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Profile: US Customs Service

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US Customs Service was a participant or observer in the following events:

Raed Hijazi.Raed Hijazi. [Source: Associated Press]Raed Hijazi participated in a failed attempt to bomb a hotel in Jordan at the start of the millennium (see November 30, 1999) and helped plan the USS Cole bombing in early October 2000 (see October 12, 2000). Hijazi knew Nabil al-Marabh in Boston, where they were roommates and drove taxis for the same company. In May 1999, the FBI had already approached al-Marabh looking for Hijazi, but al-Marabh will later claim he lied and said he did not know him. [Washington Post, 9/4/2002] Hijazi is arrested in Syria this month and imprisoned in Jordan, where he has just been convicted for his failed bomb attempt there. He quickly begins to cooperate with investigators, identifies himself as an al-Qaeda operative, and also identifies al-Marabh as an al-Qaeda operative still living in the US. Customs agents soon discover that al-Marabh had on at least one occasion wired money to Hijazi that was used to fund the failed millennium plot. These agents will eventually learn that al-Marabh repeatedly sent money overseas to Hijazi. Ahmed Ressam, arrested in late 1999 for attempting to bomb the Los Angeles airport, helps confirm the connection between al-Marabh and Hijazi. Ressam will start cooperating with US investigators in early 2001, but it is not clear if he gave this information before 9/11 or just after it. [New York Times, 9/18/2001; New York Times, 10/14/2001; New York Times, 10/14/2001; Toronto Sun, 11/16/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] Yet, the New York Times will note, “For months after the CIA learned of his ties to the bin Laden network, Mr. Marabh moved about unfettered—traveling around the [US], moving large amounts of money, getting duplicate driver’s licenses, and forging immigration documents.” [New York Times, 10/14/2001]

Entity Tags: Raed Hijazi, Nabil al-Marabh, US Customs Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jordan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Satam Al Suqami.Satam Al Suqami. [Source: FBI]In the wake of the foiled al-Qaeda plot to blow up hotels in Jordan during the millennium celebrations, Jordan gives tips to the US that launch a Customs investigation into one of the plotters, Raed Hijazi, and his US connections. “Customs agents for months traced money flowing from several Boston banks to banks overseas, where officials believe the funds were intended for bin Laden’s network.” In September and October 2000, Jordanian officials gave US investigators evidence of financial transactions connecting Raed Hijazi, Nabil al-Marabh, and future 9/11 hijacker Hamza Alghamdi (see September 2000; October 2000). By spring 2001, Custom agents further connect al-Marabh and Hijazi to financial deals with future 9/11 hijackers Ahmed Alghamdi and Satam Al Suqami. The Washington Post will later note, “These various connections not only suggest that investigators are probing ties between bin Laden and the hijackers, but also that federal authorities knew about some of those associations long before the bombings.” [Washington Post, 9/21/2001] It appears that the money flowed from al-Marabh to Alghamdi and Al Suqami. [Cox News Service, 10/16/2001; ABC News 7 (Chicago), 1/31/2002] While accounts of these connections to Alghamdi and Al Suqami will be widely reported in the media in the months after 9/11, a Customs Service spokesman will say he can neither confirm nor deny the existence of the inquiry. [New York Times, 9/18/2001] It appears that the two hijackers are not put on any kind of watch list and are not stopped when they arrive in the US on April 23, 2001, and May 2, 2001, respectively (see April 23-June 29, 2001). British newspapers will note that Alghamdi was one of several hijackers who should have been “instantly ‘red-flagged’ by British intelligence” but in fact is not when he passes through Britain sometime in early 2001 (see January-June 2001). The 9/11 Commission Final Report will fail to mention the Customs investigation and will give no hint that these hijackers’ names were known in the US before 9/11.

