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On June 27, 2001, Nabil al-Marabh is arrested while trying to enter the US from Canada in the back of a tractor-trailer, carrying a forged Canadian passport and a bogus social insurance card. (Walter 10/2/2001) The New York Times will note that, “American officials had plenty of reason to believe that he was up to no good. Nine months earlier, he had been identified to American intelligence agents as one of Osama bin Laden’s operatives in the United States. American customs agents knew about money he had transferred to an associate of Osama bin Laden in the Middle East. And the Boston police had issued a warrant for his arrest after he violated probation for stabbing a friend with a knife. But [US officials] simply let him go.” (Zernike 10/14/2001) The US turns him back to the Canadians. He is held for two weeks, then released on bail despite evidence linking him to militants (see Shortly Before July 11, 2001). During his two-week detention in a Canadian prison, al-Marabh boasts to other prisoners that he remains in contact with the FBI. When one prisoner asks him why, his reply is “because I’m special.” After 9/11, these prisoners will be puzzled that the FBI has not tried to interview them on what they know about al-Marabh. Al-Marabh will fail to show up for a Canadian deportation hearing in August and for a court date in September. It appears he quickly sneaks back into the US instead. (Walter 10/2/2001) Al-Marabh’s Boston landlord will later be asked if he thought al-Marabh could have been a terrorist. The landlord will reply, “He was too stupid, number one, to be a terrorist. Because terrorists today are very intelligent people. But he might be used by some smarter or intelligent sources, who use people like that.” (ABC News 7 (Chicago) 1/31/2002) In July, just after he is released on bail in Canada, the Boston police will go to his former Boston address with a warrant for his March arrest, but he will not be there. (Risen and Engelberg 10/14/2001) Also at some point in July, Canadian authorities inform US Customs about some dubious financial transactions involving al-Marabh, and apparently the information is used in a Customs money-laundering probe (see Spring 2001). (Hosenball 10/1/2001) One prominent former Canadian intelligence official will say that whether a more detailed look at al-Marabh at this time could have stopped the 9/11 attacks is an “intriguing question.… It becomes ever more intriguing as evidence seeps in.” (Dimmock and Sands 10/29/2001)
Ali Soufan, an FBI agent working on the investigation into the USS Cole bombing, submits a third request to the CIA for information about travel by al-Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia (see Late November 2000 and April 2001). Whereas in previous requests to the CIA he had only asked for information about a possible meeting somewhere in Southeast Asia, he has now developed a much clearer understanding of the relationship between al-Qaeda manager Khallad bin Attash and the Cole conspirators, and correctly suspects some operatives met in Malaysia in January 2000. He asks the CIA about this and about a trip by bin Attash to Bangkok to meet another two members of the Cole bombing team (see January 13, 2000). The CIA actually monitored the meeting Soufan suspects took place in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000) and considered it so important that the CIA director and other top officials were repeatedly briefed about it (see January 6-9, 2000), but the CIA does not respond to his inquiry. FBI managers are also aware of some of this information, including the existence of an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia at the time Soufan suspects one took place, but they apparently do not tell Soufan either (see January 6, 2000). (Wright 7/10/2006 ) Author Lawrence Wright will later say: “The FBI’s investigating the death of 17 American sailors and they’re asking the CIA for information that would solve the crime. And the CIA is refusing, essentially obstructing justice.” (Wright 10/5/2006)
In the summer of 2001, the team officially concludes that the Sudan government no longer has any terrorist ties. However, the US does not take Sudan off its official list of terrorist states (and as of 2007 Sudan has yet to be taken off the list). A few weeks before 9/11, the US team finally agrees to examine Sudan’s files on al-Qaeda. The US has repeatedly been offered the files and turned them down (see March 8, 1996-April 1996, April 5, 1997, and May 2000), but by now the bulk of the files are six years old and date back to when bin Laden lived in Sudan. It is not entirely certain if the files are handed over before 9/11, but one account specifies that the files are handed over in July 2001. Vanity Fair will later note that in any case, “Events suggest that by then it was too late.” (Rose 9/30/2001; Rose 1/2002; Miniter 2003, pp. 148)
According to statements by FBI whistleblower Sibel Edmonds in 2004 and 2005, in July or August 2001, an unnamed FBI field agent discovers foreign documentation revealing “certain information regarding blueprints, pictures, and building material for skyscrapers being sent overseas. It also reveal[s] certain illegal activities in obtaining visas from certain embassies in the Middle East, through network contacts and bribery.” The document is in a foreign language and apparently the agent isn’t given an adequate translation of it before 9/11. Approximately one month after 9/11, the agent will suspect the original translation is insufficient and will ask the FBI Washington Field Office to retranslate it. The significant information mentioned above will finally be revealed, but FBI translation unit supervisor Mike Feghali will decide not to send this information back to the field agent. Instead, he will send a note stating that the translation was reviewed and the original translation was accurate. The field agent will never receive the accurate translation. This is all according to Edmonds’s letter. Edmonds will claim Feghali “has participated in certain criminal activities and security breaches, and [engaged] in covering up failures and criminal conducts within the department.” While the mainstream media will not report on this incident, in January 2005 an internal government report will determine that most of Edmonds’s allegations have been verified and none of them could be refuted. (Edmonds 8/1/2004; Edmonds 8/22/2005)
Representatives of the FBI warn members of the New York Police Department (NYPD) that a serious terrorist attack is likely. Late one Friday this month, NYPD Chief of Department Joseph Esposito holds a meeting, which the FBI representatives come to. The FBI representatives reveal that there is a lot of “chatter” going on and a major terrorist attack is likely to occur. “They didn’t know when or where, but indications were that it would be overseas,” author Will Merrill will write. The matter is considered serious enough that a meeting has been called “in New York City late on a Friday afternoon” to discuss it, Merrill will note. (Merrill 2011, pp. 155)
The FBI’s Counterterrorism Division issues a warning of possible al-Qaeda attacks to law enforcement agencies called “Potential Anti-US Attacks.” It states: “[T]here are threats to be worried about overseas. While we cannot foresee attacks domestically, we cannot rule them out.” It further states, “[T]he FBI has no information indicating a credible threat of terrorist attack in the United States.” It asks law enforcement agencies to “exercise vigilance” and “report suspicious activities” to the FBI. Two weeks later, acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard has a conference call with all field office heads mentioning the heightened threat (see July 19, 2001). However, FBI personnel later fail to recall any heightened sense of threat from summer 2001. Only those in the New York field office take any action or will recall this later. (CNN 3/2002; 9/11 Commission 4/13/2004)
9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar reenters the US. The CIA and FBI have recently been showing interest in him, but have still failed to place him on a watch list of US-designated terrorists. Had he been placed on a watch list by this date, he would have been stopped and possibly detained as he tried to enter the US. He enters on a new US visa obtained in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, on June 13, 2001. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 169 )
Invalid Passport, Indicator of Terrorist Affiliation - His passport is invalid, as it lacks an expiry date. However, his passport does contain an indicator that he is a terrorist, an indicator used by the Saudi authorities to track his movements (see June 1, 2001 and July 4, 2001), but this indicator is not recognized by US officials. The precise state of US knowledge about the indicator at this time is not known (see Around February 1993). The CIA will learn of it no later than 2003, but will still not inform immigration officials then (see February 14, 2003). (9/11 Commission 8/21/2004, pp. 27 ) His visa application said that he had not previously been to the US, which is not true (see January 15, 2000), so his entry is illegal. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 351 )
'Muscle' Have Already Arrived - The FBI will note that he returns just days after the last of the hijacker “muscle” has entered the US, and will speculate that he returns because his job in bringing them over is finished. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 169 )
Source: Lists WTC as Destination - According to a stipulation introduced at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, he lists the Marriot Hotel in the World Trade Center complex as his destination, but does not stay there that night. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 52 )
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. (Gellman 5/17/2002; Elliott 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.” (Gellman 5/17/2002; Elliott 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; Gellman 5/17/2002)
Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer assigned to the FBI, sends an e-mail to managers at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, saying there is a potential connection between recent warnings of an attack against US interests and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000). He notes “how bad things look in Malaysia” and points out that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar may be connected to the radicals who attacked the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). He recommends that the Cole bombing and the Malaysia summit be re-examined for potential connections to the current warnings of an attack. The e-mail ends, “all the indicators are of a massively bad infrastructure being readily completed with just one purpose in mind.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 298 ) This is one of a series of e-mails sent around this time by Wilshire to Alec Station about al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see July 13, 2001 and July 23, 2001). Presumably, one of the recipients at CIA headquarters is Richard Blee, the manager responsible for Alec Station, as he apparently receives at least one of the e-mails (see July 13, 2001).
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). (Johnston and Dwyer 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. (Gellman 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).
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. (Johnston and Schmitt 4/4/2004)
Phoenix, Arizona, FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum warning about suspicious activities involving a group of Middle Eastern men taking flight training lessons in Arizona. The memo is titled: “Zakaria Mustapha Soubra; IT-OTHER (Islamic Army of the Caucasus),” because it focuses on Zakaria Soubra, a Lebanese flight student in Prescott, Arizona, and his connection with a terror group in Chechnya that has ties to al-Qaeda. It is subtitled: “Osama bin Laden and Al-Muhjiroun supporters attending civil aviation universities/colleges in Arizona.” (Behar 5/22/2002; House 7/24/2003) Williams’ memo is based on an investigation of Sorba that Williams had begun in 2000 (see April 2000), but he had trouble pursuing because of the low priority the Arizona FBI office gave terror investigations (see April 2000-June 2001). Additionally, Williams had been alerted to suspicions about radical militants and aircraft at least three other times (see October 1996; 1998; November 1999-August 2001). In the memo, Williams does the following:
Names nine other suspect students from Pakistan, India, Kenya, Algeria, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. (Schrom 10/1/2002) Hijacker Hani Hanjour, attending flight school in Arizona in early 2001 and probably continuing into the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001), is not one of the students, but, as explained below, it seems two of the students know him. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ; Smith 7/25/2003)
Notes that he interviewed some of these students, and heard some of them make hostile comments about the US. Additionally, he noticed that they were suspiciously well informed about security measures at US airports. (Schrom 10/1/2002)
Notes an increasing, “inordinate number of individuals of investigative interest” taking flight lessons in Arizona. (Schrom 10/1/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 )
Suspects that some of the ten people he has investigated are connected to al-Qaeda. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ) One person on the list, Ghassan al Sharbi, will be arrested in Pakistan in March 2002 with al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida (see March 28, 2002). Al Sharbi attended a flight school in Prescott, Arizona. He also apparently attended the training camps in Afghanistan and swore loyalty to bin Laden in the summer of 2001. He apparently knows Hani Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). He also is the roommate of Soubra, the main target of the memo. (Krikorian 1/24/2003; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 521)
Discovers that one of them was communicating through an intermediary with Abu Zubaida. This apparently is a reference to Hamed al Sulami, who had been telephoning a Saudi imam known to be Zubaida’s spiritual advisor. Al Sulami is an acquaintance of Hanjour in Arizona (see October 1996-Late April 1999). (Mercury News (San Jose) 5/23/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 520-521, 529)
Discusses connections between several of the students and a radical group called Al-Muhajiroun. (Mercury News (San Jose) 5/23/2002) This group supported bin Laden, and issued a fatwa, or call to arms, that included airports on a list of acceptable terror targets. (Solomon 5/22/2002) Soubra, the main focus of the memo, is a member of Al-Muhajiroun and an outspoken radical. He met with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, the leader of Al-Muhajiroun in Britain, and started an Arizona chapter of the organization. After 9/11, some US officials will suspect that Soubra has ties to al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups. He will be held two years, then deported to Lebanon in 2004. (Connell 10/28/2001; Krikorian 1/24/2003; Wagner 5/2/2004; Sherman 11/2004) Though Williams doesn’t include it in his memo, in the summer of 1998, Bakri publicized a fax sent by bin Laden to him that listed al-Qaeda’s four objectives in fighting the US. The first objective was “bring down their airliners.” (see Summer 1998). (Connell 10/28/2001)
Warns of a possible “effort by Osama bin Laden to send students to the US to attend civil aviation universities and colleges” (Behar 5/22/2002) , so they can later hijack aircraft. (Schrom 10/1/2002)
Recommends that the “FBI should accumulate a listing of civil aviation universities and colleges around the country. FBI field offices with these types of schools in their area should establish appropriate liaison. FBI [headquarters] should discuss this matter with other elements of the US intelligence community and task the community for any information that supports Phoenix’s suspicions.” (House 7/24/2003) (The FBI has already done this, but because of poor FBI communications, Williams is not aware of the report.)
Recommends that the FBI ask the State Department to provide visa data on flight school students from Middle Eastern countries, which will facilitate FBI tracking efforts. (Risen 5/4/2002)
The memo is addressed to the following FBI Agents:
Dave Frasca, chief of the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters;
Elizabeth Harvey Matson, Mark Connor and Fred Stremmel, Intelligence Operations Specialists in the RFU;
Rod Middleton, acting chief of the Usama bin Laden Unit (UBLU);
Jennifer Maitner, an Intelligence Operations Specialist in the UBLU;
Jack Cloonan, an agent on the New York FBI’s bin Laden unit, the I-49 squad; (see January 1996 and Spring 2000).
Michael S. Butsch, an agent on another New York FBI squad dealing with other Sunni terrorists. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 7/10/2001 ; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 )
However, the memo is not uploaded into the FBI’s information system until the end of the month and is apparently not received by all these people (see July 27, 2001 and after). Williams also shares some concerns with the CIA (see (July 27, 2001)). (Mercury News (San Jose) 5/23/2002) One anonymous government official who has seen the memo says, “This was as actionable a memo as could have been written by anyone.” (Insight 5/27/2002) However, the memo is merely marked “routine,” rather than “urgent.” It is generally ignored, not shared with other FBI offices, and the recommendations are not taken. One colleague in New York replies at the time that the memo is “speculative and not very significant.” (Schrom 10/1/2002; US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 135 ) Williams is unaware of many FBI investigations and leads that could have given weight to his memo. Authorities later claim that Williams was only pursuing a hunch, but one familiar with classified information says, “This was not a vague hunch. He was doing a case on these guys.” (Mercury News (San Jose) 5/23/2002)
On July 10, 2001, Phoenix FBI agent Ken Williams sends a memorandum to FBI headquarters urging a nationwide check on Middle Eastern students at flight schools (see July 10, 2001), but apparently neither Williams nor anyone else actually conducts any kind of check on Phoenix flight schools at this time. Phoenix flight school managers will later claim that the FBI does not ask them for tips on suspicious students before 9/11. A Sawyer School manager apparently had suspicions about some of his students (though he does not mention alleged Flight 77 pilot Hani Hanjour specifically). He later will say that had he known the FBI was concerned that some students might be Islamic militants, “I would have called someone.” Another flight school manager claims he has a good relationship with the FBI and is surprised he is not asked about Williams’s concerns. He will complain, “Should flight schools be clairvoyant?” (Thomas 5/24/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 529) In fact, although Hanjour left Arizona in March 2001 and lived on the East Coast after that time, there is evidence he comes back for some flight training in the Phoenix area in June and August 2001, including at the Sawyer School (see Summer 2001). The 9/11 Commission will later note that the evidence of Hanjour training in Phoenix during the summer is not definitive, but “the FBI’s Phoenix office believes it is plausible that Hanjour return[s] to Arizona for additional training.” (Thomas 5/24/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 529) It does not appear that Williams or any other FBI official checks flight schools anywhere else in Arizona before 9/11.
