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Word begins to spread within al-Qaeda that an attack against the US is imminent, according to later prison interrogations of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed. Many within al-Qaeda are aware that Mohammed has been preparing operatives to go to the US. Additionally, bin Laden makes several remarks hinting at an upcoming attack, spawning rumors throughout Muslim extremist circles worldwide.
In a recorded speech at the Al Farooq training camp in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden specifically urges trainees to pray for the success of an upcoming attack involving 20 martyrs. [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004]
Members of the “Lackawanna Six” see bin Laden give a recorded speech at the Al Farooq camp in which he urges trainees to pray for 40 en route on a very important mission. It is not known if this is the same as the other Al Farooq speech or a separate one (see (June 2001)).
A bin Laden bodyguard later will claim that in May 2001 or earlier in the year he heard bin Laden tell people in Afghanistan that the US would be hit with an attack, and thousands would die (see Early 2001). [Guardian, 11/28/2002]
In mid-June 2001, bin Laden tells training camp trainees there will be an attack in the near future. US intelligence soon learns of this (see Mid-June 2001).
In June 2001, the CIA hears that Arabs in Afghanistan are said to be anticipating as many as eight celebrations, and al-Qaeda operatives are being told to await important news within days (see June 2001).
John Walker Lindh learns details of the 9/11 attack despite being a Caucasian and US citizen who only recently converted to Islam (see May-June 2001).
There are other indications that knowledge of the attacks spreads in Afghanistan. The Daily Telegraph later reports that “the idea of an attack on a skyscraper [is] discussed among [bin Laden’s] supporters in Kabul.” At some unspecified point before 9/11, a neighbor in Kabul sees diagrams showing a skyscraper attack in a house known as a “nerve center” for al-Qaeda activity. [Daily Telegraph, 11/16/2001] US soldiers will later find forged visas, altered passports, listings of Florida flight schools and registration papers for a flight simulator in al-Qaeda houses in Afghanistan. [New York Times, 12/6/2001]
A confidential informant tells an FBI field office agent that he has been invited to a commando-training course at a training camp operated by al-Qaeda in Afghanistan. The information is passed up to FBI headquarters, which rejects the idea of infiltrating the camp. An “asset validation” of the informant, a routine but critical exercise to determine whether information from the source was reliable, is also not done. The FBI later has no comment on the story. [US News and World Report, 6/10/2002] Around this time, John Walker Lindh, a Caucasian US citizen who recently converted to Islam, goes to one of the training camps for the first time and learns details of the 9/11 in a matter of weeks (see May-June 2001). Also around this time, seven men from Lackawanna, New York, go to a training camp in Afghanistan and hear clues about the 9/11 attacks before they drop out after only a few weeks (see (June 2001)).
Abderraouf Jdey. [Source: FBI]A candidate 9/11 hijacker named Abderraouf Jdey is possibly arrested and then released in the US around this time, although details remain very murky.
CIA Officer's Curious Report - In 2010, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen will write a public report for the Harvard Kennedy School entitled, “Al Qaeda Weapons of Mass Destruction Threat: Hype or Reality?” Mowatt-Larssen was a CIA official from 1982 to 2005, and was head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC) for a time. Around the time of 9/11, he was the head of the CTC’s weapons of mass destruction branch (see 1982, Early October-December 2001, and November 2005). In a timeline in Mowatt-Larssen’s report, there is this entry for Summer 2001: “Detention of Abderraouf Yousef Jdey, a biology major with possible interest in biological and nuclear weapons, who traveled with Zacharias Moussaoui from Canada into the United States. Moussaoui is detained with crop duster manuals in his possession; Jdey had biology textbooks. Earlier, they attended McMaster University in Canada, along with Adnan Shukrijumah.” This entry is very curious, because although the report is said to be based entirely on publicly sourced material, there has been no public information about Jdey’s arrest or link with Moussaoui, and the footnotes to the entry do not mention these things either. [Mowatt-Larson, 1/2010 ]
Jdey's 9/11 Connection - In late 1999, Jdey may have attended an advanced training course in Afghanistan also attended by 9/11 hijackers Khalid Almihdhar and Nawaf Alhazmi (see Late 1999). He may also have been instructed by 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed at the same time as hijacker Mohamed Atta and Ramzi bin-al-Shibh. A letter recovered from a safe house in Afghanistan in late 2001, apparently written by al-Qaeda leader Saif al-Adel, says that Jdey was originally meant to be one of the 9/11 hijackers. A videotape of Jdey pledging to be a martyr was also discovered in mid-November 2001 in Afghanistan, in the wreckage of al-Qaeda leader Mohammed Atef’s house (see November 15-Late December 2001). [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 527]
Jdey Is Highly Wanted After 9/11 - Jdey was born in Tunisia, but became a Canadian citizen in the mid-1990s. After 9/11, it is known that he leaves Canada in November 2001. In January 2002, the US government will announce they are seeking him. In 2005, the FBI will announce a $5 million reward for him. [Los Angeles Times, 1/26/2002; CBC News, 5/27/2004; Rewards for Justice, 4/2005]
Mystery Is Unresolved - If Mowatt-Larssen is correct and Jdey was arrested before 9/11, this would have been a vital opportunity to stop the 9/11 plot, and if he was connected with Moussaoui, that would dramatically change the circumstances of Moussaoui’s arrest. It would also mean there would had to have been a cover-up of Jdey’s arrest in the years since 9/11.
Entity Tags: Zacarias Moussaoui, Saif al-Adel, Rolf Mowatt-Larssen, Nawaf Alhazmi, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Mohamed Atta, Abderraouf Jdey, Adnan Shukrijumah, Khalid Almihdhar, Mohammed Atef, Ramzi bin al-Shibh
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Two major terrorist organizations, al-Qaeda and the Egypt-based Islamic Jihad, formally merged into one. This completes a merging process that had been going on for years (see August 11-20, 1988, December 1, 1996-June 1997, and February 22, 1998). The technical name of the new entity is Qaeda al-Jihad, though it is widely called al-Qaeda. Bin Laden remains in charge, and Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of Islamic Jihad, remains second in command. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002]
In June 2001, the CIA learns that key al-Qaeda operatives are disappearing, while others are preparing for martyrdom. [US Congress, 9/18/2002] CIA Director George Tenet will later elaborate in a 2007 book that during the month of June, the CIA learns:
Several training camps in Afghanistan are closing, a sign that al-Qaeda is anticipating a retaliatory strike.
Bin Laden is leaving Afghanistan in fear of a US strike (this later turns out to be erroneous).
Al-Qaeda operatives are leaving Saudi Arabia and returning to Afghanistan, which fits a pattern of movement just before attacks.
Ayman al-Zawahiri is warning associates in Yemen to flee in anticipation of a crackdown.
Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, one of the masterminds of the USS ‘Cole’ bombing, has disappeared.
Other important operatives are disappearing or preparing for martyrdom.
A key Afghan training camp commander was reportedly weeping for joy because he believed he could see his trainees in heaven. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 148-149] The CIA also heard in May that operatives are disappearing and preparing for martyrdom (see May 2001).
CIA Director George Tenet will later write that in June 2001, the CIA learns that Arabs in Afghanistan are said to be anticipating as many as eight celebrations. Additionally, al-Qaeda operatives are being told to await important news within days. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 148-149] This is just one of many indications word of the upcoming 9/11 attacks is spreading widely in the Afghanistan training camps in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001).
A group of seven Yemeni-Americans from Lackawanna, New York, go to train in Afghanistan (see April-August 2001). Just two days after some of them have arrived, two of the seven—Sahim Alwan and Jaber Elbaneh, plus their mentor Kamal Derwish, briefly meet Osama bin Laden in a small group setting. One of the men asks bin Laden about a rumor that something big is about to happen. Bin Laden responds: “They’re threatening us. And we’re threatening them. But there are brothers willing to carry their souls in their hands.” [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 107-108] A couple of weeks later, the seven Lackawanna men and Derwish begin training at the Al Farooq training camp near Kandahar. One day, bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri come to their camp and bin Laden gives a speech in Arabic to the hundreds of trainees there. The crowd is told the speech is being videotaped. In his 20-minute speech, he discusses the merger between al-Qaeda and Islamic Jihad. At the end, he calls on the gathering to pray for the 40 operatives who are en route for a very important mission. He drops hints about suicide operations against the US and Israel. One of the seven men, Yaseinn Taher, speaks Arabic well enough to understand the speech, and explains the gist of it to the other six. The Lackawanna men also sense a mood in the camp that something big is going to happen soon. For instance, the camp is regularly conducting evacuation drills in anticipation of the US bombing it. [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 117-120] One by one, all the members of the group except for Jaber Elbaneh drop out and go home before their basic training course is done. They will later be known as the “Lackawanna Six.” But none of the six tell any US authorities what they learned when they get back to the US before 9/11. Some of the six, such as Taher and Alwan, will later say that on the morning of 9/11 they realize the attack they are watching on television is what bin Laden was talking about when he discussed the 40 men on a suicide mission. [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 136-138]
Sahim Alwan. [Source: PBS]The FBI’s Buffalo, New York, field office receives an anonymous, handwritten letter from someone in the Yemeni community of Lackawanna, near Buffalo. The letter says that a group has traveled to “meet bin Laden and stay in his camp for training.” The person who wrote it adds, “I can not give you my name because I fear for my life.” It says that “two terrorists” have been recruiting in Lackawanna, and that eight men have gone to train in Afghanistan, and four more are planning to go later. It gives the names of the men. In fact, all eight of the men named are currently in an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. This group will later be dubbed the “Lackawanna Six,” for the six of them that eventually return to the US (see September 13, 2002). The letter is assigned to FBI agent Edward Needham, the only Buffalo agent at this time working on counterterrorism. He runs the names through criminal databases and finds that many of them have criminal records for drug dealing and cigarette smuggling. He is skeptical that drug dealers would fight for al-Qaeda, but he sends the letter up the chain of command and formally opens an investigation on June 15. Three of them—Faysal Galab, Shafel Mosed, and Yaseinn Taher—are stopped on June 27 when they arrive in New York on a flight back from Pakistan, because Needham put their names on an FBI watch list. But they are merely questioned for two hours and released. He keeps occasional tabs on the men as they return from Afghanistan over the next months, but does not learn they actually were in an al-Qaeda training camp until after 9/11. [PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003; Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 124-125, 129]
Since the Bush administration came into office in January 2001, it has been slow to develop an approach on how to deal with Pakistan. In February 2001, President Bush and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf exchanged formal letters, but to little impact. The Bush administration is working on a regional policy review, but will not complete it before 9/11 (see January-September 10, 2001). The first substantial diplomatic contact between the US and Pakistan takes place in June 2001, when Pakistani Foreign Minister Abdul Sattar and ISI Maj. Gen. Faiz Jilani visit Washington, Canada, and Britain. Jilani is accompanying Sattar because it is well known that the ISI controls Pakistan’s relations with the Taliban. Sattar and Jilani meet with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice in early June. Another Pakistani diplomat who attends the meeting will later recall: “She told us that the Taliban were dead in the water and we should drop them. It was a very rough meeting.” But Rice does not give any specific threats or incentives, presumably because the Bush administration has yet to make much progress with its policy review. Despite the harsh words, the Bush administration actually is more conciliatory than the Clinton administration had been. Later in June, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage says in an interview: “I don’t want to see Pakistan only through the lens or the prism of Osama bin Laden. We want to look at Pakistan and see what Pakistan thinks about Pakistan’s future.” Bush writes another letter to Musharraf in August, but it simply repeats previous warnings (see August 4, 2001). Pakistani journalist Ahmed Rashid, author of the 2000 book Taliban, will later comment: “There was now even less incentive for Musharraf to change his policies toward the Taliban and there was no extraordinary US pressure to go after al-Qaeda. Dealing with Bush was going to be much easier than dealing with Clinton. Whereas Clinton resisted the wool being pulled over his eyes, the Bush administration simply closed their eyes themselves.” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 56-58]
Reclusive top Taliban leader Mullah Omar says the Taliban would like to resolve the Osama bin Laden issue, so there can be “an easing and then lifting of UN sanctions that are strangling and killing the people of [Afghanistan].” [United Press International, 4/9/2004]
Arnaud de Borchgrave. [Source: Publicity photo]United Press International (UPI) reporter Arnaud de Borchgrave interviews top Taliban leader Mullah Omar in Afghanistan on June 13, 2001. The next day, in an article about the interview, de Borchgrave writes, “Saudi Arabia and the [United Arab Emirates] secretly fund the Taliban government by paying Pakistan for its logistical support to Afghanistan. Despite Pakistan’s official denials, the Taliban is entirely dependent on Pakistani aid. This was verified on the ground by UPI. Everything from bottled water to oil, gasoline and aviation fuel, and from telephone equipment to military supplies, comes from Pakistan.” [United Press International, 6/14/2001; United Press International, 4/9/2004]
Osama Bin Laden tells trainees in his Afghanistan training camps that there will be an attack in the near future. US intelligence learns of this comment and it is mentioned to top US leaders in an early July 2001 briefing (see July 10, 2001). More details, such as how the US learned this or how many people bin Laden told this to, have not been made public. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 152] But in the summer of 2001, bin Laden is overheard making a number of similar comments hinting at upcoming attacks (see Summer 2001).