Entity Tags: Satam Al Suqami, Raed Hijazi, 9/11 Commission, Nabil al-Marabh, US Customs Service, Jordan, Ahmed Alghamdi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

US intelligence obtains information that al-Qaeda is planning to infiltrate the US from Canada and carry out an operation using high explosives. The report does not say exactly where, when, or how an attack might occur. Two months later, the information is shared with the FBI, the INS, the US Customs Service, and the State Department, and it will be shared with President Bush in August. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; Washington Post, 9/19/2002] This information could come from captured al-Qaeda operative Ahmed Ressam, who warns around this month that al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida has been seeking Canadian passports as part of a plot to attack the US, possibly by planting explosives in several US cities (see May 30, 2001 and May 2001). [Calgary Herald, 4/3/2002]

Entity Tags: US Customs Service, George W. Bush, US Department of State, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Ahmed Ressam, Al-Qaeda, Abu Zubaida, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ahmed Alghamdi praised Osama bin Laden to a US immigration official.Ahmed Alghamdi praised Osama bin Laden to a US immigration official. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]9/11 hijackers Majed Moqed and Ahmed Alghamdi arrive in Washington, DC, on the same flight from London. Alghamdi tells the immigration inspector that Osama bin Laden is a good Muslim and that the media distorts facts about him, but is nevertheless allowed into the country. This incident will not be mentioned in the main 9/11 Commission Report or the Commission’s Terrorist Travel Monograph, but is mentioned in an FBI timeline of hijacker movements that the 9/11 Commission will frequently use as a source. Both Alghamdi and Moqed declare over $10,000 in cash, but the customs inspector who processes Alghamdi does not fill out the documentation required when a person brings in more than $10,000. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 139 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 528; 9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 22 pdf file] Shortly after 9/11, the New York Times, Washington Post, and other newspapers will report that by the spring of 2001, US customs was investigating Alghamdi and two other future 9/11 hijackers for their connections to known al-Qaeda operatives (see Spring 2001). One British newspaper will note that Alghamdi should have been “instantly ‘red-flagged’ by British intelligence” as he passed through London on his way to the US because of a warning about his links to al-Qaeda (see April 22-June 27, 2001). It will not be explained how Alghamdi is able to pass through Britain and US customs, even as he is openly praising bin Laden. Majed Moqed apparently is not stopped while passing through customs. However the FBI will later note that he uses the alias Mashaanmoged Mayed on the flight manifest before returning to the Moqed name when passing through customs. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 10/2001, pp. 139 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Ahmed Alghamdi, US Customs Service, Majed Moqed

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Kevin Ingram, Randy Glass, and Diaa Mohsen in August 1999.Kevin Ingram, Randy Glass, and Diaa Mohsen in August 1999. [Source: Getty Images] (click image to enlarge)Operation Diamondback, a sting operation uncovering an attempt to buy weapons illegally for the Taliban, bin Laden, and others, ends with a number of arrests. An Egyptian named Diaa Mohsen and a Pakistani named Mohammed Malik are arrested and accused of attempting to buy Stinger missiles, nuclear weapon components, and other sophisticated military weaponry for the Pakistani ISI. [CNN, 6/15/2001; South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 8/23/2001; Washington Post, 8/2/2002] Malik appears to have had links to important Pakistani officials and Kashmiri militants, and Mohsen claims a connection to a man “who is very connected to the Taliban” and funded by bin Laden. [Washington Post, 8/2/2002; MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Some other ISI agents came to Florida on several occasions to negotiate, but they escaped being arrested. They wanted to pay partially in heroin. One mentioned that the WTC would be destroyed. These ISI agents said some of their purchases would go to the Taliban in Afghanistan and/or militants associated with bin Laden. [Washington Post, 8/2/2002; MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Both Malik and Mohsen lived in Jersey City, New Jersey. [Jersey Journal, 6/20/2001] Mohsen pleads guilty after 9/11, “but remarkably, even though [he was] apparently willing to supply America’s enemies with sophisticated weapons, even nuclear weapons technology, Mohsen was sentenced to just 30 months in prison.” [MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Malik’s case appears to have been dropped, and reporters find him working in a store in Florida less than a year after the trial ended. [MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Malik’s court files remain completely sealed, and in Mohsen’s court case, prosecutors “removed references to Pakistan from public filings because of diplomatic concerns.” [Washington Post, 8/2/2002] Also arrested are Kevin Ingram and Walter Kapij. Ingram pleads guilty to laundering $350,000 and he is sentenced to 18 months in prison. [CNN, 6/15/2001; Black Enterprise, 6/19/2001; Associated Press, 12/1/2001] Ingram was a former senior investment banker with Deutsche Bank, but resigned in January 1999 after his division suffered costly losses. [Black Enterprise, 6/19/2001; Jersey Journal, 6/20/2001] Walter Kapij, a pilot with a minor role in the plot, is given the longest sentence, 33 months in prison. [CNN, 6/15/2001; Black Enterprise, 6/19/2001; Palm Beach Post, 1/12/2002] Informant Randy Glass plays a key role in the sting, and has thirteen felony fraud charges against him reduced as a result, serving only seven months in prison. Federal agents involved in the case later express puzzlement that Washington higher-ups did not make the case a higher priority, pointing out that bin Laden could have gotten a nuclear bomb if the deal was for real. Agents on the case complain that the FBI did not make the case a counterterrorism matter, which would have improved bureaucratic backing and opened access to FBI information and US intelligence from around the world. [Washington Post, 8/2/2002; MSNBC, 8/2/2002] Federal agents frequently couldn’t get prosecutors to approve wiretaps. [Cox News Service, 8/2/2002] Glass says, “Wouldn’t you think that there should have been a wire tap on Diaa [Mohsen]‘s phone and Malik’s phone?” [WPBF 25 (West Palm Beach), 8/5/2002] An FBI supervisor in Miami refused to front money for the sting, forcing agents to use money from US Customs and even Glass’s own money to help keep the sting going. [Cox News Service, 8/2/2002]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Mohammed Malik, Kevin Ingram, World Trade Center, Diaa Mohsen, US Customs Service, Walter Kapij, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Osama bin Laden, Taliban, Randy Glass, Operation Diamondback

