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Complete 911 Timeline

The Hunt for Osama Bin Laden before 9/11

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

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CIA contractor Billy Waugh, who is conducting surveillance against Osama bin Laden in Khartoum, Sudan (see February 1991- July 1992), drafts a plan to assassinate bin Laden. Waugh will later say that the plan, one of “hundreds” of such proposals he prepares for the CIA, is drafted as a natural part of the surveillance and “isn’t anything special,” but is just written “in case someone decided that was the necessary course of action.” The plan is to kill bin Laden while he is traveling, because that is when his security is worst. One CIA car would follow bin Laden on one of his regular trips out of town, another would approach bin Laden’s car from the opposite direction and ram into it. The driver of the trailing car would then get out and shoot bin Laden. Given the poor quality of the Sudanese security services, Waugh thinks it would be simple to evade capture after the shooting. However, the plan is not approved because of restrictions on assassinations at the CIA and because of a lack of specific intelligence tying bin Laden to terrorism at this point. Waugh then considers killing bin Laden himself from one of his surveillance positions without permission, but decides not to do so. [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 207-210]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Billy Waugh

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden

The CIA, which is conducting a surveillance operation against Osama bin Laden in Sudan (see February 1991- July 1992), penetrates a bank he uses. Billy Waugh, one of the CIA contractors performing the surveillance, will say: “[Bin Laden] went to the bank every day, and you might figure that if the [CIA] knew which bank he used, it would recruit someone within that bank to provide information. Well, by God they did.” Waugh will also say that the CIA “knew about [bin Laden’s] personal bank account.” However, details of what the CIA knew about bin Laden based on this penetration are not known. Although the bank most closely associated with bin Laden at this time is the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank (see August 14, 1996), in his autobiography Waugh calls the bank the “Arab Bank.” [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 203] It is unclear exactly what bank Waugh is referring to. There is a bank called the Arab Bank that is alleged to be involved in terrorism finance. [MSNBC, 4/19/2005] However, the bank’s website states that its Sudan branch was nationalized in 1970. [Arab Bank, 3/23/2008] The Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa is also based in Khartoum at this time. [International Monetary Fund, 3/23/2008] However, there are no known connections between this bank and bin Laden.

Entity Tags: Al-Shamal Islamic Bank, Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, Billy Waugh, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency, Arab Bank

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden, Terrorism Financing

Billy Waugh.Billy Waugh. [Source: Billy Waugh]The CIA monitors bin Laden in Khartoum, Sudan, where he has just moved (see Summer 1991). Billy Waugh, an independent contractor working for the CIA, moves to Khartoum and is given the task of spying on him. Waugh is a legendary fighter already in his sixties who has performed special operations for the US Army and CIA for many years and will continue to do so until he is in his seventies. The Associated Press will later report that Waugh “played a typecast role as an aging American fitness enthusiast and would regularly jog past bin Laden’s home. He said he often came face-to-face with bin Laden, who undoubtedly knew the CIA was tailing him. Neither said anything, but Waugh recalled exchanging pleasantries with bin Laden’s Afghan guards.” [Waugh and Keown, 2004, pp. 121; Associated Press, 6/4/2005] Waugh will later recall, “I was on a tracking team in Sudan keeping track of [bin Laden] in his early days as a possible terrorist network leader. Our CIA Chief of Station there told me upon arrival that [he] was one of our targets, that he was a wealthy Saudi financier and possible supporter of the terrorist outfit called al-Qaeda. He ran companies there and even owned an entire street block in the al-Riyadh section of the city.… At the time of our surveillance operations against him in 1991-92, [he] was not a particularly high priority, though evidence was gathering about him. At the time, it would have been very easy to take him out.” Waugh also claims that he saw bin Laden “in the mountains of the Pakistan/Afghanistan border in the late 1980’s when we were training the [mujaheddin] resistance.” [Journal of Counterterrorism & Homeland Security International, 6/2005]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Billy Waugh, Osama bin Laden

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden

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

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

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Remote Surveillance, Osama Bin Laden

In 2007, former CIA Director George Tenet will write, “As early as 1993, [the CIA] had declared bin Laden to be a significant financier backer of Islamic terrorist movements. We knew he was funding paramilitary training of Arab religious militants in such far-flung places as Bosnia, Egypt, Kashmir, Jordan, Tunisia, Algeria, and Yemen” (see July-August 1993). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 100]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden, Terrorism Financing

In a July 1993 intelligence report, the CIA notes that Osama bin Laden has been paying to train members of the Egyptian militant group Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya in Sudan, where he lives. The CIA privately concludes he is an important terrorist financier (see 1993). In August 1993, the State Department sees links between bin Laden and the “Blind Sheikh,” Sheikh Omar Abdul-Rahman (see August 1993), who leads Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya and was recently arrested in the US (see July 3, 1993). A State Department report comments that bin Laden seems “committed to financing ‘Jihads’ against ‘anti-Islamic’ regimes worldwide.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 109, 479] In August 1993, the State Department also puts bin Laden on its no-fly watch list (see August 12, 1993 and Shortly Thereafter). However, US intelligence will be slow to realize he is more directly involved than just giving money. Some intelligence reports into 1997 will continue to refer to him only as a militant financier. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 109, 479]

Entity Tags: Omar Abdul-Rahman, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya, Central Intelligence Agency, US Department of State, Osama bin Laden

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Terrorism Financing

On August 12, 1993, the US officially designates Sudan to be a “state sponsor of terrorism.” Countries given this designation are subject to a variety of US economic sanctions. As of 2008, Sudan has yet to be removed from the US lists of terrorism sponsors. Osama bin Laden is living in Sudan at the time, and shortly after this designation is issued the State Department places bin Laden on its TIPOFF watch list. This is designed to prevent him from entering the US. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 109; US Department of State, 7/17/2007] However, Britain apparently does not follow suit, because bin Laden will continue to make trips to Britain through 1996 (see Early 1990s-Late 1996).

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Osama bin Laden, TIPOFF, Sudan

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

1994-1997: US Supports Taliban Rise to Power

Journalist Ahmed Rashid, a long-time expert on Pakistan and Afghanistan, will later write in a book about the Taliban that the US supported the Taliban in its early years. “Between 1994 and 1996, the USA supported the Taliban politically through its allies Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, essentially because Washington viewed the Taliban as anti-Iranian, anti-Shia, and pro-Western. Between 1995 and 1997, US support was even more driven because of its backing for the Unocal [pipeline] project.” He notes that many US diplomats “saw them as messianic do-gooders—like born-again Christians from the American Bible Belt.” [Dreyfuss, 2005, pp. 326] Selig Harrison, a long-time regional expert with extensive CIA ties, will later say that he complained at the time about how Pakistani ISI support of the Taliban was backed by the CIA. “I warned them that we were creating a monster.” [Times of India, 3/7/2001] There is evidence the CIA may have helped supply the Taliban with weapons during the first months of their rise to power (see October 1994).

Entity Tags: Taliban, Ahmed Rashid, Selig Harrison

Category Tags: Pipeline Politics, Pakistan and the ISI, Hunt for Bin Laden

It is frequently reported that the Pakistani ISI created the Taliban. For instance, in 1996 CNN will report, “The Taliban are widely alleged to be the creation of Pakistan’s military intelligence [the ISI], which, according to experts, explains the Taliban’s swift military successes.” [CNN, 10/5/1996] And counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later claim that not only did the ISI create the Taliban, but they also facilitated connections between the Taliban and al-Qaeda to help the Taliban achieve victory. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 53] The Wall Street Journal will state in November 2001, “Despite their clean chins and pressed uniforms, the ISI men are as deeply fundamentalist as any bearded fanatic; the ISI created the Taliban as their own instrument and still support it.” [Asia Times, 11/15/2001] Technically, the Taliban appear to have actually started out on the own, but they were soon co-opted by the ISI and effectively became their proxy force (see Spring-Autumn 1994). Benazir Bhutto, prime minister of Pakistan at the time, will later recall how ISI support grew in late 1994 and into early 1995. “I became slowly, slowly sucked into it.… Once I gave the go-ahead that they should get money, I don’t know how much money they were ultimately given.… I know it was a lot. It was just carte blanche.” Bhutto was actually at odds with her own ISI agency and will later claim she eventually discovered the ISI was giving them much more assistance than she authorized, including Pakistani military officers to lead them in fighting. [Coll, 2004, pp. 293-294]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Benazir Bhutto, Central Intelligence Agency, Richard A. Clarke, Taliban, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Pakistan and the ISI

Hussan al-Turabi.Hussan al-Turabi. [Source: CNN]On June 26, 1995, there is a failed assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak as he visits Ethiopia (see June 26, 1995). The CIA soon concludes Osama bin Laden authorized the operation, and they plan a retaliation attack. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] Evidence suggests that the government of Sudan and Hassan al-Turabi, Sudan’s leader, know where bin Laden is living in Sudan and helped support the plot. The United Nations Security Council places sanctions on Sudan as a result. The US examines options for attacking bin Laden and/or al-Turabi’s facilities in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum. The options developed by the US military are rejected for being unstealthy and a de facto war on Sudan. In the ensuing months, there are reports of Egyptian covert operations against bin Laden and an Egyptian military build-up on the Sudanese border. These factors influence bin Laden’s decision to move to Afghanistan in 1996 (see May 18, 1996). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 140-41] One suspect in the assassination, Anas al-Liby, moves to Britain. The British government not only refuses to extradite him to Egypt, but secretly hires him to assassinate the leader of Libya (see (Late 1995) and 1996).

Entity Tags: United Nations Security Council, Hosni Mubarak, Hassan al-Turabi, Osama bin Laden, Anas al-Liby, Central Intelligence Agency, Sudan

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

al-Qaeda Afghan training camp.al-Qaeda Afghan training camp. [Source: Al Jazeera]A French intelligence asset called Omar Nasiri, who has previously informed on a Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) cell in Brussels (see Mid 1994-March 2, 1995), is given the task of penetrating the network of militant camps in Afghanistan. He flies to Pakistan and soon is in contact with the al-Qaeda network. He is sent to Peshawar, where he meets al-Qaeda leaders Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi and Abu Zubaida. From there he is then taken to al-Libi’s Khaldan camp inside Afghanistan, where he receives physical and weapons training, as well as religious instruction. The training also includes blocks on explosives, tactics, hand-to-hand combat, surveillance, and kidnapping, and is at least partially derived from US army manuals. While at the camp he is told by Kashmiri militants that they have been trained by the Pakistani army (see (Mid 1995-Spring 1996)) and he uses money given to him by French intelligence to purchase weapons for al-Qaeda (see (Late 1995-Spring 1996)). After several months of training at Khaldan and Darunta camps, he returns to Europe via Peshawar. In Peshawar he again meets Abu Zubaida, who gives Nasiri a phone number where he can be reached and asks him to send money from Europe. Upon returning to Europe, Nasiri contacts his handler at French intelligence and tells him about the camps. [Nasiri, 2006, pp. 101-244, 253-7]

Entity Tags: Omar Nasiri, Abu Zubaida, Direction Générale de la Sécurité Extérieure, Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Other Possible Moles or Informants, Abu Zubaida, Algerian Militant Collusion

MI5, Britain’s domestic intelligence agency, opens a permanent file on Osama bin Laden. However, MI5 still believes bin Laden is a terrorist financier rather than a leader, and the source of his wealth is a “mystery.” [Daily Telegraph, 10/5/2009] MI6 is Britain’s foreign intelligence agency, and presumably it would be more knowledgeable and concerned than MI5 about a foreign threat like bin Laden.

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, UK Security Service (MI5)

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden

The FBI opens a case on Osama bin Laden. Dan Coleman and John Ligouri, members of the FBI’s Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF), are sent to the CIA Counterterrorist Center (CTC) to see what the CIA knows about bin Laden. “They were amazed by the amount of material - some forty thick files’ worth - that they found.… Most of the information consisted of raw, unfocused data: itineraries, phone records, associates lists, investment holdings, bank transfers.” The vast majority of the data comes from NSA electronic eavesdropping and most of it has not been properly analyzed (see Early 1990s). They find that the CTC has been conducting a vigorous investigation on Wadih El-Hage, bin Laden’s personal secretary. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 148-149] Coleman will go on to become the FBI’s biggest expert on bin Laden and will help start the bureau’s bin Laden unit. [Suskind, 2006, pp. 90] It is not known when the CIA or NSA began monitoring bin Laden or El-Hage.

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Osama bin Laden, John Ligouri, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorist Center, Joint Terrorism Task Force, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Dan Coleman

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Remote Surveillance, Hunt for Bin Laden, Wadih El-Hage

Michael Howard.Michael Howard. [Source: BBC]Osama bin Laden is said to be unhappy with his exile in Sudan, where authorities are making noises about expelling him. Consequently, he requests asylum in Britain. Several of his brothers and other relatives, who are members of the bin Laden construction empire, own properties in London. He has already transferred some of his personal fortune to London, to help his followers set up terror cells in Britain and across Europe. Bin Laden employs Khalid al-Fawwaz, a Saudi businessman described as his “de facto ambassador” in Britain (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998), to assess his chances of moving there. British Home Secretary Michael Howard later says, “In truth, I knew little about him, but we picked up information that bin Laden was very interested in coming to Britain. It was apparently a serious request.” After Home Office officials investigate bin Laden, Howard issues an immediate order banning him under Britain’s immigration laws. [London Times, 9/29/2005] Bin Laden ends up going to Afghanistan instead in 1996 (see May 18, 1996). There are also later press reports that bin Laden travels frequently to London around this time (see Early 1990s-Late 1996), and even briefly lived there in 1994 (see Early 1994).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Michael Howard, Khalid al-Fawwaz

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden, Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism

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

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

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Counterterrorism Policy/Politics

Israeli spy agency Mossad supposedly plots to kill Osama bin Laden. According to the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth, it recruits a female confidante of his and assigns her the mission of killing him. Mossad has been trailing bin Laden while assisting the US and Egypt in investigating a failed assassination attempt on Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (see Shortly After June 26, 1995). But the plan is aborted due to tensions between Israel and the woman’s country. [Associated Press, 1/27/2006]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Israel Institute for Intelligence and Special Tasks (Mossad)

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Israel

Bin Laden reportedly visits Qatar at least twice between the years of 1996 and 2000. He visits Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, the country’s religious minister who later becomes the interior minister. [New York Times, 6/8/2002; ABC News, 2/7/2003] In 1999, the New York Times reports that bin Laden visited al-Thani “in Qatar twice in the mid-1990s.” [New York Times, 7/8/1999] Presumably one of these times is in May 1996, when bin Laden stops by Qatar while moving from Sudan to Afghanistan, and is reportedly warmly greeted by officials there (see May 18, 1996). Former CIA officer Robert Baer will later claim that one meeting between bin Laden and al-Thani takes place on August 10, 1996. [Baer, 2003, pp. 195] Al-Thani is known to shelter Muslim extremists. For instance, the CIA narrowly missed catching al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM), Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Mohammed Atef at his farm in May 1996 (see January-May 1996). Al-Thani is a member of Qatar’s royal family, but ABC News will later report, “One former CIA official who preferred to remain anonymous said the connection went beyond al-Thani and there were others in the Qatari royal family who were sympathetic and provided safe havens for al-Qaeda.” [New York Times, 6/8/2002; ABC News, 2/7/2003] Al-Thani will reportedly shelter al-Qaeda leaders like KSM even after 9/11 (see March 28, 2003), but the US has not taken any action against him, such as officially declaring him a terrorism financier.