Edward Needham, an FBI agent in Buffalo, New York, has been investigating a group of eight Yemeni-Americans in the nearby town of Lackawanna after receiving an anonymous letter saying they have been training in Afghanistan (see Early June 2001). In fact, they were, and while there they heard a speech from Osama bin Laden in which he mentioned there were 40 suicide bombers on their way to a very important mission (see (June 2001)). This group will later be known as the “Lackawanna Six” for the six of them who return to the US. Some time around July, Needham interviews Sahim Alwan, who has recently come back from Afghanistan. But Alwan says he had only traveled to Pakistan for religious training. The others who returned also fail to tell any authorities that they have been in Afghanistan or what they learned there. On September 11, 2001, hours after the 9/11 attacks, Needham calls Alwan and asks him if anyone new has come into town. Alwan says no. But in fact, Juma al-Dosari, an al-Qaeda operative who recruited the Lackawanna Six, has recently returned to Lackawanna and Alwan knows where he is staying. Al-Dosari is trying to recruit a second group of young men to go train in Afghanistan. But the training camps are closed down and al-Dosari leaves town before the FBI finds out he is there. He tells friends that he is going to fight for the Taliban. He will be captured in Pakistan in December 2001 and transferred to Guantanamo prison soon thereafter. (PBS Frontline 10/16/2003; Temple-Raston 2007, pp. 138-139, 148)
Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager assigned to the FBI who expressed interest two months earlier in surveillance photos from the al-Qaeda Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), now finds a cable he had been looking for regarding that summit. The cable, from January 2001, discusses al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash’s presence at the summit. Wilshire explains later that bin Attash’s presence there had been troubling him. He writes an e-mail to the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC), stating, “[Khallad] is a major league killer, who orchestrated the Cole attack (see October 12, 2000) and possibly the Africa bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998).” Yet Khallad is still not put on a terrorist watch list. Wilshire asks that the FBI be passed this information, but the FBI will not actually be given the information until August 30, a week after it learns future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 298 ) Although the CIA managers that receive this e-mail are not named, Richard Blee, in charge of the CIA’s bin Laden unit and Wilshire’s former boss, appears to be one of the recipients: On the same day Wilshire sends this e-mail, Blee writes his own e-mail entitled “Identification of Khallad,” which is sent to another CIA officer. (Central Intelligence Agency 7/13/2001; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 537) An FBI analyst assigned to the CTC is given the task of reviewing all other CIA cables about the Malaysian summit. It takes this analyst until August 21—over five weeks later—to put together that Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa and that Nawaf Alhazmi had traveled to the US. Yet other CIA agents are already well aware of these facts but are not sharing the information (see August 22, 2001). Working with immigration officials, this analyst then learns that Almihdhar entered and left the US in 2000, and entered again on July 4, 2001, and that Alhazmi appears to still be in the US. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 157 ; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 298 )
A Village Voice reporter is told by a New York taxi driver, “You know, I am leaving the country and going home to Egypt sometime in late August or September. I have gotten e-mails from people I know saying that Osama bin Laden has planned big terrorist attacks for New York and Washington for that time. It will not be safe here then.” He does in fact return to Egypt for that time. The FBI, which is not told about this lead until after 9/11, interrogates and then releases him. He claims that many others knew what he knew prior to 9/11. (Goodyear 9/25/2002)
The FBI issues another warning to domestic law enforcement agencies about threats stemming from the convictions in the millennium bomb plot trial. The FAA also issues a warning to the airlines, telling them to “use the highest level of caution.” (CNN 3/2002) This is another one of 15 general warnings issued to airlines in 2001 before 9/11 (see January-August 2001), but it is more specific than usual. (CNN 3/2002; Lewandowski and Davis 5/17/2002) Also on this day, the State Department issues a public warning of a possible terrorist threat in the Saudi Arabia region. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 259, 534)
Attorney General John Ashcroft replies to the FBI’s annual budget proposal. The proposal had asked for a sizable increase for only one area—counterterrorism. However, Ashcroft says that the FBI’s budget for counterterrorism should be cut, not increased. The budgets for some other divisions will also be cut. Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard asks Ashcroft if the FBI can appeal and Ashcroft agrees. Pickard and his top assistants discuss what should be appealed and decide only to appeal the counterterrorism cuts, as they feel that this is “the most important thing,” according to Pickard. The appeal will be denied on September 10 (see September 10, 2001). (Shenon 2008, pp. 249)
Acting FBI Director Thomas Pickard holds a periodic conference call with the heads of all FBI field offices. According to a later account by Pickard, one item he discusses is the need to have evidence response teams ready to move quickly in case of a new attack. This is brought up in light of all the increased threat reporting. However, he does not task the field offices to look into whether any plots are being considered within the US; nor does he tell them to take any action to disrupt any such plots. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 259) FBI personnel will later fail to recall any heightened sense of threat from summer 2001. Only those in the New York field office take any action or will recall this call later. (CNN 3/2002; 9/11 Commission 4/13/2004)
Future 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah seems to leave the US twice on the same day. According to a 2002 FBI document about the 9/11 attacks, Jarrah takes a KLM flight from Atlanta, Georgia, to Amsterdam, Netherlands. But the same document says he also takes a Continental flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Dusseldorf, Germany. The FBI document contains a note from an analyst that merely comments this is “conflicting information.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 4/19/2002) Jarrah seems to leave the US twice in a short time period on one other occasion (see December 26-28, 2000).
CBS News reports that Attorney General Ashcroft has stopped flying commercial airlines due to a threat assessment, but “neither the FBI nor the Justice Department… would identify [to CBS] what the threat was, when it was detected or who made it.” (CBS News 7/26/2001) One newspaper reports, “Ashcroft demonstrated an amazing lack of curiosity when asked if he knew anything about the threat. ‘Frankly, I don’t,’ he told reporters.” (Sorensen 6/3/2002) It is later reported that he stopped flying in July based on threat assessments made on May 8 and June 19. In May 2002, it is claimed the threat assessment had nothing to do with al-Qaeda, but Ashcroft walked out of his office rather than answer questions about it. (Associated Press 5/16/2002) The San Francisco Chronicle will later conclude, “The FBI obviously knew something was in the wind.… The FBI did advise Ashcroft to stay off commercial aircraft. The rest of us just had to take our chances.” (Sorensen 6/3/2002) CBS’s Dan Rather will later ask of this warning: “Why wasn’t it shared with the public at large?” (Kurtz 5/27/2002) On July 5, the CIA had warned Ashcroft to expect multiple, imminent al-Qaeda attacks overseas (see July 5, 2001) and on July 12 the FBI warned him about the al-Qaeda threat within the US (see July 12, 2001).
Future 9/11 hijacker Waleed Alshehri books a one-way airplane ticket from San Francisco to Miami, via Las Vegas, at a Florida travel agent office. According to an FBI report about the 9/11 attacks, he is accompanied by an older man in his mid-40s. Days after 9/11, the travel agent who books the flight will be shown photographs of the other hijackers in an attempt to determine who this other man is, but the agent will not recognize any of the hijackers as that man. Apparently, Alshehri does not use the flight, although he does fly from Miami to San Francisco and back a few days later. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 4/19/2002) Mohamed Atta is believed to be the oldest of the 9/11 hijackers, and is 33 years old by the time of 9/11.
An FBI agent assigned to the CIA’s bin Laden unit locates a CIA cable that says 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa, but fails to disseminate the information to the FBI. It is not clear why the agent, Margaret Gillespie, fails to do this. However, at the same time she locates another CIA cable which mistakenly states that the information about the visa has already been passed to the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 299 )
9/11 hijacker Marwan Alshehhi pays for a few hours of ground and flying time at Kemper Aviation in Lantana, Florida. According to a document used as evidence at the Zacarias Moussaoui trial, on the first day, “Alshehhi could not answer basic questions on the written aviation test, which he needed an instructor’s assistance to complete.” Alshehhi returns on July 30 and August 8, when he rents a plane for approximately one hour. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 66 ) Alshehhi is accompanied by an unknown man on August 8. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001 ) The FBI will visit the school on September 12, seizing all records of pilots from Saudi Arabia. Over a year later, the FBI will renew its interest in a Saudi, Turki al-Masri, who attended the school around the same time as Alshehhi, but the reason for the renewed interest is not known. (Thomas and Molitz 1/23/2003)
David Schippers, the House Judiciary Committee’s chief investigator in the Clinton impeachment trial and the lawyer for FBI agent Robert Wright since September 1999, will later claim that he was warned about an upcoming al-Qaeda attack on lower Manhattan in May 2001 (see May 2001). After May, Schippers continues to get increasingly precise information about this attack from FBI agents in Chicago and Minnesota, and around July he renews efforts to pass the warning to politicians. He will claim, “I tried to see if I could get a Congressman to go to bat for me and at least bring these people [to Washington] and listen to them. I sent them information and nobody cared. It was always, ‘We’ll get back to you,’ ‘We’ll get back to you,’ ‘We’ll get back to you.’” At the same time he is attempting to pass on this warning, he will claim he is also attempting to pass on the work of reporter Jayna Davis and her theory that Middle Easterners were involved in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (see 8:35 a.m. - 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995), and also Wright’s claim that Hamas operatives were operating freely inside the US (see February-March 2001). The three claims put together seem to lead to a bad response; Schippers later comments, “People thought I was crazy.” Around July 15, he attempts to contact Attorney General John Ashcroft. Conservative activist “Phyllis Schlafly finally apparently made some calls. She called me one day and said, ‘I’ve talked to John Ashcroft, and he’ll call you tomorrow.’” The next day, one of Ashcroft’s underlings in the Justice Department calls him back and says, “We don’t start our investigations with the Attorney General. Let me look into this, and I’ll have somebody get back to you right away.” Schippers will say he never did hear back from anyone in the Justice Department. Perhaps coincidentally, on July 26 it will be reported that Ashcroft has stopped flying commercial aircraft due to an unnamed threat (see July 26, 2001). In late August, his FBI agent sources again confirm that an al-Qaeda attack on lower Manhattan is imminent. (Metcalf 10/21/2001; Patterson 5/18/2002; Ahmed 2004, pp. 258-260) In 2003, Wright will say, “In 2000 and in 2001, [Schippers] contacted several US congressmen well before the September 11th attacks. Unfortunately, these congressmen failed to follow through with Mr. Schippers’ request that they investigate my concerns.” It is not clear if Wright was one of the Chicago FBI agents that Schippers claims gave warnings about a Manhattan attack, or if Wright is only referring to Wright’s investigation into funding for Hamas and other groups that Schippers was also warning politicians about (see February-March 2001). (Federal News Service 6/2/2003)
Former CIA agent Robert Baer is advising a prince in a Persian Gulf royal family, when a military associate of this prince passes information to him about a “spectacular terrorist operation” that will take place shortly. He is given a computer record of around 600 secret al-Qaeda operatives in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. The list includes ten names that will be placed on the FBI’s most wanted terrorists list after 9/11. He is also given evidence that a Saudi merchant family had funded the USS Cole bombing on October 12, 2000, and that the Yemeni government is covering up information related to that bombing. At the military officer’s request, he offers all this information to the Saudi Arabian government. However, an aide to the Saudi defense minister, Prince Sultan, refuses to look at the list or to pass the names on (Sultan is later sued for his complicity in the 9/11 plot in August 2002). Baer also passes the information on to a senior CIA official and the CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center, but there is no response or action. Portions of Baer’s book describing his experience wil be blacked out, having been censored by the CIA. (Baer 2002, pp. 55-58; Robinson 1/12/2002)
Actor James Woods, flying first class on an airplane, notices four Arabic-looking men, the only other people in the first class section. He concludes they are Islamic militants intent on hijacking the plane, acting very strangely (for instance, only talking in whispers). (Johnson 11/23/2001) He tells a flight attendant, “I think this plane is going to be hijacked,” adding, “I know how serious it is to say this.” He conveys his worries to the pilots, and they assure him that the cockpit would be locked. (Hersh 5/27/2002) The flight staff later notifies the FAA about these suspicious individuals. Though the government will not discuss this event, it is highly unlikely that any action is taken regarding the flight staff’s worries (Hersh 5/27/2002) Woods will not be interviewed by the FBI until after 9/11. Woods will say the FBI believes that all four men took part in the 9/11 attacks, and the flight he was on was a practice flight for them. (Woods 2/14/2002) Woods believes one was Khalid Almihdhar and another was Hamza Alghamdi. (Hersh 5/27/2002) The FBI later will report that this may have been one of a dozen test run flights starting as early as January (see May 24-August 14, 2001). Flight attendants and passengers on other flights later recall men looking like the hijackers who took pictures of the cockpit aboard flights and/or took notes. (Associated Press 5/29/2002) The FBI has not been able to find any evidence of hijackers on the flight manifest for Woods’ flight. (Hersh 5/27/2002)
With the approaching third anniversary of the US embassy bombings in Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), the FBI reissues a warning that overseas law enforcement agencies may be targets. It notes that although most reporting indicates a potential for attacks on US interests abroad, the possibility of an attack in the US cannot be discounted. (CNN 3/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260, 534)
The CIA officers who draft a presidential daily briefing (PDB) item given to George Bush on August 6 (see August 6, 2001) ask an FBI agent for additional information and also to review a draft of the memo, but she does not provide all the additional information she could. The 9/11 Commission will refer to the FBI agent as “Jen M,” so she is presumably Jennifer Maitner, an agent with the Osama bin Laden unit at FBI headquarters. The purpose of the memo is to communicate to the president the intelligence community’s view that the threat of attacks by bin Laden is both current and serious. But Maitner fails to add some important information that she has: around the end of July, she was informed of the Phoenix memo, which suggests that an inordinate number of bin Laden-related Arabs are taking flying lessons in the US (see July 10, 2001). She does not link this to the portion of the memo discussing aircraft hijackings. Responsibility for dealing with the Phoenix memo is formally transferred to her on August 7, when she reads the full text. The finished PDB item discusses the possibility bin Laden operatives may hijack an airliner and says that there are “patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings.” It is unclear whether the draft PDB item Maitner reviews contains this information. However, if it does, it apparently does not inspire her to take any significant action on the memo before 9/11, such as contacting the agents in Phoenix to notify them of the preparations for hijackings (see July 27, 2001 and after). The PDB will contain an error, saying that the FBI was conducting 70 full field investigations of bin Laden-related individuals (see August 6, 2001), but this error is added after Maitner reviews the draft, so she does not have the opportunity to remove it. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260-2, 535; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 69-77 )
President Bush receives a classified presidential daily briefing (PDB) at his Crawford, Texas ranch indicating that Osama bin Laden might be planning to hijack commercial airliners. The PDB provided to him is entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US.” The entire briefing focuses on the possibility of terrorist attacks inside the US. (Sanger 5/15/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002) The analysts who drafted the briefing will say that they drafted it on the CIA’s initiative (see July 13, 2004), whereas in 2004 Bush will state that he requested a briefing on the topic due to threats relating to a conference in Genoa, Italy, in July 2001, where Western intelligence agencies believed Osama bin Laden was involved in a plot to crash an airplane into a building to kill Bush and other leaders (see April 13, 2004). The analysts will later explain that they saw it as an opportunity to convey that the threat of an al-Qaeda attack in the US was both current and serious. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 260) The existence of this briefing is kept secret, until it is leaked in May 2002, causing a storm of controversy (see May 15, 2002). While National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice will claim the memo is only one and a half pages long, other accounts state it is 11 1/2 pages instead of the usual two or three. (Sanger 5/15/2002; Hirsh and Isikoff 5/27/2002; Schrom 10/1/2002) A page and a half of the contents will be released on April 10, 2004; this reportedly is the full content of the briefing. (Pincus and Eggen 4/10/2004) The briefing, as released, states as follows (note that the spelling of certain words are corrected and links have been added):
Clandestine, foreign government, and media reports indicate bin Laden since 1997 has wanted to conduct terrorist attacks in the US (see December 1, 1998). Bin Laden implied in US television interviews in 1997 and 1998 that his followers would follow the example of World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef and “bring the fighting to America” (see May 26, 1998).
After US missile strikes on his base in Afghanistan in 1998, bin Laden told followers he wanted to retaliate in Washington, according to a -REDACTED-service (see December 21, 1998).
An Egyptian Islamic Jihad (EIJ) operative told -REDACTED- service at the same time that bin Laden was planning to exploit the operative’s access to the US to mount a terrorist strike.
The millennium plotting in Canada in 1999 may have been part of bin Laden’s first serious attempt to implement a terrorist strike in the US. Convicted plotter Ahmed Ressam has told the FBI that he conceived the idea to attack Los Angeles International Airport himself (see December 14, 1999), but that bin Laden lieutenant Abu Zubaida encouraged him and helped facilitate the operation. Ressam also said that in 1998 Abu Zubaida was planning his own US attack (see Late March-Early April 2001 and May 30, 2001).
Ressam says bin Laden was aware of the Los Angeles operation.
Although bin Laden has not succeeded, his attacks against the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) demonstrate that he prepares operations years in advance and is not deterred by setbacks. Bin Laden associates surveyed our embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam as early as 1993 (see Late 1993-Late 1994), and some members of the Nairobi cell planning the bombings were arrested and deported in 1997.
Al-Qaeda members—including some who are US citizens—have resided in or traveled to the US for years, and the group apparently maintains a support structure that could aid attacks (see January 25, 2001). Two al-Qaeda members found guilty in the conspiracy to bomb our embassies in East Africa were US citizens (see September 15, 1998), and a senior EIJ member lived in California in the mid-1990s (see November 1989 and September 10, 1998).