Scenes in the al-Qaeda recruitment video show operatives training at the al-Farouq camp in Afghanistan. [Source: CBC]An al-Qaeda recruitment video created months earlier is made public. The video had been circling amongst radical militants, but appears on the news worldwide after a Kuwaiti newspaper gets a copy. The video celebrates the bombing of the USS Cole. Bin Laden appears on the video, and while he does not take credit for the bombing, others in the video do. Bin Laden says that Muslims have to leave countries that are ruled by “allies of Jews and Christians,” and join his cause to be “prepared” for holy war. In an address to Palestinians, he calls for “blood, blood and destruction, destruction.” He says, “We give you the good news that the forces of Islam are coming…” He also issues a call to arms: “Your brothers in Palestine are waiting for you; it’s time to penetrate America and Israel and hit them where it hurts the most.” He also tells his supporters to “slay the United States and Israel.” A similar video appeared shortly before the bombing of the USS Cole. [Associated Press, 6/20/2001; Associated Press, 6/20/2001; Newsweek, 7/22/2001; Washington Post, 9/11/2001] Intrest in the videotape will grow in the Muslim world in the months before the 9/11 attacks (see September 9, 2001).
Baker Atyani, reporter for the Middle East Broadcasting Company, sits with Ayman al-Zawahiri and bin Laden. [Source: CNN] (click image to enlarge)Baker Atyani, a reporter for the Middle East Broadcasting Company interviews bin Laden. Keeping a promise made to Taliban leader Mullah Omar, bin Laden does not say anything substantive, but Ayman al-Zawahiri and other top al-Qaeda leaders promise that “[the] coming weeks will hold important surprises that will target American and Israeli interests in the world.” [Associated Press, 6/24/2001; Associated Press, 6/25/2001] Atyani says, “There is a major state of mobilization among the Osama bin Laden forces. It seems that there is a race of who will strike first. Will it be the United States or Osama bin Laden?” [Reuters, 6/23/2001] He adds, “I told my channel that his followers were telling me that the coffin business will increase in the states, the United States.” [CNN, 8/23/2006] After 9/11, Aytani will conclude, “I am 100 percent sure of this, and it was absolutely clear they had brought me there to hear this message.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 236] He is also shown a several-months-old videotape in which bin Laden declares, “It’s time to penetrate America and Israel and hit them where it hurts most.” The video is soon made public (see June 21, 2001). [CNN, 6/21/2001] Author James Bamford theorizes that the original 9/11 plot involved a simultaneous attack on Israel and that shoe bomber Richard Reid may have originally wanted to target an Israeli aircraft around this time. For instance, Reid flies to Tel Aviv, Israel on July 12, 2001, to test if airline security would check his shoes for bombs. [Bamford, 2004, pp. 236-39]
The Taliban hold a three-day drill camp for Islamist militants in Abbottabad, Pakistan, according to Radio Free Europe. Attendees are said to come from several countries. The camp is held “under the patronage of Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef,” who is the Taliban’s official ambassador to Pakistan at the time. [Radio Free Europe, 5/6/2011] While militant camps actually in Abbottabad are apparently uncommon, there are many such camps in the Manshera area about 35 miles away that have been there since the 1990s and will still be there in 2011 (see May 22, 2011). It is unclear when US intelligence first becomes aware of militant activity in the Abbottabad area. In 2011, a US strike force will enter Osama bin Laden’s compound near Abottabad and kill him (see May 2, 2011).
US intelligence learns that Osama bin Laden has recently promised colleagues that an attack is near. This warning is first revealed in CIA Director George Tenet’s 2007 book. He will not explain how this was known except that it was “learned as a result of intelligence.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 149 Sources: George J. Tenet]
On this date, CIA Director George Tenet and CIA counterterrorism chief Cofer Black give the White House an urgent al-Qaeda briefing that, if heeded, Black later believes could have stopped bin Laden. Tenet and Black strongly suggest that both an overall strategy and immediate covert or military action against bin Laden are needed (see July 10, 2001). According to a 2006 book by journalist Bob Woodward that is likely paraphrasing Black, one of Woodward’s sources for his book, “Black calculated that if [the White House] had given him $500 million of covert action funds right then and reasonable authorizations from the president to go kill bin Laden, he would have been able to make great strides if not do away with him.… Over the last two years—and as recently as March 2001—the CIA had deployed paramilitary teams five times into Afghanistan to work with the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, a loose federation of militias and tribes in the north. The CIA had about 100 sources and subsources operating throughout Afghanistan. Just give him the money and the authority and he might be able to bring bin Laden’s head back in a box.” [Woodward, 2006, pp. 77-78; New York Daily News, 9/29/2006]
Edward Needham, an FBI agent in Buffalo, New York, has been investigating a group of eight Yemeni-Americans in the nearby town of Lackawanna after receiving an anonymous letter saying they have been training in Afghanistan (see Early June 2001). In fact, they were, and while there they heard a speech from Osama bin Laden in which he mentioned there were 40 suicide bombers on their way to a very important mission (see (June 2001)). This group will later be known as the “Lackawanna Six” for the six of them who return to the US. Some time around July, Needham interviews Sahim Alwan, who has recently come back from Afghanistan. But Alwan says he had only traveled to Pakistan for religious training. The others who returned also fail to tell any authorities that they have been in Afghanistan or what they learned there. On September 11, 2001, hours after the 9/11 attacks, Needham calls Alwan and asks him if anyone new has come into town. Alwan says no. But in fact, Juma al-Dosari, an al-Qaeda operative who recruited the Lackawanna Six, has recently returned to Lackawanna and Alwan knows where he is staying. Al-Dosari is trying to recruit a second group of young men to go train in Afghanistan. But the training camps are closed down and al-Dosari leaves town before the FBI finds out he is there. He tells friends that he is going to fight for the Taliban. He will be captured in Pakistan in December 2001 and transferred to Guantanamo prison soon thereafter. [PBS Frontline, 10/16/2003; Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 138-139, 148]
The Bush administration again denies the CIA expanded authorities to go on the offensive against bin Laden. These authorities would include permission to assassinate bin Laden without making an attempt to capture him alive first. In March 2001, the CIA wanted to give a draft request about this to the Bush administration, but officials weren’t ready so the draft was withdrawn (see Early March 2001). On July 13, three days after a dramatic CIA presentation about a likely upcoming al-Qaeda attack (see July 10, 2001), a meeting of deputy cabinet officials is held to discuss the CIA’s expanded authorities request. However, no decisions are made. Tenet will later comment, “the bureaucracy moved slowly.” The Bush administration will grant these authorities a few days after 9/11. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 154]
Niaz Naik. [Source: Calcutta Telegraph (left)]Three former American officials, Tom Simons (former US Ambassador to Pakistan), Karl Inderfurth (former Deputy Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs), and Lee Coldren (former State Department expert on South Asia) meet with Pakistani and Russian intelligence officers in a Berlin hotel. [Salon, 8/16/2002] This is the third of a series of back-channel conferences called “brainstorming on Afghanistan.” Taliban representatives sat in on previous meetings, but boycotted this one due to worsening tensions. However, the Pakistani ISI relays information from the meeting to the Taliban. [Guardian, 9/22/2001] At the meeting, Coldren passes on a message from Bush officials. He later says, “I think there was some discussion of the fact that the United States was so disgusted with the Taliban that they might be considering some military action.” [Guardian, 9/26/2001] Accounts vary, but former Pakistani Foreign Secretary Niaz Naik later says he is told by senior American officials at the meeting that military action to overthrow the Taliban in Afghanistan is planned to “take place before the snows started falling in Afghanistan, by the middle of October at the latest.” The goal is to kill or capture both bin Laden and Taliban leader Mullah Omar, topple the Taliban regime, and install a transitional government of moderate Afghans in its place. Uzbekistan and Russia would also participate. Naik also says, “It was doubtful that Washington would drop its plan even if bin Laden were to be surrendered immediately by the Taliban.” [BBC, 9/18/2001] One specific threat made at this meeting is that the Taliban can choose between “carpets of bombs”
—an invasion—or “carpets of gold”
—the pipeline. [Brisard and Dasquie, 2002, pp. 43] Naik contends that Tom Simons made the “carpets” statement. Simons claims, “It’s possible that a mischievous American participant, after several drinks, may have thought it smart to evoke gold carpets and carpet bombs. Even Americans can’t resist the temptation to be mischievous.” Naik and the other American participants deny that the pipeline was an issue at the meeting. [Salon, 8/16/2002]
Entity Tags: Uzbekistan, Tom Simons, Russia, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Mullah Omar, Lee Coldren, Niaz Naik, Osama bin Laden, Karl Inderfurth, Taliban, Bush administration (43)
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
King Abdullah II. [Source: David Bohrer/ White House]CIA Director George Tenet will later reveal that on this day, he learns in a briefing that King Abdullah II of Jordan is offering to help the US with troops to defeat bin Laden in a decisive military manner. He offers to send two battalions (roughly between 1,000 and 2,000 soldiers) of “Jordanian Special Forces to go door to door in Afghanistan, if necessary, to deal with al-Qaeda. The offer was a wonderful gesture but would have to have been part of a larger overall strategy in order to succeed. To King Abdullah, bin Laden was the greatest threat in the world to his nation’s security….” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 156] There is a claim that al-Qaeda plotted an assassination of King Abdullah II, which was aborted when he learned of the plot in the summer of 2000. [Gunaratna, 2003, pp. 133] After 9/11, it will be reported that in July 2001, Jordan warned the US that al-Qaeda was planning an attack inside the US (see July 2001). It will also be reported that in the late summer of 2001, Jordan warned the US of a major al-Qaeda attack inside the US using aircraft. They say it is codenamed “The Big Wedding,” which is al-Qaeda’s codename for the 9/11 attacks (see Late Summer 2001).
In his 2007 book, CIA Director George Tenet will write that on this day, “From Afghanistan came word that the Taliban intelligence chief, Qari Amadullah, was interested in establishing secret contact, outside the country and without Mullah Omar’s knowledge, “to save Afghanistan.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 156] However, it is unclear if the offer was acted upon because Tenet has nothing more to say about it. The 9/11 Commission will later report that in July a deep schism developed in the Taliban and even al-Qaeda leadership over the wisdom of going through with the 9/11 attacks. Apparently, even top Taliban leader Mullah Omar was ideologically opposed to the attacks at this time, though he may have changed his mind before 9/11. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 251-252]
Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Muttawakil. [Source: Reuters]Taliban Foreign Minister Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil learns that bin Laden is planning a “huge attack” on targets inside America. The attack is imminent, and will kill thousands. He learns this from Tahir Yuldashev, top leader of the rebel Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU), which is allied with al-Qaeda at the time. Yuldashev apparently is worried that a large al-Qaeda attack will lead to a US attack on Afghanistan, which would threaten the IMU’s safe haven there. Muttawakil sends an emissary to pass this information on to the US consul general, and another US official, “possibly from the intelligence services,” also attends the meeting. The message is not taken very seriously; one source blames this on “warning fatigue” from too many warnings. In addition, the emissary supposedly is from the Foreign Ministry, but did not say the message came from Muttawakil himself. The emissary then takes the message to the Kabul offices of UNSMA, the political wing of the UN. They also fail to take the warning seriously. [Independent, 9/7/2002; Reuters, 9/7/2002]
Christina Rocca. [Source: Sherwin Crasto / Reuters / Corbis]Christina Rocca, Director of Asian Affairs at the State Department, secretly meets the Taliban ambassador in Islamabad, apparently in a last ditch attempt to secure a pipeline deal. Rocca was previously in charge of contacts with Islamic guerrilla groups at the CIA, and oversaw the delivery of Stinger missiles to Afghan mujaheddin in the 1980s. [Irish Times, 11/19/2001; Brisard and Dasquie, 2002, pp. 45; Salon, 2/8/2002] Around the same time, US embassy officials in Islamabad hold secret talks with Taliban security chief Hameed Rasoli. [Washington Post, 10/29/2001]
A senior official in the Taliban’s defense ministry tells journalist Hamid Mir that the US will soon invade Afghanistan. Mir will later recall that he is told, “[W]e believe Americans are going to invade Afghanistan and they will do this before October 15, 2001, and justification for this would be either one of two options: Taliban got control of Afghanistan or a big major attack against American interests either inside America or elsewhere in the world.” Mir reports this information before 9/11, presumably in the newspaper in Pakistan that he works for. [Bergen, 2006, pp. 287] Interestingly, Afghan warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar made a similar prediction to Mir several months before (see April 2001). Also, several weeks earlier, US officials reportedly passed word to Taliban officials in a back channel meeting that the US may soon attack Afghanistan if the Taliban do not cooperate on building an oil and gas pipeline running through the country. According to one participant in the meeting, the US attack would take place “by the middle of October at the latest” (see July 21, 2001).
President Bush sends a letter to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf, warning him about supporting the Taliban. However, the tone is similar to past requests dating to the Clinton administration. There had been some discussion that US policy toward Pakistan should change. For instance, at the end of June, counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke “urged that the United States [should] think about what it would do after the next attack, and then take that position with Pakistan now, before the attack.” [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage later acknowledges that a new approach to Pakistan is not yet implemented by 9/11 (see January-September 10, 2001 and Early June 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 Sources: Richard Armitage]
Abdul Haq, a famous Afghan leader of the mujaheddin, returns to Peshawar, Pakistan, from the US. Having failed to gain US support, except for that of some private individuals such as former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, Haq begins organizing subversive operations in Afghanistan. [Los Angeles Times, 10/28/2001; Wall Street Journal, 11/2/2001] He is later killed entering Afghanistan in October 2001, after his position is reportedly betrayed to the Taliban by the ISI.
In a 2007 book about the “Lackawanna Six” entitled The Jihad Next Door, author Dina Temple-Raston will write that al-Qaeda “shuttered the training camps in August 2001, leaving little sign of the encampments that once dotted the Pakistan-Afghan border.” After 9/11, the camps are not reopened. [Temple-Raston, 2007, pp. 130] One article shortly after 9/11 suggests that bin Laden moves his training camps in Afghanistan “in the days before the attacks.” [Philadelphia Inquirer, 9/16/2001] Presumably the CIA notices. CIA Director George Tenet will later claim a group of men from an allied intelligence agency penetrated the camps not long before 9/11 (see Early September 2001), satellites are monitoring Afghanistan from the sky, and the CIA had over 100 assets in Afghanistan before 9/11 (see Before September 11, 2001). FBI agent Jack Cloonan will also later say, “There were agents run into the camps” (see Before September 11, 2001).