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Abdallah bin Khalid al-Thani, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Robert Baer

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden, Other Government-Militant Collusion

The CIA’s Counter Terrorism Center creates a special unit focusing specifically on bin Laden. It is informally called Alec Station. About 10 to 15 individuals are assigned to the unit initially. This grows to about 35 to 40 by 9/11. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] The unit is set up “largely because of evidence linking [bin Laden] to the 1993 bombing of the WTC.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2001] Newsweek will comment after 9/11, “With the Cold War over, the Mafia in retreat, and the drug war unwinnable, the CIA and FBI were eager to have a new foe to fight.… Historical rivals, the spies and G-men were finally learning to work together. But they didn’t necessarily share secrets with the alphabet soup of other enforcement and intelligence agencies, like Customs and the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and they remained aloof from the Pentagon. And no amount of good will or money could bridge a fundamental divide between intelligence and law enforcement. Spies prefer to watch and wait; cops want to get their man.” [Newsweek, 10/1/2001] Michael Scheuer will lead the unit until 1999. He will later become a vocal critic of the US government’s efforts to combat terrorism. He later recalls that while bin Laden is mostly thought of merely as a terrorist financier at this time, “we had run across bin Laden in a lot of different places, not personally but in terms of his influence, either through rhetoric, through audiotapes, through passports, through money-he seemed to turn up everywhere. So when we [created the unit], the first responsibility was to find out if he was a threat.” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] By the start of 1997, the unit will conclude bin Laden is a serious threat (see Early 1997).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Michael Scheuer, Alec Station, Al-Qaeda, Counterterrorist Center

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

During Michael Scheuer’s time as head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit Alec Station from 1996 to 1999 (see February 1996 and June 1999), the unit has conflicts with other parts of the US intelligence community. Scheuer has an angry and dogmatic style that sometimes alienates people.
Conflict with Counterterrorism 'Tsar' Clarke - Scheuer and Richard Clarke, the US counterterrorism “tsar,” do not get along, even though both are among the first people in government to take the Osama bin Laden threat seriously. Clarke can also be abrasive. One former CIA insider will later say, “I can say that, among individuals that I tend to trust, Clarke was regarded as more serious about terrorism in the 1990s than just about anybody else in the US government, but he was a truly painful individual to work with.” Clarke will later similarly criticize Scheuer, saying: “Throwing tantrums and everything doesn’t help.… [You shouldn’t be] so dysfunctional within your agency that you’re making it harder to get something done.” And Scheuer will later criticize Clarke, saying: “[He] was an interferer of the first level, in terms of talking about things that he knew nothing about and killing them.… He was always playing the FBI off against us or us against the NSA.”
Conflict with the FBI - The bin Laden unit does not get along with some FBI agents assigned to it as well. From the very start, some FBI officials, including bin Laden expert John O’Neill, resist cooperating with the unit. CIA official John MacGaffin will later claim, “O’Neill just fought it and fought it [cooperating with Alec Station].” O’Neill and Scheuer “were at each other’s throats.” On one occasion an FBI agent at the bin Laden unit is caught hiding CIA files inside his shirt to take them back to O’Neill. Scheuer will also claim that the FBI rarely follows up leads the bin Laden unit sends it. Furthermore, the FBI never shares information. “I bet we sent 700 or 800 requests for information to the FBI, and we never got an answer to any of them,” Scheuer says.
Conflicts with CIA Higher-Ups - The bin Laden unit also has conflicts with others within the CIA, including powerful superiors. An incident in 1996 leads to a breakdown of trust between Scheuer and his superiors (see 1996). John MacGaffin, who is a top CIA official for clandestine operations at the time, will later say of Scheuer, “He’s a good guy, [but] he’s an angry guy.”
Situation Improves after Scheuer - In June 1999, Richard Blee replaces Scheuer as head of the bin Laden unit, and he will stay involved in the bin Laden issue until after 9/11 (see December 9, 2001). Vanity Fair will later comment that Blee “was just as heated up over bin Laden as Scheuer had been, but obviously less likely to cause the kind of friction that would discomfit the [CIA director].” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]

Entity Tags: John MacGaffin, Alec Station, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Richard Blee, Richard A. Clarke, John O’Neill, Michael Scheuer, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Counterterrorism Policy/Politics

US demands for Sudan to hand over its extensive files about bin Laden (see March 8, 1996-April 1996) escalate into demands to hand over bin Laden himself. Bin Laden has been living in Sudan since 1991, at a time when the Sudanese government’s ideology was similar to his. But after the US put Sudan on its list of terrorism sponsors and began economic sanctions in 1993, Sudan began to change. In 1994, it handed the notorious terrorist “Carlos the Jackal” to France. In March 1996, Sudan’s defense minister goes to Washington and engages in secret negotiations over bin Laden. Sudan offers to extradite bin Laden to anywhere he might stand trial. Some accounts claim that Sudan offers to hand bin Laden directly to the US, but the US decides not to take him because they do not have enough evidence at the time to charge him with a crime. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001; Village Voice, 10/31/2001; Vanity Fair, 1/2002] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later will call this story a “fable” invented by the Sudanese and Americans friendly to Sudan. He will point out that bin Laden “was an ideological blood brother, family friend, and benefactor” to Sudanese leader Hassan al-Turabi, so any offers to hand him over may have been disingenuous. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 142-43] CIA Director George Tenet later will deny that Sudan made any offers to hand over bin Laden directly to the US. [US Congress, 10/17/2002] The US reportedly asks Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan to accept bin Laden into custody, but is refused by all three governments. [Coll, 2004, pp. 323] The 9/11 Commission later will claim it finds no evidence that Sudan offers bin Laden directly to the US, but it does find evidence that Saudi Arabia was discussed as an option. [9/11 Commission, 3/23/2004] US officials insist that bin Laden leave Sudan for anywhere but Somalia. One US intelligence source in the region later will state: “We kidnap minor drug czars and bring them back in burlap bags. Somebody didn’t want this to happen.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2001; Village Voice, 10/31/2001] On May 18, 1996, bin Laden flies to Afghanistan, and the US does not try to stop him (see May 18, 1996).

Entity Tags: Egypt, Sudan, United States, Jordan, George J. Tenet, Osama bin Laden, Richard A. Clarke, Saudi Arabia, Central Intelligence Agency, Hassan al-Turabi

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

Omar al-Bashir.Omar al-Bashir. [Source: PBS]In 1993, the US put Sudan on its list of nations sponsoring terrorism, which automatically leads to economic sanctions. Sudanese leader Hassan al-Turabi espoused radical militant views, and allowed bin Laden to live in Sudan. But, as the 9/11 Commission later will note, “The Sudanese regime began to change. Though al-Turabi had been its inspirational leader, General Omar al-Bashir, president since 1989, had never been entirely under his thumb. Thus as outside pressures mounted, al-Bashir’s supporters began to displace those of al-Turabi.” In 1995, the US begins putting serious pressure on Sudan to deal with bin Laden, who is still living there. [Observer, 9/30/2001; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 61] On March 8, 1996, the US sends Sudan a memorandum listing the measures Sudan can take to get the sanctions revoked. The second of six points listed is, “Provide us with names, dates of arrival, departure and destination and passport data on mujaheddin that Osama Bin Laden has brought into Sudan.” [New York Times, 9/21/1998; Washington Post, 10/3/2001] Sudanese intelligence had been monitoring bin Laden since he’d moved there in 1991, collecting a “vast intelligence database on Osama bin Laden and more than 200 leading members of his al-Qaeda terrorist network.” The files include information on their backgrounds, families, and contacts, plus photographs. There also is extensive information on bin Laden’s world-wide financial network. “One US source who has seen the files on bin Laden’s men in Khartoum said some were ‘an inch and a half thick.’” [Observer, 9/30/2001] An Egyptian intelligence officer with extensive Sudanese intelligence contacts says, “They knew all about them: who they were, where they came from. They had copies of their passports, their tickets; they knew where they went. Of course that information could have helped enormously. It is the history of those people.” To the surprise of US officials making the demands, the Sudanese seem receptive to sharing the file. This leads to a battle within the US government between top FBI officials, who want to engage the Sudanese and get their files, and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Susan Rice, her assistant secretary for Africa, who want to isolate them politically and economically. The National Security Council is also opposed. The US decides to increase its demands, and tells Sudan to turn over not just files on bin Laden, but bin Laden himself (see March-May 1996). Ultimately, the US will get Sudan to evict bin Laden in May 1996 (see May 18, 1996), but they will not press for the files and will not get them. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001; Vanity Fair, 1/2002] An American involved in the secret negotiations later will says, “I’ve never seen a brick wall like that before. Somebody let this slip up.… We could have dismantled his operations and put a cage on top. It was not a matter of arresting bin Laden but of access to information. That’s the story, and that’s what could have prevented September 11. I knew it would come back to haunt us.” [Village Voice, 10/31/2001] Vanity Fair magazine later will opine, “How could this have happened? The simple answer is that the Clinton administration had accused Sudan of sponsoring terrorism, and refused to believe that anything it did to prove its bona fides could be genuine.” [Vanity Fair, 1/2002] The US will continue to refuse Sudan’s offers to take the files (see April 5, 1997; February 5, 1998; May 2000).

Entity Tags: Susan Rice, National Security Council, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Hassan al-Turabi, Omar Al-Bashir, Madeleine Albright

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

After pressure from the US (see March-May 1996), the Sudanese government asks bin Laden to leave the country. He decides to go to Afghanistan. He departs along with many other al-Qaeda members, plus much money and resources. Bin Laden flies to Afghanistan in a C-130 transport plane with an entourage of about 150 men, women, and children, stopping in Doha, Qatar, to refuel, where governmental officials greet him warmly. [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Coll, 2004, pp. 325] The US knows in advance that bin Laden is going to Afghanistan, but does nothing to stop him. Sudan’s defense minister Elfatih Erwa later says in an interview, “We warned [the US]. In Sudan, bin Laden and his money were under our control. But we knew that if he went to Afghanistan no one could control him. The US didn’t care; they just didn’t want him in Somalia. It’s crazy.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2001; Village Voice, 10/31/2001] US-al-Qaeda double agent Ali Mohamed handles security during the move. [Raleigh News and Observer, 10/21/2001]

Entity Tags: Somalia, Osama bin Laden, Sudan, Elfatih Erwa, Al-Qaeda, Ali Mohamed

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Ali Mohamed, Osama Bin Laden

Bin Laden arrives in Afghanistan on May 18, 1996 after being expelled from Sudan (see May 18, 1996). Initially, bin Laden stays in an area not controlled by the Taliban, who are fighting for control of the country. But by the end of September 1996, the Taliban conquer the capital of Kabul and gain control over most of the the country (see September 27, 1996). Bin Laden then becomes the guest of the Taliban. The Taliban, bin Laden, and their mutual ally Gulbuddin Hekmatyar then call for a jihad against Ahmed Shah Massoud, who retains control over a small area along Afghanistan’s northern border. As bin Laden establishes a new safe base and political ties, he issues a public fatwa, or religious decree, authorizing attacks on Western military targets in the Arabian Peninsula (see August 1996). [Coll, 2004, pp. 326-328]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ahmed Shah Massoud

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

In 1996, al-Qaeda assumes control of Ariana Airlines, Afghanistan’s national airline, for use in its illegal trade network. Passenger flights become few and erratic, as planes are used to fly drugs, weapons, gold, and personnel, primarily between Afghanistan, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and Pakistan. The Emirate of Sharjah, in the UAE, becomes a hub for al-Qaeda drug and arms smuggling. Typically, “large quantities of drugs” are flown from Kandahar, Afghanistan, to Sharjah, and large quantities of weapons are flown back to Afghanistan. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] About three to four flights run the route each day. Many weapons come from Victor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer based in Sharjah. [Los Angeles Times, 1/20/2002] Afghan taxes on opium production are paid in gold, and then the gold bullion is flown to Dubai, UAE, and laundered into cash. [Washington Post, 2/17/2002] Taliban officials regularly provide militants with false papers identifying them as Ariana Airlines employees so they can move freely around the world. For instance, one flight on a Ariana small plane in 2000 lists 33 crew members. A former National Security Council official later claims the US is well aware at the time that al-Qaeda agents regularly fly on Ariana Airlines. (However, US intelligence will not learn of the widespread use of forged Ariana IDs until after 9/11.) The CIA learns of Bout’s connection to Ariana and the Taliban in 1998, but takes no action (see 1998). The US presses the UAE for tighter banking controls, but moves “delicately, not wanting to offend an ally in an already complicated relationship,” and little changes by 9/11. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001; Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 139] Much of the money for the 9/11 hijackers flows though these Sharjah, UAE, channels. There also are reports suggesting that Ariana Airlines might have been used to train Islamic militants as pilots. The illegal use of Ariana Airlines helps convince the United Nations to impose sanctions against Afghanistan in 1999, but the sanctions lack teeth and do not stop the airline. A second round of sanctions finally stops foreign Ariana Airlines flights, but its charter flights and other charter services keep the illegal network running. [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] About nine of the 9/11 hijackers work at the Kandahar airport in 2000, which is Ariana’s main hub (see Summer 2000).

