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Richard Blee in 1976.Richard Blee in 1976. [Source: Phi Kappa Psi]Richard Blee, a CIA officer who will later go on to head the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit before 9/11 (see June 1999), serves in the Central African Republic. The State Department’s September 1984, January 1985, May 1985, and September 1986 publications “Key Officers of Foreign Service Posts” will list Blee as the consular officer at the US embassy in Bangui. [US Department of State, 9/1984, pp. 12; US Department of State, 1/1985, pp. 12; US Department of State, 5/1985, pp. 12; US Department of State, 9/1986, pp. 12] However, given his CIA affiliation he is presumably attached to the CIA station there.

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Blee, CIA Bangui Station, US Department of State

Timeline Tags: Misc Entries

Richard Blee, a CIA officer who will later go on to head the agency’s Osama bin Laden unit before 9/11 (see June 1999), serves in Niger. The State Department’s May 1989, September 1989, January 1990, September 1990, and January 1991 publications “Key Officers of Foreign Service Posts” will list him as the political officer at the US embassy in Niamey. [US Department of State, 5/1989, pp. 35; US Department of State, 9/1989, pp. 35; US Department of State, 1/1990, pp. 35; US Department of State, 9/1990, pp. 32; US Department of State, 1/1991, pp. 62] However, given his CIA affiliation, Blee is presumably attached to the CIA station there.

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Richard Blee, CIA Niamey Station, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Misc Entries

Bin Laden’s house in Khartoum, Sudan.Bin Laden’s house in Khartoum, Sudan. [Source: PBS]It has not been revealed when US intelligence begins monitoring bin Laden exactly, though the CIA was tailing him in Sudan by the end of 1991 (see February 1991- July 1992). But in late 1995 the FBI is given forty thick files on bin Laden from the CIA and NSA, mostly communications intercepts (see October 1995). The sheer amount of material suggests the surveillance had been going on for several years. Dan Coleman, an FBI agent working with the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will begin examining these files and finds that many of them are transcripts from wiretapped phones tied to bin Laden’s businesses in Khartoum, Sudan, where bin Laden lives from 1991 to 1996. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149; Wright, 2006, pp. 242-244] CIA Director George Tenet will later comment, “The then-obscure name ‘Osama bin Laden’ kept cropping up in the intelligence traffic.… [The CIA] spotted bin Laden’s tracts in the early 1990s in connection with funding other terrorist movements. They didn’t know exactly what this Saudi exile living in Sudan was up to, but they knew it was not good.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 100] The London Times will later report that in Sudan, “bin Laden used an $80,000 satellite phone and al-Qaeda members used radios to avoid being bugged…” [London Times, 10/7/2001] Bin Laden is mistaken in his belief that satellite phones cannot be monitored; a satellite phone he buys in 1996 will be monitored as well (see November 1996-Late August 1998).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Osama bin Laden, Dan Coleman, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Federal Bureau of Investigation, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA proposes a policy of abducting Islamic Jihad militants and sending them to Egypt which will soon be approved by President Bill Clinton (see June 21, 1995). The Clinton administration began a policy of allowing abductions, known as “renditions,” in 1993 (see 1993). At first, renditions were rarely used because few countries wanted the suspects. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is one of the architects of a 1995 agreement with Egypt to send rendered militants there. He will later recall: “It was begun in desperation.… We were turning into voyeurs. We knew where these people were, but we couldn’t capture them because we had nowhere to take them,” due to legal and diplomatic complications. The CIA realized that “we had to come up with a third party.” Egypt was the obvious choice because the Islamic Jihad is the prime political enemy of the Egyptian government, and many Islamic Jihad militants also work for al-Qaeda, an enemy of the US.
Turning a Blind Eye - However, the Egyptian secret police force, the Mukhabarat, is notorious for its torture of prisoners. As part of the program, the US helps track, capture, and transport suspects to Egypt (see Before Summer 1995) and then turns a blind eye while the Egyptians torture them. Scheuer claims the US could give the Egyptian interrogators questions they wanted put to the detainees in the morning and get answers by the evening. Because torture is illegal in the US, US officials are never present when the torture is done. Further, the CIA only abducts suspects who have already been convicted in absentia. Talaat Fouad Qassem is the first known person the CIA renders to Egypt (see September 13, 1995). But the number of renditions greatly increases in 1998, when the CIA gets a list of Islamic Jihad operatives around the world (see Late August 1998). These renditions result in a big trial in Egypt in 1999 that effectively destroys Islamic Jihad as a major force in that country (see 1999). [New Yorker, 2/8/2005]
CIA, NSC, Justice Department Lawyers Consulted - Scheuer will say that lawyers inside and outside the CIA are intensively consulted about the program: “There is a large legal department within the Central Intelligence Agency, and there is a section of the Department of Justice that is involved in legal interpretations for intelligence work, and there is a team of lawyers at the National Security Council, and on all of these things those lawyers are involved in one way or another and have signed off on the procedure. The idea that somehow this is a rogue operation that someone has dreamed up is just absurd.” [Grey, 2007, pp. 140-141]
Leadership of Program - The rendition program does not focus solely on al-Qaeda-linked extremists, and other suspected terrorists are also abducted. Scheuer will later tell Congress, “I authored it and then ran and managed it against al-Qaeda leaders and other Sunni Islamists from August 1995, until June 1999.” [US Congress, 4/17/2007 pdf file] A dedicated Renditions Branch will be established at CIA headquarters in 1997 (see 1997), but the relationship between Scheuer and its manager is not known—it is unclear whether this manager is a subordinate, superior, or equal of Scheuer, or whether Scheuer takes on this responsibility as well. After Scheuer is fired as unit chief in May 1999 (see June 1999), his role in the rendition program will presumably be passed on to his successor, Richard Blee, who will go on to be involved in rendition after 9/11 (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). In a piece apparently about Blee, journalist Ken Silverstein will say that he “oversaw… the [Counterterrorist Center] branch that directed renditions.” [Harper's, 1/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Mukhabarat (Egypt), Richard Blee, Islamic Jihad, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Egypt, Michael Scheuer

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

CIA leadership allegedly suppresses a report about Osama bin Laden’s hunt for weapons of mass destruction (WMDs), and only disseminates the report after pressure. After the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Alec Station, is created in early 1996 (see February 1996), one of its first tasks is to see if bin Laden is attempting to acquire WMDs.
Bin Laden a Bigger Threat than Previously Realized - Michael Scheuer, head of the unit in its early years, will later say that the unit soon discovers bin Laden is “much more of a threat than I had thought.… It became very clear very early that he was after [WMDs], and we showed conclusively at that point that he didn’t have them. But we had never seen as professional an organization in charge of procurement.” Scheuer will later tell Congress that when the unit finds detailed intelligence in 1996 on bin Laden’s attempts to get a nuclear weapon, superiors in the CIA suppress the report. Only after three officers in the CIA knowledgeable about bin Laden complain and force an internal review does the CIA disseminate the report more widely within the US intelligence community.
Incident Leads to Bunker Mentality - The incident contributes to a bunker mentality between the bin Laden unit and the rest of the CIA (see February 1996-June 1999). According to Vanity Fair, the CIA’s “top brass started to view Scheuer as a hysteric, spinning doomsday scenarios.” Some start referring to him and the bin Laden unit as “the Manson family,” in reference to mass murderer Charles Manson and his followers. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Scheuer, US intelligence

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Bin Laden’s Saudi passport photograph.Bin Laden’s Saudi passport photograph. [Source: Public domain]Shortly after the CIA’s Alec Station is created to go after bin Laden (see February 1996), the CIA asks the Saudi government to provide copies of bin Laden’s records such as his birth certificate, passports, bank accounts, and so forth. But the Saudis fail to turn over any of the documents. By 9/11, the CIA will still not even be given a copy of bin Laden’s birth certificate. [Risen, 2006, pp. 185]

Entity Tags: Saudi Arabia, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, writes a report based on information from al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl saying that al-Qaeda intends to get nuclear weapons (see Late 1993). [Shenon, 2008, pp. 190] Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer will write in 2004 that, by this time, his unit has “acquired detailed information about the careful, professional manner in which al-Qaeda [is] seeking to acquire nuclear weapons… there could be no doubt after this date that al-Qaeda [is] in deadly earnest in seeking nuclear weapons.” [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] Scheuer will add that due to al-Qaeda’s “extraordinarily sophisticated and professional effort to acquire weapons of mass destruction… by the end of 1996, it [is] clear that this [is] an organization unlike any other one we had ever seen.” [CBS News, 11/14/2004] The 50-paragraph report, which describes in detail how Osama bin Laden sought the scientists and engineers he needed to acquire enriched uranium and then weaponize it, is sent to CIA headquarters. However, Scheuer’s superiors refuse to distribute the report, saying it is alarmist. Instead, only two of the paragraphs are circulated, buried in a larger memo. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 190] However, according to Scheuer: “Three officers of the [CIA]‘s bin Laden cadre [protest] this decision in writing, and [force] an internal review. It [is] only after this review that this report [is] provided in full to [US intelligence] leaders, analysts, and policymakers.” [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] The memo’s final distribution will come about a year after it is written. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 190]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Scheuer, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA builds a ground station to intercept calls between Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda’s operations centre in Yemen. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004; Antiwar, 10/22/2008; PBS, 2/3/2009] According to author James Bamford, the station is “in the Indian Ocean area, I think it was on Madagascar.” [Antiwar, 10/22/2008] The NSA is already intercepting the calls, but refuses to share the raw intelligence with the CIA (see February 1996-May 1998 and December 1996), which is why the agency has to build the station. However, the CIA is only able to get half the conversations, because its technology is not as good as the NSA’s. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004; Antiwar, 10/22/2008; PBS, 2/3/2009] Bamford will add, “they were only picking up half of the conversations, apparently it was downlink, they weren’t able to get the uplink, you need a satellite.” [Antiwar, 10/22/2008] Presumably, Bamford means the CIA is getting the half of the calls featuring the person talking to bin Laden, but cannot hear the Afghan end of the conversation. To get the other half of the Afghanistan-Yemen calls the CIA would need a satellite. [PBS, 2/3/2009]

Entity Tags: James Bamford, Michael Scheuer, National Security Agency, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA again asks the NSA for part of the transcripts of calls between Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan and al-Qaeda’s operations center in Yemen. The NSA has been intercepting the calls for some time (see Between May and December 1996), but refuses to share the intelligence with Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, in usable form (see December 1996). During the calls, the al-Qaeda operatives talk in a simplistic code, but the NSA apparently does not decrypt the conversations, and only gives Alec Station meaningless summaries of the calls (see February 1996-May 1998). Without the transcripts, Alec Station cannot crack the code and figure out what the operatives are really talking about. As a result, the CIA built a duplicate ground station in the Indian Ocean, and is replicating half of the NSA’s intelligence take on the calls (see After December 1996). However, it cannot obtain the other end of the calls without a satellite. Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer will say, “We would collect it [one end of the calls], translate it, send it to NSA, and ask them for the other half of it, so we could better understand it, but we never got it.” Author James Bamford will comment: “And so the CIA, Mike Scheuer, went back to NSA and said look,… we’re able to get… half the conversations here, but we still need the other half, and NSA still wouldn’t give them the other half. I mean this is absurd, but this is what was going on.” [Antiwar, 10/22/2008; PBS, 2/3/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, James Bamford, Michael Scheuer, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Michael Scheuer, the first head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, will later write, “For most of a year the bin Laden unit prepared for an operation in a foreign city that was set to come to fruition in late-summer 1997. The unit’s lead US-based officer on this operation was an extraordinarily able analyst from [the FBI]; she knew the issue cold. Days before the operation occurred the [FBI] ordered her back to its headquarters. She protested, but was told that she would not be promoted if she balked at returning. I protested to my superiors and to the three most senior officers of the [FBI] who were then in charge of terrorism. All refused to intervene. The operation was much less well exploited because of the loss of this officer.” Other clues mentioned by Scheuer indicate this operation is the raid on Wadih El-Hage’s house in Nairobi, Kenya (see August 21, 1997). [Atlantic Monthly, 1/2004; Scheuer, 2005, pp. 191-192]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Michael Scheuer, Wadih El-Hage, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

In 1998, CIA analysts realize that ground crews for illegal arms dealer Victor Bout are performing maintenance chores for Ariana Airlines planes flying to and from Afghanistan. Bout’s air fleet is based in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates (UAE), at the time, and in fact Bout has been working with the Taliban since about 1996 (see October 1996-Late 2001). The CIA has also been gathering intelligence that al-Qaeda operatives are frequently moving between Afghanistan and the UAE. Ariana, Afghanistan’s official airline, is the only airline making flights between the Middle East and Afghanistan. Therefore, Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, concludes that Ariana is being used as a “terrorist taxi service.” Scheuer concludes that Bout is assisting al-Qaeda. He will later comment that when al-Qaeda operatives would travel through the UAE, “it was almost always through Ariana flights. Since Bout’s operation was working with Ariana, they were part of the same set of concerns.” The CIA also notices an increasing number of Bout’s own planes flying to and from Afghanistan. Scheuer will later say, “Our human intelligence said it was mostly small arms and ammunition, going to Kandahar and occasionally to Kabul.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 138-140] However, while intelligence reports on Bout’s ties to the Taliban continue, interest in his activities in Afghanistan fades by the end of 1998. Scheuer will later claim that he tried to raise concern about the Bout flights with National Security Council officials, but saw little interest. “I never got a sense that he was important. He was part of the problem we had with the terrorist infrastructure in Afghanistan, but there were so many parts we were dealing with.… [N]o one was going to fall on their sword to get Victor Bout.” [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 143] After 9/11, evidence will emerge that about nine of the 9/11 hijackers worked in the Kandahar airport heavily used by Bout’s airplanes (see Summer 2000).