Some time before 9/11, ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed learns that two prominent Pakistani nuclear scientists met with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in Afghanistan in mid-August 2001. Bin Laden revealed to the two scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, that he had acquired nuclear material and wanted their help to turn it into a weapon (see Mid-August 2001). ISI Director Mahmood is said to have learned about this through military contacts, as several Pakistani generals sit on the board of directors of a charity run by the two scientists that assists the Taliban. For instance, Hamid Gul, a former director of the ISI, is the charity’s honorary patron and was in Afghanistan at the time of the meeting. However, the ISI does not warn the US or take any action against the scientists or their charity. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 310-311]
Entity Tags: Mahmood Ahmed, Al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, Hamid Gul, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, Pakistan Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence, Osama bin Laden
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, A. Q. Khan's Nuclear Network, 9/11 Timeline
Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood. [Source: Public domain]Two retired Pakistani nuclear scientists meet with Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri at a campfire in a compound near Kandahar, Afghanistan. The more prominent scientist, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood, worked with A. Q. Khan for two decades before having a falling out with him in the early 1990s (however, he was seen with Khan earlier in 2001 (see April 2001)). A highly regarded scientist, he also became an advocate of the Taliban and published a pamphlet predicting that “by 2002 millions may die through mass destruction weapons… terrorist attack, and suicide.” He was forced to retire in 1999 after publicly advocating sharing nuclear technology with other Islamic countries. The other scientist, Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, also retired in 1999 after a long career. In 2000, the two men set up a charity, Ummah Tameer-e-Nau, purporting to conduct relief work in Afghanistan (see 2000). Bin Laden allegedly tells the scientists that he has made great headway in advancing the apocalypse predicted by Mahmood. He claims that he has acquired highly enriched uranium from the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) and wants their help to turn it into a bomb. The scientists reply that while they could help with the science of fissile materials, they are not weapons designers. They are also asked with other Pakistani weapons experts could be approached for help. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 310-311] They spend two or three days at the compound and discuss how the material could be used to create a so-called dirty bomb, in which radioactive material is blown up using conventional explosives to spread radiation. But the discussion apparently ends inconclusively when bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and others depart abruptly for the mountains. Before leaving, bin Laden says that something great is going to happen soon and Muslims around the world will join them in holy war. [Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 264-265] Both US intelligence and Pakistani ISI learn about this meeting prior to the 9/11 attacks, but neither group will take any effective action as a result (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001 and Between Mid-August and September 10, 2001).
Both Russia and France have recently presented intelligence to the United Nations Security Council documenting that Pakistan is continuing to heavily support the Taliban (see March 7, 2001), in direct violation of UN sanctions (see January 19, 2001). Up to 30 ISI trucks a day are crossing into Afghanistan (see June 13, 2001 and Summer 2001). But on August 20, 2001, Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf openly condemns the UN sanctions, saying: “The Taliban are the dominant reality in Afghanistan.… The unilateral arms embargo on the Taliban is unjustified, discriminatory, and will further escalate the war [between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance].” [Rashid, 2008, pp. 60, 416]
Bin Laden gives an interview to a Middle Eastern television station visiting him in Afghanistan. According to ABC News, “When asked about his supporters, he says with a significant and knowing smile there is going to be a surprise to the United States.” [ABC News, 9/14/2001]
In an interview with the London-based newspaper al-Quds al-Arabi, bin Laden boasts that he is planning an “unprecedented” strike against the US. Abdel-Bari Atwan, editor of the newspaper, will say, “Personally, we received information that he planned very, very big attacks against American interests. We received several warnings like this. We did not take it so seriously, preferring to see what would happen before reporting it.” [ABC News, 9/12/2001; Independent, 9/17/2001] The Washington Post will similarly report just after 9/11, “Interviewed last month in the mountains of southern Afghanistan by a London-based Arab journalist, he boasted—without going into detail—that he and his followers were planning ‘a very big one.’” [Washington Post, 9/13/2001] Atwan’s comment implies the warning is not published before 9/11. But Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) will say shortly after 9/11, “Bin Laden’s people had made statements three weeks ago carried in the Arab press in [Britain] that they were preparing to carry out unprecedented attacks in the US.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 9/14/2001]
Sheik Omar Bakri Mohammed. [Source: Matt Dunham/ Reuters]According to a senior Defense Department source quoted in the book “Intelligence Failure” by David Bossie, Defense Department personnel become aware of a Milan newspaper interview with Sheikh Omar Bakri Mohammed, a self-designated spokesman for al-Qaeda. In the interview, he brags about al-Qaeda recruiting “kamikaze bombers ready to die for Palestine.” Mohammed boasts of training them in Afghanistan. According to this source, the Defense Department seeks “to present its information [to the FBI], given the increased ‘chatter,’ of a possible attack in the United States just days before [9/11]. The earliest the FBI would see the [Defense Department] people who had the information was on September 12, 2001.” [Bossie, 5/2004] In 1998, Bakri had publicized a fax bin Laden sent him that listed the four objectives al-Qaeda had in their war with the US. First on the list was: “Bring down their airliners.”
(see Summer 1998) The main focus of FBI agent Ken Williams’s July 2001 memo, warning about Middle Eastern students training in Arizona flight schools, was a member of Bakri’s organization (see July 10, 2001). In 2004, the US will charge Bakri with 11 terrorism-related crimes, including attempting to set up a terror training camp in Oregon and assisting in the kidnapping of two Americans and others in Yemen. [MSNBC, 5/27/2004]
CIA Director George Tenet will claim in his 2007 book that “a group of assets from a Middle Eastern service” is unknowingly working for the CIA by this time. Out of the more than twenty people in this group, one third are working against al-Qaeda. By September 2001, two assets have successfully penetrated al-Qaeda training camps in Afghanistan. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 145] The name of the Middle Eastern country is not known. It is also not known when this group first started working for the CIA nor when the assets first penetrated the camps. Nor has it been reported what information these assets may have shared with the CIA before 9/11. It is known that bin Laden was dropping hints about the upcoming 9/11 attacks to training camp trainees in the summer of 2001 (see Summer 2001). Further, US citizen John Walker Lindh was told details of the 9/11 attacks within weeks of joining a training camp that summer (see May-June 2001).
Binyam Mohamed, a young Ethiopian with British citizenry, is in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks. He later tells a journalist that he wants nothing more than to leave for London before the West can retaliate against al-Qaeda and the Taliban (see May-September, 2001). But Mohamed is unable to leave before the US-led coalition launches its attacks in November. According to Mohamed, he is caught among the tide of refugees, and in early 2002 makes his way across the Afghan-Pakistan border and into the city of Karachi. On April 3, he books a flight to London, but officials turn him away, saying his passport looks wrong (Mohamed entered the region using a friend’s passport). On April 9, he tries again to book a flight with the same passport, and is detained by Pakistani authorities. This is the beginning of almost seven years of incarceration, interrogation, and torture (see February 24, 2009). [Daily Mail, 3/8/2009] Apparently some of the details of Mohamed’s recollections will differ from the recounting of his story as later told by his lawyer, Clive Stafford Smith.
President Bush’s cabinet-rank advisers discuss terrorism for the second of only two times before 9/11. [Washington Post, 5/17/2002] National Security Adviser Rice chairs the meeting; neither President Bush nor Vice President Cheney attends. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke later says that in this meeting, he and CIA Director Tenet speak passionately about the al-Qaeda threat. No one disagrees that the threat is serious. Secretary of State Powell outlines a plan to put pressure on Pakistan to stop supporting al-Qaeda. Defense Secretary Rumsfeld appears to be more interested in Iraq. The only debate is over whether to fly the armed Predator drone over Afghanistan to attack al-Qaeda (see September 4, 2001). [Clarke, 2004, pp. 237-38] Clarke’s earlier plans to “roll back” al-Qaeda first submitted on January 25, 2001 (see January 25, 2001) have been discussed and honed in many meetings and are now presented as a formal National Security Presidential Directive. The directive is “apparently” approved, though the process of turning it into official policy is still not done. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] There is later disagreement over just how different the directive presented is from Clarke’s earlier plans. For instance, some claim the directive aims not just to “roll back” al-Qaeda, but also to “eliminate” it altogether. [Time, 8/12/2002] However, Clarke notes that even though he wanted to use the word “eliminate,” the approved directive merely aims to “significantly erode” al-Qaeda. The word “eliminate” is only added after 9/11. [Washington Post, 3/25/2004] Clarke will later say that the plan adopted “on Sept. 4 is basically… what I proposed on Jan. 25. And so the time in between was wasted.” [ABC News, 4/8/2004] The Washington Post will similarly note that the directive approved on this day “did not differ substantially from Clinton’s policy.” [Washington Post, 3/27/2004] Time magazine later comments, “The fight against terrorism was one of the casualties of the transition, as Washington spent eight months going over and over a document whose outline had long been clear.” [Time, 8/12/2002] The primary change from Clarke’s original draft is that the approved plan calls for more direct financial and logistical support to the Northern Alliance and other anti-Taliban groups. The plan also calls for drafting plans for possible US military involvement, “but those differences were largely theoretical; administration officials told the [9/11 Commission’s] investigators that the plan’s overall timeline was at least three years, and it did not include firm deadlines, military plans, or significant funding at the time of the September 11, 2001, attacks.” [Washington Post, 3/27/2004; Reuters, 4/2/2004]
Entity Tags: Taliban, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Al-Qaeda, Northern Alliance, Donald Rumsfeld, George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, George W. Bush, Colin Powell, Richard A. Clarke, Condoleezza Rice
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline
Attendees to an important cabinet-level meeting on terrorism have a heated debate over what to do with the armed Predator drone, which has been ready for use over Afghanistan since June 2001 (see Early June-September 10, 2001). Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke has been repeatedly pushing for the use of the Predator over Afghanistan (in either armed or unarmed versions), and he again argues for its immediate use. Everyone agrees that the armed Predator capability is needed, but there are disputes over who will manage and/or pay for it. CIA Director Tenet says his agency will operate the armed Predator “over my dead body.” [Washington Post, 10/2/2002] Clarke recalls, “The Air Force said it wasn’t their job to fly planes to collect intelligence. No one around the table seemed to have a can-do attitude. Everyone seemed to have an excuse.” [New Yorker, 7/28/2003] National Security Adviser Rice concludes that the armed Predator is not ready (even though it had been proven in tests during the summer), but she also presses Tenet to reconsider his opposition to immediately resume reconnaissance flights, suspended since September the year before. After the meeting, Tenet agrees to proceed with such flights. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004; 9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004] The armed Predator is activated just days after 9/11, showing that it was ready to be used after all. [Associated Press, 6/25/2003]
According to a later interview with would-be hijacker Ramzi bin al-Shibh, a courier sent by bin al-Shibh tells Osama bin Laden on this day when the 9/11 attacks will take place. [Australian, 9/9/2002] However, there are doubts about this interview (see April, June, or August 2002). The message may have been taken from bin al-Shibh in Germany to Pakistan by al-Qaeda Hamburg cell member Zakariya Essabar (see Late August 2001).
Abu Hamza al-Masri, the radical British imam, is apparently tipped off about the imminent 9/11 attacks during a telephone conversation with militant contacts of his in Afghanistan. Al-Masri, the imam at Finsbury Park mosque in London, will allege this in a court submission seen by the London Times in 2018. He will write that he is called today from Afghanistan by two of his “old neighbors in his Pakistan time.” The men are not members of al-Qaeda, he will state. However, they tell him that “something very big will happen very soon.” He believes they are referring to an imminent terrorist attack in the United States. Al-Masri will also state that he believes his home telephone is currently being tapped by the police. “If true, the claim raises questions about whether British authorities were aware of the warning and failed to pass it on to their American counterparts” before 9/11, Abu Dhabi newspaper The National will comment. Furthermore, he believes intelligence agencies around the world must be aware of the information he receives. He thinks that “this news is widely spread and everyone is phoning friends” about it, he will state. Therefore, he will comment, “the intelligence [agencies] of many countries must have had an earful about it.” Al-Masri himself is an agent of the British intelligence service MI5 and the Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch, who operates under the code name “Damson Berry” (see Early 1997). [National, 1/14/2018; Fox News, 1/15/2018; International Business Times, 1/16/2018]
Amrullah Saleh. [Source: Associated Press' Kamran Jebreili]Northern Alliance leader Amrullah Saleh calls the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center to inform it of the assassination of anti-Taliban commander Ahmed Shah Massoud (see September 9, 2001). His call is taken by Richard Blee, the manager responsible for Alec Station, the CIA’s bin Laden unit. Although Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, an expert on Afghanistan, realizes the assassination means “something terrible [is] about to happen” (see September 9, 2001), Blee does not appear to connect the assassination to a spike in warnings about an al-Qaeda attack against US interests, even though he has been briefing senior officials about this all summer (see May 30, 2001, June 28, 2001, July 10, 2001, and Late July 2001). The Northern Alliance realizes that the Taliban will attack them immediately, because they are leaderless, and Saleh asks for support from the CIA. However, some at the CIA think that the Northern Alliance has no chance without Massoud, who held it together. Other officers “[call] frantically around Washington to find a way to aid the rump Northern Alliance before it [is] eliminated.” The CIA informs the White House of the assassination, and the news soon leaks to CNN. This prompts the Northern Alliance to call again, this time complaining about the leak. [Coll, 2004, pp. 582-4]
Congressman Dana Rohrabacher (right) in Afghanistan in 1988.
