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Complete 911 Timeline

Terror Alerts

Project: Complete 911 Timeline
Open-Content project managed by matt, Paul, KJF, mtuck, paxvector

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Four prominent Republican officials make alarming comments about terrorism and especially the use of WMDs against the US:
bullet Attorney General John Ashcroft says on CNN: “We believe there are substantial risks of terrorism still in the United States of America. As we as a nation respond to what has happened to us, those risks may in fact go up.”
bullet White House chief of staff Andrew Card says on Fox News, “I’m not trying to be an alarmist, but we know that these terrorist organizations, like al-Qaeda, run by Osama bin Laden and others, have probably found the means to use biological or chemical warfare.”
bullet Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld says on NBC’s Meet the Press, “There’s always been terrorism, but there’s never really been worldwide terrorism at a time when the weapons have been as powerful as they are today, with chemical and biological and nuclear weapons spreading to countries that harbor terrorists.” He suggests several countries supporting terrorists either have WMDs or are trying to get them. “It doesn’t take a leap of imagination to expect that at some point those nations will work with those terrorist networks and assist them in achieving and obtaining those kinds of capabilities.” He does not name these countries, but the New York Times notes the next day that the US military had recently identified the WMD programs in Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Sudan as cause for concern.
bullet Representative Henry Hyde (R-IL), the chairman of the House International Relations Committee, also says on Meet the Press that biological weapons “scare” him more than nuclear weapons because they can be brought into the country “rather easily.”
The New York Times reports that there is no new intelligence behind these alarming comments. By contrast, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says it is unlikely terrorists are capable of making extremely deadly biological weapons. He says that terrorists might have access to weapons that use anthrax or smallpox, but while “There are those serious things… we can deal with them.” [New York Times, 10/1/2001] Deputy press secretary Scott McClellan will later observe: “Even the Cheney-driven White House effort to provide all Americans with the smallpox vaccine that was being pushed publicly in the latter weeks of 2002 played into the environment of fear about the Iraq WMD threat. It seems to me a little cynical to suggest that its timing was calculated, but it did not hurt the broader campaign to sell the war.” [McClellan, 2008, pp. 138]

Entity Tags: Scott McClellan, Joseph Biden, Henry Hyde, Donald Rumsfeld, Andrew Card, John Ashcroft, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, 2001 Anthrax Attacks

Category Tags: Terror Alerts

On October 11, 2001, President Bush uses his first prime-time news conference to give an update on the early stages of the war on terrorism. He confirms that the Justice Department just issued a blanket alert “in recognition of a general threat.” [CNN News, 10/11/2001] This general threat never materializes. On October 29, the administration warns again of plans to strike the United States “in the next week.” In a quickly called news conference, US Attorney General John Ashcroft says intelligence sources have found “credible” information the nation could be the focus for some sort of terrorist attack within the week. No specific information is provided to the public now or later to explain what information may have caused this alert. [CNN News, 10/29/2001] Bush tells Americans “to go about their lives, to fly on airplanes, to travel, to work.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 36]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, John Ashcroft, US Department of Justice

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

Attorney General John Ashcroft issues a second terror alert for the month (see October 11-29, 2001). The intelligence received by the FBI does not, he says, “contain specific information as to the type of attack or specific targets.” [Rich, 2006, pp. 36]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Terror Alerts

After issuing several terror alerts that came to nothing (see October 11-29, 2001 and October 29, 2001), Attorney General John Ashcroft declares victory in overcoming the threat: “[T]he home front has witnessed the opening battle in the war against terrorism, and America has emerged victorious.” He claims that “two periods of extremely high threat have passed” without incident. But in 2006, author Frank Rich will note that this assessment is based solely on Ashcroft’s word, since no evidence of actual threats will ever be advanced. [Rich, 2006, pp. 36-37]

Entity Tags: Frank Rich, John Ashcroft

Category Tags: Terror Alerts

Tom Ridge, Director of Homeland Security, warns that terrorist strikes “could happen within the next few weeks.” Ridge states that “the quantity and level of threats… have reached a threshold where we should once again place the public on general alert.” He describes the terrorists as “shadow soldiers… a shadow enemy.” [MotherJones, 12/3/2001] Richard Reid does attempt to blow up an airplane with a shoe-bomb later in the month (see December 22, 2001).

Entity Tags: Tom Ridge, US Department of Homeland Security

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

January 17, 2002: Suicide Attack Alert Issued

Attorney General John Ashcroft warns that suicide attacks “might be expected because of confidential information” the US government has received. He further warns, in regards to the five most wanted terrorists, that “These men could be anywhere in the world” and “may be trained and prepared to commit future suicide terrorist acts.” [NBC, 1/17/2002]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

Attorney General John Ashcroft says “I want to encourage…all Americans everywhere to be on the highest state of alert.” The FBI warns of a threat from Yemeni or Saudi Arabian terrorists who may be planning an imminent attack. [CNN, 2/12/2002] It is later revealed that the threat hadn’t been corroborated by other US intelligence agencies. In addition, the threat actually indicated a more likely attack in Yemen. This announcement was made the same day that Enron CEO Kenneth Lay appeared before Congress. A week earlier, the White House had been ordered to refrain from destroying any documentation related to Enron. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, Kenneth Lay, White House, Enron Corporation, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

Tunnels under the US embassy in Rome.Tunnels under the US embassy in Rome. [Source: BBC]Four Moroccans are arrested in Rome in possession of several pounds of a cyanide compound. In addition, police find a map marked with the location of a water main in central Rome. When news of the arrest is leaked to the Italian media on the following day, there are widespread fears of a plot to poison Rome’s water supply. The press speculates that the men may be linked to al-Qaeda. The US embassy in Rome may also have been a target, says an embassy spokesman. In the following days, five more men, also from Morocco, are arrested. However, within days the cyanide compound is identified as potassium ferro-cyanide, which has many agricultural and industrial uses. An official says it could not have been used to poison the water supply. Following the initial arrest, Italian authorities inspect public utility tunnels in central Rome and find a hole in one of them near the US embassy. Police say that they suspect the plotters had planned a bomb attack against the embassy. The potassium ferro-cyanide, although harmless in itself, may have been used to produce a toxic gas if heated, investigators say. According to a police expert, “A toxic cloud would have formed and spread through the tunnels under the center of Rome.” The nine suspects are held without bail pending trial, but will be later acquitted (see April 28, 2004). [BBC News, 2/20/2002; BBC News, 2/21/2002; BBC News, 2/24/2002; New York Times, 2/25/2002; Time, 2/25/2002; New York Times, 2/26/2002; New York Times, 2/27/2002]

Category Tags: Al-Qaeda in Italy, Counterterrorism Action After 9/11, Terror Alerts

Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge admits that the FBI has failed to find a single al-Qaeda cell operating in the US. He suspects there are active cells, but cannot explain why none have been caught. [London Times, 3/11/2002] Seemingly obvious al-Qaeda cells, such as Nabil al-Marabh’s Boston cell (see June 27, 2004) and Ali Mohamed’s Santa Clara, California, cell (see Mid-1990s), appear to have escaped detection or public mention. The FBI will issue a report in 2005 that again will claim that no sleeper cells can be found in the US (see February 2005). On September 12, 2001, the New York Times reported, “Authorities said they had also identified accomplices in several cities who had helped plan and execute Tuesday’s attacks. Officials said they knew who these people were and important biographical details about many of them.” [New York Times, 9/13/2001]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Tom Ridge, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

The color coded Security Advisory System.The color coded Security Advisory System. [Source: White House]Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge announces the implementation of the Homeland Security Advisory System. He describes it as a method “to measure and evaluate terrorist threats and communicate them to the public in a timely manner.” He states that it “empowers government and citizens to take actions to address the threat. It is a system that is equal to the threat.” [White House Office of the Press Secretary, 3/12/2002]

Entity Tags: Tom Ridge, US Department of Homeland Security

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, Internal US Security After 9/11

A terror alert is issued for American interests in four Italian cities. Richard Boucher, spokesman for the State Department, says that “There is not too much more detail I can give you other than saying that we have credible reports that extremists are planning additional terrorist attacks against US interests and that a possible threat exists to US citizens in the cities of Venice, Florence, Milan and Verona on Easter Sunday, March 31st.” [US Department of State, 3/27/2002] No attacks materialize and no further information is given on the nature of the threat. [News Hounds, 10/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Boucher, US Department of State

Category Tags: Terror Alerts

Not long after being captured, al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida identifies Jose Padilla as an al-Qaeda operative to his FBI interrogators (see Late March through Early June, 2002). Padilla is a US citizen, and US intelligence has been monitoring him and some of his associates in Florida for nearly a decade already (see (October 1993-November 2001)). However, the New York Times will allege in 2006: “But Mr. Zubaida dismissed Mr. Padilla as a maladroit extremist whose hope to construct a dirty bomb, using conventional explosives to disperse radioactive materials, was far-fetched. He told his questioners that Mr. Padilla was ignorant on the subject of nuclear physics and believed he could separate plutonium from nuclear material by rapidly swinging over his head a bucket filled with fissionable material” (see Early 2002). [New York Times, 9/10/2006] The US arrests Padilla a short time later, when he returns to the US from an overseas trip on May 8 (see May 8, 2002). One month later, Attorney General John Ashcroft will reveal Padilla’s arrest in a widely publicized announcement, and will further allege that Padilla was actively plotting to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” inside the US (see June 10, 2002). However, it appears Zubaida may have been correct that Padilla was wildly overhyped. The US will later drop charges that Padilla was making a “dirty bomb,” planning any attack in the US, and was a member of al-Qaeda. [Knight Ridder, 11/23/2005] Journalist Ron Suskind will comment in 2006, “Padilla turned out to not be nearly as valuable as advertised at the start, though, and I think that’s been shown in the ensuing years.” [Salon, 9/7/2006]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jose Padilla, Abu Zubaida

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Category Tags: Destruction of CIA Tapes, Terror Alerts, Counterterrorism Action After 9/11, Abu Zubaida

