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Britain’s highest court rules that three alleged al-Qaeda operatives can be extradited to the US to face charges of involvement in the 1998 African embassy bombings (see 10:35-10:39 a.m., August 7, 1998). The three, Khalid al-Fawwaz, Ibrahim Eidarous, and Adel Abdel Bary, were arrested in London in late 1998 and early 1999 (see September 23, 1998-July 12, 1999). But the Washington Post reports that the three “can bring still more appeals in Europe that could delay any US trial for months or even years.” [Washington Post, 12/18/2001] In 2002, Eidarous is sent to a mental hospital after psychiatrists say he is mentally ill. In July 2004, he is set free in Britain because he has been diagnosed with leukemia. An insider at his hospital says: “Doctors know that his cancer is well advanced and he probably does not have that long to live. Many here were shocked he has been released though. He is wanted by the FBI for one of the worst terrorist atrocities in history.” [Mirror, 7/22/2004] There have been no reports of him dying since. In 2005, the Times of London will report that al-Fawwaz may be extradited to the US soon. His lawyers are said to be making “last ditch” appeals to delay his extradition. [London Times, 8/31/2005] But as of 2008, neither he nor Abdel Bary have been extradited to the US or charged in Britain.
The man in the picture on the left is supposed to be bin Laden in October 2001. The picture on the right is undisputendly bin Laden in December [Source: Reuters]Following the release of a home video in which Osama bin Laden apparently confesses to involvement in 9/11 (see Mid-November 2001), some commentators question its authenticity, as a number of strange facts about the video soon emerge. For example, all previous videos had been made with the consent of bin Laden, and usually released to the Arabic television channel Al Jazeera. This video was supposedly recorded without his knowledge, found in a house in Afghanistan, and then passed to the CIA by an unknown person or group. Experts point out that it would be possible to fake such a video. So many people doubt the video’s authenticity that President Bush soon makes a statement, saying it was “preposterous for anybody to think this tape was doctored. Those who contend it’s a farce or a fake are hoping for the best about an evil man.” [Guardian, 12/15/2001] Some commentators will suggest that the person thought to be bin Laden is not actually the al-Qaeda leader. For example, arabist Kevin Barrett will say that the person in the video is “at least 40 or 50 pounds heavier, and his facial features [are] obviously different.” [Capital Times (Madison), 2/14/2006] The man said to be bin Laden also makes some questionable statements in the video:
“I was thinking that the fire from the gas in the plane would melt the iron structure of the building…” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ] The jet fuel spilled from the planes burned up about 10 minutes after impact (see 8:57 a.m. September 11, 2001), the towers’ structure did not melt (see September 12, 2001-February 2002), and the towers were not made of iron, but steel. [National Institute of Standards and Technology, 9/2005, pp. 6] Bin Laden had studied civil engineering at university and had experience as a construction contractor. [Burke, 2004, pp. 47; Laden, 2005, pp. xii-xiii] It is unclear why he would think the towers were made of iron.
“We did not reveal the operation to [the brothers who conducted the operation] until they are there and just before they boarded the planes.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ] All the hijackers purchased tickets for the 9/11 flights about two weeks in advance (see August 25-September 5, 2001). The six plot leaders had flight training (see July 6-December 19, 2000, (June 28-December 2000), January-February 2001, and May 5 and 10, 2000), and some of the other 13 are thought to have assisted with target surveillance and casing flights (see May 24-August 14, 2001, August 1, 2001, June 2001 and August 2001).
“Those who were trained to fly didn’t know the others. One group of people did not know the other group.” [US Department of Defense, 12/13/2001 ] The opposite is true: the pilots intermingled with the muscle and the teams for the various planes mixed (see April 23-June 29, 2001, April 12-September 7, 2001, and June 27-August 23, 2001).
There are reports that bin Laden had from four to ten look-alike doubles at the time. [Agence France-Presse, 10/7/2001; London Times, 11/19/2001]
Dugway Proving Ground. [Source: Public domain]The US Army responds to a journalistic investigation and confirms that it has been making weapons-grade anthrax in recent years, in violation of an international treaty. The US offensive biological weapons program was supposedly closed in 1969 when the US signed an international biological weapons treaty. In 1998, scientists at the US Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah turned small quantities of wet anthrax into powder (see Spring 1998 and After). This weaponized anthrax appears to be very similar or identical to the anthrax used in the recent attacks. Molecular biologist Barbara Hatch Rosenberg says: “This is very significant.… There’s never been an acknowledgment that any U.S. facility had weaponized anthrax.… The question is, could someone have gotten hold of a very small amount and used it in the letters?” Some argue that this production of anthrax is in violation of an international biological weapons treaty that the US signed while others argue it is not. It is believed about six scientists at Dugway have the expertise to make powdered anthrax. The FBI has intensively questioned those at Dugway who have worked with anthrax. [Baltimore Sun, 12/13/2001; New York Times, 12/13/2001]
Senate Democrats criticize the Bush administration’s decision to unilaterally withdraw from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty with Russia (see May 26, 1972 and December 13, 2001). Joseph Biden (D-DE), the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says the withdrawal will cause an arms buildup not only in Russia but in Pakistan and India, thereby increasing tensions in southern Asia. President Bush’s priorities are “out of whack,” Biden says, and adds that the US should be more worried about terrorists with weapons of mass destruction than countries with long-range ballistic missiles. “September 11 indicated our country is vulnerable,” Biden says. “The thing we remain the least vulnerable to is an ICBM attack from another nation.” Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle warns that the withdrawal could “rupture relations with key countries around the world,” and raises questions about future arms races involving other countries. Bush officials counter that if terrorists get their hands on long-range missiles, they will use them, and the US must be prepared to defend against such an attack. [CNN, 12/14/2001]
Non-proliferation expert John Rhinelander says that the US’s unilateral withdrawal from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972 and December 13, 2001) threatens nuclear reduction programs between the US and Russia. Rhinelander, who helped negotiate the 1972 treaty, says, “Russia still possesses approximately 6,000 deployed strategic nuclear weapons, many of which are on hair-trigger alert; an even larger number of tactical nuclear weapons; and the huge inventory of weapon-grade fissile materials and chemical-weapon stocks. This arsenal constitutes the largest single threat to the US and the most potent proliferation risk in the world. It can be handled only through negotiation and cooperation between the US and Russia, especially mutual nuclear weapons reductions. This task will be near impossible if President Bush acts unilaterally on the ABM Treaty, which Russia, US allies, and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty community (including the US through 2000) regard as a cornerstone of strategic stability. The more the United States disassociates itself from the ABM Treaty, the less likely it is that Russia will cooperate in nuclear reductions or keep their nuclear infrastructure open to intrusive inspections.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 272-273]
The Bush administration solves the dilemma surrounding a request by Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN) for documents from the Clinton administration (see Early September, 2001) by placing secrecy and executive privilege above a chance to potentially attack Clinton. Burton has tucked the request for the Clinton documents in with another request on a far more serious matter, possible malfeasance by an FBI office. President Bush instructs Attorney General John Ashcroft not to turn over the documents on either case, explaining that turning over the documents would violate the “national interest” by giving Congress documents related to “prosecutorial decision making.” Burton, the Republican and Democratic members of the House Government Reform Committee, and editorial writers and commentators around the country criticize the administration over the refusal to turn over the documents, particularly the FBI information. The White House adds fuel to the controversy by claiming, both on this day and in a January 2002 letter from White House counsel Alberto Gonzales, that the refusal is consistent with long-standing Justice Department policy (see January 10, 2002). The committee will secure an opinion from eminent Constitutional scholar Professor Charles Tiefer, who will show that the White House’s argument is flatly wrong. [Dean, 2004, pp. 85-88]
'Your Guy's Acting Like a King' - An infuriated Burton confronts a lower-level Justice Department official sent to testify about the government’s position: “We’ve got a dictatorial president and a Justice Department that does not want Congress involved. Your guy’s acting like he’s king.” In his official comments, Burton accuses the Bush administration of setting a “terrible, terrible precedent” in the name of executive power. “This is not a monarchy,” Burton says. “The legislative branch has oversight responsibilities to make sure there is no corruption in the executive branch.” In the Senate, Charles Grassley (R-IA) agrees with Burton. “Anything that limits legitimate Congressional oversight is worrisome,” he says. “This move needs to be carefully scrutinized, particularly in an atmosphere where Congress is giving the Justice Department additional powers and authority.”
Politics over Principles - But the storm of Congressional criticism will have little lasting effect. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will write: “[P]olitics defeated… principles. Most Republicans were unwilling to challenge Bush, and many Democrats opposed Burton’s probes of the Clinton campaign fund-raising, so few members of either party were interested in fighting the White House about it. And because Bush’s first invocation of [executive privilege] was done in part to protect Clinton and the Democrats, the gesture seemed principled rather than self-serving. It was tactically brilliant.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 98]
Administration Later Turns Over Documents - After the media controversy, the administration quietly, and without public acknowledgment, will provide the FBI material to the committee. The committee’s final report on the FBI investigation will conclude with six pages of withering criticism of the administration’s fallacious claim to executive privilege. However, as former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will note in 2004, the criticism from the committee is essentially meaningless to the White House, because it will garner no attention from the media and thereby cost the administration no political capital. And while some observers cannot understand why the administration would take such a hardline stand on an issue that lacks any implications for national security, the public interest, or the protection of ongoing criminal investigations, Dean will write that “it makes absolute sense if the administration’s aim is total information control.” He adds: “Accordingly, its policy remains to employ executive privilege aggressively, as long as the political price is not too high. If this administration is given a second term, there will be no price too high to expand this presidential privilege, enabling the executive branch to remain completely unaccountable.” [Dean, 2004, pp. 85-88]
Court Upholds Bush Actions - In 2003, a district court will uphold the Bush administration’s refusal to turn over the documents to Burton’s committee (see March 28, 2003).
US nuclear missiles such as this one will no longer be restricted under the ABM treaty. [Source: Associated Press / CNN]President Bush announces that the US is unilaterally withdrawing from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty (see May 26, 1972). The treaty, negotiated with the former Soviet Union in 1972, sets strict limitations on missile and missile defense developments by both Russia and the US. After the six-month withdrawal period is concluded in mid-2002, the US will begin developing an anti-missile defense system, an outgrowth and extension of the old “Star Wars” system (see March 23, 1983). Bush tells reporters: “Today I am giving formal notice to Russia that the United States of America is withdrawing from this almost 30-year-old treaty.… I have concluded the ABM treaty hinders our government’s ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks.” Bush explains: “The 1972 ABM treaty was signed by the United States and the Soviet Union at a much different time, in a vastly different world. One of the signatories, the Soviet Union, no longer exists and neither does the hostility that once led both our countries to keep thousands of nuclear weapons on hair-trigger alert, pointed at each other.… Today, as the events of September 11 made all too clear, the greatest threats to both our countries come not from each other, or from other big powers in the world, but from terrorists who strike without warning or rogue states who seek weapons of mass destruction.” Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld calls the treaty “outdated.” [White House, 12/13/2001; CNN, 12/14/2001]
Follows Failure to Persuade Russia to Drop Treaty - The decision follows months of talks in which Bush officials attempted without success to persuade Russia to set the treaty aside and negotiate a new one more favorable to US interests. Bush says that he and Russian President Vladimir Putin “have also agreed that my decision to withdraw from the treaty will not in any way undermine our new relationship or Russian security.” Putin calls Bush’s decision a “mistake,” and says the two nations should move quickly to create a “new framework of our strategic relationship.” Putin says on Russian television that the US decision “presents no threat to the security of the Russian Federation.” He also says that the US and Russia should decrease their present stockpiles of nuclear weapons. He wants what he calls “radical, non-reversible and verifiable reductions in offensive weapons”; in turn, the Bush administration is against any sort of legally binding agreements. Putin says, “Today, when the world has been faced with new threats, one cannot allow a legal vacuum in the sphere of strategic stability.” [CNN, 12/14/2001; CNN, 12/14/2001]
'Abdication of Responsibility' - Senate Democrats (see December 13-14, 2001) and non-proliferation experts (see December 13, 2001) strongly question the decision to withdraw. Singapore’s New Straits Times writes: “History will one day judge the US decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in the same way it views the US failure in 1919 to join the League of Nations—as an abdication of responsibility, a betrayal of humankind’s best hopes, an act of folly. By announcing the decision now, in the midst of a war on terrorism that commands worldwide support, the Bush administration has also displayed a cynicism that will adversely affect the mood of cooperation that has characterized international relations since September 11.” [Carter, 2004, pp. 272-273] Sweden’s foreign ministry warns of possibly “serious consequences for the future of international disarmament.” [BBC, 12/13/2001]
Seizure of Presidential Power - Regardless of the wisdom of withdrawing from the treaty, Bush’s decision has another effect that is subjected to far less public scrutiny: by unilaterally withdrawing the US from the treaty on his own authority, Bush, in the words of author Charlie Savage, “seized for the presidency the power to pull the United States out of any treaty without obtaining the consent of Congress.” Savage, writing in 2007, will note that the Constitution does not provide a clear method of withdrawing the US from an international treaty. However, he will write, judging from the fact that the US Senate must vote to ratify a treaty before it becomes binding, it can be inferred that the Founders intended for the legislature, not the executive branch, to have the power to pull out of a treaty. In Volume 70 of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton wrote that treaties are far too important to entrust to the decision of one person who will be in office for as few as four years. Hamilton wrote, “The history of human conduct does not warrant that exalted opinion of human virtue which would make it wise in a nation to commit interests of so delicate and momentous a kind, as those which concern its intercourse with the rest of the world, to the sole disposal of a magistrate created and circumstanced as would be a president of the United States.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 140]
US intelligence had been investigating the US-based Global Relief Foundation (GRF) long before 9/11 for links to al-Qaeda and other radical militant groups (see 1997-Late Spring 2001 and March 2000).The plan is to shut down a number of GRF’s overseas offices while continuing to monitor the GRF’s main office in Illinois and see how that office reacts to the overseas shutdowns. But on December 13, 2001, New York Times reporter Philip Shenon calls the Illinois office one day before the planned raids and asks them to comment about an imminent crack down on the charity (see December 3-14, 2001). The FBI quickly decides that the GRF is destroying documents after the tip-off, and they hastily arrange a raid on the Illinois office and the overseas offices the next day. Since the GRF and the Illinois-based Benevolence International Foundation (BIF) are considered to be closely linked, the BIF US office is raided and shut down at the same time, and the houses of GRF executive director Mohammad Chehade and BIF executive director Enaam Arnaout are searched. GRF fund-raiser Rabih Haddad is detained on the basis of overstaying a visa while Arnaout remains free in the US. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 98-100 ] October 18, 2002, the Treasury Department will officially designate GRF a terrorism financier. It will do the same to BIF on November 19, 2002. The UN also soon lists both groups as linked to al-Qaeda. [9/11 Commission, 8/21/2004, pp. 98-100 ] Haddad will be imprisoned for 19 months and then deported for the immigration violation. [Metro Times, 3/17/2004]
John Walker Lindh (see Late morning, November 25, 2001) is moved to a Navy ship, the USS Peleliu. When he arrives, he is still unable to walk and is suffering from dehydration, frostbite on his toes and mild hypothermia. Navy physicians treat Lindh with IV fluids, and on the same day, Haynes’ deputy, Paul W. Cobb Jr., tells Lindh’s lawyers: “I can inform you that John Walker is currently in the control of United States armed forces and is being held aboard USS Peleliu in the theater of operations. Our forces have provided him with appropriate medical attention and will continue to treat him humanely, consistent with the Geneva Convention protections for prisoners of war.” [Business Wire, 12/17/2001; ABC News, 12/19/2001] It is the first response James Brosnahan, head of Lindh’s defense team, receives to his letters, the first of which he sent on December 3 (see December 3-5, 2001).