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network

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, 8/12/2002; 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, 8/12/2002; 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

The CIA cable watchlisting Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and two others (the sections mentioning Shakir and bin Attash are blacked out).The CIA cable watchlisting Alhazmi, Almihdhar, and two others (the sections mentioning Shakir and bin Attash are blacked out). [Source: FBI] (click image to enlarge)Thanks to the request of Margaret Gillespie, an FBI analyst assigned to the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, the CIA sends a cable to the State Department, INS, Customs Service, and FBI requesting that “bin Laden-related individuals” Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, and Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf (an alias for Khallad bin Attash) be put on the terrorism watch list. All four individuals had attended the January 2000 al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). The cable mostly focuses on Almihdhar, briefly outlining his attendance at the Malaysia summit and his subsequent travel to the US in January 2000 and July 2001. Since March 2000, if not earlier, the CIA has had good reason to believe Alhazmi and Almihdhar were al-Qaeda operatives living in the US, but apparently did nothing and told no other agency about it until now. The hijackers are not located in time, and both die in the 9/11 attacks. FBI agents later state that if they been told about Alhazmi and Almihdhar sooner, “There’s no question we could have tied all 19 hijackers together” given the frequent contact between these two and the other hijackers. [Newsweek, 6/2/2002; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 538; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 32-36, 302] However, in what the Washington Post calls a “critical omission,” the FAA, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, and the FBI’s Financial Review Group are not notified. The two latter organizations have the power to tap into private credit card and bank data, and claim they could have readily found Alhazmi and Almihdhar, given the frequency the two used credit cards. [Washington Post, 7/25/2003] Furthermore, counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke and his Counterterrorism Security Group are not told about these two operatives before 9/11 either. [Newsweek, 3/24/2004] The CIA later claims the request was labeled “immediate,” the second most urgent category (the highest is reserved for things like declarations of war). [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001] The FBI denies that it was marked “immediate” and other agencies treated the request as a routine matter. [Los Angeles Times, 10/18/2001; US Congress, 9/20/2002] The State Department places all four men on the watch list the next day. [US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file] However, this watch list, named TIPOFF, checks their names only if they use international flights. There is another watch list barring suspected terrorists from flying domestically. On 9/11, it contains only 12 names, including Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and other al-Qaeda figures, and some names are added as late as August 28, 2001. But none of these four men are added to this domestic list before 9/11.(see April 24, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Margaret Gillespie, Khallad bin Attash, TIPOFF, Richard A. Clarke, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, US Department of State, US Customs Service, Financial Crimes Enforcement Network, US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Ahmad Hikmat Shakir, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Aviation Administration, Counterterrorism and Security Group