The Bush administration issues a remarkable series of terror warnings that many believe are politically motivated. Vice President Cheney warns it is “not a matter of if, but when” al-Qaeda will next attack the US. [CNN, 5/20/2002] Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge says the same thing. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says terrorists will “inevitably” obtain weapons of mass destruction (see May 21, 2002). FBI Director Mueller says more suicide bombings are “inevitable.” [Washington Post, 5/22/2002] Authorities also issue separate warnings that al-Qaeda militants might target apartment buildings nationwide, banks, rail and transit systems, the Statue of Liberty, and the Brooklyn Bridge. USA Today titles an article, “Some Question Motives Behind Series of Alerts.” [USA Today, 5/24/2002] David Martin, CBS’s national security correspondent, says, “Right now they’re putting out all these warnings to change the subject from what was known prior to September 11 to what is known now.” It had been revealed the week before that Bush received a briefing in August 2001 entitled, “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001). [Washington Post, 5/27/2002] Remarkably, even Press Secretary Ari Fleischer says the alerts were issued “as a result of all the controversy that took place last week.” [Washington Times, 5/22/2002; Village Voice, 5/23/2002] A retired CIA official reveals that the administration “made a political decision” to make any threat public, even those deemed to be hoaxes. In response to the alleged threat to New York, the former head of the FBI bureau there states that “there really isn’t any hard information.” [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] Time notes, “Though uncorroborated and vague, the terror alerts were a political godsend for an administration trying to fend off a bruising bipartisan inquiry into its handling of the terrorist chatter last summer. After the wave of warnings, the Democratic clamor for an investigation into the government’s mistakes subsided.” [Time, 5/27/2002]

Entity Tags: Robert S. Mueller III, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Tom Ridge, Ari Fleischer, Al-Qaeda, David Martin

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline, Domestic Propaganda

Category Tags: Media, Terror Alerts, Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, Internal US Security After 9/11

Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says that al-Qaeda operatives are in the US, and “they are very well-trained.” He also says that “terrorist networks have relationships with terrorist states that have weapons of mass destruction, and… they inevitably are going to get their hands on them, and they would not hesitate one minute in using them. That’s the world we live in.” [Suskind, 2006, pp. 121] His comments are part of a wave of ominous warnings by the Bush administration (see May 20-24, 2002) that come just days after it is reported that President Bush was given a warning before 9/11 entitled “Bin Laden Determined to Strike in US” (see August 6, 2001).

Entity Tags: Donald Rumsfeld

Category Tags: Terror Alerts

Jose Padilla.
Jose Padilla. [Source: Florida Department of Motor Vehicles]Attorney General John Ashcroft announces the arrest of Abdullah al-Mujahir, a.k.a. Jose Padilla. He claims that Padilla was part of an al-Qaeda plot to detonate a radioactive “dirty bomb” in a US city, and supposedly Padilla was scouting bomb targets when arrested. Padilla, a US citizen, is being held as an “enemy combatant,” allowing him to be held indefinitely. [Guardian, 6/11/2002; PBS, 6/11/2002] But almost immediately, doubts grow about this story. The London Times says that it is “beyond dispute” that the timing of the announcement of his arrest was “politically inspired.” Padilla was actually arrested a month earlier, on May 8. [London Times, 6/13/2002] It is widely believed that Ashcroft made the arrest announcement “only to divert attention from Intelligence Committee inquiries into the FBI and CIA handling of 9/11.” [Village Voice, 6/12/2002; Independent, 6/12/2002; BBC, 6/13/2002; Washington Post, 6/13/2003] Four days earlier, Coleen Rowley testified before Congress. The FBI whistleblower stated her belief that the attacks of Sept. 11 could have been prevented had the FBI flight-school warnings been made available to the agents investigating Zacharias Moussaoui. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] Bush soon privately chastises Ashcroft for overstating claims about Padilla. [Guardian, 8/15/2002] The government attorneys apparently could not get an indictment out of a New York grand jury and, rather than let him go, made Padilla an enemy combatant. [Village Voice, 6/12/2002] It later comes out that the FBI found no evidence that he was preparing a dirty bomb attack and little evidence to suggest he had any support from al-Qaeda, or any ties to al-Qaeda cells in the US. Yet the Justice Department maintains that its view of Padilla “remains unchanged,” and that he is a “serious and continuing threat.” [Guardian, 8/15/2002] Because Padilla is a US citizen, he cannot be tried in a military court. So apparently he will simply be held indefinitely. It is pointed out that any American could be declared an enemy combatant and never tried or have that status questioned. [San Francisco Chronicle, 6/11/2002; Washington Post, 6/11/2002] The Washington Post says, “If that’s the case, nobody’s constitutional rights are safe.” [Washington Post, 6/11/2002] Despite the evidence that Padilla’s case is grossly overstated, the government won’t allow him access to a lawyer (see December 4, 2002; March 11, 2003).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Central Intelligence Agency, London Times, Joint Intelligence Committee, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Jose Padilla

Category Tags: Key Captures and Deaths, Terror Alerts, Counterterrorism Policy/Politics

The government raises the National Alert Level to orange, the second highest level possible. This is the first time such an alert has been raised since 9/11. The government temporarily closes for public business about two dozen US diplomatic posts worldwide. Officials say there is no specific known threat against targets in the US. [Washington Post, 9/10/2002] President Bush personally makes the announcement while Vice President Cheney flees to a “secure location.” Attorney General John Ashcroft warns that the threat targets “transportation and energy sectors.” No specific details on the nature or targets of the threat are supplied. The heightened terror alert coincides with the president’s address to the nation from Ellis Island on the first anniversary of 9/11 (see September 11, 2002 and Before). [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, George W. Bush, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

Heightened security on the London Underground.Heightened security on the London Underground. [Source: BBC]Three men are arrested in London and charged under the Terrorism Act 2000 for the possession of articles for the preparation, instigation, and commission of terrorism acts. The Sunday Times breaks the story and claims that MI5 and police have foiled a major plot to release cyanide gas on the London Underground (the Tube), which is used by three million commuters each day. The men, all of North African origin, are also alleged to have links with al-Qaeda. They are Rabah Chekat-Bais, 21, Rabah Kadris, in his mid-30s, and Karim Kadouri, 33, all unemployed and of no fixed address. Kadris is the librarian at Finsbury Park Mosque, which is perceived by many officials to be a hotbed of radicalism. [BBC, 11/17/2002] Magnus Ranstorp, an expert in international terrorism at the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland says “cyanide has surfaced a number of times surrounding al-Qaeda’s chemical program.” Video obtained by CNN in August shows tests of a chemical agent, presumed to be cyanide, on dogs at a camp in Afghanistan. Documentation recovered in Afghanistan also reveals al-Qaeda’s interest in chemical weapons. The Ministry of Defense simulated biological attacks on the underground in the early 1960s, during the Cold War. Scientists mixed harmless spores of the anthrax analogue Bacillus globigii with talcum powder and released them on the Northern Line. They found that the spores dispersed to every one of the several dozen stations on that line. The Defense scientists projected disastrous consequences in the event of a genuine attack. A London Underground spokeswoman, addressing the alleged cyanide threat, refused to comment on the counter measures currently in place but says, “we are always speaking to police and reviewing what we can do,” adding, “all our staff are well trained to look out for the unusual.” Governments around the world warn their citizens of possible terrorist attacks, and Prime Minister Tony Blair urges the public to be vigilant. [New Scientist, 11/18/2002] In fact, no such plot has been discovered. The government moves quickly to play down connections between the arrest of the three men and a threat to the Tube. It is disclosed to the press that the men had been in contact with British residents in London and that the charges related to false passports and credit cards, but not explosives or chemicals. A police source says there was “no bomb-making paraphernalia” in their possession. Three other men arrested at the same time are released later in the week. [Guardian, 11/18/2002] Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott, commenting on the Times story, says the arrests had “excited the press.” He adds “as the Prime Minister reminds us, we get an awful lot of intelligence which we have to make judgments about. In this case it does not appear there is any evidence whatsoever there was going to be a gas attack or use of bombs regarding the three people who have been arrested.” A Home Office spokesman says, “The Prime Minister has made it clear that there are threat reports every day and these are assessed. If the government or police thought it was necessary to give the public a specific warning about any venue, including the Underground, it would do it without hesitation.” [BBC, 11/17/2002] Security sources indicate that separate intelligence from abroad points to Islamist extremists planning such an attack. Sources say that there is “a clear intention” to attack the underground and other targets in Britain and Western Europe. Whitehall sources say the arrests of the three men reflect a determination among the security services to disrupt suspect terrorists and networks “at an early stage.” [Guardian, 11/18/2002] The three arrested men make a 15-minute appearance in court on November 18. The court hears that the three have never been questioned by police about the alleged plot. According to lawyers for the three men, the details of the alleged plot had not been disclosed to them and had only emerged in the press over the last few days. The three suspects are remanded in custody for four weeks by district judge Timothy Workman and appear again on December 16. Two of the suspects subsequently plead guilty, under ordinary criminal laws, to passport offenses. [Independent, 11/18/2002]

Entity Tags: Tony Blair, Rabah Chekat-Bais, Karim Kadouri, John Prescott, Al-Qaeda, Magnus Ranstorp, Rabah Kadris

Category Tags: Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism, Terror Alerts, Counterterrorism Action After 9/11