On December 14, 2001, it is first reported that 9/11 hijacker Ziad Jarrah was stopped and questioned at Dubai airport (see January 30-31, 2000); a controversy follows on when the US was told about this and what was done about it.
Initial Account - The story of Jarrah being detained at Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), first appears in the Chicago Tribune on December 14. This initial report says that Jarrah was stopped because he was on a US watch list. US officials refuse to comment on the matter. (Note that this report and most other early accounts place the incident on January 30, 2001 (see January 31, 2000 and After), but this appears to be incorrect and later reports say it happened exactly one year earlier, on January 30, 2000.) [Associated Press, 12/14/2001]
Did the US Tell the UAE to Stop Jarrah? - Jane Corbin reports the same story for the BBC in December 2001 and then repeats it in a book. Once again, US officials refuse to comment on the story. In her account, UAE officials claim Jarrah was stopped based on a tip-off from the US. A UAE source tells Corbin: “It was at the request of the Americans and it was specifically because of Jarrah’s links with Islamic extremists, his contacts with terrorist organizations. That was the extent of what we were told.” [BBC, 12/12/2001; Corbin, 2003] One day after the BBC report, a US official carefully states that the FBI was not aware before 9/11 that another US agency thought Jarrah was linked to any terrorist group. [South Florida Sun-Sentinel, 12/13/2001]
CNN Revives the Story, Has More Sources - In August 2002, CNN also reports that Jarrah was stopped because he was on a US watch list. It claims this information comes not only from UAE sources, but from other governments in the Middle East and Europe. It also still refers to the incorrect January 31, 2001 date. For the first time, a CIA spokesperson comments on the matter and says the CIA never knew anything about Jarrah before 9/11 and had nothing to do with his questioning in Dubai. [CNN, 8/1/2002]
Denials Are Helped by Confusion over Date - Regarding the denials by US authorities, author Terry McDermott point outs: “It is worth noting, however, that when the initial reports of the Jarrah interview [came out,] the Americans publicly denied they had ever been informed of it. As it happened, Corbin had the wrong date for the event, so the American services might have been technically correct in denying any knowledge of it. They later repeated that denial several times when other reports repeated the inaccurate date.” Based on information from his UAE sources, McDermott concludes that the stop occurred and that the US was informed of it at the time. [McDermott, 2005, pp. 294-5]
FBI Memo Confirms US Was Notified - In February 2004, the Chicago Tribune claims it discovered a 2002 FBI memo that discusses the incident. The memo clearly states that the incident “was reported to the US government” at the time. This account uses the January 30, 2000 date, and all later accounts do so as well. [Chicago Tribune, 2/24/2004]
9/11 Commission Downplays Incident - In July 2004, the 9/11 Commission calls the incident a “minor problem” and relegates it to an endnote in its final report on the 9/11 attacks. It does not mention anything about the US being informed about Jarrah’s brief detention at the time it happened. In this account, Jarrah was not on a US watch list, but he raised suspicion because of an overlay of the Koran in his passport and because he was carrying religious tapes and books. [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 496]
Vanity Fair Adds New Details - A November 2004 Vanity Fair article adds some new details. In this account, UAE officials were first suspicious of Jarrah because of a page of the Koran stuck in his passport, then they searched his luggage and found it full of jihadist propaganda videos. Six months earlier, the CIA had asked immigration throughout the region to question anyone who might have been to a training camp in Afghanistan, which gave the UAE even more reason to question him. Jarrah was asked about his time in Afghanistan and revealed that he intended to go to flight school in the US, but he was let go. The UAE told the CIA about all this, but German officials say the CIA failed to pass the information on to German intelligence. [Vanity Fair, 11/2004]
German and More FBI Documents Also Confirm US Was Involved - McDermott has access to German intelligence files in writing his book published in 2005. He says that German documents show that the UAE did contact the US about Jarrah while he was still being held. But the US had not told the Germans what was discussed about him. Other FBI documents confirming the incident are also obtained by McDermott, but they indicate the questioning was routine. UAE officials insist to McDermott this is absolutely untrue. McDermott suggests that the CIA may not have told the FBI much about the incident. He also says that while UAE officials were holding Jarrah, US officials told them to let Jarrah go because the US would track him (see January 30-31, 2000). [McDermott, 2005, pp. 294]
Continued Denials - In September 2005, US officials continue to maintain they were not notified about the stop until after 9/11. [Chicago Tribune, 9/28/2005] Original reporting on the incident will not occur much in the years after then.
Finally, John Walker Lindh has the bullet in his leg (see November 25, 2001) surgically removed. Lindh’s government prosecutors later claim the military “provided him the very same medical treatment provided to wounded United States military personnel.” However, as one commentator will observe: “It is difficult to believe that the United States military would delay for more than two weeks surgery to remove a bullet from a leg from one of its own soldiers or sailors.” [Sydney Morning Herald, 12/15/2001; World Socialist Web Site, 4/1/2002]
Al-Qaeda top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri escape from the Tora Bora battle north to a remote province in Afghanistan. In the years just after the Tora Bora battle, the conventional wisdom will be that bin Laden escapes across the nearby border into Pakistan. A 2006 book by Ron Suskind will be the first to publicly make the argument that bin Laden actually stays in Afghanistan and heads to even more remote regions north of Tora Bora, starting around December 15, 2001 (see December 15, 2001). After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), US officials will reveal that this ‘go north’ theory has become the new conventional wisdom. According to the Washington Post: “US interrogators later learned from Guantanamo detainees that bin Laden had actually taken a more daring route, to the north toward Jalalabad, right past the approaching US and British Special Forces and their Afghan allies. After resting there, he proceeded on horseback on a several days’ journey into Konar province, in Afghanistan’s far northeast.” An unnamed US official will tell the Post: “It’s still unclear who bribed who and who talked to who, [but] bin Laden got out. Knowing the land, knowing the people who could direct you, he was able to get out to Konar [and into valleys] that no one has subdued… places the Soviets never pacified.” Al-Zawahiri takes the same route, perhaps traveling with bin Laden. [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] Bin Laden and al-Zawahiri will stay in Konar for months before finally moving to Pakistan (see Late December 2001-Late 2002).
The FBI claims the anthrax letters were sent from the middle mailbox of these three mailboxes on Nassau Street, Princeton. [Source: Richard Smith]In mid-October 2001, investigators mistakenly believe that the anthrax letters were mailed from somewhere in West Trenton, New Jersey and are said to have narrowed down the location of the mailbox to a one square mile radius. [New York Times, 10/19/2001] But around December 2001, contamination at a New Jersey postal processing center indicates that the letters in the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001) had been mailed on one of a limited number of routes near Princeton, New Jersey. However, seven months pass before FBI investigators test hundreds of mailboxes and identify the mailbox where the letters were mailed from. Congressman Rush Holt (D-NJ), whose congressional district includes the area where the letters were mailed from, will later say that he was surprised by how slow and shoddy the investigation was. He will point out, “Within two days they could have dispatched 50 people to wipe all those mailboxes.” He will also say that he was surprised when anthrax was found in his Congressional office in October 2001, but investigators never returned to conduct systematic testing to trace the path of the anthrax spores. [New York Times, 8/4/2008] The FBI tests about 600 mailboxes for several weeks and finds and removes the right one in early August. It is located in Princeton, New Jersey, on the corner of Nassau and Bank Streets and opposite the Princeton University campus. [New York Times, 8/14/2002] However, there are doubts that the right mailbox was identified (see August 14, 2002).
Rhuhel Ahmed. [Source: The Phoenix]Sometime in December, [Petitioners' Brief on the Merits. Shafiq Rasul, et al., v. George W. Bush, et al., 3/3/2004 ] Rhuhel Ahmed, Asif Iqbal, and Shafiq Rasul are handed over to US forces. The “Tipton three,” as they will be known, are taken by Northern Alliance troops to a US military base, together with 200 other prisoners. The journey by means of containers is allegedly so exhausting, that the three are among only 20 who survive. They suffer from “cold, dehydration, hunger, and uncertainty.” As they are handed over, US soldiers allegedly kick and beat them. According to Iqbal, “They kept calling us ‘motherf_ckers,’ and I think over three or four hours… I must have been punched, kicked, slapped or struck with a rifle butt at least 30 or 40 times.” One of the soldiers says, according to Iqbal, “You killed my family in the towers [of the World Trade Center], and now it’s time to get you back.” [Guardian, 8/4/2004] The three Britons are temporarily detained at the US military base at Kandahar. Allegedly they are systematically deprived of sleep and kept on a special diet designed to weaken them. In the meanwhile they are interrogated. In one instance, according to Iqbal, US soldiers hold a gun to his head during questioning. “An American shouted at me, telling me I was al-Qaeda. I said I was not involved in al-Qaeda and did not support them. At this he started to punch me violently and then when he knocked me to the floor started to kick me around my back and in my stomach.” [Guardian, 8/4/2004]
In the middle of December, the US government discloses that some 7,000 Taliban and al-Qaeda members have been captured. While they are at that time mostly held by Afghan and Pakistani forces, they will all have to be screened so their leaders can stand trial. [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22/2001]
Fox News removes its series on the “art student spy ring” from its website after only two days, in response to pressure from The Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) and others. CAMERA suggests the reporter “has something, personally, about Israel.… Maybe he’s very sympathetic to the Arab side.” [Salon, 5/7/2002] The head of the ADL calls the report “sinister dangerous innuendo which fuels anti-Semitism.” [Forward, 12/21/2001] Yet there does not appear to be any substance to these personal attacks (and Forward magazine later reverses its stance on the spy ring (see March 15, 2002)). Fox News also never makes a formal repudiation or correction about the series. The contents of the series continues to be generally ignored by the mainstream media, but it makes a big impact inside the US government: An internal DEA communiqué from December 18 mentions the Fox report by name, and warns of security breaches in telecommunications as described in the Fox report. [Salon, 5/7/2002]
US intelligence and Pentagon officials admit having lost track of Osama bin Laden in the Tora Bora area in the Northwest of Afghanistan. “The chatter stopped,” says John Stufflebeem. According to commanders of the Northern Alliance, as many as 500 al-Qaeda members might still be at large. [St. Petersburg Times, 12/18/2001] The same day, Rumsfeld says he has heard that there were 30 or 31 persons being held in custody around Tora Bora as of December 16. It is unclear whether any high-ranking al-Qaeda members are among them. Meanwhile, a detention center is being built at Kandahar. [Associated Press, 12/17/2001]
Abdallah Higazy. [Source: Washington Post]FBI agents arrest Egyptian national Abdallah Higazy in a New York hotel room, and interrogate him over his supposed ownership of an air-band transceiver capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground communications. The FBI suspects Higazy, a student at Brooklyn’s Polytechnic University, of facilitating the 9/11 hijackings. Higazy arrived in New York from Cairo to study engineering under US Agency for International Development (USAID) and Institute for International Education programs, in August 2001. The Institute arranged for Higazy to stay at the Millennium Hilton Hotel, just across the street from the World Trade Center. On September 11, Higazy, along with other hotel residents, was evacuated after the second plane hit the Twin Towers. He was carrying about $100 in cash and his wallet. Higazy does not return to the hotel until December 17, when three FBI agents are waiting for him. Hotel employees had found a transceiver capable of air-to-air and air-to-ground transmissions in his room safe, along with a Koran and his passport. The FBI believes that Higazy may have used the radio as a beacon to guide the hijackers. Higazy denies owning any such transceiver. A federal judge warns the FBI and federal prosecutors that merely finding a radio in a room safe occupied by Higazy does not constitute enough evidence to continue holding the suspect, and absent further evidence he will release Higazy on December 28. Instead, the FBI will browbeat a false confession from Higazy (see December 27, 2001). [Washington Post, 10/25/2007]
Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Halliburton, wins a 10-year no-bid contract to provide the Pentagon with support services in Iraq—everything from fighting oil-well fires to building military bases to feeding and housing soldiers. Vice President Dick Cheney is the former CEO of Halliburton. When he was defense secretary under George H. W. Bush, Cheney had pushed to outsource many of the military’s logistical and support functions to private contractors, part of what Vanity Fair will later term “a broader effort to transfer government functions of all kinds to the private sector.” [Vanity Fair, 2/2009]
On December 17, 2001, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer speaks of the anthrax attacks investigation and says that it is “increasingly looking like it was a domestic source.” On January 13, 2002, Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge similarly states, “the primary direction of the investigation is turned inward.” [Salon, 2/8/2002] This is confirmation of earlier reports that the investigation is focusing on the profile of a disgruntled American scientist acting alone (see November 10, 2001).