Entity Tags: Taliban, United Arab Emirates, United Nations, Al-Qaeda, Ariana Airlines, Victor Bout

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Victor Bout, Pakistan and the ISI, Drugs

State Department analysts warn the Clinton administration in a top secret assessment that bin Laden’s move from Sudan to Afghanistan will offer him an “ideal haven.” The warning comes exactly one month after he made the move (see May 18, 1996). Analysts say that “his prolonged stay in Afghanistan - where hundreds of ‘Arab mujaheddin’ receive terrorist training and key extremist leaders often congregate - could prove more dangerous to US interests in the long run than his three-year liaison with Khartoum,” in Sudan. Further, bin Laden’s public statements suggest an “emboldened” man capable of “increased terrorism.” Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, will later comment, “The thinking was that he was in Afghanistan, and he was dangerous, but because he was there, we had a better chance to kill him. But at the end of the day, we settled for the worst possibility - he was there and we didn’t do anything.” [New York Times, 8/17/2005]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, US Department of State, Clinton administration, Michael Scheuer

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

The State Department issues a fact sheet on bin Laden, calling him “one of the most significant financial sponsors of Islamic extremist activities in the world today.” The text ties bin Laden to funding specific attacks, such as the attempt to kill dozens of US soldiers in Yemen in 1992 (see December 29, 1992). The fact sheet is also mentions the term “al-Qaeda,” leading to the first media reports using that term the next day (see August 14, 1996). The fact sheet also contains details about bin Laden’s finances, such as the allegation that he co-founded the Al-Shamal Islamic Bank in Sudan in 1990 with a group of wealthy Sudanese and capitalized it with $50 million of his fortune. [US Department of State, 8/14/1996; New York Times, 8/14/1996] Much of this information appears to come from al-Qaeda defector Jamal al-Fadl. The CIA had just finished debriefing him weeks before (see June 1996-April 1997).

Entity Tags: US Department of State, Al-Shamal Islamic Bank, Osama bin Laden, Jamal al-Fadl

Category Tags: Warning Signs, Hunt for Bin Laden

Four days after the Taliban conquers Kabul (see September 27, 1996), a classified CIA report notes that as the Taliban advance, they are closing some militant training camps but not others. They have closed the camps controlled by militant leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, militant leader Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, and Jamaat-i-Islami (a religious political party in Pakistan). They have kept open camps controlled by Osama bin Laden, militant leader Yunas Khalis, the Pakistan-based militant group Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, and Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam (another religious political party in Pakistan). [Central Intelligence Agency, 9/30/1996 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Harkat ul-Mujahedeen, Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Yunas Khalis, Osama bin Laden, Jamaat-i-Islami, Taliban, Central Intelligence Agency, Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

An Inmarsat Compact M satellite phone, the type used by bin Laden.An Inmarsat Compact M satellite phone, the type used by bin Laden. [Source: Inmarsat]During this period, Osama bin Laden uses a satellite phone to direct al-Qaeda’s operations. The phone—a Compact M satellite phone, about the size of a laptop computer—was purchased by a student in Virginia named Ziyad Khaleel for $7,500 using the credit card of a British man named Saad al-Fagih. After purchasing the phone, Khaleel sent it to Khalid al-Fawwaz, al-Qaeda’s unofficial press secretary in London (see Early 1994-September 23, 1998). Al-Fawwaz then shipped it to bin Laden in Afghanistan. [CNN, 4/16/2001] It appears US intelligence actually tracks the purchase as it occurs (see November 1996-Late December 1999), probably because an older model satellite phone bin Laden has is already being monitored (see Early 1990s). Bin Laden’s phone (873682505331) is believed to be used by other top al-Qaeda leaders as well, including Ayman al-Zawahiri and Mohammad Atef. Al-Fawwaz also buys satellite phones for other top al-Qaeda leaders around the same time. Though the calls made on these phones are encrypted, the NSA is able to intercept and decrypt them. As one US official will put it in early 2001, “codes were broken.” [United Press International, 2/13/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The Los Angeles Times will report that the monitoring of these phones “produced tens of thousands of pages of transcripts over two years.” [Los Angeles Times, 10/14/2001] Bin Laden’s satellite phone replaces an older model he used in Sudan that apparently was also monitored by the NSA (see Early 1990s). Billing records for his new phone are eventually released to the media in early 2002. Newsweek will note, “A country-by-country analysis of the bills provided US authorities with a virtual road map to important al-Qaeda cells around the world.” [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] The countries called are:
bullet Britain (238 or 260). Twenty-seven different phone numbers are called in Britain. Accounts differ on the exact number of calls. Khalid al-Fawwaz, who helps publish statements by bin Laden, receives 143 of the calls, including the very first one bin Laden makes with this phone. Apparently most of the remaining calls are made to pay phones near him or to his associates. He also frequently calls Ibrahim Eidarous, who works with al-Fawwaz and lives near him. [CNN, 4/16/2001; Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002; O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 111]
bullet Yemen (221). Dozens of calls go to an al-Qaeda communications hub in Sana’a, Yemen, which is run by the father-in-law of 9/11 hijacker Khalid Almihdhar (see Late August 1998). [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002; Bamford, 2008, pp. 8]
bullet Sudan (131). Bin Laden lived in Sudan until 1996 (see May 18, 1996), and some important al-Qaeda operatives remained there after he left (see February 5, 1998). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Iran (106). Newsweek will later report: “US officials had little explanation for the calls to Iran. A Bush administration official said that US intelligence has believed for years that hard-line anti-American factions inside Iran helped bin Laden’s organization operate an ‘underground railroad’ smuggling Islamic militants to al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan.” [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Azerbaijan (67). An important al-Qaeda operative appears to be based in Baku, Azerbaijan. [Washington Post, 5/2/2001] This is most likely Ahmad Salama Mabruk, who is very close to al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri and is said to be the head of the al-Qaeda cell there. He kidnapped by the CIA in Baku in late August 1998 (see Late August 1998).
bullet Kenya (at least 56). In the embassy bombings trial, prosecutors introduce evidence showing 16 calls are made on this phone to some of the embassy bombers in Kenya (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), apparently all before a raid in August 1997 (see August 21, 1997). The defense introduces evidence showing at least 40 more calls are made after that time (see Late 1996-August 1998). [CNN, 4/16/2001]
bullet Pakistan (59).
bullet Saudi Arabia (57).
bullet A ship in the Indian Ocean (13).
bullet The US (6).
bullet Italy (6).
bullet Malaysia (4).
bullet Senegal (2). [Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002]
bullet Egypt (unknown). Newsweek reports that calls are made to Egypt but doesn’t say how many. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002]
bullet Iraq (0). Press reports note that the records indicate zero calls were made to Iraq. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002; Sunday Times (London), 3/24/2002] 1,100 total calls are made on this phone. Adding up the above numbers means that the destination of over 100 calls is still unaccounted for. [Newsweek, 2/18/2002] The use of this phone stops two months after the August 1998 embassy bombings in Africa. However, it appears bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders continue to use other satellite phones occasionally after this time. Shortly after 9/11, James Bamford, an expert authority on the agency, says “About a year or so ago the NSA lost all track of him.… He may still use [satellite phones] occasionally to talk about something mundane, but he discovered that the transmitters can be used for honing.” [CNN, 9/21/2001] According to a different account, bin Laden will attempt to use a different phone communication method, but US intelligence will soon discover it and continue monitoring his calls (see Late 1998 and After).

Entity Tags: Ziyad Khaleel, Saad al-Fagih, Osama bin Laden, Ibrahim Eidarous, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Mohammed Atef, Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Ahmad Salama Mabruk

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden, Al-Qaeda in Italy, 1998 US Embassy Bombings, Remote Surveillance, Yemen Hub, Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism

By late 1996, the CIA definitively confirms that Osama bin Laden is more of a leader of militants worldwide than just a financier of them. [US Congress, 7/24/2003] CIA Director George Tenet will later comment, “By 1996 we knew that bin Laden was more than a financier. An al-Qaeda defector [Jamal al-Fadl] told us that [bin Laden] was the head of a worldwide terrorist organization with a board of directors that would include the likes of Ayman al-Zawahiri and that he wanted to strike the United States on our soil” (see June 1996-April 1997). [Tenet, 2007, pp. 102] Yet the US will not take “bin Laden or al-Qaeda all that seriously” until after the bombing of US embassies in Africa in 1998. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 213] Dan Coleman, the FBI’s top al-Qaeda expert, helps interrogate al-Fadl in 1996 and 1997 (see June 1996-April 1997), and Coleman comes to the conclusion that the US is facing a profound new threat. But according to journalist Robert Wright, Coleman’s reports “met with little response outside a small circle of prosecutors and a few people in the [CIA and FBI] who took an interest…” Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, is interested, as is John O’Neill, who heads the New York FBI office that specializes in bin Laden cases. But O’Neill and Scheuer hate each other and do not cooperate. [Wright, 2006] Al-Fadl’s information will not turn into the first US indictment of bin Laden until June 1998 (see June 8, 1998).

Entity Tags: John O’Neill, Michael Scheuer, George J. Tenet, Dan Coleman, Jamal al-Fadl

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

Beginning in early 1996, the Sudanese government started offering the US its extensive files on bin Laden and al-Qaeda (see March 8, 1996-April 1996). The US will repeatedly reject the files as part of its policy of isolating the Sudanese government (see April 5, 1997; February 5, 1998; May 2000). Around this time, MI6, the British intelligence agency, is also offered access to the files. Sudan reportedly makes a standing offer: “If someone from MI6 comes to us and declares himself, the next day he can be in [the capital city] Khartoum.” A Sudanese government source later adds, “We have been saying this for years.” However, the offer is not taken. Even weeks after 9/11, it will be reported that while the US has finally accepted the offer of the files, Britain has not. [Observer, 9/30/2001]

Entity Tags: Sudan, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Al-Qaeda

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism

1997: CIA Re-opens Afghanistan Operations

Special CIA paramilitary teams enter Afghanistan again in 1997. [Washington Post, 11/18/2001] Gary Schroen, head of the CIA’s Pakistan office during the late 1990’s, will later comment, “We had connections to the Northern Alliance, Ahmed Shah Massoud’s group of Tajik fighters up in the north. The CIA was sending teams into northern Afghanistan from ‘97 up until about 2000 to meet with Massoud’s people, to try to get them involved.” [PBS Frontline, 1/20/2006] (The CIA’s anti-Soviet covert operations officially ended in January 1992. [Coll, 2004, pp. 233] ) Around 1999 there will be a push to recruit more agents capable of operating or traveling in Afghanistan. Many locals will be recruited, but apparently none is close to bin Laden (see 1999). This problem is not fixed in succeeding years. [Washington Post, 2/22/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Gary C. Schroen, Central Intelligence Agency, Northern Alliance, Osama bin Laden, Taliban

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

Imagery of bin Laden’s Tarnak Farms compound prepared for the aborted operation.Imagery of bin Laden’s Tarnak Farms compound prepared for the aborted operation. [Source: CBC]In 1997 and early 1998, the US develops a plan to capture Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. A CIA-owned aircraft is stationed in a nearby country, ready to land on a remote landing strip long enough to pick him up. However, problems with having to hold bin Laden too long in Afghanistan make the operation unlikely. The plan morphs into using a team of Afghan informants to kidnap bin Laden from inside his heavily defended Tarnak Farm complex. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit, calls the plan “the perfect operation.” Gary Schroen, the lead CIA officer in the field, agrees, and gives it about a 40 percent chance of succeeding. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 220-221; Washington Post, 2/22/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] The Pentagon also reviews the plan, finding it well crafted. In addition, there is “plausible denialability,” as the US could easily distance itself from the raid. Scheuer will comment, “It was the perfect capture operation becauase even if it went completely wrong and people got killed, there was no evidence of a US hand.” [Shenon, 2008, pp. 192] However, higher-ups at the CIA are skeptical of the plan and worry that innocent civilians might die. The plan is given to CIA Director George Tenet for approval, but he rejects it without showing it to President Clinton. He considers it unlikely to succeed and decides the Afghan allies are too unreliable. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 220-221; Washington Post, 2/22/2004; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Additionally, earlier in May 1998, the Saudis promised to try to bribe the Taliban and try bin Laden themselves, and apparently Tenet preferred this plan (see May 1998). Scheuer is furious. After 9/11 he will complain, “We had more intelligence against this man and organization than we ever had on any other group we ever called a terrorist group, and definitive and widely varied [intelligence] across all the ends, and I could not understand why they didn’t take the chance.” [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] There will be later speculation that the airstrip used for these purposes is occupied and will be used as a base of operations early in the post-9/11 Afghan war. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Michael Scheuer, Osama bin Laden, Alec Station

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

Mansoor Ijaz.
Mansoor Ijaz. [Source: Crescent Hydropolis Resorts publicity photo]The Sudanese government, frustrated in previous efforts to be removed from a US list of terrorism sponsors, tries a back channel approach using Mansoor Ijaz, a multimillionaire Pakistani-American businessman. Ijaz is personally acquainted with President Clinton, National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, and other high-level US officials. With help from Ijaz (who is also hoping to invest in Sudan), on April 5, 1997, Sudan President Omar al-Bashir writes a letter to Lee Hamilton (D-NH), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee. It states, “We extend an offer to the FBI’s Counterterrorism units and any other official delegations which your government may deem appropriate, to come to the Sudan and work with [us] in order to assess the data in our possession and help us counter the forces your government, and ours, seek to contain.” This is a reference to Sudan’s extensive files on al-Qaeda gathered during the years bin Laden lived there, which the Sudanese had offered the US before (see March 8, 1996-April 1996). Sudan allows Ijaz to see some of these files. Ijaz discusses the letter with Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Berger, and other prominent US officials, but to no success. No US official sends any reply back to Sudan. Tim Carney, US ambassador to Sudan, will complain, “It was an offer US officials did not take seriously.” ABC News will report in 2002 that the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry plans to investigate Sudan’s offer. Senator Bob Graham (D-FL), co-chairman of the inquiry, will ask, “Why wouldn’t we be accepting intelligence from the Sudanese?” But the inquiry’s 2003 final report will make no mention of this offer or other offers to hand over the files (see February 5, 1998; May 2000). (It should be noted the report is heavily censored so this might be discussed in redacted sections.) Hamilton, the recipient of the letter, will become the Vice Chairman of the 9/11 Commission. The Commission’s 2004 final report will not mention Sudan’s offers, and will fail to mention the direct involvement of the Commission’s Vice Chairman in these matters. [Vanity Fair, 1/2002; ABC News, 2/20/2002]

Entity Tags: Sandy Berger, Tim Carney, Osama bin Laden, Omar Al-Bashir, Mansoor Ijaz, Al-Qaeda, Daniel Robert (“Bob”) Graham, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Lee Hamilton, Madeleine Albright

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

The Saudi government becomes the first country to extend formal recognition of the Taliban government of Afghanistan. Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates will follow suit. On 9/11, these three countries are the only countries that officially recognize the Taliban. [US Congress, 7/24/2003]

Entity Tags: Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Taliban, United Arab Emirates