Mohammed AsgharMohammed Asghar [Source: CBC]A member of a document-forging and smuggling ring is arrested in Canada in late October 2002. The suspect, Michael Hamdani, tells authorities about a cell of 19 terrorists seeking false passports from a Pakistani smuggling ring in order to gain entry to the US, with five successfully infiltrating the country via Canada on Christmas Eve. [ABC News, 1/6/2003] He tells the FBI that he had been offered a large sum of money to assist with the smuggling of the five men into the US. He admits that he was part of the smuggling and counterfeit document ring; officials also believe that Hamdani has links to terrorist groups. [Washington Post, 1/3/2003] As a result, on December 27, 2002, the FBI issues an all-points bulletin that launches a massive effort by law enforcement officials who fear terrorist attacks over the holiday period. The bulletin is approved by President Bush, who says publicly, “We need to know why they have been smuggled into the country and what they’re doing in the country.” The FBI posts pictures of five of the men on its website, warning that the provided names and ages could be fictitious. They also raid six locations in Brooklyn and Queens. These pictures lead to numerous calls and sightings of the men from around the country. [ABC News, 1/6/2003] During the course of the investigation, an unsubstantiated report surfaces; the FBI learns from a Middle East source that terrorists are planning eight diversionary explosions in New York harbor on New Year’s Eve, to be followed by one large-scale genuine attack. The target is identified as the US Secret Service office in Manhattan. The New York Police Department alerts the US Coast Guard, which closes the harbor to pleasure craft and scrambles a 100-person Maritime Safety and Security Team. This team patrols the harbor with boats mounted with heavy machine guns and carrying tactical officers armed with automatic weapons. No other evidence ever emerges to support the FBI’s source. [Time, 1/5/2003] The man pictured as Mustafa Khan Owasi in one of the FBI photos is found a few days later in Pakistan. [ABC News, 1/6/2003] He says he had once tried to get a false visa in order to travel to Britain, but had been caught in the United Arab Emirates and returned to his home in Lahore, Pakistan. His real name is Mohammed Asghar and he works as a jeweler. He says he suspects the forgers that he provided his information to in order to receive the false visa may have used his identity to create papers for someone else. Investigators begin to doubt the veracity of Hamdani’s claims. [CBC News, 1/2/2003] US experts also find that the polygraph exam of Hamdani administered by Canadian authorities was seriously flawed. The assumption that this polygraph exam was accurate was one of the main motives in issuing the alert. Officials also fail to find any link between Hamdani and al-Qaeda, or any other radical militant organization. No links are discovered between the identities in the passports and extremist groups. [ABC News, 1/6/2003] The FBI realizes that the infiltration story had been fabricated by Hamdani and retracts the terror alert on New Year’s Day. [Time, 1/5/2003] The retraction of the terror alert leads to criticism of the FBI. Michael Greenberger, a former Justice Department official who heads the University of Maryland’s Center for Health and Homeland Security, says, “There is going to be a sort of ‘crying wolf’ scenario… When they put these out, there should be a more thorough explanation to the American public about what they’re doing.” The FBI defends its handling of the situation, saying that it reacted appropriately to the possibility of a real threat and noting that some of Hamdani’s information on the smuggling ring was accurate and led to ten (non-terrorism related) arrests. [Washington Post, 1/8/2003] Hamdani was already facing fraud charges in Canada after the raid that led to his arrest discovered fake passports, Pakistani driving licenses, immigration documents, and counterfeit traveler’s checks. He also had outstanding fraud warrants from the FBI in New York and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The FBI believes that Hamdani fabricated the story to avoid extradition to Canada. [ABC News, 1/6/2003] One investigator says, “You wouldn’t trust him as far as you could throw him.” [Time, 1/5/2003]

Entity Tags: Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Mustafa Khan Owasi, Michael Hamdani, Mohammed Asghar, George W. Bush, Abid Noraiz Ali, Iftikhar Khozmai Ali, Adil Pervez, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Akbar Jamal

Category Tags: Terror Alerts

Alleged ricin ingredients.Alleged ricin ingredients. [Source: BBC]Home Secretary David Blunkett and Health Secretary John Reid issue a joint statement claiming “traces of ricin” and castor beans capable of making “one lethal dose” were found in a raid on a flat in Wood Green, north London, which also resulted in several arrests (see January 5, 2003). The joint statement says “ricin is a toxic material which if ingested or inhaled can be fatal… our primary concern is the safety of the public.” Prime Minister Tony Blair says the discovery highlights the perils of weapons of mass destruction, adding: “The arrests which were made show this danger is present and real and with us now. Its potential is huge.” Dr. Pat Troop, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, issues a statement with police confirming that materials seized “tested positive for the presence of ricin poison.” A small number of easily obtainable castor beans are found. But the same day, chemical weapons experts at the Defense Science and Technology Laboratory at Porton Down in Wiltshire discover in more accurate tests that the initial positive result for ricin was false: there was no ricin in the flat. But this finding will not be released publicly for two years. [Independent, 4/17/2005] Dr. Martin Pearce, head of the Biological Weapons Identification Group, confirms that there was no ricin in the flat. This report is also suppressed. [Guardian, 4/15/2004] The Ministry of Defence later confirms that the results of the Porton Down test are not released to police and ministers until March 20, 2003, one day after war in Iraq begins. [BBC, 9/15/2005] It appears that there was the intention to create ricin, based on evidence discovered in other raids, but not the technical know-how to actually do so (see January 20, 2003 and January 5, 2003).

Entity Tags: Tony Blair, Martin Pearce, John Reid, Biological Weapons Identification Group, David Blunkett, Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, Ministry of Defence, Pat Troop

Category Tags: Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism, Terror Alerts, Counterterrorism Action After 9/11

The government raises the threat level to orange. The announcement is made by Attorney General John Ashcroft, Homeland Security Secretary Ridge, and FBI Director Mueller. CIA Director George Tenet calls the threat “the most specific we have seen” since 9/11 and says al-Qaeda may use a “radiological dispersal device, as well as poisons and chemicals.” Ashcroft states that “this decision for an increased threat condition designation is based on specific intelligence received and analyzed by the full intelligence community. This information has been corroborated by multiple intelligence sources.” [CNN, 2/7/2003] Ashcroft further claims that they have “evidence that terrorists would attack American hotels and apartment buildings.” [ABC News, 2/13/2007] A detailed plan is described to authorities by a captured terror suspect. This source cited a plot involving a Virginia- or Detroit-based al-Qaeda cell that had developed a method of carrying dirty bombs encased in shoes, suitcases, or laptops through airport scanners. The informant specifies government buildings and Christian or clerical centers as possible targets. [ABC News, 2/13/2007] Three days later, Fire Administrator David Paulison advises Americans to stock up on plastic sheeting and duct tape to protect themselves against radiological or biological attack. This causes a brief buying panic. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] Batteries of Stinger anti-aircraft missiles are set up around Washington and the capital’s skies are patrolled by F-16 fighter jets and helicopters. [BBC, 2/14/2003] The threat is debunked on February 13, when the main source is finally given an FBI polygraph and fails it. Two senior law enforcement officials in Washington and New York state that a key piece of information leading to the terror alerts was fabricated. The claim made by a captured al-Qaeda member regarding a “dirty bomb” threat to Washington, New York, or Florida had proven to be a product of his imagination. Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, says the intelligence turned out “to be fabricated and therefore the reason for a lot of the alarm, particularly in Washington this week, has been dissipated after they found out that this information was not true.” But threat levels remain stuck on orange for two more weeks. [ABC News, 2/13/2007] Bush administration officials do admit that the captured terror suspect lied, but add that this suspect was not the only source taken into consideration. Ridge says that there is “no need to start sealing the doors and windows.” Bush says that the warning, although based on evidence fabricated by an alleged terrorist, is a “stark reminder of the era that we’re in, that we’re at war and the war goes on.” [BBC, 2/14/2003] The alert followed less than forty-eight hours after Colin Powell’s famous speech to the United Nations in which he falsely accused Saddam Hussein of harboring al-Qaeda and training terrorists in the use of chemical weapons (see February 5, 2003). [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] Anti-war demonstrations also continue to take place world-wide. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Vincent Cannistraro, Tom Ridge, John Ashcroft, Robert S. Mueller III, Colin Powell, David Paulison, George J. Tenet, Saddam Hussein

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

In February 2003, some radical militants are arrested in Bahrain. A joint US-Saudi raid of an apartment in Saudi Arabia owned by one of them reveals the designs for a bomb called a mubtakkar. This bomb is made of two widely available chemicals, sodium cyanide and hydrogen, which combine to create hydrogen cyanide. When turned to gas, it is lethal, and counterterrorism experts are highly alarmed at this technical breakthrough. CIA Director Tenet briefs President Bush about the mubtakkar bomb in early March. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 193-197; Time, 6/17/2006] Journalist Ron Suskind calls it a “nightmare delivery system—portable, easy to construct, deadly.” The CIA has a highly placed al-Qaeda informant codenamed Ali, and in late March they contact him to learn more about the bomb. He tells his CIA handlers that Yusef al-Ayeri, a Saudi in charge of al-Qaeda operations in the Arabian peninsula, visited al-Qaeda number two leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in January 2003. He told al-Zawahiri of an already advanced plot in the US. Operatives loosely linked to al-Qaeda had traveled to the US in the fall of 2002 and thoroughly cased locations in New York City. They would place the mubtakkar bomb in subway cars and remotely activate them. The group was ready to implement an attack in about 45 days. According to Suskind, several thousand people could be killed. But Ali learned that al-Zawahiri called off the attacks, though Ali does not know the reason why. The group did cancel the attack, and US intelligence never learns who exactly they were. President Bush and others puzzle why the attack was canceled and speculate that al-Qaeda put it aside in favor of an even bigger attack. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 216-220; Time, 6/17/2006] Suskind’s account will cause alarm when revealed in 2006. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) will say that authorities took the plot seriously but were never able to confirm its existence. Other officials will debate the effectiveness of the bomb and how many deaths it could have caused. [CNN, 6/18/2006] University of Maryland professor Milton Leitenberg later says of the bomb, “What you would get, in all probability, is a big bang, a big splash, but very little gas.” He also says that concentrations of key chemicals present in household materials are so low “you would get next to nothing” by using them, and one would have to get them from a chemical supplier or steal them from a laboratory. One counterterrorism official points out, “If this is such an amazing weapon, and the design for it is out there, why has no one ever used it?” [United Press International, 6/27/2006] An article by the private intelligence service Stratfor is also skeptical and suggests that al-Zawahiri called off the attack because it wouldn’t have been as deadly as if conventional bombs were used instead. [Stratfor, 6/21/2006] CIA Deputy Counter Terrorism Center Director Hank Crumpton will also later suggest that a team was recruited to stage the attack but apparently never was sent to the US. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007]

Entity Tags: Ron Suskind, Milton Leitenberg, Yusef al-Ayeri, Charles Schumer, George J. Tenet, Ali, Ayman al-Zawahiri, George W. Bush, Hank Crumpton