Rogelio Pardo-Maurer, deputy assistant secretary of defense for Western Hemisphere affairs, meets with chief of Venezuela’s military high command, General Lucas Romero Rincon. Pardo-Maurer, who served for three years as the chief of staff to the representative of the Nicaraguan contras, later tells the New York Times that he told Rincon during this meeting that the US would not support a coup against Chavez. “Nada de golpes,” he claims to have told him. [New York Times, 4/23/2002] Rincon will participate in the April 2002 coup attempt to unseat Chavez (see April 11, 2002).
More than 100 residents gather at New York City Hall to protest the city and federal governments’ response to the WTC environmental fallout. Demonstrators are concerned that contaminated air is affecting the health of residents, students, and those working in Lower Manhattan. Peggy Sarlin of the World Trade Center Environmental Emergency Group tells NY1 News, “We are frustrated. We are very scared about our health, both short term and long term. We are angry and we intend to do something about it.” [NY1 News, 2/28/2001]
The Senate Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism holds a hearing on the global reach of al-Qaeda and hears testimony from several intelligence community officers. One of them is Tom Wilshire, a CIA officer on loan to the FBI who was involved in several pre-9/11 failures (see 9:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. January 5, 2000, August 22, 2001, and August 24, 2001). Wilshire is described as the deputy chief of the FBI’s International Terrorism Operations Section. In his opening remarks, Wilshire describes the “worldwide jihad movement,” which is “considered to be legitimate by many of our allies in terms of defense of Islam,” as a “multibillion effort” active in, for example, Chechnya, Bosnia, and the Philippines. Although some of the “tributaries” to the movement are “somehow legitimate,” al-Qaeda is “one of the most significant off-shoots,” and views the US as “the stabilising mechanism that allows the regimes that [Osama] bin Laden views to be corrupt [such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia] and to stay in power.” Wilshire also says that one of bin Laden’s goals was to provoke a “land war in Afghanistan,” although he perhaps did not anticipate it taking its current form. He discusses how al-Qaeda has changed over the years, the bayat oath of loyalty to bin Laden, and numbers of operatives: he puts the organization’s “elite” in the hundreds, but says it also has “small thousands” fighting in places like Afghanistan and Chechnya, as well as “thousands” more around the world, although perhaps “their skill level is not as high.” He also discusses a recently released videotape in which a man thought to be bin Laden said the “muscle” hijackers did not know they were on a suicide mission until the last minute (see Mid-November 2001), and calls bin Laden “very charismatic.” Wilshire adds that radical Islamists have looked at the possibility of setting up training camps in the US, but that it is easier for them to have introductory training in Europe, which was the case of a group of British citizens arrested in Yemen (see December 23, 1998). Finally, he says that al-Qaeda is linked to Abu Sayyaf, which is not just a local Filipino group and falls under “outside influence.” [US Congress. Senate. Subcommittee on International Operations and Terrorism, 12/18/2001]
Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, captured by Pakistani forces six weeks earlier (see November 11, 2001), is handed over to US authorities at the Bagram air base in Afghanistan. Two FBI agents from New York are tasked with interrogating him. One of the agents, Russell Fincher, spends more than 80 hours with al-Libi discussing religion and prayer in an effort to establish a close bond. It works, and al-Libi opens up to Fincher, giving him information about Zacarias Moussaoui and the so-called shoe bomber, Richard Reid (see December 22, 2001). [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 120] But despite this progress, he will soon be transferred to Egypt and tortured there into making some false confessions (see January 2002 and After).
Speaking in Kazakhstan, US Deputy Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones states: “We will not leave Central Asia after resolving the conflict [in Afghanistan]. We want to support the Central Asian countries in their desire to reform their societies as they supported us in the war against terrorism. These are not only new but long term relations.” [BBC, 12/19/2001]
Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz admits interrogations of individuals, who were captured when the al-Qaeda stronghold near Tora Bora fell two days before, have not yielded timely information on the whereabouts of Osama bin Laden. “Most of what I’ve seen seems to be second-hand reports—that we’re not talking to people who are at least telling us that they met with bin Laden or they talked with bin Laden,” he says. “I think one guy claims that he saw bin Laden from several hundred yards away. It’s that quality of information.” He added: “It was a pretty confused situation.” [Associated Press, 12/19/2001]
Nine US Congressional representatives write to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman asking that she refrain from transferring the National Ombudsman office. Eighteen Congressional representatives have already submitted the same request to Whitman (see Afternoon November 27, 2001). [US Congress, 6/25/2002]
Yazid Sufaat. [Source: FBI]Yazid Sufaat is arrested in Malaysia. Sufaat is a Malaysian who owns a condominum in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where a January 2000 al-Qaeda summit was held (see January 5-8, 2000). He also graduated in 1987 from a California university with a degree in biological sciences. According to interrogations of Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Hambali, and other captured prisoners, Sufaat was given the lead in developing chemical and biological weapons for al-Qaeda, but he apparently had been unable to buy the kind of anthrax he wanted for an attack. Zacarias Moussaoui, Mohamed Atta, and other al-Qaeda operatives appeared to have had an interest in crop dusters before 9/11. It has been suggested that this interest served to further Sufaat’s biological weapons plot. This would especially make sense in the case of Moussaoui, since he stayed with Sufaat in Sufaat’s Malaysia apartment for two months in late 2000 (see September-October 2000). The US will only be able to directly interview Sufaat on one brief occasion, in November 2002. [Washington Post, 3/28/2003; CNN, 10/10/2003; Chicago Tribune, 12/7/2003] Sufaat will be released in 2008. The Malaysian government will never try or charge him (see December 4, 2008).
Following the release of a home video in which Osama bin Laden apparently confesses to involvement in 9/11 (see Mid-November 2001), a German TV show checks the translation provided by the Pentagon and finds it is flawed. According to Professor Gernot Rotter, scholar of Islamic and Arabic Studies at the University of Hamburg, “This tape is of such poor quality that many passages are unintelligible. And those that are intelligible have often been taken out of context, so that you can’t use that as evidence. The American translators who listened to the tape and transcribed it obviously added things that they wanted to hear in many places.” For example, the sentence translated by Pentagon contractors as “We calculated in advance the number of casualties from the enemy,” is said to be wrong, and the words “in advance” were apparently not said by bin Laden. The sentence “We had notification since the previous Thursday that the event would take place that day” is also said to be wrong and the word “previous” is not said by bin Laden. In addition, the sentence “We asked each of them to go to America” is said to be a mistranslation; it should have been “They were required to go to America.” [Monitor-TV (Germany), 12/20/2001]
The Red Fort in Delhi, India, shortly after being attacked in 2000. [Source: BBC]The US officially blocks the assets of Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT), a Pakistani militant group, and Ummah Tameer-e-Nau (UTN), a Pakistani charity front. [White House, 12/20/2001] LeT has frequently attacked targets in India with the tacit support of the Pakistani government. For instance, LeT took credit for an attack on the Red Fort in Delhi in 2000 that killed three people. [BBC, 3/17/2006] But the US fails to mention Pakistani government support for LeT, particularly long-time support by Gen. Pervez Musharraf, who is now president of Pakistan (see 1993-1994). The Pakistani government officially bans LeT one month later. But the group changes its name to Jamaat-ud-Dawa and continues operating, though less openly than before. It is said to be closely linked to al-Qaeda. The US action comes just days after LeT was implicated in an attack on the Indian parliament (see December 13, 2001). [Asia Times, 6/4/2004] India will blame the group for major attacks in 2003 and 2005 that each kill about 60 people. [BBC, 3/17/2006] UTN was founded by Pakistani nuclear scientists (see 2000). The CIA was aware before 9/11 that UTN had proposed selling a nuclear weapon to Libya (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001), and that two UTN scientists met with Osama bin Laden (see Shortly Before September 11, 2001), so it is not known why the US waited until now to act against it.
Chagossians file a class action suit against the US government suing for reparations and the right to return to their homes on the Chagos Islands. They were evicted from the islands in the early 1970s (see July 27, 1971-May 26, 1973) so the US could build a military base on the island of Diego Garcia. The suit accuses the US government, as well as numerous past and present officials, with trespass, intentional infliction of emotional distress, forced relocation, racial discrimination, torture, and genocide. The Chagossians are not asking the US government to abandon the island and say they are willing to work on the base. [Washington Post, 12/21/2001; Self-Determination News, 1/28/2002]
Montana Governor Judy Martz announces that she will use the Silver Bullet option to fast-track the designation of Libby, Montana (see (August 2001)) as an EPA Superfund site and put it on the National Priorities list. The designation makes Libby eligible for special funding from industry sources. [State of Montana, 12/20/2001; Kupferman, 2003 ]
Zaab Sethna of the Iraqi National Congress (INC) arranges for Iraqi defector Adnan Ihsan Saeed al-Haideri to be interviewed by Judith Miller of the New York Times. Miller, who has known Chalabi for about eight years (see May 1, 2003), immediately flies out to Bangkok for the interview. Her story is published on December 20, just three days after Haideri told his story to a CIA agent who subjected him to a polygraph and determined Haideri’s story was a complete fabrication (see December 17, 2001). Miller’s front-page article, titled “An Iraqi defector tells of work on at least 20 hidden weapons sites,” reports: “An Iraqi defector who described himself as a civil engineer, said he personally worked on renovations of secret facilities for biological, chemical and nuclear weapons in underground wells, private villas and under the Saddam Hussein Hospital in Baghdad as recently as a year ago.” If verified, Miller notes, “his allegations would provide ammunition to officials within the Bush administration who have been arguing that Mr. Hussein should be driven from power partly because of his unwillingness to stop making weapons of mass destruction, despite his pledges to do so.” Sethna also contacts freelance journalist Paul Moran. Moran is a former employee of the INC and has been employed for years by the Rendon Group, a firm specializing in “perception management” and which helped develop the INC (see May 1991). Moran’s on-camera interview with Haideri is broadcast worldwide by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. [New York Times, 12/20/2001; SBS Dateline, 7/23/2003; New York Review of Books, 2/26/2004; Rolling Stone, 11/17/2005] Reporter Jonathan Landay will later say that he and others were skeptical from the outset: “There were some red flags that the New York Times story threw out immediately, which caught our eye, immediately. The first was the idea that a Kurd—the enemy of Saddam—had been allowed into his most top secret military facilities. I don’t think so. That was, for me, the biggest red flag. And there were others, like the idea that Saddam Hussein would put a biological weapons facility under his residence. I mean, would you put a biological weapons lab under your living room? I don’t think so.” Landay’s partner Warren Strobel will add, “The first rule of being an intelligence agent, or a journalist, and they’re really not that different, is you’re skeptical of defectors, because they have a reason to exaggerate. They want to increase their value to you. They probably want something from you. Doesn’t mean they’re lying, but you should be—journalists are supposed to be skeptical, right? And I’m afraid the New York Times reporter in that case and a lot of other reporters were just not skeptical of what these defectors were saying. Nor was the administration…” [PBS, 4/25/2007]
In an interview with the Washington Post, President Bush says that, in contrast to the period before 9/11, “there was a significant difference in my attitude after September 11” about al-Qaeda and the threat it posed to the United States. Before the attacks: “I was not on point, but I knew [Osama bin Laden] was a menace and I knew he was a problem. I knew he was responsible, or we felt he was responsible, for the previous bombings that killed Americans. I was prepared to look at a plan that would be a thoughtful plan that would bring him to justice, and would have given the order to do that. I have no hesitancy about going after him. But I didn’t feel that sense of urgency, and my blood was not nearly as boiling.” Author Philip Shenon will comment that this interview is something Bush “almost certainly regretted later.” Shenon will also comment on who should have imparted such a sense of urgency, “If anyone on the White House staff had responsibility for making Bush’s blood ‘boil’ that summer about Osama bin Laden, it was [National Security Adviser] Condoleezza Rice.” [Washington Post, 5/17/2002; Shenon, 2008, pp. 154-155]
House Joint Resolution 75 is passed by the House and sent to the Senate where it is referred to the Committee on Foreign Relations. It is not as strongly worded as the initial draft (see December 4, 2001), which included a provision stating that the refusal to admit inspectors would constitute an “act of aggression against the United States.” The final version instead reads: “Iraq’s refusal to allow United Nations weapons inspectors immediate, unconditional, and unrestricted access to facilities and documents covered by United Nations Security Council Resolution 687 and other relevant resolutions presents a mounting threat to the United States, its friends and allies, and international peace and security.” The bill is sponsored by Representatives Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Porter Goss (R-FL) and Henry Hyde (R-IL). [Library of Congress, 1/15/2006] This bill will die in the Senate. The congressional bill that conditionally authorizes Bush to take military action against Iraq is not passed until October 11, 2002 (see October 8 and 11, 2002).