Entity Tags: Taliban, Alec Station, Al-Qaeda, Ariana Airlines, Michael Scheuer, Victor Bout, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The CIA’s bin Laden unit, first created in early 1996 (see February 1996), is ordered disbanded. It is unclear who gave the order. The unit appears to have been the most vocal section of the US government pushing for action against bin Laden. Apparently CIA Director George Tenet is unaware of the plans to disband the unit. He intervenes in mid-May and preserves the unit. Michael Scheuer, the head of the unit, later will comment that by doing so, Tenet “dodged the bullet of having to explain to the American people why the [CIA] thought bin Laden was so little of a threat that it had destroyed the bin Laden unit weeks before two US embassies were demolished.” Scheuer also will comment, “the on-again, off-again signals about the unit’s future status made for confusion, distraction, and much job-hunting in the last few weeks” before the embassy attacks. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit from 1996 to 1999, later will claim that in a one-year period starting in May 1998, the CIA gives the US government “about ten chances to capture bin Laden or kill him with military means. In all instances, the decision was made that the ‘intelligence was not good enough.’ This assertion cannot be debated publicly without compromising sources and methods. What can be said, however, is that in all these cases there was more concern expressed by senior bureaucrats and policymakers about how international opinion would react to a US action than there was concern about what might happen to Americans if they failed to act. Indeed, on one occasion these senior leaders decided it was more important to avoid hitting a structure near bin Laden’s location with shrapnel, than it was to protect Americans.” He will later list six of the attempts in a book:
bullet May 1998: a plan to capture bin Laden at his compound south of Kandahar, canceled at the last minute (see 1997-May 29, 1998).
bullet September 1998: a capture opportunity north of Kandahar, presumably by Afghan tribals working for the CIA (see September-October 1998).
bullet December 1998: canceled US missile strike on the governor’s palace in Kandahar (see December 18-20, 1998).
bullet February 1999: Military attack opportunity on governor’s residence in Herat (see February 1999).
bullet February 1999: Multiple military attack opportunities at a hunting camp near Kandahar attended by United Arab Emirates royals (see February 11, 1999).
bullet May 1999: Military attack opportunities on five consecutive nights in Kandahar (see May 1999).
bullet Also in late August 1998, there is one failed attempt to kill bin Laden.(see August 20, 1998) [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004; Scheuer, 2008, pp. 284]
Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later will strongly disagree with Scheuer’s assessment, claiming that the intelligence needed for such an attack on bin Laden was never very good. But he will also point out that the National Security Council and White House never killed any of the operations Scheuer wanted. It was always CIA Director George Tenet and other top CIA leaders who rejected the proposals. Scheuer will agree that it was always Tenet who turned down the operations. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, George J. Tenet, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Clinton administration, National Security Council, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Following the African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), CIA managers ask Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, what it most needs to improve the agency’s capabilities against al-Qaeda. Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer will later say that he raises “our dire need for verbatim reports derived from electronic collection.” This is a reference to his desire to get verbatim transcripts of calls to and from al-Qaeda’s operations hub in Yemen, in particular ones between it and Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. The NSA has the transcripts, but is refusing to provide them to the CIA, and the two agencies have been at loggerheads over the issue for nearly two years. Alec Station needs the transcripts, not the summaries the NSA provides, because the operatives talk in code on the phone and this code cannot be cracked based on the summaries, only using the transcripts (see February 1996-May 1998, December 1996, After December 1996, and After December 1996). Other senior CIA officers have similar trouble getting transcripts from the NSA. Higher officials order the NSA to comply, and they do, but only for less than 12 requests. Then the system returns to the way it was, with NSA only sharing summaries. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] The reason for the change back is unclear, although bin Laden stops using his satellite phone around this time (see Late August 1998).

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Michael Scheuer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The CIA seems not to understand permission given by President Bill Clinton to assassinate Osama bin Laden (see December 24, 1998). The instruction was contained in a memorandum of notification signed by Clinton authorizing the agency to use a group of tribal fighters to kill bin Laden. Previously, the tribal leaders had only been authorized to capture bin Laden, and this new memo marks an important shift in policy. According to author Philip Shenon, the memo is “written in stark language” and it makes it very clear “that the president was telling the tribal leaders they could kill bin Laden.” However, the actual memo is closely held within the CIA, and the 9/11 Commission will comment, “This intent [to have bin Laden killed] was never well communicated or understood within the agency.” Apparently, it is never even communicated to Michael Scheuer, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Scheuer will later express his frustration at not being allowed to try to kill bin Laden, “We always talked about how much easier it would have been to kill him.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 133; Shenon, 2008, pp. 358]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Michael Scheuer, 9/11 Commission

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Apparently, this surveillance photo of a C-130 transport plane from the United Arab Emirates plays a key role in the decision not to strike at bin Laden.Apparently, this surveillance photo of a C-130 transport plane from the United Arab Emirates plays a key role in the decision not to strike at bin Laden. [Source: CBC]Intelligence reports foresee the presence of Osama bin Laden at a desert hunting camp in Afghanistan for about a week. Information on his presence appears reliable, so preparations are made to target his location with cruise missiles. However, intelligence also puts an official aircraft of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and members of the royal family from that country in the same location. Bin Laden is hunting with the Emirati royals, as he does with leaders from the UAE and Saudi Arabia on other occasions (see 1995-2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] According to Michael Scheuer, the chief of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, the hunting party has “huge fancy tents, with tractor trailers with generators on them to run the air-conditioning.” Surveillance after the camp is established shows the “pattern of bin Laden’s visits—he would come for evening prayers or he would come for dinner and stay for evening prayers.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 192] Local informants confirm exactly where bin Laden will be in the camp on February 11, and a strike is prepared. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] But policy makers are concerned that a strike might kill a prince or other senior officials, and that this would damage relations with the UAE and other Persian gulf countries. Therefore, the strike is called off. Bin Laden will leave the camp on February 12. A top UAE official at the time denies that high-level officials are there, but evidence subsequently confirms their presence. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 192] Scheuer will claim in 2004 that “the truth has not been fully told” about this incident. He will claim that the strike is cancelled because senior officials at the CIA, White House, and other agencies, decide to accept assurances from an unnamed Islamic country that it can acquire bin Laden from the Taliban. “US officials accepted these assurances despite the well-documented record of that country withholding help—indeed, it was a record of deceit and obstruction—regarding all issues pertaining to bin Laden” in previous years. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] This may be a reference to Saudi Arabia. In mid-1998, the CIA called off a plan to capture bin Laden in favor of an ultimately unfulfilled Saudi promise to bribe the Taliban to hand bin Laden over (see May 1998). Many in US intelligence will be resentful over this missed opportunity and blame a conflict of interest with the Emirati royals (see Shortly After February 11, 1999).

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden, Alec Station, United Arab Emirates

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The failure to strike at bin Laden in February 1999, despite having unusually good intelligence about his location (see February 11, 1999), causes strong resentment in the US intelligence community. It is believed that the US held its fire because of the presence of royalty from the United Arab Emirates(UAE), but some felt those royals were legitimate targets as well since they were associating with bin Laden there. Further, intelligence at the time suggests the planes carrying these royals to Afghanistan were also bringing weapons to the Taliban in defiance of United Nations bans. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, is particularly upset. He reportedly sends a series of e-mails to others in the CIA that are, in the opinion of one person who read them, “angry, unusual, and widely circulated.” His anger at this decision not to strike at bin Laden will apparently contribute to him losing his position leading the bin Laden unit a few months later (see June 1999). Some resentment is directed at counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke, who voted against the missile strike. Clarke was known to be close to the UAE’s royal family. He’d negotiated many arms deals and other arrangements with them, including an $8 billion deal in May 1998 to buy F-16 fighters from the US (see Early February 1999). [Coll, 2004, pp. 447-450] In March 1999, Clarke calls Emirati royals and asks them to stop visiting bin Laden. However, he apparently did not have permission from the CIA to make this call. Within one week, the camp where the Emiratis and bin Laden met is abandoned. CIA officers are irate, feeling that this ruined a chance to strike at bin Laden if he made a return visit to the location. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Richard A. Clarke, Michael Scheuer, Alec Station, United Arab Emirates

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Richard Blee. The only known public photo of Blee is this one taken from a school yearbook, when he was nine years old.Richard Blee. The only known public photo of Blee is this one taken from a school yearbook, when he was nine years old. [Source: Public domain]Following the firing of Michael Scheuer, the founding head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see June 1999), a new chief of the station is appointed. The chief, Richard Blee, worked in Algeria as a case officer during the civil war there in the early 1990s (see January 11, 1992) and prior to his appointment as station chief was an executive assistant to CIA management. [Coll, 2004, pp. 456] He also served on an Iraqi task force attempting to destabilize Saddam Hussein’s regime in the mid-1990s. [Harper's, 1/28/2007] According to author Steve Coll: “Since he came directly from [CIA Director George] Tenet’s leadership group, his arrival was seen as a signal of renewed high-level interest in the bin Laden case. The new chief’s connections presumably would help attract resources to the cause and smooth decision-making.” In addition, “He [knows] the bin Laden issue, he [knows] the Third World and he [does] not mind high-risk travel.”
Criticism of Management Style - However, Blee’s management style will attract some criticism. Coll will say that he is “intense and sometimes emotional and combative” and that he is seen by some colleagues as “typical of the unyielding zealots” at Alec Station. [Coll, 2004, pp. 456, 540] Author James Bamford will comment, “But the most serious problem was [Blee]‘s lack of management, his myopic obsession with bin Laden, and his focus on the fun and adventure part of the job.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 218-9] Journalist Ken Silverstein will say: “[S]ources have told me that [Blee] has frequently been divisive and ineffective in previous positions.… His reputation and relationship with the military, especially the special-ops community, is very bad, based on substantive issues that arose during his time [in Afghanistan and Pakistan] post-9/11.… Another former official called [Blee] a ‘smart guy‘…, but described him as a terrible manager.” [Harper's, 1/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Steve Coll, James Bamford, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Ken Silverstein

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Following the replacement of Michael Scheuer by Richard Blee as chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see June 1999 and June 1999), the relationship between Alec Station and its FBI counterpart headed by John O’Neill does not improve. The relationship between Scheuer and O’Neill was extremely stormy, but Blee’s arrival does nothing to calm matters. As O’Neill is the FBI manager most knowledgeable about al-Qaeda, the combative nature of the relationship may hamper interagency counterterrorism efforts. Author James Bamford will write, “The epicenter of the clash between the two cultures [of the FBI and CIA] was the relationship between [Blee] and John P. O’Neill, the flashy, outspoken chief of the FBI’s National Security Division in New York.” An associate of O’Neill’s will say of Alec Station staff, “They despised the FBI and they despised John O’Neill.” A CIA officer will add, “The working relationships were very difficult at times.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 217-8]

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, John O’Neill, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, James Bamford

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Ahmed Shah Massoud.
Ahmed Shah Massoud. [Source: French Ministry of Foreign Affairs]Worried about intercepts showing a growing likelihood of al-Qaeda attacks around the millennium, the CIA steps up ties with Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. The CIA sends a team of agents, led by bin Laden unit chief Richard Blee, to Massoud’s headquarters in a remote part of northern Afghanistan, seeking his help to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. The CIA team and Massoud meet twice, and Blee tells him, “We have a common enemy.” Massoud complains that the US is too focused on bin Laden, and is not interested in the root problems of Taliban, Saudi, and Pakistani support for terrorism that is propping him up. He agrees to help nonetheless, and the CIA gives him more aid in return. However, the US is officially neutral in the Afghan civil war and the agents are prohibited from giving any aid that would “fundamentally alter the Afghan battlefield.” The CIA team will later be reported to admire Massoud greatly. They see him as “a Che Guevara figure, a great actor on history’s stage,” and “a poet, a military genius, a religious man, and a leader of enormous courage who defied death and accepted its inevitability.” Author Steve Coll will write: “The CIA team had gone into the Panjshir [Valley, where Massoud’s headquarters is located] as unabashed admirers of Massoud. Now their convictions deepened even as they recognized that the agency’s new partnership with the Northern Alliance would be awkward, limited, and perhaps unlikely to succeed.” Perhaps because of this, the team members agree with Massoud’s criticism of US policy and agree to lobby for a policy change in his favor in Washington. [Coll, 2004, pp. 469-472; Washington Post, 2/23/2004] DIA agent Julie Sirrs, newly retired, is at Massoud’s headquarters at the same time as the CIA team (see October 1998). She gathers valuable intelligence from captured al-Qaeda soldiers while the CIA agents stay in their guesthouse. She will publish much of what she learns on this trip and other trips in the summer of 2001. [Washington Post, 2/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Osama bin Laden, Richard Blee, Northern Alliance, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Alec Station, Al-Qaeda, Julie Sirrs

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The NSA, monitoring a telephone in an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen (see Late August 1998 and Late 1998-Early 2002), has listened in on phone calls revealing that hijackers Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi are to attend an important al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia in January 2000 (see Shortly Before December 29, 1999). Almihdhar’s full name was mentioned, as well as the first names of hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Salem Alhazmi. On this day, the NSA shares this information with the CIA’s Alec Station bin Laden unit. Other US intelligence agencies, including FBI headquarters and the FBI’s New York field office, are told as well. Although Khalid Almihdhar’s full name was mentioned in one call, the NSA only passes on his first name. Also, the NSA has already learned from monitoring the Yemen hub that Nawaf’s last name is Alhazmi and that he is long-time friends with Almihdhar (see Early 1999). However, they either don’t look this up in their records or don’t pass it on to any other agency. [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 239 pdf file; Wright, 2006, pp. 310] An NSA analyst makes a comment that is shared between US intelligence agencies, “Salem may be Nawaf’s younger brother.” This turns out to be correct. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file] A CIA officer will later tell the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry that information from the Africa embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998) was reviewed in late 1999 during a worldwide effort to disrupt millennium attack plots (see December 15-31, 1999) and “a kind of tuning fork… buzzed when two [of the hijackers] reportedly planning a trip to [Malaysia] were linked indirectly to what appeared to be a support element… involved with the Africa bombers.” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file] The fact that they are connected to the Yemen communication hub already indicates some importance within al-Qaeda. It is learned they are connected to the embassy bombings in some way (see October 4, 2001 and Late 1999). [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 135 pdf file; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file] The NSA report about them on this day is entitled, “Activities of Bin Laden Associates,” showing the clear knowledge of their ties to bin Laden. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] The CIA will track Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi to the Malaysia summit (see January 2-5, 2000 and January 5-8, 2000).