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Saudi Arabia

Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who claims to have made many secret trips into Afghanistan and to have fought with the mujaheddin, later describes to Congress a missed opportunity to capture bin Laden. He claims that “a few years” before 9/11, he is contacted by someone he knows and trusts from the 1980s Afghan war, who claims he could pinpoint bin Laden’s location. Rohrabacher passes this information to the CIA, but the informant isn’t contacted. After some weeks, Rohrabacher uses his influence to set up a meeting with agents in the CIA, NSA, and FBI. Yet even then, the informant is not contacted, until weeks later, and then only in a “disinterested” way. Rohrabacher concludes, “that our intelligence services knew about the location of bin Laden several times but were not permitted to attack him… because of decisions made by people higher up.” [US Congress, 9/17/2001]

Entity Tags: US Congress, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Central Intelligence Agency, Dana Rohrabacher, National Security Agency, Osama bin Laden

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

Beginning in 1998, if not before, Uzbekistan and the CIA secretly create a joint counterterrorist strike force, funded and trained by the CIA. This force conducts joint covert operations against the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. [Times of India, 10/14/2001; Washington Post, 10/14/2001; Vanity Fair, 11/2004] In February 1999, radical Muslims fail in an attempt to assassinate Islam Karimov, the leader of Uzbekistan, leading to a crackdown on Uzbek militants. CIA counterterrorism head Cofer Black and bin Laden unit chief Richard Blee see this as an opportunity to increase co-operation with Uzbekistan, and fly to the Uzbek capital of Tashkent to seal an agreement with Karimov. One hope is that a strike force will be established to snatch Osama bin Laden or one of his lieutenants. Karimov also allows CIA transit and helicopter operations at Uzbek air bases, as well as the installation of CIA and NSA monitoring equipment to intercept Taliban and al-Qaeda communications. The CIA is pleased with the new allies, thinking them better than Pakistan’s ISI, but at the White House some National Security Council members are skeptical. One will comment, “Uzbek motivations were highly suspect to say the least.” There are also worries about Uzbek corruption, human rights abuses, and scandal. [Coll, 2004, pp. 456-460]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Richard Blee, Uzbekistan, United States, Cofer Black, Islam Karimov, Alec Station, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Remote Surveillance, Hunt for Bin Laden, US Dominance

In January 1998, the FBI and a New York US Attorney begins preparing charges against him for murdering US citizens in Somalia in 1993 (see October 3-4, 1993), Saudi Arabia in 1995 (see November 13, 1995), and other attacks. A grand jury will approve a secret and sealed indictment charging him with involvement in these attacks in June 1998 (see June 8, 1998). [New York Times, 9/6/1998; Miniter, 2003, pp. 168-169] It is not known why an indictment was not prepared earlier. The indictment is based on information from al-Qaeda informant Jamal al-Fadl, who defected to the US in mid-1996 (see June 1996-April 1997).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Jamal al-Fadl

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden, 1993 Somalia Fighting

A photocopy of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed’s Comoros passport in Sudan’s intelligence files.A photocopy of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed’s Comoros passport in Sudan’s intelligence files. [Source: Richard Miniter]Gutbi al-Mahdi, head of Sudan’s intelligence agency, sends a letter to David Williams, an FBI station chief. It reads, “I would like to express my sincere desire to start contacts and cooperation between our service and the FBI. I would like to take this opportunity with pleasure to invite you to visit our country. Otherwise, we could meet somewhere else.” Apparently the FBI is very eager to accept the offer and gain access to Sudan’s files on bin Laden and his associates. The US had been offered the files before (see March 8, 1996-April 1996; April 5, 1997), but the US position was that Sudan’s offers were not serious since Sudanese leader Hassan al-Turabi was ideologically close to bin Laden. But al-Turabi has lost power to moderates by this time, and in fact he is placed under arrest in 1998. There is a political battle between US agencies over the Sudanese offer, and in the end the State Department forbids any contact with al-Mahdi. On June 24, 1998, Williams is obliged to reply, “I am not currently in a position to accept your kind invitation.” Al-Madhi later will complain, “If they had taken up my offer in February 1998, they could have prevented the [US embassy] bombings.” Tim Carney, US ambassador to Sudan until 1997, will say, “The US failed to reciprocate Sudan’s willingness to engage us on serious questions of terrorism. We can speculate that this failure had serious implications - at the least for what happened at the US Embassies in 1998. In any case, the US lost access to a mine of material on bin Laden and his organization.” One of the plotters in the bombings is Fazul Abdullah Mohammed (a.k.a. Haroun Fazul), who is living in Sudan but making trips to Kenya to participate in the bombing preparations. Sudan has files on him and continues to monitor him. Sudan also has files on Saif al-Adel, another embassy bomber who has yet to be captured. Sudan also has files on Wadih El-Hage and Mamdouh Mahmoud Salim, both of whom have contact with members of the Hamburg al-Qaeda cell (see September 16, 1998; Late 1998; 1993). Salim even attends the same small Hamburg mosque as 9/11 hijackers Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi. Vanity Fair magazine will suggest that if al-Madhi’s offer had been properly followed up, both the embassy bombings and the 9/11 attacks could have been foiled. [Vanity Fair, 1/2002] It is later revealed that the US was wiretapping bin Laden in Sudan on their own (see Early 1990s).

Entity Tags: Wadih El-Hage, Saif al-Adel, Tim Carney, US Department of State, Gutbi Al-Mahdi, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, David Williams, Al-Qaeda, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Sudan, Osama bin Laden, Hassan al-Turabi, Mamdouh Mahmud Salim

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, 1998 US Embassy Bombings, Wadih El-Hage

Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi.Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi. [Source: European Community]The first Interpol (international police) arrest warrant for bin Laden is issued—by Libya. [Observer, 11/10/2002] According to the authors of the controversial book The Forbidden Truth, British and US intelligence agencies play down the arrest warrant, and have the public version of the warrant stripped of important information, such as the summary of charges and the fact that Libya requested the warrant. The arrest warrant is issued for the 1994 murder of two German intelligence agents in Libya by the al-Qaeda affiliate in Libya, al-Muqatila (see March 10, 1994). Allegedly, the warrant is downplayed and virtually ignored because of the hostility of Britain towards the Libyan government. British intelligence collaborated with al-Muqatila in an attempt to assassinate Libyan leader Colonel Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi in 1996 (see 1996). [Brisard and Dasquie, 2002, pp. 97-98]

Entity Tags: Al-Muqatila, United States, United Kingdom, UK Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), Central Intelligence Agency, Mu’ammar al-Qadhafi, Osama bin Laden

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden

Bill Richardson.Bill Richardson. [Source: BBC]Bill Richardson, the US Ambassador to the UN, meets Taliban officials in Kabul. (All such meetings are illegal, because the US still officially recognizes the government the Taliban ousted as the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan.) US officials at the time call the oil and gas pipeline project a “fabulous opportunity” and are especially motivated by the “prospect of circumventing Iran, which offers another route for the pipeline.” [Boston Globe, 9/20/2001] Richardson tries to persuade the Taliban to hand over Osama bin Laden to the US, promising to end the international isolation of the Taliban if they cooperate. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 195; US Department of State, 1/30/2004]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Osama bin Laden, Bill Richardson

Category Tags: Pipeline Politics, Hunt for Bin Laden

According to author James Risen, CIA Director George Tenet and other top CIA officials travel to Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, the de facto ruler of the country. Tenet wants Abdullah to address the problem of bin Laden. He requests that bin Laden not be given to the US to be put on trial but that he be given to the Saudis instead. Abdullah agrees as long as it can be a secret arrangement. Tenet sends a memo to National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, recommending that the CIA allow the Saudis to essentially bribe the Taliban to turn him over. Around the same time, Tenet cancels the CIA’s own operation to get bin Laden (see 1997-May 29, 1998). [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184] That same month, Wyche Fowler, the US ambassador to Saudi Arabia, tells Berger to let the Saudis take the lead against bin Laden. [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 274] Prince Turki al-Faisal, the head of Saudi intelligence, does go to Afghanistan in June and/or July of 1998 to make a secret deal, though with whom he meets and what is agreed upon is highly disputed (see June 1998 and July 1998). But it becomes clear after the failed US missile attack on bin Laden in August 1998 (see August 20, 1998) that the Taliban has no intention of turning bin Laden over to anyone. Risen later comments, “By then, the CIA’s capture plan was dead, and the CIA had no other serious alternatives in the works.… It is possible that the crown prince’s offer of assistance simply provided Tenet and other top CIA officials an easy way out of a covert action plan that they had come to believe represented far too big of a gamble.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184]

Entity Tags: Turki al-Faisal, Wyche Fowler, Central Intelligence Agency, George J. Tenet, Sandy Berger, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, James Risen

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Saudi Arabia

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

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

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

Hamid Mir interviewing Osama bin Laden shortly after 9/11.Hamid Mir interviewing Osama bin Laden shortly after 9/11. [Source: Corbis]In early May 1998, Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir interviews bin Laden in Kandahar, Afghanistan. During the interview, bin Laden tells Mir that he will be holding a press conference soon and invites Mir to attend. Mir will later recall that bin Laden showed him a list of journalists invited. More than 22 names are on the list, including CNN reporters Peter Bergen and Peter Arnett, and an unnamed reporter from the BBC. Mir says he will not attend, explaining that he is worried the press conference will be bombed. “I think that you are inviting a lot of Pakistani journalists. No doubt I have contacts with the intelligence guys, but I am not their informer. They will go back; they will help the intelligence agencies to bomb your compound.” [Bergen, 2006, pp. 200-202] The press conference will take place later in the month and while al-Qaeda’s three top leaders bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, and Mohammed Atef attend, only three journalists show up (see May 26, 1998). Presumably the press conference presents a rare opportunity to take out al-Qaeda’s top leadership in one fell swoop, perhaps as they are coming or going to it, but there is no known debate by US officials or officials in other countries about ways to take advantage of this gathering. The 9/11 Commission’s final report will not mention the press conference at all.

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Hamid Mir, Peter Bergen, Peter Arnett

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

During his interview with John Miller, bin Laden is positioned in front of East Africa on a map, and US embassies will be bombed in East Africa several months later. Bin Laden has considered it his religious duty to give warning before attacks and thus has left clues like this.During his interview with John Miller, bin Laden is positioned in front of East Africa on a map, and US embassies will be bombed in East Africa several months later. Bin Laden has considered it his religious duty to give warning before attacks and thus has left clues like this. [Source: CNN]In an interview with ABC News reporter John Miller, Osama bin Laden indicates he may attack a US military passenger aircraft using antiaircraft missiles. Bin Laden says: “We are sure of our victory. Our battle with the Americans is larger than our battle with the Russians.… We predict a black day for America and the end of the United States as United States, and will be separate states, and will retreat from our land and collect the bodies of its sons back to America.” In the subsequent media coverage, Miller will repeatedly refer to bin Laden as “the world’s most dangerous terrorist,” and “the most dangerous man in the world.” [ABC News, 5/28/1998; ABC News, 6/12/1998; Esquire, 2/1999; US Congress, 7/24/2003] The book The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright will later note, “Looming behind his head was a large map of Africa, an unremarked clue.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 264] Bin Laden admits to knowing Wali Khan Amin Shah, one of the Bojinka plotters (see June 1996), but denies having met Bojinka plotter Ramzi Yousef or knowing about the plot itself. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] A Virginia man named Tarik Hamdi (see March 20, 2002) helped set up Miller’s interview. He goes with Miller to Afghanistan and gives bin Laden a new battery for his satellite phone (see November 1996-Late August 1998). Vincent Cannistraro, former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, will later claim that this battery was somehow bugged to help the US monitor bin Laden. [Newsweek, 8/10/2005] In 2005, Miller will become the FBI’s assistant director of the Office of Public Affairs. [All Headline News, 8/24/2005]

Entity Tags: John Miller, Operation Bojinka, Osama bin Laden, Vincent Cannistraro, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Tarik Hamdi, Ramzi Yousef

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Remote Surveillance, Warning Signs, Hunt for Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden, Ramzi Yousef, 1998 US Embassy Bombings, Alleged Al-Qaeda Media Statements

A US grand jury issues a sealed indictment, charging bin Laden and other al-Qaeda leaders with conspiracy to attack the United States. [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002] The grand jury began preparing the indictment in January 1998 (see January 1998). It is largely based on information from Jamal al-Fadl, a former al-Qaeda operative (see June 1996-April 1997). [PBS Frontline, 2001; New York Times, 9/30/2001; US Congress, 7/24/2003] This secret indictment will be superseded by a public one issued in November 1998 (see November 4, 1998). [PBS Frontline, 10/3/2002]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Jamal al-Fadl

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

Aukai Collins, who has one leg, fighting with Muslim militants overseas.Aukai Collins, who has one leg, fighting with Muslim militants overseas. [Source: Publicity photo]In 1996, an American Caucasian Muslim named Aukai Collins, who has been fighting with the mujaheddin in Chechnya, successfully volunteered to become a CIA informant. [Collins, 2003, pp. 147-159] At this time, Collins goes to London and meets with Abdul Malik, a politically well connected Islamist. Malik offers to set up a meeting between Collins and bin Laden in Afghanistan. Collins reports the offer to his CIA and FBI handlers. He is willing and even eager to accept the invitation, but his offer to go undercover into bin Laden’s camp, even on his own responsibility and at his own expense, is flatly refused by his handlers. [Collins, 2003, pp. 175-176] Collins also claims that he reports to the FBI on hijacker Hani Hanjour for six months this year as part of an assignment monitoring the Islamic and Arab communities in Phoenix between 1996 and 1999 (see 1998) .