CIA officer Richard Blee, who is now chief of the CIA’s station in Kabul, Afghanistan, objects to the FBI interviewing high-ranking al-Qaeda detainee Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi. The FBI obtained access to al-Libi after he was handed over to the US, and is obtaining some information from him about Zacarias Moussaoui and Richard Reid, who will be prosecuted in the US (see December 19, 2001). However, according to FBI agent Jack Cloonan, “for some reason, the CIA chief of station in Kabul is taking issue with our approach.” [American Prospect, 6/19/2005] CIA Director George Tenet learns of Blee’s complaints and insists that al-Libi be turned over to the CIA (see January-April 2002), which promptly puts him on a plane to Egypt (see January 2002 and After), where he is tortured and makes false statements (see February 2002). Blee was in charge of the CIA’s bin Laden unit on 9/11 and has only recently become chief of its Kabul station. [Berntsen and Pezzullo, 2005, pp. 59-60, 297] The FBI, which has long experience interviewing suspects, will continue in its attempts to use rapport-building techniques (see Late March through Early June, 2002), whereas the CIA will employ harsher techniques, despite not having much experience with interviews (see Mid-April 2002).
Chris Christie, a New Jersey Republican lawyer with no experience as a prosecutor or in criminal law, is confirmed as US Attorney for New Jersey. Christie was a controversial choice. A source for the New York Times told a reporter in August that “[e]verybody in the game wants Christie,” referring to the New Jersey Republican Party, “and everybody not in the game is looking for a rational alternative.” Christie was also favored by the Bush administration. Republican operative and fundraiser William Palatucci will later boast that he was able to use his influence with White House political chief Karl Rove to push Christie ahead of others in the nomination process, a claim Rove will later deny. Christie was once a lobbyist for Palatucci’s law firm Dughi, Hewit & Palatucci. State Senator Joseph M. Kyrillos (R-NJ) said of Christie: “There’s a lot of good feeling for Chris at the White House. He’s worked very hard for the president and has been recommended by virtually all the key leaders from state government and political circles.” Former US Attorney for New Jersey Robert J. Del Tufo, a Democrat, said of the nomination: “The best of all possible worlds would be if the decision were made on nonpolitical grounds. Maybe I’m living on Mars, but I think it’s so important to the public to have the perception that people are being chosen on the basis of merit.” [New York Times, 8/26/2001; New York Times, 3/29/2007; US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 7/7/2009 ; New Jersey Star-Ledger, 8/26/2009; Yahoo! News, 5/23/2010]
President Bush says he has not ruled out bringing treason charges against John Walker Lindh, a US citizen (see Late morning, November 25, 2001). While he at first called him a “poor boy” who was “misled,” Bush now says Lindh is a member of al-Qaeda. “Walker’s unique,” Bush says, “in that he’s the first American al-Qaeda fighter that we have captured.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22/2001]
Thomas Manley, who monitors health issues for the firefighters union, tells reporters that 500 of the union’s members are on sick leave because of a variety of respiratory problems. Three hundred of them may never be able to fight fires again as a result of their medical conditions. “It’s getting worse and worse,” he says. “They’re having trouble breathing, shortness of breath, coughing with pain in their stomach.” The union claims the illnesses could have been prevented if proper respirators had been provided to firefighters working at the World Trade Center site. [NY1 News, 12/21/2001; Associated Press, 12/21/2001]
The FBI is now investigating “whether potential profit from the sale of anthrax medications or cleanup efforts may have motivated” the anthrax attacks (see October 5-November 21, 2001). Battelle, a company doing anthrax work for the CIA, mostly at the Battelle Memorial Institute in Ohio, is the company most discussed in a Washington Post story about this. Dozens of scientists at Battelle have been interviewed by the FBI already because it is one of only a few places where weaponized anthrax has been made. [Washington Post, 12/21/2001] The story comes one day after ABC News reported a Battelle scientist is under investigation for the anthrax attacks, but that story is quickly denied (see September 18-28, 2001).
The Justice Department’s John Yoo sends a classified memo to the Defense Department’s general counsel, William Haynes. The contents will not be made public, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will eventually learn that the memo concerns possible criminal charges to be brought against an American citizen who is suspected of being a member of either al-Qaeda or the Taliban. The ACLU believes the memo discusses the laws mandating that US military personnel must adhere to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and how those laws may not apply to military personnel during a so-called “undeclared war.” [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 ]
Two bipartisan pairs of senators introduce legislation to create independent 9/11 commissions. Senators Joseph Lieberman (D-CT) and John McCain (R-AZ) propose to create a 14-member, bipartisan commission with subpoena power. At the same time, Robert Torricelli (D-NJ) and Charles Grassley (R-IN) propose to create a 12-member board of inquiry with subpoena power. White House spokeswoman Anne Womack is noncommittal about the proposals, saying, “We look forward to reviewing them. Right now, the president is focused on fighting the war on terrorism.” [New York Times, 12/21/2001]
Joseph Trombino. [Source: Family photo]An armored truck that was parked in the basement of the World Trade Center on the morning of 9/11 is discovered by recovery workers, who find that diamonds and bonds worth over a million dollars are inexplicably missing from it. The Brink’s armored truck was driven down to the underground receiving platform of the North Tower sometime before 8:46 a.m. on September 11, to deliver $14 million in cash. As well as this cash, the vehicle was carrying negotiable bonds and diamonds.
Driver Stayed with His Truck after Flight 11 Hit the WTC - Its driver, Joseph Trombino, waited while his three fellow guards dropped off the cash with some Bank of Nova Scotia guards, who put the money into canvas carts to be taken to a vault. Trombino was still in his vehicle when Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower, at 8:46 a.m. (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001). His fellow guards were subsequently evacuated from the tower. But instead of leaving, Trombino stayed with his vehicle, perhaps to protect the cargo or because he expected his colleagues to return. At 9:15 a.m., he called Brink’s and reported that a police officer had told him to move his truck because the tower was unstable. He also reported that the building was shaking and water was cascading down. He was killed when the North Tower collapsed, at 10:28 a.m. (see 10:28 a.m. September 11, 2001).
Recovery Workers Discover the Armored Truck - Now, over three months later, a recovery team unearths part of the roof of Trombino’s truck in the wreckage of the WTC. Sergeant Kevin Murphy of the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD) calls Lieutenant William Keegan, who is in charge of the PAPD’s nighttime rescue and recovery operation at Ground Zero, and tells him about the find. Keegan, in turn, contacts Brink’s to alert it to the discovery of one of its vehicles. Brink’s says it will send someone to the WTC site as soon as possible and mentions that the truck contains over a million dollars’ worth of valuables, comprising $250,000 in diamonds and $750,000 in negotiable bonds. The company also says the truck’s driver—Trombino—is still missing. Keegan then heads to the WTC site and a Brink’s supervisor also goes there.
Diamonds and Bonds Are Missing from the Truck - Once enough rubble has been removed to see inside the truck, Keegan and the other workers notice that the cab is empty. Keegan will later wonder if Trombino sought refuge under his truck when the Twin Towers collapsed, got into the back of it for safety, or left the vehicle and tried to get up to the street. Keegan wants to get into the back of the truck to remove the valuables from there. To get inside, the workers cut into a section of the roof with a circular saw and peel it back to create an opening. PAPD officer Tony Demeri is then lowered down through the hole. But after he carries out a full inspection, Demeri reports that the truck is empty, with no bonds or diamonds to be found. [New York Times, 9/17/2001; Chicago Tribune, 9/22/2001; Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 147-149] Trombino’s wife, Jean Trombino, will say in January 2002 that although her husband’s body has been recovered, she hasn’t been told where it was found. [New Jersey Star-Ledger, 1/2/2002] Brink’s will report in 2014 that the body was found near the water fountain between the Twin Towers, in the WTC plaza, along with Trombino’s messenger bag. [Brink's Blog, 9/10/2014] The canvas carts filled with the $14 million that Trombino delivered on September 11 will be discovered in the rubble of the WTC in February 2002. However, Keegan will write in 2006, “Neither the bonds nor the diamonds have ever been recovered.” [Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 149]
After a week on the USS Peleliu (see December 14, 2001), President George Bush calls John Walker Lindh (see Late morning, November 25, 2001) an al-Qaeda fighter, who “is being well treated on a ship of ours.” [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22/2001] Around the same time, it is reported that at least four other detainees are being held aboard the Peleliu [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22/2001] and about 7,000 on the Afghan mainland. [Guardian, 12/21/2001]
Richard Reid’s shoe bomb.
[Source: NEFA Foundation]British citizen Richard Reid is arrested for trying to blow up a Miami-bound jet using explosives hidden in his shoe. [Associated Press, 8/19/2002] Reid fails in his attempt to destroy the American Airlines jet because he is unable to detonate the explosives—he cannot get the fuse to light using matches, despite using up six of them before he is overpowered by the stewards and passengers. Authors Sean O’Neill and Daniel McGrory will comment, “Had Reid used a cheap disposable plastic cigarette lighter to ignite the fuse of his bomb, rather than a match that did not burn for long enough, forensic experts are sure there was enough plastic explosive in his boot to puncture the fuselage of Flight 63 and bring down the aircraft.” [O'Neill and McGrory, 2006, pp. 215-217, 236] The attack is supposed to be one of two simultaneous attacks, but Reid’s partner, Saajit Badat, backs out shortly before the bombing (see (December 14, 2001)). Reid will later plead guilty to all charges, and declare himself a follower of Osama bin Laden. [CBS News, 10/4/2002] He may have ties to Pakistan. [Washington Post, 3/31/2002] It is later believed that Reid and others in the shoe bomb plot reported directly to 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed (KSM). [CNN, 1/30/2003] It has been suggested that KSM has ties to the ISI, and that Reid is a follower of Ali Gilani, a religious leader believed to be working with the ISI (see January 6, 2002).
The New York Times reports, “Shortly after the first anthrax victim died in October, the Bush administration began an intense effort to explore any possible link between Iraq and the attacks and continued to do so even after scientists determined that the lethal germ was an American strain, scientists and government officials said.” However, the effort eventually fizzled out when no evidence was found to back up the claim. A top federal scientist involved in the investigation says, “I know there are a number of people who would love an excuse to get after Iraq.” An unnamed senior intelligence official says: “We looked for any shred of evidence that would bear on this [Iraq connection], or any foreign source. It’s just not there.” As a result of this Iraq focus, only recently have FBI investigators concentrated on suspects within the US. The anthrax used in the attacks was from the Ames strain, which is a strain most commonly used in US bioweapons programs. Initial evidence strongly suggested that the Iraqi government was never able to obtain the Ames strain, but investigators nonetheless spent a considerable amount of time looking into the issue. Investigators promoted the idea that the anthrax spores were coated with bentonite, an additive supposedly used by Iraqi scientists. But the anthrax used in the attacks actually did not have bentonite coating. The Times notes that investigators say they are not close to identifying any suspect, and, “Some senior Bush administration officials have begun to worry privately that the case might take decades to solve…” [New York Times, 12/22/2001]
A Jordanian suspected of involvement in the 1993 WTC bombing (see February 26, 1993) and 1995 Bojinka plot (see January 6, 1995) is arrested but apparently only charged with minor offenses. Hadi Yousef Alghoul had been arrested in the Philippines in March 1995 and accused of involvement in the Bojinka plot there. (see April 1, 1995-Early 1996). He apparently is the cousin of bomber Ramzi Yousef. [Ressa, 2003, pp. 25] On December 26, 2001, he is arrested in the Philippines again. He is found with nearly 300 sticks of dynamite and other bomb making materials. A police colonel says Alghoul had been under surveillance for years. [CNN, 12/28/2001; Contemporary Southeast Asia, 12/1/2002] Police say he is one of the United States’ 25 most wanted terrorists with a $25 million reward for his arrest in connection with the 1993 WTC bombing. His “fingerprints perfectly matched those of a terrorist tagged in the World Trade Center bombing.” He is also wanted for plotting the assassination of Americans. [Manila Bulletin, 1/6/2002] Yet despite all these accusations, he is not extradited to the US as other Bojinka suspects were, and he is merely charged in 2002 with the illegal possession of explosive devices. There have been no further news accounts about him. [Manila Sun-Star, 11/16/2002]
Osama bin Laden making his “Nineteen Students” speech. [Source: Al Jazeera]Osama bin Laden makes a new video statement about 9/11, again denying the US has enough evidence against him to warrant an attack on Afghanistan (see September 16, 2001 and September 28, 2001), which he calls “a vicious campaign based on mere suspicion.” However, in what Professor Bruce Lawrence calls “his most extended and passionate celebration of the hijackers of 9/11,” he praises the 19 who carried out “the blessed strikes against global unbelief and its leader America.” He says of the hijackers, “It was not nineteen Arab states that did this deed. It was not Arab armies or ministries who humbled the oppressor who harms us in Palestine and elsewhere. It was nineteen post-secondary school students—I beg Allah almighty to accept them—who shook America’s throne, struck its economy right in the heart, and dealt the biggest military power a mighty blow, by the grace of Allah Almighty.” He continues by saying that the hijackers “are the people who have given up everything for the sake of ‘There is no Allah but Allah.’” He also criticizes Israel’s occupation of Palestine, and suggests that Israel is trying to expand its borders to Medina, currently in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden also attacks the sanctions against Iraq, which he notes have resulted in “the murder of over a million children.” [Laden, 2005, pp. 145-157] Bin Laden’s left arm appears to be injured in the video, fueling speculation he was wounded in the battle for Afghanistan [CNN, 7/23/2002] No new videotapes of Bin Laden speaking are released for nearly three years after this (see October 29, 2004). [BBC, 10/30/2004]
The media reports that Osama bin Laden died of lung problems in the mountains of Tora Bora in mid-December. The report, which quotes a Taliban leader who allegedly attended bin Laden’s funeral, is originally published in the Pakistan Observer, and then picked up by Fox News. According to the Taliban leader, bin Laden was suffering from a serious lung complication and succumbed to the disease. He also claims bin Laden was laid to rest honorably near where he died and his grave was made as per his Wahabi belief. About 30 close associates of bin Laden, including his most trusted and personal bodyguards, his family members, and some “Taliban friends,” attended the funeral. A volley of bullets was also fired to pay final tribute to him. The Taliban leader claims to have seen bin Laden’s face before the burial and says, “he looked pale… but calm, relaxed, and confident.” When asked where bin Laden was buried, the leader says, “I am sure that like other places in Tora Bora, that particular place too must have vanished.” [Fox News, 12/26/2001] A man thought to be bin Laden will continue to issue media statements after his alleged death (see, for example, November 12, 2002). At the time this report becomes public, other accounts suggest bin Laden is alive, has just escaped from the battle of Tora Bora, and is fleeing pursuers (see December 8-14, 2001).