[Source: Public domain]Congressperson Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who has long experience in Afghanistan and even fought with the mujaheddin there, later will claim he immediately sees the assassination of Northern Alliance leader Ahmed Shah Massoud (see September 9, 2001) as a sign that “something terrible [is] about to happen.” He is only able to make an appointment to meet with top White House and National Security Council officials for 2:30 pm. on September 11. The events of that morning will render the meeting moot. [US Congress, 9/17/2001]
Massoud’s two assassins pictured just before their assassination attempt. One holds the rigged video camera. [Source: CNN]General Ahmed Shah Massoud, the leader of Afghanistan’s Northern Alliance, is assassinated by two al-Qaeda agents posing as Moroccan journalists. [Time, 8/12/2002] A legendary mujaheddin commander and a brilliant tactician, Massoud had pledged to bring freedom and democracy to Afghanistan. The BBC says the next day, “General Massoud’s death might well have meant the end of the [Northern] alliance” because there clearly was no figure with his skills and popularity to replace him. [BBC, 9/10/2001; BBC, 9/10/2001] “With Massoud out of the way, the Taliban and al-Qaeda would be rid of their most effective opponent and be in a stronger position to resist the American onslaught.” [St. Petersburg Times, 9/9/2002] It appears the assassination was supposed to happen earlier: the “journalists” waited for three weeks in Northern Alliance territory to meet Massoud. Finally on September 8, an aide says they “were so worried and excitable they were begging us.” They were granted an interview after threatening to leave if the interview did not happen in the next 24 hours. Meanwhile, the Taliban army (together with elements of the Pakistani army) had massed for an offensive against the Northern Alliance in the previous weeks, but the offensive began only hours after the assassination. Massoud was killed that day but Northern Alliance leaders pretend for several days that Massoud was only injured in order to keep the Northern Alliance army’s morale up, and they are able to stave off total defeat. The timing of the assassination and the actions of the Taliban army suggest that the 9/11 attacks were known to the Taliban leadership. [Time, 8/12/2002] Though it is not widely reported, the Northern Alliance releases a statement the next day: “Ahmed Shah Massoud was the target of an assassination attempt organized by the Pakistani [intelligence service] ISI and Osama bin Laden” (see September 10, 2001). [Radio Free Europe, 9/10/2001; Newsday, 9/15/2001; Reuters, 10/4/2001] This suggests that the ISI may also have had prior knowledge of the attack plans.
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf meets with Hamid Gul, former head of the ISI, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, according to a 2002 report in the New Yorker. The meeting is said to take place this evening at ISI headquarters. Gul has just returned from Northern Afghanistan. This information is according to Mohammad Qasim Fahim, the defense minister in Afghanistan’s government at the time of the 2002 New Yorker article. Also on this day, Ahmed Shah Massoud, top leader of the Northern Alliance, is assassinated (see September 9, 2001). Fahim is Massoud’s second in command, and takes over leadership of the Northern Alliance. At this time, Pakistan is supporting the Taliban, who are fighting the Northern Alliance. An intelligence officer “close to Massoud” will tell the New Yorker that Musharraf and Gul are at ISI headquarters for a party to celebrate Massoud’s death. While Fahim alleges Musharraf and Gul are there, he will only say “maybe” there is a party. [New Yorker, 6/10/2002] The Northern Alliance will claim that the ISI and al-Qaeda are behind Massoud’s assassination (see September 10, 2001). Gul retired from the ISI in 1989 (see April 1987), but there are allegations that he has continued to actively support Islamist militants ever since (see December 7, 2008 and July 26, 2010). In 2004, UPI will report allegations that he was a central figure in the 9/11 plot (see July 22, 2004). There will also be claims that the head of the ISI at the time of 9/11, Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed, helped fund some of the 9/11 hijackers (see October 7, 2001).
Pakistani ISI Director Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, who is visiting Washington (see September 4-11, 2001), meets with CIA Director George Tenet. In his 2007 book, Tenet will claim that he “tried to press” Mahmood to do something about Taliban support for bin Laden, since the Pakistani government has been supporting the Taliban since its creation in 1994. But Mahmood was supposedly “immovable when it came to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.” Tenet will say that Mahmood’s sole suggestion was the US should try bribing key Taliban officials to get them to turn over bin Laden. However, “even then he made it clear that neither he nor his service would have anything to do with the effort, not even to the extent of advising us whom we might approach.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 141-142]
At least two messages in Arabic are intercepted by the NSA. One states, “The match is about to begin” and the other states, “Tomorrow is zero hour.” Later reports translate the first message as, “The match begins tomorrow.” [Reuters, 9/9/2002] The messages were sent between someone in Saudi Arabia and someone in Afghanistan. The NSA will claim that they are not translated until September 12, and that even if they had been translated in time, “they gave no clues that authorities could have acted on.” [ABC News, 6/7/2002; Reuters, 6/19/2002] Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Bob Graham will later confirm that the messages were from al-Qaeda sources—a location or phone number—that made them a high priority, but that they were not from bin Laden or one of his top commanders. [Graham and Nussbaum, 2004, pp. 139] On the morning of September 12, 2001, the CIA will tell President Bush that a recently intercepted message from al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida referred to the 9/11 attacks as “zero hour,” but it is not clear if this is the same message or a different message (see September 12, 2001). These messages turn out to be only two of about 30 pre-9/11 communications from suspected al-Qaeda operatives or other militants referring to an imminent event. An anonymous official will say of these messages, including the “Tomorrow is zero hour” message: “You can’t dismiss any of them, but it does not tell you tomorrow is the day.” [Reuters, 9/9/2002] There will be a later attempt to explain the messages away by suggesting they referred to the killing of Afghan opposition leader Ahmed Shah Massoud the day before (see September 9, 2001). [Reuters, 10/17/2002]
In a major post-9/11 speech, British Prime Minister Tony Blair will claim that “shortly before September 11, bin Laden told associates that he had a major operation against America under preparation, [and] a range of people were warned to return back to Afghanistan because of action on or around September 11.” His claims will come from a British document of telephone intercepts and interrogations revealing al-Qaeda orders to return to Afghanistan by September 10. [CNN, 10/4/2001; Time, 10/5/2001] Would-be hijacker Ramzi bin al-Shibh will later claim that his message on what day the 9/11 attacks would happen reached bin Laden on September 6, 2001. If that is true, bin Laden would only have had a few days to warn others (see September 6, 2001). [Australian, 9/9/2002]
Hamza Bin Laden in 2001. [Source: Getty Images]Several members of Osama bin Laden’s family cross into Iran on foot shortly before the 9/11 attacks. The exact number of family members that cross at this time is unknown, although 19 of bin Laden’s relatives will soon be present in Iran: one wife, seven children, and 11 grandchildren. The children are Saad, who is 20; Ossman, 17; Mohammed, 15; Fatma, 14; Hamza, 12; Iman, 9; and Bakr, 7. They are placed under virtual house arrest in a high-security compound near Tehran, “for their own safety.” The Iranian authorities will publicly deny their presence in the country, and will attempt to cut off their communications with the outside world. Al-Qaeda operatives will also be held in Iran after 9/11 (see Spring 2002). The whereabouts of the detained family members will remain unknown until November 2009, when they will contact another son of bin Laden, Omar Ossama, who is currently living in Qatar with his wife. The family will tell Omar they live as normal a life as possible, cooking meals, watching television, and reading. They will be allowed out only rarely for shopping trips. As a number of families are being held in the compound, some of the older siblings will be able to marry and have their own children. “The Iranian government did not know what to do with this large group of people that nobody else wanted, so they just kept them safe,” Omar Ossama will later say. [Times (London), 12/23/2009]
Two peripheral members of the al-Qaeda cell in Hamburg, Germany, leave Germany to attend an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan. Ibrahim Diab, a Lebanese national, and Bechim Ademi, a naturalized German, are said to be recent al-Qaeda recruits. They have been attending the Al-Quds mosque in Hamburg also attended by many of the cell members. They will later claim that cell members Ramzi bin al-Shibh and Mohammed Haydar Zammar convinced them to go to Afghanistan for training (and Zammar paid for at least Diab’s ticket (see August 2001). By September 23, 2001, they will have reached a training camp near Kabul and begun weapons training. They will recognize Hamburg cell members Zakariya Essabar and Said Bahaji at the camp. Bahaji left Germany for Afghanistan in early September 2001 (see September 3-5, 2001) and Essabar made a similar trip around the same time (see Late August 2001). Essabar stays with the camp’s leaders and seems to have an important position. Diab and Ademi will be arrested in Pakistan in October 2001 (see October 29, 2001). [Chicago Tribune, 2/23/2003] They will be sent back to Germany in November 2001, after pressure by the German government. They will be interrogated by German officials and reveal the information mentioned above. However, they will be released and not charged with any crime. [Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 7/20/2004] It is unclear if the timing of their departure from Germany one day before the 9/11 attacks shows foreknowledge of the attacks or if it is just a coincidence.
The Northern Alliance releases a statement, saying, “Ahmed Shah Massoud was the target of an assassination attempt organized by the Pakistani [intelligence service] ISI and Osama bin Laden.” Massoud was the head leader of the Northern Alliance, the main group fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, until he was assassinated the previous day (see September 9, 2001). [Radio Free Europe, 9/10/2001; Newsday, 9/15/2001; Reuters, 10/4/2001] In June 2002, the New Yorker will report that there has been little to no investigation in Afghanistan into who was responsible for Massoud’s assassination. Even though the Northern Alliance has taken power, one of the figures some suspect of a role in the assassination is Abdul Rasul Sayyaf, a warlord with radical Islamist ties but who also has gained power in the new Afghan government. However, Afghan Defense Minister and Northern Alliance leader Mohammad Qasim Fahim will tell the New Yorker that Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf was at ISI headquarters hours after Massoud was assassinated, possibly celebrating the assassination with ISI officials there (see September 9, 2001). [New Yorker, 6/10/2002] If Fahim had been immediately aware of this intelligence, it could help explain how quickly the Northern Alliance blamed the ISI.