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Abdul Malik, Aukai Collins

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Londonistan - UK Counterterrorism, Other Possible Moles or Informants, Islamist Militancy in Chechnya

Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right).Bombings of the Nairobi, Kenya, US embassy (left), and the Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, US embassy (right). [Source: Associated Press] (click image to enlarge)Two US embassies in Africa are bombed within minutes of each other. At 10:35, local time, a suicide car bomb attack in Nairobi, Kenya, kills 213 people, including 12 US nationals, and injures more than 4,500. Mohamed al-Owhali and someone known only as Azzam are the suicide bombers, but al-Owhali runs away at the last minute and survives. Four minutes later, a suicide car bomb attack in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, kills 11 and injures 85. The attacks are blamed on al-Qaeda. Hamden Khalif Allah Awad is the suicide bomber there. [PBS Frontline, 2001; United States of America v. Usama Bin Laden, et al., Day 38, 5/2/2001] The Tanzania death toll is low because, remarkably, the attack takes place on a national holiday so the US embassy there is closed. [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195] The attack shows al-Qaeda has a capability for simultaneous attacks. The Tanzania bombing appears to have been a late addition, as one of the arrested bombers allegedly told US agents that it was added to the plot only about 10 days in advance. [United State of America v. Usama bin Laden, et al., Day 14, 3/7/2001] A third attack against the US embassy in Uganda does not take place due to a last minute delay (see August 7, 1998). [Associated Press, 9/25/1998] August 7, 1998, is the eighth anniversary of the arrival of US troops in Saudi Arabia, and some speculate that is the reason for the date of the bombings. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 46] In the 2002 book The Cell, reporters John Miller, Michael Stone, and Chris Miller will write, “What has become clear with time is that facets of the East Africa plot had been known beforehand to the FBI, the CIA, the State Department, and to Israeli and Kenyan intelligence services.… [N]o one can seriously argue that the horrors of August 7, 1998, couldn’t have been prevented.” They will also comment, “Inexplicable as the intelligence failure was, more baffling still was that al-Qaeda correctly presumed that a major attack could be carried out by a cell that US agents had already uncovered.” [Miller, Stone, and Mitchell, 2002, pp. 195, 206] After 9/11, it will come to light that three of the alleged hijackers, Khalid Almihdhar, Nawaf Alhazmi, and Salem Alhazmi, had some involvement in the bombings (see October 4, 2001, Late 1999, and 1993-1999) and that the US intelligence community was aware of this involvement by late 1999 (see December 15-31, 1999), if not before.

Entity Tags: Hamden Khalif Allah Awad, Mohamed al-Owhali, Salem Alhazmi, Khalid Almihdhar, Azzam, Al-Qaeda, Nawaf Alhazmi

Category Tags: Warning Signs, Hunt for Bin Laden, Pipeline Politics, Ali Mohamed, 1998 US Embassy Bombings, Alleged Al-Qaeda Linked Attacks

Dan Hill, a former Army Ranger, formulates a plan to kill Osama bin Laden, but this plan will eventually have to be called off due to a lack of government support. [Stewart, 2002, pp. 203-204, 244-245; New York Times, 9/8/2002] After the bombings of the US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998 (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), Hill learns that the United States and Saudi Arabia are jointly offering a reward of $15 million for the capture of bin Laden, the suspected mastermind of the attacks. He sees this as an opportunity for him to organize a mission to go to Afghanistan and kill bin Laden. [Stewart, 2002, pp. 203] Hill is a Muslim and speaks fluent Arabic. Furthermore, after retiring from the Army in 1975, during the 1980s he fought with the mujahedeen against the occupying Russians in Afghanistan. [Deseret News, 9/6/2009; San Francisco Opera, 1/2011]
Hill Discusses Plan with Friend from Afghanistan - Hill contacts his friend Said Nader Zori to discuss the assassination plan. [Stewart, 2002, pp. 203] Nader Zori is a former mujahedeen fighter who fought alongside Hill in Afghanistan and subsequently emigrated to the US. [Stewart, 2002, pp. 168, 201] Hill asks him, “Is your brother-in-law still going in and out of Afghanistan?” Nader Zori’s brother-in-law now lives in Islamabad, Pakistan, but he worked for a short time in Afghanistan’s defense ministry after the Russians left Afghanistan in 1989, and still has many contacts in that country. Nader Zori replies, “All the time.” Hill then asks if Nader Zori’s brother-in-law has any contacts in the Taliban, and Nader Zori says yes. Hill lays out to his friend a plan to put together a group, with Nader Zori’s brother-in-law as its commander, organize an ambush, and attack and kill bin Laden. Hill and Nader Zori would participate in the operation, and the reward money would be split between the group’s members.
Proposed Commander Wants Government Assistance with Mission - Nader Zori writes a letter to his brother-in-law, outlining Hill’s plan, which he gives to a courier to take to Islamabad and deliver. He receives a response several weeks later. According to journalist and author James B. Stewart, the brother-in-law writes that he is “interested. He had Taliban contacts; he knew the locations of three compounds bin Laden used in Kandahar, and he knew that bin Laden made regular trips between Kandahar and Kabul. He traveled in a small convoy of just three vehicles.” But Nader Zori’s brother-in-law wants the assurance of US government support for the mission.
Friend Concerned that Hill Might Not Survive Mission - Hill contacts the FBI office in Jacksonville, Florida, and discusses his plan with Leo Morris, an agent there. Morris seems enthusiastic and says he will contact his superiors in Washington, DC, and get back to Hill. Hill then contacts his friend Rick Rescorla to talk about the plan. [Stewart, 2002, pp. 203-204] Rescorla, who, like Hill, served in the Army, now works as vice president for security at the Wall Street investment firm Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in its offices at the World Trade Center. [Washington Post, 10/28/2001; National Review, 9/20/2002] The two men discuss Hill’s plan in detail. Hill offers to split his share of the reward money with Rescorla, but Rescorla is apprehensive. He says that while he thinks Hill might succeed in killing bin Laden, he may not make it out alive afterward. Hill replies: “I’m 60. I’m not risking that much.” He adds that the mission would mean he would “go out in a blaze of glory.” [Stewart, 2002, pp. 204] Hill will meet with the FBI to ask for military assistance for his plan (see (Between May and June 2000)), but his request will be rejected (see (Between Spring and Summer 2001)) and so the plan is not carried out. [Stewart, 2002, pp. 230-231, 245]

Entity Tags: Leo Morris, Osama bin Laden, Daniel J. Hill, Rick Rescorla, Said Nader Zori

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden

President Clinton signs a Memorandum of Notification, which authorizes the CIA to plan the capture of bin Laden using force. The CIA draws up detailed profiles of bin Laden’s daily routines, where he sleeps, and his travel arrangements. The assassination never happens, supposedly because of inadequate intelligence. However, as one officer later says, “you can keep setting the bar higher and higher, so that nothing ever gets done.” An officer who helped draw up the plans says, “We were ready to move” but “we were not allowed to do it because of this stubborn policy of risk avoidance… It is a disgrace.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/16/2001] Additional memoranda quickly follow that authorize the assassination of up to ten other al-Qaeda leaders, and authorize the shooting down of private aircraft containing bin Laden. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001] However, “These directives [lead] to nothing.” [New Yorker, 7/28/2003]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

Within days of the US African embassy bombings, the US permanently stations two submarines, reportedly in the Indian Ocean, ready to hit al-Qaeda with cruise missiles on short notice. Missiles are fired from these subs later in the month in a failed attempt to assassinate bin Laden. Six to ten hours’ advance warning is now needed to review the decision, program the cruise missiles, and have them reach their target. However, in every rare opportunity when the possibility of attacking bin Laden occurs, CIA Director Tenet says the information is not reliable enough and the attack cannot go forward. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; New York Times, 12/30/2001] At some point in 2000, the submarines are withdrawn, apparently because the Navy wants to use them for other purposes. Therefore, when the unmanned Predator spy plane flies over Afghanistan in late 2000 and identifies bin Laden, there is no way to capitalize on that opportunity. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 220-21] The Bush administration fails to resume the submarine patrol. Lacking any means to attack bin Laden, military plans to strike at him are no longer updated after March 2001. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]

Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Bush administration (43), Al-Qaeda, Clinton administration, Osama bin Laden

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

In 1998, President Clinton faces a growing scandal about his sexual relationship with aide Monica Lewinsky, and even faces the possibility of impeachment over the matter. He is publicly interrogated about the scandal on August 17, 1998. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke will later claim that he worries Clinton might let the timing of the scandal get in the way of acting on new intelligence to hit Osama bin Laden with a missile strike in retaliation for the recent African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). But Clarke is reassured when Clinton tells his advisers, “Do you all recommend that we strike on the 20th? Fine. Do not give me political advice or personal advice about the timing. That’s my problem. Let me worry about that.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 185-186] Defense Secretary William Cohen also warns Clinton that he will be criticized for changing the subject from the Lewinsky scandal. [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 358]
Criticism from Politicians - Clinton gives the go-ahead for the missile strike on August 20th anyway (see August 20, 1998) and is immediately widely criticized for it. In late 1997, there was a popular movie called “Wag the Dog,” based on a fictional president who creates an artificial crisis in order to distract the public from a domestic scandal. Republicans are particularly critical and seize upon a comparison to the movie. House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-GA) initially supports the missile strike, but later criticizes it as mere “pinpricks.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 117] Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) says, “The president was considering doing something presidential to try to focus attention away from his personal problems.” [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 358-359] Sen. Daniel Coats (R-IN) says, “I just hope and pray the decision that was made was made on the basis of sound judgment, and made for the right reasons, and not made because it was necessary to save the president’s job.” [New York Times, 8/4/2004]
Media Criticism - The media is also very critical, despite a lack of any evidence that Clinton deliberately timed the missile strike as a distraction. Television networks repeatedly show clips of the “Wag the Dog” movie after the missile strike. New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh reports, “Some reporters questioned whether the president had used military force to distract the nation’s attention from the Lewinsky scandal.” [Benjamin and Simon, 2005, pp. 358-359]
9/11 Commission Commentary - The 9/11 Commission will later conclude, “The failure of the strikes, the ‘wag the dog’ slur, the intense partisanship of the period, and the [fact that one of the missile targets probably had no connection to bin Laden (see September 23, 1998)] likely had a cumulative effect on future decisions about the use of force against bin Laden.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 118]

Entity Tags: Richard A. Clarke, William S. Cohen, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Osama bin Laden, Monica Lewinsky, Daniel Coats, Arlen Specter, Newt Gingrich

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

Through its own monitoring of Osama bin Laden’s satellite phone, the CIA determines that he intends to travel to a training camp in Khost, in eastern Afghanistan. The CIA has to use its own equipment to do this because of a dispute with the NSA, which refused to provide it with full details of its intercepts of bin Laden’s calls (see December 1996). Although the CIA can only get half of what the NSA gets, shortly after the attacks on US embassies in East Africa (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), it determines that bin Laden will travel to Khost the next day. On that day, the US launches several missile strikes, one of which is against Khost (see August 20, 1998), but bin Laden does not travel there, evading the missiles. Some will later claim that bin Laden changes his mind on the way there for no particular reason, but there will also be allegations that the Pakistani ISI warned him of the upcoming attack (see July 1999). [Wright, 2006, pp. 283]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Al-Qaeda, Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, 1998 US Embassy Bombings, Osama Bin Laden, Remote Surveillance

A US surface ship firing a missile. The date and time is unknown.A US surface ship firing a missile. The date and time is unknown. [Source: PBS]Hours before the US missile strike meant to assassinate bin Laden, he is warned that his satellite phone is being used to track his location and he turns it off. A former CIA official later alleges the warning came from supporters working for Pakistani intelligence, the ISI. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 201-202] It has been claimed that a tracking beacon was placed in bin Laden’s phone when a replacement battery was brought to him in May 1998 (see May 28, 1998). The US military only gave Pakistan about ten minutes’ advance notice that cruise missiles were entering their air space on their way to Afghanistan. This was done to make sure the missiles wouldn’t be misidentified and shot down. [New Yorker, 1/24/2000] But Pakistan was apparently aware several hours earlier, as soon as the missiles were launched. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later claims he was promised by the Navy that it would fire their missiles from below the ocean surface. However, in fact, many destroyers fired their missiles from the surface. [Clarke, 2004, pp. 188-89] He adds, “not only did they use surface ships—they brought additional ones in, because every captain wants to be able to say he fired the cruise missile.” [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] As a result, the ISI had many hours to alert bin Laden. Furthermore, Clarke later says, “I have reason to believe that a retired head of the ISI was able to pass information along to al-Qaeda that an attack was coming.” This is a likely reference to Hamid Gul, director of the ISI in the early 1990’s. [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] In 1999 the US will intercept communications suggesting that Gul played a role in forewarning the Taliban about the missile strike which may even had predated the firing of the cruise missiles (see July 1999). Clarke says he believes that “if the [ISI] wanted to capture bin Laden or tell us where he was, they could have done so with little effort. They did not cooperate with us because ISI saw al-Qaeda as helpful in pressuring India, particularly in Kashmir.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 188-89] Furthermore, bin Laden cancels a meeting with other al-Qaeda leaders after finding out that 180 US diplomats were being immediately withdrawn from Pakistan on a chartered plane. Thanks to these warnings, he is hundreds of miles away from his training camps when the missiles hit some hours later (see August 20, 1998). [Reeve, 1999, pp. 202]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Hamid Gul, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban, Richard A. Clarke

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Pakistan and the ISI

El Shifa Plant in Sudan.El Shifa Plant in Sudan. [Source: US government]The US fires 66 missiles at six al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan and 13 missiles at a pharmaceutical factory in Khartoum, Sudan, in retaliation for the US embassy bombings. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001] The US insists the attacks are aimed at terrorists “not supported by any state,” despite obvious evidence to the contrary. The Sudanese Al Shifa factory is hit in the middle of the night when it is unoccupied. Intelligence will later suggest that the factory had no links to bin Laden (see September 23, 1998). Between six and 30 people are killed in the Afghanistan attacks. But no important al-Qaeda figures die. [Observer, 8/23/1998; New Yorker, 1/24/2000; Wright, 2006, pp. 285] At least one of the missiles accidentally landed inside Pakistan and Pakistan may have been able to build their own cruise missile from examining the remains. There are additional reports that bin Laden was able to sell unexploded missiles to China for more than $10 million. [Wright, 2006, pp. 285] President Clinton is soon widely accused of using the missile strike to distract the US public from a personal sex scandal (see August 17-Late August 1998).

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Clinton administration

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Pipeline Politics, 1998 US Embassy Bombings, Osama Bin Laden, Pakistan and the ISI

Before the US fires missiles in an attempt to kill al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, it fails to launch aircraft to track the usage of satellite phones by al-Qaeda leaders (see August 19, 1998 and August 20, 1998). Al-Qaeda deputy leader Ayman al-Zawahiri actually talks to a journalist on the phone around the time of the missile strike (see August 20, 1998) and, had the US had aircraft monitoring Afghanistan, his error in using the phone may have resulted in his death, although this is not certain. Author Lawrence Wright will later comment: “If surveillance aircraft had been positioned in the region, al-Zawahiri’s call to the reporter would have given agents his exact location. But the strike was delivered so quickly that there was little time to prepare. Still, American intelligence knew in general where bin Laden and al-Zawahiri were hiding, so the fact that the surveillance aircraft were not available prior to the strike is inexplicable. Had they pinpointed al-Zawahiri prior to launch there is little question that he would have been killed in the strike. On the other hand, it takes several hours to prepare a missile for firing, and the flight time from the warships in the Arabian sea across Pakistan to eastern Afghanistan was more than two hours. By the time al-Zawahiri picked up the phone the missiles were probably already on their way and it was already too late.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 283]

Entity Tags: Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden, Lawrence Wright

Category Tags: 1998 US Embassy Bombings, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Osama Bin Laden, Hunt for Bin Laden, Remote Surveillance

After being asked by Taliban leader Mullah Omar (see August 22, 1998), the US sends the Taliban a cable about bin Laden’s activities. The cable states, “We have detailed and solid evidence that Osama bin Laden has been engaged and is still engaged in planning, organizing, and funding acts of international terror.” However, the sections on the various plots in which bin Laden is supposed to have been involved are brief and do not include supporting evidence. For example, the Yemen bombing in 1992 (see December 29, 1992) is described in a single sentence: “Bin Laden and his network conspired to kill US servicemen in Yemen who were on their way to participate in the humanitarian mission ‘Operation Restore Hope’ in Somalia in 1992.” [US Department of State, 8/23/1998 pdf file] Afghanistan’s supreme court will later acquit bin Laden of his involvement in the 1998 embassy bombings (see (October 25-November 20, 1998)) because of the US’s refusal to provide the court with the requested evidence.