Entity Tags: Salem Alhazmi, Federal Bureau of Investigation, FBI New York Field Office, Khalid Almihdhar, FBI Headquarters, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed al-Hada, National Security Agency, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A photocopy of Nawaf Alhazmi’s passport. No image of Khalid Almihdhar’s passport has been released, but it would have looked similar to this one.A photocopy of Nawaf Alhazmi’s passport. No image of Khalid Almihdhar’s passport has been released, but it would have looked similar to this one. [Source: FBI]The CIA is aware that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is staying at a highly monitored al-Qaeda communication hub (see Late 1998-Early 2002) and is planning to travel to an al-Qaeda meeting in Malaysia. He is closely watched as leaves the hub and flies from Sana’a, Yemen, to Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on his way to Malaysia. Agents from eight CIA offices and six friendly foreign intelligence services are all asked to help track him, in the hopes he will lead them to bigger al-Qaeda figures. [Stern, 8/13/2003; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file] The CIA and local authorities are running an operation to track militants transiting Dubai airport (see 1999), and United Arab Emirates officials secretly make copies of his passport as he is passing through it, immediately reporting this to the CIA. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224] Another account suggests CIA agents break into Almihdhar’s Dubai hotel room and photocopy the passport there. Either way, the information is immediately faxed to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. [Wright, 2006, pp. 311] The CIA not only learns his full name, but also discovers the vital fact that he has a multiple entry visa to the US that is valid from April 1999 to April 2000. But even though the CIA now knows about this US visa which indicates he plans to go to New York City, they do not place him on a terror watch list and they fail to tell the FBI about the visa. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 6 pdf file]

Entity Tags: United Arab Emirates, Nawaf Alhazmi, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Al-Qaeda

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Although Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is coordinating surveillance of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 5-8, 2000), it fails to draft a full report on it to alert the rest of the intelligence community. Author James Bamford will comment, “Despite the importance of the operation, [Alec Station chief Richard Blee] had never bothered to write up and distribute an intelligence report on it—what is known as a TD, or Telegraphic Dissemination.” Blee must be aware of the operation’s importance because he repeatedly briefs the CIA’s leadership, and these briefings are passed on to top government officials such as National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and FBI Director Louis Freeh (see January 6-9, 2000). A senior intelligence officer will later say, “A TD would have gone to a lot of people, but we didn’t do that.” This is one of the reasons why three of the attendees at the meeting, including 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, are able to apparently disappear in Thailand on January 8 (see January 8, 2000). Bamford will call the failure to write the report “a serious blunder.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 227]

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Khalid Almihdhar, Alec Station, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Victims’ family members Lorie Van Auken (right) and Kristen Breitweiser (left) are shocked to learn Tom Wilshire blocked a cable to the FBI about Khalid Almihdhar’s visa. Victims’ family members Lorie Van Auken (right) and Kristen Breitweiser (left) are shocked to learn Tom Wilshire blocked a cable to the FBI about Khalid Almihdhar’s visa. [Source: Banded Artists]Doug Miller, an FBI agent assigned to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, reads CIA cables reporting that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa and drafts a cable to the FBI to inform it of this. The CIA obtained the information through a tap on Almihdhar’s phone in Yemen (see December 29, 1999) and by monitoring him as he passed through Dubai (see January 2-5, 2000) on his way to an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000).
Draft Cable - Miller writes that Almihdhar has a US visa (see April 3-7, 1999) and that the visa application states his destination is New York and he intends to stay for three months. The draft cable mentions the tap on Almihdhar’s phone, his planned travel to Malaysia, and the links between his phone and the 1998 East African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998 and October 4, 2001). It also says that the CIA has obtained photographs of Almihdhar and these will be sent separately. Miller asks the FBI for feedback resulting from an FBI investigation.
Blocked - Another CIA officer named Michael Anne Casey accesses Miller’s draft about an hour after he writes it. The cable is then blocked on the orders of the station’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire, as a few hours after Miller drafts the cable Casey attaches a message to it saying, “pls hold off on [cable] for now per [Tom Wilshire].” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 240 pdf file] Miller is also told, “This is not a matter for the FBI.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 311]
'No Reason to Kill the Message' - Author James Bamford will later comment: “A potential terrorist and member of al-Qaeda was heading for the US, the FBI’s jurisdiction—its turf—and he [Miller] was putting the FBI on notice so it could take action. There was no reason to kill the message.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 19] Miller will later say he has no “rational answer” as to why the cable was blocked, but will speculate that Alec Station officers were annoyed he had encroached on their territory. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] Casey drafts a cable falsely saying that the information about Almihdhar’s visa has been shared with the FBI (see Around 7:00 p.m. January 5, 2000) and there will be a discussion the next day about whether the cable should be sent (see January 6, 2000). The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will later call the failure to pass the information to the FBI a “significant failure” but will be unable to determine why the information was not passed on. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 250 pdf file] The 9/11 Commission will know of the incident, but will relegate it to an endnote in its final report, omitting Wilshire’s role entirely. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502] The CIA inspector general will falsely claim that the cable is not sent, “[a]pparently because it was in the wrong format or needed editing.” [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xv pdf file]

Entity Tags: Michael Anne Casey, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Khalid Almihdhar, Doug Miller, 9/11 Commission, Alec Station, Tom Wilshire, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Inspector General (CIA)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CIA officer Michael Anne Casey sends out a cable saying the information that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa has been sent to the FBI “for further investigation.” The cable does not state how the visa information was passed or by whom. Casey is with Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. The cable, which is lengthy and summarizes information about Almihdhar and three other operatives planning an al-Qaeda summit in Malaysia, is sent to some overseas CIA stations, but not the FBI. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 243 pdf file] The CIA, which will be criticized for its apparent failure to tell the FBI of Almihdhar’s visa after 9/11, will repeatedly tout this cable as evidence that it had actually informed the FBI of Almihdhar’s visa, or at least thought it had done so. [US Congress, 9/20/2002; New York Times, 10/17/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 146 pdf file; Tenet, 2007, pp. 195] However, this appears not to be true, as after 9/11 the FBI will be unable to find any record of receiving such information and the CIA will be unable to find any record of having sent it. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 249-252 pdf file] In addition, as Casey blocked the relevant notification to the FBI on this day (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000) and insists it not be passed the next day (see January 6, 2000), she must know the claim the information about Almihdhar’s visa had been passed is false. Casey will apparently lie about this cable to the Justice Department’s inspector general (see February 2004) and CIA Director George Tenet (see Before October 17, 2002 and Shortly Before April 30, 2007).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Anne Casey, Khalid Almihdhar, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mark Rossini.Mark Rossini. [Source: Fox News]Mark Rossini, an FBI agent on loan to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, protests in vain against a decision to deliberately withhold information about one of the future 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). One of his colleagues, Doug Miller, had tried to inform the FBI that Almihdhar had a US visa the day before, but had been blocked by a 29-year-old female CIA officer named Michael Anne Casey and the unit’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire. According to author James Bamford, Rossini was “perplexed and outraged that the CIA would forbid the bureau’s notification on a matter so important.” Rossini will later say: “So the next day I went to her and said: ‘What’s with Doug’s cable? You’ve got to tell the bureau about this.’ She put her hand on her hip and said: ‘Look, the next attack is going to happen in Southeast Asia—it’s not the bureau’s jurisdiction. When we want the FBI to know about it, we’ll let them know. But the next bin Laden attack’s going to happen in Southeast Asia.’” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 19-20] Rossini protests, saying, “They’re here!” and, “It is FBI business,” but to no avail. Even though he is an FBI agent, he cannot pass on notification to the bureau without permission from his superiors at Alec Station. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] Casey will be promoted after 9/11. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 16] In the run-up to the 9/11 attacks, Wilshire will write an e-mail expressing his fear of an al-Qaeda attack in Southeast Asia, specifically Malaysia (see July 5, 2001), and will give this as a reason he does not communicate information about Almihdhar and his partner Nawaf Alhazmi to the FBI in May 2001 (see May 15, 2001). It will be alleged after 9/11 that the notification may be withheld to stop the FBI interfering with an illegal CIA-linked operation to monitor the hijackers in the US (see 2006 and After).

Entity Tags: Tom Wilshire, Michael Anne Casey, Mark Rossini, Central Intelligence Agency, Doug Miller, Alec Station, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, sends the CIA station in Bangkok, Thailand, a NIACT cable about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar and two associates, who turn out to be 9/11 hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash. NIACT means the cable is a very high priority and has to be immediately acted on by the duty officer, even if it is received at night. Almihdhar and his two associates arrived in Bangkok the previous day, but the CIA in Thailand had apparently been unable to track them (see January 8, 2000 and January 8, 2000). Alec Station wants the Bangkok station to identify Almihdhar and his associates, although the precise contents of the cable and the response to it are unknown. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 227; 9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004, pp. 5 pdf file; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 247 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Khallad bin Attash, CIA Bangkok Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, gives an incorrect briefing to his CIA superiors about surveillance of al-Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia. He claims that Malaysian authorities and the CIA are continuing to monitor al-Qaeda operatives who gathered for a summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). In actual fact, three of the summit’s attendees, 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, have already left Kuala Lumpur for Bangkok, Thailand, and have disappeared there (see January 8, 2000). The 9/11 Commission will say that Blee is “unaware at first even that the Arabs had left Kuala Lumpur, let alone that their trail had been lost in Thailand” and that he “may not have known that in fact Almihdhar and his companions had dispersed and the tracking was falling apart.” These statements will be sourced to an interview with Blee in December 2003 and contemporary CIA documents. However, Alec Station is well aware of the departure of the three men, as it was notified of this and sent a follow-up cable on January 9 telling the CIA station in Bangkok to find them there (see January 9, 2000). It is unclear why Blee gives such an inaccurate briefing, but he gives a similar one two days later (see January 14, 2000), after Alec Station is again reminded that the three radicals are in Thailand, not Malaysia (see January 13, 2000). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 354, 502]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Doug Miller, an FBI agent detailed to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, writes to Tom Wilshire, the unit’s deputy chief, about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Miller had drafted a cable eight days before to tell the FBI that Almihdhar has a US visa, but Wilshire and another CIA officer had blocked the cable (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and January 6, 2000). Miller asks Wilshire, “Is this a no go or should I remake it in some way?” However, Wilshire does not respond. This is apparently Miller’s last attempt to inform the FBI of Almihdhar’s visa. About a month later, Miller will have some draft cables in the CIA’s computer system deleted, but will ensure that this draft cable is saved. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 241 pdf file] The Justice Department’s inspector general will criticize Miller for not following up more and ensuring the information is passed to the FBI. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 356 pdf file] However, Miller will say that he has a relatively low rank at the CIA at this time, and that he could not have passed the information without CIA approval, as he would have been fired. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008]

Entity Tags: Doug Miller, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), Khalid Almihdhar, Tom Wilshire, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, again wrongly informs his CIA superiors about surveillance of al-Qaeda operatives in Southeast Asia. Repeating a claim made in a briefing two days previously (see January 12, 2000), he says that Malaysian authorities and the CIA are continuing to monitor al-Qaeda operatives who gathered for a summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia (see January 5-8, 2000). In actual fact, three of the summit’s attendees, 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash, have already left Kuala Lumpur for Bangkok, Thailand (see January 8, 2000). Alec Station is well aware of the departure of the three men, as it was notified of their departure and sent a follow-up cable on January 9 telling the CIA station in Bangkok to find them there (see January 9, 2000). In addition, one day before this briefing the CIA station in Bangkok sent Alec Station a cable saying it was unable to locate the men in Thailand (see January 13, 2000). The 9/11 Commission will also point out that “there is no evidence of any tracking efforts actually being undertaken by anyone after the Arabs disappeared into Bangkok.” It is unclear why Blee gives such an inaccurate briefing. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 354]

Entity Tags: Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, stops operations linked to the monitoring of al-Qaeda Malaysia’s summit. The summit had been attended by leaders of the organization and two or three 9/11 hijackers (see January 5-8, 2000), and had been monitored by the CIA, which briefed leading administration officials on it (see January 6-9, 2000). However, Alec Station appears to lose interest in it in mid-January, after three of the attendees apparently disappear in Thailand (see January 8, 2000). The 9/11 Commission will say that apart from watchlisting the three in Thailand: “No other effort was made to create other opportunities to spot these Arab travelers in case the screen in Bangkok failed. Just from the evidence in [Khalid] Almihdhar’s passport, one of the logical possible destinations and interdiction points would have been the United States. Yet no one alerted the INS or the FBI to look for these individuals.” Author James Bamford will call this “incredible” and compare Alec Station’s performance to “a train wreck in slow motion.” He will also comment that Alec Station chief Richard Blee “completely dropped the ball,” and say that once “al-Qaeda members dispersed and things began falling apart, he simply paid no attention.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 228-230; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 181, 354]

Entity Tags: James Bamford, Richard Blee, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI’s most senior representative at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, develops cancer and is forced to resign, meaning no FBI agent assigned to Alec Station has the power to release information from the CIA for months. A key cable informing the FBI that hijacker Khalid Almihdhar has a US visa will fail to be released to the FBI around this time (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). The representative, who is referred to in documents as “Eric”, is deputy chief of Alec Station. He has the power to release information to the FBI having acquired this power in a row with former Alec Station chief Michael Scheuer (see June 1999). The Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General will say Eric left the unit in mid-January, which would have given him over a week to give the FBI information about Almihdhar discovered during the surveillance of an al-Qaeda summit held from January 5-8 (see January 5-8, 2000). It is known Eric accessed a cable related to the Malaysia summit on January 5 and discussed surveillance photos taken of the summit with CIA officer Tom Wilshire (see (Mid-January 2000)). Author Lawrence Wright will comment: “None of the… FBI agents remaining in Alec had the seniority to release information, and consequently had to rely on the agency to give them permission for any transfer of classified cable traffic.” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 241, 320 pdf file; Wright, 2006, pp. 313]

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), “Eric”, Alec Station, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Following the attack on the USS Cole (see October 12, 2000), the CIA discusses possible policy changes in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Disappointed by US inaction, Alec Station chief Richard Blee decides “we’ve got to change the rules,” because he thinks al-Qaeda is getting stronger and stronger. This entails enhanced support for the Northern Alliance led by Ahmed Shah Massoud, which is the only credible opposition fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Although some CIA officers still think Alec Station’s staff is “over the top,” both the CIA’s Near East division and Counterterrorist Center chief Cofer Black agree with Blee, and they decide what is needed is aid to enable Massoud to pressure the Taliban, creating the conditions for CIA operations against bin Laden. The list of assistance includes cash to bribe commanders, trucks, helicopters, light arms, ammunition, uniforms, food, and possibly mortars and artillery. The plan will cost between $50 and $150 million, and will include a permanent CIA base in Afghan territory controlled by the Northern Alliance. CIA officers will then be able to accompany Massoud’s men on missions. It takes some time to arrive at these conclusions, which will be formalized into a plan (see December 29, 2000). However, the plan will not be accepted by the outgoing Clinton administration or the incoming Bush administration (see December 20, 2000). [Coll, 2004, pp. 539-541; Washington Post, 2/23/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Counterterrorist Center, Cofer Black, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Ahmed Shah Massoud, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

A CIA officer in Islamabad, Pakistan, asks Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, to “touch base” with FBI agents investigating the bombing of the USS Cole who are preparing to come to Islamabad to interview a joint FBI/CIA source about the identification of one of the Cole bombers, but the suggested briefing is either never given or lacks a crucial detail. Alec Station is aware that the source, referred to later as “Omar,” has identified al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash as being present at al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit (see January 4, 2001) and that the FBI agents are going to Islamabad specifically to document another identification of bin Attash by Omar (see November 22-December 16, 2000). The cable from the officer in Islamabad, known only as “Chris,” even notes that Omar is “currently of very high interest to our [FBI] colleagues,” but Alec Station fails to notify the Cole investigators that bin Attash attended the summit in Malaysia. This is important because it connects bin Attash to future 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, who also attended the summit (see January 5-8, 2000). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 275-8 pdf file] Chris will meet the FBI agents in Pakistan, but will also fail to mention the identification of bin Attash at the Malaysia summit to them (see February 1, 2001).