Afghanistan’s ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, is approached by his US counterpart and warned that Osama bin Laden is planning an attack on the US. According to Zaeef’s 2010 memoir, at some point before 9/11 Zaeef is contacted by William Milam, the US ambassador to Pakistan, who “unexpectedly asked for an appointment that very same day. (The Americans occasionally got agitated over small things.)” Milam insists on the meeting, although Zaeef is tired, and comes to visit him at his home, accompanied by Paula Thedi, political affairs officer to the US ambassador in Pakistan. According to Zaeef’s book, Milam “seemed worried and impatient and started to talk as soon as he entered the room.” He tells Zaeef: “Our intelligence reports reveal that Osama is planning a major attack on America. This is why we had to come immediately at such a late hour. You need to tell officials in Afghanistan to prevent the attacks!” Zaeef will write that he immediately forwards the ambassador’s concerns to Kabul, and Kabul responds 23 hours later with a letter that states: “Afghanistan has no intention to harm the United States of America now or in the future. We do not condone attacks of any kind against America and prevent anyone from using Afghan soil to plan or train for any such attacks.” Zaeef will say he personally translates this statement from Pashtu and passes it to the American ambassador. Immediately after 9/11, Zaeef will issue a similar statement to the media on Kabul’s stance, which says: “We strongly condemn the events that happened in the United States at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. We share the grief of all those who have lost their nearest and dearest in these incidents. All those responsible must be brought to justice. We want them to be brought to justice, and we want America to be patient and careful in their actions.” Zaeef will be detained after the US invasion of Afghanistan and held for several years, including a spell in Guantanamo, before his release without charge. [Zaeef, 1/20/2010, pp. 138]
In June 2004, future 9/11 Commissioner Bob Kerrey will say that before 9/11, “There’s no question the Taliban was getting money from the Saudis… and there’s no question they got much more than that from the Pakistani government. Their motive is a secondary issue for us.” He claims this finding is based almost entirely on information known to the US government before 9/11. “All we’re doing is looking at classified documents from our own government, not from some magical source. So we knew what was going on, but we did nothing.” [Los Angeles Times, 7/16/2004] However, the 9/11 Commission will leave such material out of its final report and in fact make the claim in its last staff statement, “There is no convincing evidence that any government financially supported al-Qaeda before 9/11.” [9/11 Commission, 6/16/2004]
Newsweek will report in 2006, “The intelligence community generally agrees that the number of true A-list al-Qaeda operatives out there around the time of 9/11 was no more than about 1,000, perhaps as few as 500, most in and around Afghanistan.” [Newsweek, 6/28/2006] John Arquilla, a Special Operations expert at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California, makes a higher end estimate, claiming “there were probably 3,000 core al-Qaeda operatives” around the time of 9/11. [Newsweek, 8/28/2007] US intelligence will later conclude that about 20,000 people passed through al-Qaeda training camps from 1996 to 9/11, and many of them will keep some level of affiliation with the group. However, only about 180 operatives have pledged loyalty to Osama bin Laden by 9/11. Counterterrorism expert Rohan Gunaratna will say, “Al-Qaeda is an elite organization that takes very few members.” [New York Times, 9/10/2002; US News and World Report, 6/2/2003] Ali Soufan, an FBI agent focusing on al-Qaeda before 9/11, will later claim that at the time of 9/11, al-Qaeda had about 400 members. [Soufan, 2011, pp. xxiii] Author Terry McDermott will later comment: “Over 20-plus years, tens of thousands of men went through the Afghan training camps. In the same period, nearly a dozen attacks attributed to Islamic fundamentalists occurred around the world. But most of these men and most of these attacks had little, other than overlapping intent, to do with al-Qaeda. Most were independent groups running independent, often local, operations. In the attacks that were instigated by al-Qaeda, the same handful of people were involved in virtually every one. Even foot soldiers were recycled to new operations. The organization was so small that almost everybody in it at one time or another had personal interactions with top leadership.” [McDermott, 2005, pp. 194, 201-202]
The CIA learns that two prominent Pakistani nuclear scientists have met with al-Qaeda leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri in mid-August 2001, Secretary of State Colin Powell will tell Pakistani officials when he visits Pakistan in October this year (see Early October-December 2001). In the meeting, the two scientists, Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudiri Abdul Majeed, discussed helping al-Qaeda make a nuclear weapon (see Mid-August 2001). [Frantz and Collins, 2007, pp. 268-269] CIA Director George Tenet will confirm, in a 2007 book, that the CIA learned of this meeting prior to 9/11. He will write: “A Western intelligence service came to us in the fall of 2001 [with details of the meeting].… [The] CIA pressed the Pakistanis to confront Mahmood and Majeed with this new information. We put [evidence that a charity named Ummah Tameer-e-Nau run by Mahmood and Majeed tried to sell Libya a nuclear weapon] on the table. We also passed new information that had been collected by other intelligence services. To no avail. Then 9/11 struck and there was no slowing down in this pursuit.” [Tenet, 2007, pp. 264] No evidence will be presented showing that President Bush or other top US officials are warned of this, or that there are any general warnings inside the US government about this. Pakistan is not successfully pressured about it before 9/11 (in fact, the Pakistani ISI already knows about it and has failed to warn the US (see Between Mid-August and September 10, 2001)), and after 9/11 the only action Pakistan will take is to twice arrest and then quickly release the two scientists. Authors Adrian Levy and Catherine Scott-Clark will comment in a 2007 book, “This information, added to the missing canisters of highly enriched uranium [in Pakistan], might have been sufficient to redirect” top Bush officials to take sterner action against al-Qaeda before 9/11. [Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 311]
Steve Bongardt. [Source: Government Matters]Steve Bongardt, an agent at an FBI office in Manhattan, reads a report on his computer about Osama bin Laden reopening his underground facility in Afghanistan and he will subsequently determine that this incident is related to the attacks on the World Trade Center. [Wright, 2006, pp. 356-357; Graff, 2011, pp. 309-310] Bongardt is a member of the FBI’s I-49 squad. [Wright, 2006, pp. 377] The squad is focused on bin Laden and al-Qaeda’s central command. It is based in an office on the eighth floor at 290 Broadway, across the street from the FBI’s New York field office at 26 Federal Plaza. [Graff, 2011, pp. 205-206] Bongardt is one of the first people to arrive at the office this morning, coming into work sometime before 8:30 a.m. He turns on his computer and reads some of the day’s intelligence. He is puzzled by one particular piece of information he sees. “A report had Osama bin Laden reopening his large underground facility at Tora Bora in Afghanistan and sprucing it up,” journalist and author Garrett Graff will write. According to author Lawrence Wright, the report states that “the al-Qaeda camps in Tora Bora [are] being revitalized.” [Wright, 2006, pp. 356-357; Graff, 2011, pp. 309] The Tora Bora encampment is a “natural and manmade fortress of caves and bunkers,” according to the Chicago Tribune. It comprises a “series of rooms and tunnels,” and can “comfortably house 1,000 people,” according to an Afghan who visited the complex a few months ago. [Chicago Tribune, 11/28/2001] “That can’t be good,” Bongardt thinks upon reading the report. “What the hell is [bin Laden] doing?” he wonders. Bongardt will feel the room shake when Flight 11 crashes into the WTC, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), and promptly head out of the building. He will realize what has happened when he sees that both of the Twin Towers are on fire and notices a massive jetliner engine lying on the street. He will then connect what is occurring to the report he read on his computer. He will understand that “this was the work of bin Laden,” according to Wright. “This is al-Qaeda. This is why they’re polishing up Tora Bora,” he will think. [Wright, 2006, pp. 357-359; Graff, 2011, pp. 309-310]
New Yorker magazine will later report that bin Laden, al-Qaeda number two Ayman al-Zawahiri, and some of their followers evacuated their residences in Kandahar, Afghanistan, and fled into the nearby mountains. By the time the attacks start, they are listening to an Arabic radio station reporting about the 9/11 attacks as they happen. [New Yorker, 9/9/2002]
Bill Grimes. [Source: Lori A. Bultman / US Air Force]Colonel Bill Grimes receives a call in which he is asked about getting the Predator drone, a remotely controlled, unmanned plane, ready to fly over Afghanistan. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 235] Grimes is the director of Big Safari, a highly secretive Air Force program based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio that specializes in modifying standard Air Force aircraft for time-sensitive and highly classified operations. [Defense Update, 5/3/2013; Wired, 12/17/2015] He was in his office at Wright-Patterson this morning when a colleague told him an airplane had crashed into the World Trade Center. He then joined others watching the television coverage of the incident in the conference room next to his office and saw the second hijacked plane crashing into the WTC, at 9:03 a.m. (see 9:03 a.m. September 11, 2001). “Within a few minutes” of the second crash, according to journalist and author Richard Whittle, Grimes is called back to his office to take a call from Lieutenant Colonel Kenneth Johns, who is at Air Force headquarters at the Pentagon. Johns wants to know what needs to be done to get three Predators, and whatever is needed to fly them over Afghanistan, ready to go. But just as the two men start discussing the matter, Johns says he will have to call again later, since the Pentagon is being evacuated. This evacuation is presumably in response to the attack on the Pentagon, which occurs at 9:37 a.m. (see 9:37 a.m. September 11, 2001). Grimes says he will have answers by the time the two men talk again. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 235] He will subsequently call members of his team, and tell them to pack their bags and prepare to deploy. He will instruct them to go to the airfield at Palmdale, California, where a C-17 cargo plane will arrive soon to pick them up. Grimes will later write that he starts calling the members of his team “[m]ere moments after the second airliner crashed into the World Trade Center.” According to Whittle, he starts making the calls “shortly after” the second crash at the WTC. However, if his conversation with Johns occurs around the time of the Pentagon attack, he presumably only starts calling the members of his team after 9:37 a.m. A C-17 will set off tomorrow to fly three Predators, along with members of Grimes’s team, from California to Washington, DC (see September 12-14, 2001). [Whittle, 2011, pp. 25 ; Grimes, 2014, pp. 334-335; Whittle, 2014, pp. 239-240]
Donald Cook. [Source: US Air Force]Lieutenant General Donald Cook, acting commander of the Air Combat Command (ACC), receives a call in which he is told the White House wants to know how quickly the Predator drone, a remotely controlled, unmanned plane, can be deployed over Afghanistan. Cook, who is currently at ACC headquarters at Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, receives the call “less than one hour after” the first hijacked plane crashed into the World Trade Center (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001), according to journalist and author Richard Whittle, which means the call is made before around 9:45 a.m. The caller, Whittle will write, says that the “White House [wants] to know how soon the Air Force could get three Predators over Afghanistan—with missiles under their wings.” The identity of the caller is unstated. Later this morning, Cook will talk to Colonel Ed Boyle, director of intelligence for the ACC, who is away in Arizona, and pass on this information to him (see (After 10:00 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Whittle, 2014, pp. 236; Air and Space Magazine, 3/2015] The first Predator mission over Afghanistan will take place on September 18 and on October 7, the first day of the war in Afghanistan, the first armed Predator mission will be flown (see September 18-October 7, 2001 and October 7, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 ; Grimes, 2014, pp. 335]
Rich Gibaldi. [Source: Rich Gibaldi]Colonel Ed Boyle, director of intelligence for the Air Combat Command (ACC), and Colonel Rich Gibaldi, another senior Air Force intelligence officer, are ordered to return to Langley Air Force Base in Virginia to get the Predator drone, a remotely controlled, unmanned plane, ready to deploy over Afghanistan. Boyle spent part of the summer organizing an expanded “expeditionary intelligence squadron” to fly Predators over Afghanistan for the CIA, beginning on September 25, but he has recently had time for some other business. He and Gibaldi flew to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona, where, yesterday, they attended some meetings.
Officers Learned of the Attacks While Driving to an Army Base - The two officers learned of the attacks on the World Trade Center this morning as they were driving from there to Fort Huachuca, an Army base in southern Arizona, where they were going to attend a change of command ceremony. They heard of the crashes on the car radio. After hearing about the second one, Boyle told his colleague, “We’ve got a problem.” The officers arrived at Fort Huachuca within half an hour.
Officer Was Told to Return to Langley Air Force Base - While they were at the gate, Boyle’s cell phone rang. On the other end of the line was Lieutenant General Donald Cook, acting commander of the ACC, calling from ACC headquarters at Langley Air Force Base. After Boyle said where he and Gibaldi were, Cook told him to get back to Langley Air Force Base as soon as possible and ordered him to call back from a secure phone. Boyle was unable to use a secure phone at Fort Huachuca. But with the ceremony there canceled in response to the terrorist attacks, he and Gibaldi apparently left the base promptly to head back to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
Commander Asks about Getting Drones Airborne - Now, as they are driving to Davis-Monthan, Boyle calls Cook and explains that it will be some time before he can call from a secure phone. Cook then tells him he will need to get Predator drones ready for use as soon as possible. “You need to get your butt back here,” he says. He adds that General John Jumper, the Air Force chief of staff, “wants to know when you can be operational and flying.”
Officer Is Told the White House Wants Drones over Afghanistan - After Boyle and Gibaldi arrive back at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Boyle finds a secure phone and calls Cook. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 232-233, 236] Cook received a call earlier this morning in which he was told the White House wanted to know when Predators could be deployed (see (Before 9:45 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [Air and Space Magazine, 3/2015] He now tells Boyle about this call, saying the White House wants to know how soon the Air Force can get three Predators, armed with Hellfire missiles, over Afghanistan. Boyle and Gibaldi will subsequently have to drive the long distance from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base to Langley Air Force Base, and will arrive at Langley early on the morning of September 14. [Whittle, 2014, pp. 236, 238-239] The first Predator mission over Afghanistan will take place on September 18 and on October 7, the first day of the war in Afghanistan, the first armed Predator mission will be flown (see September 18-October 7, 2001 and October 7, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 ; Grimes, 2014, pp. 335]
At around 8:00 p.m., Afghanistan time (11:30 a.m., New York time), Taliban leader Mullah Omar allegedly says, “Things have gone much further than expected.” This is according to what the New Yorker will describe as “Afghan intelligence sources” who monitor the call. (It is unclear what “Afghan intelligence sources” means, since the Taliban control nearly all of Afghanistan at this time, but it could be a reference to Northern Alliance forces; the CIA gave them equipment to monitor the Taliban (see Winter 1999-March 2000).) Omar’s comment takes place over an hour after one of the World Trade Center towers collapsed, which means thousands have been killed in the attacks, not hundreds (see 9:59 a.m. September 11, 2001). An Afghan intelligence official will later say: “They were expecting a reaction. But they thought it would be a Clinton-type reaction. They didn’t anticipate the kind of revenge that occurred.” [New Yorker, 6/10/2002] The “Clinton-type reaction” presumably is a reference to the August 1998 missile strikes on Sudan and Afghanistan during the Clinton administration (see August 20, 1998).
At around 9:30 p.m., Afghanistan time (1:00 p.m., New York time), Taliban Foreign Minister Mullah Wakil Ahmed Muttawakil holds a press conference in Kabul, Afghanistan, and claims that the 9/11 attacks did not originate from Afghanistan. He reads a statement by Taliban leader Mullah Omar, which claims that Osama bin Laden also was not involved: “This type of terrorism is too great for one man,” the statement says. [New Yorker, 6/10/2002]
After President Bush leaves his video conference, other top leaders continue to discuss what steps to take. Counterterrorism “tsar” Richard Clarke asks what to do about al-Qaeda, assuming they are behind the attacks. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage states, “Look, we told the Taliban in no uncertain terms that if this happened, it’s their ass. No difference between the Taliban and al-Qaeda now. They both go down.” Regarding Pakistan, the Taliban’s patrons, Armitage says, “Tell them to get out of the way. We have to eliminate the sanctuary.” [Clarke, 2004, pp. 22-23]
According to journalist Kathy Gannon, President Bush calls Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf at some point during the evening of 9/11. Bush tells Musharraf he has to choose between supporting or opposing the US. “Musharraf promised immediate and unconditional support for the United States and said he could stop Pakistan’s support for the Taliban. Overnight, Musharraf went from pariah to valued friend.” [Gannon, 2005, pp. 146] Similar conversations will take place between US officials and the ISI Director who happens to be in Washington (see September 13-15, 2001). But despite these promises, the Pakistani ISI will continue to secretly help the Taliban (see for instance Mid-September-October 7, 2001, September 17-18 and 28, 2001 and Early October 2001).
Before 9/11, US intelligence had collected a list of potential bombing targets in Afghanistan (see Late August 1998-2001). The list is said to include 20 to 25 major drug labs and other drug-related facilities. But according to a CIA source, when the list is turned over to the US military after 9/11, the Pentagon and White House refuse to order the bombing of any of the drug-related targets. This CIA source complains, “On the day after 9/11, that target list was ready to go, and the military and the [National Security Council] threw it out the window. We had tracked these [targets] for years. The drug targets were big places, almost like small towns that did nothing but produce heroin. The British were screaming for us to bomb those targets, because most of the heroin in Britain comes from Afghanistan. But they refused.” This source believes that if the US had bombed those targets, “it would have slowed down drug production in Afghanistan for a year or more.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 154] The US will continue to avoid taking action against drug operations in Afghanistan (see February 2002).
