the United States” (see April 2, 2000). [Washington Post, 4/2/2000]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke warns of the danger posed by Osama bin Laden and of the risk of a terrorist attack within the United States, and argues for an aggressive anti-terrorism strategy. His views are reported by the Washington Post, which calls him “one of the least known but most controversial members of [President] Clinton’s national security team,” who has “played a key role both in defining the new post-Cold War security threats to the United States and coming up with a response.” The Post says the central idea behind Clarke’s thinking is that “a new breed of global terrorist—embodied by bin Laden—has developed the ruthlessness and resources to carry its war to American soil.” These terrorists, Clarke says, “will come after our weakness, our Achilles heel, which is largely here in the United States.” Clarke “compares the current threat of global terrorism with the situation faced by Western democracies in the period leading up to World War II, when appeasement carried the day.” He is critical of those who are skeptical about the danger of a chemical or biological terrorist attack, saying: “The notion that this is an analytical problem and one can quantify the threat is naive.… We don’t know how many bio labs there are out there, how many tons of chemical agents. Frankly, it will only take one.” Clarke wants aggressive action to prevent terrorist attacks against Americans. He says: “We should have a very low barrier in terms of acting when there is a threat of weapons of mass destruction being used against American citizens. We should not have a barrier of evidence that can be used in a court of law.” Referring to bin Laden, he adds: “It’s not enough to be in a cat-and-mouse game, warning about his plots. If we keep that up, we will someday fail. We need to seriously think about doing more. Our goal should be to so erode his network of organizations that they no longer pose a serious threat.” [Washington Post, 4/2/2000]
A CIA informant reveals that a militant group based in Sidon, Lebanon that is affiliated with bin Laden is planning to attack a US naval ship somewhere in the Eastern Mediterranean, probably off the coast of Lebanon. [Miniter, 2003, pp. 215] This is a probable reference to Asbat al-Ansar, the only group that fits such a profile. [US Department of State, 5/21/2002] The CIA and Defense Department discount the threat, pointing out the US is not deploying ships near Lebanon. However, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later say he was alarmed by the warning because it showed increased ambitions for al-Qaeda in going after hardened military targets. [Miniter, 2003, pp. 215] Al-Qaeda will successfully bomb the USS Cole several months later in Yemen (see October 12, 2000).
Following the attack on the USS Cole in Yemen (see October 12, 2000), the Clinton administration discusses what standard of evidence it needs to launch a counter-strike against al-Qaeda, which it suspects of the bombing. Following the bombing of the US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the administration fired a number of cruise missiles at suspected al-Qaeda targets (see August 20, 1998). However, the administration decides it must have evidence that bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s leadership has authority, direction, and control of the attack before initiating a response. CIA Director George Tenet will comment: “This is a high threshold to cross.” Tenet will also say that this threshold was not set by the CIA, but by “policy makers.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 128] Although the bombing is tied to three known leading al-Qaeda operatives, Khallad bin Attash (see November 11, 2000), Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri (see November-December 2000), and Ahmed al-Hada (see November 2000 or After), early on in the investigation, no counterstrike is initiated (see Shortly After October 12, 2000 and Late October 2000). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will express his frustration with the inaction: “[I]n Washington neither CIA nor FBI would state the obvious: al-Qaeda did it. We knew there was a large al-Qaeda cell in Yemen There was also a large cell of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, but that group had now announced its complete merger into al-Qaeda, so what difference did it make which group did the attack? [Counterterrorism staff] had worked around the clock piecing together the evidence and had made a very credible case against al-Qaeda. CIA would agree only months later.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 223] The authors of the 2002 book The Cell will later write: “The links to bin Laden were everywhere. Each of the suspects being held in Yemen had admitted training in the Afghan camps run by bin Laden… neither the FBI nor the CIA was ever able to tell the president that they had direct proof that the Cole was a bin Laden-ordered job, though now, in retrospect, it seems terribly obvious. In any case, even if there had been compelling proof that bin Laden was behind the Cole bombing, there was little chance that the Clinton administration would have launched an attack on any Islamic country while he was trying to get the Israelis and Palestinians to the peace table.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 238]
Michael Sheehan. [Source: Center on Law and Security]In the wake of the USS Cole bombing (see October 12, 2000), Clinton administration officials hold a high level meeting to discuss what the US response should be. The meeting attendees include: Counterterrorism “Tsar” Richard Clarke, Defense Secretary William Cohen, CIA Director George Tenet, Attorney General Janet Reno, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Deputy National Security Adviser Jim Steinberg, and State Department Coordinator for Counterterrorism Michael Sheehan.
Clarke suggests that al-Qaeda was behind the attacks. There is no hard evidence of this yet but he argues that the attack matches their profile and capabilities. He presents a detailed plan, which he’d been working on before the bombing, to level all the al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan as well as key Taliban buildings in such towns as Kandahar and Kabul.
Reno argues there’s no clear evidence yet who was behind the bombing. If there is such evidence, any US actions should not be for retaliation but only for self-protection against future attacks.
Tenet says that he suspects al-Qaeda is behind the bombing but also wants to wait until an investigation determines that before acting.
Cohen is against any counterattack. Clarke will later recall Cohen saying at the meeting that the Cole bombing “was not sufficient provocation.” Sheehan will later say that the “entire Pentagon” was generally against a counterattack.
Albright is against a counterattack for diplomatic reasons. The Clinton administration is involved in trying to create a peace settlement between the Israelis and Palestinians and bombing Afghanistan could ruin such talks.