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

A suspicious substance is discovered in a train station locker at the Gare de Lyon in central Paris. Agents find two vials of powder, a bottle of liquid, and two other vials with liquid. The Interior Ministry says the contents of the vials are “traces of ricin in a mixture which has proven to be a very toxic poison.” [Newsday, 4/12/2003] Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy calls for greater public vigilance and says there could be a connection with a network of Islamic extremists who were detained around the capital in December. Officials have in the past linked ricin production to al-Qaeda and Iraq. On January 5, British police claimed to find traces of ricin in a raid on a London flat during which five men of North African origin with alleged al-Qaeda connections were arrested (see January 5, 2003). [BBC, 4/11/2003]
Terrorism Scare - The discovery sparks widespread terrorism concerns just two days before the invasion of Iraq. French authorities double the number of soldiers in the streets to 800 and order increased surveillance in train stations and ports. Flights are temporarily banned over nuclear power plants, chemical, petrochemical and other sensitive facilities. [Newsday, 4/12/2003] Ricin, which is derived from castor beans, is relatively easy to make and stockpile. If added to food or drinks, or injected into a victim, it causes severe and rapid bleeding to the stomach and intestines. If the poison gets into the bloodstream, it can attack the liver, kidneys and spleen, often leading to death. It may be inhaled, ingested or injected. There is no treatment or antidote. [New York Times, 4/12/2003]
Alleged al-Qaeda link - US officials said in August that the Islamic extremist group Ansar al-Islam tested ricin along with other chemical and biological agents in northern Iraq, territory controlled by Kurds, not Saddam Hussein. The group is allegedly linked to al-Qaeda. UN weapons inspectors, who left Iraq in 1998 after a first round of inspections, listed ricin among the poisons they believed Saddam produced and later failed to account for. [Newsday, 4/12/2003]
False alarm - The ministry soon downgrades the assessment, saying the traces of suspected ricin are too minute to be lethal. In fact, the substance later proves to be entirely harmless. Further Defense Ministry laboratory tests show the vials contain a mixture of ground barley and wheat germ. “Preliminary tests pointed towards ricin but they were not confirmed by more complete analysis,” an official says. [BBC, 4/11/2003] They said the grain was mistakenly identified as ricin because it consists of protein whose structure is similar to that of ricin. [New York Times, 4/12/2003] However, French officials are still not entirely satisfied that the substances found are not in some way related to a planned terrorist attack. A senior Interior Ministry says the substances may be “the product of an experiment” or the remains of an effort to produce a toxic weapon. Antiterrorism police agents will continue to investigate the incident, the officials says. [New York Times, 4/12/2003]

Entity Tags: Ansar al-Islam, Al-Qaeda, Nicolas Sarkozy

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Counterterrorism Action After 9/11

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) raises the national threat level to orange, or “high.” DHS director Tom Ridge tells Americans, not for the first time (see February 7-13, 2003), to stock up on duct tape and plastic sheeting as protection against biological and/or radiological attacks. [Unger, 2007, pp. 293] The duct tape and plastic sheeting recommendations have become something of a national joke by this point, with Saturday Night Live comedians riffing on the topic and a Tom Ridge impersonator performing while wrapped in plastic sheeting for Ridge and President Bush at a recent Gridiron dinner. Late-night talk show host Jay Leno recently said after having Ridge on his show: “When problems seem overwhelming, simplistic solutions always seem funny. Duct tape and plastic sheeting? When the threat level goes down, it’ll be downgraded to Scotch tape and two Ziploc bags.” On a more serious note, David Ropeik of the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis says: “Ridge and the department need to come up with a better way of saying, ‘Be afraid.’ They say, ‘Be alert,’ and then out of the other side of their mouth they say, ‘Go about your normal lives.’ To most of us, those messages don’t mesh. They also need to be more specific. When the threat level goes from yellow to orange, tell us what we can do besides being more alert.” Gary Hart, the former Democratic senator who helped compile the report that eventually led to the creation of the department (see January 31, 2001), says: “The idea of using duct tape to protect yourself would resonate only if people could see the government taking action to protect you. But because the government has done so little against terrorism at home, it sounded as if they were saying, ‘You’re on your own.’” Ridge may have gotten the last laugh on Leno’s show, when Leno asked sardonically: “I’m sitting at home in my underpants watching the game and, boop, we’re in yellow. What do I do now?” Ridge replied, “Change shorts.” [New York Times, 3/17/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security, David Ropeik, Gary Hart, Tom Ridge, George W. Bush, Jay Leno

Category Tags: Terror Alerts

On March 17, 2003, the National Alert Level is raised to orange. The FBI warns of terror strikes directed by Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein or “allied or sympathetic terrorist organizations, most notably the al-Qaeda network.” This warning clearly attempts to establish a connection between Saddam Hussein and the terrorist activities of al-Qaeda. Interestingly, this third orange alert comes three days before President Bush invades Iraq, opening what he calls the “central front of the War on Terror.” The attack claim is debunked by future CIA director Porter Goss, then the chair of the House intelligence committee. He states that there is no intelligence which suggests a new attack. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] The next day, the Arizona National Guard is alerted and sent to an Arizona nuclear plant because “an attack by al-Qaeda agents [is] imminent.” No attack materializes. [News Hounds, 10/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Saddam Hussein, George W. Bush, Porter J. Goss, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

For a second Memorial Day in a row (see May 20-24, 2002), the National Alert Level is raised to orange following warnings that “al-Qaeda has entered an operational period worldwide.” Authorities say that recent attacks abroad have raised concerns about an impending attack on the US. The Department of Homeland Security issued this fourth orange alert due to what it calls “the heightened vulnerability associated with the Memorial Day holiday.” However, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge says there is no “credible, specific information” about targets or method of attack.” He does state that “weapons of mass destruction, including those containing chemical, biological or radiological agents or materials, cannot be discounted.” [CNN, 5/20/2003] But federal law enforcement sources say the credibility of the threat is doubtful. They also say those transmissions are not the reason why the government has raised the threat level to orange. [News 8 Austin, 5/20/2003] Meanwhile, two weeks after President Bush declared “Mission Accomplished” in Iraq (see May 1, 2003), the administration’s plan to implement Iraqi self-rule is postponed “indefinitely” due to looting and lawlessness (see May 20, 2003). [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Tom Ridge, US Department of Homeland Security, George W. Bush

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issues an advisory warning that al-Qaeda is working on plans to hijack airliners flying between international points that pass near or over the continental US. The DHS spokesman states that most of the flights fitting this description would originate in Canada. Reasons for this advisory include concerns regarding the second anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, a recent increase in intelligence information, and threats to aviation that continued through the summer. However, the advisory states that the information is not specific enough to raise the National Alert Level from yellow to orange. The advisory contains non-specific warnings about multiple attacks against “soft” targets in both the US and abroad. [CNN, 9/5/2003] No such attacks occur.

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security, Al-Qaeda

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

The US government sends a security bulletin to law enforcement and government officials warning that a surge in terrorist violence abroad and the conclusion of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month, has increased the possibility of attacks on US citizens and interests abroad. According to a senior law enforcement official, the bulletin states that the spate of bombings in Istanbul and elsewhere signals al-Qaeda’s continued intent to attack US interests abroad. However, the information is not specific enough to warrant an increase of the National Alert Level from yellow to orange. [CBS News, 11/21/2003]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Bush administration (43)

Category Tags: Terror Alerts

Two reports of alleged terrorist activity trigger fear in the US. White powder is discovered on Pennsylvania Avenue, just outside the White House. A section of central Washington DC is subsequently cordoned off by police and an all-points terror alert is issued. After this large-scale reaction, the powder is found to be harmless and a Homeland Security spokesman declares the powder to be “benign.” Later, ABC News cites an anonymous intelligence source who warned of an “imminent credible threat” in Manhattan from a “woman suicide bomber.” This news causes the stock exchange to dip, despite a rapid denial by police. [London Times, 12/18/2003]

Entity Tags: US Department of Homeland Security, ABC News

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge raises the nationwide terror alert level to orange. He states that “These strategic indicators, including al-Qaeda’s continued desire to carry out attacks against our homeland, are perhaps greater now than at any point since Sept. 11.” In his announcement, Ridge cites further reports that al-Qaeda is planning further operations, and that “extremists abroad” are anticipating attacks on the scale of those on September 11, 2001. He states that “credible sources suggest the possibility of attacks against the homeland around the holiday season and beyond.” Officials repeatedly warn about threats to the aviation sector. [CBC News, 12/21/2003] The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) says it has reliable and corroborated information from several sources indicating that a plot, similar to 9/11, is in an advanced stage. US officials focus their investigation on the “informed belief” that six men on Air France Flight 68, which arrives in Los Angeles daily at 4:05 p.m., are planning to hijack the jet and crash it near Los Angeles or Las Vegas. Officials say some names on the passenger manifest match those of known Taliban and al-Qaeda terrorists, with one of them being a trained pilot with a commercial license. Six Air France flights between Paris and Los Angeles are canceled by French Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin. [Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 12/24/2003] The terror alert turns out to be baseless. The names identified as terrorists turn out to be a five-year-old boy, whose name had been mistaken for an alleged Tunisian terrorist, an elderly Chinese lady who used to run a restaurant in Paris, a Welsh insurance salesman, and three French nationals. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] Further investigation of the Tunisian man reveals that he has no plans to leave the country, no criminal record, and no links to extremism. [Red Orbit, 12/25/2003] Despite criticism of the investigation, French authorities praise the level of cooperation between intelligence agencies. A spokesman for the prime minister says “What is important is that the evaluation of threats continues, and they are undertaken between the Americans and the French in a framework of intense cooperation. Franco-American cooperation in this domain is exemplary.” [Red Orbit, 12/25/2003] This alert comes in the wake of the comments of the chair of the 9/11 Commission, Tom Kean, suggesting that the 9/11 attacks could have been prevented. President Bush is criticized in the press for the continuing failure to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Tom Ridge, Jean-Pierre Raffarin, Air France, Thomas Kean, Al-Qaeda, US Department of Homeland Security, 9/11 Commission