Entity Tags: Khallad bin Attash, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, “Omar”, Central Intelligence Agency, “Chris”, Alec Station, CIA Islamabad Station, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The CIA’s bin Laden unit, Alec Station, reduces the FBI’s access to NSA material tracking al-Qaeda members. The FBI had previously used such intercepts to map al-Qaeda’s global network (see Late 1998-Early 2002). The NSA intercepts at least one call from the 9/11 hijackers in the US to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Yemen after this (see Mid-October 2000-Summer 2001 and (August 2001)), but does not tell the FBI. Authors Joe and Susan Trento will comment that by doing this and withholding the hijackers’ identities from the FBI, “the CIA effectively ended any chance in the months leading up to 9/11 of discovering that [Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi] were actually al-Qaeda agents destined to play major roles in the 9/11 attacks.” The CIA repeatedly fails to tell the FBI what it knows about Alhazmi and Almihdhar (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, January 5, 2001 and After, and June 11, 2001). [Trento and Trento, 2006, pp. 194] There is a long history of the NSA not wanting other US government agencies to have access to NSA material about al-Qaeda (see December 1996, Late August 1998, Between 1996 and August 1998, and Before September 11, 2001).

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Nawaf Alhazmi, Susan Trento, Khalid Almihdhar, Alec Station, National Security Agency, Joseph Trento

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CIA managers Gary Schroen, of the Near East division, and Richard Blee, responsible for Alec Station, the agency’s bin Laden unit, meet Northern Alliance commander Ahmed Shah Massoud in Paris, France. [Coll, 2004, pp. 560] Massoud, who is in Europe to address the European Parliament (see April 6, 2001), tells Schroen and Blee “that his own intelligence had learned of al-Qaeda’s intention to perform a terrorist act against the United States that would be vastly greater than the bombings of the American embassies in East Africa.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 337] Declassified Defense Intelligence Agency documents from November 2001 will say that Massoud has gained “limited knowledge… regarding the intentions of [al-Qaeda] to perform a terrorist act against the US on a scale larger than the 1998 bombing of the US Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.” They will further point out he may have been assassinated two days before 9/11 (see September 9, 2001) because he “began to warn the West.” [PakTribune (Islamabad), 9/13/2003; Agence France-Presse, 9/14/2003] Blee hands Massoud a briefcase full of cash. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Schroen and Blee assure Massoud that, although he has been visited less by the CIA recently, they are still interested in working with him, and they will continue to make regular payments of several hundred thousand dollars each month. Commenting on the military situation in Afghanistan, Massoud says his defenses will hold for now, but the Northern Alliance is doing badly and no longer has the strength to counterattack. [Coll, 2004, pp. 561-2]

Entity Tags: Lawrence Wright, Gary C. Schroen, Defense Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Tom Wilshire, a former deputy chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is detailed to the FBI to help with its counterterrorism work. Wilshire was involved in the failure to watchlist 9/11 hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar during the al-Qaeda Malaysia summit (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), and will also be involved in the failed search for them in the summer of 2001 (see May 15, 2001, Late May, 2001, and July 13, 2001), as well as the failure to obtain a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings (see August 24, 2001). He acts as the CIA’s chief intelligence representative to Michael Rolince, head of the Bureau’s International Terrorism Operations Section. His primary role is apparently to help the FBI exploit information for intelligence purposes. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 282-348 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Michael Rolince, Tom Wilshire, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alec Station, International Terrorism Operations Section, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Margaret Gillespie, an FBI agent detailed to the CIA who has been asked to research the connection between al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit and the bombing of the USS Cole, checks a CIA database and finds some NSA information about 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi and their travel to an al-Qaeda summit in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that was monitored by the US. The database she uses is Intelink, which only has information the CIA makes available to other intelligence agencies. However, she does not also examine the CIA’s Hercules database. It is unclear why she does not do so and whether, as an FBI agent, she has access to it. If she did access it, she would have a complete picture of the CIA’s knowledge of Almihdhar and Alhazmi and would know Almihdhar had a US visa and Alhazmi had traveled to the US (see January 2-5, 2000 and March 5, 2000). As Gillespie is only working this line of inquiry in her free time, she does not put together the information contained in the Hercules system until late August (see August 21-22, 2001). [Wright, 2006, pp. 340, 425]

Entity Tags: Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Margaret Gillespie

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Two unnamed veteran CIA Counterterrorist Center officers deeply involved in Osama bin Laden-related issues are so worried about an impending attack that they consider resigning and going public with their concerns, according to the 9/11 Commission. Apparently they are also unhappy with the Bush administration’s lack of response to recent warnings. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 259-260] In a 2008 book by journalist Philip Shenon, one of the officials will be named as Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Alec Station, from 1996 to 1999. The other may be his replacement Richard Blee (see June 1999), the CIA manager currently responsible for overseeing Alec Station. Neither will have commented publicly on their threatened resignations. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 395] However, in 2004, Scheuer will say that on the day of 9/11, he turned on his TV just in time to see the second plane hit the World Trade Center. He will say that at that moment he felt “sadness more than anything else.… I was nearly physically sick that I had neither resigned in 1999 and told Congress what I knew nor resigned and published my book sooner.” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]

Entity Tags: Counterterrorist Center, Michael Scheuer, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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 pdf file] 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).

Entity Tags: Tom Wilshire, Richard Blee, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House. This picture is actually taken on October 8, 2001, and President Bush is elsewhere in the room.Condoleezza Rice and George Tenet in the White House. This picture is actually taken on October 8, 2001, and President Bush is elsewhere in the room. [Source: Eric Draper / White House]CIA Director George Tenet finds the briefing that counterterrorism chief Cofer Black gave him earlier in the day (see July 10, 2001) so alarming that he calls National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice from his car as he heads to the White House and says he needs to see her right away, even though he has regular weekly meetings with her. [Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Tenet and Black let a third CIA official, Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, brief Rice on the latest intelligence. Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke are also present. [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006]
'Significant Attack' - Blee starts by saying, “There will be a significant terrorist attack in the coming weeks or months!” He argues that it is impossible to pick the specific day, saying Osama bin Laden “will attack when he believes the attack will be successful.” He mentions a range of threat information including:
bullet A warning related to Chechen leader Ibn Khattab (see (July 9, 2001)) and seven pieces of intelligence the CIA recently received indicating there would soon be a terrorist attack (see July 9-10, 2001);
bullet A mid-June statement by bin Laden to trainees that there would be an attack in the near future (see Mid-June 2001);
bullet Information that talks about moving toward decisive acts;
bullet Late-June information saying a “big event” was forthcoming;
bullet Two separate bits of information collected “a few days before the meeting” in which people predicted a “stunning turn of events” in the weeks ahead. This may be a reference to intercepts of calls in Yemen, possibly involving the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see June 30-July 1, 2001).
Multiple, Simultaneous Attacks in US Possible - Blee says that the attacks will be “spectacular,” they will be designed to inflict mass casualties against US facilities and interests, there may be multiple, simultaneous attacks, and they may be in the US itself. He outlines the CIA’s efforts to disrupt al-Qaeda by spreading incorrect word that the attack plans have been compromised, in the hope that this will cause a delay in the attack. But he says this is not enough and that the CIA should go on the attack. Blee also discounts the possibility of disinformation, as bin Laden’s threats are known to the public in the Middle East and there will be a loss of face, funds, and popularity if they are not carried out. Blee urges that the US take a “proactive approach” by using the Northern Alliance. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 151-4] Author Bob Woodward will later write: “Black emphasize[s] that this amount[s] to a strategic warning, meaning the problem [is] so serious that it require[s] an overall plan and strategy. Second, this [is] a major foreign policy problem that need[s] to be addressed immediately. They need […] to take action that moment—covert, military, whatever—to thwart bin Laden. The United States ha[s] human and technical sources, and all the intelligence [is] consistent.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Richard Clarke expresses his agreement with the CIA about the threat’s seriousness, and Black says, “This country needs to go on a war footing now.”
Rice's Response - There are conflicting accounts about the CIA’s reading of Rice’s response. According to Woodward: “Tenet and Black [feel] they [are] not getting through to Rice. She [is] polite, but they [feel] the brush-off.” They leave the meeting frustrated, seeing little prospect for immediate action. Tenet and Black will both later recall the meeting as the starkest warning they gave the White House on al-Qaeda before 9/11 and one that could have potentially stopped the 9/11 attacks if Rice had acted on it (see July 10, 2001) and conveyed their urgency to President Bush. (Tenet is briefing Bush on a daily basis at this time, but he will later say that Rice has a much better rapport with the president.) Black will say, “The only thing we didn’t do was pull the trigger to the gun we were holding to her head.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 80; Washington Post, 10/1/2006] Rice says that Bush will align his policy with the new realities and grant new authorities. Writing in 2007, Tenet will say that this response is “just the outcome I had expected and hoped for,” and recall that as they leave the meeting, Blee and Black congratulate each other on having got the administration’s attention. Nevertheless, Rice does not take the requested action until after 9/11. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 153-4]
Rice Concerned about Genoa - Clarke will recall in 2006 that Rice focuses on the possible threat to Bush at an upcoming summit meeting in Genoa, Italy (see June 13, 2001 and July 20-22, 2001). Rice and Bush have already been briefed about the Genoa warning by this time (see July 5, 2001). Rice also promises to quickly schedule a high-level White House meeting on al-Qaeda. However, that meeting does not take place until September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001). [McClatchy Newspapers, 10/2/2006] Rice also directs that Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Attorney General John Ashcroft be given the same briefing, and they receive it a short time later (see July 11-17, 2001).
Meeting Not Mentioned in 9/11 Commission Report - The meeting will not be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report (see August 4, 2002), and there will be controversy when it is fully revealed in 2006 (see September 29, 2006, September 30-October 3, 2006, and October 1-2, 2006).

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Stephen J. Hadley, White House, Osama bin Laden, Richard A. Clarke, George J. Tenet, Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, Cofer Black, Donald Rumsfeld, Condoleezza Rice, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A CIA manager says that an additional intelligence officer, Doug Miller, will be assigned to help an ongoing low-key review of al-Qaeda’s Malaysia summit when Miller returns from holiday (see January 5-8, 2000 and Mid-May 2001). The statement is made in response to an e-mail by CIA manager Tom Wilshire, who pointed out that al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash attended the summit, meaning it was important (see January 4, 2001). Presumably, the manager that sends this e-mail is Richard Blee, who is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Blee appears to have received the e-mail to which this is a response (see July 13, 2001). The review is currently only being conducted by one intelligence officer, Margaret Gillespie, who is only told to do it in her spare time and whom it takes over three months to find CIA cables indicating two of the future 9/11 hijackers have entered the US (see August 21-22, 2001). Miller’s help would certainly benefit the review, as he is already aware one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, has a US visa, but a cable he drafted to notify the FBI about this was blocked by Wilshire (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). However, there is no mention of Miller actually being given the assignment on his return and no sign he does any work on this. Wilshire also asked that the FBI be officially told bin Attash attended the summit in Malaysia, but this information is again withheld (see January 5, 2001 and After). [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 298-9 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Tom Wilshire, Doug Miller, Margaret Gillespie, Counterterrorist Center, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI sends a request to the CIA, asking the agency to check for information on eight Islamist radicals mentioned in the Phoenix memo (see July 10, 2001). However, the CIA apparently does not find any additional information about them. [USA Today, 5/20/2002; Washington Times, 5/23/2002; Wright, 2006, pp. 350-1] Had the CIA investigated these men closely they might have turned up ties connecting them to al-Qaeda. For instance, in 2000, two friends of the main target of the Phoenix memo were detained and deported after twice attempting to enter a US airplane cockpit in what may have been practice for the 9/11 attacks. That same year it was learned by US intelligence that one of these men had received explosives and car bombing training in Afghanistan (see November 1999-August 2001). Other ties between the men in the memo go undiscovered; for instance, another person targeted in the memo had trained in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and will later be arrested with a top al-Qaeda leader (see July 10, 2001). Around this time, the Phoenix memo is sent to FBI headquarters and its I-49 squad in New York (see July 27, 2001 and after and July 27, 2001 or Shortly After). After 9/11, the CIA will say it did not receive the memo and its Office of Inspector General will agree with this. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/28/2005 pdf file] However, in a 2006 book journalist Lawrence Wright will report that the memo was also sent to the CIA’s bin Laden unit. One of the sources Wright cites for this passage is Mark Rossini. Rossini is an FBI agent who at one time worked in the unit’s I-49 squad in New York, but was detailed to the bin Laden station in the summer of 2001. [Wright, 2006, pp. 316, 350, 381, 426 Sources: Mark Rossini]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Ken Williams, Alec Station, Mark Rossini, I-49

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Margaret Gillespie, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alec Station, Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CIA Director George Tenet will recall in his 2007 book that “during one of my updates in late July when, as we speculated about the kind of [al-Qaeda] attacks we could face, Rich B. suddenly said, with complete conviction, ‘They’re coming here.’ I’ll never forget the silence that followed.” Rich B. is the alias Tenet uses for Richard Blee, the official who oversees Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, at this time (see June 1999 and Between Mid-January and July 2000). It is not known who else is at the meeting. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 158]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Richard Blee, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Charles Frahm.Charles Frahm. [Source: Ben Bloker / Stars and Stripes]After the Zacarias Moussaoui case (see August 16, 2001) is transferred from the Iran unit to the Radical Fundamentalist Unit (RFU) at FBI headquarters (see August 20-September 11, 2001), RFU chief Dave Frasca contacts Charles Frahm, an FBI manager detailed to the CIA with responsibility for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. According to Frahm, who has already been contacted by the FBI Minneapolis field office (see August 18, 2001 or Shortly Before), Frasca asks CIA headquarters to quickly share any information it has on Moussaoui with the FBI, but does not send the agency a formal request, even though FBI headquarters continues to coordinate the case with the CIA. In an e-mail sent around August 28, Frahm will indicate that the CIA has still not received a formal request from the bureau. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 123, 154-5, 231-2 pdf file; Wright, 2006, pp. 313] The CIA will tell FBI agent Harry Samit that it thinks there is enough information to firmly link Moussaoui to a terrorist group (see August 24, 2001).