Many also argue that if Afghanistan is attacked and bin Laden is not killed, he could emerge a greater hero in the Muslim world, just as he did after a 1998 US missile strike (see Late 1998). Clarke argues that the continual creation of new trained militants in Afghanistan needs to stop, and if bin Laden is killed, that would merely be a “bonus.” At the end of the meeting, the highest-ranking officials cast votes, and seven vote against Clarke’s counterstrike plan, while only Clarke votes in favor of it. After the meeting, Sheehan will meet with Clarke and express frustration with the outcome, saying, “What’s it going to take to get them to hit al-Qaeda in Afghanistan? Does al-Qaeda have to hit the Pentagon?” [Miniter, 2003, pp. 222-227]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a plan to “roll back” al-Qaeda over a period of three to five years until it is ineffectual. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The main component is a dramatic increase in covert aid to the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan to first tie down the terrorists and then “eliminate the sanctuary” for bin Laden. Financial support for terrorist activities will be systematically attacked, nations fighting al-Qaeda will be given aid to defeat them, and the US will plan for direct military and covert action in Afghanistan. The plan will cost several hundred million dollars. However, since there are only a few weeks left before the Bush administration takes over, it is decided to defer the decision until the new administration is in place. One senior Clinton official later says, “We would be handing [the Bush administration] a war when they took office on January 20. That wasn’t going to happen.” However, the plan is rejected by the Bush administration and no action is taken (see January 25, 2001). According to one senior Bush administration official, the proposal amounts to “everything we’ve done since 9/11.” [Time, 8/4/2002]
National Security Adviser Sandy Berger asks CIA Director how he would go after al-Qaeda if he were unconstrained by resources and policies. He assigns Cofer Black and the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center to develops a plan for the incoming Bush administration. It is dubbed the “Blue Sky Memo.” The CIA presents it to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke on December 29, 2000. It recommends increased support to anti-Taliban groups and especially a major effort to back Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance, to tie down al-Qaeda personnel before they leave Afghanistan. No action is taken on it in the last few weeks of the Clinton administration; and the new Bush administration does not appear interested in it either. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Tenet, 2007, pp. 130-131] The National Security Council counterterrorism staff also prepares a strategy paper, incorporating ideas from the Blue Sky Memo. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
Entity Tags: Sandy Berger, Richard A. Clarke, Northern Alliance, Osama bin Laden, National Security Council, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Clinton administration, Cofer Black, George J. Tenet, Counterterrorist Center, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Gen. Anthony Zinni [Source: US Marine Corps.]Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Henry Shelton prepares a paper with 13 options for using force against bin Laden. Several of the options describe Special Forces raids to capture or kill bin Laden. But counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later say that when military operations on al-Qaeda were discussed, “the overwhelming message to the White House from the uniformed military leadership was, ‘We don’t want to do this.’” Shelton’s chief of operations will later describe the paper as a tool to “educate” National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, Clarke, and others about the “extraordinary complexity” of going ahead with any of the options. The military repeatedly complains that the CIA’s intelligence about bin Laden isn’t good enough while the CIA complains that the military’s intelligence requirements are too demanding. One CIA document notes that there is “lots of desire” for a military strike against bin Laden amongst lower-level US military officials, but “reluctance at the political level.” [Los Angeles Times, 7/25/2003; Coll, 2004, pp. 533] One reason for such reluctance is the close ties between the US military and Pakistan. Author Steve Coll will later note, “The Pentagon, especially General Anthony Zinni at Centcom, who remained close to [Pakistani President Pervez] Musharraf personally, emphasized the benefits of engagement with Pakistan’s generals.” [Coll, 2004, pp. 490]
As part of a new US intelligence effort to prevent al-Qaeda getting weapons of mass destruction, “a third-country national working for the CIA” goes into an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan where chemical weapons are possibly being made. The agent takes soil samples, but later analysis does not show any dangerous chemicals. According to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, the “CIA took pride in the risks the third-country national had run in going to the camp.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 178-179]
Lee Wolosky. [Source: Center for American Progress]By the end of the Clinton administration, an effort by some US officials to arrest international arms dealer Victor Bout is gathering steam (see Early Spring 1999-2000). National Security Council (NSC) adviser Lee Wolosky has been gathering evidence of Bout’s airplanes being used to smuggle weapons and possibly drugs for the Taliban. Shortly after the Bush administration takes office, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, Wolosky, and other NSC deputies hold a briefing about Bout’s activities for Condoleezza Rice, the new national security adviser. Rice appears interested, and authorizes the NSC team to continue to pursue an attempt to get an arrest warrant for Bout strong enough to secure a conviction. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 186-187] However, Rice focuses on diplomatic solutions and does not allow any actual covert action against Bout. The FBI also does not have an open investigation into Bout and does not appear particularly interested in him. “Look but don’t touch,” is how one White House official will later describe Rice’s approach. [New York Times Magazine, 8/17/2003; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 193] In late spring 2001, Wolosky briefs Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley about Bout and global organized crime. He receives a go-ahead to present a full briefing to President Bush on the topic, but no specific date is set. Wolosky is still trying to arrange a date when the 9/11 attacks occur. The Bush administration’s interest in Bout was already fading before 9/11, and after 9/11 the remaining interest in him is lost, despite Bout’s ties to the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Wolosky soon quits. “We knew we were being phased out,” he will later say. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 193-194] Bout moves to Russia not long after 9/11, but Rice decides that Russia should not be pressured about arms trafficking in general and Bout in particular. One source who talks to Rice claims that she reasons the US has “bigger fish to fry.” [New York Times Magazine, 8/17/2003]
Brian Sheridan. [Source: PBS.org]Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke briefs Secretary of State Colin Powell about the al-Qaeda threat. He urges decisive and quick action against the organization. Powell meets with the Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG)—made up of senior counterterrorism officials from many agencies—and sees to it that all members of the group agree al-Qaeda is a serious threat. For instance, Deputy Defense Secretary Brian Sheridan says to Powell, “Make al-Qaeda your number one priority.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 227-30] Clarke will later note that he does not provide this briefing to President Bush because he is prevented from doing so. When Clarke resigns in 2003, he receives an effusive letter of praise from Bush for his service (see January 31, 2003). Clarke will later quote Bush (see March 28, 2004), telling NBC’s Tim Russert: “Let me read another line from the letter… ‘I will always have fond memories of our briefings for you on cybersecurity.’ Not on terrorism, Tim, because they didn’t allow me to brief him on terrorism.” [MSNBC, 3/28/2004]
Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” for the Clinton administration, briefs National Security Adviser Rice and her deputy, Steve Hadley, about al-Qaeda. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Outgoing National Security Adviser Sandy Berger makes an unusual appearance at the start of the meeting, saying to Rice, “I’m coming to this briefing to underscore how important I think this subject is.” He claims that he tells Rice during the transition between administrations, “I believe that the Bush administration will spend more time on terrorism generally, and on al-Qaeda specifically, than any other subject.” Clarke presents his plan to “roll back” al-Qaeda that he had given to the outgoing Clinton administration a couple of weeks earlier. [Time, 8/4/2002] He gets the impression that Rice has never heard the term al-Qaeda before. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 227-30; Guardian, 3/25/2004] Clarke is told at the meeting that he will keep his job but the position is being downgraded and he will no longer have direct access to the president (see January 3, 2001).