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

The US government issues a terror alert, based on intelligence that hints at a potential attack somewhere in Las Vegas for New Year’s Eve. The FBI quickly assembles data on most of the 1 million “potential suspects,” which includes all tourists staying in Vegas for the holidays, and examines records on every hotel guest, car and truck rentals, guest lists for casinos, storage leases, and airplane travel. Those records are combed for any possible connections to terrorist organizations. When the city’s hospitality industry begins balking at the sweeping nature of the FBI’s information requests, National Security Letters (NSLs) are used to force industry officials to produce the data. Everything swept up by the Vegas data search remains in FBI databases. The terror alert will end on January 10, 2004, with no information about any terrorist actions or possible suspects located. [Washington Post, 11/6/2005]

Entity Tags: National Security Letters, Federal Bureau of Investigation

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

German intelligence sources claim that the CIA misinformed them about an alleged terror plot due to take place at a Hamburg hospital on December 30, 2003, and allegedly fear that the information was planted. According to information provided to TV 2 Nettavisen, a German TV station, German intelligence has yet to find any evidence for the plot, which is alleged to be the work of the radical Kurdish group Ansar al-Islam. A German intelligence officer known only as Vahldiecker says, “We have not found any proof that the terror alarm was genuine, but we haven’t found any evidence that states it was not. It is of course possible that it was fake, but we do not know that for certain yet.… It is possible that [the CIA] gave us the wrong information, but it is not likely that they did it on purpose.” However, German intelligence has indicated that it believes the information was planted on purpose and is surprised at the handling of the case and the leaks to the media; the story appeared on Der Spiegel Online within hours of the CIA tip. [Information Clearing House, 1/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Vahldiecker, Ansar al-Islam, TV 2 Nettavisen, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Terror Alerts

The State Department issues a terror alert, warning “that al-Qaeda continues to prepare to strike US interests abroad” and such attacks “could possibly involve non-conventional weapons such as chemical or biological agents as well as conventional weapons of terror.” More specific information is not provided. [Command Post, 3/21/2004] The same day, former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke gives an interview that is harshly critical of the Bush administration’s counterterrorism efforts (see March 24, 2004). [CBS News, 3/21/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Richard A. Clarke

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: 9/11 Commission, Terror Alerts, 9/11 Investigations

The FBI issues a bulletin to state and local law enforcement agencies which states that terrorists may use cultural, artistic or athletic visas to slip into the United States undetected. This is followed by another bulletin one day later from the FBI and Department of Homeland Security warning of pending terrorist attacks on buses and trains in major cities during the summer. The uncorroborated intelligence cited by the warning indicates the possible use of a bomb made out of ammonium nitrate fertilizer and diesel fuel, similar to the one used in the Oklahoma City federal building attack. This intelligence, as well as the March 11, 2004, train bombings in Madrid (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004), reportedly increases the level of concern that terrorists are planning an attack in the US. It is reported that the intelligence community believes that al-Qaeda has the full intent and capability to execute coordinated and deadly attacks on public transportation systems. [PBS, 4/2/2004] No such attacks occur. The warning apparently is given because a number of suspects are arrested in Britain who had been working on a fertilizer bomb, but they have been under surveillance and their fertilizer had been replaced with a harmless substance. In the thousands of hours of monitored conversations, none of them mentioned anything about bombing the US (see Early 2003-April 6, 2004). One day prior to the first alert, Charles Duelfer, the chief weapons inspector in Iraq, informed Congress that no WMD have been found to date. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007]

Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Charles Duelfer, US Department of Homeland Security

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

Nine Moroccan men accused of plotting an attack on the US embassy in Rome in 2002 are acquitted. Initial reports said that the suspects were planning to detonate a cyanide gas bomb in a utility tunnel near the embassy, or to poison Rome’s water supply (see February 19, 2002), but the case unraveled at the trial. The cyanide compound found with some of the suspects was found to be a ferro-cyanide, a harmless substance used in gardening and photography. A map described as showing a water main near the US embassy in fact indicated a restaurant. Also, a hole found in a utility tunnel near the embassy turned out to be too small for anyone to pass through. No links to al-Qaeda were established. [BBC News, 4/28/2004; New York Times, 3/17/2007]

Category Tags: Al-Qaeda in Italy, Counterterrorism Action After 9/11, Terror Alerts

On May 17, 2004, security officials say that recent intelligence has led to increased concern about the possibility of a major terrorist attack in the US. It is believed that the attack could take place as early as the summer and before November, perhaps in an attempt to affect the outcome of the Presidential election. Potential targets include the dedication of the National World War II Memorial on the National Mall in Washington, the G8 economic summit on Sea Island, Georgia, Fourth of July celebrations, the Democratic convention in Boston, the Republican convention in New York, and the Olympics in Greece. However, no specific target, time or date is identified for the possible attack. Sources do state that the assessment is new and is the result of intelligence gathered over time. However, an official with the Department of Homeland Security, speaking on condition of anonymity, states that “We are not aware of any new highly credible intelligence indicating a planned attack in the US this summer. Nothing in the current intelligence is exceptionally specific.” [CNN, 5/25/2004] The next day, Attorney General John Ashcroft and FBI Director Robert Mueller hold a news conference to warn of a “plane attack inside the United States.” They warn that terrorists are “poised for an immediate attack.” Ashcroft says “credible intelligence from multiple sources indicates that al-Qaeda plans to attempt an attack on the United States in the next few months. This disturbing intelligence indicates al-Qaeda’s specific intention to hit the United States hard.” [CNN, 5/26/2004] The Justice Department asks for assistance in locating seven alleged terrorist operatives and states an increased concern about attacks over the summer. [CBS News, 6/14/2004] It is later revealed the threat actually came from a group that falsely claimed responsibility for the terror attacks in Madrid. One expert says that the group is “not really taken seriously by Western intelligence.” These warnings come as the administration is under heavy criticism for failures in Iraq. The Abu Ghraib torture scandal dominates headlines. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] This warning also comes on the heels of other bad news for the Bush administration. During a May 16 interview on Meet the Press, Secretary of State Colin Powell is cut off by an aide while discussing misleading CIA information regarding WMD in Iraq. He admits that “it turned out that the sourcing was inaccurate and wrong and in some cases, deliberately misleading. And for that, I am disappointed and I regret it.” [MSNBC, 6/15/2004] Three days later, Newsweek reports that White House counsel Alberto Gonzalez warned in a January 25, 2002 internal White House memo that US officials could be prosecuted for war crimes due to the unprecedented and unusual methods used by the Bush administration in the war on terrorism. [Newsweek, 5/19/2004]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Robert S. Mueller III, Central Intelligence Agency, Colin Powell, US Department of Homeland Security, Al-Qaeda, Alberto R. Gonzales, John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, 2004 Elections

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

Nuradin Mahamoud Abdi.Nuradin Mahamoud Abdi. [Source: Associated Press]The Justice Department announces to the press they have thwarted an imminent terror plot to bomb malls in Ohio. A Somali native residing in Ohio is charged with plotting to blow up a Columbus shopping mall. It is alleged that he was part of a group of al-Qaeda operatives. Attorney General John Ashcroft says, “The American heartland was targeted for death and destruction by an al-Qaeda cell which allegedly included a Somali immigrant who will now face justice.” The man, Nuradin Mahamoud Abdi, is alleged to have obtained refugee documentation under false pretenses and to have attended terrorist training camps in Ethiopia. Although authorities would not state how many were involved in the plot, they do name admitted al-Qaeda member Iyman Faris as a co-conspirator (see Mid-March 2003). Faris, serving a 20-year sentence for providing material support to terrorism and conspiracy to provide material support, plead guilty in May 2003 to plotting to blow up the Brooklyn Bridge and to providing sleeping bags, mobile phones, and cash to al-Qaeda operatives. He later withdrew this plea, but was subsequently convicted. [CBS News, 6/14/2004] Later it is revealed that Abdi had been arrested November 28, 2003, for his connections to terrorism, so there is nothing “imminent” in the case. Court papers filed by the government allege the existence of a plot from March 2000. His indictment isn’t announced until June 15, 2004, and it makes no mention of the shopping mall plot publicly announced the day before. [Cincinnati Post, 6/15/2004] The Justice Department announcement comes as Democratic Presidential candidate John Kerry leads President Bush by seven points in early Ohio polls. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: John Kerry, US Department of Justice, Iyman Faris, John Ashcroft, Nuradin Mahamoud Abdi

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

Deforest B. Soaries Jr.Deforest B. Soaries Jr. [Source: MSNBC]On July 6, John Kerry named John Edwards as his running mate. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] This produced a slight increase in the opinion polls and a media focus on the Kerry campaign. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] Two days later, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge warns that “Al-Qaeda is moving forward with its plans to carry out a large-scale attack in the United States in an effort to disrupt our democratic process.” [Department of Homeland Security, 7/8/2004] Officials cite “alarming” intelligence about a possible al-Qaeda strike inside the United States this fall and admit they are reviewing a proposal that could allow for the postponement of the November presidential election in the event of an attack. Officials point to the recent Madrid train bombings as an attempt by al-Qaeda to influence the political process in a democratic nation (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). Intercepted chatter leads one analyst to say, “they want to interfere with the elections.” It is reported that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently asked the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel to analyze the necessary legal steps that would permit the postponement of the election were an attack to take place. [Newsweek, 7/19/2004] The head of the US Election Assistance Commission, Deforest B. Soaries Jr., confirms he has written to Tom Ridge to discuss this prospect. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] Soaries notes that, while a primary election in New York on September 11, 2001 was suspended by the State Board of Elections after the attacks, “the federal government has no agency that has the statutory authority to cancel and reschedule a federal election.” Soaries advises Ridge to seek emergency legislation from Congress that would grant such power to the DHS. DHS spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says, “We are reviewing the issue to determine what steps need to be taken to secure the election.” [Newsweek, 7/19/2004] A top European spy says of the threat, “I am aware of no intelligence, nothing that shows there will be an attack before the US presidential election.” No attack will materialize and no further information on the threat will be presented to the public. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] Ridge will later concede that he had no “precise knowledge” of the attack he warned against, and he never made plans to raise the color-coded threat level. [Rich, 2006, pp. 146]

Entity Tags: US Election Assistance Commission, Deforest B. Soaries Jr., John Edwards, John Kerry, Tom Ridge, Brian Roehrkasse