A clandestine source said in 1998 that a bin Laden cell in New York was recruiting Muslim-American youth for attacks (see October-November 1998).
“We have not been able to corroborate some of the more sensational threat reporting, such as that from a [REDACTED] service in 1998 saying that bin Laden wanted to hijack a US aircraft to gain the release of ‘Blind Sheikh’ Omar Abdul-Rahman and other US-held extremists” (see 1998, December 4, 1998, and May 23, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223) According to the Washington Post, this information came from a British service. (Woodward and Eggen 5/18/2002)
Nevertheless, FBI information since that time indicates patterns of suspicious activity in this country consistent with preparations for hijackings or other types of attacks, including recent surveillance of federal buildings in New York (see May 30, 2001).
The FBI is conducting approximately 70 full-field investigations throughout the US that it considers bin Laden-related (see August 6, 2001). CIA and the FBI are investigating a call to our embassy in the UAE in May saying that a group or bin Laden supporters was in the US planning attacks with explosives (see May 16-17, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 223)
In retrospect, the briefing is remarkable for the many warnings that apparently are not included (see for instance, from the summer of 2001 prior to August alone: May 2001, June 2001, June 12, 2001, June 19, 2001, Late Summer 2001, July 2001, July 16, 2001, Late July 2001, Late July 2001, Summer 2001, June 30-July 1, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Early August 2001). According to one account, after the PDB has been given to him, Bush tells the CIA briefer, “You’ve covered your ass now” (see August 6, 2001). Incredibly, the New York Times later reports that after being given the briefing, Bush “[breaks] off from work early and [spends] most of the day fishing.” (Rich 5/25/2002) In 2002 and again in 2004, National Security Adviser Rice will incorrectly claim under oath that the briefing only contained historical information from 1998 and before (see May 16, 2002 and April 8, 2004).
One day after President Bush receives a Presidential Daily Briefing entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US,” a version of the same material is given to other top government officials. However, this Senior Executive Intelligence Brief (SEIB) does not contain the most important information from Bush’s briefing. It does not mention that there are 70 FBI investigations into possible al-Qaeda activity, does not mention a May 2001 threat of US-based explosives attacks, and does not mention FBI concerns about recent surveillance of buildings in New York City. The Associated Press will report that this type of memo “goes to scores of Cabinet-agency officials from the assistant secretary level up and does not include raw intelligence or sensitive information about ongoing law enforcement matters” due to fear of media leaks. SEIBs were sent to many more officials during the Clinton administration. The Associated Press will also state that “some who saw the memo said they feared it gave policy-makers and members of the congressional intelligence committees a picture of the domestic threat so stale and incomplete that it didn’t provide the necessary sense of urgency one month before the Sept. 11 attacks.” (Solomon 4/13/2004) Attorney General John Ashcroft will later say he does not recall seeing the SEIB before 9/11 (see Between August 7 and September 10, 2001).
At some point between these dates, Israel warns the US that an al-Qaeda attack is imminent. (Cameron 5/17/2002) Reportedly, two high-ranking agents from the Mossad come to Washington and warn the FBI and CIA that from 50 to 200 terrorists have slipped into the US and are planning “a major assault on the United States.” They say indications point to a “large scale target,” and that Americans would be “very vulnerable.” They add there could be Iraqi connections to the al-Qaeda attack. (Wastell and Jacobson 9/16/2001; Hunter 9/17/2001; Serrano and Dahlburg 9/20/2001) The Los Angeles Times later retracts its story after a CIA spokesperson says, “There was no such warning. Allegations that there was are complete and utter nonsense.” (Los Angeles Times 9/21/2001) Other newspapers do not retract it.
Although some staff at the Pan Am International Flight School became a little suspicious of Zacarias Moussaoui before he arrived (see August 11-15, 2001), within two days of his arrival at the school, Moussaoui’s behaviour makes his assigned instructor Clancy Prevost highly suspicious. This is because:
Moussaoui has only flown for under 60 hours, whereas the second least experienced student Prevost ever had had 10 times as many hours. This lack of experience means Moussaoui does not really understand the instruction; (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006)
When Moussaoui is asked what his goal is, he tells Prevost he wants to fly a 747 from London to New York, the same goal he gave in his original e-mail to the flight school. (Rake 5/2005) This raises fears he has plans to hijack such a flight; (US Congress 10/17/2002)
When Prevost relates a story about a charter flight in the Middle East where getting the doors open was a problem, the story causes Prevost to ask Moussaoui whether he is a Muslim and Moussaoui replies in a strange tone, “I am nothing.” This makes Prevost worry so much that he ends the session, goes back to his motel, and calls the flight school to express his reservations about Moussaoui. He talks to his manager in the morning and says, “We’ll care [about having trained Moussaoui] when there’s a hijacking and he knows how to throw the switches and put them in the right position and all the lawsuits start coming in when they figure out we taught him how to do this”;
Prevost then goes into a supervisors’ meeting and recommends calling the FBI, but becomes even more upset when he is told Moussaoui paid for his training in $100 bills.
As Moussaoui does not learn much during the day, Prevost invites him to observe a simulator session that evening, which Moussaoui does with interest. The following day Prevost meets the FBI, which has now been alerted by the school, and shares his feeling it would be a good idea to do a background check on Moussaoui. The FBI subsequently arrests Moussaoui (see August 16, 2001). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006) Some claims later made about Moussaoui in the media may be inaccurate:
He is said to mostly practice flying in the air, not taking off or landing. (Gordon 12/21/2001; Yardley 2/8/2002; Taylor 5/21/2002; Wald 5/22/2002) However, he is arrested after ground instruction and never flies the simulator, so it is unclear how this could happen. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006) 9/11 Congressional Inquiry staff director Eleanor Hill will also later say that the reports saying he only wanted to pilot a plane in the air are untrue. (US Congress 9/24/2002) In addition, the 9/11 Commission will comment, “Contrary to popular belief, Moussaoui did not say he was not interested in learning how to take off or land”; (9/11 Commission 4/13/2004)
It will be reported that he appears not to understand French, despite being from France, and does not specify the Middle Eastern country he says he comes from. (Gordon 12/21/2001; Eggen 1/2/2002) However, at the trial Prevost will recall that Moussaoui spoke good French and that Moussaoui told him he had both French and Moroccan passports. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006)
Prevost will later receive a controversial $5 million reward from the US Department of State’s Reward for Justice program. (Isikoff and Hosenball 1/30/2008)
The FBI’s Minneapolis field office tells the CIA that Zacarias Moussaoui will be arrested the next day (see August 16, 2001). The information is communicated to a CIA field office, which then informs the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters. The CTC searches for information on Moussaoui, but does not find anything. The CIA has information on Moussaoui at this point, but the information is related to one of Moussaoui’s aliases and the CIA apparently does not understand that the alias is used by Moussaoui (see April 2001). (Tenet 2007, pp. 200-201)
Three Qatari men—Meshal Al Hajri, Fhad Abdulla, and Ali Al Fehaid—behave curiously in the weeks before 9/11, leading to later suspicions that they could have had some link to the 9/11 attacks.
Suspicious Behavior - The men fly from London to New York on August 15, 2001, and travel around the East Coast together. They visit the World Trade Center, the Statue of Liberty, the White House, and various parts of Virginia, but it is unclear if they are simply tourists or are conducting surveillance on potential targets. On August 24, they fly from Washington to Los Angeles and check into a single room at a hotel near the airport. They pay with cash and are booked to leave on September 10, which they do. They spend about a week traveling within California with a United Arab Emirates man named Mohamed Al Mansoori. The hotel staff grow suspicious of the men because they notice pilot uniforms, laptops, and cardboard boxes addressed to Syria, Afghanistan, and Jordan in their room. This may not be that unusual, since pilots frequently stay at the hotel due to its proximity to the airport. But, according to a later US government document, the men also “had a smashed cellular phone in the room and a cellular phone attached by wire to a computer. The room also contained pin feed computer paper print outs with headers listing pilot names, airlines, flight numbers, and flight times.” Suspicions are further aroused because on the last few days of their stay, the men request that their room should not be cleaned. The staff are not alarmed enough to alert police, however. The men are scheduled to board American Airlines Flight 144 on September 10, from Los Angeles to Washington. This flight will be reassigned Flight 77 the next day and will crash into the Pentagon in the 9/11 attacks. However, the men do not take the flight, but instead fly directly from Los Angeles to London on a British Airways flight the same day, and then back to Doha, Qatar. (Swinford, Winnett, and Allen 2/1/2011)
Link to 'Convicted Terrorist'? - In 2010, the names of the three men and Mansoori will appear in a State Department cable suggesting that they are still being investigated for a possible role in the 9/11 attacks (see February 11, 2010). The cable will state, “A subsequent FBI investigation revealed that the men’s plane tickets were paid for and their hotel reservations in Los Angeles, CA, were made by a convicted terrorist.” This is likely a reference to Fahed Alhajri, a Qatari who lived in Chesapeake, Virginia. News reports in 2002 will call Alhajri a suspected terrorist because of some items found in his possession when he is arrested as part of a visa fraud scheme that same year. For instance, he has photos of Osama bin Laden and the World Trade Center in his apartment, as well as a datebook with only one entry, written on 9/11 with the cryptic words, “Trackd the World Trade Center or the Pentagon Trackd for the Plane.” According to these news reports, he paid for the Los Angeles hotel room and plane fare of his brother Meshal Alhajri and two friends. Alhajri is one of the three Qatari men, and the friends presumably are the other two. But Fahed Alhajri cannot be called a “convicted terrorist,” because in 2003 he is convicted of visa fraud, not terrorism, and then he is deported. (Johnston 5/10/2002; Isikoff 2/2/2011)
Terrorists or Tourists? - The names of the three men will be included on an FBI list of over 300 people wanted for questioning in connection with the 9/11 attacks that is accidentally made public in late 2001 (see October 3, 2001). However, they never are questioned by the FBI, apparently because they left the US the day before 9/11 and never came back. Mansoori’s name is not on that list, but he will remain in the US, and he will be questioned by the FBI as part of a years-long investigation into his activities. The FBI will never come up with enough evidence to charge him, but he will be deported several years after 9/11. One US official will say, “I don’t think people were in love with him,” implying the FBI continued to have suspicions about him. In 2011, the 2010 cable mentioning the men will be made public, and The Telegraph will write: “It is not known whether the FBI believe that the men were simply assisting the hijackers or were a fifth cell who pulled out at the final moment. Alternatively, they may have been planning an attack on the West Coast of America or even London which was abandoned or went wrong.” But there is also the possibility they may simply have been tourists. (Swinford, Winnett, and Allen 2/1/2011; Isikoff 2/2/2011)
Hours after Zacarias Moussaoui is taken into custody in Minnesota, his friend and roommate Hussein al-Attas is interviewed by the FBI. The two men had recently driven together to Minnesota from Oklahoma (see August 10-11, 2001).
According to a summary of the interview written at the time, “Al-Attas indicated that Moussaoui believes that it is acceptable to kill civilians who harm Muslims and that he approves of martyrs.”
Al-Attas says Moussaoui talked about holy war every day when they roomed together.
When asked if he had ever heard Moussaoui make a plan to kill those who harm Muslims, “Al-Attas admit[s] that he may have heard him do so, but that because it is not in [al-Attas’] own heart to carry out acts of this nature, he claimed that he kept himself from actually hearing and understanding.”
Al-Attas says Moussaoui holds strong anti-American views and might be willing to act on his beliefs.
Al-Attas describes Moussaoui as so secretive that he refuses to give his full name, identifying himself only as “Shaqil.”
He also says that Moussaoui told him “true” Muslims must prepare themselves to fight and they should understand the suffering of Muslims in places like Palestine and Kosovo.
He mentions that he and Moussaoui are carrying fighting gloves and shin guards to practice martial arts as part of Moussaoui’s philosophy that Muslims should be ready to fight nonbelievers.
He has not heard Moussaoui mention any specific terrorist plot, but says that Moussaoui “is suspicious to me, too.”
FBI agents interview al-Attas again the following day, then charge him with violating the terms of his student visa by working at a mosque in Oklahoma, and arrest him. During the second interview, al-Attas says that Moussaoui follows the teachings of a sheikh whose name he would not disclose to him (see August 17, 2001). The agents contact FBI supervisors in Washington to seek approval to get a warrant to search Moussaoui’s computer. The supervisors are aware of what al-Attas said in the interview, but nevertheless they tell the Minnesota FBI agents that they do not want to attempt to get the warrant because it has not been shown that Moussaoui is an agent of a foreign power. The New York Times will note that the content of al-Attas’ interview “raise[s] new questions about whether top [FBI] officials… were aggressive enough in responding to that information.” (Woodward and Balz 1/31/2002; Yardley 5/24/2002; Barakat 3/21/2006) Al-Attas will be arrested shortly after 9/11 and held as a material witness. He will later plead guilty to lying about Moussaoui. He lied in claiming that he did not know Moussaoui’s real name, lied about plans to go with Moussaoui to New York City in late August 2001, lied about Moussaoui’s desire to participate in holy war, and lied about a planned trip to speak to religious scholars who would encourage al-Attas to participate in holy war. He will be sentenced to time served, but will be kept imprisoned until the conclusion of Moussaoui’s trial in 2006 (see March 6-May 4, 2006). (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 7/22/2002; Associated Press 10/22/2002) It is also later revealed that Moussaoui had recently convinced al-Attas to fight in Chechnya in order to prepare for holy war. (Cohen, Carreyrou, and Gauthier-Villars 2/4/2002) Furthermore, the person who attempts to post bond for al-Attas had been the subject of a full-field FBI international terrorism investigation in Oklahoma. This unnamed person was a recruiter for a radical Palestinian group and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. (US Congress 7/24/2003) In post-9/11 media accounts, al-Attas is generally portrayed as someone who had been innocently and accidentally caught up with Moussaoui. But it appears that in the weeks before 9/11, US intelligence will consider the possibility that al-Attas may have been plotting with Moussaoui. For instance, a CIA cable that will be sent on August 24 is titled “Subjects Involved in Suspicious 747 Flight Training,” (see August 24, 2001) one that will be sent on August 28 has Moussaoui and al-Attas’ names as the title. (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 7/22/2002; Associated Press 10/22/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 540)
The FBI fails to inform its own head of the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui. It is unclear how this failure occurs. The highest FBI official to be informed of Moussaoui’s arrest is apparently Michael Rolince, head of the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section (see Late August 2001), but it seems he fails to pass the information on. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 275) Thomas Pickard, who is acting FBI director at this time, will later blame CIA director George Tenet, who was briefed repeatedly on the case (see August 23, 2001), for not informing him of Moussaoui’s arrest, but Tenet will comment: “I was stunned to hear [Pickard’s comments] suggesting that I had somehow failed to notify him about Moussaoui. Failed to tell him? Hell, it was the FBI’s case, their arrest. I had no idea that the Bureau wasn’t aware of what its own people were doing.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 200-201)
Following the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui, the FBI fails to brief the Counterterrorism and Security Group (CSG) chaired by counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke at the National Security Council (NSC) on the case. CIA director George Tenet will later say that briefing the CSG on such an arrest is “standard practice.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 200) In July 2001, Clarke had told the FBI he wanted to be informed of anything unusual, even if a sparrow fell from a tree (see Shortly After July 5, 2001).
Towards the end of an interview with the FBI (see August 16-17, 2001), Zacarias Moussaoui discloses the name of one of his associates, Atif Ahmed. Moussaoui tells the FBI that Ahmed provided him with some money and that he associated with Ahmed’s brother in Pakistan. However, he cannot remember any details, such as Ahmed’s address or employment. The FBI’s Minneapolis field office immediately sends a lead to its legal attaché in London, asking him to follow up. However, information about Ahmed does not arrive in the US until “months later,” possibly November 2001, when Ahmed is arrested in Britain (see Mid-November 2001). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 3/9/2006) Moussaoui will later say that Ahmed is a spy working for the British, but the FBI and British authorities will deny this (see July 25, 2002).