The US is not interested in help from a high-level Taliban informant. Mullah Mohammed Khaksar was the Taliban’s intelligence minister and is currently their deputy interior minister. He is in charge of security in the Afghan capital of Kabul and regularly meets with other high ranking Taliban leaders. But since 1997, he has also been secretly providing a steady stream of intelligence to the Northern Alliance, the enemies of the Taliban. Further, he had offered to help the US defeat the Taliban, and several times before 9/11 CIA agents disguised as journalists visited him to solicit inside information (see April 1999). [Washington Post, 11/30/2001] However, in the weeks after 9/11, he passes letters to get in contact with US intelligence, but never hears back from them. Time magazine will later report, “Khaksar said he was ready to pass on information that might lead to the capture of the fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar and to some al-Qaeda hideouts in Afghanistan. But he waited days, weeks, months, and nobody contacted him.” [Time, 2/25/2002] Finally in late November 2001, he will publicly defect to the Northern Alliance, thus ending his ability to get real-time information on the movements of Omar and others. [Knight Ridder, 11/29/2001] The US will continue to remain uninterested in what Khaksar has to say (see February 25, 2002).
ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed, extending his Washington visit because of the 9/11 attacks, meets with US officials and negotiates Pakistan’s cooperation with the US against al-Qaeda. On the morning of September 12, 2001, Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage summons Mahmood and Pakistani ambassador to the US Maleeha Lodhi to his office. He allegedly offers Mahmood the choice: “Help us and breathe in the 21st century along with the international community or be prepared to live in the Stone Age.” [Deutsche Presse-Agentur (Hamburg), 9/12/2001; Japan Economic Newswire, 9/17/2001; LA Weekly, 11/9/2001; Rashid, 2008, pp. 27] Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf will write in a 2006 book (see September 25, 2006) that Armitage actually threatens to bomb Pakistan “back to the Stone Age.” However, Armitage will deny using this wording and say he did not threaten military force. [National Public Radio, 9/22/2006] Armitage says he will soon have a list of specific demands for Pakistan (see September 13-15, 2001). Mahmood makes an unequivocal commitment that Pakistan will stand by the US. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 27] However, this commitment apparently is not sincere, because Mahmood returns to Pakistan several days later and tries to convince Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf to support the Taliban instead of the US in the upcoming Afghanistan conflict (see September 15, 2001).
Prominent conservative and former Reagan administration official William Bennett tells CNN that, in light of the 9/11 attacks, the US is locked in “a struggle between good and evil.” Congress must immediately declare war on what he calls “militant Islam,” with “overwhelming force.” Bennett says the US must target Lebanon, Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, and China as targets for attack. In 2003, fellow conservative Pat Buchanan will write: “Not, however, Afghanistan, the sanctuary of Osama [bin Laden]‘s terrorists. How did Bennett know which nations must be smashed before he had any idea who attacked us?” [American Conservative, 3/24/2003]
A close aide to Osama bin Laden reports that bin Laden denies any role in the previous day’s attacks on the United States, but has praised those responsible for them. [Associated Press, 9/12/2001] The aide, one of bin Laden’s senior lieutenants, speaks by satellite telephone with Palestinian journalist Jamal Ismail, who is the Islamabad bureau chief of Abu Dhabi Television. [Associated Press, 9/12/2001; Daily Telegraph, 9/13/2001] Ismail has long-standing ties with bin Laden and has conducted several interviews with him over the last few years. [Associated Press, 9/13/2001] The aide, who does not want to be publicly named, calls Ismail early in the day from a hideout somewhere in Afghanistan. He quotes bin Laden as calling the attacks on the US “punishment from almighty Allah” for America’s attempt to “control the entire world by force.” He tells Ismail, “Osama bin Laden thanked Almighty Allah and bowed before him when he heard this news [of the attacks].” But, the aide says, bin Laden has stated, “I have no information about the attackers or their aims and I don’t have any links with them.” [Associated Press, 9/12/2001; Daily Telegraph, 9/13/2001; Reuters, 9/13/2001; BBC, 9/14/2001]
Immediately after 9/11, the Taliban’s ambassador to Pakistan, Abdul Salam Zaeef, issues a statement to the media about the attacks. “We strongly condemn the events that happened in the United States at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon,” it reads. “We share the grief of all those who have lost their nearest and dearest in these incidents. All those responsible must be brought to justice. We want them to be brought to justice, and we want America to be patient and careful in their actions.” [Zaeef, 1/20/2010, pp. 144]
In 2007, Los Angeles Times journalist Steven Braun, coauthor of a book on arms dealer Victor Bout, will claim, “We now know that one of Bout’s pals approached an American intelligence agent soon after the [9/11] attacks, suggesting that the US use his operation in arming the Northern Alliance against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. We don’t know for sure if the US accepted, but European intelligence officials believe a relationship blossomed. Within two years, Bout was flying for us not only in Iraq, but also in Afghanistan.” [Harper's, 7/26/2007] The Bout associate Braun refers to is Sanjivan Ruprah. In November 2001, Ruprah contacts an FBI agent and offers a deal. He and Bout will secretly help the US arm the Northern Alliance in its fight against the Taliban, and help the US gain information on al-Qaeda and other militant groups. He and Bout would provide and deliver many millions of dollars’ worth of weapons that the Northern Alliance has already told Bout that they need. It is unclear if the deal ever goes through, and some experts and officials doubt it. However, one European official will later say, “We know Bout had his aircraft near Afghanistan and made them available to the US efforts almost immediately. They needed him and he had the only airlift capacity in the region.… The deal was, if he flew, the US would leave him alone.” Richard Chichakli, a close associate of Bout’s, will later boast that Bout organized three flights carrying US personnel to Afghanistan. (He will later withdraw the claim.) Ruprah twice flies to the US for secret talks with the FBI about such deals, despite being on a UN travel ban list. Such contacts are kept secret from US officials attempting to arrest Bout. Ruprah will be arrested in Belgium in February 2002, and documents found in his possession are the only reason anything is known about his secret talks with the FBI. Two months later, he is freed on bail and immediately skips the country. He is soon arrested in Italy, then curiously freed on bail again, and then escapes again. He has not been rearrested since. [Farah and Braun, 2007, pp. 194-202] Prior to 9/11, Bout was the main arms dealer for the Taliban, greatly assisting al-Qaeda in the process. He had been supplying weapons to the Northern Alliance until about 1996, but switched sides once the Taliban gained the upper hand in the conflict (see October 1996-Late 2001). But despite these alleged US ties, it 2002 it will be reported that Bout has recently been helping al-Qaeda and the Taliban transport gold (see Summer 2002). He will work for the US military in Iraq in 2003 (see Late April 2003-2007).
CIA Director George Tenet and Cofer Black, the director of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, meet at 9:30 a.m. in the White House Situation Room with President Bush and the National Security Council. Tenet presents a plan for tracking down Osama bin Laden, toppling the Taliban in Afghanistan, and confronting terrorism worldwide. According to journalist Bob Woodward, the plan involves “bringing together expanded intelligence-gathering resources, sophisticated technology, agency paramilitary teams and opposition forces in Afghanistan in a classic covert action. They would then be combined with US military power and Special Forces into an elaborate and lethal package designed to destroy the shadowy terrorist networks.” A key concept is to utilize the Northern Alliance, which is the main opposition force in Afghanistan. Despite being “a strained coalition of sometimes common interests,” Tenet says that along with the CIA teams “and tons of money, the Alliance could be brought together into a cohesive fighting force.” Black gives a presentation describing the effectiveness of covert action. He says they will need to go after the Taliban as well as al-Qaeda, as the two are joined at the hip. He wants the mission to begin as soon as possible, and adds, “When we’re through with them, they will have flies walking across their eyeballs.” Black claims that once they are on the ground, victory could be achieved in weeks. According to Bob Woodward, “No one else in the room, including Tenet, believed that was possible.” Black also warns the president, “Americans are going to die.… How many, I don’t know. Could be a lot.” Bush responds, “That’s war. That’s what we’re here to win.” This is the second presentation laying out an increasingly detailed set of CIA proposals for expanding its fight against terrorism. (George Tenet had given the first when he met with the president the day before (see September 12, 2001).) Tenet will give a more detailed presentation of the CIA’s covert action plan two days later, at Camp David (see September 15, 2001). [Woodward, 2002, pp. 50-53; Washington Post, 1/29/2002; Kessler, 2003, pp. 233-234]
Entity Tags: George J. Tenet, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Cofer Black, George W. Bush, National Security Council, Osama bin Laden, Northern Alliance, Taliban
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef. [Source: Robert Nickelsberg / Getty Images]Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban says that Osama bin Laden has told them he played no role in the September 11 attacks on the United States. Mullah Abdul Salam Zaeef, the Taliban ambassador to Pakistan, tells Reuters, “We asked from him, [and] he told [us] we don’t have any hand in this action.” [Reuters, 9/13/2001] Zaeef says bin Laden has been cut off from all outside communication, including telephone and the Internet, and so it would have been impossible for him to have coordinated the attacks. [Reuters, 9/13/2001; Los Angeles Times, 9/15/2001] Zaeef says the Taliban is willing to cooperate with the US in investigating the 9/11 attacks, stating, “We are ready for any help according to [Islamic] Sharia law.” But he stresses that if America has any evidence against bin Laden, it should provide it to the Taliban, which has sheltered him as a “guest.” [Reuters, 9/13/2001]
Immediately after the 9/11 attacks, the Russian government realizes the US will attempt to push into the Central Asian “Stans”—Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan—as part of the US effort to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda in the region. But these countries had been part of the Soviet Union ten years before, and Russia does not want the US increasing its influence there. On September 13, 2001, Russian intelligence officials hold a meeting with Northern Alliance figures and the other governments that support the Northern Alliance—Iran, India, and Uzbekistan. They promise to increase support to the Northern Alliance in an attempt to outbid the US and keep the US military out of the region. Soon after, Tajikistan announces that it will not allow its airspace to be used by US aircraft. But Uzbekistan is the key country, since it has the most military bases inherited from the Soviet era, the largest population, and also a key strategic location. It also has been working with the CIA against al-Qaeda and the Taliban for several years (see 1998 and After). Uzbekistan indicates it is going to allow the US to base some of its military operations there. Realizing that the other countries are likely to follow Uzbekistan’s lead, Russia switches positions and attempts to make a collective offer to the US. On September 17, Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a meeting in Moscow with the leaders from all the “Stans” in an attempt to reach a joint agreement about allowing the US to use former Soviet military bases. A formal deal is reached between the US and Russia on September 22 after Putin speaks to President Bush on the telephone.
The US agrees that its bases in the region will only be temporary.
Bush will stop criticizing Russia for its war in Chechnya.
The US will consult with Russia before taking further steps in Central Asia.
The US will help accelerate Russian integration into Western economic institutions.
Russian commanders who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980s give extensive briefings to US Army generals.
By this time, CIA teams are already moving into the K2 air base in southern Uzbekistan. Tajikistan also reverses course and allows the US to use bases there as well. Deals between the US, Russia, and Central Asian countries are initially kept secret from the public. But within days of the agreement between Putin and Bush, newspapers begin to report that US forces are moving into Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Other countries make similar deals later (see September 22, 2001-December 2001). [Rashid, 2008, pp. 69-71]
Some attendees of the Camp David meeting on September 15, 2001. From left to right: I. Lewis Libby, John Ashcroft, Dick Cheney, George Bush, Colin Powell, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz. [Source: PBS]President Bush meets with his advisers at Camp David for a day of intensive discussions about how to respond to the 9/11 attacks. CIA Director George Tenet has arrived there “with a briefcase stuffed with top-secret documents and plans, in many respects the culmination of more than four years of work on bin Laden, the al-Qaeda network and worldwide terrorism.” With him is his deputy, John McLaughlin, and counterterrorism chief Cofer Black. Also in the conference room with them, among others, are Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Dick Cheney, and Colin Powell. For his 30-minute presentation, Tenet gives out a briefing packet titled “Going to War.” His presentation covers several key components for the fight against terrorism:
Tenet advocates substantially stepping up “direct support of the Northern Alliance,” the main Afghan opposition group, as part of a strategy to create “a northern front, closing the safe haven” of Afghanistan. His idea is that “Afghan opposition forces, aided by the United States, would move first against the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif, try to break the Taliban’s grip on that city and open up the border with Uzbekistan. From there the campaign could move to other cities in the north.” Tenet also explains that the CIA had begun working with a number of tribal leaders in the south of Afghanistan the previous year, and these could be enticed to joint a US-led campaign.
The plan includes “a full-scale covert attack on the financial underpinnings of the terrorist network, including clandestine computer surveillance and electronic eavesdropping to locate the assets of al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.”
The CIA and FBI would work together to track down bin Laden supporters in the US.
A key proposal is a recommendation that the president give the CIA “exceptional authorities” to destroy al-Qaeda. Tenet wants a broad intelligence order allowing the agency to conduct covert operations without requiring formal approval for each specific operation, thus authorizing it to operate without restraint. Tenet and his senior deputies would be permitted to approve “snatch” operations abroad. Journalist Bob Woodward calls this “truly exceptional power.”
Tenet has with him a draft of a presidential intelligence order—a “finding”—that would give the CIA power “to use the full range of covert instruments, including deadly force.”
Another proposal is that, with additional hundreds of millions of dollars for new covert action, the CIA could “buy” intelligence services of key Arab nations including Egypt, Jordan, and Algeria. These could act as surrogates for the US. As Bob Woodward points out, this “would put the United States in league with questionable intelligence services, some of them with dreadful human rights records. Some had reputations for ruthlessness and using torture to obtain confessions.”
Tenet calls for the initiation of intelligence contact with certain rogue states, such as Libya and Syria, so as to obtain helpful information about the terrorists. (Subsequently, by early 2002, Syria will have emerged as one of the CIA’s most effective allies in the fight against al-Qaeda (see Early 2002-January 2003).)