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

In early August 2004, Bush administration officials make multiple television appearances to defend increased alert levels in three cities during the previous week (see August 1, 2004). They also highlight the administration’s focus on terror threats. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice says “You have to go out and warn. You have a duty to warn.” New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, appearing on the same program, says that he takes the warnings “very seriously,” adding that they “helped to make us even more alert.” However, retired General Wesley Clark, former NATO supreme commander and Democratic presidential nominee, says that the way in which the warnings are used “undercut the credibility of the system.” Former counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke says the Bush administration’s warning system is “a laughingstock” among state, local and business officials he has talked to. He says that Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge “is not a good spokesman for this issue. When he says things like ‘Here’s a warning,’ then in the next breath says the president is doing a great job, that just raises suspicions.” [CNN, 8/9/2004] Criticism of the terror alert system is wide-ranging. Robert Butterworth, a trauma psychologist in Los Angeles, says the alert system creates “anticipatory anxiety,” in which unnecessary fear is spread among the public. Others believe that the very nature of the system is counter-productive. Robert Pfaltzgraff, a security expert at Tufts University, says that the system could alert terrorists to the information discovered by US officials and could jeopardize sources. The alerts could also be used by terrorists to mislead US officials. “Everyone is looking at truck bombs, car bombs, and suicide bombers,” says Randall Larsen, CEO and founder of Homeland Security Associates; “How about if they planned a different kind of attack?” An increase in the alert level could also be seen as a challenge by a dedicated terrorist cell. “There’s going to be a core group of people who want to do it in any event, and might even view it is a dare to see if they can actually do it,” says Juliette Kayyem, a homeland security specialist at Harvard University. “Basically it’s been a failed system so far.” [Christian Science Monitor, 8/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Tom Ridge, Wesley Clark, Rudolph (“Rudy”) Giuliani, Robert Pfaltzgraff, Robert Butterworth, Homeland Security Associates, Frances Townsend, Condoleezza Rice, Juliette Kayyem, Randall Larsen, Richard A. Clarke

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

The Bush administration issues a terror alert in the wake of the Democratic presidential convention, which ended on July 29, 2004. New Code Orange alerts are put into effect for New York City, Newark, and Washington, DC. Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge says, “Now this afternoon, we do have new and unusually specific information about where al-Qaeda would like to attack.… Compared to previous threat reporting, these intelligence reports have provided a level of detail that is very specific. The quality of this intelligence, based on multiple reporting streams in multiple locations, is rarely seen and it is alarming in both the amount and specificity of the information.… As of now, this is what we know: reports indicate that al-Qaeda is targeting several specific buildings, including the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in the District of Columbia; Prudential Financial in Northern New Jersey; and Citigroup buildings and the New York Stock Exchange in New York.” [Department of Homeland Security, 8/1/2004; Washington Post, 8/3/2004] But Ridge fails to mention that the so-called “casing disks” are from 2000 and 2001, nor does he discuss the fact that the decision on whether to issue the alerts had been hotly debated by officials over the weekend. Within 24 hours, the age of the intelligence is leaked, causing a controversy about the merit and urgency of the orange alert. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 325-326] The next day it will be revealed that the warning was based on information from the computer of recently captured al-Qaeda operative Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan (see August 2, 2004). President Bush and his top advisors learned of the arrest and subsequent “turning” of Noor Khan just the day before. They decide to publicize an alert based on data captured with Noor Khan, even though doing so could jeopardize a sting operation launched just days earlier in which Noor Khan is contacting dozens of al-Qaeda operatives around the world (see July 24-25, 2004). [Guardian, 8/8/2004] But even though Khan was arrested just weeks before, one senior law enforcement official who was briefed on the alert says, “There is nothing right now that we’re hearing that is new. Why did we go to this level?… I still don’t know that.” Homeland Security officials admit that that there is no indication that any terrorist action was imminent. “What we’ve uncovered is a collection operation as opposed to the launching of an attack,” says one. However, administration officials insist that even three-year-old intelligence, when coupled with other information about al-Qaeda’s plans to attack the US, justifies the security response in the three cities. President Bush says of the alerts, “It’s serious business. I mean, we wouldn’t be, you know, contacting authorities at the local level unless something was real.” A senior counterterrorism official says, “Most of the information is very dated but you clearly have targets with enough specificity, and that pushed it over the edge. You’ve got the Republican convention coming up, the Olympics, the elections…. I think there was a feeling that we should err on the side of caution even if it’s not clear that anything is new.” [Washington Post, 8/3/2004] Former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean says he worries “every time something happens that’s not good for President Bush, he plays this trump card, which is terrorism. It’s just impossible to know how much of this is real and how much of this is politics, and I suspect there’s some of both.” But conservatives defend the alert and Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry swiftly moves to disassociate his campaign from Dean’s remarks. [New York Observer, 8/4/2007] Author William Rivers Pitt points out that Laura Bush and daughters Barbara and Jenna make high-profile visits to the Citigroup Center in New York City on the first day of Ridge’s new orange alert. Noting this was one of the target buildings, Pitt asks, “George W. Bush sent his entire family to the very place that was supposedly about to be blown to smithereens?” Pitt concludes, “Bush and his administration officials are using terrorism—the fear of it, the fight against it—to manipulate domestic American politics. They are, as they have every day for almost three years now, using September 11 against their own people.” [Truthout (.org), 8/4/2004]

Entity Tags: Tom Ridge, Taliban, William Rivers Pitt, George W. Bush, John Kerry, Joseph Lieberman, Al-Qaeda, Howard Dean, Muhammad Naeem Noor Khan

Timeline Tags: 2004 Elections

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

Retired Maj. Gen. Bruce Lawlor, formerly part of the Homeland Security Advisory Council, a panel made up of business representatives, academic leaders, and security experts appointed by President Bush, says that the Homeland Security warning system had outlived its usefulness. “I’m not suggesting that we do away with communications with the public. What I’m suggesting is that maybe you do away with the color-coded system.” [North County Times, 12/15/2004] The Department of Homeland Security has also been accused on a number of occasions for manipulating the alert level for political reasons. [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge acknowledges criticisms of the system, saying that the color-coded system has invited “questions and even occasional derision.” However, he also states that “the system is here to stay.” [Associated Press, 12/15/2004] He agrees with a report released by the Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies that recommends reform of the system. The report specifically suggests the removal of the color-coded system in favor of a system of regional alerts. The Homeland Security Advisory Council votes to collect information from the public and the media about the threat system. Other recommendations they adopt include plans to identify potential private-sector terror targets, suggestions on how to improve terrorism-related fields of study and how to bolster terror-related training. [North County Times, 12/15/2004]

Entity Tags: John Ashcroft, US Department of Homeland Security, Bruce Lawlor, Heritage Foundation and the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Tom Ridge, Homeland Security Advisory Council

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

Former Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge admits to further problems with the terror alert system. In defense of his administration of the Department of Homeland Security, he says that Administration decisions to raise the threat level were sometimes unjustified by evidence and unsupported by his department. “More often than not we were the least inclined to raise it,” says Ridge. “Sometimes we disagreed with the intelligence assessment. Sometimes we thought even if the intelligence was good, you don’t necessarily put the country on [alert].… There were times when some people were really aggressive about raising it, and we said, for that?” Ridge had previously disagreed with Attorney General John Ashcroft on the communication of threat information to the public. These comments mark the first time that dissension among the Homeland Security Advisory Council, a panel made up of business representatives, academic leaders, and security experts appointed by President Bush, is discussed with the press. Reform of the terror alert system is under review by current Homeland Security secretary Michael Chertoff. Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse says “improvements and adjustments” may be announced within the next few months. [USA Today, 5/10/2005] As of 2007, no such announcement have been made.

Entity Tags: Michael Chertoff, Brian Roehrkasse, US Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Advisory Council, John Ashcroft, Tom Ridge

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

On October 6, 2005, the FBI warns of al-Qaeda subway bombings in New York City. It is alleged that a terror plot will be put into motion “on or about October 9, 2005.” A counterterrorism official states that the warning is unnecessary: “There was no there there.” [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file] It is later confirmed that New York City authorities had been aware of the threat for at least three days and had responded accordingly. Local TV station WNBC had been asked by federal authorities to hold the story back. [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] Meanwhile, Bush’s nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court is failing (see October 3-27, 2005). [Rolling Stone, 9/21/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, WNBC, Harriet E. Miers, National Endowment for Democracy

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

Abdul Koyar and Abdul Kahar.Abdul Koyar and Abdul Kahar. [Source: Reuters]Acting on intelligence indicating the construction of a chemical device, police carry out an armed raid which leads to a shooting and two arrests in Forest Gate, east London. The shot suspect, Abdul Kahar, is taken to hospital while his brother, Abdul Koyar, is held at a local police station. Sources reveal that intelligence indicated the presence of a “viable” chemical weapon in the house that was capable of producing hundreds of casualties. Deputy Assistance Commissioner Peter Clarke, head of the Metropolitan Police anti-terror unit, describes the intelligence as “specific.” An air exclusion zone is established at an altitude of 2,500 feet above the site and police in bio-chemical suits and gas masks conduct the search. This search of the home fails to turn up any threat, as do searches of where the men work. [BBC, 6/3/2006] The raid, which cost more than $4 million, fails to find the suspected chemical bomb. Scotland Yard justifies the raid as necessary to determine the validity of the intelligence. The raid causes heavy tension between law enforcement and the Bangladeshi Muslim community of Forest Gate. Overtime pay for the more than 200 officers used in the raid amounts to $1.7 million and $.7 million is spent on “non-pay costs” such as catering and the erection of road barriers. The men are subsequently released without charge. [The Telegraph, 10/3/2006]

Entity Tags: Abdul Koyar, Peter Clarke, Abdul Kahar, Metropolitan Police Service

Category Tags: Terrorism Financing, Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism, Terror Alerts

The US State Department’s Rewards for Justice program launches an advertising campaign in dozens of airports in the US. The program distributes hundreds of wanted posters featuring al-Qaeda leaders such as Osama bin Laden. But strangely, the campaign is limited to the US and includes such airports as Londonderry, New Hampshire, and Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, which are not locations frequented by al-Qaeda leaders. Walter Deering, head of the Rewards for Justice program until 2003, will later point out that advertising in the wrong places can bog down investigators with false leads. “We’d get a lot of tips that were totally off the wall.” [Washington Post, 5/17/2008] Most al-Qaeda leaders are believed to be hiding in the tribal region of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. But since at least the start of 2004, the Rewards for Justice program has been conducting little to no advertising in Pakistan (see January 2004).