9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta receives $100,000 from accounts in Pakistan. The money is transferred to two of his accounts in Florida. (Fox News 10/2/2001; Margasak 10/2/2001; US Congress 10/3/2001; CNN 10/6/2001; Ressa 10/8/2001) This will later be reported in various media. For example, ABC News will say that federal authorities track “more than $100,000 from banks in Pakistan to two banks in Florida to accounts held by suspected hijack ringleader Mohamed Atta.” (ABC News 9/30/2001) Law enforcement sources will tell CNN, “[T]he wire transfers from Pakistan were sent to Atta through two banks in Florida.” (CNN 10/1/2001) One of the hijackers’ financiers, the Pakistan-based Omar Saeed Sheikh, is said to wire Atta around $100,000 in August (see Early August 2001). The transfers from Pakistan will be disclosed a few weeks after 9/11 but will then fade from view (see September 30-October 7, 2001), until 2003 when John S. Pistole, deputy assistant director of the FBI’s Counterterrorism Division, tells the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs that the FBI has traced the origin of funding for 9/11 back to accounts in Pakistan (see July 31, 2003). However, in 2004 the 9/11 Commission will fail to mention any funding coming directly from Pakistan (see Late-September 2001-August 2004).
When Zacarias Moussaoui is arrested (see August 16, 2001), he has a receipt on him for a Kinko’s store where he used a computer on August 12. The FBI does not go to this Kinko’s store to collect information about Moussaoui immediately after the arrest, but only on September 19, after the rest of Moussaoui’s belongings have been searched (see September 11, 2001). The FBI is told that the computers have been wiped and no information about Moussaoui’s use can be obtained. Due to the frequency with which Kinko’s computers are wiped, if the FBI visited the Kinko’s store immediately after the arrest, it is possible information about Moussaoui could have been recovered. Although the FBI is initially aware of some of Moussaoui’s e-mail addresses, in summer 2002 Moussaoui will reveal additional addresses he used and say he used them from this Kinko’s outlet. Although the Kinko’s computers have been wiped by 9/11, Microsoft, which operates the Hotmail service Moussaoui uses, can recover information up to 90 days after an account is last used, so the FBI could get the information it seeks from Microsoft until Mid-November 2001 (see (Late July-Early August, 2002)). However, the FBI does not know about the additional accounts at this point, partly because it was prevented from interviewing Moussaoui after 9/11 (see September 11-12, 2001). (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 1/1/2003)
Minneapolis FBI agent Harry Samit contacts Charles Frahm, an FBI agent who is working with the CIA’s bin Laden unit as a deputy chief, to discuss the Moussaoui case. Frahm passes on information to other CIA officers. Frahm will also be contacted by FBI headquarters about the case (see (August 20, 2001)) and will provide information linking the Chechen rebels, to which Moussaoui is connected, to Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda (see August 24, 2001). (Tenet 2007, pp. 201)
The CIA receives some threat information about a man named “Khalid” and begins to examine data on everybody it knows whose first name is “Khalid”. In an August 22 e-mail FBI agent Dina Corsi writes that this is one of the reasons for the interest in hijacker Khalid Almihdhar at this time: “the reason [the intelligence community] were looking at [Almihdhar] is relatively general—basically they were looking at all individuals using the name Khalid because of some threat information.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 285 ) The identity of the man named Khalid they are looking for is not revealed, however, there is threat reporting starting in June 2001 concerning someone an informant called Khalid, who is later revealed to be Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (see June 12, 2001).
In an interview with Al Jazeera journalist Yosri Fouda in 2002 (see April, June, or August 2002), would-be hijacker Ramzi bin al-Shibh will claim that, roughly around this day, he receives a coded chat room message about the 9/11 plot from future hijacker Mohamed Atta in the US. Fouda will later co-write a book, and in it he will allege that bin al-Shibh gave him a computer disc containing the exact message. The message, as translated by Fouda, reads:
“The first semester commences in three weeks. There are no changes. All is well. There are good signs and encouraging ideas. Two high schools and two universities. Everything is going according to plan. This summer will surely be hot. I want to talk to you about some details. Nineteen certificates for private education and four exams. Regards to the Professor. Goodbye.”
Fouda will claim that the message is in code, and that bin al-Shibh discussed with him what the real meaning was. In his book, Fouda says the real meaning is this:
“The zero hour is going to be in three weeks’ time. There are no changes. All is well. The brothers have been seeing encouraging visions and dreams. The Twin Towers, the Pentagon, and Capitol Hill. Everything is going according to plan. This summer will surely be hot. I want to talk to you about some details. Nineteen hijackers and four targets. Regards to Khalid Shaikh Mohammed or Osama bin Laden [Fouda isn’t sure which one is the ‘Professor’]. I will call you nearer the time.”
Bin al-Shibh also tells Fouda that “This summer will surely be hot” is a reference to the damage the attacks will cause. (Tremlett 9/9/2002; Fouda and Fielding 2003, pp. 138-139, 146)
When Were the Exact Date and Targets Chosen? - Future hijacker Hani Hanjour makes surveillance test flights near the Pentagon and World Trade Center around this time, suggesting the targets for the 9/11 attacks have now been confirmed (see July 20, 2001 and Mid-August 2001). (CBS News 10/9/2002) The FBI will later notice spikes in cell phone use between the hijackers just after the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui and just before the hijackers begin to buy tickets for the flights they will hijack. (Bernstein et al. 9/10/2002) CIA Director George Tenet will hint that Moussaoui’s arrest a few days earlier (on August 15 (see August 16, 2001)) may be connected to when the date of the attacks is picked. (US Congress 6/18/2002) On the other hand, some terrorists appear to have made plans to flee Germany in advance of the 9/11 attacks on August 14, one day before Moussaoui’s arrest (see August 14, 2001).
A key Justice Department unit, the Office of Intelligence and Policy Review (OIPR), is not consulted about a request to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings. Although it is this office that would submit an application for a search warrant under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the legal aspects of the application are discussed only with the National Security Law Unit, which is beneath the OIPR (see August 22-28, 2001). FBI officials discuss what they think the OIPR will want in a warrant application, but do not ask it directly. Sherry Sabol, an attorney in the lower National Security Law Unit, will later say that she would have contacted the OIPR to discuss a possible warrant application, if FBI headquarters agents had not withheld information from her (see August 22-28, 2001). When shown the relevant documentation for the Moussaoui case after 9/11, the OIPR’s general counsel will say he would have considered the application and, if submitted, he “would have tied bells and whistles” to a comment by Moussaoui’s imam that Moussaoui and an associate wanted to “go on jihad” (see August 17, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 132-166, 182-4, 201 ) However, a memo from Attorney General John Ashcroft issued in May to improve the efficiency of the FISA process recommended communications between field offices, FBI headquarters, and the OIPR. In addition, the OIPR and the FBI should hold regular monthly meetings to discuss FISA warrants. It is unclear if such a meeting is held in the three weeks between Moussaoui’s arrest and 9/11. However, one of the people supposed to attend such meetings is Spike Bowman, chief of the National Security Law Unit, who is involved in the Moussaoui case (see August 28, 2001). (US Department of Justice 5/18/2001 )
Walid Arkeh, a Jordanian serving time in a Florida prison, is interviewed by FBI agents after warning the government of an impending al-Qaeda attack. He had been in a British jail from September 2000 to July 2001, and while there had befriended three inmates, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Adel Abdel Bary, and Ibrahim Eidarous. US prosecutors charge, “The three men ran a London storefront that served as a cover for al-Qaeda operations and acted as a conduit for communications between bin Laden and his network.” (Bloodsworth 10/30/2002) Al-Fawwaz was bin Laden’s press agent in London, and bin Laden had called him over 200 times before al-Fawwaz was arrested in 1998. (Huband 11/29/2001; Fielding and Gadhery 3/24/2002) The other two had worked in the same office as al-Fawwaz (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). All three had been indicted as co-conspirators with bin Laden in the August 1998 US embassy bombings. Arkeh tells the FBI that he had learned from these three that “something big [is] going to happen in New York City,” and that they call the 1993 attack on the WTC “unfinished business.” Tampa FBI agents determine that he had associated with these al-Qaeda agents, but nonetheless they do not believe him. According to Arkeh, one agent responds to his “something big” warning by saying: “Is that all you have? That’s old news.” The agents fail to learn more from him. On September 9, concerned that time is running out, a fellow prisoner will try to arrange a meeting, but nothing will happen before 9/11. The Tampa FBI agents will have a second interview with him hours after the 9/11 attacks, but even long after 9/11 they will claim that he cannot be believed. On January 6, 2002, the Tampa FBI will issue a statement: “The information [was] vetted to FBI New York, the Acting Special Agent in Charge of the Tampa Division and the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida. All agreed the information provided by this individual was vague and unsubstantiated… Mr. Arkeh did not provide information that had any bearing on the FBI preventing September 11.” (Bloodsworth 1/6/2002; Bloodsworth 10/30/2002) However, a different group of FBI agents will interview him in May 2002 and find his information credible (see May 21-22, 2002).
On August 21, the FBI’s legal attache in London hand-delivers a request for information about Zacarias Moussaoui to British officials. On August 24, the CIA tells the British that Moussaoui is a possible “suicide hijacker” who is involved in “suspicious 747 flight training.” The CIA asks for information on him on August 28. The FBI raises the matter with the British again on September 3 and again on September 5. Although the British do not respond to these requests until just after 9/11, French intelligence, which has been sharing information about Moussaoui with the British (see 1999), sends the FBI some information about Moussaoui’s activities and history in England (see August 22, 2001). Then, on September 13, 2001, the British supposedly learn new information that Moussaoui attended an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan (see 1995-1998). The 9/11 Commission will conclude, “Had this information been available in late August 2001, the Moussaoui case would almost certainly have received intense and much higher-level attention.” A British official will complain, “We passed on all the relevant information [about Moussaoui] as soon as we obtained it.” (Borger 4/14/2004; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 274-75) However, the British had Moussaoui under surveillance in 2000 (see Mid-2000-December 9, 2000), and appear to have failed to pass on any information about this surveillance or what it uncovered.
An FBI agent detailed to the CIA’s bin Laden unit locates CIA cables saying that future 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi entered the US in early 2000. The agent, Margaret Gillespie, then checks with the US Customs Service and discovers that another future 9/11 hijacker, Khalid Almihdhar, entered the US on July 4, 2001, and there is no record he has left the country. As there is “an imperative to find anyone affiliated with al-Qaeda if they [are] believed to be in the US,” Gillespie immediately contacts Dina Corsi, an FBI agent in its bin Laden unit. Gillespie, who has been examining the USS Cole bombing and al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit for some time, will later say that when she learns of their arrival in the US, “it all clicks for me.” The Justice Department’s office of inspector general will find that Gillespie’s “actions on receipt of the information clearly indicate that she understood the significance of this information when she received it. She took immediate steps to open an intelligence investigation.” Gillespie and Corsi meet with Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer involved in the investigation (see August 22, 2001), and Almihdhar and Alhazmi are soon watchlisted (see August 23, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 300-301, 313 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 )
Margaret Gillespie, an FBI agent detailed to the CIA who has just found out that future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US (see August 21-22, 2001), suggests asking failed Millennium bomber Ahmed Ressam whether he recognizes Almihdhar, but the proposal is not acted on. Ressam was arrested on his way to bomb Los Angeles airport (see December 14, 1999), but has been co-operating with the US government against al-Qaeda (see May 30, 2001). Gillespie makes the suggestion in an e-mail to Tom Wilshire, a CIA representative to the FBI. It is unclear what Wilshire does with the suggestion, but Ressam is not interviewed. When shown photos of Almihdhar after 9/11, Ressam will not recognize him. The FBI also fails to ask Ressam about Zacarias Moussaoui before 9/11, but shortly after 9/11 Ressam will identity Moussaoui as a person that attended al-Qaeda’s camps in Afghanistan (see Late August-Early September 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 275-6, 541)
FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi learns that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash attended a summit in Malaysia that was also attended by 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 5-8, 2000); an e-mail sent by Corsi on this date contains the first reference in FBI documents to bin Attash’s presence at the Malaysia summit. Although it is her job to support the investigation into the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), which bin Attash commanded, and she is aware that bin Attash is important to the Cole investigation, even saying that she is focused on his identity and whereabouts, she fails to communicate this information to the agents investigating the bombing, who do not receive it before 9/11 (see August 30, 2001). After 9/11, she will say she cannot recall how she learned this information and an investigation by the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will fail to find any documents that cast light on the matter. Although she does not do anything with this information before another FBI agent tells her Khalid Almihdhar is in the US (see August 21-22, 2001), she will later say that the information bin Attash was at the Malaysia summit was important, as it connected Almihdhar and Alhazmi to the Cole bombing. She will also say that CIA officers Tom Wilshire and Clark Shannon, who she discussed al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit with and who knew that bin Attash was in Malaysia with Alhazmi and Almihdhar (see Late May, 2001, Mid-May 2001 and June 11, 2001), did not give her this information. Although Corsi and others know that bin Attash is an important al-Qaeda leader, he is not watchlisted at this point, although one of his aliases is watchlisted in August (see August 23, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 280, 284, 286, 293, 296, 302 )
After FBI agents Margaret Gillespie and Dina Corsi learn that 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi may be in the US (see August 21-22, 2001), they call a meeting with Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer interested in the investigation who is on loan to the FBI. Although all three will later be unable to recall the specifics of the conversation, they agree that it is important to initiate an investigation to locate Almihdhar. However, Wilshire has been aware that Almihdhar has a US visa since January 2000, when he frustrated the passage of such information to the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). He is also already aware that Alhazmi entered the US in January 2000 (see May 15, 2001) but again does not share this with the FBI. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 301-2 )
An FBI team returns to Yemen to re-commence its investigation of the bombing of the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000). The team, headed by FBI agent Ali Soufan and sent by retiring FBI manager John O’Neill on his last day with the FBI (see August 22, 2001), had been pulled out of Yemen in June, due to possible threats against it (see June 17, 2001). On the same day as Soufan leaves, the CIA finally tells the FBI some of what it knows about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and their attendance at an al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see August 21-22, 2001 and August 23, 2001). Soufan had requested information about the Malaysia summit from the CIA three times (see Late November 2000, April 2001 and July 2001), but the CIA had repeatedly failed to respond to his requests. While in Yemen, Soufan appears not to be aware of the new information provided to the FBI, and learns about the Malaysia summit shortly after the 9/11 attacks (see January 5-8, 2000 and September 12-Late September, 2001). (Wright 7/10/2006 )
Counterterrorism expert John O’Neill retires from the FBI. He says it is partly because of the recent power play against him, but also because of repeated obstruction of his investigations into al-Qaeda. (Wright 1/14/2002) In his last act, he signs papers ordering FBI investigators back to Yemen to resume the USS Cole investigation, now that Barbara Bodine is leaving as ambassador (they arrive a couple days before 9/11). He never hears the CIA warning about hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar sent out just one day later. He also apparently is not told about the arrest of Zacarias Moussaoui on August 15, 2001 (PBS 10/3/2002) ; nor does he attend a June meeting when the CIA reveals some of what it knows about Alhazmi and Almihdhar. (Gilmore and Wiser 10/3/2002) ABC News reporter Chris Isham will later say, “John had heard the alarm bells, too, and we used to talk about it. And he knew that there was a lot of noise out there and that there were a lot of warnings, a lot of red flags, and that it was at a similar level that they were hearing before the millennium, which was an indication that there was something going on. And yet he felt that he was frozen out, that he was not in a capacity to really do anything about it anymore because of his relationship with the FBI. So it was a source of real anguish for him.” (PBS 10/3/2002)
According to German newspapers, the Mossad gives the CIA a list of 19 terrorists living in the US and say that they appear to be planning to carry out an attack in the near future. It is unknown if these are the 19 9/11 hijackers or if the number is a coincidence. However, four names on the list are known, and these four will be 9/11 hijackers: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Marwan Alshehhi, and Mohamed Atta. (Schrom 10/1/2002; Gebauer 10/1/2002; Broomby 10/2/2002; Ha'aretz 10/3/2002) The Mossad appears to have learned about this through its “art student spy ring.” Yet apparently, this warning and list are not treated as particularly urgent by the CIA and the information is not passed on to the FBI. It is unclear whether this warning influenced the decision to add Alhazmi and Almihdhar to a terrorism watch list on this same day, and if so, why only those two. (Gebauer 10/1/2002) Israel has denied that there were any Mossad agents in the US. (Ha'aretz 10/3/2002)
Dina Corsi, an FBI agent in the bureau’s bin Laden unit, informs her boss, bin Laden unit supervisor Rodney Middleton, that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 303 ) Middleton will later recall his reaction to the news as an “‘Oh sh_t’ moment.” (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 52 ) He reviews the information Corsi presents to him and agrees with her that an intelligence investigation should be opened in New York to find Almihdhar. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 303 )
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. (Isikoff and Klaidman 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. (Smith 7/25/2003) Furthermore, counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke and his Counterterrorism Security Group are not told about these two operatives before 9/11 either. (Isikoff and Hosenball 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). (Drogin, Lichtblua, and Krikorian 10/28/2001) The FBI denies that it was marked “immediate” and other agencies treated the request as a routine matter. (Drogin, Lichtblau, and Krikorian 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 ) 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)
The 9/11 Commission later will note that at this time, an unnamed foreign intelligence “service report[s] that [al-Qaeda deputy leader] Abu Zubaida [is] considering mounting terrorist attacks in the United States, after postponing possible operations in Europe. No targets, timing or method of attack [are] provided.” Newsweek will suggest that most or all of this information may have come from a US debriefing of al-Qaeda bomber Ahmed Ressam in May 2001 (see May 30, 2001). Newsweek will note that it is a common occurrence for foreign intelligence agencies to “simply rereport to the CIA what it had originally learned from the FBI through separate channels.” Still, even “the multiple channels for Ressam’s warnings [do] little to change thinking within the FBI or CIA…” (Isikoff and Hosenball 4/28/2005; US District Court of Eastern Virginia 5/4/2006, pp. 6 ) However, it is possible the information could be more than a mirror of what Ressam said, since a number of Western intelligence agencies are monitoring Zubaida’s phone calls before 9/11 (see October 1998 and After).