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Taliban, US Department of State

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, 1998 US Embassy Bombings

A satellite image of the Zhawar Kili training camp in Afghanistan, taken shortly before it was hit by a US missile strike in August, 1998.A satellite image of the Zhawar Kili training camp in Afghanistan, taken shortly before it was hit by a US missile strike in August, 1998. [Source: Corbis] (click image to enlarge)The New York Times reports that the training camps recently attacked by the US in Afghanistan were built by the US and its allies, years before. The US and Saudi Arabia gave the Afghans between $6 billion and $40 billion to fight the Soviets in the 1980s (see December 8, 1979). Many of the people targeted by the missile attacks were trained and equipped by the CIA years before. [New York Times, 8/24/1998]

Entity Tags: United States, Soviet Union, Central Intelligence Agency, Saudi Arabia

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

Following the cruise missile attack on al-Qaeda targets on August 20 (see August 20, 1998), immediate plans are made for follow up attacks to make sure bin Laden is killed. However, on this day, Defense Secretary William Cohen is advised that available targets are not promising. Some question the use of expensive missiles to hit very primitive training camps, and there is the concern that if bin Laden is not killed, his stature will only grow further. As discussions continue, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke prepares a plan he calls “Delenda,” which means “to destroy” in Latin. His idea is to have regular, small strikes in Afghanistan whenever the intelligence warrants it. The plan is rejected. Counterterrorism officials in the Defense Secretary’s office independently create a similar plan, but it too is rejected. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The Delenda Plan also calls for diplomacy against the Taliban, covert action focused in Afghanistan, and financial measures to freeze bin Laden-related funds. These aspects are not formally adopted, but they guide future efforts. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Al-Qaeda, Taliban, Osama bin Laden, Military Industrial Corporation, Richard A. Clarke, William S. Cohen

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

In response to the 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), an interagency US intelligence team is created to identify potential bombing targets in Afghanistan. The team continues to work steadily. By 2001, it will have a comprehensive list of potential bombing targets in the country. This list will be turned over the US military after 9/11 and used during the bombing campaign beginning in October 2001 (see October 7, 2001). [Risen, 2006, pp. 154]

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

Afghan tribal allies of the US apparently make some failed attempts to capture Osama bin Laden around this time. The 9/11 Commission will later report that during these two months: “[T]he tribals claimed to have tried at least four times to ambush bin Laden. Senior CIA officials doubted whether any of these ambush attempts actually occurred. But the tribals did seem to have success in reporting where bin Laden was.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 127] Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, will later list a September 1998 attempt by the tribals to capture bin Laden north of Kandahar as one of the ten missed opportunities to capture him in 1998 and 1999. [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 284]

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

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

According to Saudi intelligence minister Prince Turki al-Faisal, he participates in a second meeting with Taliban leader Mullah Omar at this time. Supposedly, earlier in the year Omar made a secret deal with Turki to hand bin Laden over to Saudi Arabia (see June 1998) and Turki is now ready to finalize the deal. ISI Director Gen. Naseem Rana is at the meeting as well. But in the wake of the US missile bombing of Afghanistan (August 20, 1998), Omar yells at Turki and denies ever having made a deal. Turki leaves empty handed. [Wright, 2006, pp. 244] However, other reports stand in complete contrast to this, suggesting that earlier in the year Turki colluded with the ISI to support bin Laden, not capture him (see May 1996 and July 1998).

Entity Tags: Naseem Rana, Osama bin Laden, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Taliban, Mullah Omar, Turki al-Faisal

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Saudi Arabia, Hunt for Bin Laden, Pakistan and the ISI, Saudi Arabia

The destroyed Al Shifa factory.The destroyed Al Shifa factory. [Source: Yannick Lemieux]Senior Clinton administration officials admit they had no evidence directly linking bin Laden to the Al Shifa factory at the time of retaliatory strikes on August 20, 1998 (see August 20, 1998). However, intelligence officials assert that they found financial transactions between bin Laden and the Military Industrial Corporation—a company run by the Sudan’s government. [New York Times, 9/23/1998; PBS Frontline, 2001] A soil sample is said to show that the pharmaceutical factory was producing chemical weapons, but many doubts about the sample later arise. [New York Times, 9/21/1998; New Yorker, 10/12/1998] Two anonymous US officials will later tell NBC that the soil sample was not taken at the factory, but across the street. It also comes to light that the person the US thought owned the factory in fact had sold it five months earlier. The Sudanese government asks for a US or UN investigation of the attack, but the US is not interested. [Randal, 2005, pp. 139-140] The US later unfreezes the bank accounts of the factory owner, Salah Idriss, and takes other conciliatory actions, but admits no wrongdoing. It is later learned that of the six camps targeted in Afghanistan, only four were hit, and of those, only one had definitive connections to bin Laden. Clinton declares that the missiles were aimed at a “gathering of key terrorist leaders,” but it is later revealed that the referenced meeting took place a month earlier, in Pakistan. [Observer, 8/23/1998; New Yorker, 1/24/2000]

Entity Tags: Military Industrial Corporation, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Salah Idriss, Osama bin Laden, Clinton administration

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

Julie Sirrs.Julie Sirrs. [Source: Julie Sirrs]Julie Sirrs, a military analyst for the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), travels to Afghanistan. Fluent in local languages and knowledgeable about the culture, she made a previous undercover trip there in October 1997. She is surprised that the CIA was not interested in sending in agents after the failed missile attack on Osama bin Laden in August 1998, so she returns at this time. Traveling undercover, she meets with Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud. She sees a terrorist training center in Taliban-controlled territory. Sirrs will later claim: “The Taliban’s brutal regime was being kept in power significantly by bin Laden’s money, plus the narcotics trade, while [Massoud’s] resistance was surviving on a shoestring. With even a little aid to the Afghan resistance, we could have pushed the Taliban out of power. But there was great reluctance by the State Department and the CIA to undertake that.” She partly blames the interest of the US government and the oil company Unocal to see the Taliban achieve political stability to enable a trans-Afghanistan pipeline (see May 1996 and September 27, 1996). She claims, “Massoud told me he had proof that Unocal had provided money that helped the Taliban take Kabul.” She also states, “The State Department didn’t want to have anything to do with Afghan resistance, or even, politically, to reveal that there was any viable option to the Taliban.” After two weeks, Sirrs returns with a treasure trove of maps, photographs, and interviews. [ABC News, 2/18/2002; ABC News, 2/18/2002; New York Observer, 3/11/2004] By interviewing captured al-Qaeda operatives, she learns that the official Afghanistan airline, Ariana Airlines, is being used to ferry weapons and drugs, and learns that bin Laden goes hunting with “rich Saudis and top Taliban officials” (see Mid-1996-October 2001 and 1995-2001). [Los Angeles Times, 11/18/2001] When Sirrs returns from Afghanistan, her material is confiscated and she is accused of being a spy. Says one senior colleague, “She had gotten the proper clearances to go, and she came back with valuable information,” but high level officials “were so intent on getting rid of her, the last thing they wanted to pay attention to was any information she had.” Sirrs is cleared of wrongdoing, but her security clearance is pulled. She eventually quits the DIA in frustration in 1999. [ABC News, 2/18/2002; New York Observer, 3/11/2004] Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) will claim that the main DIA official behind the punishment of Sirrs is Lieutenant General Patrick Hughes, who later becomes “one of the top officials running the Department of Homeland Security.” [Dana Rohrabacher, 6/21/2004]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Unocal, Osama bin Laden, US Department of State, Northern Alliance, Patrick Hughes, Defense Intelligence Agency, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Al-Qaeda, Julie Sirrs, Central Intelligence Agency, Dana Rohrabacher, Ariana Airlines

Category Tags: Pipeline Politics, Hunt for Bin Laden, Drugs

After the Taliban is warned that bin Laden has been accused of involvement in the recent 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), it initiates judicial proceedings against him. But when the US fails to provide Afghanistan’s supreme court with sufficient evidence, bin Laden is acquitted. [Associated Press, 11/20/1998] The Taliban has already received some claims regarding bin Laden’s involvement in terrorism from the US (see August 23, 1998), but these are insufficient and more evidence is requested. Originally, there is no cut-off date for supplying evidence, but when the US does nothing, the Taliban leaders become frustrated and announce a time limit on the inquiry: “If anyone has any evidence of bin Laden’s involvement in cases of terrorism, subversion, sabotage, or any other acts, they should get it to the court before November 20. If by then there is nothing, we will close the case and in our eyes he will be acquitted.” In a November 10 cable the US embassy in Pakistan, which also handles Afghan affairs, comments: “The Taliban appear to many observers not to be totally unreasonable in their demand that the US provide them evidence on bin Laden.” [US Embassy (Islamabad), 11/10/1998 pdf file] The US then sends the Taliban a video of an interview bin Laden gave CNN in 1997, a transcript of his ABC 1998 interview, and a copy of his US indictment for the embassy bombings. [US Department of State, 11/11/1998 pdf file] The inquiry is headed by the country’s chief justice, Noor Mohamed Saqib. After the evidence is found not to be enough and bin Laden is set free, Saqib comments: “It is their shame that they have been silent. America is wrong about bin Laden… Anything that happens now anywhere in the world they blame Osama, but the reality is in the proof and they have not given us any. It’s over and America has not presented any evidence. Without any evidence, bin Laden is a man without sin… he is a free man.” [Associated Press, 11/20/1998] However, the State Department says that it did not “endorse, support, or request” the sharia court trial, but simply wanted bin Laden extradited. A White House spokesperson says, “Without commenting on the rigor of the Taliban judicial system, it is clear that Mr. bin Laden is a proven threat to US national interests.” [US Department of State, 11/11/1998 pdf file; Associated Press, 11/20/1998] The Taliban’s leadership is not satisfied with the outcome of the trial and will subsequently ask the US for help in getting rid of bin Laden (see November 28, 1998).

Entity Tags: US Embassy in Islamabad, US Department of State, Taliban, Noor Mohamed Saqib, Osama bin Laden, Supreme Court of Afghanistan

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, 1998 US Embassy Bombings, Osama Bin Laden

According to the 1999 book The New Jackals by journalist Simon Reeve, bin Laden is nearly poisoned to death this month. The operation “involved American technology and know-how in concert with Saudi finance and manpower, thus avoiding any difficult questions in the US Congress about state-sponsored assassinations. The attack involved an assassin called Siddiq Ahmed who was paid $267,000 to poison bin Laden. It was only partially successful, causing acute kidney failure.” [Reeve, 1999, pp. 204] Apparently, different Saudi factions have vastly different attitudes towards bin Laden, because the same book claims that around this same time, Prince Turki al-Faisal, the Saudi intelligence minister, may have met with senior Taliban leaders to extract guarantees of support for bin Laden, to ensure the Taliban would not hand bin Laden over to the US. [Reeve, 1999, pp. 191] No post-9/11 investigations will mention this alleged poisoning incident.

Entity Tags: Siddiq Ahmed, Osama bin Laden, Turki al-Faisal

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden

US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announcing the indictment of Osama bin Laden.US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald announcing the indictment of Osama bin Laden. [Source: Henny Ray Abrams/ Agence France-Presse/ Getty Images]The US publicly indicts bin Laden, Mohammed Atef, and others for the US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. Bin Laden had been secretly indicted on different charges earlier in the year in June (see June 8, 1998). Record $5 million rewards are announced for information leading to his arrest and the arrest of Mohammed Atef. [PBS Frontline, 2001] Shortly thereafter, bin Laden allocates $9 million in reward money for the assassinations of four US government officials in response to the reward on him. A year later, it is learned that the secretary of state, defense secretary, FBI director, and CIA director are the targets. [US Congress, 9/18/2002; MSNBC, 9/18/2002; US Congress, 7/24/2003 pdf file]

Entity Tags: William S. Cohen, United States, Osama bin Laden, Mohammed Atef, Louis J. Freeh, George J. Tenet, Madeleine Albright

Category Tags: 1998 US Embassy Bombings, Hunt for Bin Laden

Senior Taliban spokesman Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil meets diplomats from the US embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan, to examine new ways of resolving the problem of Osama bin Laden’s presence in Afghanistan after judicial proceedings against him collapse there (see (October 25-November 20, 1998)). Ahmed expresses his opinion that Taliban leaders are caught between “a rock and a hard place” since, if they expel bin Laden without cause they will have internal problems and, if they do not, they will have external ones due to the US. Ahmed suggests that the Saudis have a key to the solution. Afghan and Saudi religious scholars could convene a joint meeting and issue a ruling that bin Laden had acted illegally, for example by holding a news conference when he was under a communication ban. He could then be expelled without this causing internal unrest in Afghanistan and the problem would be resolved “in minutes, not hours.” The US would be happy if bin Laden were expelled to Saudi Arabia or Egypt, but the Saudis apparently do not favor a joint meeting and the proposal is not acted upon. [US Department of State, 11/28/1998 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, US Embassy in Islamabad, Taliban, Osama bin Laden

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Osama Bin Laden, Saudi Arabia