Entity Tags: Walter Deering, Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Counterterrorism Action After 9/11, Hunt for Bin Laden in Pakistan

Fort HuachucaFort Huachuca [Source: Army]An FBI advisory is distributed in May 2007 to the Defense Intelligence Agency, the CIA, Customs and Border Protection, and the Justice Department, as well as numerous law enforcement agencies throughout the nation warning that up to 60 Afghan and Iraqi terrorists are to be smuggled into the US through underground tunnels with high-powered weapons to attack an Arizona Army base. The alleged target, Fort Huachuca, is the nation’s largest intelligence-training center. It lies about 20 miles from the Mexican border and has members of all four service branches training in intelligence and secret operations. Security measures are swiftly changed at the base in response to the threat, according to multiple confidential law enforcement documents obtained by The Washington Times. The advisory warns that “a portion of the operatives were in the United States, with the remainder not yet in the United States [and]…the Afghanis and Iraqis shaved their beards so as not to appear to be Middle Easterners.” The FBI report on which the advisory is based points to the involvement of Mexican drug cartels, stating that each operative paid drug lords $20,000 “or the equivalent in weapons” for assistance in smuggling them and their weapons , including anti-tank missiles and surface-to-air missiles, through tunnels along the border into the US. The advisory further warns that a number of the operatives are already in a safe house in Texas and some weapons have already been successfully smuggled into the US. The FBI report is based on Drug Enforcement Administration sources, including Mexican nationals with access to a “sub-source” in the drug cartels. This “sub-source” is allegedly “a member of the Zetas,” the military arm of one of Mexico’s most dangerous drug-trafficking organizations, the Gulf Cartel, who identified the Sinaloa cartel as the organization involved in the plot. However, the advisory states that “this information is of unknown reliability,” while the DEA warns that the Gulf Cartel may be attempting to manipulate the US into acting against their rivals. FBI spokesman Paul Bresson says that the report is based on “raw, uncorroborated information that has not been completely vetted.” A Department of Homeland Security document on the possible attack states “based upon the information provided by the DEA handling agent, the DEA has classified the source as credible [and]…the identity of the sub-source has been established; however, none of the information provided by the sub-source in the past has been corroborated.” [Washington Times, 11/26/2007] The threat later proves to be unfounded. The attack never occurs and FBI spokesman Manuel Johnson, based in Phoenix, admits in November that the warning was the result of bad information. He says “a thorough investigation was conducted and there is no evidence showing that the threat was credible.” [Arizona Daily Star, 11/26/2007]

Entity Tags: Manuel Johnson, US Department of Homeland Security, Defense Intelligence Agency, US Customs and Border Protection, Central Intelligence Agency, Drug Enforcement Administration, Gulf Cartel, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Paul Bresson, Zetas, Sinaloa Cartel

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

Roslynn Mauskopf.Roslynn Mauskopf. [Source: US Department of Justice]US Attorney Roslynn Mauskopf describes a recently foiled alleged terror plot to blow up John F. Kennedy Airport in New York City as “one of the most chilling plots imaginable.” She claims it “could have resulted in unfathomable damage, deaths, and destruction.” But one unnamed law enforcement official with Mauskopf at her press conference will later say he cringed at the description. Newsday will later relate, “The plot, he knew, was never operational. The public had never been at risk. And the notion of blowing up the airport, let alone the borough of Queens, by exploding a fuel tank was in all likelihood a technical impossibility.” Michael Greenberger, director of the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland, says, “It was a totally overstated characterization that doesn’t comport with the facts.…there’s a pattern here of Justice Department attorneys overstating what they have.” [Newsday, 6/6/2007] Safety experts have criticize the government’s description of the plot’s danger. John Goglia, a former member of the US National Transportation Safety Board, describes the plot as a “fantasy,” saying “You could definitely reach the tank, definitely start a fire, but to get the kind of explosion they were thinking they were going to get… this is virtually impossible to do.” Jake Magish, an engineer with Supersafe Tank Systems, says “The fantasy I’ve heard about people saying, ‘They will blow the tank and destroy the airport’, is nonsense.” The Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration comes under fire from aviation expert Michael Boyd, who states that these organizations are “not run by security professionals…[they are] run by political appointees.” [MSNBC, 6/4/2007] In addition, the plotters lacked the explosives and financial resources to carry out the attack. Four alleged Islamic radicals have been charged with conspiracy to cause an explosion at the airport and three of them have been arrested. [The Australian, 6/6/2007] Newsday calls the plot’s alleged mastermind Russell Defreitas “hapless and episodically homeless.” [Newsday, 6/6/2007]

Entity Tags: Russell Defreitas, Jake Magish, John Goglia, Roslynn Mauskopf, Michael Greenberger

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11, Counterterrorism Policy/Politics

The Transportation Security Agency (TSA) issues a national security bulletin based on four recent incidents in San Diego, Milwaukee, Houston, and Baltimore. The bulletin creates the impression of imminent terrorist plots targeting the aviation sector. The TSA warns that terrorists are testing the possibility of smuggling bomb components on to an airplane. TSA spokeswoman Ellen Howe says the agency has noticed an increase in unusual items in checked and carry-on luggage, including “wires, switches, cell phone components, and dense clay-like substances” - including a block of cheese. [International Herald Tribune, 7/25/2007] The incidents all turn out to have innocent explanations. On July 27, Brian Todd of CNN reports “That bulletin for law enforcement eyes only told of suspicious items recently found in passenger’s bags at airport checkpoints, warned that they may signify dry runs for terrorist attacks… it turns out none of that is true.” One such case was that of Sara Weiss, who was detained in San Diego after two ice packs covered in tape and containing clay were allegedly found in her baggage. Weiss, who works for a faith-based organization, was also carrying a survey about Muslim Americans. Weiss says she was held for three hours and questioned by San Diego Harbor Police and two other men who did not identify themselves. She says she was asked if she knew Osama bin Laden, which she described as “a ridiculous question.” Todd reports “The FBI now says there were valid explanations for all four incidents in that bulletin, and a US government official says no charges will be brought in any of these cases.” The FBI maintains “they were right” in putting the bogus reports on the TSA bulletin, which is distributed to law enforcement agencies nationwide. The TSA says that security officers must be trained in identifying suspicious packages, even when those packages turn out to be innocuous. [CNN, 7/27/2007] Defense for the TSA bulletin comes from a number of sources. “This is what TSA should be doing whether it turns out to be a whole bunch of harmless coincidences or part of a plot,” says James Carafano, a security expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation who in the past called for TSA’s abolition. House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Rep. Bennie Thompson, also a critic of the TSA, agrees the agency is handling this appropriately: “To stay ahead of potential threats to our aviation system it must use all of the intelligence available as part of its daily operations.” However, the bulletin is questioned by San Diego Harbor Police Chief Kirk Sanfilippo who says officers found two ice packs wrapped in clear tape, not duct tape, and there was no clay inside. “It was not a threat. It was not a test run,” Sanfilippo says. “The whole thing was very explainable and understandable.” [International Herald Tribune, 7/25/2007] He characterizes the bulletin as “a little bit off.” Local TSA Security Director and chief of the airport police Michael J. Aguilar says it was quickly determined the ice packs contained the usual blue gel. Aguilar says he doesn’t know why the TSA memo, issued in Washington, reported the substance as clay. [San Diego Union-Tribune, 7/25/2007]

Entity Tags: Heritage Foundation, CNN, Brian Todd, Bennie Thompson, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Transportation Security Agency, Sara Weiss, James Carafano, House Homeland Security Committee, Kirk Sanfilippo, Ellen Howe, Michael J. Aguilar, San Diego Harbor Police

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

The FBI warns that al-Qaeda operatives are planning several holiday attacks on US shopping malls in Los Angeles and Chicago over the holiday period. [ABC News, 11/8/2007] In an intelligence report distributed to law enforcement authorities, the FBI says that the attacks have been planned for two years with the goal of disrupting the US economy. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 11/7/2007 pdf file] The FBI received the information in late September and declassified it for the intelligence information reports. These reports routinely contain raw, unvetted or uncorroborated chatter about possible threats. It is estimated that the FBI released 8,000 such reports over the last year. The FBI and Department of Homeland Security Department have released about 200 threat bulletins possible plot trends that are based on actual events worldwide. [SF Gate, 11/8/2007] Questions are immediately raised about the alert. [ABC News, 11/8/2007] As with previous threats, some in the media question the timing and necessity of such a warning. The FBI anticipates this and clarifies its intentions in releasing the memo. The report states that “this information was obtained through a lengthy chain of acquisition, and was provided to the source by a sub-source who spoke in confidence. The veracity of the information is uncertain but the threat is being reported due to the nature of the information.” [ABC News, 11/8/2007] Other intelligence officers raise the possibility that it could be “disinformation.” It is believed that the source only has “indirect access” to al-Qaeda. It is common for jihadist web sites and chat rooms to have comments discussing attacks on “soft targets,” such as shopping malls. Special Agent Richard Kolko says “out of abundance of caution, and for any number of other reasons, raw intelligence is regularly shared within the intelligence and law enforcement communities - even when the value of the information is unknown… Al-Qaeda messaging has clearly stated they intend to attack the US or its interests; however, there is no information to state this is a credible threat. As always, we remind people to remain vigilant and report suspicious activity to authorities.” A Homeland Security official says “we have no credible, specific information suggesting an imminent attack.” [ABC News, 11/8/2007] LA mayor Antonio Villaraigosa urges residents to go about their daily routines, but says that they should be “mindful of anything out of the ordinary.” [SF Gate, 11/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Antonio Villaraigosa, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Al-Qaeda, US Department of Homeland Security, Joe Gandelman, Richard Kolko