Condoleezza Rice and Philip Zelikow. [Source: Public domain]National Security Adviser Rice decides this day to retain Richard Clarke, counterterrorism “tsar” for the Clinton administration, and his staff. However, she downgrades his official position as National Coordinator for Counterterrorism. While he is still known as the counterterrorism “tsar,” he has less power and now reports to deputy secretaries instead of attending Cabinet-level meetings. He no longer is able to send memos directly to the president, or easily interact with Cabinet-level officials. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 227-30; Guardian, 3/25/2004] Clarke will not be able to meet with President Bush even a single time before 9/11 to discuss al-Qaeda (see January 25, 2001-September 10, 2001). In 2004, Rice will reveal that the person she tasks with considering changes to Clarke and his staff is Philip Zelikow, the future Executive Director of the 9/11 Commission. Zelikow recuses himself from those parts of the 9/11 Commission’s investigation directly relating to his role in this and other matters. However, 9/11 victims’ relatives are not satisfied. For instance, one relative says, “Zelikow has conflicts. I’m not sure that his recusal is sufficient. His fingerprints are all over that decision [to demote Clarke].” [United Press International, 4/9/2004]
The Predator drone. [Source: US military] (click image to enlarge)Even before President Bush’s official inauguration, Clinton holdover counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke pushes National Security Adviser Rice and other incoming Bush officials to resume Predator drone flights over Afghanistan (originally carried out in September and October 2000) in an attempt to find and assassinate bin Laden. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002; CBS News, 6/25/2003] On January 10, Rice is shown a video clip of bin Laden filmed by a Predator drone the year before. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Aware of an Air Force plan to arm the Predator, when Clarke outlines a series of steps to take against al-Qaeda on January 25 (see January 25, 2001), one suggestion is to go forward with new Predator drone reconnaissance missions in the spring and use an armed version when it is ready. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The original Air Force development plan calls for three years of Predator testing, but Clarke pushes so hard that a Hellfire missile is successfully test fired from a Predator on February 16, 2001. The armed Predator will be fully ready by early June 2001 (see Early June-September 10, 2001). [CBS News, 6/25/2003; New Yorker, 7/28/2003] However, Rice apparently approves the use of the Predator but only as part of a broader strategy against al-Qaeda. Since that strategy will still not be ready before 9/11, the Predator will not be put into use before 9/11. [Associated Press, 6/22/2003]
There are discussions among future members of the Bush administration, including Bush himself, about making the removal of Saddam Hussein a top priority once they are in office. After the invasion of Iraq in March 2003, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will say that the Bush team had been planning regime change in Iraq since before coming to office, with newly named Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld (see December 28, 2000) and his deputy Paul Wolfowitz (see January 11, 2001) taking the lead. “Since the beginning of the administration, indeed well before, they had been pressing for a war with Iraq,” he will write in his book Against All Enemies. “My friends in the Pentagon had been telling me that the word was we would be invading Iraq sometime in 2002.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 7-9; Unger, 2007, pp. 192] During an appearance on Good Morning America on March 22, 2004, he will say, “[T]hey had been planning to do something about Iraq from before the time they came into office.” [Good Morning America, 3/22/2004] Evidence of pre-inaugural discussions on regime change in Iraq comes from other sources as well. Imam Sayed Hassan al-Qazwini, who heads the Islamic Center of America in Detroit, will tell the New York Times in early 2004 that he spoke with Bush about removing Saddam Hussein six or seven times, both before and after the 2000 elections. [New York Times, 1/12/2004] In 2007, author Craig Unger will write: “In certain respects, their actions were a replay of the 1976 Team B experiment (see Early 1976 and November 1976), with one very important difference. This time it wasn’t just a bunch of feverish ideologues presenting a theoretical challenge to the CIA. This time Team B controlled the entire executive branch of the United States.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 192]
White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke meets with President Bush and others to discuss the administration’s approach to cyber-security and terrorism. Clarke will later express his surprise at the way Bush conducts himself: “We had a couple of meetings with the president, and there were detailed discussions and briefings on cyber-security and often terrorism, and on a classified program. With the cyber-security meeting, he seemed—I was disturbed because he seemed to be trying to impress us, the people who were briefing him. It was as though he wanted these experts, these White House staff guys who had been around for a long time before he got there—didn’t want them buying the rumor that he wasn’t too bright. He was trying—sort of overly trying—to show that he could ask good questions, and kind of yukking it up with [Dick] Cheney. The contrast with having briefed his father [George H. W. Bush] and [Bill] Clinton and [Al] Gore was so marked. And to be told, frankly, early in the administration, by Condi Rice and [her deputy] Steve Hadley, you know, ‘Don’t give the president a lot of long memos, he’s not a big reader’—well, sh_t. I mean, the president of the United States is not a big reader?” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
Richard Clarke. [Source: Robert Flores/ Defense Information Systems Agency]Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a proposal to National Security Adviser Rice and “urgently” asks for a Cabinet-level meeting on the al-Qaeda threat. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 230-31] He forwards his December 2000 strategy paper and a copy of his 1998 “Delenda Plan”
(see August 27, 1998). He lays out a proposed agenda for urgent action:
Approve covert assistance to Ahmed Shah Massoud’s Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
Significantly increase funding for CIA counterterrorism activity. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
Respond to the USS Cole bombing with an attack on al-Qaeda. (The link between al-Qaeda and that bombing had been assumed for months and is confirmed in the media two days later.) According to the Washington Post, “Clarke argue[s] that the camps [are] can’t-miss targets, and they [matter]. The facilities [amount] to conveyor belts for al-Qaeda’s human capital, with raw recruits arriving and trained fighters departing either for front lines against the Northern Alliance, the Afghan rebel coalition, or against American interests somewhere else. The US government had whole libraries of images filmed over Tarnak Qila and its sister camp, Garmabat Ghar, 19 miles farther west. Why watch al-Qaeda train several thousand men a year and then chase them around the world when they left?” No retaliation is taken on these camps until after 9/11. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002]
Go forward with new Predator drone reconnaissance missions in the spring and use an armed version when it is ready (see January 10-25, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
Step up the fight against terrorist fundraising. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
Be aware that al-Qaeda sleeper cells in the US are not just a potential threat, but are a “major threat in being.” Additionally, more attacks have almost certainly been set in motion (see January 25, 2001). [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] Rice’s response to Clarke’s proposal is that the Cabinet will not address the issue until it has been “framed” at the deputy secretary level. However, this initial deputy meeting is not given high priority and it does not take place until April 2001. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 230-31] Henry Shelton, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman until 9/11, says, “The squeaky wheel was Dick Clarke, but he wasn’t at the top of their priority list, so the lights went out for a few months. Dick did a pretty good job because he’s abrasive as hell, but given the [bureaucratic] level he was at” there was no progress. [Benjamin and Simon, 2002, pp. 335-36; Los Angeles Times, 3/30/2004] Some counterterrorism officials think the new administration responds slowly simply because Clarke’s proposal originally came from the Clinton administration. [Time, 8/4/2002] For instance, Thomas Maertenson, on the National Security Council in both the Clinton and Bush administrations, says, “They really believed their campaign rhetoric about the Clinton administration. So anything [that administration] did was bad, and the Bushies were not going to repeat it.” [New York Times, 3/24/2004; Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 3/25/2004] The Bush administration will finally address the gist of Clarke’s plan at a cabinet-level meeting on September 4, 2001, just one week before 9/11 (see September 4, 2001). Clarke will later comment that the plan adopted “on Sept. 4 is basically… what I proposed on Jan. 25. And so the time in between was wasted.”
Entity Tags: Henry Hugh Shelton, Northern Alliance, Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice, Clinton administration, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Thomas Maertenson, Taliban, Ahmed Shah Massoud
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s plan to deal with al-Qaeda is given to National Security Adviser Rice on this day. It includes a warning that al-Qaeda cells already exist in the US. The plan was outlined in a document he prepared in December 2000 (see January 25, 2001), which stated that US intelligence believes there are al-Qaeda “sleeper cells” in the US and that they’re not just a potential problem but “a major threat in being.” Clarke noted in the document that two key al-Qaeda members involved in the Millennium plot were naturalized US citizens (presumably a reference to Raed Hijazi and Khalil Deek) and that one suspect in the 1998 embassy bombings had “informed the FBI that an extensive network of al-Qaeda ‘sleeper agents’ currently exists in the US” (see August 12-25, 1998). It also said that Ahmed Ressam’s attempted December 1999 attack revealed al-Qaeda supporters in the US (see December 15-31, 1999). Finally, the Clarke warned that more attacks have almost certainly been set in motion. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260, 535]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke submits a comprehensive plan to deal with al-Qaeda within days of President Bush’s inauguration (see January 25, 2001). He wants to meet with Bush directly to discuss it with him, but he is unable to do so before 9/11. Clarke will later recall, “I asked for a meeting with the president several times beginning, in fact, before [National Security Adviser] Rice even took office in the transition briefing. I said I have given this briefing to the vice president, I’ve given it to the secretary of state, I’ve given it now to you, I would like to give it to the president. And what I was told was I could brief the president on terrorism after the policy development process had been completed.” He does have one meeting with Bush before 9/11, but only to discuss cyber security because Clarke is planning to quit his current job to focus on that issue instead (see June 2001). When asked why he didn’t bring up al-Qaeda at that meeting, Clarke will reply, “Because I had been told by Dr. Rice and her deputy that this was a briefing on countering the cyber threats and not on al-Qaeda and that I would have my opportunity on al-Qaeda if I just held on, eventually they would get to it, probably in September.” [ABC News, 4/8/2004] The Bush administration had downgraded Clarke’s position in early January 2001 and he was no longer able to send memos directly to the president as he could during the Clinton administration (see January 3, 2001).