New York City Health Commissioner Neal Cohen says the vehicles affected by dust from the collapse of the World Trade Center “are contaminated” and should be condemned. “The cleanup of them is not practical, and I’ll do whatever I can in my authority and recommend to the mayor that they be condemned,” he explains. [CBS News, 12/27/2001]
The FBI administers a polygraph test to Egyptian national Abdallah Higazy, who has been in custody since December 17, 2001, on suspicion of facilitating the 9/11 attacks (see December 17, 2001). Higazy is about to be released by a judge because no real evidence exists that he had any connections to the attacks. The test is administered by FBI agent Michael Templeton; upon its completion, court documents show, Templeton concludes that Higazy is being evasive with his answers. But Templeton’s conclusion raises questions. Towards the end of the session, Higazy asks that the questioning be stopped because he is feeling intense pain in his arm and is having trouble breathing. Instead of releasing Higazy, Templeton calls him “a baby” and says that “a nine-year-old” could endure that kind of pain. It is not clear what is causing Higazy to be in pain, but from the conversation, it is clear that something untoward is occurring. During the questioning, Templeton threatens Higazy’s family. He tells Higazy that the FBI will make his brother “live in scrutiny” and will “make sure that Egyptian security gives [his] family hell.” According to court documents, by this point Templeton is screaming, smashing his fist into the table, and accusing Higazy of lying. Templetom also hints that the FBI might have Higazy’s family turned over to Egyptian intelligence. “[T]heir laws are different than ours,” he says. “[T]hey are probably allowed to do things in that country where they don’t advise people of their rights, they don’t—yeah, probably about torture, sure.” Higazy knows full well what Egyptian agents could do to his family members. Unwilling for his family to be tortured, he confesses to owning a radio the FBI is asking about. He is denied bail and remains in custody awaiting charge. Templeton will not deny coercing the confession from Higazy in subsequent questioning by Higazy’s lawyers. [Washington Post, 10/25/2007]
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld makes a public announcement that he is planning to move Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects to the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station. The number of people in US custody and destined for Guantanamo is allegedly small. According to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force Gen. Richard B. Myers, they number eight individuals aboard the USS Peleliu and 37 at a US base near Kandahar airport. [Dawn (Karachi), 12/28/2001] Troops, earlier stationed at nearby Camp Rhino, where John Walker Lindh was detained, are being transferred to Guantanamo. [GlobalSecurity (.org), 1/15/2005] The reason for choosing Guantanamo for detaining suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban members is unclear. Rumsfeld says: “I would characterize Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, as the least worst place we could have selected. Its disadvantages seem to be modest relative to the alternatives.” [Dawn (Karachi), 12/28/2001] Rumsfeld does not inform reporters of the legal opinion about to be released by the Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) that he feels makes Guantanamo uniquely qualified to serve as a prisoner for terror suspects
(see December 28, 2001). According to the OLC opinion, Guantanamo is outside the US itself, so US courts have no jurisdiction to oversee conditions or activities there. It is also not on soil controlled by any other court system. And, unlike other facilities considered for housing terror suspects (see January 11, 2002), Guantanamo is not on the soil of a friendly government with which the US has lease and status of force agreements, but rather on the soil of a hostile Communist government whose predecessor had signed a perpetual lease with the US. The base, therefore, is, according to the OLC, under the sole jurisdiction of the US military and its commander in chief, and not subject to any judicial or legislative review. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write, “Guantanamo was chosen because it was the best place to set up a law-free zone.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 145]
Deputy Assistant Attorney Generals Patrick Philbin and John Yoo send a memorandum to Pentagon General Counsel William J. Haynes offering the legal opinion that US courts do not have jurisdiction to review the detention of foreign prisoners at Guantanamo Bay. Therefore detentions of persons there cannot be challenged in a US court of law. The memo is endorsed by the Department of Defense and White House legal counsel Alberto Gonzales. [Newsweek, 5/24/2004] The memo addresses “the question whether a federal district court would properly have jurisdiction to entertain a petition for a writ of habeas corpus filed on behalf of an alien detained at the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.” The conclusion of Philbin and Yoo is that it cannot, based primarily on their interpretation of a decision by the US Supreme Court in the 1950 Eisentrager case, in which the Supreme Court determined that no habeas petition should be honored if the prisoners concerned are seized, tried, and held in territory that is outside of the sovereignty of the US and outside the territorial jurisdiction of any court of the US. Both conditions apply to Guantanamo according to Philbin and Yoo. Approvingly, they quote the US Attorney General in 1929, who stated that Guantanamo is “a mere governmental outpost beyond our borders.” A number of cases, quoted by the authors, “demonstrate that the United States has consistently taken the position that [Guantanamo Bay] remains foreign territory, not subject to US sovereignty.” Guantanamo is indeed land leased from the state of Cuba, and therefore in terms of legal possession and formal sovereignty still part of Cuba. But Philbin and Yoo acknowledge a problem with the other condition: namely that the territory is outside the US’s jurisdiction. They claim with certainty that Guantanamo “is also outside the ‘territorial jurisdiction of any court of the United States.’” However, the Supreme Court should not have made a distinction between jurisdiction and sovereignty here; the wording of the decision is really, Philbin and Yoo believe, an inaccurate reflection of its intent: “an arguable imprecision in the Supreme Court’s language.” For that reason, they call for caution. “A non-frivolous argument might be constructed, however, that [Guantanamo Bay], while not be part of sovereign territory of the United States, is within the territorial jurisdiction of a federal court.” [US Department of Justice, 12/28/2001 ]
The San Francisco Examiner publishes an article speculating that the US may be planning a coup in Venezuela. The article also notes that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has reduced inflation from 40 percent to 12 percent, generated economic growth of 4 percent, and increased primary school enrollment by 1 million students. [San Francisco Examiner, 12/28/2001; Foreign Policy in Focus, 4/17/2002]
Shafiq Rasul. [Source: Public domain]Shafiq Rasul, Asif Iqbal and Rhuhel Ahmed (the “Tipton Three”), held at Sheberghan prison, are among thirty to fifty other foreign prisoners whose custody is taken over by US Special Forces from the troops of the Northern Alliance. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] Abdul Razaq, a Pakistani teacher of English, says he is singled out for no other reason than that he speaks English. [Guardian, 12/3/2003] Taken to the main gate, US Special Forces personnel surround them pointing their guns at them. One by one they are stripped of all their clothes, despite the freezing temperature, and photographed. After five minutes they are allowed to put their clothes back on. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] One by one, they are taken to a shed. With their hands and feet tied with plastic cuffs, each of them is questioned by US soldiers in uniform. As one American starts the interrogation, another soldier, Rasul says, keeps a machine gun aimed at him. The interrogator, according to Rasul, says, “if you move, that guy over there will shoot you.” When it is Iqbal’s turn, a soldier, he says, is “holding a black 9mm automatic pistol to my temple. The barrel of the pistol was actually touching my temple.” [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] Razaq’s interview takes only three or four minutes with only two questions asked: “What is your name, and why have you come to Afghanistan?” [Guardian, 12/3/2003] Immediately after the interrogations, the non-Afghan prisoners have a sandbag put over their heads. For three or four hours, they have to wait in the cold for all detainees to complete the interrogations. “I think we were all suffering from the cold, dehydration, hunger, the uncertainty as well as the pain caused by the plastic ties,” Ahmed recalls. “Added to this, periodically Special Forces soldiers would walk along a line of sitting detainees and kick us or beat us at will.” Iqbal remembers that “one of them said ‘you killed my family in the towers and now it’s time to get you back.’ They kept calling us motherf_ckers and I think over the three or four hours that I was sitting there, I must have been punched, kicked, slapped or struck with a rifle butt at least 30 or 40 times. It came to a point that I was simply too numb from the cold and from exhaustion to respond to the pain.” [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] In the end, the prisoners are dragged, tied up and hooded, the skin scraping off their feet, to the backs of a number of trucks that take them to an airstrip. Loaded onto freezing cold cargo planes, they are forced to sit on the floor, still hooded, with their tied-up feet straight in front of them and their hands tied behind their backs. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] Rasul testifies, “Given that I was extremely weak and that I was suffering from dysentery, dehydration, hunger, and exhaustion it was impossible to maintain this position for more than a few minutes at a time. If however I leant back or tried to move, I would be struck with a rifle butt. These blows were not designed to prevent us from falling back or to adjust our position, they were meant to hurt and punish us.” [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ] They eventually land at a US air base at Kandahar. According to Razaq prisoners arriving at Kandahar are offloaded in a particularly violent manner. “They haul you from your neck and drop you off the plane.” Relating his experience at Kandahar, Mohammed Saghir, a grey-bearded sawmill owner, says: “They would just pick us up and throw us out. Some people were hurt, some quite badly.” And Pakistani detainee Shah Mohammed, who arrives at Kandahar from a prison near Mazar-i-Sharif, says: “They kicked us out of the plane and threw us on the ground.” [Guardian, 12/3/2003] At Kandahar, probably on the evening of December 28, the newly arrived prisoners are forced to walk in a circle which is “unbearably painful” because their cuffs cut into their skin. US soldiers force their foreheads into the stony ground, hit, kick, and punch them and occasionally strike them with a rifle butt. They cut off their clothes and carry out “humiliating” cavity searches. [Rasul, Iqbal, and Ahmed, 7/26/2004 ]
In late November 2001, State Department officials write a paper suggesting that the US has an opportunity to work with Iran to fight al-Qaeda. The CIA seconds the idea, and is willing to exchange information and coordinate border sweeps with Iran. However, neoconservatives led by Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld argue that the US cannot engage with Iran and other officially declared state sponsors of terrorism. In late December 2001, at a meeting of deputy cabinet officials, it is decided that the US will accept tactical information about terrorists from countries on the state sponsors list but offer nothing in return. This policy is called the “Hadley Rules” after Deputy National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley, who chairs the meeting. One month later, President Bush publicly lists Iran as part of an “Axis of Evil,” greatly reducing Iran’s cooperation regarding al-Qaeda. [Washington Post, 10/22/2004] However, the policy appears to be largely focused on Iran, as the US continues working with countries on the state sponsors list like Sudan and Syria against al-Qaeda (see June 13, 2002 and Early 2002-January 2003).
The US strikes a secret deal with Pakistan, allowing a US operation in Pakistan to kill or capture Osama bin Laden. This will be reported by the Guardian shortly after bin Laden is killed in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011). The Guardian will claim this account is “according to serving and retired Pakistani and US officials.” The deal is struck between Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf and US President George W. Bush shortly after bin Laden escapes the Tora Bora region of Afghanistan in December 2001 (see December 15, 2001). At the time, it is widely believed bin Laden escaped into Pakistan. The deal allows the US to conduct their own raids inside Pakistan if the target is bin Laden, al-Qaeda deputy head Ayman al-Zawahiri, or whoever the number three al-Qaeda leader is. Afterwards, Pakistan would vigorously protest, but this would just be to mollify public opinion. An unnamed senior Pakistani official will later say that the deal is reaffirmed in early 2008, when Musharraf’s grip on power is slipping. (Musharraf will resign in August 2008 (see August 18, 2008).) This same Pakistani official will say of the May 2011 US Special Forces raid that kills bin Laden in Pakistan, “As far as our American friends are concerned, they have just implemented the agreement.” [Guardian, 5/9/2011]
Jesselyn Radack. [Source: Whistleblower (.org)]Justice Department legal ethics adviser Jesselyn Radack is subjected to intensive harassment and scrutiny by her employer after she consulted with a Criminal Division lawyer over the John Walker Lindh (“American Taliban”) case (see December 7, 2001).
Suddenly Fired - After Radack contradicts the department’s story on Lindh and his supposed failure to request legal counsel, she is suddenly fired when an unscheduled performance evaluation gives her poor ratings. Less than a year before, her performance evaluation had earned her a promotion and a merit bonus.
Leaks E-Mails to Reporter, Lindh Case Derailed - When she learns that the Justice Department has failed to turn over a number of e-mails concerning Lindh to a federal judge as requested, Radack turns over the e-mails to reporter Michael Isikoff of Newsweek. “I wasn’t in my mind saying, ‘Gee, I want to be a whistle-blower,’” she will later say. “I was just trying to correct the wrong, just trying to set something straight.” The resulting article prompts questions about the Justice Department’s honesty in discussing the Lindh case, and prompts a surprising turn of events: the department announces that it will end the Lindh case rather than hold an evidence-suppression hearing that would have probed the facts surrounding his interrogations. The government drops the worst of the charges against Lindh, and he pleads guilty to lesser charges (see July 15, 2002) and October 4, 2002).
Unspecified Allegations of 'Criminal' Behavior, Secret Reports Alleging Unfitness - As for Radack, even though the e-mails she released are not classified and she has broken no laws in making them public, the Bush administration wanted that information kept secret. She loses her job at a private law firm after the administration informs the firm that she is a “criminal” who cannot be trusted. She is subjected to a yearlong criminal investigation by the Justice Department; no charges are ever filed. “My attorneys asked what I was being investigated for and never got an answer,” Radack will later say. “There is no law against leaking. This was nonclassified stuff. I think they were just trying to get me to slip into making a false statement. Beyond that, it never seemed like they were really going to bring charges. This was just to harass me.” The administration files a secret report with the bar associations in the states she is licensed to practice law, alleging that she is unfit to practice law and recommending “discipline” against her. Because the report is secret, Radack finds it difficult to challenge the unspecified charges. (Most of the complaints against her will eventually be dismissed.)