Tom Wilshire, a CIA manager detailed to the FBI (see May 2001), writes to Dave Frasca, head of the FBI’s radical fundamentalist unit, to obtain information about the progress of the case of Zacarias Moussaoui. Moussaoui was arrested by the FBI’s Minneapolis field office, which Wilshire refers to as the “Minneapolis Airplane IV crowd.” Presumably, this is a reference to the films Airplane and Airplane II, which were parodies of disaster and sci-fi movies. He asks whether leads have been sent out to obtain additional biographical information and whether the FBI has photographs it can provide the CIA. He receives a reply from one of Frasca’s subordinates telling him there are no indications Moussaoui has plans for nefarious activity (see August 24, 2001). (Haflidason 3/13/2001; Haflidason 3/13/2001; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 151 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 )
When the US intelligence community watchlists the alias Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf, which is used by al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash (see August 23, 2001), it fails to realize that “bin Yousaf” is really bin Attash, who is known to be one of the masterminds of the USS Cole bombing (see Late October-Late November 2000 and November 22-December 16, 2000). The CIA knows that both bin Attash and “Salah Saeed Mohammed bin Yousaf” were in Malaysia with 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi in January 2000 (see January 5-8, 2000, January 8, 2000, and January 4, 2001). Furthermore, the CIA has a photo of bin Attash provided by the Yemeni government, and surveillance photos and video of bin Attash with Alhazmi and Almihdhar at an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000 and Shortly After and January 5, 2000). And when bin Attash applied for a US visa, he used the “bin Yousaf” alias (see April 3, 1999), so presumably a comparison of his photo from that application with other photos would reveal that “bin Yousaf” and bin Attash are one and the same person. However, apparently no check is made for any US visa of “bin Yousaf,” even after he is watchlisted to prevent him from coming into the US, which would require a visa. Had a check been made, it would have been discovered that he applied for a visa at the same time as both Almihdhar and Alhazmi (see April 3-7, 1999), the very people who have been watchlisted together with him. Presumably, discovering that Alhazmi and Almihdhar had applied for US visas with one of the Cole masterminds would have greatly increased the urgency of finding them. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 538; US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 248, 300-3 ) The US missed other opportunities to learn more about this alias (see After January 8, 2000 and After December 16, 2000).
After the CIA sends the FBI information it thinks is sufficient for a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 24, 2001), the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (CTC) sends the same information to a CIA representative to the FBI and asks him to help arrange a search warrant. The representative is not named, but it may be Tom Wilshire (see May 2001), a CIA officer assigned to the FBI who requests information about Moussaoui on this day (see August 24, 2001). The CTC officer writes: “No one in the FBI seems to have latched on to this. Perhaps you can educate them on Moussaoui. This may be all they need to open a FISA on Moussaoui.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 202)
After 9/11, no clear evidence that any of the FBI’s top managers are informed of the search for hijacker Khalid Almihdhar will be uncovered and the 9/11 Commission will comment, “It appears that no one informed higher levels of management in either the FBI or CIA about the case.” However, the Commission will also note that “one witness recalls a discussion with a senior FBI official, that official denies that a discussion took place. The other alleged participant does not recall such a meeting.” The list of sources that follows this passage indicates that the senior official is International Terrorism Operations Section chief Michael Rolince, who is also informed of the Moussaoui case around this time, but will attempt to play down his knowledge of it (see Late August 2001 and March 21, 2006), and the other participants are two of the following: FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, CIA officer Tom Wilshire, and acting head of the FBI’s bin Laden unit Rod Middleton. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 270, 538)
A supplemental Visa credit card on a “Mustafa al-Hawsawi” bank account is issued in the name of Abdulrahman A. A. al-Ghamdi, which the FBI says is an alias for Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). The FBI believes this helps prove KSM is a superior to 9/11 facilitator al-Hawsawi (see July 23, 2001). (Hedges 6/5/2002; US Congress 9/26/2002)
The FBI fails to ask Ahmed Ressam, an al-Qaeda operative arrested during the Millennium alert (see December 14, 1999), whether he can identify Zacarias Moussaoui. Agents in Seattle holding Ressam receive a general notification about the Moussaoui case, but it lacks urgency and they do not follow up on it with Ressam (see September 4, 2001). When asked shortly after 9/11, Ressam will say he recognizes Moussaoui from al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan. The 9/11 Commission will conclude that had Ressam been shown photos of Moussaoui and identified him before 9/11, the FBI would have been able to search his belongings. The belongings contain enough information to potentially prevent 9/11 (see August 16, 2001). The FBI also fails to ask Ressam whether he recognizes Khalid Almihdhar at this time, although Ressam has never met Almihdhar and will not identify him after 9/11 (see August 21, 2001). (Sunday Times (London) 2/3/2002; 9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 275-6, 541)
The FBI contacts the State Department and the INS to determine the visa status of recently watch listed hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar. Almihdhar’s visa obtained in June is revoked the same day; Alhazmi’s visa has already expired and he is in the country illegally. (US Congress 7/24/2003 ) However neither agency is asked “to assist in locating the individuals, nor was any other information provided [that] would have indicated either a high priority or imminent danger.” An INS official later states, “if [the INS] had been asked to locate the two suspected terrorists… in late August on an urgent, emergency basis, it would have been able to run those names through its extensive database system and might have been able to locate them.” The State Department says that “it might have been able to locate the two suspected terrorists if it had been asked to do so.” (US Congress 9/20/2002)
A Saudi family abruptly moves out of a Sarasota, Florida, residence linked to individuals who will later be accused of being among the 9/11 hijackers. The residence is owned by a Saudi couple, Esam Ghazzawi and his American-born wife, Deborah, and is occupied by Esam’s daughter, Anoud, and her husband, Abdulaziz al-Hijji. An unnamed counterterrorism officer will, in 2012, describe, “The car registration numbers of vehicles that had passed through the Prestancia community’s North Gate in the months before 9/11, coupled with the identification documents shown by incoming drivers on request, showed that Mohamed Atta and several of his fellow hijackers [Marwan al-Shehhi, Walid al-Shehri, and Ziad Jarrah]—and another Saudi terror suspect still at large [Adnan Shukrijumah]—had visited 4224 Escondito Circle on multiple occasions.” The counterterrorism officer will also say that “link analysis… tracked phone calls—based on dates, times, and length of phone conversations to and from the Escondito house—dating back more than a year before 9/11. And the phone traffic also connected with the 9/11 terrorists—though less directly than the gate logs did.” (Christensen and Summers 3/12/2012) According to the Broward Bulldog, “The counterterrorism agent said Ghazzawi and al-Hijji had been on a watch list at the FBI and that a US agency involved in tracking terrorist funds was interested in both men even before 9/11.” (Summers and Christensen 9/8/2011)
Residence Hastily Abandoned - A suspicious neighbor, Patrick Gallagher, will email the FBI on the day of the 9/11 attacks, but apparently the FBI will not investigate until about a month later, after Larry Berberich, senior administrator and security officer of the Prestancia gated community, contacts local law enforcement. According to Berberich and the counterterrorism officer: “[T]here was mail on the table, dirty diapers in one of the bathrooms… all the toiletries still in place… all their clothes hanging in the closet… TVs… opulent furniture, equal or greater in value than the house… the pool running, with toys in it. The beds were made… fruit on the counter… the refrigerator full of food.… It was like they went grocery shopping. Like they went out to a movie.… [But] the safe was open in the master bedroom, with nothing in it, not a paper clip.… A computer was still there. A computer plug in another room, and the line still there. Looked like they’d taken [another] computer and left the cord.” (Summers and Christensen 9/8/2011) The family also leaves three vehicles and “huge piles of trash in front of the… home.” (Christensen 9/13/2011)
Terrorism Links Alleged by FBI Informant - In addition to the visitor logs and call records, FBI informant Wissam Taysir Hammoud will allege that al-Hijji has links to the 9/11 hijackers. In 2004, the FBI and the Sarasota County Sheriff’s Office will interview Hammoud at the Hillsborough County Jail. Hammoud will tell them that al-Hijji introduced him to Adnan El Shukrijumah, that al-Hijji considered Osama bin Laden a “hero,” that al-Hijji may have known some of the 9/11 hijackers, that al-Hijji talked about “going to Afghanistan and becoming a freedom fighter,” and that al-Hijji tried to recruit him. At the time of the interview, Hammoud will be serving a 21-year sentence for attempted murder and weapons violations, and is classified as an “International Terrorist Associate” by the US Bureau of Prisons. (Christensen and Summers 3/12/2012)
Al-Hijji Professes Innocence - Responding to the allegations in email correspondence with the London Daily Telegraph in 2012, al-Hijji will acknowledge having been friends with Hammoud, but will say the other allegations against him are false: “I have neither relation nor association with any of those bad people/criminals and the awful crime they did,” he will say. “9/11 is a crime against the USA and all humankind, and I’m very saddened and oppressed by these false allegations.” (Christensen and Summers 3/12/2012)
FBI Repeatedly Denies 9/11 Links - Following news reporting on the events, the FBI will say in a prepared statement given to the Tampa Bay Times that the related leads “were resolved and determined not to be related to any threat nor connected to the 9/11 plot,” and that “[a]ll of the documentation pertaining to the 9/11 investigation was made available to the 9/11 Commission” and the Joint Inquiry. (Martin 9/13/2011) And in a letter denying records requested under the Freedom of Information Act, the FBI will say, “At no time during the course of its investigation of the attacks, known as the PENTTBOM investigation, did the FBI develop credible evidence that connected the address at 4224 Escondito Circle, Sarasota, Florida to any of the 9/11 hijackers.” (Christensen and Summers 2/20/2011)
Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Disputes FBI Statements - Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, will deny that the Joint Inquiry received information regarding the Saudis and the Escondito Circle address, and will press the FBI to provide the records it says it turned over. The FBI will delay turning these records over for several months, and when it finally does provide two classified documents from 2002 and 2003 to Graham, Graham will say, “An important investigative lead was not pursued and unsubstantiated statements were accepted as truth.” The Broward Bulldog will also report that Graham says, “[T]he agent suggested that another federal agency be asked to join the investigation, but that the idea was ‘rejected.’” Graham will attempt to interview this agent, but find he has been ordered by FBI headquarters not to talk. (Christensen and Summers 2/20/2011)
A Cayman Islands radio station receives an unsigned letter claiming that three men from either Pakistan or Afghanistan who are living in the Cayman Islands are agents of Osama bin Laden. These three men were briefly arrested in June 2001 for discussing hijacking attacks in New York City (see June 4, 2001). The letter’s anonymous author warns that the men “are organizing a major terrorist act against the US via an airline or airlines.” On September 6, the letter will be forwarded to a Cayman government official, but no action will be taken until after 9/11. When the Cayman government notifies the US is unknown. Many criminals and/or businesses use the Cayman Islands as a safe, no tax, no-questions-asked haven to keep their money. The author of the letter will meet with the FBI shortly after 9/11 and will claim his information was a “premonition of sorts.” The three men will later be arrested. What happens to them after their arrest is unclear. (Whitefield 9/20/2001; Serrano and Dahlburg 9/20/2001; Hansen 9/23/2001)
The FBI’s New York office opens a full field intelligence investigation to locate Khalid Almihdhar. New York FBI agent Robert Fuller, new to the international terrorism squad, is the only person assigned to the task. The New York office had been given a “heads up alert” about Almihdhar on August 23, but the search only begins after the FBI decides on August 28 to conduct an intelligence investigation instead of a criminal investigation (see August 29, 2001). Another agent had labeled the search request “routine,” meaning that Fuller has 30 days to find his target. However, Fuller will be busy with another matter and won’t begin work on finding Almihdhar until September 4 (see September 4-5, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004)
French authorities provide the FBI’s representative in Paris with additional information about Zacarias Moussaoui, and he forwards this information to the FBI’s Minneapolis field office and headquarters (see August 22, 2001 and Late 1999-Late 2000). The French say that according to an acquaintance of the suspected militant, Moussaoui is a radical Islamic fundamentalist who is potentially very dangerous. They warn that Moussaoui, who was radicalized at London’s Finsbury Park mosque, is devoted to Wahabbism, the Saudi Arabian sect of Islam that is adhered to by bin Laden (see 1994), and has traveled to Kuwait, Turkey, and Afghanistan (see 1995-1998). According to the French, the acquaintance also revealed that Moussaoui is a “strategist” and described him as “a cold stubborn man, capable of nurturing a plan over several months, or even years and of committing himself to this task in all elements of his life.” The French also tell the FBI that they would be willing to have Moussaoui deported back to France. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 169-170 ; Sniffen 3/20/2006) Describing the French report to the FBI, a French justice official later says that France “gave the FBI ‘everything we had’” on Moussaoui, “enough to make you want to check this guy out every way you can. Anyone paying attention would have seen he was not only operational in the militant Islamist world but had some autonomy and authority as well.” (Ratnesar and Weisskopf 5/27/2002) And the French interior minister will similarly state, “We did not hold back any information.” (Ross and Scott 9/5/2002) “Even a neophyte working in some remote corner of Florida, would have understood the threat based on what was sent,” one senior French investigator later explains. (Elliott 8/12/2002) The FBI decides (see (August 30-September 10, 2001)) to deport Moussaoui back to France. At a meeting in Paris several days later (see September 5-6, 2001), French authorities will again warn their US counterparts about Moussaoui and his connections.
A CIA officer involved in the Moussaoui case contacts a fellow CIA officer assigned to the FBI and complains about the FBI’s inability to obtain a warrant to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings, which contain enough information to potentially prevent 9/11 (see August 16, 2001). The officer writes: “Please excuse my obvious frustration in this case. I am highly concerned that this is not paid the amount of attention it deserves. I do not want to be responsible when [Moussaoui and his associate Hussein al-Attas] surface again as members of a suicide terrorist op… I want an answer from a named FBI group chief [note: presumably Dave Frasca, head of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit] for the record on these questions… several of which I have been asking since a week and a half ago. It is critical that the paper trail is established and clear. If this guy is let go, two years from now he will be talking to a control tower while aiming a 747 at the White House.” One of these two CIA officers may be Tom Wilshire, who is involved in the Moussaoui case (see August 24, 2001). CIA director George Tenet will write, “This comment was particularly prescient because we later learned after 9/11 that Moussaoui had in fact asked Osama bin Laden for permission to be able to attack the White House.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 203) Greg Jones, an FBI agent involved in the case, makes a similar prediction, but guesses that the target will be the World Trade Center, not the White House (see August 27, 2001).
Future 9/11 hijacker Fayez Ahmed Banihammad attempts to get into an airplane cockpit on a test flight across the US, according to flight attendant Gregory McAleer. McAleer is employed by United Airlines. He will later claim to the 9/11 Commission that on August 30, 2001, he is working on Flight 514, a Boeing 737-300 flying from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport to Logan Airport in Boston.
Strange Encounter - Early in the boarding process a Middle Eastern male enters the airplane with a “jump seat” pass. This pass allows the person to sit in the jump seat, an extra seat in the airplane’s cockpit. Typically, only licensed pilots employed by US domestic airlines are given these passes. The man is not dressed in a pilot’s uniform, but wears casual clothes and carries a suitcase. McAleer sees this man entering the cockpit and talking to the pilot and copilot. After a few moments, the man leaves the cockpit and takes a seat in the coach section. McAleer is curious and asks the pilot about the man. The pilot says the man can’t use the jump seat since he doesn’t have the proper ID. Later in the flight, McAleer has a chance to question the man while both of them are waiting to use the lavatory. The man claims to be a pilot for a regional airline, but when McAleer, who has a pilot’s license, asks him questions about his job and his knowledge of flying, the answers don’t add up and the man also asks him some suspicious questions. McAleer finds the man’s behavior so suspicious that he wonders at the time if he could be a terrorist.