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to the 9/11 Commission, on this day “A new listing for [9/11 hijacker Khalid] Almihdhar was placed in an INS and Customs lookout database, describing him as ‘armed and dangerous’ and someone who must be referred to secondary inspection.” However, this information will only first appear in a little-noticed Commission staff report released one month after the 9/11 Commission Final Report. It will not be explained who determined Almihdhar to be armed and dangerous or what information this was based on. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 31 pdf file] By September 5, 2001, the lookout database will be inexplicably changed and inspectors will be told not to detain Almihdhar after all (see September 4-5, 2001).

Entity Tags: US Immigration and Naturalization Service, Khalid Almihdhar, US Customs Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A World Trade Center security manager receives no warnings from the Secret Service or the US Customs Service about possible terrorist threats to the WTC in the period just before 9/11. George Tabeek, the New York Port Authority’s security manager for the WTC since 1999, will later recall that, before 9/11, he is “regularly in contact with the Secret Service and US Customs about possible threats to the World Trade Center by terrorists and others.” But in the weeks just before September 11, Tabeek will say, “I never heard anything, not even a whisper.” [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 9/6/2011] Yet, according to some security personnel at the WTC, the Twin Towers are on a heightened security alert in the two weeks before 9/11, “because of numerous phone threats” (see Late August-September 10, 2001). [Newsday, 9/12/2001]

Entity Tags: US Secret Service, US Customs Service, World Trade Center, George Tabeek

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A US Airways airliner.A US Airways airliner. [Source: Public domain]A US Airways plane that is flying to the United States from Madrid, Spain, is incorrectly suspected of being hijacked. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; White House, 10/24/2001] It is stated over an FAA teleconference that the White House has reported this suspicious aircraft, which is heading to Philadelphia International Airport, and the military is scrambling fighter jets in response to it. [Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002 pdf file] NORAD’s Northeast Air Defense Sector (NEADS) was alerted to the plane by US Customs and the FBI, according to a NORAD representative on the Pentagon’s air threat conference call (see 9:37 a.m.-9:39 a.m. September 11, 2001). NORAD has been unable to locate the aircraft on radar, according to the NORAD representative. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001] Accounts conflict over whether the plane is US Airways Flight 930 or Flight 937. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002 pdf file]
Plane Is Reportedly Transmitting the Hijack Signal - Lewis Libby, Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, who is in the Presidential Emergency Operations Center (PEOC) below the White House, will later recall that when those in the PEOC learn of the suspect flight, “we got word that it was only 30 minutes or so outside of US airspace.” According to Libby, the plane’s transponder is transmitting the code for a hijacking: He will say it is reported that the flight has been “showing hijacking through some electronic signal.” [White House, 11/14/2001] However, according to the NORAD representative on the air threat conference call, the plane’s transponder has not been “squawking” the code for a hijacking. “We do not have squawk indication at this point,” he has said.
Plane Is Reportedly Diverted to Pittsburgh - An FAA representative on the air threat conference call apparently says an e-mail has been sent from the suspicious aircraft, stating that the plane is being diverted to Pittsburgh, although the FAA representative’s communications are distorted and therefore unclear. [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
President Says Fighters Can Shoot Down the Plane - President Bush discusses the suspicious US Airways flight with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld over the air threat conference call after landing at Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska (see 2:50 p.m. September 11, 2001) and Major General Larry Arnold, the commander of the Continental United States NORAD Region (CONR), listens in. [Filson, 2003, pp. 87-88] Rumsfeld wants Bush to confirm that fighters are authorized to shoot down the plane if it is considered a threat to a city in the US. “The reason I called… was just to verify that your authorization for the use of force would apply as well in this situation,” he says. Bush replies, “It does, but let us make sure that the fighters and you on the ground get all the facts.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
Plane Is on the Ground in Spain - After a time, it will be found that the plane is not a threat and is on the ground in Spain. Arnold will be called by Colonel Robert Marr, the battle commander at NEADS, and told, “We just talked to the airline and that aircraft is back on the ground in Madrid.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 88] According to Libby, “It turned out that, I think, it was only 35 minutes out of Spanish airspace, not out of our airspace.” [White House, 11/14/2001] Reggie Settles, the FAA representative at NORAD’s Cheyenne Mountain Operations Center in Colorado, will be informed by US Airways that Flight 937 in fact never existed. However, he will be told, there is a US Airways Flight 911, which “took off from Madrid,” but “has turned back and returned to Madrid,” and “is not en route to the United States.” [US Department of Defense, 9/11/2001]
President Decides to Leave Offutt after the Concerns Are Resolved - After he learns that the suspicious plane is back in Spain, Arnold will pick up the hot line and tell Bush: “Mr. President, this is the CONR commander.… No problem with Madrid.” According to Arnold, Bush will reply, “Okay, then I’m getting airborne.” [Filson, 2003, pp. 88] Bush will take off from Offutt aboard Air Force One at around 4:30 p.m. (see (4:33 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [CNN, 9/12/2001] Numerous aircraft are incorrectly suspected of being hijacked on this day (see (9:09 a.m. and After) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 28; Newhouse News Service, 3/31/2005] The US Airways flight from Madrid is the last of these, according to Arnold. [Code One Magazine, 1/2002]