No-Fly List - And Radack is placed on the administration’s “no-fly” list, ostensibly reserved for suspected terrorists and other criminals, forcing her to endure intensive and invasive searches every time she attempts to board an airplane.
Making an Example - In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will note that Radack gained no protection from the various whistleblower protection laws on the books, mostly because those laws have no enforcement mechanisms and rely “on the willingness of high-ranking executive branch officials to obey a statute.” Savage will observe: “The whistleblower laws did nothing to help Radack when the Bush-Cheney administration decided to make an example of her, sending a clear warning to other officials who might be inclined to bring secret executive branch wrongdoing to light. And Radack would not be the last.” [Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, 6/2003; Savage, 2007, pp. 107-110]
Al-Qaeda top leaders Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri hide out in a remote province in Afghanistan for most of 2002. After bin Laden is killed in May 2011 (see May 2, 2011), US officials will reveal that they no longer believe the conventional account that he and al-Zawahiri left the Tora Bora battle by escaping into nearby Pakistan. Instead, the two of them headed north into Konar, a remote Afghanistan province, around December 15, 2001 (see (December 15, 2001)). According to one unnamed US official, they stay in mountain valleys “that no one has subdued… places the Soviets never pacified.” Their exact location during this time is unknown. Some Guantanamo prisoners will later tell interrogators that the two leaders stay in Konar for up to 10 months. But even bin Laden’s closest followers don’t know exactly where he or al-Zawahiri have gone in Konar. One US intelligence official will later say: “It became clear that [bin Laden] was not meeting with [his followers] face to face.… People we would capture had not seen him.” [Washington Post, 5/6/2011] Exactly how, when, or where bin Laden and al-Zawahiri go after Konar will not be revealed. But there will be reports that bin Laden moves to the village of Chak Shah Mohammad in northwest Pakistan in 2003 (see 2003-Late 2005).
Pentagon ‘Nuclear Posture Review.’ [Source: Federation of American Scientists]White House guidance and the Defense Department’s 2001 “Nuclear Posture Review” (NPR) together lead to the creation of a new set of nuclear strike options—OPLAN 8044 Revision 03—against nations that may plan to acquire weapons of mass destruction. These strike options are secretly presented to certain members of Congress. The new nuclear strike options will not be revealed until November 2007, when the Federation of American Scientists receives a partially declassified document from the US Strategic Command (STRATCOM) that details the strike plans. The planning for the new strike options began shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and the US Strategic Command created scenarios for attacking countries such as Russia, China, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and North Korea; the plan will take effect on March 1, 2003, just weeks before the US invasion of Iraq. Until the documents become publicly available in 2007, Bush administration and Pentagon officials will insist that not only has the US not changed its nuclear policy, it has actually decreased the role of nuclear weapons in its strategic planning (see March 10, 2002, March 9, 2002, and October 9, 2007). Those disavowals will be proven false. Instead, according to the STRATCOM document, one of the first options delineated in the NPR is the use of these newly created nuclear strike options. The significance of the NPR’s new options is in the fact that before now, such scenarios have not been included in the national strategic plans, and “on-the-shelf” plans for nuclear bombing and missile strikes against “rogue” states have not been available. Although the details of the strikes remain classified, it is evident that the planning for these strikes goes far deeper than simple retaliation, but includes, in the words of scientist Hans Kristensen: “actual nuclear warfighting intended to annihilate a wide range of facilities in order to deprive the states the ability to launch and fight with WMD. The new plan formally broadened strategic nuclear targeting from two adversaries (Russia and China) to a total of seven.” [Defense, 1/8/2002 ; Federation of American Scientists, 11/5/2007]
Leading Republican consultant Frank Luntz issues a briefing book for GOP congressional candidates recommending what they should say when discussing issues that are important to the American public. The environment section of the report includes 16 pages of tips on how to discuss global warming and other sensitive issues. In general, Luntz says, candidates need to shy away from making economic arguments, since the party is perceived to be so close to business, and instead portray the party’s platform as being for a “safer,” “cleaner,” and “healthier” environment. Furthermore, candidates must convince their constituents of their “sincerity and concern,” Luntz argues, suggesting that once this has been achieved “the conservative, free market approach to the environment actually has the potential to become quite popular.” [Luntz, 2002 ]
Arsenic in the water - Luntz says that the “Bush administration’s suspension of Clinton’s last-minute executive order toughening the federal standard for arsenic in drinking water” was the president’s “biggest public relations misfire.” The “Democrats’ message came through loud and clear: Bush and the Republicans put business interests above public health,” he notes. He says the Republicans should have responded to the debacle with statements asserting the party’s dedication “to the continued improvement of our nation’s water supply, and to ensuring that Americans have the best quality water available.” Secondly, they should have argued that “sound science” does not support the notion that reducing arsenic by the amount specified in the order was in fact necessary. Finally, the question should have been raised as to why Clinton waited until the final moments of his presidency to issue this order. [Luntz, 2002 ]
Global Warming - On the issue of global warming, Luntz says: “The scientific debate is closing [against us] but not yet closed. There is still a window of opportunity to challenge the science. Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.” The section is peppered with boxes titled, “Language That Works,” suggesting carefully crafted phrases to convey key points that Luntz says Republicans must get across to their constituents. Luntz says that Republicans must stress that “the scientific debate remains open” and that rushing to conclusions about global warming would harm America. It must be stressed that ratifying the Kyoto protocol would “handcuff” the US and require “unnecessary” regulations that would “hurt moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas.” Furthermore, according to Luntz, it should be made clear that additional regulations would make “American life less safe” by requiring “major lifestyle changes.” Luntz also recommends that GOP politicians avoid using the phrase “global warming,” opting instead for “climate change,” which he notes sounds “less frightening.” [Luntz, 2002 ; Guardian, 3/4/2003]
Impact - Not all Republicans agree with Luntz’s advice, Republican Mike Castle says the report fails to address the fact that pollution is a health threat. “If I tried to follow these talking points at a town hall meeting with my constituents, I’d be booed,” he says. Vermont Senator Jim Jeffords, who abandoned the Republican Party in 2001, says the briefing book aims to deceive voters. But others seemingly adopt Luntz’s strategy. [Guardian, 4/4/2003] The Observer will later note that in 2002, Bush’s use of the phrase “global warming” decreases to almost nothing. [Guardian, 3/4/2003] And the Environmental Working Group, which first discloses the memo, finds numerous instances where Bush officials appear to be using Luntz’s recommended language. [Environmental Working Group, 2002]
The FBI and Defense Department begin paying ChoicePoint, a private data-collection company, for access to its data-searching system. Neither agency is legally permitted to keep database records on US citizens, but they are effectively able to circumvent this law by contracting the task to ChoicePoint. Both agencies have steadily expanded their relationship with the company. Exactly what kind of data is being accessed and the legality of doing so remain murky. [Government Executive, 11/11/2005]
Mark Colombo, 57, is told by a heart specialist at Redding Medical Center in California, that he needs a double bypass surgery. When he asks a surgeon for a second opinion, he is told the problem is so severe that he shouldn’t go home until after it has been done. The following day, he undergoes surgery. But months later, a Sacramento cardiologist tells him the operation was probably not necessary. In 2004, Colombo, along with more than 769 other heart patients, will sue Tenet Healthcare Corp., which owns the hospital, and settle for $395 million (see December 21, 2004). The company had allegedly performed hundreds of unnecessary bypass surgeries and other medical procedures between 1992 and 2002. [San Francisco Chronicle, 12/22/2004]
When USGS hydrologist Christopher Milly submits a draft press release about a recent article on the increased risk of extreme flooding due to global warming, he is warned by a USGS press officer that the release might cause problems at the White House due to the sensitive nature of its topic. The news release would generate “great problems with the department,” Milly is advised. As predicted, the release is rejected by the Department of the Interior on grounds that the journal Nature will probably be publishing its own release about the article. [Washington Post, 4/6/2006; Union of Concern Scientists and Government Accountability Project, 1/30/2007, pp. 33 ] However, it has been noted (see, e.g., (April 2001)) that government press releases issued in conjunction with releases published by scientific journals are helpful to the public because government issued releases tend to be written in a language that it more accessible.
ExxonMobil awards a $232,000 grant to Frontiers of Freedom to help launch a new branch organization called the Center for Science and Public Policy. The one-man operation will help bring scientists to Capitol Hill to testify on global warming and the health effects of mercury. [Union of Concerned Scientists, 2007, pp. 11 ]
In Los Angeles, local CIA and FBI stations increase efforts to obtain intelligence from the local Iranian exile community. According to officials, Iranian businessmen and expatriates who travel frequently between the States and Iran are viewed as potential sources of intelligence on Iran’s internal opposition and the country’s nuclear program. Iranian-Americans interviewed by the Los Angeles Times in 2005 will acknowledge having supplied the CIA and FBI with information. [Los Angeles Times, 3/20/2005]
Vice President Dick Cheney asks that his daily intelligence briefer from the CIA be replaced. An unnamed former CIA official later explains to Vanity Fair magazine: “One briefer annoyed Cheney and he asked that she be replaced. He asked for a new briefer. That sent a chill through the whole process. It sent out the message to the analysts, ‘Be careful with some of this stuff. Be careful what you say.’” [Vanity Fair, 5/2004, pp. 242-244]
Senior CIA officials, including James Pavitt, the deputy director of operations of the CIA, ask CIA Director George Tenet to relay concerns to the White House that invading Iraq will undermine US counterterrorism efforts. They warn that it will divert attention and resources away from the ongoing fight against al-Qaeda, at a time when the United States’ counterterrorism efforts seem to be having a decisive impact. One former aide to Tenet tells author James Risen, “A lot of people went to George to tell him that Iraq would hurt the war on terrorism, but I never heard him express an opinion about war in Iraq. He would just come back from the White House and say they are going to do it.” [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184]
The CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq, headed by career officer Valerie Plame Wilson, sends approximately 30 Iraqi-American civilians back to Iraq to interrogate family members who are weapons scientists. The agency hopes that the operation will help close some gaps in the agency’s Iraq intelligence. The plan was devised by Charlie Allen, the CIA’s assistant director for collection. The operation produces a very accurate picture of Iraq’s weapons programs, though the CIA does not realize this at the time. Every single one of family members (see, e.g., May 2002-September 2002) participating in the program return from Iraq with the same information—that Iraq’s nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs have long since been abandoned. The program is short-lived. It is shut down by officials in the CIA’s Directorate of Operations who are reportedly jealous of Charlie Allen’s incursions onto its operational turf. The program’s results are buried and never distributed to other bodies within the intelligence community. [Risen, 2006, pp. 183-184; Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 12-14]
Energy Department Secretary Spencer Abraham asks for almost $380 million for added security at US nuclear facilities (see February 15, 2004). The Bush administration approves less than 10 percent of that figure, $26.4 million. Items that are not funded include: secure barriers and fences; funds to secure computer programs vulnerable to hackers; equipment to detect explosives hidden in packages and vehicles entering a nuclear site; and the reduction in the number of sites that store bomb-grade plutonium and uranium. [Carter, 2004, pp. 18]
US involvement in El Salvador is being put forward by some in Washington as a model for a possible solution for Colombia’s 30-year civil war. [BBC, 3/24/2002]
The Environmental Protection Agency inflates its enforcement record by including counterterrorism and narcotics cases led by other agencies. The padded numbers obscure an actual decline in the EPA’s enforcement activity. For example, the agency lumps 190 counterterrorism-related investigations into its annual performance report to Congress, referring to them as EPA-initiated “criminal investigations.” Sometimes an “investigation” involves nothing more than a phone call to an FBI agent who has requested assistance in a case. “I called the FBI and said, ‘If you need us, give us a call.’ That warranted a (criminal) case number. There was no investigation,” one EPA agent will explain to the Sacramento Bee. In another incident, two agents “went out on an interview, and they closed it after the interview.” The EPA counted the visit as a completed investigation. “To me, those are false statistics,” another senior agent tells the newspaper. The resulting numbers, which are reported to Congress and the public, mask “a significant drop-off in the federal government’s pursuit of criminal polluters during the past two years.” [Sacramento Bee, 7/16/2003]
In 1994, several key members of the Bojinka plot, which would have killed thousands if successful (see January 6, 1995), formed a front company called Konsonjaya as part of the plot (see June 1994). Konsonjaya was a trading company that ostensibly exported Malaysian palm oil to Afghanistan and also traded in honey from Sudan and Yemen. All these countries have been important nodes in al-Qaeda’s network. The Philippine government was already wiretapping calls to the Konsonjaya offices before the Bojinka plot was foiled (see 1994), and definitively linked the company to the plot by the spring of 1995 (see Spring 1995). As late as 1998, 9/11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed was using Konsonjaya as cover in his international travels (see June 1998). By 1999, the FBI had realized the importance of Konsonjaya to the Bojinka plot, and had linked al-Qaeda leader Hambali to it (see May 23, 1999). [Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 ] In February 2002, Rodolfo Mendoza, the former head of Philippine counter-terrorism who led that country’s Bojinka investigation, will say, “According to my analysis, Konsonjaya was the nerve center not only for business but also for operational supervision [of the Bojinka plot].… The most critical question now is, ‘Where are the other former directors of Konsonjaya?’” [Los Angeles Times, 2/7/2002] Konsonjaya’s eight-person board of directors was made up of:
Amein Mohammed (Managing Director). His real name is Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari. He appears to have been heavily involved in the Bojinka plot. However, he has intelligence connections in the Philippines and remains the head of another front connected to Bojinka until November 2002. Then he is implicated in an October 2002 bombing and deported (see 1995 and After, February 15, 1999, and October 8-November 8, 2002). His current whereabouts are unknown.
Amein Alsanani (also Managing Director).
Annamalai N. L. Sundrasan (Secretary).
Wali Khan Amin Shah. He is one of the main Bojinka plotters and will later be sentenced to life in prison in the US for his role in that plot (see September 5, 1996).
Medhat Abdul Salam Shabana. Company records show Shabana is from Afghanistan.