According to Time magazine, “The US was all set to join a global crackdown on criminal and terrorist money havens [in early 2001]. Thirty industrial nations were ready to tighten the screws on offshore financial centers like Liechtenstein and Antigua, whose banks have the potential to hide and often help launder billions of dollars for drug cartels, global crime syndicates—and groups like Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda organization. Then the Bush administration took office.”
[Time, 10/15/2001] After pressure from the powerful banking lobby, the Treasury Department under Paul O’Neill halts US cooperation with these international efforts begun in 2000 by the Clinton administration. Clinton had created a Foreign Terrorist Asset Tracking Center in his last budget, but under O’Neill no funding for the center is provided and the tracking of terrorist financing slows down. Spurred by the 9/11, attacks, the center will finally get started three days after 9/11 (see October 2000-September 14, 2001). [Foreign Affairs, 7/2001; Time, 10/15/2001] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later claim that efforts to track al-Qaeda’s finances began to make significant headway in 2000, after Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin stepped down and was replaced by Larry Summers. But, Clarke will claim, “When the Bush administration came into office, I wanted to raise the profile of our efforts to combat terrorist financing, but found little interest. The new President’s economic advisor, Larry Lindsey, had long argued for weakening US anti-money laundering laws in a way that would undercut international standards. The new Secretary of the Treasury, Paul O’Neill, was lukewarm at best toward the multilateral effort to ‘name and shame’ foreign money laundering havens, and allowed the process to shut down before the status of Saudi Arabian cooperation was ever assessed.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 195-196]
The NSA asks Qwest, a major US telecommunications firm and a cutting-edge provider of high-tech wireless and Internet connectivity, to reveal information about its customers and their phone calls. Qwest’s CEO, Joe Nacchio, refuses after meeting with NSA officials and deciding that the program is illegal without court orders (see February 27, 2001). The NSA refuses to seek court authorization for its wiretaps and electronic surveillance. The NSA will renew its request from Qwest after the 9/11 attacks, and will also ask the firm to help it track suspected terrorists. Other telecommunications firms such as Verizon, AT&T, and BellSouth, will comply with the NSA’s requests (see February 2001 and Beyond).
Fears of a 'Digital Pearl Harbor' - According to a former White House official, the NSA’s primary purpose before 9/11 is to watch for computer hackers and foreign-government agents trying to hack into the government’s computer information systems, particularly those within the Defense Department. Government officials fear a “digital Pearl Harbor” if hackers were ever to seize control of those systems or other key US infrastructures. The former official will say in 2007 that the NSA’s proposal to Qwest is, “Can you build a private version of Echelon and tell us what you see?” Echelon is the NSA’s enormous signals intelligence (SIGINT) network used by the agency and its counterparts in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Britain. Qwest is constructing a high-speed network for phone and Internet traffic, and the NSA wants Qwest to keep records of its customers’ transactions for it. The NSA, another source will say, wants to analyze call, e-mail, and other transmissions’ traffic patters for signs of suspicious activity. The White House official will say that telecom firms such as Qwest “have an enormous amount of intelligence-gathering” capability. They don’t have to target individual customers to “look for wacky behavior,” or “groups communicating with each other in strange patterns.” Such information could augment intelligence that the NSA and other agencies were gathering from other sources, and enable the NSA to collect the information it wants without violating laws prohibiting it and other intelligence agencies from directly gathering data on US citizens.
Ill Will from NSA - Nacchio’s refusal to go along with the NSA’s request garners it some ill will among the US intelligence community, the former White House official will say. Nacchio will contend that because of his refusal, the NSA denied Qwest a lucrative government contract. A former high-level intelligence official will add that other telecom companies had little problem agreeing to the NSA’s requests. Nacchio believes that the NSA’s request is illegal under the Telecommunications Act without court orders; the former White House official will acknowledge that it might violate the 1986 Electronic Communications Privacy Act. After 9/11, that law will be amended by the USA Patriot Act to give the government more room to monitor US citizens.
Qwest, Other Telecom Firms Cooperative with Other Agencies - Qwest is apparently less reluctant to share other information with the Pentagon. Qwest began sharing its technology and information as far back as 1997 (see 1997). In May 2001, Commerce Secretary Don Evans will tell the Senate Appropriations Committee that his department helped persuade Qwest to “share proprietory information with the Defense Department to evaluate the vulnerability of its network.” Qwest, which serves the Rocky Mountain and West Coast regions of the country, covers the areas that house some of the military’s most important command-and-control facilities, including the US Strategic Command. In the 1990s, Qwest began actively pursuing contracts with the Defense Department to build more modern, private, secure networks for defense and intelligence agencies. [National Journal, 11/2/2007]
Meetings with Bush Officials - In court documents filed in 2006 to challenge his prosecution for insider trading and, in heavily redacted form, released to the public in 2007, Nacchio will indicate that telecom executives met frequently with Bush administration officials before 9/11, including Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, NSA Director Michael Hayden, and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke. Many telecom firms are working closely with the government to develop highly classified operations, including joint networks to which the government will have unfettered access. The future director of national intelligence, Mike McConnell, works with telecom firms to expand the cooperation between the telecom industry and the federal government. [Salon, 10/15/2007]
Entity Tags: Condoleezza Rice, US Department of Defense, Bush administration (43), Verizon Communications, AT&T, US Department of Commerce, Senate Appropriations Committee, US Strategic Command, BellSouth, Donald L. Evans, Echelon, Richard A. Clarke, Qwest, Mike McConnell, National Security Agency, Joe Nacchio, Paul Wolfowitz
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke briefs Vice President Cheney about the al-Qaeda threat. He urges decisive and quick action against al-Qaeda. Cheney soon visits CIA headquarters for more information about al-Qaeda. However, at later high-level meetings Cheney fails to bring up al-Qaeda as a priority issue. [Time, 8/4/2002; Clarke, 2004, pp. 227-30]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says that sometime between March and May, Bush administration officials discussed creating a casus belli for war with Iraq. In a 2007 interview with radio show host Jon Elliot, Clarke says: “Prior to 9/11 a number of people in the White House were saying to me you know this—this administration, particularly Cheney, but also Bush [and] people like Wolfowitz in the Pentagon, are really intent on going to war with Iraq. And this was the whispered conversations in the National Security Council staff.… Early, early on in the administration people I knew and trusted in the administration were saying to me, ‘You know. They’re really going to do it. They are going to go to war with Iraq.’ And I was flabbergasted. Why would you want to do that of all the things in the world that one could choose to do?… And how are we going to do it? How are we going to cause that provocation? And there was some discussion of ‘Well maybe [we’ll] keep flying aircraft over Iraq and maybe one day one of them will be shot down.’… And some of the talk I was hearing—in the March, April, May timeframe—‘Maybe we’ll do something that is so provocative and do it in such a way that our aircraft will be shot down.’ And then we’ll have an excuse to go to war with Iraq.” [Jon Elliot Show, 1/11/2007 Sources: Richard A. Clarke]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke organizes an intelligence summit on the terrorist threat to the US. The summit takes place at the National Reconnaissance Office in Virginia, and three dozen analysts are in attendance. One important topic of discussion is whether al-Qaeda could obtain a nuclear weapon. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 305]