The governor’s mansion in Kandahar, Afghanistan.The governor’s mansion in Kandahar, Afghanistan. [Source: CBC]On December 18, 2000, CIA receives a tip that bin Laden will be staying overnight on December 20 at the governor’s mansion in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Missile strikes are readied against him. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 130-131] Gary Schroen, head of the CIA’s Pakistan office, e-mails CIA headquarters with the message, “Hit him tonight—we may not get another chance.” However, principal advisers to President Clinton agree not to recommend a strike because of doubts about the intelligence and worries about collateral damage. The military estimates the attacks will kill about 200 people, presumably most of them innocent bystanders. Schroen will later recall, “It struck me as rather insane, frankly. They decided not to attack bin Laden because he was in a building in fairly close proximity to a mosque. And they were afraid that some of the shrapnel was going to hit the mosque and somehow offend the Muslim world, and so they decided not to shoot on that occasion. That’s the kind of reason for not shooting that the policy maker, anyway, came up with endlessly.” [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; CBC, 9/12/2006] Later intelligence appears to show that bin Laden left before the strike could be readied, but some aware of the intelligence felt it was a chance that should have been taken anyway. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 130-131] In the wake of this incident, officials attempt to find alternatives to cruise missiles, such a precision strike aircraft. However, US Central Command Chief General Anthony Zinni is apparently opposed to deployment of these aircraft near Afghanistan, and they are not deployed. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]

Entity Tags: Clinton administration, Anthony Zinni, Osama bin Laden, Gary C. Schroen

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

An AC-130.An AC-130. [Source: US Air Force]In the immediate aftermath of a decision not to attack bin Laden with cruise missiles for fear of collateral damage (see December 18-20, 1998), the US military looks for other options than the inaccurate cruise missiles. On this day, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Henry Shelton formally directs Generals Anthony Zinni and Peter J. Schoomaker to develop plans for an AC-130 gunship attack against al-Qaeda bases in Afghanistan. The AC-130 is an aircraft designed specifically for special forces missions. It can fly in fast or from a high altitude, undetected by radar. It is capable of rapidly firing precision-guided projectiles that are much less likely to cause collateral damage. The two generals do submit such a plan on January 12, 1999, but the plan will never be developed beyond this initial document. One reason is that Zinni is against the idea. Another obstacle is that due to technical reasons the AC-130s would need to be based in a nearby country (most likely Uzbekistan, which is the most supportive of US efforts to get bin Laden at this time (see 1998 and After)). Political agreements allowing for basing and overflight rights would have to be arranged, but there is never any attempt to do so. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 135, 486]

Entity Tags: Henry Hugh Shelton, Peter J. Schoomaker, Anthony Zinni

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

President Bill Clinton signs a memorandum of notification authorizing the CIA to kill Osama bin Laden. The memo is sent to Clinton by National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, apparently at the request of CIA Director George Tenet, who has discussed the memo with Berger and seems to have given it his blessing. The highly classified memo concerns operations by a group of CIA tribal assets in Afghanistan who are monitoring bin Laden. Their task had previously been to capture bin Laden and they had been banned from assassinating him, but these rules are now changed and a kill operation is authorized. The memo makes it very clear that “the president [is] telling the tribal leaders they could kill bin Laden.” 9/11 Commission Executive Director Philip Zelikow will later recall the memo tells the tribal leaders: “you may conduct an operation to kill him,” adding, “There were no euphemisms in the language.” Although the CIA is still legally prevented from assassinating people, Clinton administration lawyers now say that bin Laden is an imminent danger to the US, so he can be killed as a part of pre-emptive self-defense. Despite his role in drafting the memo, Tenet and his deputies will later claim to the 9/11 Commission that Clinton never issued such clear authorization (see Before January 14, 2004). However, the order to assassinate bin Laden is garbled within the CIA and the CIA’s bin Laden unit appears not to receive it (see December 26, 1998 and After). [Washington Post, 2/22/2004; Shenon, 2008, pp. 357-8]

Entity Tags: Philip Zelikow, Osama bin Laden, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

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

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

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

During the investigation of the August 7, 1998 US embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998), FBI counterterrorism expert John O’Neill finds a memo by al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef on a computer. The memo shows that bin Laden’s group has a keen interest in and detailed knowledge of negotiations between the Taliban and the US over an oil and gas pipeline through Afghanistan. Atef’s analysis suggests that the Taliban are not sincere in wanting a pipeline, but are dragging out negotiations to keep Western powers at bay. [Salon, 6/5/2002]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Atef, United States, Taliban, John O’Neill, Al-Qaeda

Category Tags: Pipeline Politics, Hunt for Bin Laden

Top: a protest sign in a late 1998 Pakistan protest reads: “Down Down Clinton! Long Live Laden!” Bottom: a children’s toy featuring bin Laden from the late 1990s.Top: a protest sign in a late 1998 Pakistan protest reads: “Down Down Clinton! Long Live Laden!” Bottom: a children’s toy featuring bin Laden from the late 1990s. [Source: National Geographic]According to reports, the failed US missile attack against bin Laden on August 20, 1998 greatly elevates bin Laden’s stature in the Muslim world. A US defense analyst later states, “I think that raid really helped elevate bin Laden’s reputation in a big way, building him up in the Muslim world.… My sense is that because the attack was so limited and incompetent, we turned this guy into a folk hero.” [Washington Post, 10/3/2001] An Asia Times article published just prior to 9/11 suggests that because of the failed attack, “a very strong Muslim lobby emerge[s] to protect [bin Laden’s] interests. This includes Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, as well as senior Pakistani generals. Crown Prince Abdullah has good relations with bin Laden as both are disciples of slain Sheikh Abdullah Azzam (see 1985-1989).” [Asia Times, 8/22/2001] In early 1999, Pakistani President Musharraf complains that by demonizing bin Laden, the US has turned him into a cult hero. The US decides to play down the importance of bin Laden. [United Press International, 4/9/2004]

Entity Tags: Pervez Musharraf, Osama bin Laden, Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Abdullah Azzam

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and the ISI

Henry Shelton.Henry Shelton. [Source: US Military]National Security Adviser Sandy Berger and Secretary of State Madeleine Albright repeatedly seek consideration of a “boots on the ground” option to kill bin Laden, using the elite Delta Force. Clinton also supports the idea, telling Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Henry Shelton, “You know, it would scare the sh_t out of al-Qaeda if suddenly a bunch of black ninjas rappelled out of helicopters into the middle of their camp.” However, Shelton says he wants “nothing to do” with such an idea. He calls it naive, and ridicules it as “going Hollywood.” He says he would need a large force, not just a small team. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001] Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke similiarly recalls Clinton saying to Shelton “in my earshot, ‘I think we ought to have US commandos go into Afghanistan, US military units, black ninjas jumping out of helicopters, and go after al-Qaeda in Afghanistan.’ And Shelton said: ‘Whoa! I don’t think we can do that. I’ll talk to Central Command.’ And of course Central Command came back and said, ‘Oh no, that’s too difficult.’” [PBS Frontline, 6/20/2006] US Central Command chief General Anthony Zinni is considered the chief opponent to the “boots on the ground” idea. [Washington Post, 10/2/2002] Clinton orders “formal planning for a mission to capture the al-Qaeda leadership.” Reports are contradictory, but some claim Clinton was told such plans were drawn up when in fact they were not. [Time, 8/12/2002; Washington Post, 10/2/2002] In any event, no such plans are implemented.

Entity Tags: Sandy Berger, Al-Qaeda, Richard A. Clarke, Anthony Zinni, Madeleine Albright, Osama bin Laden, 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment--Delta, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Henry Hugh Shelton

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

A joint project team run by the CIA and NSA slips into Afghanistan and places listening devices within range of al-Qaeda’s tactical radios. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

CIA already has a network of local agents in Afghanistan by this time (see 1997). However, in this year there is a serious effort to increase the network throughout Afghanistan and other countries for the purpose of capturing bin Laden and his deputies. [United Press International, 10/17/2002] Many are put on the CIA’s payroll, including some Taliban military leaders. Many veterans of the Soviet war in the 1980s who worked with the CIA then are recruited again. All of these recuitments are kept secret from Pakistani intelligence because of their support of the Taliban and al-Qaeda. [Coll, 2004, pp. 491-492] CIA Director George Tenet will later state that by 9/11, “a map would show that these collection programs and human networks were in place in such numbers to nearly cover Afghanistan. This array means that, when the military campaign to topple the Taliban and destroy al-Qaeda [begins in October 2001], we [are] able to support it with an enormous body of information and a large stable of assets.” [US Congress, 10/17/2002] However, apparently none of these sources are close enough to bin Laden to know about his movements in advance. [Coll, 2004, pp. 491-492]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, Taliban, George J. Tenet, Al-Qaeda

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Other Possible Moles or Informants

President Bill Clinton rewrites a memo authorizing the CIA to use the Northern Alliance in an operation to assassinate Osama bin Laden. This memo follows another one signed by Clinton the previous year that allowed the agency to use a group of tribal fighters to kill bin Laden (see December 24, 1998). The draft February memo contains similar language to the earlier one, but applies to the Northern Alliance, not just the tribal assets. However, Clinton himself deletes the wording authorizing an operation to simply kill bin Laden. Clinton will later tell the 9/11 Commission that he does not recall why he gives the CIA permission to kill bin Laden through the tribal assets, but not through the Northern Alliance. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 360]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

Following the issue of another directive governing a set of operations against Osama bin Laden, the CIA is said to become confused over whether it can mount an operation to assassinate him. In December, President Bill Clinton authorized the CIA to kill bin Laden using a group of tribal leaders in Afghanistan (see December 24, 1998), but a few weeks later he issued another memo governing relations between the CIA and the Northern Alliance that did not contain authorization to kill bin Laden (see February 1999). The CIA will later say that the reason it does not take advantage of the authorization to kill him using the tribal leaders is because it is confused by the second memo. The CIA’s inspector general will comment: “Given the law, executive order, and past problems with covert action programs, CIA managers refused to take advantage of the ambiguities that did exist.” The 9/11 Commission will also say that “the limits of the available authority were not tested.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 133; Central Intelligence Agency, 6/2005, pp. xxi pdf file]

Entity Tags: 9/11 Commission, Central Intelligence Agency, Office of the Inspector General (CIA)

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

The US apparently misses an opportunity to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. In a 2008 book, Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit until mid-1999, will list a number of missed opportunities to get bin Laden (see May 1998-May 1999). He will briefly mention a “military attack opportunity” at the governor’s residence in the Afghan town of Herat during this month. This is separate from an opportunity to get bin Laden at a bird hunting camp in the same month, which he also lists (see February 11, 1999). But nothing more is known about this opportunity and the 9/11 Commission will not mention it. [Scheuer, 2008, pp. 284]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Michael Scheuer

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

In early February 1999, US intelligence gains good information that Osama bin Laden is bird hunting with members of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) royal family in an uninhabited region of Afghanistan (see February 11, 1999). A later book by Daniel Benjamin and Stephen Simon, both officials in the Clinton administration, will note, “At the moment the Tomahawks [US missiles] were being readied, the United States was in the final stages of negotiations to sell eighty Block 60 F-16s, America’s most sophisticated export fighter jets,” to the UAE government. “America’s relationship with the [UAE] was the best it had in the [Persian] Gulf, and the [Clinton] administration had devotedly cultivated Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the UAE’s president and the leader of the country’s royal clans.” [Benjamin and Simon, 2002, pp. 281] The F-16 fighter deal is worth about $8 billion. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke is particularly close to the UAE royal family, having negotiated arms deals and US military basing agreements with them for several years. He has a hand in negotiating the F-16 deal in 1998. In fact, just days before the US learned of bin Laden’s presence in the hunting camp, Clarke was in the UAE working on the fighter deal. [Coll, 2004, pp. 486; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 128] Journalist Steve Coll will later say: “If the United States bombed the camp and killed a few princes, it could potentially put [business deals like that] in jeopardy—even if bin Laden were killed at the same time. Hardly anyone in the Persian Gulf saw bin Laden as a threat serious enough to warrant the deaths of their own royalty.” Clarke is one who votes not to strike the camp, and others within the US government will speculate that his UAE ties had a role in his decision. [Coll, 2004, pp. 447-450] Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s bin Laden unit at the time, will later comment: “Why did President Clinton fail to attack? Because making money was more important than protecting Americans.” [Scheuer, 2008] The missile strike does not take place and the fighter deal is successfully completed. Some US officials, including Scheuer, will be very irate and vocally complain later this month (see Shortly After February 11, 1999).

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Clinton administration, Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, Richard A. Clarke

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

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

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

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

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

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

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

Mullah Mohammed Khaksar.Mullah Mohammed Khaksar. [Source: Amir Shah / Associated Press]High-level Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Khaksar secretly meets with CIA officials to explore cooperating with them, but the CIA is not interested. Khaksar had been the Taliban’s intelligence minister, but he recently switched posts to deputy interior minister. He is friends with top Taliban leader Mullah Omar, has thousands of policemen under his command, and has solid links to intelligence sources within the Taliban. He secretly meets with US diplomats Gregory Marchese and Peter McIllwain in Peshawar, Pakistan. Marchese will later confirm the meeting took place. Khaksar says he fears the Taliban has been hijacked by the Pakistani ISI and al-Qaeda. He believes Mullar Omar has fallen under the influence of bin Laden and wants to oust him. Khaksar later claims he told them that he was worried about al-Qaeda because “one day they would do something in the world, but everything would be on the head of Afghanistan.” The diplomats pass his offer to Washington (though it is unknown if it was relayed to high-level officials or not). Khaksar soon receives a letter back rejecting his offer. The letter is later shown to the Associated Press, and states, in part, “We don’t want to make mistakes like we made in the holy war [in the 1980s]. We gave much help and it later went against us.” [Associated Press, 6/9/2002; Guardian, 6/11/2002] Khaksar later says he did provide the CIA with information on two or three other occasions before 9/11, but it is not known if this takes place before or after this meeting. Starting in 1997, he also keeps a regular secret dialogue with Ahmed Shah Massoud, leader of the Northern Alliance fighting the Taliban. The Northern Alliance’s foreign minister will note after 9/11 that Khaksar was in “constant contact” with Massoud until 9/11, giving him a steady stream of valuable information. [Knight Ridder, 11/29/2001; Washington Post, 11/30/2001] After 9/11, the US will show no interest in Khaksar’s intelligence about the Taliban (see Between September 12 and Late November 2001 and February 25, 2002).