Entity Tags: Larry Arnold, Federal Aviation Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George W. Bush, Donald Rumsfeld, North American Aerospace Defense Command, US Airways, Robert Marr, Reggie Settles, White House, Lewis (“Scooter”) Libby, Northeast Air Defense Sector, US Customs Service

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Yassin al-Qadi, a Saudi multimillionaire businessman, was officially declared a terrorist financier in October 2001 (see October 12, 2001). [Arab News, 9/26/2002] That same month, a number of employees at Ptech, a Boston-based computer company that al-Qadi and other individuals suspected of financing officially designated terrorist groups invested in (see 1994), tell the Boston FBI about the connections between Ptech and al-Qadi. However, FBI agents do little more than take their statements. A high-level government source later will claim the FBI does not convey the Ptech-al-Qadi link to Operation Greenquest, a Customs Department investigation into al-Qadi and other suspected financiers, and none of the government agencies using Ptech software are warned about the possible security threat Ptech represents. [Boston Globe, 12/7/2002; WBZ 4 (Boston), 12/9/2002] According to a private counterterrorism expert involved in investigating Ptech at the time, “Frighteningly, when an employee told [Ptech president Oussama Ziade] he felt he had to contact the FBI regarding al-Qadi’s involvement in the company, the president allegedly told him not to worry because Yaqub Mirza, who was on the board of directors of the company and was himself a target of a [Greenquest] terrorist financing raid in March 2002 (see March 20, 2002), had contacts high within the FBI.” [National Review, 5/27/2003] A Ptech investigation will finally begin in 2002 after more whistleblowers come forward (see May-December 5, 2002).

Entity Tags: US Customs Service, Yacub Mirza, Operation Greenquest, Yassin al-Qadi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ptech Inc., Oussama Ziade