FBI and United Airlines Not that Interested - Several days after 9/11, McAleer will contact the FBI’s Chicago field office about the incident. An FBI agent takes his information, but does not seem very interested or even comprehending about the jump seat idea. Several days after that, McAleer describes the incident to a United Airlines flight attendant supervisor. After conferring with a manager, the supervisor tells him: “Do not talk to the FBI again. I went to [United Airlines assistant station manager] Mitch Gross and he told me to tell you not to talk to the FBI again. If you have any concerns you can call the [United Airlines] Crisis Center. The FBI agents are working on the case.” McAleer gives the information by phone to the Crisis Center, but he still is unsatisfied. He later tells the story to Gross, and Gross tells him, “You are not to talk to anyone about this.” On September 27, 2001, McAleer will read a local newspaper article that shows the pictures of all of the 9/11 hijackers for the first time (see September 27, 2001), and he quickly concludes that hijacker Fayez Ahmed Banihammad was the suspicious man who had flown on Flight 514. McAleer continues to try to raise the issue, for instance with United Airlines corporate security, but without much success.
FBI Stops Media Coverage - Eventually, McAleer will come in contact with a USA Today reporter named Blake Morrison. After checking with the FBI, Morrison decides to write a story about McAleer’s experience. However, at the last minute, the FBI contacts Morrison and asks him not to run the article. As a result, the article only runs in the international edition of USA Today, on June 12, 2002. Morrison later tells McAleer that an FBI source told him that Banihammad’s name was not on the flight manifest. This does not surprise McAleer, since people using jump seat passes or companion passes are not usually on the manifest. The 9/11 Commission will not mention McAleer’s story at all, and will dismiss the jumpseating issue in general. (9/11 Commission 8/12/2003 )
Legal Implications - There will be reports that other 9/11 hijackers used test flights to try to get into cockpits, and some tried to sit in jump seats (see November 23, 2001 and November 23, 2001). There will also be reports that jump seats were used by the hijackers in the 9/11 attacks (see September 24, 2001 and November 23, 2001). Jumpseating will become a contentious issue, because if it could be shown that the 9/11 hijackers were able to get into cockpits using jump seats, American Airlines and United Airlines could be sued for significant damages. In fact, McAleer’s account will later be used in a 9/11 negligence lawsuit against United Airlines. In 2011, it will be reported that attorneys in the lawsuit are attempting to depose the agents who interviewed McAleer, but the Justice Department is refusing to let the agents testify. (Thys 1/31/2011)
The CIA finally tells the FBI that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash attended an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 with future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see January 5-8, 2000). The CIA monitored the meeting and has known that bin Attash attended it for at least eight months (see January 4, 2001), but repeatedly failed to tell the FBI of this (see Shortly Before February 1, 2001, February 1, 2001, Mid-May 2001, and June 11, 2001). The CIA will later say that it thought the FBI knew of the identification in January 2001 (see January 5, 2001 and After), but a CIA manager asked for permission to pass the information to the FBI in July 2001, implying he knew the FBI did not have the information (see July 13, 2001). (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 298, 305, 310 ) In addition, the text of the notifiction states, “We wish to advise you that, during a previously scheduled meeting with our joint source,” bin Attash was identified in a surveillance photo. (US Congress 7/24/2003, pp. 150 ) The cable containing the information is for Rodney Middleton, acting head of the FBI’s bin Laden unit, and also says that, if the FBI thinks it does not have all the photographs it needs of the Malaysia summit, it should ask the CIA for them. Middleton is aware that the FBI is investigating Almihdhar (see August 29, 2001), but there is no record of him or anyone else providing this information to either the agent investigating Almihdhar or the main investigation of the USS Cole bombing, which bin Attash commanded. The information was requested by FBI agent Dina Corsi and was passed through a CIA Counterterrorist Center representative to the FBI, presumably Tom Wilshire. Although one of bin Attash’s aliases was watchlisted one week ago (see August 23, 2001), he is not watchlisted under his real name even at this point, meaning the commander of the USS Cole attack can enter the US under his own name as he pleases. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 298, 305, 310 )
The FBI’s Oklahoma City field office again fails to provide help with the Moussaoui investigation. They had been asked by colleagues in Minneapolis to investigate El Hadj Ndiaye, an associate of Moussaoui who knew Moussaoui wanted to go on jihad (see August 17, 2001). However, instead of interviewing the list of people Minneapolis wanted them to talk to, they just speak to one person. On September 6, Minneapolis agent Harry Samit notes that the interviewee seems to be close to Ndaiye and that he would “be willing to throw the Bureau off the trail” because of this closeness. The same field office had previously failed to make connections related to another lead in the investigation (see August 23, 2001). Samit also expresses his disappointment at their performance: “Oklahoma City continues to fall short of expectations… Anyway, we know for future reference how weak they are.” (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 ; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006 )
Following the collapse of the FBI’s attempts to search Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 28, 2001), the FBI begins working on a plan to deport him to France so his belongings can be searched there. The French ask that a law enforcement officer from the US accompany Moussaoui. The FBI’s Minneapolis field office and the FBI’s assistant legal attache in Paris ask that Minneapolis agent Harry Samit and an INS agent go to France with Moussaoui to brief the French and await the results of the search of his belongings. Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) chief Dave Frasca opposes this plan. Michael Rolince, head of the bureau’s International Terrorism Operations Section, opposes it as well, later claiming that he thought Samit might try to obtain information from Moussaoui on the journey. For several days, Frasca and one of his subordinates, Mike Maltbie, continue to haggle with Minneapolis over whether Samit can accompany Moussaoui. But when the French and the assistant legal attache insist, they drop their objections. (US Department of Justice 11/2004, pp. 171-3 ) Minneapolis is highly unsatisfied with this solution and would have preferred to obtain a warrant to search his belongings. Samit writes before 9/11 that deporting Moussaoui “was a distant third in my list of desired outcomes, but at this point I am so desperate to get into his computer I’ll take anything.” (Federal Bureau of Investigation 9/10/2001 ) Samit will later accuse the RFU of “criminal negligence” because they were trying to “run out the clock” and deport Moussaoui, instead of prosecuting him. (Markon and Dwyer 3/21/2006) The 9/11 attacks occur before the deportation can take place (see September 11, 2001).
I-49, a squad of FBI agents and Justice Department prosecutors that began focusing on bin Laden in 1996 (see January 1996), is upset that the NSA is not sharing its monitoring of the phone calls of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). The squad builds their own antenna in Madagascar specifically to intercept KSM’s calls. (Wright 2006, pp. 344) It has not been revealed when this antenna was built or what was learned from this surveillance. However, there have been media reports that the NSA monitored some phone calls between KSM and Mohamed Atta in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001). Further, US intelligence monitored a call between KSM and Atta a day before 9/11 that was the final go-ahead for the attacks (see September 10, 2001). So presumably the I-49 squad should have known about these calls as well if this antenna did what it was designed to do.
Vanity Fair publishes a profile of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh (see 7:14 a.m. June 11, 2001) by author and pundit Gore Vidal, who attended McVeigh’s execution (see May 6, 2001) and who exchanged letters with McVeigh for three years while he awaited execution. McVeigh invited Vidal to attend his execution as a result of their letter exchange.
Simplistic Portrayal of McVeigh as Lone 'Mad Bomber' - Vidal is convinced that the government orchestrated McVeigh’s conviction (see June 2, 1997) and the media’s portrayal of McVeigh as a lone mad bomber who “wanted to destroy innocent lives for no reason other than a spontaneous joy in evildoing.” Vidal also asserts that, in the government’s story, McVeigh “had no serious accomplices” (see December 23, 1997 and June 4, 1998). Orchestrating the media response was not particularly difficult, he writes, as few in the mainstream press were particularly interested in why McVeigh carried out the bombing aside from the simple explanation that he was “evil incarnate.” Any explanation of more complexity, Vidal writes, was dismissed as wild conspiracy theories. It was predictable, Vidal writes, that evidence pertinent to McVeigh’s case was not provided until well after his conviction and sentencing (see May 10-11, 2001), and that it would be largely ignored (see June 1-7, 2001). Vidal recounts numerous instances where, when he began to attempt an explanation of McVeigh’s obsession with the 1993 Branch Davidian conflagration (see April 19, 1993) and his belief that he was at war with the US government on a variety of news broadcasts, he was cut short by the hosts.
'Counter-Attack' against US Government - According to Vidal, McVeigh was clear in his letters that the bombing was more than just, McVeigh wrote, “a simple act of ‘revenge’ for Waco,” but “a strike against the US government,” or more precisely, “a ‘counter-attack’ rather than a self-declared war.” In one letter, he quoted pundit H.L. Mencken as writing, “Every normal man must be temped at times to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats.” Vidal recalls that he warned McVeigh that “Mencken often resorted to Swiftian hyperbole and was not to be taken too literally.” He then speculates on the “interesting possibility,” perhaps “the grandest conspiracy of all… that he neither made nor set off the bomb outside the Murrah Building: it was only later, when facing either death or life imprisonment, that he saw to it that would be given sole credit for hoisting the black flag and slitting throats, to the rising fury of various ‘militias’ across the land who are currently outraged that he is getting sole credit for a revolutionary act organized, some say, by many others. At the end, if this scenario is correct, he and the detested Feds were of a single mind.” Regardless of who carried out the bombing, Vidal writes, it is clear that “McVeigh himself was eager to commit what he called ‘federally assisted suicide.’” Vidal quotes an interview with Dr. John Smith, a psychiatrist who interviewed McVeigh in prison and was then released from his oath of confidentiality by McVeigh to discuss his findings with reporters, who concluded that McVeigh was quite sane, and carried out the bombing both in revenge for the Waco assault and because “he also wanted to make a political statement about the role of the federal government and protest the use of force against the citizens.” Smith found that McVeigh was disappointed that the media had refused to discuss what he considered “the misuse of power by the federal government” that impelled him to carry out the bombing.
Limited Contact with Militias - According to Smith, McVeigh told him, “I did not expect a revolution.” He had had numerous discussions with some of the militia groups around Kingman, Arizona, Smith said, about how easy it would be to “cut Interstate 40 in two” and thereby disrupt the transportation between the eastern and western portions of the country, but those discussions, McVeigh told Smith, were “rather grandiose” and never acted upon. Vidal acknowledges that for three years before the bombing, McVeigh lived in the semi-underground world of the American militia movement. During that time, he came to believe, as many militia members did at the time, that the federal government planned on following up its assault weapons ban (see September 13, 1994) with a massive, nationwide raid on gun owners and militia members in the spring of 1995. Vidal writes, “This was all the trigger that McVeigh needed for what he would do—shuffled the deck, as it were.” Vidal claims that McVeigh, unlike many militia members, had “no hang-ups about blacks, Jews, and all the other enemies of the various ‘Aryan’ white nations to be found in the Patriots’ ranks.” He was fascinated with the violently racist novel The Turner Diaries (see 1978) and 1987-1988), he acknowledges, but only for its themes of individual Americans using guns and explosives to overthrow “the System.” Smith bolstered Vidal’s contention by reporting that McVeigh had insisted to him that he was not a racist nor a homophobe—“he made that very clear.”
Rationale for Bombing, and for Killing Civilians, Children - Vidal quotes a 1998 essay McVeigh wrote for the right-wing publication Media Bypass, “Essay on Hypocrisy,” that addressed his choice to blow up the Murrah Building, which contained a daycare center. The US, he wrote, set the precedent for bombing and killing civilians. When US military forces attack Iraqi government buildings with daycare centers or schools in them, McVeigh wrote, the media reported the children were being used as “shields” by the Iraqis. Vidal claims that no evidence exists that proves McVeigh knew about the presence of children in the Murrah Building, and repeats McVeigh’s claims that he had no such foreknowledge. However, Vidal notes, the FBI knew about the children in the Branch Davidian compound, “and managed to kill 27 of them.” In a final set of longhand notes McVeigh sent to Vidal in the weeks before his execution, McVeigh wrote: “I explain herein why I bombed the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. I explain this not for publicity, nor seeking to win an argument of right or wrong, I explain so that the record is clear as to my thinking and motivations in bombing a government installation. I chose to bomb a Federal Building because such an action served more purposes than other options. Foremost, the bombing was a retaliatory strike: a counter-attack, for the cumulative raids (and subsequent violence and damage) that federal agents had participated in over the preceding years (including, but not limited to, Waco). From the formation of such units as the FBI’s ‘Hostage Rescue’ and other assault teams amongst federal agencies during the 80s, culminating in the Waco incident, federal actions grew increasingly militaristic and violent, to the point where at Waco, our government—like the Chinese—was deploying tanks against its own citizens.” The federal government has militarized the police, he wrote, and his bombing was designed as a “pre-emptive (or pro-active) strike against those forces and their command and control centers within the federal building. When an aggressor force continually launches attacks from a particular base of operations, it is sound military strategy to take the flight to the enemy. Additionally, borrowing a page from US foreign policy, I decided to send a message to a government that was becoming increasingly hostile, by bombing a government building and the government employees within that building who represent that government. Bombing the Murrah Federal Building was morally and strategically equivalent to the US hitting a government building in Serbia, Iraq, or other nations. Based on observations of the policies of my own government, I viewed this action as an acceptable option. From this perspective what occurred in Oklahoma City was no different than what Americans rain on the heads of others all the time, and, subsequently, my mindset was and is one of clinical detachment. (The bombing of the Murrah Building was not personal no more than when Air Force, Army, Navy, or Marine personnel bomb or launch cruise missiles against (foreign) government installations and their personnel.)”
'Exaggerated Sense of Justice' - Vidal has previously written that McVeigh suffered from what he called “an exaggerated sense of justice,” outraging many who read his words. He defends that characterization, and writes, “I knew that few Americans seriously believe that anyone is capable of doing anything except out of personal self-interest, while anyone who deliberately risks—and gives—his life to alert his fellow citizens to an onerous government is truly crazy.” McVeigh’s act may not have sparked a rebellion, Vidal writes, but it did presage an explosion of sorts in the number of citizens identifying themselves with the militia movement, many of whom joined local militia groups because they believed the government had orchestrated the bombing and then unjustly blamed McVeigh for it. Others believe that government agents planted bombs inside the Murrah Building set to go off when McVeigh’s truck bomb detonated. Many believe that McVeigh was used by the government to perpetuate “state police power,” similar to instances during the Vietnam War when “bogus Viet Cong units that were sent out to rape and murder Vietnamese to discredit the National Liberation Front,” or when US forces pretended to “find” Communist arms dumps in El Salvador. Vidal repeats the tale that all 17 members of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) working in their Murrah Building office suspiciously failed to report to work on the day of the bombing, suggesting that they knew of the bombing in advance (see December 30, 1998).