Riduan bin Isumuddin (Hambali). He is arrested in Thailand in 2003 and taken into US custody (see August 12, 2003). He is believed to have roles in the 9/11 attacks, the 2002 Bali bombings, and other attacks. [Los Angeles Times, 2/7/2002; Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 ]
Noralwizah Lee Binti Abdullah (Hambali’s wife). She is arrested with Hambali and immediately extradited to Malaysia. Two months later, the Malaysian government will place her in indefinite detention, where she apparently remains. A Malaysian official will say: “She was more than a wife to Hambali. She was a trusted aide who handled funds of the Jemaah Islamiyah [militant group].” [Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 ; Sydney Morning Herald, 8/16/2003; Associated Press, 10/16/2003]
Hemeid H. Alghamdi. He is described in company records as a thirty-year-old Saudi from Jeddah. [Los Angeles Times, 2/7/2002; Institute of Defense and Strategic Studies, 3/7/2003 ]
Cosain Ramos (a.k.a. Abu Ali) is also connected to Konsonjaya, but apparently he used an alias so it is not clear which name matches his. He will be arrested in the Philippines in 2002 after being linked to the 2000 Christmas Eve bombings in Indonesia (see December 24-30, 2000 and Shortly Before December 24, 2000). But bizarrely, not only is he not charged, but he is given the job of janitor at the Philippines’s highest security prison and then helps a key al-Qaeda leader escape in 2003 (see July 14, 2003).
The Los Angeles Times reports in February 2002 that the whereabouts of most of the Konsonjaya board of directors remains unknown. [Los Angeles Times, 2/7/2002] But strangely, investigators seemingly remain uninterested in investigating Konsonjaya’s links. In October 2002, Sundrasan, the company’s secretary as well as one of the directors, will contact a Malaysian newspaper and tell them some details about the company, including that Amin Shah opened many bank accounts in the company’s name and that the company never really conducted any business. But he will also say that no investigators, journalists, or officials have ever questioned him about the company. [Malay Mail, 10/24/2002]
Entity Tags: Amein Alsanani, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, Cosain Ramos, Hambali, Wali Khan Amin Shah, Annamalai N. L. Sundrasan, Noralwizah Lee Binti Abdullah, Konsonjaya, Rodolfo Mendoza, Hemeid H. Alghamdi, Mohammed Amin al-Ghafari, Medhat Abdul Salam Shabana
Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline
Twice in 2002, the US passes requests to Iran to deliver al-Qaeda suspects to the the Afghan government. Iran transfers two of the suspects and seeks more information about others. Iran, in turn, asks the US to question four Taliban prisoners held at the US-run Guantanamo prison. The four men are suspects in the 1998 killing of nine Iranian diplomats in Kabul, Afghanistan. But in late 2001, the Bush administration decided on a policy of accepting help with counterterrorism efforts from officially declared state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran, but not giving any help back (see Late December 2001). As a result, the Iranian request is denied. Counterterrorism “tsar” Wayne Downing will later comment, “I sided with the [CIA] guys on that. I was willing to make a deal with the devil if we could clip somebody important off or stop an attack.” The Washington Post will report, “Some believe important opportunities were lost.” [Washington Post, 10/22/2004]
An analysis of the contents of a laptop computer belonging to al-Qaeda obtained by US forces in Afghanistan in January 2002 shows that the organization may be plotting attacks on the US infrastructure by seizing control of the computer systems used to run power plants, dams, or subways. The laptop was used to visit a site that offers a “Sabotage Handbook” for would-be hackers. Other visited sites are devoted to SCADA software (Systems Control And Data Acquisition), which have largely replaced manual controls to operate plants and machinery. The Washington Post reports that Al-Qaeda detainees interrogated at Guantanamo have revealed plans to use such tools although details are not available. The information obtained is strikingly reminiscent of a recent case of electronic intrusion (see Summer 2001). [Washington Post, 6/27/2002; PBS Frontline, 3/18/2003; Washington Post, 3/11/2005]
An unnamed senior CIA operative will later allege in a lawsuit that in 2002, his superiors instructed him to falsify his reporting on weapons of mass destruction because it was “contrary” to “official CIA dogma” and “the politically mandated conclusion.” When the operative refuses to change his reporting, the “management” of the CIA’s Counterproliferation Division orders that he “remove himself from any further ‘handling’” of the unnamed asset, who the CIA regards as “a highly respected human asset.” The operative will also allege that CIA managers retaliated in response to his refusal to obey their orders. [Washington Post, 12/9/2004]
Blackwater wins a no-bid contract worth $5.4 million from the CIA. The nature of the contract is unknown, but it is reportedly obtained after Blackwater head Eric Prince telephones the CIA’s Executive Director A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard. [Harper's, 9/12/2006]
At some time in 2002, the the private military corporation Blackwater wins a classified contract to provide security for the CIA station in Kabul, Afghanistan. The circumstances and details of the contract are unknown, although this is only one of several contracts Blackwater and the CIA conclude after 9/11 (see, for example 2002 and 2004). [New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Vice President Dick Cheney tells the CIA not to brief Congress about an agency program to kill and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). Two reasons will be given for withholding the information. One is that the program never becomes operational. [New York Times, 7/12/2009; New York Times, 7/14/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009] The other is that the agency already has legal authority to kill al-Qaeda leaders (see September 17, 2001). [New York Times, 8/20/2009] According to the New York Times, Cheney’s instruction to keep the program secret suggests “that the Bush administration had put a high priority on the program and its secrecy.” [New York Times, 7/12/2009] The fact that the program is never briefed to Congress until it is cancelled in 2009 (see June 24, 2009) will cause controversy after it becomes public knowledge, and the House Intelligence Committee will investigate whether it was a breach of the law (see Before August 20, 2009). The law is apparently unclear on whether this program should be briefed, as it requires the president to make sure the House and Senate intelligence committees “are kept fully and currently informed of the intelligence activities of the United States, including any significant anticipated intelligence activity.” However, such briefings should be done “to the extent consistent with due regard for the protection from unauthorized disclosure of classified information relating to sensitive intelligence sources and methods or other exceptionally sensitive matters.” House Intelligence Committee member Peter Hoekstra (R-MI) will later say that Congress would have approved of the program only in what the New York Times calls “the angry and panicky days after 9/11, on 9/12,” but not later, after fears and tempers had begun to cool. [New York Times, 7/12/2009]
The violent anti-abortion group known as the Army of God (AOG—see 1982) praises the Saudi Arabian government for publicly beheading three citizens accused of being gay. The US government has long suspected that the AOG has broadened its focus to oppose homosexuality as well as abortion. [Extremist Groups: Information for Students, 1/1/2006] AOG chaplain Michael Bray (see September 1994) posts a message on the AOG Web site proclaiming, “Let us give thanks” for the executions. Surina Khan of the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission says: “This is really chilling. It really disturbs me, in terms of the rhetoric and what effect it has.” AOG is proclaiming its solidarity with Muslim extremists over their opposition to gay rights in their countries, posted anti-gay stories on its Web site, and publicly praised the fake anthrax attacks against abortion clinics (see 1997-December 2001). Bray writes: “While the Christians among us westerners would decline to emulate our Muslim friends in many ways… we can appreciate the justice they advocate regarding sodomy. Might these fellows also consider an embryonic jihad? Let us welcome these tools of purification. Open the borders! Bring in some agents of cleansing.… In the meantime,” he concludes, “let us pray for justice: viz., that the heads of adulterers, sodomites, murderers, child murderers [abortionists], witches, traitors, and kidnappers roll.” Lorri Jean of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force tells a reporter: “I think this is a blatant call for people to murder gays and lesbians, among others. It’s the logical extension of radical fundamentalism and religious intolerance.” Khan notes: “I think that any alliance they may be building with fundamentalist Muslims is alarming. And this may be just the beginning.” Chip Berlet of the firm Political Research Associates says: “One has to appreciate the cosmic irony here. They can side with a religion they don’t approve of against a scapegoat they both loathe and demonize.” He adds, “Within the Christian Right, there is a distinction between the reformists and those who want insurgency.” Violent extremist groups such as AOG, he says, see before them a “three-headed monster—of liberalism, feminism [which includes abortion], and the gay and lesbian civil rights movement. And the monster doesn’t die unless you cut off all three.” [Salon, 2/19/2002]
In an attempt to find Osama bin Laden’s whereabouts, CIA intelligence analysts construct a composite profile of what an ideal courier for bin Laden would look like. Then they match this with what they know about bin Laden’s couriers. One US official will later say, “It was like doing the profile of a serial killer.” One courier, whose apparent real name is Ibrahim Saeed Ahmed, fits the profile very closely. However, at this time, US intelligence only knows him by his alias, Abu Ahmed al-Kuwaiti (see Early 2002).
He is a Pakistani Pashtun, and speaks Pashto. Most Taliban leaders are Pashtun and speak Pashto.
He speaks fluent Arabic, since he grew up in the Persian Gulf. This enables him to speak to bin Laden supporters from many countries in the Muslim world.
He is a trusted aide of al-Qaeda leaders Khalid Shaikh Mohammed and Abu Faraj al-Libbi.
He had been a part of al-Qaeda for many years prior to 9/11.
He is adept at the use of computers.
He is fiercely loyal to bin Laden. For instance, according to multiple prisoners at Guantanamo, he was last seen next to bin Laden when bin Laden fled the Tora Bora mountains in December 2001.
An unnamed US official will later say that Ahmed emerged as the most ideal courier for bin Laden, and thus, the best way to get to bin Laden. “He fit all the needs. He was high on the short list,” the official will say. As a result, the search for Ahmed is intensified. More prisoners in US custody are asked what they know about him. [MSNBC, 5/4/2011]
Qualid Benomrane’s 2001 tax driver license. [Source: FBI]The FBI interviews Qualid Benomrane, an Arabic-speaking taxi driver who had done chauffeur work for the Saudi consulate in Los Angeles. Benomrane is shown pictures of young Arab men and asked if he recognizes any of them. He quickly picks hijackers Nawaf Alhazmi and Khalid Almihdhar out of the line-up. After realizing they were 9/11 hijackers, he denies knowing them. The FBI asks him about his ties to Fahad al Thumairy, an official at the Saudi consulate suspected of a link with those two hijackers. Benomrane says that al Thumairy introduced him to two young Saudi men who had just arrived in the US and needed help. Benomrane drove them to places in Los Angeles and San Diego, including Sea World, a theme park in San Diego. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 309] (Curiously, these two hijackers bought season passes to Sea World.) [Los Angeles Times, 9/1/2002] 9/11 Commission staffers will later conclude it is highly likely that the two men were Alhazmi and Almihdhar, despite Benomrane’s later denial. This would mean al Thumairy knew the two hijackers. [Shenon, 2008, pp. 309] However, the 9/11 Commission will fail to mention anything about this in their final report.