Entity Tags: Radical Fundamentalist Unit, David Frasca, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Charles Frahm, FBI Headquarters

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 7/31/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Margaret Gillespie, Nawaf Alhazmi, Dina Corsi, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Khalid Almihdhar.Khalid Almihdhar. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]It is unclear if Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, briefs CIA leaders on information that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar is in the US. Margaret Gillespie, an FBI analyst detailed to the station, discovers that Almihdhar is in the US on August 21, immediately informs the FBI (see August 21-22, 2001), and places Almihdhar, hijacker Nawaf Alhazmi, and two more associates on the TIPOFF watch list the next day (see August 23, 2001). The CIA also forwards information about al-Qaeda leader Khallad bin Attash to the FBI on August 30 (see August 30, 2001).
No Information on Briefings - There is no indication that Richard Blee, the CIA manager responsible for Alec Station, or anyone at Alec Station informs the CIA’s leadership, the White House, or Richard Clarke’s Counterterrorism Security Group (see August 23, 2001) of Almihdhar’s presence in the US and the clear implications of this presence. For example, no such briefing will be mentioned in the 9/11 Commission Report, although the report will mention that CIA Director George Tenet is briefed about Zacarias Moussaoui around the same time, and it does discuss the circulation of the information about Almihdhar at the FBI in detail. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 268-277] The 9/11 Congressional Inquiry will not mention any such briefing, although it will discuss how the FBI handles the information. [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 151-4 pdf file] No such briefing will be mentioned in a 2007 book by Tenet, although the book will mention a briefing Tenet receives about Moussaoui. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 158-160, 200] The Justice Department inspector general’s report will discuss the FBI’s handling of the information in detail. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 297-313 pdf file] However, the full CIA inspector general’s report about 9/11 will not be made public, and its executive summary will not mention any such briefing. [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. 15-16 pdf file]
Alec Station Aware of Threat and Almihdhar - Alec Station, the CIA, and the US intelligence community in general are highly aware that preparations for a large al-Qaeda attack are in the final stages (see Shortly After July 5, 2001, June 28, 2001, and June 28, 2001). Blee is, in fact, the lead briefer within the government about the threats, and has briefed not only his superiors at the CIA, but also National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see May 30, 2001 and June 28, 2001). He has also recently expressed the belief that the attack will be in the US (see Late July 2001) and has apparently received a series of e-mails in which his former deputy told him Almihdhar may well be involved in the forthcoming attack (see July 5, 2001, July 13, 2001, and July 23, 2001). The information that Almihdhar is in the US therefore confirms Blee’s belief that the attack will be in the US, but it appears Alec Station fails to pass this information on.

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Khalid Almihdhar, Alec Station, Nawaf Alhazmi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

In April 2001, the CIA analyzed some “intriguing information associated with a person known as ‘Mukhtar.’” The CIA didn’t know who this was at the time, only that he was associated with top al-Qaeda deputy Abu Zubaida and that he seemed to be involved in planning al-Qaeda activities. On August 28, 2001, the CIA receives a cable reporting that Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) has the nickname of Mukhtar (which means “brain” in Arabic). However, apparently no one at the CIA’s bin Laden unit makes the connection between this new information and the April 2001 information. The 9/11 Commission writes, “Only after 9/11 would it be discovered that Muhktar/KSM had communicated with a phone that was used by [Ramzi] bin al-Shibh, and that bin al-Shibh had used the same phone to communicate with [Zacarias] Moussaoui [who is in US custody by this time.]” [US Congress, 7/24/2003, pp. 322; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 277]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Ramzi Yousef, Alec Station, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Central Intelligence Agency, Zacarias Moussaoui

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to author Lawrence Wright, on this day there is a conference call between FBI field agent Steve Bongardt, FBI headquarters agent Dina Corsi, and a CIA supervisor at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, who tells Bongardt to stand down in the search for future 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar. Corsi and Bongardt have been arguing over whether the search for Almihdhar in the US should be a criminal or intelligence investigation (see August 28, 2001 and August 28, 2001), and the CIA supervisor apparently sides with Corsi, saying the search should be an intelligence investigation, and so Bongardt, a criminal agent, cannot be involved in it. Bongardt is angry with this and remarks, “If this guy [Almihdhar] is in the country, it’s not because he’s going to f___ing Disneyland!” [Wright, 2006, pp. 353-4] However, there will be no mention of this conversation in the 9/11 Commission Report or the Justice Department’s report into the FBI’s performance before 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 271; US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 306-7 pdf file] According to the Justice Department report, there is a similar conference call between Bongardt, Corsi, and her supervisor at the FBI around this time (see August 28, 2001). It is possible Wright is confusing the supervisor of the CIA’s bin Laden unit with the supervisor of the FBI’s bin Laden unit, meaning that the CIA supervisor is not involved in this argument.

Entity Tags: Steve Bongardt, Alec Station, Khalid Almihdhar, Central Intelligence Agency, FBI New York Field Office, Dina Corsi

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Amrullah Saleh.Amrullah Saleh. [Source: Associated Press' Kamran Jebreili]Northern Alliance leader Amrullah Saleh calls the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center to inform it of the assassination of anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Massoud (see September 9, 2001). His call is taken by Richard Blee, the manager responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Although Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, an expert on Afghanistan, realizes the assassination means “something terrible [is] about to happen” (see September 9, 2001), Blee does not appear to connect the assassination to a spike in warnings about an al-Qaeda attack against US interests, even though he has been briefing senior officials about this all summer (see May 30, 2001, June 28, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Late July 2001). The Northern Alliance realizes that the Taliban will attack them immediately, because they are leaderless, and Saleh asks for support from the CIA. However, some at the CIA think that the Northern Alliance has no chance without Massoud, who held it together. Other officers “[call] frantically around Washington to find a way to aid the rump Northern Alliance before it [is] eliminated.” The CIA informs the White House of the assassination, and the news soon leaks to CNN. This prompts the Northern Alliance to call again, this time complaining about the leak. [Coll, 2004, pp. 582-4]

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Counterterrorist Center, Amrullah Saleh, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Ahmed Shah Massoud

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, misses a chance to capture an unnamed high-ranking al-Qaeda leader in the Netherlands. The US intelligence community learned of the chance through intercepts of al-Qaeda communications, but there is a battle over access to such intelligence. The NSA, which acquires the information, insists that it will not provide the CIA will full transcripts of calls between al-Qaeda members that it intercepts, but only with summaries of them, which the CIA finds less useful. In this case, there is a delay by the NSA in preparing the summary, and by the time it is passed to Alec Station, the al-Qaeda leader is no longer within reach. [Newsweek, 8/21/2007]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Just prior to 9/11, the CIA and FBI do not have enough staff working on al-Qaeda. Only 17 to 19 people are working in the FBI’s special unit focusing on bin Laden and al-Qaeda. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] The FBI has a $4.3 billion anti-terrorism budget, but of its 27,000 employees, just 153 are devoted to terrorism analysis. [Sydney Morning Herald, 6/8/2002] The FBI’s “analytic expertise has been ‘gutted’ by transfers to operational units” and only one strategic analyst is assigned full time to al-Qaeda. The FBI office in New York is very aware of the threat from bin Laden, but many branch offices remain largely unaware. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] A senior FBI official later tells Congress that there are fewer FBI agents assigned to counterterrorism on this day than in August 1998, when the US embassy bombings in Africa made bin Laden a household name. [New York Times, 9/22/2002] The CIA has only about 35 to 40 people assigned to their special bin Laden unit. It has five strategic analysts working full time on al-Qaeda. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] The CIA and FBI later complain that some of these figures are misleading. [New York Times, 9/18/2002] “Individuals in both the CIA and FBI units… reported being seriously overwhelmed by the volume of information and workload prior to September 11, 2001.” Despite numerous warnings that planes could be used as weapons, such a possibility was never studied, and a congressional report later blames lack of staff as a major reason for this. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) also notes, “Between the Department of Justice and the FBI, they had a whole task force working on finding a couple of houses of prostitution in New Orleans. They had one on al-Qaeda.” [CBS News, 9/25/2002]

Entity Tags: Patrick J. Leahy, US Congress, Osama bin Laden, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Richard Blee, chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, immediately thinks Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda terrorist network are to blame when he sees the coverage on television of the crash at the World Trade Center. Blee is in the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, this morning. After Flight 11 crashes into the WTC (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), he goes across the hall to Alec Station’s cluster of cubicles. He points to a television, which is showing the coverage of what has happened in New York, and says, “That’s bin Laden or al-Qaeda.” One of his colleagues disagrees. “You can’t say that; it could be an accident,” they say. “Every time something happens, you can’t say that it’s al-Qaeda,” they add. Opinion is divided among the Alec Station analysts at the CTC, but most of them think the crash was an accident. Blee is resolute, though. “It’s bin Laden,” he says. Blee and his colleagues will still be arguing about the cause of the crash when, at 9:03 a.m., the second hijacked plane crashes into the WTC (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Coll, 2018, pp. 30]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Alec Station, Osama bin Laden, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Analysts at the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, initially conclude that Hezbollah, the Lebanese militant group, is behind the terrorist attacks on the United States. Immediately after the second hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001), analysts at the CTC started reviewing a mass of intelligence, looking for any information that might help identify the perpetrators of the attacks.
Report Said Hezbollah Was Seeking Pilots - They find a report, which indicated that Hezbollah had been trying to recruit certified pilots. The information hadn’t been regarded as significant when it was received, but it now seems more sinister and casts suspicion on the Lebanese group. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 32-33] Additionally, “The attack was a sophisticated, complex operation that required planning and resources,” and “Hezbollah had thousands of fighters in southern Lebanon and a worldwide network strong enough to pull off such a feat,” journalist and author Steve Coll will later comment. A recent article written by analysts at the CTC actually claimed that Hezbollah is a greater threat to the US than al-Qaeda (see (Between Late August and Early September 2001)). [Coll, 2018, pp. 33-34] The analysts contact their counterparts at the FBI and they all agree that the possibility of Hezbollah being responsible for the attacks makes sense. One of the analysts goes up to Ben Bonk, deputy director of the CTC, and tells him their findings. Bonk thinks their theory is possible and Hezbollah must at least be included on the list of likely perpetrators. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 33]
Head of Bin Laden Unit Blames Al-Qaeda - An analyst also goes up to Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, and tells him, “This is Mughniyeh,” referring to Imad Mughniyeh, the notorious leader of Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad Organization. However, Blee immediately blamed al-Qaeda after the first crash at the WTC occurred (see Shortly After 8:48 a.m. September 11, 2001). He therefore tells the analyst, “It’s not Mughniyeh.” “Intelligence about a spectacular al-Qaeda attack had been piling up all summer from multiple sources” and there has been “no comparable threat stream about Hezbollah,” Coll will point out. All the same, the analysts are unwavering. Blee eventually instructs them to go and prove their case. [Coll, 2018, pp. 30, 34] Sometime later, Blee will go into Bonk’s office with a copy that has been obtained of the passenger manifest for Flight 77, which will have the names of Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi—two men with known ties to al-Qaeda—on it. Bonk will then conclude that al-Qaeda, not Hezbollah, is to blame for the attacks. [Eichenwald, 2012, pp. 33]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Hezbollah, Ben Bonk, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Imad Mughniyeh, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Robert White, the FAA liaison at the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters, refuses to provide the CIA with passenger lists for the four planes that were hijacked this morning. Richard Blee, chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, wants copies of the passenger lists for the hijacked planes. He, along with Alec Station’s analysts at the CTC, are now certain al-Qaeda was behind the attacks on the United States, but they need proof of this before they can pass on their assessment to the White House. White has the capability to access airline passenger manifests, and so Blee asks him to access the FAA’s computers and share the manifests for the hijacked planes with him. White, however, refuses. He maintains that “[t]hese were American airliners filled with American citizens and under the law the CIA could not access private information about US persons.” Blee is frantic when he is told this. He therefore asks FBI agents deployed to Alec Station to see if they can get the information he requires through their channels. [9/11 Commission, 10/8/2003 pdf file; Coll, 2018, pp. 33] The FBI agents will subsequently obtain the passenger manifests and pass them on to the CIA (see (1:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). [Daily Beast, 8/12/2011; Council on Foreign Relations, 9/12/2016; Coll, 2018, pp. 35]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Blee, Central Intelligence Agency, Robert White (FAA)

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

CIA Director George Tenet is given copies of the passenger manifests for the four planes that were hijacked this morning. [Daily Beast, 8/12/2011] Tenet is currently in the CIA’s printing plant, where a makeshift operational facility has been set up, after evacuating from the agency’s headquarters building this morning (see (9:50 a.m.-10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 164, 167] Earlier today, Richard Blee, chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, asked the FAA liaison at the Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at CIA headquarters to let him see the manifests for the hijacked planes, but the liaison refused. Blee therefore asked FBI agents deployed to Alec Station to see if they could get the manifests through their channels (see After 10:03 a.m. September 11, 2001).
FBI Has Sent the Passenger Lists to the CTC - The FBI has now sent copies of the manifests to these agents. [Coll, 2018, pp. 33, 35] It apparently obtained them from the US Customs Service. Robert Bonner, commissioner-designate of US Customs, will later state, “Within 45 minutes of the attacks, Customs forwarded the passenger lists with the names of the victims and 19 probable hijackers to the FBI and the intelligence community” (see (11:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 1/26/2004]
Analyst Passes the Lists to Tenet - An analyst from the CTC races across to the printing plant with the manifests. He hands them to Tenet and points out that the manifest for Flight 77 shows two known al-Qaeda members were on this plane. “Some of these guys on one of the planes are the ones we’ve been looking for in the last few weeks,” he says, pointing at the names Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi. Tenet looks at the manifest for Flight 77 and exclaims: “There it is. Confirmation. Oh, Jesus…” This is “the first time we had absolute proof of what I had been virtually certain of from the moment I heard about the attacks: we were in the middle of an al-Qaeda plot,” he will comment. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 167; Summers and Swan, 2011; Daily Beast, 8/12/2011]
Counterterrorism Chief Will Claim the Manifests Were Obtained Much Earlier - The exact time when Tenet receives the passenger manifests is unclear. The FBI agents at the CTC received them “by about 1:00 p.m.,” according to journalist and author Steve Coll. [Coll, 2018, pp. 35] Authors Anthony Summers and Robbyn Swan will write that Tenet is given them “[s]oon after 1:00 p.m.” [Summers and Swan, 2011; Daily Beast, 8/12/2011] CIA Deputy Director John McLaughlin will recall that an analyst bursts into the temporary office at the printing plant with a copy of the manifest for Flight 77 “[w]ithin about two and a half to three hours after the last plane hit.” [OZY, 9/11/2016; Council on Foreign Relations, 9/12/2016] But White House counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke will claim that he was told the FBI had received the manifests from the airlines significantly earlier, at around 9:59 a.m. (see (9:59 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 13-14]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, George J. Tenet, Richard A. Clarke, Nawaf Alhazmi, John E. McLaughlin, Khalid Almihdhar