Militia Involvement? - Vidal then engages in a long and detailed attack on the evidence that shows McVeigh and his co-conspirator Terry Nichols built the bomb themselves. He believes that McVeigh and Nichols were involved in a complex and shadowy “plot involving militia types and government infiltrators—who knows?—as prime movers to create panic in order to get” President Clinton to enact the Anti-Terrorism Act, and cites research by journalist and author Joel Dyer, who in his own writings detailed his belief that the government downplayed McVeigh’s militia affiliations to make a case that he was a quintessential and possibly deranged “lone bomber.” Dyer and Vidal both cite the poor defense put on by McVeigh’s trial lawyer, Stephen Jones, who, Dyer contended, “often left the jury more confused and bored than convinced of his client’s innocence. Even when he succeeded in his attempts to demonstrate that a large conspiracy was behind the bombing, he did little to show that McVeigh was not at the center of the conspiracy. Jones’s case led some reporters to speculate that McVeigh himself was limiting his own defense in order to prevent evidence that might implicate others in the bombing from entering the record.” McVeigh did indeed confess to the bombing to his defense lawyers and, later, to Vidal, but, Vidal writes, “I believe that by confessing McVeigh was, once again, playing the soldier, attempting to protect his co-conspirators.” Vidal writes that his own research has unearthed a number of militia members who may have played a part in the April 19 bombing, and a systematic effort by the FBI and the McVeigh prosecution team to quash any evidence of that sort during McVeigh’s trial. He also challenges the government’s assertion that the reports of a third co-conspirator, “John Doe No. 2,” was a US Army private with no connection to McVeigh or the bombing (see January 29, 1997). Instead, he writes, that person was likely a well-known militia member in Shawnee County, Kansas, and possibly a member of the separatist Republic of Texas organization. He cites a book on the bombing by former journalist David Hoffman, who was convicted of trying to tamper with the McVeigh jury (see December 30, 1998), as being “the most thorough of a dozen or two accounts of what did and did not happen on that day in April.” Like Vidal, Hoffman does not believe that McVeigh’s truck bomb could have caused the damage inflicted on the Murrah Building, and cites a number of military and government experts who make the same contentions, even citing one report that claims the “five separate bombs” used in the explosion “have a Middle Eastern ‘signature,’ pointing to either Iraqi or Syrian involvement” (see 10:00 a.m. April 19, 1995 and After). Vidal notes that the search for bodies in the destroyed building was halted after 16 days (see May 4, 1995), against the wishes of those who wanted to continue attempting to search for more evidence in the bomb site. Six days later the building was demolished (see 7:01 a.m. May 23, 1995), leading one critic, retired Air Force Brigadier General Benton K. Partin, to declare that the building was demolished as “a classic cover-up” executed by Communist agents. Vidal writes of Partin’s belief that Communists orchestrated the cover-up, “Well, nobody’s perfect.” (Vidal errs in his “six day” claim; the building was demolished 19 days later.) Vidal writes: “In the end, McVeigh, already condemned to death, decided to take full credit for the bombing. Was he being a good professional soldier, covering up for others? Or did he, perhaps, now see himself in a historic role with his own private Harper’s Ferry, and though his ashes molder in the grave, his spirit is marching on? We may know—one day.” (Vidal 9/2001)
A few days before 9/11, a Seattle security guard of Middle Eastern descent tells an East Coast friend on the phone that terrorists will soon attack the US. After 9/11, the friend tells the FBI, and passes a lie detector test. The security guard refuses to cooperate with the FBI or take a lie detector test. He is not arrested—apparently the FBI determines that while he may have had 9/11 foreknowledge, he was not involved in the plot. (Skolnik 10/12/2001)
Shortly before 9/11, people attending an unnamed mosque in the Bronx district of New York City are warned to stay out of lower Manhattan on 9/11. The FBI’s Joint Terrorist Task Force interviews dozens of members of the mosque, who confirm the story. The mosque leadership denies any advanced knowledge and the case apparently remains unsolved. (Smith 10/12/2001)
According to a senior Defense Department source quoted in the book “Intelligence Failure” by David Bossie, Defense Department personnel become aware of a Milan newspaper interview with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, a self-designated spokesman for al-Qaeda. In the interview, he brags about al-Qaeda recruiting “kamikaze bombers ready to die for Palestine.” Mohammed boasts of training them in Afghanistan. According to this source, the Defense Department seeks “to present its information [to the FBI], given the increased ‘chatter,’ of a possible attack in the United States just days before [9/11]. The earliest the FBI would see the [Defense Department] people who had the information was on September 12, 2001.” (Bossie 5/2004) In 1998, Bakri had publicized a fax bin Laden sent him that listed the four objectives al-Qaeda had in their war with the US. First on the list was: “Bring down their airliners.” (see Summer 1998) The main focus of FBI agent Ken Williams’s July 2001 memo, warning about Middle Eastern students training in Arizona flight schools, was a member of Bakri’s organization (see July 10, 2001). In 2004, the US will charge Bakri with 11 terrorism-related crimes, including attempting to set up a terror training camp in Oregon and assisting in the kidnapping of two Americans and others in Yemen. (MSNBC 5/27/2004)
At New Utrecht High School, in Brooklyn, New York City, about one week before 9/11, a Pakistani student in a bilingual class points at the WTC during a heated political argument and declares, “Look at those two buildings. They won’t be here next week.” The teacher notifies New York police after 9/11, who in turn notify the FBI. The status of the FBI investigation into this incident is unknown as of early October 2001. (Smith 10/12/2001)
Dan Burton (R-IN), the chairman of the House Government Reform Committee, asks for more than twelve sets of internal Justice Department documents that detail purported fund-raising abuses by the 1996 presidential campaign of Bill Clinton and Al Gore. Burton also wants documents relating to the FBI’s use of mob informants by its Boston office, where evidence indicates that the office literally let the informants get away with murder and suppressed evidence that allowed an innocent man to go to prison. Burton’s request causes a dilemma for the White House. On the one hand, President Bush and Vice President Cheney have given explicit instructions for staffers to resist such calls for information. On the other hand, when Burton had delved into the questions surrounding Clinton’s last-minute pardons, Bush had already given him unprecedented access to Clinton’s private conversations (see August 21, 2001). Burton immediately released edited transcripts of the tapes (see August 21, 2001). The administration ponders whether or not to release the documents, and in the process perhaps further impugn Clinton, or to refuse, preserving their standard of executive privilege. It will eventually come down on the side of secrecy (see December 13, 2001). (Dean 2004, pp. 85-86)
Robert Fuller, an inexperienced FBI agent, searches for hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in the US on this day (see September 4-5, 2001). He claims that his search includes querying the ChoicePoint database. ChoicePoint is one of several companies maintaining commerical databases on personal information about US citizens. The FBI has a contract to access the ChoicePoint database, but none of the others. Fuller supposedly does not find any record on either Alhazmi or Almihdhar. He suggests this is because of variations in the spelling of names. However, the chairman of ChoicePoint will later confirm that although the database did have information on the hijackers before 9/11, the FBI did not ask to search the database until shortly after 9/11. The 9/11 Commission will conclude the database was not searched, and notes, “Searches of readily available databases could have unearthed” their California drivers’ licenses, car registrations, and telephone listings. Thomas Pickard, acting FBI Director at the time this search is made, will later falsely claim in public testimony before the 9/11 Commission that the FBI was not allowed to search the ChoicePoint database before 9/11. (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 539; US Department of Justice 11/2004; Kinkead 11/28/2004) An FBI timeline put together shortly after 9/11 will mention that Alhazmi’s 2000 San Diego phone number was in the ChoicePoint database. The exact spelling for the phone number listing was Nawaf M. Al Hazmi. (Federal Bureau of Investigation 10/2001, pp. 59 )
Robert Mueller assumes the job of FBI Director. He had been nominated for the job in July 2001 after Louis Freeh’s unexpected and sudden resignation (see May 1, 2001). Thomas Pickard was interim director for three months. Mueller held a variety of jobs in the Justice Department for over a decade prior to his nomination. Most notably, he led Justice Department investigations into the 1991 collapse of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) (see July 5, 1991) and the 1988 bombing of Pan-Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. (BBC 7/5/2001; CNN 9/5/2001) Mueller was heavily criticized for his role in the BCCI investigation (see February 1988-December 1992). For instance, a bipartisan Congressional BCCI investigation led by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Hank Brown (R-CO) stated, “Unfortunately, as time has passed it has become increasingly clear that the Justice Department did indeed make critical errors in its handling of BCCI… and moreover masked inactivity in prosecuting and investigating the bank by advising critics that matters pertaining to BCCI were ‘under investigation,’ when in fact they were not” and also “[hindered] other legitimate investigative efforts, and [failed] to admit that it had made any of these mistakes.” (US Congress 12/1992) Mueller himself noted in 1991 that there was an “appearance of, one, foot-dragging; two, perhaps a cover-up,” but denied the cover-up claims. A Wall Street Journal editorial notes that “Even George W. Bush bumped up against the outer fringes of the BCCI crowd during his tenure with Harken Energy and in his friendship with Texas entrepreneur James Bath,” and opines, “On general principles, our view is that it would be a mistake to appoint as FBI head anyone who had any role in the failed BCCI probe. Too many important questions remain unanswered…” (Wall Street Journal 6/26/2001)
On September 4 and 5, 2001, FBI agent Robert Fuller attempts to find hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in the US. However, he fails to perform many basic checks, including a check of credit card usage (see September 4-5, 2001). In 2006, journalist Bob Woodward will report that CIA Director George Tenet believed that FBI could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks. Woodward will write, paraphrasing Tenet, “If the FBI had done a simple credit card check on the two 9/11 hijackers who had been identified in the United States before 9/11, Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar, they would have found that the two men had bought 10 tickets for early morning flights for groups of other Middle Eastern men for September 11, 2001. That was knowledge that might conceivably have stopped the attacks.” (Woodward 2006, pp. 79-80) Alhazmi and Almihdhar did buy some tickets for themselves and Nawaf Alhazmi also bought a ticket for his brother Salem Alhazmi, but it has not been reported that they bought as many as ten tickets (see August 25-27, 2001 and August 25-September 5, 2001).
The FBI’s New York office technically began an investigation to locate 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar on August 29, but in fact the one inexperienced agent assigned to the search, Robert Fuller, is busy for several days and only begins the search at this time (see August 29, 2001). Within a day, Fuller identifies connections between Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, and widens the search to look for both of them. (US Department of Justice 11/2004; Kinkead 11/28/2004) The FBI will later claim that it searches aggressively. An internal review shortly after 9/11 will find that “everything was done that could have been done” to find them. (Drogin, Lichtblua, and Krikorian 10/28/2001) However, FBI agents familiar with the search will later describe it as unhurried and routine. A report by the Office of the Inspector General completed in late 2004 will conclude, “[T]he FBI assigned few resources to the investigation and little urgency was given to the investigation.” (US Department of Justice 11/2004) In conducting his search, Fuller takes the following steps on September 4-5:
He requests that Almihdhar’s name bed added to the INS watch list, called LOOKOUT. He describes Almihdhar as a potential witness in a terrorist investigation. He later claims that he identifies him only as a witness, not a potential terrorist, to prevent overzealous immigration officials from overreacting. (US Department of Justice 11/2004)
He contacts the Customs Service and verifies that Almihdhar has been placed on its watch list. (US Department of Justice 11/2004)
He requests a local criminal history check on Almihdhar and Alhazmi through the New York City Police Department. The request turns up nothing. (US Department of Justice 11/2004)
He will claim that he requests a criminal history check in the NCIC, which is a computer database frequently used by every level of law enforcement. However, the Bergen Record will report that he “never performed one of the most basic tasks of a police manhunt. He never ran Almihdhar or Alhazmi through the NCIC computer. That simple act would have alerted local cops to look for the suspected terrorists.” At least four separate incidents involving Alhazmi were recorded in the NCIC database (see September 5, 2001). (Pochna 7/11/2002; Kelly 5/18/2004; US Department of Justice 11/2004)
He requests a credit check. (US Department of Justice 11/2004)
He requests that a national motor vehicle index be searched. However, a July 2001 police query on Alhazmi’s car that is in that index is not found (see September 5, 2001).
On September 5, Fuller and another agent contact the Marriott hotels in New York City, since Almihdhar had indicated when he entered the US in July 2001 that his destination was a Marriott hotel in New York. Later this same day he is told Almihdhar had never registered as a guest at any of the six Marriott hotels there. (US Department of Justice 11/2004)
He will claim that he conducts a search in the ChoicePoint database, a commerical databases on personal information about US citizens. He will claim he searches the database and fails to find any information on them, but the chairman of ChoicePoint will later confirm the database did have information on the hijackers before 9/11, but the FBI did not ask to search the database until shortly after 9/11 (see September 4, 2001). (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 539; US Department of Justice 11/2004; Kinkead 11/28/2004)
There are additional searches he could make that he apparently fails to do. For instance, he apparently fails to check car registration databases. Alhazmi did own a car (see March 25, 2000), and the 9/11 Commission will note: “A search on [his] car registration would have unearthed a license check by the South Hackensack Police Department that would have led to information placing Alhazmi in the [greater New York City] area and placing Almihdhar at a local hotel for a week in early July 2001. The hijackers actively used the New Jersey bank accounts, through ATM, debit card, and cash transactions, until September 10.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 539)
Additionally, even though the two were known to have previously entered the US through Los Angeles, drivers’ license records in California are not checked.
He also fails to check national credit card and bank account databases.
All of these would have had positive results. Alhazmi’s name was even in the 2000-2001 San Diego phone book, listing the address where he and Almihdhar may have been living up to as late as September 9, 2001 (see Early September 2001). (Lipka 9/28/2001; Drogin, Lichtblua, and Krikorian 10/28/2001; Isikoff and Klaidman 6/2/2002) There appears to be no further mention of any further work on this search after September 5, except for one request to the Los Angeles FBI office made on September 10 (see September 10, 2001). The 9/11 Commission will note: “We believe that if more resources had been applied and a significantly different approach taken, Alhazmi and Almihdhar might have been found. They had used their true names in the United States. Still, the investigators would have needed luck as well as skill to find them prior to September 11.… Many FBI witnesses have suggested that even if [they] had been found, there was nothing the agents could have done except follow [them] onto the planes. We believe this is incorrect. Both Alhazmi and Almihdhar could have been held for immigration violations or as material witnesses in the Cole bombing case. Investigation or interrogation of them, and investigation of their travel and financial activities, could have yielded evidence of connections to other participants in the 9/11 plot. The simple fact of their detention could have derailed the plan. In any case, the opportunity did not arise.” (9/11 Commission 7/24/2004, pp. 272)
Robert Fuller, a rookie FBI agent at the bureau’s New York field office, contacts Dina Corsi, an agent in the bin Laden unit at FBI headquarters, about the search for Khalid Almihdhar. Fuller, who has been tasked to look for Almihdhar in the US, proposes that the FBI try to obtain additional data on Almihdhar, such as a credit card number from Saudi Airlines, with which Almihdhar flew to the US (see July 4, 2001). However, according to Fuller, Corsi tells him that it would not be prudent to do so. (US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division 7/31/2006, pp. 65 ) As a result, Fuller does not do the credit check (see September 4-5, 2001). It is not known why Corsi advises this.
French and US intelligence officials hold meetings in Paris on combating terrorism. The French newspaper Le Monde claims that the French try again to warn their US counterparts about Zacarias Moussaoui, “but the American delegation… paid no attention… basically concluding that they were going to take no one’s advice, and that an attack on American soil was inconceivable.” The US participants also say Moussaoui’s case is in the hands of the immigration authorities and is not a matter for the FBI. (Burrell, Gumbel, and Sengupta 12/11/2001; Ridgeway 5/28/2002) The FBI arranges to deport Moussaoui to France on September 17, so the French can search his belongings and tell the FBI the results. Due to the 9/11 attacks, the deportation never happens. (US Congress 10/17/2002)
The US Joint Terrorism Task Force conducts a three-day raid of the offices of InfoCom Corporation, a Texas-based company that hosts about 500 mostly Arab websites, including Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s most popular news channel. (Whitaker 9/10/2001; Web Host Industry Review 9/10/2001) Three days after the initial raid, the task force is “still busy inside the building, reportedly copying every hard disc they could find. It is not clear how long these websites remain shut down.” (Whitaker 9/10/2001) InfoCom began to be seriously investigated by the FBI in late 1998 when the name of an employee was discovered in the address book of bin Laden’s former personal secretary. There also was evidence of a financial link between InfoCom and a top Hamas leader (see October 1994-2001). InfoCom is closely connected to the Holy Land Foundation. Not only are the two organizations across the road from each other in Richardson, Texas, a number of employees work at both organizations. For instance, Ghassan Elashi is both the vice president of InfoCom and chairman of Holy Land. (Whitaker 9/10/2001; Johnston 12/20/2002) A local bank closes Holy Land’s checking accounts totaling about $13 million around the same time as the raid on InfoCom, but Holy Land’s assets are not officially frozen by the government. (Habal 9/7/2001) The US will shut down Holy Land and freeze their assets two months later (see December 4, 2001) for suspected ties to Hamas. Holy Land is represented by Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, a Washington, D.C., law firm with unusually close ties to the Bush White House. (Baker and Khan 12/17/2001) In 2002, the five brothers running InfoCom will be charged of selling computer equipment overseas in violation of anti-terrorism laws and of supporting Hamas by giving money to Hamas leader Mousa Abu Marzouk through 2001. In 2004, the five brothers will be convicted of the first charge, and in 2005, three brothers will be convicted of the second charge.(see December 18, 2002-April 2005). On a possibly connected note, in the Garland suburb adjoining Richardson, a fifth-grade boy apparently has foreknowledge of 9/11 (see September 10, 2001). (Ratcliffe 9/19/2001)
Antoinette DiLorenzo, teaching English to a class of Pakistani immigrants, asks a student gazing out the window, “What are you looking at?” The student points towards the WTC, and says, “Do you see those two buildings? They won’t be standing there next week.” At the time, nothing is thought of it, but on September 13, the FBI will interview all the people in the classroom and confirm the event. The FBI later places the boy’s family under surveillance but apparently is unable to find a connection to the 9/11 plot. An MSNBC reporter later sets out to disprove this “urban myth,” but to his surprise, finds all the details of the story are confirmed. The fact that the family members are recent immigrants from Pakistan might mean the information came from Pakistan. (Alter 10/12/2001) Supposedly, on November 9, 2001, the same student predicts there will be a plane crash on November 12. On that day, American Airlines Flight 587 will crash on takeoff from New York, killing 260 people. Investigators will later determine that the crash is accidental. One official at the school later says many Arab-American students have come forward with their own stories about having prior knowledge before 9/11: “Kids are telling us that the attacks didn’t surprise them. This was a nicely protected little secret that circulated in the community around here.” (Shapiro 9/10/2002)
The US Army holds a major training exercise at Fort Lesley J. McNair, a base near the Pentagon, along with numerous law enforcement and emergency response agencies, and the exercise will improve coordination between these agencies when they work together in response to the attack on the Pentagon on September 11. (National Guard Bureau 4/1/2002 ; EENET 6/5/2002 ) Fort McNair, which is two miles east of the Pentagon, is the location of the headquarters of the US Army Military District of Washington (MDW). Numerous staff elements of the command stage their operations from the base. (Global Security (.org) 1/12/2002; US Army Military District of Washington 10/22/2004) Colonel Egon Hawrylak, the deputy chief of staff for operations, plans, and security for the MDW, will later recall that on this day, “[W]e had conducted a huge tabletop exercise” at Fort McNair “with all the state, federal, and local law enforcement and emergency disaster relief agencies.” The exercise is held “in preparation for” the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which are scheduled to take place in Washington, DC, on September 29 and September 30. Agencies that participate in the exercise include the Arlington County Fire Department (ACFD) and the FBI. Hawrylak will say that during the exercise, members of the different agencies “talked about things, so we knew each other; we knew how to coordinate and get things done together.” Hawrylak will not say what scenarios are prepared for during the exercise. He will say, however, that the exercise contributes to “the great working relationship” that the Army has with the ACFD, the FBI, and other agencies when they have to work together to respond to the attack on the Pentagon on September 11. (Reuters 9/17/2001; National Guard Bureau 4/1/2002 ; EENET 6/5/2002 ) On September 5, security at Fort McNair was increased as part of a nationwide crackdown ordered by Army leaders who are concerned about terrorism (see August 15, 2001 and September 5, 2001). (Wamble 8/3/2001; Vogel 8/15/2001)
The FBI’s Washington, DC, field office (WFO) holds a field training exercise in which various agencies practice their response to a terrorist attack involving weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). The exercise is led by Special Agent Christopher Combs on behalf of the FBI. (9/11 Commission 8/5/2003 ; Combs 5/17/2011) Combs is the assistant WMD coordinator on the National Capital Response Squad—an antiterrorism rapid response unit—out of the WFO.