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

March 20, 2002: SAAR Network Is Raided

US Customs Agents carry out boxes of evidence from SAAR network businesses on March 20, 2002.US Customs Agents carry out boxes of evidence from SAAR network businesses on March 20, 2002. [Source: Mike Theiler/ Getty Images]Scores of federal agents raid 14 entities in a cluster of more than 100 homes, charities, think tanks, and businesses in Herndon, Virginia, a town just outside of Washington with a large Muslim population. No arrests are made and no organizations are shut down, but over 500 boxes of files and computer files are confiscated, filling seven trucks. This group of interlocking entities is widely known as the SAAR network (it is also sometimes called the Safa Group). SAAR stands for Sulaiman Abdul Aziz al-Rajhi, a Saudi banker and billionaire who largely funded the group beginning in the early 1980s (see July 29, 1983). He is said to be close to the Saudi ruling family and is on the Golden Chain, a list of early al-Qaeda supporters (see 1988-1989). [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Farah, 2004, pp. 152; Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004] The name and address of Salah al-Rajhi, Suleiman’s brother, was discovered in 1998 in the telephone book of Wadih El-Hage (see September 15, 1998). El-Hage was bin Laden’s personal secretary and was convicted of a role in the 1998 US embassy bombings. [New York Times, 3/25/2002] The raids are said to be primarily led by David Kane, a Customs agent working with a Customs investigation started just after 9/11 code-named Operation Greenquest. Many of the organizations are located at an office building at 555 Grove Street in Herndon. Kane writes in an affidavit for the raid that many organizations based there are “paper organizations” which “dissolve and are replaced by other organizations under the control of the same group of individuals.” [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004] Investigators appear to be primarily interested in the connections between the SAAR network and the Al Taqwa Bank, a Swiss bank closed after 9/11 on suspicions of funding al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups (see November 7, 2001). They are also interested in connections between both SAAR and Al Taqwa and the Muslim Brotherhood (see December 1982). According to author Douglas Farah, “US officials [later say] they had tracked about $20 million from [SAAR] entities flowing through Nada’s Bank al Taqwa, but said the total could be much higher. The ties between Nada and [SAAR] leaders were many and long-standing, as were their ties to other [Muslim] Brotherhood leaders.… For a time, Suleiman Abdel Aziz al-Rajhi, the SAAR Foundation founder, worked for Nada” at Al Taqwa’s Liechtenstein branch. [New York Times, 3/25/2002; Farah, 2004, pp. 154-155] Organizations and individuals targeted by the raid include:
bullet Yaqub Mirza. He is the director of virtually all of the organizations targeted in the raid. The Wall Street Journal claims, “US officials privately say Mr. Mirza and his associates also have connections to al-Qaeda and to other entities officially listed by the US as sponsors of terrorism.” [Wall Street Journal, 4/18/2002; Wall Street Journal, 12/6/2002]
bullet The SAAR Foundation or the Safa Trust, an umbrella group for the SAAR network. The SAAR Foundation had recently disbanded and reformed as the Safa Trust. [New York Times, 3/21/2002; Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002; Washington Post, 10/7/2002]
bullet Hisham Al-Talib, who served as an officer of the SAAR Foundation and Safa Trust, had previously been an officer of firms run by Youssef Nada. Nada is one of the main owners of the Al Taqwa Bank. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002]
bullet Mar-Jac Poultry Inc., an Islamic chicken processor with operations in rural Georgia. [Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004]
bullet Jamal Barzinji. An officer of Mar-Jac and other organizations targeted in the raid, he had previously been involved with Nada’s companies. [Wall Street Journal, 3/22/2002]
bullet The International Islamic Relief Organization (IIRO). [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet The Muslim World League. It is considered to be a parent organization for the IIRO. [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIRT). The IIRT had been under investigation since at least 1998. [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet Tarik Hamdi, an employee at IIRT. His home is also raided. He carried a battery for a satellite phone to Afghanistan in early 1998, and the battery was used for Osama bin Laden’s phone (see May 28, 1998). [New York Times, 3/21/2002]
bullet Abdurahman Alamoudi, a top Muslim lobbyist who formerly worked for one of the SAAR organizations. His nearby home is raided. The search yields a memo on large transactions involving Hamas, operations against the Israelis, and the notation “Met Mousa Abu Marzouk in Jordan.” Marzouk is a Hamas leader believed to be involved in fundraising for Hamas in the US for many years (see July 5, 1995-May 1997). Alamoudi is alleged to be a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. [Wall Street Journal, 6/21/2004]
bullet Samir Salah, an Egyptian-born president of the Piedmont Trading Corporation, which is part of the SAAR network. He is also a former director and treasurer of the Al Taqwa Bank’s important Bahamas branch. Additionally, he was a founder of a Bosnian charity reportedly connected to a plot to blow up the US embassy in Bosnia. [New York Times, 3/25/2002]
bullet Ibrahim Hassabella. He is a shareholder of the SAAR Foundation and also a former secretary of the Al Taqwa Bank. [New York Times, 3/25/2002] Investigators will later find that much of SAAR’s money seemed to disappear into offshore bank accounts. For instance, in 1998, SAAR claimed to have moved $9 million to a charity based in the tax haven of the Isle of Man, but investigators will find no evidence the charity existed. One US official involved in the probe will say of SAAR, “Looking at their finances is like looking into a black hole.” [Washington Post, 10/7/2002] In 2003, it will be reported that US investigators are looking into reports that the director of the SAAR foundation for most of the 1990s stayed in the same hotel as three of the 9/11 hijackers the night before the 9/11 attacks (see September 10, 2001). Some US investigators had looked into the SAAR network in the mid-1990s, but the FBI blocked the investigation’s progress (see 1995-1998).