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Within hours of the 9/11 attacks, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Alec Station, is tasked to come up with actions that can be taken immediately to strike back at al-Qaeda. According to Michael Scheuer, the first head of Alec Station, one of the most promising ideas considered is to ask other countries to raid Islamist charity fronts and seize computers and documents. Scheuer will later assert that the “suggested raids would have netted far more relevant data on how the [charity front-al-Qaeda link] worked than we ever had before.” However, he claims the White House rejects the idea because of concerns that it would offend Muslim popular opinion. [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 306]

Entity Tags: White House, Alec Station, Michael Scheuer

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Michael Scheuer, former head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit (see February 1996), returns to the unit to serve as an adviser, but is not allowed to debrief detainees. Scheuer, who was fired from the unit in 1999 (see June 1999), remains with Alec Station until 2004, when he resigns from the CIA and authors Imperial Hubris, a book critical of the CIA and the US government’s fight against terrorism in general. He had finished his first book, Through Our Enemies’ Eyes, before 9/11, and it is released in 2002. He will later complain that he is given a job title but no official duties. Other CIA officers seek out his services, but these requests are blocked, apparently by James Pavitt, the Deputy Director of Operations. Scheuer comments: “The CIA knew that Through Our Enemies’ Eyes was respected by Islamists and that, as the author, I would be an effective debriefer. Mr. Pavitt, however, put burying my career above using me to elicit information to defend America.” [Scheuer, 2005, pp. 264; Scheuer, 2006, pp. xvii]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Scheuer, Alec Station, James Pavitt

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Gary Berntsen on an airplane, date and location unknown.Gary Berntsen on an airplane, date and location unknown. [Source: National Geographic]Richard Blee, head of the Sunni Extremist Group at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center and a former head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is made chief of the CIA’s new station in Kabul. Blee replaces Gary Berntsen, who had effectively led the CIA’s war effort against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. Berntsen is unhappy with being replaced, saying: “It felt as though someone had just thrown a bucket of cold water in my face. I couldn’t believe they were doing this in the middle of the most important battle of the war.” The battle of Tora Bora begins around this time and, although the US thinks it has Osama bin Laden cornered there, he somehow manages to escape (see November 16, 2001, November 26, 2001 and Early December 2001).
Replacement Decision Is Not Well Received - Berntsen’s staff members are also unhappy with the decision, and slap their hands over their heads and groan when they find out about it. They tell Berntsen, “No disrespect to Rich, but when you leave, we leave.” Berntsen will attribute Blee’s selection to his closeness to CIA Director George Tenet and Deputy Director of Operations James Pavitt, and will also hint that Blee strongly desired the job. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 296-7, 306] Berntsen pushed hard for US troops to be deployed to catch bin Laden (see Late October-Early December 2001), but it is not known whether Blee is in favor of using US troops or not. Blee will also instigate the transfer of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi from the FBI to Egypt shortly after arriving; this is the first such transfer of a major figure after 9/11 (see Shortly After December 19, 2001).
Blee's Replacement - Blee is apparently replaced as chief of the Sunni Extremist Group by someone known only as Hendrik V. (see (Between Summer and Winter 2001)). Hendrik V. will later be replaced by an official known as “Marty M.” before March 2003. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 232, 251] That is almost certainly Marty Martin, someone said to lead the search for bin Laden from 2002 to 2004 (see (Shortly After October 29, 2004)).

Entity Tags: Marty Martin, Gary Berntsen, Central Intelligence Agency, Hendrik V., Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

At some point between the middle of 2001 and February 2002, the CIA appoints a new chief of the Sunni Extremist Group, the part of the Counterterrorist Center that is responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s Osama bin Laden unit. Presumably this occurs in December 2001, when the group’s former head, Richard Blee, is made chief of station in Afghanistan (see December 9, 2001). However, this is not entirely certain. A 2011 book by FBI agent Ali Soufan will refer to the new group chief as “Alvin,” although this is apparently an alias. A 2007 book by former CIA Director George Tenet will refer to the chief as “Hendrik V.,” apparently a version of his real name. Hendrik V. will have been replaced as SEG chief by another official, Marty Martin, by March 2003. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 232, 251; Soufan, 2011, pp. 376,548] Hendrik V. previously served at the CIA station in Jordan, where he ignored crucial evidence during the investigation of the Millennium Plot in 1999 (see Late December 1999).

Entity Tags: Sunni Extremist Group, Central Intelligence Agency, Hendrik V.

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

The Bush administration shifts its attention from Afghanistan and al-Qaeda to Iraq. White House counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later recalls: “They took one thing that people on the outside find hard to believe or appreciate. Management time. We’re a huge government, and we have hundreds of thousands of people involved in national security. Therefore you would think we could walk and chew gum at the same time. I’ve never found that to be true.… It just is not credible that the principals and the deputies paid as much attention to Afghanistan or the war against al-Qaeda as they should have.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] Laurence Pope, an ambassador to Chad, will similarly recall that the change in focus that spring had a particularly damaging effect on operations in Afghanistan. “There was a moment of six months or so when we could have put much more pressure on the tribal areas [to get al-Qaeda], and on Pakistan, and done a better job of reconstruction in Afghanistan. In reality, the Beltway can only do one thing at a time, and because of the attention to Iraq, what should have happened in Afghanistan didn’t.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] US Intelligence agencies are also affected by the shift in priorities. The CIA’s limited supply of Arabic-speakers and Middle East specialists are redeployed to help meet the increasing demand for intelligence on Iraq. Michael Scheuer, a career CIA officer who was working on capturing bin Laden in Afghanistan at the time, says, “With a finite number of people who have any kind of pertinent experience there [was] unquestionably a sucking away of resources from Afghanistan and al-Qaeda to Iraq, just because it was a much bigger effort.” [Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004] Scheuer adds: “There really wasn’t any balance between the two threats, but clearly by 2002 in the springtime, it was almost taken for granted that we were going to go to war with Iraq… It was a nightmare. I know Tenet was briefed repeatedly by the head of the bin Laden department, that any invasion of Iraq would break the back of our counterterrorism program, and it was just ignored.” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] In addition to a shift in focus, there is a considerable shift of specialized equipment and personnel (see Early 2002).

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Alec Station, Richard A. Clarke, Bush administration (43), Laurence Pope

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, War in Afghanistan

A CIA officer who served with Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, before 9/11 is interviewed by CIA Director George Tenet about a failure to pass on information to the FBI about one of the 9/11 hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar. Although information about Almihdhar’s US visa was not passed to the FBI, the officer, Michael Anne Casey, drafted a cable falsely stating that it had been passed (see Around 7:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). According to Tenet’s testimony to the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry (see October 17, 2002), Casey “believes she never would have written this cable unless she believes this had happened.” Tenet will be impressed with Casey, calling her a “terrific officer” at an open hearing of the inquiry. [New York Times, 10/17/2002] However, it was Casey herself who blocked the cable, on the orders of her boss, Tom Wilshire (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). In addition, the day after she sent the cable falsely stating the information had been passed, she again insisted that the information not be provided to the FBI (see January 6, 2000). Casey will later repeat the same lie to the Justice Department’s inspector general (see February 2004).

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Anne Casey

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Mark Rossini.Mark Rossini. [Source: Fox News]Two FBI agents who were involved in a pre-911 failure, Doug Miller and Mark Rossini, are reportedly “eager” to provide testimony to the 9/11 Commission about that failure. However, the Commission does not issue them with a subpoena or otherwise interview them about the matter. Miller and Rossini were on loan to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, before 9/11, and helped block a cable to the FBI that said 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and January 6, 2000). [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] The Commission will cite the transcript of an interview of Miller by the Justice Department’s inspector general in its final report. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502] However, in the interview Miller falsely claims that he remembers nothing of the incident (see (February 12, 2004)). The Commission’s final report will also cite an interview it apparently conducted with Miller in December 2003, although this is in an endnote to a paragraph on terrorist financing. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 185, 504] As the blocked cable is not discovered by investigators until February 2004 (see Early February 2004), Miller is presumably not asked about it at the interview.

Entity Tags: Mark Rossini, Doug Miller, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

FBI Director Robert Mueller personally awards Marion (Spike) Bowman with a presidential citation and cash bonus of approximately 25 percent of his salary. [Salon, 3/3/2003] Bowman, head of the FBI’s national security law unit and the person who refused to seek a special warrant for a search of Zacarias Moussaoui’s belongings before the 9/11 attacks (see August 28, 2001), is among nine recipients of bureau awards for “exceptional performance.” The award comes shortly after a 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report saying Bowman’s unit gave Minneapolis FBI agents “inexcusably confused and inaccurate information” that was “patently false.” [Star-Tribune (Minneapolis), 12/22/2002] Bowman’s unit was also involved in the failure to locate 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi after their names were put on a watch list (see August 28-29, 2001). In early 2000, the FBI acknowledged serious blunders in surveillance Bowman’s unit conducted during sensitive terrorism and espionage investigations, including agents who illegally videotaped suspects, intercepted e-mails without court permission, and recorded the wrong phone conversations. [Associated Press, 1/10/2003] As Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) and others have pointed out, not only has no one in government been fired or punished for 9/11, but several others have been promoted: [Salon, 3/3/2003]
bullet Richard Blee, chief of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, was made chief of the CIA’s new Kabul station in December 2001 (see December 9, 2001), where he aggressively expanded the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). Blee was the government’s main briefer on al-Qaeda threats in the summer of 2001, but failed to mention that one of the 9/11 hijackers was in the US (see August 22-September 10, 2001).
bullet In addition to Blee, the CIA also promoted his former director for operations at Alec Station, a woman who took the unit’s number two position. This was despite the fact that the unit failed to put the two suspected terrorists on the watch list (see August 23, 2001). “The leaders were promoted even though some people in the intelligence community and in Congress say the counterterrorism unit they ran bore some responsibility for waiting until August 2001 to put the suspect pair on the interagency watch list.” CIA Director George Tenet has failed to fulfill a promise given to Congress in late 2002 that he would name the CIA officials responsible for 9/11 failures. [New York Times, 5/15/2003]
bullet Pasquale D’Amuro, the FBI’s counterterrorism chief in New York City before 9/11, was promoted to the bureau’s top counterterrorism post. [Time, 12/30/2002]
bullet FBI Supervisory Special Agent Michael Maltbie, who removed information from the Minnesota FBI’s application to get the search warrant for Moussaoui, was promoted to field supervisor and goes on to head the Joint Terrorism Task Force at the FBI’s Cleveland office. [Salon, 3/3/2003; Newsday, 3/21/2006]
bullet David Frasca, head of the FBI’s Radical Fundamentalist Unit, is “still at headquarters,” Grassley notes. [Salon, 3/3/2003] The Phoenix memo, which was addressed to Frasca, was received by his unit and warned that al-Qaeda terrorists could be using flight schools inside the US (see July 10, 2001 and July 27, 2001 and after). Two weeks later Zacarias Moussaoui was arrested while training to fly a 747, but Frasca’s unit was unhelpful when local FBI agents wanted to search his belongings—a step that could have prevented 9/11 (see August 16, 2001 and August 20-September 11, 2001). “The Phoenix memo was buried; the Moussaoui warrant request was denied.” [Time, 5/27/2002] Even after 9/11, Frasca continued to “[throw] up roadblocks” in the Moussaoui case. [New York Times, 5/27/2002]
bullet Dina Corsi, an intelligence operations specialist in the FBI’s bin Laden unit in the run-up to 9/11, later became a supervisory intelligence analyst. [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 279-280 pdf file; CNN, 7/22/2005] Corsi repeatedly hampered the investigation of Almihdhar and Alhazmi in the summer of 2001 (see June 11, 2001, June 12-September 11, 2001, Before August 22, 2001, August 27-28, 2001, August 28, 2001, August 28-29, 2001, and (September 5, 2001)).
bullet President Bush later names Barbara Bodine the director of Central Iraq shortly after the US conquest of Iraq. Many in government are upset about the appointment because of her blocking of the USS Cole investigation, which some say could have uncovered the 9/11 plot (see October 14-Late November, 2000). She did not apologize or admit she was wrong. [Washington Times, 4/10/2003] However, she is fired after about a month, apparently for doing a poor job.
bullet An FBI official who tolerates penetration of the translation department by Turkish spies and encourages slow translations just after 9/11 was promoted (see March 22, 2002). [CBS News, 10/25/2002]

Entity Tags: Barbara Bodine, George W. Bush, Charles Grassley, David Frasca, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Michael Maltbie, Dina Corsi, Marion (“Spike”) Bowman, Robert S. Mueller III, Pasquale D’Amuro, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CIA manager Alfreda Frances Bikowsky takes an unauthorized trip to see alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM) being waterboarded in Poland (see After March 7, 2003). Based on information from “two well-informed agency sources,” author Jane Mayer will write that Bikowsky is “so excited” by KSM’s capture that she flies “at government expense to the black site where Mohammed was held so that she could personally watch him being waterboarded.” However, according to Mayer, she is not an interrogator and has “no legitimate reason to be present during Mohammed’s interrogation.” A former colleague will say she went because, “She thought it would be cool to be in the room.” Her presence during KSM’s torture seems “to anger and strengthen his resolve, helping him to hold out longer against the harsh tactics used against him.” Bikowsky will later be reprimanded for this, and, in Mayer’s words, “superiors at the CIA scold […] her for treating the painful interrogation as a show.” A former colleague will say: “She got in some trouble. They told her, ‘It’s not supposed to be entertainment.’” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 273] Bikowsky may be interviewed by the CIA inspector general’s probe into torture (see July 16, 2003) and will later be considered for the position of deputy station chief in Baghdad (see (March 23, 2007)).