Exercise Is Based around a Chemical Weapons Attack - The exercise is based around the scenario of a terrorist attack, according to Combs. (Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 76; Combs 5/17/2011) Assistant Chief James Schwartz of the Arlington County Fire Department will later describe it as a “major chemical exercise,” presumably meaning it involves a hypothetical attack with a chemical weapon. It is held at an unspecified location in Fairfax County in Northern Virginia and is attended by “all the area fire departments, police departments, and the FBI,” Combs will say. (Combs 5/17/2011; Arlington TV 7/18/2011; Schwartz 10/8/2014) It is held on the Sunday before 9/11—September 9—according to Combs. (Kettl 2008, pp. 203; Combs 5/17/2011) Other accounts, however, will state that it is held on September 8, the Saturday before 9/11. (9/11 Commission 8/5/2003 ; Arlington TV 7/18/2011; Schwartz 10/8/2014)
Exercise Improves the Response to the Pentagon Attack - Many people who participate in the exercise will be involved in the emergency response to the attack on the Pentagon on September 11. (Kettl 2008, pp. 203) Combs, for example, will arrive at the Pentagon just minutes after the attack there and initially serve as the on-scene FBI commander at the crash site. (9/11 Commission 8/5/2003 ; Goldberg et al. 2007, pp. 76) The exercise reportedly has a beneficial effect on the ability of its participants to respond to the Pentagon attack. It is “one more of those opportunities for us to not only get to know each other but [also to] figure out how we were going to interoperate with each other,” Schwartz will comment. Consequently, on September 11, there will already be “a great deal of understanding about how we were going to work together on this kind of an incident.” (Arlington TV 7/18/2011) The FBI’s WFO and the Arlington County Fire Department, which participates in today’s exercise, regularly train together and often respond jointly to real-world incidents. (9/11 Commission 8/5/2003 )
A message is posted on Alsaha.com, a website based in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, apparently warning of the 9/11 attacks. It proclaims that in the next two days, a “big surprise” is coming from the Saudi Arabian region of Asir, the remote, mountainous province that produced most of the 19 hijackers who strike on September 11. After 9/11, the FBI and CIA will closely monitor this website as “a kind of terrorist early-warning system” due to its popularity with Muslim fundamentalists. However, it is doubtful if they are monitoring the site before 9/11, or notice this message. (Isikoff, Klaidman, and Thomas 5/25/2003) Additionally, on September 10, someone in Jordan will post on a website that an attack is close to “zero hour.” (Tenet 2007, pp. 233)
FBI agent Robert Fuller began looking for Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar on September 4, 2001 (see September 4-5, 2001) . Within one day, he found that Almihdhar had not stayed at the New York City hotel he listed as a destination when he arrived in the US in July 2001. Alhazmi and Almihdhar had traveled to Los Angeles on January 15, 2000. Immigation records indicated that they claimed to be destined for a Sheraton hotel in Los Angeles. On this day, Fuller drafts an investigative lead for the Los Angeles FBI office, asking that office to search Sheraton hotel records concerning any stays by Almihdhar and Alhazmi in early 2000. However, the lead is not transmitted to Los Angeles until the next day, after the 9/11 attacks have begun. The search will also turn up nothing, since neither of them stayed at a Sheraton hotel. (US Congress 9/18/2002; US Congress 9/20/2002; US Department of Justice 11/2004; Kinkead 11/28/2004) Both men had been living in nearby San Diego for much of the previous two years. The San Diego FBI office is not notified about the need for a search until September 12, and even then, they are only provided with “sketchy” information. (Drogin and Lichtblau 9/16/2001) The FBI handling agent in San Diego is certain they could have been located quickly had they known where to look. The FBI agent running the San Diego office will claim they could have easily found the two hijackers by looking their names up in the phone book (see September 11, 2001). (US Congress 7/24/2003 ) There is some evidence from eyewitnesses that a few days before 9/11, Almihdhar and two other hijackers are living in the same San Diego apartment that they had been living in off and on for the past two years, the address that was listed for them in the public phone book (see Early September 2001).
According to CBS News, in the afternoon before the attack, “alarm bells were sounding over unusual trading in the US stock options market.” It has been documented that the CIA, the Mossad, and many other intelligence agencies monitor stock trading in real time using highly advanced programs such as Promis. Both the FBI and the Justice Department have confirmed the use of such programs for US intelligence gathering through at least this summer. This would confirm that the CIA should have had additional advance warning of imminent attacks against American and United Airlines planes. (CBS News 9/19/2001) There are even allegations that bin Laden was able to get a copy of Promis. (Fox News 10/16/2001)
A fifth grader in Dallas, Texas, casually tells his teacher, “Tomorrow, World War III will begin. It will begin in the United States, and the United States will lose.” The teacher reports the comment to the FBI, but does not know if they act on it at the time. The student skips the next two days of school. The event may be completely coincidental, but the newspaper that reports the story also notes that two charities, Holy Land Foundation and InfoCom, located in an adjacent suburb have been under investigation based on suspected fund-raising activities for Islamic militant organizations. One InfoCom employee had his name in the telephone book of Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary, and he was seen with El-Hage as recently as 1998 (see September 16, 1998-September 5, 2001). (Ratcliffe 9/19/2001) The FBI investigates and decides “no further investigation [is] warranted.” (Houston Chronicle 10/1/2001)
Three hijackers, Hani Hanjour, Khalid Almihdhar, and Nawaf Alhazmi, check into the same hotel as a prominent Saudi government official, Saleh Ibn Abdul Rahman Hussayen. (Schmidt 10/2/2003) Hussayen originally stayed at a different nearby hotel, but moved to this hotel on the same day the hijackers checked in. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 45) Investigators have not found any evidence that the hijackers met with Hussayen, and stress it could be a coincidence. (Rennie 3/10/2003) However, one prosecutor working on a related case will assert, “I continue to believe it can’t be a coincidence.” (Barrett and Simpson 10/2/2003) An FBI agent will later say that Hussayen “may have had some connection to the attacks and is likely to have met with those funding the hijackers if not the hijackers themselves.” (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 45) Hussayen is interviewed by the FBI shortly after 9/11, but according to testimony from an FBI agent, the interview is cut short when Hussayen “feign[s] a seizure, prompting the agents to take him to a hospital, where the attending physicians [find] nothing wrong with him.” The agent recommends that Hussayen “should not be allowed to leave until a follow-up interview could occur.” (Schmidt 10/2/2003) The agent returns to the hotel the next day, but finds Hussayen unhelpful. After she leaves, Hussayen calls the Saudi embassy, which contacts the FBI. Another, less aggressive agent is sent to talk to Hussayen and finds no additional information, so the FBI says he can leave the US. The first agent does not want him to go without answering her questions, but, according to authors Joe and Susan Trento, “Because of pressure from [Saudi ambassador to the US] Prince Bandar on the Bush administration… the agent’s superiors overruled her.” The superiors are not named. (Trento and Trento 2006, pp. 45) For most of the 1990s, Hussayen was director of the SAAR Foundation, a Saudi charity that is being investigated for terrorism ties and will be raided in early 2002 (see March 20, 2002). A few months after 9/11 he is named a minister of the Saudi government and put in charge of its two holy mosques. Hussayen had arrived in the US in late August 2001 planning to visit some Saudi-sponsored charities. Many of the charities on his itinerary, including the Global Relief Foundation, Muslim World League, IIRO (International Islamic Relief Organization), IANA (Islamic Assembly of North America), and World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY), have since been shut down or investigated for alleged ties to Islamic militant groups. (Schmidt 10/2/2003) His nephew, Sami Omar Hussayen, will be indicted in early 2004 for using his computer expertise to assist militant groups, and will be charged with administering a website associated with IANA, an organization which expressly advocated suicide attacks and using airliners as weapons in the months before 9/11. Investigators also will claim the nephew was in contact with important al-Qaeda figures. (Schmidt 10/2/2003; Seattle Post-Intelligencer 1/10/2004) The nephew will be acquitted later in 2004 of the terrorism-related charges. The defense will not dispute that he posted messages advocating suicide bombings, but will argue that he had the Constitutional right to do so. The jury will deadlock on most of the counts. (Schmidt 6/11/2004) IANA apparently will remain under investigation, as well as the flow of money from the uncle to nephew. (Rennie 3/10/2003) The uncle is not charged with any crime. (Barrett and Simpson 10/2/2003)
9/11 hijacker Mohamed Atta calls 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) in Afghanistan. KSM gives final approval to Atta to launch the attacks. The specifics of the conversation haven’t been released. (Buncombe 9/15/2002) Unnamed intelligence officials later tell Knight Ridder Newspapers that the call is monitored by the NSA, but only translated after the 9/11 attacks. KSM, “using coded language, [gives] Atta final approval” for the attacks. (Rubin and Dorgan 9/9/2002) NSA monitored other calls between KSM and Atta in the summer of 2001 but did not share the information about this with other agencies (see Summer 2001). Additionally, it will later be revealed that an FBI squad built an antenna in the Indian Ocean some time before 9/11 with the specific purpose of listening in on KSM’s phone calls, so they may have learned about this call to Atta on their own (see Before September 11, 2001).
9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Abdulaziz Alomari arrive in Portland, Maine, where they spend the night. In October 2001, the FBI will release detailed information and photographs of the two hijackers in the town in an apparent attempt to find out from the public more about what they were doing there. According to the FBI, the pair leave Boston in the afternoon in a blue Nissan Altima and drive to South Portland, where they check into a Comfort Inn around 5:45 p.m. They are caught on security cameras visiting a gas station, two ATMs, and shopping at a Wal-Mart. The next morning they fly back to Boston, where they board the airplane they will hijack. (Lipka 9/28/2001; Wedge and Farmer 10/5/2001; Portland Press Herald 10/5/2001; Australian Broadcasting Corporation 11/12/2001) In September 2002, the New York Times speculates, “There have been many theories [for going to Portland]: that they made contact with a confederate in Portland who gave them the final go-ahead, or more likely, that by arriving on a connecting flight, they would avoid the security check in Boston. None of those explanations seems entirely satisfactory, given the risk….” (Bernstein et al. 9/11/2002) The 9/11 Commission will later speculate that the most “plausible theory” is that the hijackers make the trip so as to help avoid suspicion that might be created from all ten hijackers departing on Boston flights arriving in the Boston airport at roughly the same time. (Goo 2/13/2005)
The FBI’s Critical Incident Response Group (CIRG) goes to California for a week of training and is therefore stranded away from Washington, DC, when it is required to help in the response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. (Nichols 9/11/2001; Darling 2010, pp. 75) The CIRG is “the unit that coordinates the FBI’s rapid response to crisis incidents, including terrorist attacks,” according to Major Robert Darling of the White House Military Office. Its members arrive in San Francisco this evening to participate in a week of special weapons and tactics (SWAT)-related field training. (Darling 2010, pp. 74-75) While the 9/11 attacks are underway, NBC News will report that the FBI is in a state of “chaos,” partly because of the CIRG being stranded in California (see 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). (NBC 4 9/11/2001) On the afternoon of September 11, the White House will arrange for the CIRG to return to Washington as a matter of priority (see (3:50 p.m.) September 11, 2001), and the unit’s members will be flown back later that day (see Late Afternoon September 11, 2001). (Darling 2010, pp. 73-76)
Unit Created to Respond to Terrorist Incidents - The CIRG would be a valuable resource for responding to the 9/11 attacks. The unit was established in 1994 “to give the FBI the ability to respond with the tactical and investigative expertise needed in a major terrorist incident,” according to the Congressional Research Service. It has crisis managers, hostage negotiators, behavioral scientists, surveillance assets, and agents that it can utilize. (United States General Accounting Office 9/1997, pp. 40 ; Brake 4/19/2001, pp. 9-10 ) The CIRG also has a “seven-step approach” it follows, which uses “active listening” to defuse a crisis. According to the Indian Express, “by showing support and empathy, [CIRG] negotiators often can talk a hijacker into surrendering largely by listening.” (Noesner and Webster 8/1997; Bagla 12/29/1999)
Hostage Rescue Team Serves as Domestic Counterterrorism Unit - The tactical centerpiece of the CIRG is the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), a full-time team headquartered in Quantico, Virginia, that is able to deploy to any location within four hours of notification. Its skills include hostage rescue tactics, precision shooting, and tactical site surveys. (United States General Accounting Office 9/1997, pp. 40 ; Brake 4/19/2001, pp. 10 ) The HRT was created to give civilian law enforcement agencies a counterterrorist community comparable to that which exists in the military. Many of its members have a military background. (Cavallaro 2/2009) According to Darling, the HRT is ”the domestic counterterrorism unit, offering a tactical resolution option in hostage and high-risk law enforcement situations.” (Darling 2010, pp. 7)
The FBI conducts a training exercise based on the scenario of an aircraft hijacking at Washington Dulles International Airport, the airport from which American Airlines Flight 77—the third plane to be hijacked—will take off on 9/11 (see (8:20 a.m.) September 11, 2001). The FBI exercise is based around a “traditional” hijacking that involves hostages being taken by the hijackers, according to Dana Pitts, an airport operations manager for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Members of the Dulles Airport staff provide some “operational support” during the exercise. Further details, including the date when the exercise is held, are unstated. (9/11 Commission 10/16/2003 ) The FBI is the agency that has jurisdiction if a hijacking or hostage-taking incident occurs on an aircraft that is still on the ground. (Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority 5/6/2000 ; NPR 9/20/2001)
Though the NSA specializes in intercepting communications, the CIA and FBI intercept as well. After 9/11, CIA and FBI officials will discover messages with phrases like, “There is a big thing coming,” “they’re going to pay the price,” and “We’re ready to go.” Supposedly, most or all of these intercepted messages will not be analyzed until after 9/11. (Hosenball 10/1/2001)
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