Senior Bush administration officials begin to meet once a month to discuss Pakistan’s nuclear program. The officials are CIA Director George Tenet, his deputy John McLaughlin, Secretary of State Colin Powell, his deputy Richard Armitage, Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, and Robert Joseph, the National Security Council non-proliferation director. The participants at the meetings discuss what Pakistan is doing, including the fact that North Korea is a client of Pakistan, Pakistan is still doing nuclear business with Iran, it has offered to sell nuclear weapons to Iraq, and there are rumors of a deal between it and Libya. The meetings are arranged by Tenet and, according to Assistant Secretary of State for Non-Proliferation Robert Einhorn: “A very small number of people got involved. Any names added to the list had to be sanctioned personally by Tenet.” The group receives intelligence about Khan’s network derived from tracking flights and meetings, as well as intercepting letters and phone calls. “The CIA guys would grudgingly come over to share anything new with us policy types,” Einhorn will say. “State was always making the case to roll up the network now, to stop it doing more damage. The CIA would make a plausible case to keep watching, let the network run so eventually we could pick it up by the roots, not just lop off the tentacles. We’d debate and always decide to continue following. The policy people were nervous about leaving it too long.” Some of Einhorn’s colleagues accuse the CIA of being “addicted” to collecting information, although senior CIA analysts think they have a better understanding of the issues and should be allowed to decide. Einhorn will add that he goes to Armitage for get support for rolling up the network, but Armitage simply refers him to Joseph and nothing is done before Einhorn leaves the administration in September 2001. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will comment: “The Bush administration was not interested in acting on Pakistan, or had no idea of how to act. They were far more interested in eliminating Pakistan’s clients: Iran, Iraq, Libya, and North Korea.” [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 303-304]
Entity Tags: National Security Council, Central Intelligence Agency, Colin Powell, John E. McLaughlin, US Department of State, Robert G. Joseph, Richard A. Clarke, George J. Tenet, Robert Einhorn, Richard Armitage, Stephen J. Hadley
Timeline Tags: A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network
Following a conference on the terrorist threat to the US arranged by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke (see (March 2001)), President Bush receives a classified assessment concerning the threat. It states that Pakistan is one of the countries that represents the “highest risk” of enabling black-market sales of nuclear weapons. However, no significant action is taken based on the analysis. According to authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark, Clarke apparently feels “isolated,” as if only he really understands what Pakistan is doing in terms of nuclear proliferation and where it might lead. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 305]
Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley chairs an informal meeting of some counterparts from other agencies to discuss al-Qaeda. They begin a broad review of the government’s approach to al-Qaeda and Afghanistan. According to the New York Times, the approach is “two-pronged and included a crisis warning effort to deal with immediate threats and longer-range planning by senior officials to put into place a comprehensive strategy to eradicate al-Qaeda.” Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke again pushes for immediate decisions on assisting Ahmed Shah Massoud and his Northern Alliance in Afghanistan. Hadley suggests dealing with this as part of the broad review. Clarke supports a larger program, but he warns that delay risks the Alliance’s defeat. Clarke also advocates using the armed Predator drone. However, despite an increasing number of alarming warnings following this meeting, there is little follow-up. “By June, a draft of a presidential directive authorizing an ambitious covert action plan is circulating through the upper echelons of the administration, but there seem[s] little urgency about putting the plan into effect.” [New York Times, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; New York Times, 4/4/2004]
The US government is considering reopening Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, which had been closed because of security concerns. But counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke warns National Security Adviser Rice that terrorists could easily drive a truck bomb, which he calls their “weapon of choice,” right into the White House. While discussing this, Clarke tells Rice that he thinks there are terrorist cells within the US, including al-Qaeda cells. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255]
The CIA issues repeated warnings that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida may be planning an attack for the near future. One report cites a source indicating an attack on Israel, Saudi Arabia, or India. At this time, the CIA believes Zubaida was a major figure in the Millennium plots (see May 30, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke relays these reports to National Security Adviser Rice. She is also briefed on Zubaida’s activities and the CIA’s efforts to locate him. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 1 ]
On April 19, 2001, the interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke discusses recent reports that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is planning an attack. The next day, a Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) with the title “Bin Laden Planning Multiple Operations” is sent to top White House officials. The New York Times will later report that President Bush and Vice President Cheney were among those who received this warning. Since SEIBs are usually based on previous days’ President Daily Briefings, President Bush probably learned about this report on April 19 (see January 20-September 10, 2001). [New York Times, 4/18/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 2 ]
During a National Security Council deputy principals meeting on April 30, 2001, Paul Wolfowitz is challenged by White House counterterrorism advisor Richard Clarke after asserting that Iraq is involved in terrorism. Recalling the meeting, Clarke tells The Guardian in a March 2004 interview: “April was an initial discussion of terrorism policy writ large and at that meeting I said we had to talk about al-Qaeda. And because it was terrorism policy writ large [Paul] Wolfowitz said we have to talk about Iraqi terrorism and I said that’s interesting because there hasn’t been any Iraqi terrorism against the United States. There hasn’t been any for 8 years. And he said something derisive about how I shouldn’t believe the CIA and FBI, that they’ve been wrong. And I said if you know more than I know tell me what it is, because I’ve been doing this for 8 years and I don’t know about any Iraqi-sponsored terrorism against the US since 1993. When I said let’s start talking about bin Laden, he said bin Laden couldn’t possibly have attacked the World Trade Center in ‘93. One little terrorist group like that couldn’t possibly have staged that operation. It must have been Iraq.” [Guardian, 3/23/2004] During the same meeting, Wolfowitz also allegedly dismisses bin Laden and al-Qaeda as a serious threat (see April 30, 2001).