Counterterrorism expert Rita Katz is said to have given the Operation Greenquest investigators some of the information that led to the March 2002 SAAR network raid (see March 20, 2002). She will later write that in the months after that raid, “The CIA was investigating me and the SAAR investigators from Greenquest and Customs. The CIA and the FBI investigated everyone who had anything to do with the SAAR investigation. White vans and SUV’s with dark windows appeared near all the homes of the SAAR investigators. All agents, some of whom were very experienced with surveillance, knew they were being followed. So was I. I felt that I was being followed everywhere and watched at home, in the supermarket, on the way to work… and for what?… The Customs agents were questioned. So were their supervisors. So was the US attorney on the SAAR case.… Risking criticism for being unfoundedly paranoid, I must convey my theory about the investigation and CIA’s involvement in it, I don’t know for certain what’s the deal with the CIA investigating the SAAR investigators, but it sure feels as if someone up in that agency doesn’t like the idea that the Saudi Arabian boat is rocked. The [SAAR raid] had taken place already—the CIA couldn’t change that—but investigating and giving the people behind the raids a hard time is a most efficient way of making sure the SAAR investigation stops there.” [Katz, 2003, pp. 42] The internal governmental battle against Greenquest will continue until Greenquest will be shut down in 2003 (see After March 20, 2002-Early 2003).

Entity Tags: Saudi Arabia, US Customs Service, Operation Greenquest, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, SAAR Foundation, Rita Katz

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The Customs Service intercepts a package sent via Federal Express from the Associated Press bureau in Manila to the AP office in Washington, and turns the contents over to the FBI. The FBI keeps the material, all unclassified and previously publicly disclosed, and fails to inform AP about this. It is claimed they do so to prevent the reporters from reporting their story, which is about government foreknowledge of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and ties with Ramzi Yousef and other Islamic militants in the Philippines. [Associated Press, 3/12/2003]

Entity Tags: US Customs Service, Federal Express, Associated Press, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Ali al Timini.Ali al Timini. [Source: Fox News]Shortly after 9/11, the FBI begins to suspect that Anwar al-Awlaki, an imam to several of the 9/11 hijackers, may have had some connection to the 9/11 plot. They interview him repeatedly, but cannot find enough evidence to charge him, and he cannot be deported since he is a US citizen. Investigators discover he had been arrested more than once for soliciting prostitutes. They learn he is consorting with prostitutes in Virginia, and contemplate jailing him on an obscure law against transporting prostitutes across state lines. However, this plan collapses when he leaves the US unexpectedly in March 2002. [US News and World Report, 6/13/2004] But on October 10, 2002, he makes a surprise return to the US. His name is on a terrorist watch list and he is detained when his plane lands in New York City. Customs agents notify the FBI, but they are told that his name was taken off the watch list just the day before. He is released after only three hours. It has not been explained why he name was taken off the list. Throughout 2002, al-Awlaki is also the subject of an active Customs investigation into money laundering called Operation Greenquest, but he is not arrested for this either, or for the earlier contemplated prostitution charges. [WorldNetDaily, 8/16/2003] At the time, the FBI is fighting Greenquest, and Customs officials will later accuse the FBI of sabotaging Greenquest investigations (see After March 20, 2002-Early 2003). While in the US, al-Awlaki visits the Fairfax, Virginia, home of Ali al Timimi, the leader of a nearby Islamic center. According to a later court filing, al-Awlaki attempts to get al Timimi to discuss the recruitment of young Muslims for militant causes, but al Timimi does not show interest. Al Timimi will later be sentenced to life in prison in the US for inciting young Muslims to fight in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11. [Washington Post, 2/27/2008] Al-Awlaki then leaves the US again. The FBI will later admit they were “very interested” in al-Awlaki and yet failed to stop him from leaving the country. One FBI source says, “We don’t know how he got out.” [US News and World Report, 6/13/2004] He will allegedly take part in other militant attacks (see September 15, 2006). By 2008, US intelligence will conclude that he is linked to al-Qaeda (see February 27, 2008).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, US Customs Service, Operation Greenquest, Anwar al-Awlaki, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