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Alec Station

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline

In an interview with author James Bamford, an unnamed FBI agent says that Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, deliberately hid 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar from the FBI, allowing 9/11 to happen. He says: “They refused to tell us because they didn’t want the FBI, they didn’t want John O’Neill in particular, muddying up their operation. They didn’t want the bureau meddling in their business—that’s why they didn’t tell the FBI. Alec Station worked for the CIA’s CTC [Counterterrorist Center]. They purposely hid from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau that they were following a man in Malaysia who had a visa to come to America. The thing was, they didn’t want John O’Neill and the FBI running over their case. And that’s why September 11 happened. That is why it happened.… They have blood on their hands. They have three thousand deaths on their hands.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 224]

Entity Tags: Khalid Almihdhar, Counterterrorist Center, Alec Station, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Following the arrest of German national Khalid el-Masri in Macedonia (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004), a dispute breaks out at CIA headquarters over what to do with him. Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, a manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, argues that el-Masri should be rendered to Afghanistan. Author Jane Mayer will describe Bikowsky as a “tall, pale-skinned, spiky-haired redhead who wore bright red lipstick” and indicate she is a former Soviet analyst who had been at Alec Station during the pre-9/11 failures. Mayer will add that she “was particularly controversial among many of her male colleagues for her ferociousness,” and, that she was “reviled by some male colleagues for what they regarded as her aggression.” Lacking proof against el-Masri, Bikowsky argues that the man in custody is probably a terrorist and should be taken to a black site. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 35, 273, 282-283] A former CIA officer will say: “She didn’t really know. She just had a hunch.” [Washington Post, 12/4/2005] Mayer will attribute Bikowsky’s determination to having been part of the unit when it failed before 9/11. Other officers suggest they should wait to see whether el-Masri’s passport, suspected of being a forgery, is genuine or not, and point out there is no evidence he was anything but a tourist on holiday when he was arrested. However, Bikowsky does not trust the Germans, apparently thinking them soft on terrorism, and does not want to wait. Another problem is that these discussions occur during the holiday period and, by the time the CIA’s station in Germany looks at the paperwork, el-Masri is already on his way to Afghanistan (see January 23 - March 2004). [Mayer, 2008, pp. 282-283] Bikowsky will also make a sight-seeing trip to see alleged 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed waterboarded (see After March 7, 2003), will be considered for the position of deputy station chief in Baghdad (see (March 23, 2007)), and may be interviewed by the CIA’s inspector general during its investigation into torture (see July 16, 2003).

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

A CIA review of the passport of Khalid el-Masri determines that it is genuine, not a forgery. El-Masri had been arrested in Macedonia (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004) and rendered to Afghanistan, where he is being tortured (see January 23 - March 2004), partly because the CIA thought he was traveling on a false German passport. However, the news that the passport is legitimate does not inspire the CIA to release him, as a manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, still wants him held. A former colleague will say that this is because of a “gut feeling” the manager, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, has and because she “can’t admit a mistake.” Another former colleague will say, “She just looked into her crystal ball and it said that he was bad.” Although it is clear by now that there was no problem with el-Masri’s passport and that he is not an associate of the 9/11 hijackers (note: the hijackers knew a different man with the same name), Bikowsky insists el-Masri “had phone calls to people who were bad. Or to people who knew people who were bad.” Some other CIA officers are unhappy with this state of affairs. One CIA official comes in every morning and asks, “Is that guy still locked up in the Salt Pit?” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 284-285]

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Two FBI agents, Doug Miller and Mark Rossini, falsely claim they have no memory of the blocking of a key cable about 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar in an interview with the Justice Department’s office of inspector general. Miller drafted the cable, which was to inform the FBI that Almihdhar had a US visa, while he and Rossini were on loan to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. However, it was blocked by the unit’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire, and another CIA officer known only as “Michael” (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). Miller and Rossini remember the events, but falsely tell the Justice Department inspector general they cannot recall them.
Pressure Not to Disclose Information - Sources close to the inspector general’s probe will say, “There was pressure on people not to disclose what really happened.” Rossini, in particular, is said to feel threatened that the CIA would have him prosecuted for violating the Intelligence Identities Protection Act if he said what really happened inside Alec Station. They are questioned at the same time, and together with a CIA officer who will be described as “sympathetic,” although it is unclear why. CIA officials are also in the room during the questioning, although it is unclear why this is allowed. When they are shown contemporary documents, according to the Congressional Quarterly, “the FBI agents suddenly couldn’t remember details about who said what, or who reported what, to whom, about the presence of two al-Qaeda agents in the US prior to the 9/11 attacks.” The inspector general investigators are suspicious. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008]
'They Asserted that They Recalled Nothing' - Nevertheless, neither Rossini nor Miller are severely criticized by the inspector general’s final report. It simply notes: “When we interviewed all of the individuals involved about the [cable] they asserted that they recalled nothing about it. [Miller] told the [inspector general] that he did not recall being aware of the information about Almihdhar, did not recall drafting the [cable], did not recall whether he drafted the [cable] on his own initiative or at the direction of his supervisor, and did not recall any discussions about the reasons for delaying completion and dissemination of the [cable]. [Rossini] said he did not recall reviewing any of the cable traffic or any information regarding Alhazmi and Almihdhar. Eric [a senior FBI agent on loan to Alec Station] told the [inspector general] that he did not recall the [cable].” [US Department of Justice, 11/2004, pp. 241, 355-357 pdf file]
Later Admit What Really Happened - At some point, Miller and Rossini tell an internal FBI investigation what really happened, including Wilshire’s order to withhold the information from the FBI. However, very little is known about this probe (see After September 11, 2001). [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] Rossini will be interviewed for a 2006 book by Lawrence Wright and will recall some of the circumstances of the blocking of the cable, including that a CIA officer told Miller, “This is not a matter for the FBI.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 311, 423] Both Miller and Rossini will later talk to author James Bamford about the incident for a 2008 book. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] The exact date of this interview of Miller and Rossini is unknown. However, an endnote to the 9/11 Commission Report will say that Miller is interviewed by the inspector general on February 12, 2004, so it may occur on this day. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 502]

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (DOJ), Mark Rossini, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Tom Wilshire, Alec Station, Doug Miller, US Department of Justice

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, agrees that the agency can release an innocent German citizen named Khalid el-Masri who has been imprisoned in one of the CIA’s black sites for about two months (see December 31, 2003-January 23, 2004 and January 23 - March 2004). The CIA has known el-Masri is innocent for some time, but has not yet got around to releasing him (see (February 2004)). However, the manager, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, makes his release conditional on the German intelligence services promising to follow him once he is free. She is told that as el-Masri is not a terrorist, but innocent, he cannot be put on a watch list, followed, or monitored when making phone calls. Therefore, she is reluctant to let him go and he remains in prison in Afghanistan. [Mayer, 2008, pp. 285]

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Two officers in the CIA’s European division hatch a plan to free an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri who has been held at an agency black site since January (see January 23 - March 2004). The plan, which is termed a “reverse rendition,” is basically to take el-Masri out of prison, fly him somewhere, drive him round in circles for a few hours, and then let him go. However, a manager at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is opposed to this plan. The manager, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, had been the driving force behind el-Masri’s rendition to Afghanistan in the first place and had previously put obstacles in the way of his release (see Late March 2004). Now, she still argues that el-Masri is a terrorist. Author Jane Mayer will comment on why Bikowsky’s opposition carries weight: “She had an unusual amount of clout in the agency. She was smart and tough. And her trump card was that she sometimes personally briefed President Bush.” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 285-286] Despite Bikowsky’s opposition, a version of the “reverse rendition” plan will be implemented at the end of May (see May 29, 2004).

Entity Tags: Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, Khalid el-Masri, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

CIA Director George Tenet is informed that the agency has wrongly rendered an innocent German named Khalid el-Masri to a black site in Afghanistan and has been holding him there for several months (see January 23 - March 2004). Tenet receives this information at a meeting with all the main participants in the case: a bin Laden unit manager named Alfreda Frances Bikowsky who pushed the rendition in the first place; Counterterrorist Center head Jose Rodriguez and Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt, who have known of the case for some time but done nothing about it (see (April 2004)); and two European Division officers who have a plan to free el-Masri (see (April 2004)). After they all say their piece, Tenet is, according to author Jane Mayer, “stunned.” He says: “Are you telling me we’ve got an innocent guy stuck in prison in Afghanistan? Oh sh_t! Just tell me—please—we haven’t used ‘enhanced’ interrogation techniques on him, have we?” The group then discusses what to do, and one suggestion is to let him go with a large quantity of cash. According to two of Mayer’s sources, Pavitt chuckles, “At least the guy will earn more money in five months than he ever could have any other way!” [Mayer, 2008, pp. 286] No definitive decision about what to do is taken, and Tenet goes to see National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice (see (May 2004)).

Entity Tags: Khalid el-Masri, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., Counterterrorist Center, George J. Tenet, Alfreda Frances Bikowsky, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, James Pavitt

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

White House chief of staff Andy Card learns what the 9/11 Commission Report contains before it is published, as the various chapters are sent to the White House for classification review before the publication date. Card then hears back from the review teams. Despite fears about allegations made by former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke (see March 21, 2004) and a key Presidential Daily Brief item (see August 6, 2001), in the words of author Philip Shenon, Card can see “that the Commission’s final report posed no threat to [President] Bush’s re-election.” This is because the report does not “single out individuals for blame. Certainly not George Bush.” The allegations by Clarke, related in a “he-said, she-said” manner in the report, also do not damage National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 411]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Andrew Card

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CIA official Michael Scheuer says that the CIA’s bin Laden unit, Alec Station, is still effectively less than 30 people strong. Scheuer was head of the unit until 1999 (see June 1999, and he says this was about the size of the unit when he left. Technically, the unit has hundreds of employees, but Scheuer claims this is not really true. He says: “The numbers are big, but it’s a shell game. It’s people they move in for four or five months at a time and then bring in a new bunch. But the hard core of expertise, of experience, of savvy really hasn’t expanded at all since 9/11.” [Guardian, 8/20/2004] There were about 35 to 40 people in the unit at the time of the 9/11 attacks (see Just Before September 11, 2001). The unit will be closed down altogether one year later (see Late 2005).

Entity Tags: Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

In 2005, the CIA gives President Bush a secret slide show updating him on the hunt for bin Laden. Bush is taken aback by the small number of CIA case officers posted to Afghanistan and Pakistan. A former intelligence officer will later tell Newsweek that Bush asks, “Is that all there are?” In fact, the CIA had recently doubled the number of officers in the area, but many are inexperienced and raw recruits. Most veteran officers are involved in the Iraq war instead. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] However, rather than increase the staff working on bin Laden in response to Bush’s complaint, later in the year the CIA will close Alec Station, the unit hunting bin Laden (see Late 2005).

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

A revised version of the CIA inspector general’s report into some of the agency’s failings before 9/11 is finished and sent to CIA management. A version of the report had been completed a year earlier, but it had to be revised due to criticism (see June-November 2004). It recommends accountability boards be convened to assess the performance of several officers. Although not all the officers are named, it is sometimes possible to deduce who they are based on the circumstances. The convening of accountability boards is recommended for:
bullet CIA Director George Tenet, for failing to personally resolve differences between the CIA and NSA that impeded counterterrorism efforts;
bullet CIA Executive Director David Carey (July 1997-March 2001), CIA Executive Director A.B. “Buzzy” Krongard (March 2001-9/11), CIA Deputy Director for Operations Jack Downing (1997-1999), and CIA Deputy Director for Operations James Pavitt (1999-9/11) for failing to properly manage CIA counterterrorism funds (see 1997-2001);
bullet CIA Counterterrorist Center Chief Jeff O’Connell (1997-1999) for failing to properly manage CIA counterterrorism funds (see 1997-2001), for staffing Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, with officers lacking experience, expertise and training, for failing to ensure units under him coordinated coverage of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), for poor leadership of the CIA’s watchlisting program, for poor management of a program where officers were loaned between the CIA and other agencies, and for failing to send officers to the NSA to review its material;
bullet CIA Counterterrorist Center Chief Cofer Black (Summer 1999-9/11) for failing to properly manage CIA counterterrorism funds (see 1997-2001), for staffing Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, with officers lacking experience, expertise and training, for failing to ensure units under him coordinated coverage of KSM, for poor leadership of the CIA’s watchlisting program, possibly for failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, possibly for failing to do anything about Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar in 2001, for poor management of a program where officers were loaned between the CIA and other agencies, and for failing to send officers to the NSA to review its material;
bullet Chief of Alec Station Richard Blee. Some sections of the report appear to refer to Blee, but are redacted. It seems to criticize him for failing to properly oversee operations related to KSM, failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, and failing to do anything about Alhazmi and Almihdhar in 2001;
bullet Deputy Chief of Alec Station Tom Wilshire. Some sections of the report appear to refer to Tom Wilshire, but are redacted. It seems to criticize him for failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, and for failing to do anything about Alhazmi and Almihdhar in 2001;
bullet Unnamed officer, possibly head of the CIA’s renditions branch, for failing to properly oversee operations related to KSM;
bullet Unnamed officer, for failing to ensure the FBI was informed one of the 9/11 hijackers had entered the US, and for failing to do anything about Alhazmi and Almihdhar in 2001;
bullet Unnamed officer(s), for failure to produce any coverage of KSM from 1997 to 2001. The type of coverage that should have been provided is redacted in the publicly released executive summary of the report.
The report may recommend accountability boards for other officers, but this is not known due to redactions and the publication of only the executive summary. CIA Director Porter Goss will decide not to convene any accountability boards (see October 10, 2005), and the report will remain secret until the executive summary is released in 2007 (see August 21, 2007). [Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Jeff O’Connell, Office of the Inspector General (CIA), James Pavitt, Tom Wilshire, Jack Downing, David Carey, A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard, Central Intelligence Agency, Cofer Black, George J. Tenet, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Late 2005: CIA Closes Unit Hunting Bin Laden

The CIA closes its unit that had been in charge of hunting bin Laden and other top al-Qaeda leaders. Analysts in the unit, known as Alec Station, are reassigned to other parts of the CIA Counterterrorist Center. CIA officials explain the change by saying the agency can better deal with high-level threats by focusing on regional trends rather than on specific organizations or individuals. Michael Scheuer, who headed the unit when if formed in 1996 (see February 1996), says the move reflects a view within the CIA that bin Laden is no longer the threat he once was, and complains, “This will clearly denigrate our operations against al-Qaeda.” Robert Grenier, head of the Counterterrorist Center in 2005, is said to have instigated the closure. [New York Times, 7/4/2006; Guardian, 7/4/2006] The White House denies the search for bin Laden has slackened, calling the move merely a “reallocation of resources” within the CIA. [Reuters, 8/17/2006]

Entity Tags: Robert Grenier, Osama bin Laden, Counterterrorist Center, Alec Station, Michael Scheuer, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

After 9/11 there was much discussion about how hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar were able to participate in an operation like 9/11, even though they were well known to US intelligence (see, for example, January 5-8, 2000, Early 2000-Summer 2001, and 9:53 p.m. September 11, 2001).
FBI Theory - Based on conversations with FBI agents, author Lawrence Wright speculates on why the CIA withheld information it should have given the FBI: “Some… members of the [FBI’s] I-49 squad would later come to believe that the [CIA] was shielding Almihdhar and Alhazmi because it hoped to recruit them.… [They] must have seemed like attractive opportunities; however, once they entered the United States they were the province of the FBI. The CIA has no legal authority to operate inside the country, although in fact, the bureau often caught the agency running backdoor operations in the United States.… It is also possible, as some FBI investigators suspect, the CIA was running a joint venture with Saudi intelligence in order to get around that restriction. Of course, it is also illegal for foreign intelligence services to operate in the United States, but they do so routinely.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 312-313]
Explanation of Acquired Visas - This theory offers a possible explanation, for example, of how Almihdhar and Alhazmi managed to move in and out of Saudi Arabia and obtain US visas there even though they were supposedly on the Saudi watch list (see 1997 and April 3-7, 1999), and why a Saudi agent in the US associated with them (see January 15-February 2000). Wright points out that “these are only theories” but still notes that “[h]alf the guys in the Bureau think CIA was trying to turn them to get inside al-Qaeda.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 313; Media Channel, 9/5/2006]
Participant Does Not Know - Doug Miller, an FBI agent loaned to the CIA who was part of a plot to withhold the information from the FBI (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000), will indicate he does not know why he was ordered to withhold the information, but that his superiors may have had a good reason for keeping it from the FBI. Another intelligence source will claim that the CIA withheld the information to keep the FBI away from a sensitive operation to penetrate al-Qaeda. [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008]
CIA Wanted to Keep FBI Off Case - Another unnamed FBI agent loaned to Alec Station before 9/11 will say: “They didn’t want the bureau meddling in their business—that’s why they didn’t tell the FBI. Alec Station… purposely hid from the FBI, purposely refused to tell the bureau that they were following a man in Malaysia who had a visa to come to America. The thing was, they didn’t want… the FBI running over their case.” [Bamford, 2008, pp. 20]
Similar Explanation - Wright is not the first to have made the suggestion that Alhazmi and Almihdhar were protected for recruitment purposes. Investigative journalist Joe Trento reported in 2003 that a former US intelligence official had told him that Alhazmi and Almihdhar were already Saudi Arabian intelligence agents when they entered the US (see August 6, 2003).