David Iglesias, the newly installed US Attorney for New Mexico (see October 18, 2001), does well in his first Evaluation and Review Staff (EARS) evaluation by the Justice Department. His evaluation states: “The United States Attorney was well respected by the client agencies, judiciary, and [his office] staff. He provided good leadership… and was appropriately engaged in the operations of the office.” The EARS report contains no criticisms or concerns about his performance. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] A follow-up report lauds Iglesias and his office for effectively implementing the department’s national priorities, praises their work on the Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council, and compliments Iglesias on pursuing white-collar corruption, fraud, drugs, and firearms cases. The report concludes: “In addition to pursuing national priorities, the district priorities you have set illustrate your district’s firm grasp on its issues and crime problems. The complex issues arising from the Indian Country in your district present challenges which you have met with vigor.… The management principles applied in your district promote high quality work from your personnel, allow for flexibility, yet ensure that cases are being handled appropriately.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 5/21/2007]
Richland, Washington, brings the largest solar power facility in the Northwest, the White Bluffs Solar Station, online. The facility generates almost 39 kilowatts of electricity. [US Department of Energy, 2002 ]
Union Pacific Railroad installs 350 blue-signal rail yard lanterns, featuring energy saving light-emitting diode (LED) technology with solar cells, at its North Platt, Nebraska, rail yard, the largest rail yard in the United States. [US Department of Energy, 2002 ]
US embassies are approached by a number of individuals claiming to have information about Iraq’s alleged weapons of mass destruction programs. But in every case, the CIA’s Joint Task Force on Iraq—the division that has been tasked with following these leads—determines that the would-be informant is a fabricator. The agency suspects that these individuals are being sent to them by Ahmed Chalabi’s Iraqi National Congress. [Isikoff and Corn, 2006, pp. 14-15]
The Bush administration develops plans for post-war Iraq. But the process is plagued with infighting between a small, highly secretive group of planners in the Pentagon and experts at the CIA and State Department who are involved with the “Future of Iraq Project” (see April 2002-March 2003). The two opposing groups disagree on a wide range of topics, but it is the Pentagon group which exerts the strongest influence on the White House’s plans (see Fall 2002) for administering post-Saddam Iraq. One State Department official complains to The Washington Post in October 2002 “that the Pentagon is seeking to dominate every aspect of Iraq’s postwar reconstruction.” The group of Pentagon planners includes several noted neoconservatives who work in, or in association with, the Pentagon’s Office of Special Plans (see September 2002) and the Near East/South Asia bureau. The planners have close ties to the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) and the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), two think tanks with a shared vision of reshaping the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East in favor of US and Israeli interests. The Pentagon planning group “had a visionary strategy that it hoped would transform Iraq into an ally of Israel, remove a potential threat to the Persian Gulf oil trade and encircle Iran with US friends and allies,” Knight Ridder Newspapers will later observe. The group’s objectives put it at odds with planners at the CIA and State Department whose approach and objectives are much more prudent. The Pentagon unit works independently of the CIA and State Department and pays little attention to the work of those two agencies. Critics complain that the group is working in virtual secrecy and evading the scrutiny and oversight of others involved in the post-war planning process by confining their inter-agency communications to discussions with their neoconservative colleagues working in other parts of the government. The Pentagon planners even have a direct line to the office of Dick Cheney where their fellow neoconservative, Lewis Libby, is working. [Daily Telegraph, 11/12/2002; Washington Post, 4/2/2003; Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003] In the fall of 2002, the various groups involved in planning for post-war Iraq send their recommendations to the White House’s Executive Steering Committee, which reviews their work and then passes on its own recommendations to the cabinet heads (see Fall 2002). According to a July 2003 report by Knight Ridder Newspapers, the ultimate responsibility for deciding the administration’s post-war transition plans lay with Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice. [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003]
The Office of Special Plans -
The civilian planners at the Pentagon believe that the UN should exert no influence over the structure, make-up, or policy of the interim Iraqi post-Saddam government. They seek to limit the UN’s role to humanitarian and reconstruction projects, and possibly security. The State Department, however, believes that the US will not be able to do it alone and that UN participation in post-Saddam Iraq will be essential. [Los Angeles Times, 4/2/2003; Observer, 4/6/2003]
The Pentagon group wants to install Ahmad Chalabi, the controversial Iraqi exile leader of the Iraqi National Congress (INC), as leader of post-Saddam Iraq. [American Prospect, 5/1/2003; Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003 Sources: Richard Perle] The group thinks that the Iraqis will welcome Chalabi, who claims he has a secret network inside and outside the Ba’ath government which will quickly fill in the power vacuum to restore order to the country. Chalabi is a notorious figure who is considered untrustworthy by the State Department and CIA and who has a history of financial misdealings. [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003] But the Pentagon is said to be enamored with Chalabi “because he [advocates] normal diplomatic relations with Israel” which they believe will “‘[take] off the board’ one of the only remaining major Arab threats to Israeli security.” Another geopolitical benefit to installing Chalabi is that he can help the US contain “the influence of Iran’s radical Islamic leaders in the region, because he would… [provide] bases in Iraq for US troops,” which would “complete Iran’s encirclement by American military forces around the Persian Gulf and US friends in Russia and Central Asia.” [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003 Sources: Unnamed Bush administration official] Danielle Pletka, vice president of the American Enterprise Institute, with close ties to the Pentagon’s planning group, tells Robert Dreyfuss of American Prospect Magazine that the State Department’s perception of Chalabi is wrong. “The [Defense Department] is running post-Saddam Iraq,” said Pletka, almost shouting. “The people at the State Department don’t know what they are talking about! Who the hell are they?… the simple fact is, the president is comfortable with people who are comfortable with the INC.” [American Prospect, 5/1/2003]
The Pentagon’s planning unit believes that the Iraqis will welcome US troops as liberators and that any militant resistance will be short-lived. They do not develop a contingency plan for persistent civil unrest. [Knight Ridder, 7/12/2003] However the State Department’s “Future of Iraq” planning project is more prudent, noting that Iraqis will likely be weary of US designs on their country. [New York Times, 10/19/2003]
The Pentagon planners believe that Iraq’s oil reserves—estimated to contain some 112 billion barrels of oil—should be used to help fund the reconstruction of Iraq. They also advocate a plan that would give the US more control over Iraq’s oil. “[The Pentagon] hawks have long argued that US control of Iraq’s oil would help deliver a second objective,” reports the Observer. “That is the destruction of OPEC, the oil producers’ cartel, which they argue is ‘evil’—that is, incompatible with American interests.” The State Department, however, believes such aggressive policies will surely infuriate Iraqis and give credence to suspicions that the invasion is motivated by oil interests. One critic of the plan says “that only a puppet Iraqi government would acquiesce to US supervision of the oil fields and that one so slavish to US interests risks becoming untenable with Iraqis.” [Observer, 11/3/2002; Insight, 12/28/2002]
Robert Grenier, head of the CIA station in Islamabad, Pakistan, later says that the issue of fugitive Taliban leaders living in Pakistan was repeatedly raised with senior Pakistani intelligence officials in 2002. “The results were just not there. And it was quite clear to me that it wasn’t just bad luck.” [New York Times, 8/12/2007] For instance, in December 2001 the Guardian reported that many Taliban leaders are living openly in large villas in Pakistan (see December 24, 2001). But Grenier decides that Pakistan will not act on the Taliban and urges them to focus on arresting al-Qaeda operatives instead. “From our perspective at the time, the Taliban was a spent force. We were very much focused on al-Qaeda and didn’t want to distract the Pakistanis from that.” Zalmay Khalilzad, US ambassador to Afghanistan, US military officials, and some Bush administration officials periodically argue that the Taliban are crossing from Pakistan into Afghanistan and killing US soldiers and aid workers (see August 18, 2005 and June 18, 2005). But it is not until some time in 2006 that President Bush strenuously presses Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf about acting on the Taliban leaders living in Pakistan. Even then, Bush reportedly tells his aides that he worries the ties between the Pakistani ISI and the Taliban continue and no serious action will be taken despite Musharraf’s assurances. [New York Times, 8/12/2007]
Helaluddin Helal, Afghanistan’s deputy interior minister in 2002 and 2003, later claims that he becomes convinced at this time that Pakistani ISI officers are protecting bin Laden. He says that he passes intelligence reports on the location of Taliban and al-Qaeda leaders in Pakistan, but nothing is done in response. “We would tell them we had information that al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders were living in specific areas. The Pakistanis would say no, you’re wrong, but we will go and check. And then they would come back and say those leaders are not living there. [The Pakistanis] were going to these places and moving the al-Qaeda or Taliban leaders.” [McClatchy Newspapers, 9/9/2007] Some al-Qaeda leaders are captured during this time, but there are also reports that Taliban leaders are living openly in Pakistan (see December 24, 2001 and 2002-2006).
In late 2001 or early 2002, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld creates Operation Copper Green, which is a “special access program” with “blanket advance approval to kill or capture and, if possible, interrogate ‘high value’ targets.” especially al-Qaeda leaders (see Late 2001-Early 2002). According to a Pentagon counterterrorism consultant involved in the operation, the authorizations are “very calibrated” and vague in order to minimize political risk. “The CIA never got the exact language it wanted.” According to a high-level CIA official involved in the operation, the White House would hint to the CIA that the CIA should operate outside official guidelines to do what it wants to do. The CIA will later deny this, but CIA Director George Tenet will later acknowledge that there had been a struggle “to get clear guidance” in terms of how far to go during detainee interrogations. Slowly, official authorizations are expanded, and according to journalist Seymour Hersh, they turn “several nations in North Africa, the Middle East, and Asia into free-fire zones with regard to high-value targets.” But Copper Green has top-level secrecy and runs outside normal bureaucracies and rules. According to Hersh, “In special cases, the task forces could bypass the chain of command and deal directly with Rumsfeld’s office.” One CIA officer tells Hersh that the task-force teams “had full authority to whack—to go in and conduct ‘executive action,’” meaning political assassination. The officer adds, “It was surrealistic what these guys were doing. They were running around the world without clearing their operations with the ambassador or the chief of station.” [New Yorker, 6/17/2007] Another former intelligence official tells Hersh, “The rules are ‘Grab whom you must. Do what you want.’” [Guardian, 9/13/2004] The above-mentioned high-level CIA official will claim, “The dirt and secrets are in the back channel. All this open business—sitting in staff meetings, etc…, etc…—is the Potemkin Village stuff.” Over time, people with reservations about the program get weeded out. The official claims that by 2006, “the good guys… are gone.” [New Yorker, 6/17/2007]
The New York Times will later report that in 2002 and 2003, Michael Chertoff repeatedly advises the CIA about legality of some aggressive interrogation procedures. Chertoff is head of the Justice Department’s criminal division at the time, and will later become the homeland security secretary. Chertoff advises that the CIA can use waterboarding. And the Times will claim he approves techniques “that did not involve the infliction of pain, like tricking a subject into believing he was being questioned by a member of a security service from another country.” [New York Times, 1/29/2005] It will later be reported that the CIA tricked al-Qaeda leader Abu Zubaida into believing he was in the custody of the Saudis when in fact several US officials were merely pretending to be Saudis (see Early April 2002). Furthermore, Chertoff seems to have been advising on the legality of techniques used against Zubaida, strengthening allegations that ‘false flag’ trickery was used on him. “In interviews, former senior intelligence officials said CIA lawyers went to extraordinary lengths beginning in March 2002 to get a clear answer from the Justice Department about which interrogation techniques were permissible in questioning Abu Zubaida and other important detainees. ‘Nothing that was done was not explicitly authorized,’ a former senior intelligence said. ‘These guys were extraordinarily careful.’” Chertoff also opposed one technique that “appeared to violate a ban in the law against using a ‘threat of imminent death.’” [New York Times, 1/29/2005] This appears to match claims that the CIA proposed but did not implement a plan to place Zubaida into a coffin to convince him he was about to die (see Between Mid-April and Mid-May 2002).
An unnamed CIA case officer with the agency’s Directorate of Operations (DO) will later say with regard to Iraq’s alleged arsenal of WMD: “Where I was working, I never saw anything—no one else there did either.” [Bamford, 2004, pp. 333]
Adel al-Nusairi, a Saudi Arabian police officer, is captured in Afghanistan and eventually sent to the US detention facility at Guantanamo. Al-Nusairi will recall that he is interrogated for hours on end, but only after being injected with some form of drug. “I’d fall asleep” after the shots, he will tell his attorney, Anant Raut, in 2005. After he is awakened, he is interrogated in marathon questioning sessions, where, he later claims, he gives false information in order to be left alone. “I was completely gone,” he will recall. “I said, ‘Let me go. I want to go to sleep. If it takes saying I’m a member of al-Qaeda, I will.’” After years of captivity, al-Nusairi is eventually returned to Saudi Arabia without being charged with a crime; he never learns what kind of drugs he was subjected to while in US custody. He believes he was given drugs in order to coerce him into making statements that would implicate him in terrorist activity. Raut will later recall: “They thought he was hiding something. He was injected in the arm with something that made him tired—that made his brain cloudy. When he would try to read the Koran, his brain would not focus. He had unusual lethargy and would drool on himself.” Al-Nusairi will recall one interrogation session in an ice-cold room where he is so cold and desperate for sleep that he signs a confession testifying to his involvement in al-Qaeda. According to al-Nusairi, the interrogator watched him sign his name, and “then he smiled and turned off the air conditioner. And I went to sleep.” Al-Nusairi is held for three years more until he is abruptly returned to Saudi custody and released. Raut will later muse, “He signed the statement, and they declared him an enemy combatant, yet they released him anyway with no explanation.” [Washington Post, 4/22/2008]
Three of the men convicted for the World Trade Center bombing (see February 26, 1993)—Mohammed Salameh, Mahmud Abouhalima, and Nidal Ayyad—are allowed to write about 90 letters from inside the Supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, encouraging fellow extremists around the world. Some of the letters are sent to Morocco and some to a militant cell in Spain. In one, addressed to cell leader Mohamed Achraf, who will be arrested in late 2004 for attempting to blow up the National Justice Building in Madrid (see July-October 18, 2004), Salameh writes, “Oh, God, make us live with happiness. Make us die as martyrs. May we be united on the day of judgment.” Other recipients have links to the 2004 Madrid train bombings (see 7:37-7:42 a.m., March 11, 2004). One of Salameh’s letters, in which he calls Osama bin Laden “the hero of my generation,” is published in a newspaper in July 2002, but this does not result in any new security attempts to stop other letters. The letters urge readers to “terminate the infidels” because “Muslims don’t have any option other than jihad.” Former prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wonders, “He was exhorting acts of terrorism and helping recruit would-be terrorists for the jihad from inside an American prison.” Terrorism specialist Hedieth Mirahmadi says the letters would have been especially useful for recruitment because the convicted bombers have “a power that the average person or the average imam in a mosque doesn’t have.” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales will later comment, “I was surprised. Didn’t seem to make any sense to me and I’m sure the average American would have to wonder, ‘How could this happen?’” Staff at the prison noticed the letters were unmonitored and complained in 2003, but it apparently took management several months to impose a tighter regime. [MSNBC, 3/1/2005; MSNBC, 3/9/2005]
Noted experts, analysts and commentators, as well as current and former US and foreign government officials, say that control over Iraq’s oil would benefit the United States. A pro-American government in Iraq would provide the US with stable access to its northern and southern oil fields, provide US oil companies with favorable access to oil production sharing agreements and other oil industry-related contracts, allow the US to undermine OPEC’s influence in the oil market, and ensure that Iraq’s oil is traded in US dollars. [London Times, 7/11/2002; Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 8/20/2002; Washington Post, 9/15/2002; Wall Street Journal, 9/16/2002; Daily Telegraph, 9/17/2002; San Francisco Chronicle, 9/29/2002; ABC News, 10/4/2002; ABC News, 10/4/2002; Alternet, 10/16/2002; Reuters, 10/17/2002; New York Times, 10/17/2002; Le Monde (Paris), 11/2002; International Herald Tribune, 11/1/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/5/2002; MSNBC, 11/7/2002; MSNBC, 11/7/2002; MSNBC, 11/7/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/8/2002; Los Angeles Times, 11/8/2002; MSNBC, 11/11/2002; MSNBC, 11/11/2002; Guardian, 11/22/2002; New York Times, 12/26/2002; International Herald Tribune, 1/17/2003; Observer, 1/26/2003; Guardian, 1/26/2003; Fox News Sunday, 3/6/2003; Time, 5/10/2003; Washington Post, 6/5/2003]
In explaining the Bush administration’s policy on Iraq, top US officials waver between “disarmament” and “regime change.” [Agence France-Presse, 8/22/2002; CNN, 8/25/2002; CNN, 9/30/2002; US President, 10/14/2002; White House, 10/21/2002; White House, 10/22/2002; White House, 10/23/2002; US President, 10/28/2002; Washington Post, 12/5/2002]
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