Entity Tags: Ahmed Shah Massoud, Mullah Mohammed Khaksar

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Other Possible Moles or Informants

US intelligence obtains detailed reporting on where bin Laden is located for five consecutive nights. CIA Director Tenet decides against acting three times, because of concerns about collateral damage and worries about the veracity of the single source of information. Frustration mounts. Michael Scheuer, head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, writes to a colleague in the field, “having a chance to get [bin Laden] three times in 36 hours and foregoing the chance each time has made me a bit angry…” [Coll, 2004, pp. 450; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 140] An unnamed senior military officer later complains, “This was in our strike zone. It was a fat pitch, a home run.” However, that month, the US mistakenly bombed the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, due to outdated intelligence. It is speculated Tenet was wary of making another mistake. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004] There is one more opportunity to strike bin Laden in July 1999, but after that there is apparently no intelligence good enough to justify considering a strike. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004]

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

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

The CIA decides to increase its links with Ahmed Shah Massoud, an Afghan commander fighting the Taliban in northern Afghanistan. The decision is pushed through by Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, and Richard Blee, head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. According to author Steve Coll, Black and Blee see Massoud “as his admirers in Europe [do], as an epochal figure, extraordinarily skillful and determined,” and believe that Massoud is the key to capturing bin Laden. However, the CIA’s Near East Division is skeptical of the potential for this liaison, partly because they remember problems they had with Massoud during the Soviet-Afghan War. Near East officers also think Massoud can only be of limited usefulness against bin Laden because of the geographical distance between Massoud’s forces in the north of Afghanistan and bin Laden’s base in the country’s south. [Coll, 2004, pp. 460-1] The CIA will soon send more personnel into Afghanistan to meet Massoud and discuss co-operation (see October 1999). However, a plan to make the increase substantial will be rejected in late 2000 and Massoud will still not be receiving much aid by 9/11 (see December 20, 2000).

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

Timeline Tags: 9/11 Timeline

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

Michael Scheuer.
Michael Scheuer. [Source: Publicity photo]CIA Director George Tenet removes Michael Scheuer as head of Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Scheuer had headed the unit since its inception in 1996 (see February 1996), and was known as a strong advocate for more government action against bin Laden. The full name of the new head of the unit has not been released and little is known about his performance. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004] Deputy Director of Operations Jack Downing tells Scheuer he is being fired because he is “mentally burned out” and because of a recent disagreement with the FBI over whether the deputy chief of Alex Station, who was detailed to the CIA from the FBI, could release information to the FBI without Scheuer’s approval. Downing tells Scheuer he was in the right, but that the criticism of his subordinate “should not have been put on paper”, and the FBI’s management is angry with him. Downing says he will get a medal and a monetary award, but should tell his subordinates he has resigned. Scheuer refuses to lie to his officers, signs a memo saying he will not accept a monetary award, and tells Downing “where he should store the medal.” [Scheuer, 2005, pp. 263-4; Wright, 2006, pp. 313] According to author Steve Coll, Scheuer’s CIA colleagues “could not be sure exactly [why Scheuer left] but among at least a few of them a believe settled in that [he] had been exiled, in effect, for becoming too passionate about the bin Laden threat…” In particular, he was angry about two recent missed opportunities (see 1997-May 29, 1998 and February 11, 1999) to assassinate bin Laden. [Coll, 2004, pp. 449-450] Scheuer will write in 2004 that, “On moving to a new position, I forwarded a long memorandum to the Agency’s senior-most officers—some are still serving—describing an array of fixable problems that were plaguing America’s attack on bin Laden, ones that the bin Laden unit had encountered but failed to remedy between and among [US intelligence agencies]… The problems outlined in the memorandum stood in the way of attacking bin Laden to the most effective extent possible; many remain today.” Problems include poor cooperation between agencies and a lack of experienced staff working on the bin Laden issue. Scheuer never receives a response to his memo. [Atlantic Monthly, 12/2004]

Entity Tags: Michael Scheuer, Jack Downing, George J. Tenet, Alec Station, Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

Hamid Gul.
Hamid Gul. [Source: Public domain]The US gains information that former ISI head Hamid Gul contacts Taliban leaders at this time and advises them that the US is not planning to attack Afghanistan to get bin Laden. He assures them that he will provide them three or four hours warning of any future US missile launch, as he did “last time.” Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later suggests Gul gave al-Qaeda warning about the missile strike in August 1998 (see August 20, 1998). [New Yorker, 7/28/2003]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Al-Qaeda, Hamid Gul, Taliban, Richard A. Clarke

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Pakistan and the ISI

With the chances of a pipeline deal with the Taliban looking increasingly unlikely, President Clinton finally issues an executive order prohibiting commercial transactions with the Taliban. The order also freezes the Taliban’s US assets. Clinton blames the Taliban for harboring bin Laden. [CNN, 7/6/1999; US President, 7/12/1999]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Osama bin Laden, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton

Category Tags: Pipeline Politics, Hunt for Bin Laden

The CIA readies an operation to capture or kill bin Laden, secretly training and equipping approximately 60 commandos from the Pakistani ISI. Pakistan supposedly agrees to this plan in return for the lifting of economic sanctions and more economic aid. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001] Pakistan proposed the plan in December 1998 (see December 2, 1998). US officials were said to be “deeply cynical” of the plan, knowing that Pakistani intelligence was allied with bin Laden (see Autumn 1998). They figured that if Pakistan really wanted bin Laden captured or killed, they could just tell the US when and where he would be, but Pakistan never revealed this kind of information. But the US went ahead with the plan anyway, figuring it held little risk and could help develop intelligence ties with Pakistan. [Coll, 2004, pp. 442-444] After months of training, the commando team is almost ready to go by this month. However, the plan is aborted because on October 12, General Musharraf takes control of Pakistan in a coup (see October 12, 1999). Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif ties to use the commando team to protect himself during the coup, but the team dissolves rather than fight on what they judge to be the losing side. Musharraf refuses to reform the team or continue any such operation against bin Laden despite the promise of substantial rewards. [Washington Post, 10/3/2001; Coll, 2004, pp. 442-444, 478-480] Some US officials later say the CIA was tricked, that the ISI just feigned to cooperate as a stalling tactic, and never intended to get bin Laden. [New York Times, 10/29/2001]

Entity Tags: Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Pervez Musharraf, Central Intelligence Agency, Nawaz Sharif, Osama bin Laden

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Pakistan and the ISI

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

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

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

United Nations sanctions against Afghanistan take effect. The sanctions freeze Taliban assets and impose an air embargo on Ariana Airlines in an effort to force the Taliban to hand over bin Laden. [BBC, 2/6/2000] It had been widely reported that Ariana had become a transportation arm for al-Qaeda (see Mid-1996-October 2001). However, Ariana will keep its illegal trade network flying, until stricter sanctions will ground it in 2001 (see January 19, 2001).

Entity Tags: Ariana Airlines, Osama bin Laden, Taliban, United Nations, Al-Qaeda

Category Tags: Terrorism Financing, Pakistan and the ISI, Hunt for Bin Laden

In the winter of 1999, a covert four-man CIA and NSA team arrives in the part of Afghanistan controlled by the Northern Alliance. They set up a listening post within range of al-Qaeda’s tactical radios. The Northern Alliance is shown how to run it, and then the team leaves. [Washington Post, 12/19/2001; Miniter, 2003, pp. 197-198] In March 2000, CIA agent Gary Berntsen leads a small CIA team into Northern Alliance territory (see March 2000). While there, they improve the existing listening post and set up a new one closer to Taliban-controlled territory. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 57-61] The US makes little use of the intelligence gained from these intercepts, leading Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud to conclude that the US is “not serious” about getting bin Laden. [Miniter, 2003, pp. 197-198]

Entity Tags: Taliban, Gary Berntsen, Central Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Ahmed Shah Massoud, Al-Qaeda, Northern Alliance

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Remote Surveillance

The Clinton administration issues more instructions to the CIA governing operations against Osama bin Laden, but these instructions do not include wording allowing the CIA to assassinate him. Following the 1998 embassy bombings, Clinton allowed the CIA to mount an operation aimed at killing bin Laden with one group of assets (see December 24, 1998), but not another (see February 1999). These new instructions, drafted by administration lawyers, do not cover the ground of the two previous sets of instructions, but deal with “a wider set of contingencies,” and they authorize the use of force only within the context of a capture operation, not an assassination attempt. The CIA is therefore allowed to try to kill bin Laden only using one specific group of assets—tribal leaders tracking bin Laden in Afghanistan, still based on the earlier instructions. But the CIA does not test “the limits of available legal authority,” apparently because the CIA’s bin Laden unit is not told of the kill authorization (see December 26, 1998 and After) and due to confusion (see February 1999). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 133]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

The US warns the Taliban that the US will punish them for any attacks ordered by bin Laden, who is living in Afghanistan under Taliban protection. On this day, Ahmed Ressam is arrested trying to enter the US to conduct a bombing there (see December 14, 1999). In response, that evening, the State Department’s counterterrorism chief Michael Sheehan calls Taliban foreign minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil. Sheehan later recalls saying bin Laden “is like a criminal who lives in your basement. It is no longer possible for you to act as if he’s not your responsibility. He is your responsibility.” The implied threat is that the US will punish the Taliban, possibly with military force, in response to further bin Laden attack. Muttawakil says he understands and urges the US to use restraint. [Wall Street Journal, 3/8/2000]

Entity Tags: Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil, Taliban, Michael Sheehan, US Department of State

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Counterterrorism Action Before 9/11

Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will later recall, “I talked with the [Clinton] administration and pointed out the bin Laden issue to them. I was surprised by their reaction. They wrung their hands so helplessly and said: ‘the Taliban are not turning him over, what can one do?’ I remember I was surprised: if they are not turning him over, one has to think and do something.” [Interfax, 9/21/2001; Guardian, 9/22/2001] This exchange, if true, must take place in 2000 because Putin becomes acting president of Russia on the first day of 2000 and President Bush replaces Clinton in the US in January 2001. The Washington Post will report in December 2000 that “The United States has quietly begun to align itself with those in the Russian government calling for military action against Afghanistan and has toyed with the idea of a new raid to wipe out Osama bin Laden (see December 19, 2000),” but no such raid takes place.

Entity Tags: Vladimir Putin, Clinton administration, Osama bin Laden

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

National Security Adviser Sandy Berger will later say that in early 2000 the National Security Council (NSC), the US military, and the CIA develops a “new technique for detecting Bin Laden.” Berger calls it “very promising as a way of determining where he would be if we had one strand of human intelligence.” The Los Angeles Times will comment, “But whether the new technique was some sort of high-tech homing device or silent surveillance craft is a question left to future generations.” The next two and a half pages of the 9/11 Congressional Inquiry report discussing this technique are completely censored. [Los Angeles Times, 7/27/2003] Despite Berger’s implication that the US does not have human intelligence on bin Laden’s movements at this time, other accounts indicate that it does (see March-April 2001 and April 2001).

Entity Tags: National Security Council, Osama bin Laden, Sandy Berger, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden, Remote Surveillance

A US satellite photo of the Darunta camp.A US satellite photo of the Darunta camp. [Source: US military]By the start of 2000, US intelligence has had a particular focus on Darunta Camp, one of al-Qaeda’s training camps in Afghanistan. This simple camp near Jalalabad draws attention because of intelligence gathered during the last year indicating that al-Qaeda is experimenting with poisons and chemical weapons. The CIA has inserted a special device in the vicinity that can take high quality photographs of the camp from over ten miles away. Sometime in late January, the CIA learns that bin Laden has arrived in the camp. They pass this information on to Ahmed Shah Massoud and his Northern Alliance, who are fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Massoud dispatches a small team on mules to get near the camp and fire rockets at bin Laden. However, when Massoud tells the CIA about this, the CIA’s lawyers are alarmed. They don’t want the CIA legally complicit if the operation kills innocent civilians and they order Massoud to withdraw his team. But due to poor communications the team goes ahead anyway and apparently shells the camp. However, bin Laden is not hurt and the incident passes without notice. Some US intelligence officials are upset at the legal policy that led to the order for Massoud’s team to withdraw. A new policy is drawn up allowing the CIA to assist Massoud on an operation if the primary purpose of the operation is to kill bin Laden or one of his top assistants. Otherwise, the US officially remains neutral in the war between the Northern Alliance and the Taliban. [Coll, 2004, pp. 487-490]

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden, Central Intelligence Agency, Taliban, Northern Alliance, Al-Qaeda, Ahmed Shah Massoud

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

The front cover of the matchbox announcing a reward for bin Laden.The front cover of the matchbox announcing a reward for bin Laden. [Source: Saeed Khan / Getty Images]The US begins circulating matchboxes in Pakistan with a picture of bin Laden and an announcement of a large reward for information leading to his capture. The reward promises confidentiality but also only lists the reward money as $500,000 instead of the $5 million announced by Washington. Additionally, 100 rupee notes, worth about $2, are being circulated with a message stamped on them announcing the reward. There is no matchbox campaign for other known al-Qaeda leaders. [Associated Press, 2/16/2000] The reward program is notable for its late start and low profile, especially when compared to a similar matchbox reward program for Ramzi Yousef starting in 1993 (see April 2, 1993). That program was announced about a month after Yousef was determined to be a major suspect, and it eventually helped with his capture (see February 3-7, 1995). The bin Laden campaign will come to an end by early 2004 (see January 2004).

Entity Tags: Osama bin Laden

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

Sources who know Osama bin Laden later claim that his stepmother, Al-Khalifa bin Laden, has a second meeting with her stepson in Afghanistan (her first visit took place in the spring of 1998 (see Spring 1998)). The trip is approved by the Saudi royal family. The Saudis pass the message to him that “‘they wouldn’t crack down on his followers in Saudi Arabia’ as long as he set his sights on targets outside the desert kingdom.” In late 1999, the Saudi government had told the CIA about the upcoming trip, and suggested placing a homing beacon on her luggage. This does not happen—Saudis later claim they weren’t taken seriously, and Americans claim they never received specific information on her travel plans. [New Yorker, 11/5/2001; Washington Post, 12/19/2001]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Osama bin Laden, Al-Khalifa bin Laden, Saudi Binladin Group

Category Tags: Saudi Arabia, Hunt for Bin Laden, Bin Laden Family

Around this time, special CIA paramilitary teams begin “working with tribes and warlords in southern Afghanistan” and help “create a significant new network in the region of the Taliban’s greatest strength.” [Washington Post, 11/18/2001] Journalist Bob Woodward will later report that from 2000 through March 2001, the CIA also deploys paramilitary teams at least five times into Afghanistan to work with the Northern Alliance in the north part of the country. [Woodward, 2006, pp. 77-78]

Entity Tags: Northern Alliance, Taliban, Central Intelligence Agency

Category Tags: Hunt for Bin Laden

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Key Events

Key Day of 9/11 Events (100)Key Hijacker Events (145)Key Warnings (95)

Day of 9/11

All Day of 9/11 Events (1227)Dick Cheney (52)Donald Rumsfeld (33)Flight AA 11 (145)Flight AA 77 (145)Flight UA 175 (87)Flight UA 93 (240)George Bush (114)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 (204)Hani Hanjour (72)Ziad Jarrah (74)Other 9/11 Hijackers (172)Possible Hijacker Associates in US (80)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 (66)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 (652)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 (75)

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 (129)

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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