Entity Tags: Nawaf Alhazmi, Lawrence Wright, Doug Miller, Saudi General Intelligence Directorate, Central Intelligence Agency, Khalid Almihdhar, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

Four statements based on the CIA inspector general’s report on some aspects of the agency’s performance before 9/11 are introduced as evidence at the trial of Zacarias Moussaoui by the defense. The report was completed in 2004 (see June-November 2004), but rewritten and is still secret (see January 7, 2005). The four passages say:
bullet “Numerous” CIA officers accessed cables reporting that Khalid Almihdhar’s passport contained a US visa and Nawaf Alhazmi had flown from Thailand to Los Angeles (see Mid-January-March 2000); [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria District, 3/28/2006 pdf file]
bullet FBI Director Louis Freeh was briefed about Almihdhar in January 2000, but not told that Almihdhar had a US visa (see January 6-9, 2000); [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/28/2006 pdf file]
bullet Nobody at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, notified CIA personnel authorized to collect foreign intelligence in the US together with the FBI about Almihdhar’s US visa (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000); [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/28/2006 pdf file]
bullet The CIA was unaware of the Phoenix memo until after 9/11 (note: this may not actually be true—see (July 27, 2001)). [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/28/2005 pdf file]
Two sections of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report are also introduced as evidence as substitutes for the CIA inspector general’s report. They cover the use of aircraft as weapons and US knowledge of bin Laden’s intentions to strike inside the US in the summer of 2001. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/28/2006 pdf file; US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division, 3/28/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Office of the Inspector General (CIA), Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

CIA officer Richard Blee, who headed Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, at the time of the 9/11 attacks (see August 22-September 10, 2001), is considered for the position of chief of station in Baghdad, one of the CIA’s largest stations. [Harper's, 1/28/2007] However, he does not get the position. [Harper's, 2/9/2007] The reasons for him not getting the job are apparently that he is seen as a “bad fit,” and is closely associated with detainee abuse and renditions, in particular that of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). In addition, he is said to have a poor relationship with the military, in particular the Special Operations community. An unnamed former official calls Blee a “smart guy,” but says, “He’s the last guy you want running a tense place like the station in Baghdad, because he creates a lot of tension himself.” [Harper's, 1/28/2007] Shortly before mid-May 2003, Blee had been loaned to the FBI, where he had a senior position, but his career history after that is unknown. [New York Times, 5/15/2003]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Journalist Ken Silverstein writes a piece about a CIA officer who is being considered for the position of station chief in Baghdad (see January-February 2007). According to Silverstein, who uses the pseudonym “James,” the officer is “the son of a well-known and controversial figure who served at the agency during its early years.” Silverstein also mentions the officer’s time managing Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, problems with his management style (see June 1999), his closeness to former CIA Counterterrorist Center chief Cofer Black (see 1998 and After), his work as station chief in Kabul after 9/11 (see December 9, 2001), and his involvement in the rendition of Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi (see Shortly After December 19, 2001). [Harper's, 1/28/2007] The officer, Richard Blee, will finally “out” himself in a joint statement issued with former CIA Director George Tenet and Black in August 2011 (see August 3, 2011).

Entity Tags: Richard Blee, Ken Silverstein

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

According to former CIA Director George Tenet, he speaks to a “senior CIA officer” with knowledge of pre-9/11 intelligence failures, apparently in preparation for a book he is writing. They discuss the failure to inform the FBI that one of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, had a US visa (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). The officer tells Tenet: “Once Almihdhar’s picture and visa information were received, everyone agreed that the information should immediately be sent to the FBI. Instructions were given to do so. There was a contemporaneous e-mail in CIA staff traffic, which CIA and FBI employees had access to, indicating that the data had in fact been sent to the FBI. Everyone believed it had been done.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 195] The claim that “everyone agreed” the information should be sent to the FBI is false, because two officers, deputy unit chief Tom Wilshire and Michael Anne Casey, specifically instructed two other people working at Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, not to send it (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000 and January 6, 2000). The “contemporaneous e-mail” was then written by Casey, who must have known the claim the information had been passed was incorrect (see Around 7:00 p.m. January 5, 2000). Casey later appears to have lied about this matter to Tenet (see Before October 17, 2002) and the Justice Department’s inspector general (see February 2004).

Entity Tags: Michael Anne Casey, Central Intelligence Agency, Alec Station, George J. Tenet

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

The FBI attempts to prevent two agents who were involved in a key pre-9/11 failure from talking about it in a television interview. The agents, Doug Miller and Mark Rossini, were on loan to Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, before 9/11. They were involved in the deliberate blocking of a cable to the FBI saying that 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar had a US visa (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000) and later, under pressure, falsely claimed not to remember anything about it when interviewed by the Justice Department’s inspector general (see (February 12, 2004)). The FBI allowed Miller and Rossini to be interviewed by author James Bamford for a book and they told him they helped block the cable on the orders of a female CIA officer known only as “Michael” and the station’s deputy chief, Tom Wilshire. However, when Bamford wants them to repeat their stories for a PBS documentary he is making, the FBI initially says yes, but then retracts its approval, saying the bureau “doesn’t want to stir up old conflicts with the CIA.” [Congressional Quarterly, 10/1/2008] However, Rossini will actually appear in the documentary, although Miller will not. [PBS, 2/3/2009]

Entity Tags: James Bamford, Mark Rossini, Doug Miller, Central Intelligence Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

A suicide bomber wearing an explosive vest kills five CIA officers, two private US military contractors, a Jordanian, and an Afghan at a remote base in Afghanistan. Six others are wounded. The chief of the base is one of those killed. The attack at the CIA base known as Forward Operating Base Chapman is in Khost Province, only 10 miles from the Pakistan border. It is one of two bases in Afghanistan directly run by the CIA; both are used in the effort to hit al-Qaeda targets with Predator drones in Pakistan.
Triple Agent Suicide Bomber - The suicide bomber, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, is a Jordanian doctor. He also turns out to be a triple agent. Originally a supporter of al-Qaeda and other Islamist militant groups, he was recruited to be an informant for Jordanian intelligence. (The Jordanian killed in the suicide attack, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, was his handler.) Then the Jordanians passed him on to the CIA and he was an informant for them too. For months, he fed both intelligence agencies information that was used by US forces in Predator drone strikes. However, none of the targets were important, and this apparently was just a ploy to gain the CIA’s trust. He also was able to provide details on al-Qaeda sites in Pakistan in a way that proved he had been there. He even turned over photographs that gave “irrefutable proof” he had been in the presence of al-Qaeda’s top leadership.
Promising Meeting - Having gained the CIA’s trust, al-Balawi was able to enter the base through three checkpoints without being closely checked, although even visiting dignitaries must be checked. He promised important information about the whereabouts of al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. This was considered the best lead on al-Zawahiri in years, and the White House had been told to expect important information from al-Balawi’s debriefing. Typically, only one or two intelligence officials are present in informant debriefings, but his information is considered so important that eight people are near him when his bomb goes off. [London Times, 1/6/2010; Washington Post, 1/10/2010]
Base Commander Is 'World Class' Al-Qaeda Expert - Previously, al-Balawi had only met with Jordanian intelligence, but he was considered such a promising source that the CIA wanted to talk to him in person. The locale was chosen in part because the base commander, Jennifer Lynne Matthews, was considered a “world-class expert on al-Qaeda and counterterrorism operations,” who spent nearly 20 years in the CIA. She had been part of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit, back in the 1990s. After 9/11, she was “integrally involved in all of the CIA’s rendition operations,” according to an intelligence source. For instance, she managed the operation that located and captured Abu Zubaida in 2002. From 2005 to 2009, she was the chief of the counterterrorism branch in London, and had a key role in breaking up a 2006 al-Qaeda plot to blow up airplanes. Then she volunteered to work in Afghanistan. [Washington Post, 1/10/2010; Washingtonian, 1/2011]
Seven Americans Killed - The CIA officers killed are Matthews, Darren LaBonte, Elizabeth Hanson, Harold Brown Jr., and Scott Michael Roberson. Blackwater private military contractors Jeremy Wise and Dane Clark Paresi are also killed in the attack. [Washington Post, 6/8/2010]
Lax Security Leads to Deaths - Al-Balawi is still outside when he is greeted by several CIA officials. Just as he is about to be carefully searched, he sets his bomb off. The blast is so powerful that it kills people standing some distance away. The CIA will later conduct an internal investigation and conclude that there were crucial security mistakes in letting him get so far into the base without being searched. [Washington Post, 1/10/2010; Washingtonian, 1/2011]
Militant Groups Claim Credit - Several days after the bombing, a video will emerge of al-Balawi sitting next to militant leader Hakimullah Mahsud. In it al-Balawi says that he will martyr himself in revenge for the 2009 killing of militant leader Baitullah Mashud. Baitullah led the Tehrik-i-Taliban (the Pakistani Taliban), and was replaced by Hakimullah after his death. The video makes obvious that the Tehrik-i-Taliban had a major role in the attack, but other Islamist militant groups take credit as well. Al-Qaeda leader Mustafa Abu al-Yazid also will take credit for the attack on behalf of al-Qaeda. He will say it is in revenge for Baitullah’s death, plus the death of two other militant leaders killed in Predator drone attacks. Since, as previously mentioned, al-Balawi apparently had photos and other evidence showing his al-Qaeda connections, it seems al-Qaeda has a role as well. Additionally, the CIA base is just across the border from North Waziristan, the center of power for the Haqqani network, which is a semi-autonomous part of the Taliban. US officials believe that nothing happens in the region without the knowledge of the Haqqanis, and that network is probably involved as well. In the days after the suicide attack, the US will respond with an unusual number of drone attacks, most of them targeting Haqqani sites. US analysts fear the attack shows that the Tehrik-i-Taliban, Haqqani network, and al-Qaeda are effectively working together. [ABC News, 1/7/2010; New York Times, 1/9/2010] A later report will suggest that the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, could have supplied the explosives used in the bombing (see January 6, 2010).

Entity Tags: Jennifer Lynne Matthews, Jeremy Wise, Taliban, Sharif Ali bin Zeid, Scott Michael Roberson, Tehrik-i-Taliban, Harold Brown Jr., Haqqani Network, Humam Khalil al-Balawi, Elizabeth Hanson, Al-Qaeda, Baitullah Mahsud, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Dane Clark Paresi, Central Intelligence Agency, Hakimullah Mahsud, Darren LaBonte

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

In an interview, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says that the CIA purposefully withheld information from him about two future 9/11 hijackers for over a year before September 11. The interview was taped in October 2009, but is released now by documentary makers Ray Nowosielski and John Duffy ahead of a forthcoming podcast entitled “Who Is Rich Blee?” about the intelligence failures before 9/11. Clarke indicates he found out the CIA failed to pass information on to him not long after 9/11, but assumed the information had been honestly missed by a single junior officer. However, when he later learned at at least 50 officers accessed the information, he began to question this theory. (Note: the news that the information was accessed by at least 50 officers broke in August 2007—see Mid-January-March 2000 and August 21, 2007). According to Clarke, information of the sort the CIA had on two of the hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi, was automatically forwarded to him, but he never heard their names before 9/11. Clarke, who admits he cannot prove his allegation that the information was withheld deliberately, says the best explanation he can come up with is that the CIA was attempting to turn the two hijackers into double agents, which is why nobody was told outside the agency. Clarke points out that alleged Saudi intelligence operatives working in the US (see January 15-February 2000 and Spring 2000) who knew the hijackers could have helped with this. Clarke mentions four officials who would have been involved in a decision to withhold information: CIA Director George Tenet, who followed information about al-Qaeda in “microscopic detail,” Counterterrorist Center chief Cofer Black, Alec Station chief Richard Blee, and his deputy Tom Wilshire. Clarke also expresses wonder that the information was not mentioned at a key meeting with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in July 2001 (see July 10, 2001) when Tenet, Black, and Blee were trying to get her to take strong action against al-Qaeda, because what they had on Almihdhar and Alhazmi was the “most persuasive piece of evidence” they had. He also does not understand why the CIA told the FBI in late August 2001 that the two hijackers had entered the country (see August 21-22, 2001). Clarke adds that the CIA presumably did not mention the fact that the two men were in the US at a meeting of high-level officials on September 4, 2001 (see September 4, 2001) because it would have angered Clarke and this would have led to an investigation in CIA “malfeasance and misfeasance” in concealing the information. However, he thinks the US authorities would have caught the hijackers with a “massive sweep” even if he had been told as late as September 4. Clarke also comments that he never asked Tenet and the other CIA officials about what had happened, as the facts became known to him over time. He also says that Tenet, Black, and Blee have got away with what they did, as they were not held to account by the Joint Congressional Inquiry or the 9/11 Commission. [John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski, 8/11/2011; Truthout (.org), 8/11/2011] Tenet, Black, and Blee received an advance copy of the interview and issued a statement in response (see August 3, 2011).

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Cofer Black, Tom Wilshire, Richard A. Clarke, Central Intelligence Agency, Ray Nowosielski, John Duffy, Richard Blee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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