The Bush administration finally has its first Deputy Secretary-level meeting on terrorism. [Time, 8/4/2002] According to counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, he advocates that the Northern Alliance needs to be supported in the war against the Taliban, and the Predator drone flights need to resume over Afghanistan so bin Laden can be targeted. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 231] Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz says the focus on al-Qaeda is wrong. He states, “I just don’t understand why we are beginning by talking about this one man bin Laden,” and “Who cares about a little terrorist in Afghanistan?” Wolfowitz insists the focus should be Iraqi-sponsored terrorism instead. He claims the 1993 attack on the WTC must have been done with help from Iraq, and rejects the CIA’s assertion that there has been no Iraqi-sponsored terrorism against the US since 1993 (see April 30, 2001). (A spokesperson for Wolfowitz later calls Clarke’s account a “fabrication.”) [Clarke, 2004, pp. 30, 231; Newsweek, 3/22/2004] Wolfowitz repeats these sentiments immediately after 9/11 and tries to argue that the US should attack Iraq. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage agrees with Clarke that al-Qaeda is an important threat. Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley, chairing the meeting, brokers a compromise between Wolfowitz and the others. The group agrees to hold additional meetings focusing on al-Qaeda first (in June and July), but then later look at other terrorism, including any Iraqi terrorism. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 30, 231-32] Vice President Cheney’s Chief of Staff I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and Deputy CIA Director John McLaughlin also attend the hour-long meeting. [Time, 8/4/2002]
Entity Tags: Stephen J. Hadley, Richard Armitage, Richard A. Clarke, Taliban, Paul Wolfowitz, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Central Intelligence Agency, John E. McLaughlin, Northern Alliance, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
It is claimed that after a routine briefing by CIA Director Tenet to President Bush regarding the hunt for al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida, Bush complains to National Security Adviser Rice that he is tired of “swatting at flies” and wants a comprehensive plan for attacking terrorism. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke already has such a plan, but it has been mired in bureaucratic deadlock since January. After this, progress remains slow. [Time, 8/4/2002; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] According to Vanity Fair, when 9/11 commissioner Bob Kerrey asked Rice in 2004 exactly what flies Bush swatted before 9/11, “she fumbled embarrassingly for an answer.” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
On May 16, an anonymous person calls the US embassy in the United Arab Emirates and warns that bin Laden supporters have been in the US and are planning an attack in the US using “high explosives.” The caller mentions that operatives are infiltrating the US from Canada, but there is no mention of when or where the attack might occur. The next day, based on this warning, the first item on the agenda for counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke’s interagency Counterterrorism Security Group (CSG) is entitled: “[Osama bin Laden]: Operation Planned in US.” The anonymous caller’s tip cannot be later corroborated. In July, the CIA will share the warning with the FBI, the INS, the US Customs Service, and the State Department. It will also be mentioned in the August 6, 2001 Presidential Daily Briefing given to President Bush (see August 6, 2001) and Bush will be told that the CIA and FBI are investigating it. But eventually, neither the CIA nor FBI is able to corraborate the information in the call. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; Washington Post, 9/19/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 255, 262, 535] There are some other possibly interlinked warnings this month also warning of an al-Qaeda plot to attack the US from Canada using explosives (see May 30, 2001, May 2001, and May 2001).
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke suggests to National Security Adviser Rice that she ask CIA Director George Tenet what more the US can do to stop al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida from launching “a series of major terrorist attacks.” It is believed these attacks will probably be directed at Israeli targets, but possibly on US facilities. Clarke writes to Rice and her deputy, Stephen Hadley, “When these attacks occur, as they likely will, we will wonder what more we could have done to stop them.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256]
During a regularly scheduled weekly meeting between National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and CIA Director George Tenet, CIA official Richard Blee describes a “truly frightening” list of warning signs of an upcoming terrorist attack. He says that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida is working on attack plans. CIA leaders John McLaughlin and Cofer Black are also present at this meeting, as is counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and Mary McCarthy, a CIA officer serving as National Security Council senior director. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 145] Just the day before, Clarke suggested that Tenet and Rice discuss what could be done to stop Zubaida from launching “a series of major terrorist attacks,” so presumably this discussion is in response to that (see May 29, 2001). Tenet will later recall: “Some intelligence suggested that [Zubaida’s] plans were ready to be executed; others suggested they would not be ready for six months. The primary target appeared to be in Israel, but other US assets around the world were at risk.” Rice asks about taking the offensive against al-Qaeda and asks how bad the threat is. Black estimates it to be a seven on a one-to-10 scale, with the millennium threat at the start of 2000 ranking an eight in comparison. Clarke tells her that adequate warning notices have been issued to the appropriate US entities. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 145-146]
The FBI shares information on terrorist threats with state and local law enforcement entities through National Law Enforcement Threat System (NLETS) reports. However, at this time, the heightened state of alert for an attack in the US is not reflected at all in these NLETS reports. The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry notes, “In a May 2001 NLETS report, for example, the FBI assessed the risk of terrorism as ‘low,’ and, in a July 2, 2001 NLETS report, stated that the FBI had no information indicating a credible threat of terrorist attack in the United States, although the possibility of such an attack could not be discounted.” Further reports focus only on the potential of attacks against US interests overseas. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] On July 5 and 6, 2001, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke specifically warns FBI officials that al-Qaeda is planning “something spectacular,” and says, “They may try to hit us at home. You have to assume that is what they are going to do.” Yet apparently the FBI doesn’t pass any of Clarke’s warnings or sense of urgent emergency to the state and local emergency responders (see July 5, 2001)
(see July 6, 2001).
A police officer with the Mountain View Police Department in California uncovers a pattern of suspicious electronic probing of the computer systems of public utilities and government offices in the San Francisco Bay area. He notifies the FBI’s computer intrusion squad. The investigation reveals that the intruders are operating from the Middle East and South Asia. They are targeting the computer systems used to control the physical infrastructure of water systems and power plants throughout the US, suggesting a plan for a cyber attack. For many experts who have long warned against cyber terrorism or warfare, the “Mountain View case” as it is called, should be seen as a wake-up call for the government as well as the private sector (see 1996-2008). In a later interview, Richard Clarke, the national presidential adviser on cyberspace security from 2001 to 2003, will say: “The bottom line on the Mountain View case is the ease with which people can do virtual reconnaissance from overseas on our physical infrastructure and our cyber infrastructure.… We were lucky… that there were good people watching.” [Washington Post, 6/27/2002] Despite fears that al-Qaeda may be behind the intrusions (see 2002), the identity of the hackers will not be established. In 2003, Ron Dick, who was the head of the FBI’s National Infrastructure Protection Center (NIPC) at the time, will say that the “case is still pending.… We never were… able to tie it back to any terrorist organizations.” [PBS Frontline, 3/18/2003]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke asks for a transfer to start a new national program on cyber security. His request is granted, and he is to change jobs in early October 2001 (which he does, see October 9, 2001). He makes the change despite the 9/11 attacks. He claims that he tells National Security Adviser Rice and her deputy Steve Hadley, “Perhaps I have become too close to the terrorism issue. I have worked it for ten years and to me it seems like a very important issue, but maybe I’m becoming like Captain Ahab with bin Laden as the White Whale. Maybe you need someone less obsessive about it.” [White House, 10/9/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 25-26] He later claims, “My view was that this administration, while it listened to me, either didn’t believe me that there was an urgent problem or was unprepared to act as though there were an urgent problem. And I thought, if the administration doesn’t believe its national coordinator for counterterrorism when he says there’s an urgent problem, and if it’s unprepared to act as though there’s an urgent problem, then probably I should get another job.” [New York Times, 3/24/2004]
[Source: NATO]Deputy National Security Adviser Steve Hadley circulates a draft presidential directive on policy toward al-Qaeda. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke and his staff regard the new approach as essentially the same as the proposal that they developed in December 2000 and presented to the Bush administration in January 2001 (see December 20, 2000 and January 25, 2001). The draft has the goal of eliminating al-Qaeda as a threat over a multi-year period, and calls for funding through 2006. It has a section calling for the development of contingency military plans against al-Qaeda and the Taliban. Hadley contacts Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz to tell him these contingency plans will be needed soon. However, no such plans are developed before 9/11. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld and others later admit that the contingency plans available immediately after 9/11 are unsatisfactory. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The draft is now discussed in three more deputy-level meetings.