He has with him a top-secret document called the “Worldwide Attack Matrix.” This details covert operations in 80 countries that he is recommending or are already underway. “Actions ranged from routine propaganda to lethal covert action in preparation for military attacks.” As Woodward describes, this proposal represents “a striking departure for US policy. It would give the CIA the broadest and most lethal authority in its history.”
The president reportedly is much pleased with Tenet’s proposals, “virtually shouting ‘Great job!’” [Woodward, 2002, pp. 74-78; Washington Post, 1/31/2002; Kessler, 2003, pp. 234] He will grant all Tenet’s requests by the following Monday (see September 17, 2001). Tenet had presented a cruder version of the CIA plan at the White House two days earlier (see September 13, 2001).
Entity Tags: Paul Wolfowitz, Northern Alliance, Osama bin Laden, John E. McLaughlin, George J. Tenet, Donald Rumsfeld, Al-Qaeda, George W. Bush, Central Intelligence Agency, Colin Powell, Cofer Black, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan
Sharifuddin Pirzada. [Source: Aamir Qureshi / AFP / Getty Images]On September 15, ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed returns to Pakistan from the US, and Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf holds a meeting with Mahmood and about a dozen other senior officers to discuss how Pakistan should respond to the 9/11 attacks. Musharraf will later recall that the group “made a dispassionate, military-style analysis of our options,” aware that on his decision hung “the fate of millions of people and the future of Pakistan.” For six hours, Mahmood, Lt. Gen. Muzaffar Usmani, Lt. Gen. Jamshaid Gulzar Kiani, and Lt. Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan argue that Pakistan should not help the US at all in its imminent war against the Taliban and al-Qaeda. Mahmood states, “Let the US do its dirty work. Its enemies are our friends.” The Guardian will later call this “a stunning display of disloyalty.” However, Sharifuddin Pirzada, Musharraf’s legal counselor, and a high-ranking Pakistani army officer will claim in a 2007 book that Musharraf in fact did not disagree. He tells his advisers, “Pakistan has been deluged by terrorism for decades. We have learned to live with it. The Americans, too, should get used to the taste of blood.” But Musharraf also sees a strategic opportunity to manipulate the situation for Pakistan’s benefit. Pirzada will later recall, “Musharraf saw that for Pakistan it was 1979 all over again.” This is reference to the start of the Soviet-Afghan war, that led to billions of dollars in aid for Pakistan. “‘We should offer up help,’ Musharraf said, ‘and, mark my words, we will receive a clean bill of health.’” [Guardian, 5/25/2002; Levy and Scott-Clark, 2007, pp. 313-314] Musharraf eventually silences the dissenting generals by suggesting that if Pakistan does not agree to the US demands, Pakistan’s long-time enemy India will gladly take the place of Pakistan in assisting the US. That evening, Musharraf speaks to Wendy Chamberlin, the US ambassador to Pakistan, and tells her that Pakistan has agreed to all of the US demands. However, he strongly hints that Pakistan needs immediate economic relief and an end to US economic sanctions in return. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 30-31] Musharraf has already offered the US unconditional help in its fight against al-Qaeda and the Taliban (see September 13-15, 2001 and (Between 7:00 and 11:00 p.m.) September 11, 2001). But just four days after this meeting, Musharraf gives a speech on Pakistani television implying that Pakistan’s alliance with the US is only a temporary and opportunistic necessity. He says, “I have done everything for Afghanistan and the Taliban when the whole world was against them. We are trying our best to come out of this critical situation without any damage to them” (see September 19, 2001).
On September 15, 2001, President Bush says of bin Laden: “If he thinks he can hide and run from the United States and our allies, he will be sorely mistaken.” [Los Angeles Times, 9/16/2001] Two days later, he says, “I want justice. And there’s an old poster out West, I recall, that says, ‘Wanted: Dead or Alive.’” [ABC News, 9/17/2001] On December 28, 2001, even as the US was declaring victory in Afghanistan, Bush says, “Our objective is more than bin Laden.” [Associated Press, 8/21/2002] Bush’s January 2002 State of the Union speech describes Iraq as part of an “axis of evil” and fails to mention bin Laden at all. On March 8, 2002, Bush still vows: “We’re going to find him.” [Washington Post, 10/1/2002] Yet, only a few days later on March 13, Bush says, “He’s a person who’s now been marginalized.… I just don’t spend that much time on him.… I truly am not that concerned about him.” Instead, Bush is “deeply concerned about Iraq.” [US President, 3/18/2002] The rhetoric shift is complete when Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Richard Myers states on April 6, “The goal has never been to get bin Laden.” [Evans, Novak, Hunt & Shields, 4/6/2002] In October 2002, the Washington Post notes that since March 2002, Bush has avoided mentioning bin Laden’s name, even when asked about him directly. Bush sometimes uses questions about bin Laden to talk about Saddam Hussein instead. In late 2001, nearly two-thirds of Americans say the war on terrorism could not be called a success without bin Laden’s death or capture. That number falls to 44 percent in a March 2002 poll, and the question has since been dropped. [Washington Post, 10/1/2002] Charles Heyman, editor of Jane’s World Armies, later points out: “There appears to be a real disconnect” between the US military’s conquest of Afghanistan and “the earlier rhetoric of President Bush, which had focused on getting bin Laden.” [Christian Science Monitor, 3/4/2002]
According to author James Risen, at some point after 9/11 but before the start of bombing in Afghanistan, “US intelligence located Osama bin Laden, but the US military was not prepared to strike him. [US] intelligence officials say that at the time, the US military was developing a plan for an air campaign over Afghanistan that was not flexible enough to take advantage of the sudden windfall of intelligence concerning bin Laden. This little-known opportunity to kill bin Laden came before the terrorist leader fled into the mountains of southeastern Afghanistan, where he became much more difficult to track.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 185]
Pakistani ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed is periodically meeting and communicating with top Taliban leader Mullah Omar during this time. He is advising him to resist the US and not to hand over bin Laden (see September 17-18 and 28, 2001). According to journalist Kathy Gannon, he is also giving Omar and other Taliban leaders advice on how to resist the US military. Omar has almost no education and very little understanding of the Western world. Mahmood, by contrast, has just come from meetings with top officials in the US (see September 13-15, 2001). Gannon will later write that each time Mahmood visited Omar, he gave him “information about the likely next move by the United States. By then, [he] knew there weren’t going to be a lot of US soldiers on the ground. He warned Mullah Omar that the United States would be relying heavily on aerial bombardment and on the Northern Alliance.” Mahmood gives additional pointers on targets likely to be hit, command and control systems, anti-aircraft defense, what types of weapons the US will use, and so forth. [Gannon, 2005, pp. 93-94] Immediately after 9/11, Mahmood had promised Pakistan’s complete support to help the US defeat the Taliban (see September 13-15, 2001).
Robert Grenier, head of the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, has a secret meeting with Mullah Akhter Mohammed Osmani, considered to be the second-most powerful figure in the Taliban. They meet in a five-star hotel in the Pakistani province of Baluchistan. Grenier suggests that if the Taliban want to avoid the wrath of the US in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, there are several things they can do:
Turn bin Laden over to the US for prosecution.
As CIA Director George Tenet will later put it, “administer justice themselves, in a way that clearly [takes] him off the table.”
Stand aside and let the US find bin Laden on their own.
Osmani and his team relays the offers back to top Taliban leader Mullah Omar, but Omar rejects them. On October 2, Grenier has a second meeting with Osmani in a Baluchistan villa. He makes the new proposal that Osmani should overthrow Omar and then use his new power to get rid of bin Laden. This too is rejected. There are no contemporary media accounts of these meetings, but Tenet will describe them in his 2007 book. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 182-183] Curiously, Osmani will be captured by US forces in 2002 and then let go (see Late July 2002). He will be killed in late 2006 (see December 19, 2006).
Robert Fisk, a veteran journalist who in 1993 was the first Westerner to interview bin Laden (see December 6, 1993), writes an editorial in the Independent entitled “Bush is Walking Into a Trap.” Contrary to the prevailing mood at the time, he writes: “President Bush appears to be heading for the very disaster that Osama bin Laden has laid down for him. Let us have no doubts about what happened in New York and Washington last week. It was a crime against humanity.… But this crime was perpetrated - it becomes ever clearer - to provoke the United States into just the blind, arrogant punch that the US military is preparing.” He argues that unjust US foreign policy in the Middle East is the main reason for widespread Muslim animosity to the US, and that new wars will only exacerbate the problem. He concludes: “I repeat: what happened in New York was a crime against humanity. And that means policemen, arrests, justice, a whole new international court at The Hague if necessary. Not cruise missiles and ‘precision’ bombs and Muslim lives lost in revenge for Western lives. But the trap has been sprung. Mr Bush [is] now walking into it.” [Independent, 9/16/2001]
Osama bin Laden, the exiled Saudi multimillionaire considered by the United States to be the prime suspect for the 9/11 attacks, issues a statement through the Arabic satellite television channel Al Jazeera, in which he denies responsibility for those attacks. [CNN, 9/17/2001; Washington Post, 9/17/2001] In the statement, which is read out by an Al Jazeera announcer, bin Laden says: “The US government has consistently blamed me for being behind every occasion its enemies attack it. I would like to assure the world that I did not plan the recent attacks, which seems to have been planned by people for personal reasons. I have been living in the Islamic emirate of Afghanistan and following its leaders’ rules. The current leader does not allow me to exercise such operations.” The statement is signed “Sheik Osama bin Laden.” [Associated Press, 9/16/2001; CNN, 9/17/2001] President Bush dismisses bin Laden’s denial. Asked whether he believes it, Bush responds: “No question he is the prime suspect. No question about that.” [White House, 9/16/2001; Baltimore Sun, 9/17/2001] Vice President Dick Cheney says he has “no doubt that [bin Laden] and his organization played a significant role” in the 9/11 attacks. [NBC, 9/16/2001; Washington Post, 9/17/2001] On this day, bin Laden also faxes a statement to the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) agency, in which he denies responsibility for the 9/11 attacks (see September 16, 2001). [Guardian, 9/17/2001] Previously, on September 12, he denied any involvement, according to a close aide of his (see September 12, 2001). [Associated Press, 9/13/2001] On September 13, Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban said bin Laden told them he had played no role in the attacks (see September 13, 2001). [Reuters, 9/13/2001] But in mid-December 2001, the Pentagon will release a video which apparently shows bin Laden indicating his complicity (see Mid-November 2001). [BBC, 12/14/2001; Fox News, 12/14/2001] However, there will be questions about the authenticity of this film (see December 13, 2001). [Guardian, 12/15/2001]
A statement is issued to the Afghan Islamic Press (AIP) in which Osama bin Laden denies responsibility for the 9/11 attacks. The statement, which is written in Arabic, is provided by a political aide of bin Laden’s, and faxed from an undisclosed location in Afghanistan to the pro-Taliban AIP. In it, bin Laden is quoted as saying: “I am residing in Afghanistan. I have taken an oath of allegiance [to Afghanistan Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar] which does not allow me to do such things from Afghanistan. We have been blamed in the past, but we were not involved.” [CBS News, 9/16/2001; Reuters, 9/16/2001; Guardian, 9/17/2001] On this day, bin Laden issues a statement through the Arabic satellite television channel Al Jazeera, in which he also denies responsibility for the 9/11 attacks (see September 16, 2001). [CNN, 9/17/2001]
Franklin Miller. [Source: PBS]President Bush is briefed at the Pentagon on upcoming special operations in Afghanistan. National Security Council staffer Franklin Miller reviews a classified slide presentation that an unnamed two-star general is going to give Bush in a few minutes. One slide in the presentation is labeled, “Thinking Outside the Box—Poisoning Food Supply.” Miller shows this to National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice and points out that the US is legally prohibited from committing chemical or biological attacks. Rice talks to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and the two of them agree to take the slide out of the presentation before Bush sees it. [Woodward, 2002, pp. 86-87]
Lieutenant General Mahmood Ahmed. [Source: Agence France-Presse]On September 17, ISI Director Lt. Gen. Mahmood Ahmed heads a six-man delegation that visits Mullah Omar in Kandahar, Afghanistan. It is reported he is trying to convince Omar to extradite bin Laden or face an immediate US attack. [Press Trust of India, 9/17/2001; Financial Times, 9/18/2001; London Times, 9/18/2001] Also in the delegation is Lt. Gen. Mohammed Aziz Khan, an ex-ISI official who appears to be one of Saeed Sheikh’s contacts in the ISI. [Press Trust of India, 9/17/2001] On September 28, Mahmood returns to Afghanistan with a group of about ten religious leaders. He talks with Omar, who again says he will not hand over bin Laden. [Agence France-Presse, 9/28/2001] A senior Taliban official later claims that on these trips Mahmood in fact urges Omar not to extradite bin Laden, but instead urges him to resist the US. [Associated Press, 2/21/2002; Time, 5/6/2002] Another account claims Mahmood does “nothing as the visitors [pour] praise on Omar and [fails] to raise the issue” of bin Laden’s extradition. [Knight Ridder, 11/3/2001] Two Pakistani brigadier generals connected to the ISI also accompany Mahmood, and advise al-Qaeda to counter the coming US attack on Afghanistan by resorting to mountain guerrilla war. The advice is not followed. [Asia Times, 9/11/2002] Other ISI officers also stay in Afghanistan to advise the Taliban.