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Internal US Security After 9/11

“Suitcase nukes”—nuclear weapons that can fit inside a suitcase or duffel bag and be planted in buildings or football stadiums with relative ease—may be a staple of Hollywood movies, television shows such as Fox’s 24, and thriller novels, but in reality do not exist, says Vahid Majidi, the assistant director of the FBI’s Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate. Nevertheless, the idea is so prevalent in the American conscious that the Federal Emergency Management Agency has issued warnings about “threats” from such devices, warnings repeated on the White House’s Web site (see May 2006). Officials such as Majidi say that any such device would be highly complex to produce, require significant upkeep and cost a small fortune. Majidi and other counterproliferation officials do not believe such a threat remains today. “The suitcase nuke is an exciting topic that really lends itself to movies,” Majidi says, but “No one has been able to truly identify the existence of these devices.” The real threat, say Majidi and other officials, is from less deadly and sophisticated devices assembled from stolen or black-market nuclear material. But governmental sources have played up the threat. Senator Byron Dorgan (D-ND) once said in a hearing, “Perhaps the most likely threat is from a suitcase nuclear weapon in a rusty car on a dock in New York City.” And former representative Curt Weldon (R-PA) was known for carrying around a mock-up of a suitcase nuke made out of a briefcase, foil, and a pipe.
Origin of story - The story took hold in the public mind in the 1960s, based on information from Soviet defectors. The information leaked to the media, but no US officials ever actually saw such a Soviet-made suitcase device. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the US constructed a “backpack nuke,” called a Special Atomic Demolition Munition, to be used by two-man teams to destroy dams, tunnels, or bridges. These devices now only exist in museums. In 1997, retired general Alexander Lebed, the former national security chief of Russia, told reporters that Chechen rebels had portable nuclear devices. However, his story changed radically over time and Russian government officials said it was inaccurate, and he may have been misled by training mock-ups. Russian defector and former intelligence officer Stanislav Lunev wrote in 1998 that Russian agents had suitcase nukes inside the US in preparation for some future conflict. He testified before Congress, but never gave any specific information about such devices.
Technical problems - Colonel-General Viktor Yesin, former head of the Russian strategic rocket troops, said in 2004 that such suitcase nukes would be too expensive for most countries to produce and would not last more than several months because the nuclear core would decompose quickly. Laura Holgate of the Nuclear Threat Initiative says the biggest threat is from a terrorist cell that uses stolen nuclear material to improvise a device. Such a device would be, at its smallest, “[l]ike SUV-sized. Way bigger than a suitcase.” [Associated Press, 11/10/2007]

Entity Tags: Curt Weldon, Byron L. Dorgan, Alexander Lebed, Viktor Yesin, Vahid Majidi, Weapons of Mass Destruction Directorate, Bush administration (43), Federal Bureau of Investigation, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Stanislav Lunev, Nuclear Threat Initiative, Laura Holgate

Category Tags: Terror Alerts, Counterterrorism Policy/Politics

President-elect Obama and his family, acknowledging his election victory. From left: Barack Obama, his daughters Sasha and Malia, and his wife, First Lady-elect Michelle Obama.President-elect Obama and his family, acknowledging his election victory. From left: Barack Obama, his daughters Sasha and Malia, and his wife, First Lady-elect Michelle Obama. [Source: Hollywood Reporter]Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) wins the 2008 election for US president. He replaces President George W. Bush, a Republican. Obama becomes the first African-American president in the history of the US. He defeats Senator John McCain (R-AZ) by a 52 percent to 46 percent margin in the national popular vote, and by a 365-173 margin in the electoral vote. The Democratic Party also increases its lead in the Senate, with a 56-41 margin, and a 255-175 margin in the House of Representatives. Finally, Democrats gain a +1 margin in the nation’s 11 gubernatorial elections. [National Public Radio, 11/2008; United Press International, 11/5/2008] Obama will begin his four year term as president on January 20, 2009, after a transition period (see January 20-21, 2009).

Entity Tags: John McCain, Barack Obama

Timeline Tags: 2008 Elections

Category Tags: Other Post-9/11 Events, Counterterrorism Policy/Politics, Internal US Security After 9/11, Counterterrorism Action After 9/11, High Value Detainees, Terror Alerts, Drone Use in Pakistan / Afghanistan, Afghanistan, Hunt for Bin Laden in Pakistan, Pakistan and the ISI, Haven in Pakistan Tribal Region, Saudi Arabia, US Dominance

Ordering 

Time period


Categories

Key Events

Key Day of 9/11 Events (101)Key Hijacker Events (145)Key Warnings (95)

Day of 9/11

All Day of 9/11 Events (1250)Dick Cheney (53)Donald Rumsfeld (33)Flight AA 11 (145)Flight AA 77 (145)Flight UA 175 (87)Flight UA 93 (241)George Bush (121)Passenger Phone Calls (67)Pentagon (117)Richard Clarke (31)Shanksville, Pennsylvania (23)Training Exercises (56)World Trade Center (87)

The Alleged 9/11 Hijackers

Alhazmi and Almihdhar (343)Marwan Alshehhi (134)Mohamed Atta (205)Hani Hanjour (72)Ziad Jarrah (74)Other 9/11 Hijackers (172)Possible Hijacker Associates in US (79)Alleged Hijackers' Flight Training (73)Hijacker Contact w Government in US (33)Possible 9/11 Hijacker Funding (42)Hijacker Visas and Immigration (135)

Alhazmi and Almihdhar: Specific Cases

Bayoumi and Basnan Saudi Connection (51)CIA Hiding Alhazmi & Almihdhar (120)Search for Alhazmi/ Almihdhar in US (39)

Projects and Programs

Al-Qaeda Malaysia Summit (172)Able Danger (60)Sibel Edmonds (61)Phoenix Memo (27)Randy Glass/ Diamondback (8)Robert Wright and Vulgar Betrayal (67)Remote Surveillance (241)Yemen Hub (75)

Before 9/11

Soviet-Afghan War (105)Warning Signs (432)Insider Trading/ Foreknowledge (53)US Air Security (71)Military Exercises (67)Pipeline Politics (67)Other Pre-9/11 Events (55)

Counterterrorism before 9/11

Hunt for Bin Laden (158)Counterterrorism Action Before 9/11 (223)Counterterrorism Policy/Politics (249)

Warning Signs: Specific Cases

Foreign Intelligence Warnings (35)Bush's Aug. 6, 2001 PDB (39)Presidential Level Warnings (31)

The Post-9/11 World

9/11 Investigations (651)9/11 Related Criminal Proceedings (22)9/11 Denials (29)US Government and 9/11 Criticism (67)9/11 Related Lawsuits (24)Media (47)Other Post-9/11 Events (76)

Investigations: Specific Cases

9/11 Commission (257)Role of Philip Zelikow (87)9/11 Congressional Inquiry (41)CIA OIG 9/11 Report (16)FBI 9/11 Investigation (144)WTC Investigation (112)Other 9/11 Investigations (128)

Possible Al-Qaeda-Linked Moles or Informants

Abu Hamza Al-Masri (102)Abu Qatada (36)Ali Mohamed (78)Haroon Rashid Aswat (17)Khalil Deek (20)Luai Sakra (12)Mamoun Darkazanli (36)Nabil Al-Marabh (41)Omar Bakri & Al-Muhajiroun (25)Reda Hassaine (23)Other Possible Moles or Informants (169)

Other Al-Qaeda-Linked Figures

Abu Zubaida (99)Anwar Al-Awlaki (17)Ayman Al-Zawahiri (81)Hambali (39)Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (139)Mohammed Haydar Zammar (44)Mohammed Jamal Khalifa (47)Osama Bin Laden (228)Ramzi Bin Al-Shibh (105)Ramzi Yousef (67)Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (57)Victor Bout (23)Wadih El-Hage (45)Zacarias Moussaoui (159)

Al-Qaeda by Region

"Lackawanna Six" (13)Al-Qaeda in Balkans (168)Al-Qaeda in Germany (189)Al-Qaeda in Italy (55)Al-Qaeda in Southeast Asia (149)Al-Qaeda in Spain (121)Islamist Militancy in Chechnya (50)

Specific Alleged Al-Qaeda Linked Attacks or Plots

1993 WTC Bombing (73)1993 Somalia Fighting (13)1995 Bojinka Plot (78)1998 US Embassy Bombings (121)Millennium Bomb Plots (43)2000 USS Cole Bombing (114)2001 Attempted Shoe Bombing (23)2002 Bali Bombings (36)2004 Madrid Train Bombings (82)2005 7/7 London Bombings (87)

Miscellaneous Al-Qaeda Issues

Alleged Al-Qaeda Linked Attacks (89)Alleged Al-Qaeda Media Statements (102)Key Captures and Deaths (124)

Geopolitics and Islamic Militancy

US Dominance (112)Alleged Iraq-Al-Qaeda Links (255)Iraq War Impact on Counterterrorism (83)Israel (61)Pakistan and the ISI (470)Saudi Arabia (249)Terrorism Financing (312)Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism (322)US Intel Links to Islamic Militancy (69)Algerian Militant Collusion (41)Indonesian Militant Collusion (20)Philippine Militant Collusion (74)Yemeni Militant Collusion (47)Other Government-Militant Collusion (23)

Pakistan / ISI: Specific Cases

Pakistani Nukes & Islamic Militancy (37)Pakistani ISI Links to 9/11 (73)Saeed Sheikh (59)Mahmood Ahmed (30)Haven in Pakistan Tribal Region (179)2008 Kabul Indian Embassy Bombing (10)Hunt for Bin Laden in Pakistan (154)

Terrorism Financing: Specific Cases

Al Taqwa Bank (29)Al-Kifah/MAK (54)BCCI (37)BIF (28)BMI and Ptech (21)Bin Laden Family (62)Drugs (71)

'War on Terrorism' Outside Iraq

Afghanistan (299)Drone Use in Pakistan / Afghanistan (49)Destruction of CIA Tapes (92)Escape From Afghanistan (61)High Value Detainees (179)Terror Alerts (50)Counterterrorism Action After 9/11 (352)Counterterrorism Policy/Politics (432)Internal US Security After 9/11 (125)
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