A Predator drone firing a Hellfire missile. [Source: US Air Force]An armed version of the Predator drone successfully passes a test showing it is ready for use in Afghanistan. The Predator had been used successfully in 2000 to spot bin Laden (see September 7-October 2000), but it was not used in early 2001 while an armed version was prepared (see January 10-25, 2001). A Hellfire missile was successfully test fired from a Predator on February 16, 2001. [CBS News, 6/25/2003] In early June 2001, a duplicate of the brick house where bin Laden is believed to be living in Kandahar, Afghanistan, is built in Nevada, and destroyed by a Predator missile. The test shows that the missile fired from miles away would have killed anyone in the building, and one participant calls this the long sought after “holy grail” that could kill bin Laden within minutes of finding him. [Washington Post, 1/20/2002] But National Security Adviser Rice reportedly wants to use the Predator only after an overall strategy for confronting al-Qaeda is worked out, and no such plan is close to being ready. [Associated Press, 6/22/2003] She and her deputy Steve Hadley decide to delay reconnaissance flights until all the arrangements for using the armed version can be worked out. In July 2001, Hadley directs the military to have armed Predators ready to deploy no later than September 1. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The main hold up seems to be bureaucratic. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke repeatedly advocates using the Predator, armed or unarmed. However, infighting between the CIA and the Air Force over who would pay for it and take responsibility delays its use. Clarke later says, “Every time we were ready to use it, the CIA would change its mind.” [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] The issue comes to a head in early September 2001, but even then, a decision to use the Predator is delayed (see September 4, 2001). [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] The armed Predator will finally be used in Afghanistan just days after 9/11. [Associated Press, 6/25/2003]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke warns National Security Adviser Rice and Assistant National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley that six separate intelligence reports show al-Qaeda personnel warning of a pending attack. These include a warning by al-Qaeda leaders that the next weeks “will witness important surprises” (see June 21, 2001) and a new recruitment video making further threats (see June 19, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will say that “Clarke [argues] that this [is] all too sophisticated to be merely a psychological operation to keep the United States on edge…” It is unclear how Rice and Hadley respond, but the CIA agrees with Clarke’s assessment. [Newsweek, 7/22/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 257]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke writes an e-mail to National Security Adviser Rice saying that the pattern of al-Qaeda activity indicating attack planning has “reached a crescendo.” He adds, “A series of new reports continue to convince me and analysts at State, CIA, DIA [Defense Intelligence Agency], and NSA that a major terrorist attack or series of attacks is likely in July.” For instance, one report from an al-Qaeda source in late June warned that something “very, very, very, very” big is about to happen, and that most of bin Laden’s network is anticipating the attack. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256; US District Court of Eastern Virginia, 5/4/2006, pp. 1 ] CIA Director Tenet sends Rice a very similar warning on the same day (see June 28, 2001). The 9/11 Commission does not record Rice taking any action in response to these warnings. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256]
CIA Director Tenet writes an intelligence summary for National Security Adviser Rice: “It is highly likely that a significant al-Qaeda attack is in the near future, within several weeks.” A highly classified analysis at this time adds, “Most of the al-Qaeda network is anticipating an attack. Al-Qaeda’s overt publicity has also raised expectations among its rank and file, and its donors.” [Washington Post, 5/17/2002] The same day, Tenet is briefed by another CIA official that bin Laden “will launch a significant terrorist attack against US and/or Israeli interests in the coming weeks. The attack will be spectacular and designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities or interests” (see June 28, 2001). [US Congress, 7/24/2003] Apparently, these warnings are partly based on a warning given by al-Qaeda leaders to a reporter a few days earlier (see June 21, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke also later asserts that Tenet tells him around this time, “It’s my sixth sense, but I feel it coming. This is going to be the big one.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 235]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gives a direct warning to the FAA to increase security measures in light of an impending terrorist attack. The FAA refuses to take such measures. [New Yorker, 1/14/2002]
CIA Director Tenet makes an urgent special request to 20 friendly foreign intelligence services, asking for the arrests of anyone on a list of known al-Qaeda operatives. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002] Also in late June, the CIA orders all its station chiefs overseas to share information on al-Qaeda with their host governments and to push for immediate disruptions of al-Qaeda cells. Vice President Cheney asks Saudi
Crown Prince Abdullah for help on July 5, and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke makes appeals to other foreign officials. As a result, several terrorist operatives are detained by foreign governments. According to a later analysis by the 9/11 Commission, this possibly disrupts operations in the Persian Gulf and Italy (see June 13, 2001) and perhaps averts attacks against two or three US embassies. For instance, al-Qaeda operative Djamel Beghal is detained by the French government in July and gives up information about a plot to attack the US embassy in France (see July 24 or 28, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 534] Perhaps as part of Tenet’s request for help, Mohammed Haydar Zammar, a member of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, is detained in Jordan in July 2001 and then let go (see July 2001).
At the request of National Security Adviser Rice and White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke leads a meeting of the Counterterrorism Security Group, attended by officials from a dozen federal agencies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the FAA, the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, Customs, the CIA, and the FBI. The CIA and FBI give briefings on the growing al-Qaeda threat. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Time, 8/4/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258] Then Clarke later recalls saying, “You’ve just heard that CIA thinks al-Qaeda is planning a major attack on us. So do I. You heard CIA say it would probably be in Israel or Saudi Arabia. Maybe. But maybe it will be here. Just because there is no evidence that says that it will be here, does not mean it will be overseas. They may try to hit us at home. You have to assume that is what they are going to do.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 236] Two attendees later recall Clarke stating that “something really spectacular is going to happen here, and it’s going to happen soon.” One who attended the meeting later calls the evidence that “something spectacular” is being planned by al-Qaeda “very gripping.” [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Time, 8/4/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 256] Clarke directs every counterterrorist office to cancel vacations, defer non-vital travel, put off scheduled exercises, and place domestic rapid-response teams on much shorter alert. However, there is very poor follow up to the meeting and the attendees don’t share the warnings with their home agencies (see Shortly After July 5, 2001). By early August, all of these emergency measures are no longer in effect. [CNN, 3/2002; Washington Post, 5/17/2002]
Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, US Coast Guard, US Customs Service, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Counterterrorism and Security Group, Federal Aviation Administration, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Andrew Card, Condoleezza Rice, Central Intelligence Agency, US Secret Service
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
On July 5, 2001, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gave a dramatic briefing to representatives from several domestic agencies on the urgent al-Qaeda threat (see July 5, 2001). However, the warnings given generally are not passed on by the attendees back to their respective agencies. The domestic agencies were not questioned about how they planned to address the threat and were not told what was expected of them. According to the 9/11 Commission, attendees later “report that they were told not to disseminate the threat information they received at the meeting. They interpreted this direction to mean that although they could brief their superiors, they could not send out advisories to the field.” One National Security Council official has a different recollection of what happened, recalling that attendees were asked to take the information back to their agencies and “do what you can” with it, subject to classification and distribution restrictions. But, for whatever reason, none of the involved agencies post internal warnings based on the meeting, except for Customs which puts out a general warning based entirely on publicly known historical facts. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 258, 264] The FAA issues general and routine threat advisories that don’t reflect the level of urgency expressed by Clarke and others (see January-August 2001). FAA Administrator Jane Garvey later claims she was unaware of a heightened threat level, but in 2005 it will be revealed that about half of the FAA’s daily briefings during this time period referred to bin Laden or al-Qaeda (see April 1, 2001-September 10, 2001). [New York Times, 4/18/2004] Clarke said rhetorically in the meeting that he wants to know if a sparrow has fallen from a tree. A senior FBI official attended the meeting and promised a redoubling of the FBI’s efforts. However, just five days after Clarke’s meeting, FBI agent Ken Williams sends off his memo speculating that al-Qaeda may be training operatives as pilots in the US (see July 10, 2001), yet the FBI fails to share this information with Clarke or any other agency. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Clarke, 2004, pp. 236-37] The FBI will also fail to tell Clarke about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001), or what they know about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar (see August 23, 2001).