This Homeland Security department logo of an eye peeking
through a keyhole was copyrighted but apparently not used.
This Homeland Security department logo of an eye peeking through a keyhole was copyrighted but apparently not used. [Source: Public domain]President Bush signs legislation creating the Department of Homeland Security. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge is promoted to secretary of homeland security. The department will consolidate nearly 170,000 workers from 22 agencies, including the Coast Guard, the Secret Service, the federal security guards in airports, and the Customs Service. [New York Times, 11/26/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/26/2002] However, the FBI and CIA, the two most prominent anti-terrorism agencies, will not be part of it. [New York Times, 11/20/2002] The department wants to be active by March 1, 2003, but “it’s going to take years to integrate all these different entities into an efficient and effective organization.” [New York Times, 11/20/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/26/2002] Some 9/11 victims’ relatives are angry over sections inserted into the legislation at the last minute. Airport screening companies will be protected from lawsuits filed by family members of 9/11 victims. Kristen Breitweiser, whose husband died in the World Trade Center, says: “We were down there lobbying last week and trying to make the case that this will hurt us, but they did it anyway. It’s just a slap in the face to the victims.” [New York Times, 11/26/2002] The legislation creating the new department contains sweeping new powers for the executive branch that go largely unremarked on by the media. The White House and the departments under its control can now withhold from the public vast amounts of information about “critical infrastructure,” such as emergency plans for major industrial sites, and makes the release of such information a criminal offense. The explanation is that keeping this information out of terrorist hands will prevent them from creating a “road map” for planning attacks; what is much less discussed is how little the public can now know about risky practices at industrial sites in their communities. [Savage, 2007, pp. 110]

Entity Tags: US Coast Guard, US Department of Homeland Security, US Customs Service, US Secret Service, George W. Bush, Kristen Breitweiser, Bush administration (43), Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Relatives of September 11 Victims, Tom Ridge

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Joe Webber.Joe Webber. [Source: US Customs]Joe Webber, running the Houston office of the Department of Homeland Security’s Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, starts investigating a man believed to be raising money for Islamic militants. The suspect is in direct contact with people who are known to be associated with Osama bin Laden. Webber has good cooperation with the local FBI office, federal prosecutors in Houston, and Justice Department officials in Washington. However, he claims that FBI headquarters officials tell him point blank that he will not be allowed to conduct his investigation. After many months of delays from the FBI, friends from within the bureau tell him that headquarters will not allow the investigation to proceed because it is being run by Customs and not by the FBI. Webber is so upset that he eventually becomes a whistleblower. Sen. Charles Grassley and other politicians support his case and say there are other instances where the FBI impedes investigations because of turf battles. Asked if the FBI would put a turf battle above national security, Webber says, “That’s absolutely my impression. You would think, in a post-9/11 environment, that an event like that wouldn’t occur. But it did.” [MSNBC, 6/3/2005]

Entity Tags: US Customs Service, Joe Webber, Charles Grassley, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The FBI and Customs Department had been waging a bureaucratic war over control of Operation Greenquest, a controversial but largely fruitful Customs terrorist finance investigation (see After March 20, 2002-Early 2003). On May 13, 2003, Attorney General John Ashcroft and Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge signed a memorandum of agreement giving the FBI near total control over all terrorist finance investigations. According to the memorandum, if the FBI feels the case is related to terrorist financing and should belong to them, “the investigation and operation of the matter shall be led by the FBI.” The agreement also effectively ends Greenquest. The memo states, “The Secretary [of Homeland Security] agrees that no later than June 30, 2003, Operation Greenquest will no longer exist as a program name.” [National Review, 5/27/2003]

Entity Tags: US Customs Service, Operation Greenquest, John Ashcroft, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Tom Ridge

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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