President Bush signs a 2 1/2-page “top secret” document that outlines the administration’s plan to invade Afghanistan and topple its government. According to administration officials interviewed by the Washington Post, the document also instructs the Pentagon to begin planning for an invasion of Iraq. [Washington Post, 1/12/2003; Mirror, 9/22/2003; Atlantic Monthly, 10/2004 Sources: senior administration officials] The document further orders the military to be ready to occupy Iraq’s oil fields if the country acts against US interests. [Washington Post, 7/23/2004]
In the days just after the 9/11 attacks, top US officials give approval to use the Predator drone in Afghanistan. The first Predator drones and missiles reached the Afghanistan theater on September 16. Two days later, the Predator is first used, flying over Kabul and Kandahar, but without carrying weapons. On October 7, the unnamed nearby country hosting the drones grants approval for armed Predators to be used. The first armed mission is flown later the same day. The CIA is in charge of most Predator flights in the region. [9/11 Commission, 3/24/2004 ] The speed in which the Predator is deployed in Afghanistan is noticeable, considering that just one week before 9/11, National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice concluded that the armed Predator was not ready to be used there (see September 4, 2001).
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf gives a speech on Pakistani television in Urdu, the main language of Pakistan. He draws a lengthy analogy between the situation facing Pakistan in the wake of 9/11 and an opportunistic alliance the Prophet Mohammed made to defeat his enemies. This message is widely interpreted in Pakistan as implying that the alliance with the US is only a temporary necessity. He says, “I have done everything for Afghanistan and the Taliban when the whole world was against them. We are trying our best to come out of this critical situation without any damage to them.” These comments are virtually ignored outside Pakistan at the time. [USA Today, 6/24/2003; Los Angeles Times, 9/5/2006] At no point in the speech does he condemn the Taliban or al-Qaeda, or link them to the 9/11 attacks, despite having promised US officials in recent days that he would do just that. He also says that by bending on Afghanistan, he has saved Islamist militancy in Kashmir, the region disputed between Pakistan and India. [Rashid, 2008, pp. 32]
On September 19, 2001, Cofer Black, head of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, speaks to Gary Berntsen, a CIA officer who is about to lead the first unit of CIA operatives into Afghanistan. Black tells Berntsen that President Bush has signed a new intelligence order. As Black will put it in 2002, the gloves are off (see September 26, 2002). Black orders Berntsen: “You have one mission. Go find the al-Qaeda and kill them. We’re going to eliminate them. Get bin Laden, find him. I want his head in a box.… I want to take it down and show the president.” Berntsen replies, “Well, that couldn’t be any clearer.” [Washington Post, 11/18/2002] Indeed, two days before Bush, signed new orders giving the CIA broad new powers (see September 17, 2001 and September 17, 2001).
Bernsten and his team arrive in Afghanistan on September 26 (see September 26, 2001).
Tarek Dergoul, a British national of Pakistani descent and a former London care worker, travels to Afghanistan with two Pakistani friends shortly after 9/11. They intend to invest in housing, so he claims, which they think will become scarce as soon as the impending US attacks cause refugees. “The plan,” according to Dergoul, “was to buy some property away from where the bombing was. We thought we could buy it very cheap; then sell it at a profit after the war.” [Observer, 5/16/2004]
Voice of America logo. [Source: Voice of America]The publicly funded Voice of America (VOA), which broadcasts its radio signal throughout much of Europe and the Middle East, pulls a 12-minute interview with Taliban leader Mullah Omar after Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage and senior National Security Council officials object to the broadcast. [Guardian, 9/26/2001] The VOA has been attempting to exert some editorial independence ever since it was removed from State Department oversight in 1999 and placed under the oversight of a board of governors. [Guardian, 9/25/2001]
'Voice of America is Not ... the Voice of the Taliban' - The VOA’s plan was to run excerpts from the interview as part of a four-minute segment on Afghan reactions to a speech by President Bush. Instead, many in the White House and elsewhere object, arguing that running such a broadcast merely gives a voice to terrorists. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher tells reporters, “We told members of the board of broadcast governors that we didn’t think it was appropriate for the Voice of America to be broadcasting the voice of the Taliban into Afghanistan and we didn’t think it was consistent with their charter.” [Guardian, 9/25/2001; National Public Radio, 7/23/2004] “… Its charter says that they should explain US government policy and present responsible discussion about it. We don’t consider Mullah Omar to be responsible discussion.” Unless Omar is prepared to announce the turnover of Osama bin Laden, currently under the protection of the Taliban, such an interview would provide “no news or anything newsworthy,” Boucher says. “Carrying the interview would be confusing to the millions of listeners to what is essentially a US government broadcast, paid for by the US government.” [CNN, 9/25/2001] Another State Department official says, “Voice of America is not the Voice of Mullah Omar and not the Voice of the Taliban.” One VOA staffer retorts, “If this is an indication of the gag order they’re going to impose on us, we can’t do our jobs.” [Guardian, 9/25/2001; National Public Radio, 7/23/2004]
'We Tell the Whole Story' - VOA’s deputy director for external affairs, Joe O’Connell, says in response, “We were never going to give him an open mike.” A member of VOA’s Board of Governors, Norman Pattiz, chairman of radio conglomerate Westwood One, tells CNN that the decision not to air the broadcast was made by VOA staffers and not by the governors. [CNN, 9/25/2001; Salon, 4/21/2003] (The New York Times reports that Pattiz indicated staffers had discussed the interview but had not decided whether to suppress it.) Pattiz goes on to say: “I happen to believe that any legitimate news organization in the world would do that interview. And if the United States is going to be a proponent of a free press, it has to walk the walk.” [New York Times, 9/26/2001] “A lot of people in the United States are angry and think the Voice of America is not serving their country the way we should,” says VOA spokeswoman Tara King. “They are getting the wrong impression, but we feel we are providing reliable news. The people in Afghanistan are tuning into us because they trust us, and we tell the whole story.” [Reporters' Committee for a Free Press, 9/28/2001]
Mass Resignations Threatened - In a letter to the board, over 100 VOA journalists describe themselves as “deeply distressed to learn of the suppression” of Mullah Omar’s interview. “These comments were legitimate news,” the letter states. “We believe the integrity of the VOA is at stake. This censorship sets a most unfortunate precedent and damages our credibility with our worldwide audience.” [CNN, 9/25/2001; Committee to Protect Journalists, 9/27/2001] Andre DeNesnera, the VOA news director, writes in an e-mail to staff: “The State Department’s decision is a totally unacceptable assault on our editorial independence, a frontal attack on our credibility. This certainly was a dark, dark day for those of us who have—for years—fought to uphold journalist ethics, balance, accuracy and fairness.” [Committee to Protect Journalists, 9/27/2001] The VOA staff threatens a public mass resignation and eventually runs a drastically edited version of the interview—“like 22 seconds” of tape, then-director Myrna Whitworth will later recall. After VOA runs the edited interview, a government spokesperson warns that the station’s “defiance” would be looked into. Whitworth will be relieved of her duties shortly thereafter and replaced, she will recall, “by a gentleman who had strong ties to the National Security Council.” When she leaves, she leaves a memo telling reporters “not to fall under the spell of self-censorship.” She exhorts journalists to “[c]ontinue to interview, anyone, anywhere.” [Guardian, 9/25/2001; Toronto Star, 9/8/2002; National Public Radio, 7/23/2004]
Entity Tags: Myrna Whitworth, Richard Armitage, National Security Council, Osama bin Laden, Norman Pattiz, Joe O’Connell, Mullah Omar, Andre DeNesnera, Taliban, Bush administration (43), Tara King, Richard A. Boucher, Voice of America, US Department of State
Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda
Prominent neoconservative Newt Gingrich tells Newsweek, “When the US loses what may be more than 6,000 people [on 9/11], there has to be reaction so that the world clearly knows that things have changed.… [There is] a recognition that it will be very tough to get bin Laden in the rocky and mountainous terrain of Afghanistan. There’s a feeling that we’ve got to do something that counts—and bombing some caves is not something that counts.” [Newsweek, 9/23/2001; Newsweek, 8/28/2007] Newsweek will comment on the quote in 2007: “Rather than [fight in Afghanistan], the US military wanted to fight on a grander stage, where it could show off its mobility and firepower. To the civilian bosses at the Pentagon and the eager-to-please top brass, Iraq was a much better target. By invading Iraq, the United States would give the Islamists—and the wider world—an unforgettable lesson in American power. ” [Newsweek, 8/28/2007]
The Voice of America radio station (VOA) prints a transcript of the recently censored interview it did with Taliban leader Mullah Omar. It also airs a short excerpt from the interview. VOA did not air it on its slated broadcast date of September 21 due to objections from the US’s Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, and senior officials on the National Security Council (see September 21-26, 2001). Omar tells the interviewer that his organization is sheltering Osama bin Laden because the issue is not bin Laden, but “Islam’s prestige [and] Afghanistan’s tradition.… If we did, it means we are not Muslims… that Islam is finished.” He says that he sees the US’s war on terrorism as two conflicting promises: “One is the promise of God, the other is that of Bush. The promise of God is that my land is vast. If you start a journey on God’s path, you can reside anywhere on this earth and will be protected.… The promise of Bush is that there is no place on earth where you can hide that I cannot find you. We will see which one of these two promises is fulfilled.… We are confident that no one can harm us if God is with us.” When asked what he means in his repeated statements that “America has taken the Islamic world hostage,” Omar replies: “America controls the governments of the Islamic countries. The people ask to follow Islam, but the governments do not listen because they are in the grip of the United States. If someone follows the path of Islam, the government arrests him, tortures him or kills him. This is the doing of America. If it stops supporting those governments and lets the people deal with them, then such things won’t happen. America has created the evil that is attacking it. The evil will not disappear even if I die and Osama dies and others die. The US should step back and review its policy. It should stop trying to impose its empire on the rest of the world, especially on Islamic countries.” [Guardian, 9/26/2001; Committee to Protect Journalists, 9/27/2001]
Gary Schroen. [Source: CBC]Long-time CIA operative Gary Schroen is assigned on September 13, 2001 to lead a small team into Afghanistan to link up with the Northern Alliance and prepare for the US bombing campaign. His team totalling seven officers and three air crew land in Afghanistan on this day. This team will be the only US forces in the country for nearly a month, until special forces begin arriving on October 19 (see October 19, 2001). Schroen will later comment, “I was surprised at how slow the US military was to get themselves in a position where they could come and join us.” During this month, Schroen’s team gives the Northern Alliance money and assurances that the US is serious with their attack plans. They also survey battlefields with GPS units to determine where opposing forces are located. [PBS Frontline, 1/20/2006]
Veteran CIA officer Gary Schroen and his team of CIA operatives known as “Jawbreaker” is helicoptered into the Panjshir Valley of northeastern Afghanistan. This area, about 70 miles north of Kabul, is controlled by the Northern Alliance. The team of about 10 operatives carries communications equipment so they can directly communicate with CIA headquarters back in the US. Schroen also carries a suitcase containing $3 million in non-sequential $100 bills. That same evening, Schroen meets with Muhammed Arif Sawari, known as Engineer Aref, head of the Northern Alliance’s intelligence service. He gives Aref $500,000 and promises much more money and support soon. The Jawbreaker team will remain the only US forces on the ground in Afghanistan until about the middle of October. [Washington Post, 11/18/2002] Before the Jawbreaker team deploys, J. Cofer Black, the CIA’s Washington coordinator for Jawbreaker, gave the men instructions that author Jeremy Scahill will later call “direct and macabre.” Black told the men: “I don’t want bin Laden and his thugs captured, I want them dead.… They must be killed. I want to see photos of their heads on pikes. I want bin Laden’s head shipped back in a box filled with dry ice. I want to be able to show bin Laden’s head to the president. I promised him I would do that” (see September 19, 2001). Schroen will later say it was the first time in his career he had been ordered to assassinate an enemy rather than attempt a capture. [Nation, 8/20/2009]
According to analyst Maher Osseiran, a home video in which Osama bin Laden admits foreknowledge of 9/11 is made around this date, not on a later date suggested by US officials (see Mid-November 2001). Osseiran argues that the video was part of a sting operation run by the US (see January 19, 2001), and that the first part—making the video—was successful, but the second part—capturing or killing bin Laden—failed. [CounterPunch, 8/21/2006] This is supported by a report in the Observer, which will write that “several intelligence sources have suggested… that the tape, although absolutely genuine, is the result of a sophisticated sting operation run by the CIA through a second intelligence service, possibly Saudi or Pakistani.” [Observer, 12/16/2001] Osseiran points out that the main person bin Laden talks to in the video, veteran fighter Khaled al-Harbi, actually left Saudi Arabia on September 21, and therefore presumably met bin Laden shortly after. A video expert also finds that two cameras were used to make the tape, on which footage of the confession is recorded over footage of a downed US helicopter, and that only part of the footage was transmitted by phone line or satellite. [Kohlmann, 2004, pp. 28-29; CounterPunch, 8/21/2006] On the tape, bin Laden and al-Harbi discuss events in Saudi Arabia immediately after 9/11. There are no references to events in October or November of 2001, such as the US attack on Afghanistan, which occurred on October 7 (see October 7, 2001), or the attack by the Northern Alliance against Kabul in mid-November (see November 13, 2001). [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ]
The Sydney Morning Herald discusses the connections between the CIA and Pakistan’s ISI, and the ISI’s long-standing control over the Taliban. Drugs are a big part of their operation: “opium cultivation and heroin production in Pakistan’s northern tribal belt and adjoining Afghanistan were a vital offshoot of the ISI-CIA cooperation. It succeeded in turning some of the Soviet troops into addicts. Heroin sales in Europe and the US, carried out through an elaborate web of deception, transport networks, couriers, and payoffs, offset the cost of the decade-long war in Afghanistan.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 9/27/2001]
According to CIA Director George Tenet, on this day the CIA inserts its first covert teams into Afghanistan. Eventually this will grow to about 110 CIA operatives by the time the Taliban is routed from Afghanistan in late 2001. [Tenet, 2007, pp. 187, 225]
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