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration, Zacarias Moussaoui, US Customs Service, Nawaf Alhazmi, Al-Qaeda, Counterterrorism and Security Group, George J. Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, Andrew Card, Ken Williams, Richard A. Clarke, Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke sends National Security Adviser Rice an e-mail message “outlining a number of steps agreed on” at the Counterterrorism Security Group meeting the day before (see July 5, 2001), “including efforts to examine the threat of weapons of mass destruction and possible attacks in Latin America. One senior administration official [says] Mr. Clarke [writes] that several agencies, including the FBI, the CIA, and the Pentagon, [have] been directed to develop what the official [says are] ‘detailed response plans in the event of three to five simultaneous attacks.’” However, no response or follow-up action has been pointed out. [New York Times, 4/4/2004]
Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House. This picture is actually taken on October 8, 2001, and President Bush is elsewhere in the room. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]CIA Director George Tenet finds the briefing that counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave him earlier in the day (see July 10, 2001) so alarming that he calls National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from his car as he heads to the White House and says he needs to see her right away, even though he has regular weekly meetings with her. [Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Tenet and Black let a third CIA official, Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, brief Rice on the latest intelligence. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke are also present. [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006]
'Significant Attack' - Blee starts by saying, “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!” He argues that it is impossible to pick the specific day, saying Osama bin Laden “will attack when he believes the attack will be successful.” He mentions a range of threat information including:
A warning related to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see (July 9, 2001)) and seven pieces of intelligence the CIA recently received indicating there would soon be a terrorist attack (see July 9-10, 2001);
A mid-June statement by bin Laden to trainees that there would be an attack in the near future (see Mid-June 2001);
Information that talks about moving toward decisive acts;
Late-June information saying a “big event” was forthcoming;
Two separate bits of information collected “a few days before the meeting” in which people predicted a “stunning turn of events” in the weeks ahead. This may be a reference to intercepts of calls in Yemen, possibly involving the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
Multiple, Simultaneous Attacks in US Possible - Blee says that the attacks will be “spectacular,” they will be designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities and interests, there may be multiple, simultaneous attacks, and they may be in the US itself. He outlines the CIA’s efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda by spreading incorrect word that the attack plans have been compromised, in the hope that this will cause a delay in the attack. But he says this is not enough and that the CIA should go on the attack. Blee also discounts the possibility of disinformation, as bin Laden’s threats are known to the public in the Middle East and there will be a loss of face, funds, and popularity if they are not carried out. Blee urges that the US take a “proactive approach” by using the Northern Alliance. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151-4] Author Bob Woodward will later write: “Black emphasize[s] that this amount[s] to a strategic warning, meaning the problem [is] so serious that it require[s] an overall plan and strategy. Second, this [is] a major foreign policy problem that need[s] to be addressed immediately. They need […] to take action that moment—covert, military, whatever—to thwart bin Laden. The United States ha[s] human and technical sources, and all the intelligence [is] consistent.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Richard Clarke expresses his agreement with the CIA about the threat’s seriousness, and Black says, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”
Rice's Response - There are conflicting accounts about the CIA’s reading of Rice’s response. According to Woodward: “Tenet and Black [feel] they [are] not getting through to Rice. She [is] polite, but they [feel] the brush-off.” They leave the meeting frustrated, seeing little prospect for immediate action. Tenet and Black will both later recall the meeting as the starkest warning they gave the White House on al-Qaeda before 9/11 and one that could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks if Rice had acted on it (see July 10, 2001) and conveyed their urgency to President Bush. (Tenet is briefing Bush on a daily basis at this time, but he will later say that Rice has a much better rapport with the president.) Black will say, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Rice says that Bush will align his policy with the new realities and grant new authorities. Writing in 2007, Tenet will say that this response is “just the outcome I had expected and hoped for,” and recall that as they leave the meeting, Blee and Black congratulate each other on having got the administration’s attention. Nevertheless, Rice does not take the requested action until after 9/11. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 153-4]
Rice Concerned about Genoa - Clarke will recall in 2006 that Rice focuses on the possible threat to Bush at an upcoming summit meeting in Genoa, Italy (see June 13, 2001 and July 20-22, 2001). Rice and Bush have already been briefed about the Genoa warning by this time (see July 5, 2001). Rice also promises to quickly schedule a high-level White House meeting on al-Qaeda. However, that meeting does not take place until September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001). [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006] Rice also directs that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same briefing, and they receive it a short time later (see July 11-17, 2001).
Meeting Not Mentioned in 9/11 Commission Report - The meeting will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (see August 4, 2002), and there will be controversy when it is fully revealed in 2006 (see September 29, 2006, September 30-October 3, 2006, and October 1-2, 2006).
Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Stephen J. Hadley, White House, Osama bin Laden, Richard A. Clarke, George J. Tenet, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Cofer Black, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke informs National Security Adviser Rice and her deputy Stephen Hadley that the spike in intelligence about a near-term al-Qaeda attack has stopped. However, he urges keeping readiness at a high level during August, when President Bush and many other top US leaders go on vacation. He warns that another recent report suggests that an attack has just been postponed for a few months “but will still happen.” Similarly, on August 3, the CIA sends a cable to the US intelligence community warning that the threat of impending al-Qaeda attacks is likely to continue indefinitely. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 260, 534]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke reports to National Security Adviser Rice and her deputy Steve Hadley that the spike in intelligence indicating a near-term attack appears to have ceased, but he urges them to keep readiness high. Intelligence indicates that an attack has been postponed for a few months. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] In early August, CIA Director Tenet also reports that intelligence suggests that whatever terrorist activity might have been originally planned has been delayed. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]
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